Academic journal article Antipodes

Navigating the Inside-Outside: Explorations of Exile and Silence in Alex Miller's Landscape of Farewell

Academic journal article Antipodes

Navigating the Inside-Outside: Explorations of Exile and Silence in Alex Miller's Landscape of Farewell

Article excerpt

[T]he countr yside itself, still and silent as it always seems to be; a silence in which the air trembles with a kind of absence, as if the landscape listens, or waits for something [. . .]

It is strange and uncanny, this sense of waiting, and it is unsettling

-Miller, Landscape of Farewell (245)

When i first arrived in the United states five years ago to a college town in north Georgia, i began a small book group made up of neighbors, teachers, musicians, mothers, and artists. the group asked me to select the first novel; i chose Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller, and it did not go well. For these folk-although well educated and fairly liberal minded-Alex Miller's landscape did not make sense to them. the names of trees and other natural features "meant nothing." the romantic leads "didn't speak to each other," and when they did it was "about nothing." their relationship was "boring," with insufficient emotional connection. "And the humor? especially the Murri lead?" i asked. "it was funny?!" they replied-having missed the subtle, playful irony that was so rich for me as an Australian. this group of readers had perceived Miller's work as an empty, uninhabited space where "nothing happens"-a literary, cultural terra nullius.

Australian literature, with its complex language of gaps and silences, of understatement-its art of not saying-may perhaps at first seem to those outside Australian culture as if "nothing is happening"; yet a closer exploration yields the discovery of a vital, many-layered space. My book group experience is particularly ironic in that Miller so clearly seems to depart from other Australian writing of landscape, appearing to deliberately counteract any concept of terra nullius in his work; indeed, Miller uncovers a complex language inherent in the apparent silence. it will be Alex Miller's 2007 novel Landscape of Farewell that will be of particular focus in this discussion, and specifically the way that the landscape comes to be not only a space inclusive of many layers of being, but actually a Being-and one characterized by agency; a landscape not of otherness, but of profound and powerful difference that demands from humanity both acknowledgment and respect.

Landscape of Farewell opens in Hamburg, Germany, with professor Max otto, who believes he has failed both professionally and morally by not having written his great historical work on genocide. Max otto's wife has died suddenly and tragically, and now otto plans to take his own life at the close of his Valedictory Lecture, which is scheduled for that evening. As otto prepares to step down from the podium, however, a young Australian Aboriginal academic, Vita McLelland, stands and publicly challenges him as to why-in his discussion on genocide-he omits to mention the massacre of her people. otto's subsequent apology to McLelland and their resultant, surprising friendship means that otto does not commit suicide after all, but travels to Australia at Vita's invitation to stay with her Great-Uncle and Aboriginal elder dougald in rural Queensland. together the two men enter each other's stories and landscapes in a powerful literal and metaphysical journey that explores the possibilities of narrative in beginning the painful-but possible-process of reconciliation with one's own personal and cultural past.

In Landscape of Farewell, we witness a move from the "transactional" to the profoundly relational in the way protagonist Max otto views the Antipodean geographic world into which he enters; and here Miller explores an intriguing transference: from the traditional white, Western, and imperialist mode of thinking purely in terms of land ownership and use, to the relational concept of the land owning its human inhabitants-the way a mother owns a child, or a person owns his or her family. the landscape is a Being with which one can have a relationship; the land exudes a personality. it is a multi-faceted place rich in symbolic and actual, resonant "happenings. …

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