Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

The Sound and Silence of Central Queensland: Listening to Alex Miller's Soundscapes in Journey to the Stone Country and Landscape of Farewell

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

The Sound and Silence of Central Queensland: Listening to Alex Miller's Soundscapes in Journey to the Stone Country and Landscape of Farewell

Article excerpt

Australian novelist Alex Miller has written ten novels that interweave concerns with land, politics, art, old age, and memory. Listening to the sounds and silences that resound within Miller's landscapes opens up imaginative, post-colonial geographies, Australian spatialities that exceed the horizons of colonial vision. Journey to the Stone Country (2002) and Landscape of Farewell (2007), which in an interview on Radio National's Book Show Miller describes as being related like 'cousins', both present journeys into a web of interconnected central Queensland landscapes. A vital aspect of these landscapes is sound. The critical drive of this paper emerges out of the mutually informing encounter of Miller's use of sound, differently deployed in the two novels, with a critical listening practice that seeks to listen to how Miller's soundscapes construct the relations that resonate between his characters, and between the characters and the sonic landscape. Listening to the central relationships of the two novels, I argue that the unfolding of these relationships is within the resonance of the sounds and silences of Miller's landscapes. These characters are located in a sonic landscape that extends the dimensions of the visual landscape, instead existing, through sound and listening, in human/human and human/landscape relationships that exceed the spatiality and temporality that has traditionally, silently, produced the self/other structure of colonial mastery.

Taking its cue from the widespread critique of visualism carried out as part of postcolonial critique, this essay will filter through concepts of soundscape, sound, space, and subjectivity, aligning and harmonising them so as to open a resonant space in which the particular thematics that resound within the sounds and silences in Miller's two novels can be amplified and heard. A salient feature in Miller's novels is the relationality of his characters, and I argue that the complexity of thematic strata, issues of cultural difference, land rights, and historical trauma can be better understood through close attention to sound, a listening practice that reorients the landscapes of the novels. The use of a listening practice will account for one valuable and under- examined portion of Miller's engagement with Australian space. Positioned within the rich textuality and visual symbology of the two novels, sound and listening take up and extend the interrogation of Australian land politics also performed by the visual sense. In Stone Country and Landscape of Farewell Miller is deeply indebted to the traditions of representing Australian landscape, and at times he explores the visual symbolism of maps, photos and film. My analysis of the two novels focuses on sound and listening so as to consciously isolate the work of sound, to approach the specific openings and complications of space activated by sound, and to perform a 'close listening analysis' of two related novels that, in terms of character, theme, narrative and setting, resonate side by side. The listening methodology deployed in this essay continues the reconfiguration of space that has been one of the major imperatives of postcolonial theory. In focusing on the effect of sound within the specific central Queensland spaces of Stone Country and Landscape of Farewell, this essay will augment conceptions of the Australian landscape and enable a new critical inflection to and reflection of contact and interaction between landscape, sound, and listening within the national imaginary.

An investigation into sound and listening is in part based upon the last four decades of critique of visual paradigms that is spread across a number of academic disciplines, include branches of Gender Studies, History, Geography, Cultural Studies, Art Theory, and Philosophy (Mulvey 1975, Foucault 1977, de Certeau 1984, Connor 1997, Smith 2001, Sterne 2003, White and White 2005, Damousi and Deacon 2007, Voegelin 2010, Toop 2010). Tracing the foundations of what he calls 'ocularcentricism', historian and philosopher Martin Jay argues: 'Whether or not one gives greater weight to technical advances or social changes. …

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