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

'Greece-Patrick White's Country': Is Patrick White a Greek Author?

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

'Greece-Patrick White's Country': Is Patrick White a Greek Author?

Article excerpt

When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.

Tuli Kupferberg

In a 1973 interview shown on Four Corners the morning after the Nobel Prize announcement, Mike Charlton questions Patrick White on his formative time in England and wonders how he managed to make his novels so 'Australian.' White replies, 'Because it is in my blood . . . my heart isn't altogether here, I think my heart is in London but my blood is Australian.' White had made other such public declarations of affiliation, claiming he did 'better with the exotics' in his autobiography Flaws in the Glass (1981) and naming 'his elective Greece' as 'his other country' (1989).1 Drawn from diverse contexts, the multiplicity and contradiction of these utterances speak nonetheless to a self-invention: White's declarations of belonging are complex rhetoric deployed by a masterful performer of multiple personae. When read in light of the complicating potential of the diverse paratextual accounts of White's life and times, these statements draw our attention to what Brigid Rooney has argued is White's 'irascible yet famously public personae . . . [as] a script he performed, and that performed him, in public life' (Rooney, 'Public Recluse' 4). This essay takes up Rooney's account of White's capacity for self-production and self-complication, considering the generative possibility of extending White's declaration of Greek affiliation as a productive avenue for engaging with his literature. Drawing on an earlier and now largely dormant body of critical readings focused on identifying the Greek objects, entities and moments found across White's oeuvre, this essay works to reveal the ghosted origin of these Hellenistic, Byzantine, Orthodox and Anatolian referents and allusions. The origins of these elements are identified through White's 'literary coming out' in Flaws in the Glass: A Self Portrait and in Veronica Brady and Noel Rowe's defence of a 'biographic reading' of White's literature, Greekness is revealed as a literal and prominent concern in White's life-embodied, of course in the presence of White's partner of some 40 years, his 'central mandala,' George Emmanuel 'Manoly' Lascaris (White, Flaws 100). This essay considers in turn White's interweaving of detail from his own life and that of Lascaris in the biographic and fictional crossover seen most profoundly in the The Twyborn Affair, a novel that 'blurs the line of biography and fiction' (McMahon 81). Drawing on this identification of the proleptic significance and queerness of these conjoined biographic topoi by Elizabeth McMahon, this essay reads the combination of Byzantine and Orthodox features working within the Twyborn character's guise as the transgendered Eudoxia Vatatzes. I contend that this sees White drawing 'Greekness' into a schema of fictional performance of self. In turn, White's lost fragment The Hanging Garden embedded with the 'characteristic themes' that appear throughout White's oeuvre, gives us a sense of White's continued preoccupation with Greekness. In taking on the narrative voice of Greek migrant Irene Sklavos, White brings to bear 'all the symbolic jewels that dazzle and oppress,' enacting a continuation of the moral and ethical critique of racist aligned coordinates of nationalism found in his public writing through the fictional voice of this displaced migrant child (De Kretser).

In an undelivered speech titled 'Greece-My Other Country,' White's capacity for selfinvention is seen clearly when he evokes and arguably performs, a nationally coded rhetorical appeal to Greek kinship to serve his aim as anti-nuclear proliferation activist. Invited by the democratic Greek Government to speak as part of celebrations to mark the fall of the military junta, White travelled to Athens in November 1983. The speech he had prepared was never delivered, reportedly forgotten 'in the festive excitement' (White, Patrick White Speaks 132). Written after White's post-1972 'coming out' as political activist, 'Greece-My Other Country' sees the author perform at his most impassioned, articulating a fear heightened by 'his visceral sense of apocalypse linked to World War II experiences' (Rooney, 'Public'). …

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