Academic journal article Antipodes

The Politics of Possession in Paddy O'Reilly's the Factory

Academic journal article Antipodes

The Politics of Possession in Paddy O'Reilly's the Factory

Article excerpt

In the first chapter of The Factory (2005) the Australian protagonist Hilda, writing from a Japanese prison, says,

I remember someone saying to me when I first came to this country, "You may speak perfect Japanese. You may live like the Japanese, sound like the Japanese, believe what the Japanese believe. But you will never be Japanese:" (2).

This statement provides the spur for the novel's sustained engagement with the nature of national, cultural, and racial identity. This essay highlights the way the novel both problematizes and reproduces the borders that govern who is Japanese and who is Australian and, by extension, who is not Japanese and who is not Australian. The above extract presents Japanese identity as incommensurable with Australian identity, and in turn sees Australia as distinct from Asia:

The label "Australian" [. . .] separates Australia from its place in the AsiaPacific region and from the plethora of its connections with and interests in other parts of the world; one of the effects of this is to assimilate it to a model of white and settled Australianness that does little justice to its internal heterogeneity. (Frow 60)

Suvendrini Perera characterizes the imaginary borders between Australia and Asia as not simply territorial or national but defined by racial identities as well: "the geographical differentiation of the island-body, Australia, from the islands of Asia is paralleled by a process of racial differentiation" (3).

However The Factory also problematizes this border thinking with its genuine desire to integrate with Asia, despite the "nationalising forces" showcased above (Iwabuchi 17). The increase in rhetoric around the issue of Australia entering the so called "Asian Century" and the various anxieties surrounding "Rising Asia" (Walker and Sobocinska 1), highlight the topical nature of the novel's attempts to become "part of Asia" (O'Carroll and Hodge 157). O'Reilly wrote the novel with the help of an Asialink writing-in-residence scholarship. Asialink, an affiliate of the University of Melbourne, focuses on "public understanding of the countries of Asia and of Australia's role in the region," something echoed in its tagline "Building an Asia-capable Australia" (Asialink). In addition, the novel clearly represents what is being termed the "transnational turn" in Australian literature (Ommundsen 2), typifying the urge to turn Australia's gaze to areas "beyond the nation" (Dixon 20).

This transnational gaze reflects Benedict Anderson's metaphor of the inverted telescope in The Spectre of Comparisons. For Anderson, while the telescopic gaze of Europe on Asia highlights a traditional authoritative gaze, the reciprocal gaze that looks back through the telescope, now an inverted telescope, sees Europe as not enlarged but a miniaturized object. For Anderson this makes it "forever impossible to take Europe for granted" (20), and he therefore questions the West's assumed centrality in cross-cultural comparison. The Factory does indeed stage this questioning of the authoritative gaze of the Westerner or Australian, especially as it seriously calls into question the legitimacy of Hilda's authorial voice and the way that voice represents Japan from an authoritative perspective. However, this destabilization of the authoritative Western gaze takes place in the displaced transnational space of Japan, significantly not in the space of Australia. The Australian inflection of Anderson's telescope ventures into the space of Japan, and yet the reciprocal gaze does not extend back into the land of Australia. Thus, to follow Harry Harootunian's critique that "in Anderson's gaze Europe still appears dangerously magnified" (141), the novel risks guarding Australia from outside transnational, as well as internal, scrutiny.

The novel's interplay between national and transnational thinking culminates, at the end of the novel, in Hilda's retreat from Japan and the tacit acknowledgement that she will never, indeed, be Japanese. …

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