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

Empathic Deterritorialisation: Re-Mapping the Postcolonial Novel in Creative Writing Classrooms

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

Empathic Deterritorialisation: Re-Mapping the Postcolonial Novel in Creative Writing Classrooms

Article excerpt

Introduction: the liberation of the intercultural approach

Torres Strait Islander Arts Board Director and playwright Cathie Craigie has suggested that the ?great Australian Novel' must include:

Aboriginal undercurrents, acknowledgments or whatever. If you want to show the psyche of Australia you've got to do that. For me I think that all Australian writers have to be able to put that stuff in, but there are certain things they can't talk about. (Quoted in Scott, ?Foreword: Publishing Indigenous Literature' ii)

Craigie's remarks, in both their heroic and cautionary senses, align with Indigenous Studies Professor Marcia Langton's thought in broadly defining a postcolonial contemporary literature made by Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers. Craigie also proposes confidently that the postcolonial novel is capable of speaking back to the hegemonic culture by virtue of a necessary engagement with issues of Indigenous representation. This powerful intercultural stance, with its clear emphasis on intertextuality, may strike a chord with writing students struggling to consider how they might mine archival information, including oral testimonies, objects and images, in an imaginative and ethical manner, without recourse to political correctness and forced, reconciliatory storytelling.

Indigenous commentator Michael Dodson underscores Craigie's remarks when he states that the ?repossession of our past is the repossession of ourselves' (Dodson, ?The End in the Beginning: Re[de]finding Aboriginality') in relation to Indigenous subjects and their histories, yet discussions as to how white writers retrieve Australian pasts have often been repressed by agonistic identity debates, and/or often deferred to Indigenous commentators for framing commentaries. This has sometimes served as a gesture of reverse racism, typecasting Indigenous writers, nativistically, as the ?feeling ones', trapped in a perpetual and undifferentiated grief in relation to experiences of colonisation. Vehement stoushes between the disciplinary cousins of history and literature have also erupted in recent years as part of the so-called -history wars" debates. In hindsight, these seemingly ?emotional' yet supra-rational debates, focusing righteously on entitlement and access to colonial archives, often lacked emotional intelligence, downplaying the ways in which the creative process can forge powerful intercultural explorations.1.

In this essay I aim to show that despite the often problematic inheritance of public and critical debates, many historians, novelists and cultural critics (Marcia Langton, Elspeth Probyn, the late Greg Dening, Kate Grenville, Kim Scott and others) have rigorously contested and (re)presented colonial archival material without repudiating emotional involvements with ?the Australian past' in order to maintain scholarly distance. These thinkers lead the way in suggesting and/or demonstrating how postcolonial novels can be taught and made. Each aims to understand, in relation to the experience of colonial dispossession and in Langton's powerful phrase, that ?some of us have lived through it, are living through it. This is not an exercise in historiography alone, and therefore presents problems beyond that of traditional historiography' (Langton, ?Marcia Langton Responds to Alexis Wright's Breaking Taboos').

In a recent critique of Germaine Greer's review of Baz Luhrmann's 2009 film Australia, Langton castigated Greer's doom-laden prophecy about the social and professional future of the film's young Indigenous star, Brandon Walters. She attacks Greer's implicit assumption that ?Aborigines are doomed to failure, to misery ... I know that many thousands of Australians are praying for a bright and happy future for Brandon. I also pray that he does not suffer any more of Greer's cleverly disguised contempt for Aboriginal victimhood and nefarious white attempts to oppress us' (Langton quoted in Morton 12). For anthropologist John Morton, this is part of Langton's ? …

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