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

'This Long and Shining Finger of the Sea Itself:' Sydney Harbour and Regional Cosmopolitanism in Eleanor Dark's Waterway

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

'This Long and Shining Finger of the Sea Itself:' Sydney Harbour and Regional Cosmopolitanism in Eleanor Dark's Waterway

Article excerpt

In Eleanor Dark's novel Waterway (1938), Professor Channon is prompted by the ominous international headline 'Failure of Peace Talks' to imagine the world from a global perspective (120). Channon feels himself metaphorically 'lifted away from the earth ... seeing it from an incredible distance, and with an incredible, an all-embracing comprehension' (119-20). This move outward from a located perspective to 'a more detached overview of a wider global space' signifies a cosmopolitan viewpoint, 'in which the viewing subject rises above the place-bound attachments of the nation-state to take the measure of the world as a wider totality' (Hegglund 8-9). Yet even this global view is mediated by Channon's position from within 'a great island continent alone in its south sea' (121). Gazing from a 'vast distance,' he views Europe as 'the patches where parasitic man had lived longest and most densely,' and from which humankind 'went out to infect fresh lands' (120). This description of old world Europe as 'parasitic' provides a glimpse of resistant nationalism, reflecting Channon's location within one of the 'fresh lands' affected by colonisation. Channon is ultimately unable to sustain a 'Godlike' perspective in this scene, desiring 'nothing but to return' to local place (121). Although his view initially 'vaults beyond the bounds of national affiliation' (Alexander and Moran 4), this move outward does not 'nullify an affective attachment to the more grounded locations of human attachment' (Hegglund 20). Channon's return to the 'shabby home ... of his own humanity' brings a renewed sense of connection to 'the sun-warmed rail of the gate' and 'the faint breeze [which] ruffled the hair back from his forehead' (122).

This scene can be read as symbolic of Dark's own perspective, which is both interested in the wider world and shaped by more regional commitments to local place and to the nation. This essay demonstrates the complexity of Dark's position by presenting a reading of Waterway as an example of what Jessica Berman calls 'regional cosmopolitanism.' The concept of regional cosmopolitanism challenges the idea that writers who are 'committed to a region and to developing its national consciousness must turn away from the world' (Berman 144). Instead it offers a more dialectical understanding of cosmopolitanism as involving 'multiple or flexible attachments' (Walkowitz 9) and a balance of 'rootedness and detachment' (Arthur xxii). This position has been called 'rooted cosmopolitanism,' 'partial cosmopolitanism,' 'critical cosmopolitanism,' 'regional modernism' and 'regional cosmopolitanism' (see Appiah; Walkowitz; Alexander and Moran; Herring; Berman; Arthur). The latter term seems most apt in capturing Dark's commitment to both the ecological dimensions of the local landscape and to a nation that had a 'position of relative weakness or subordination within international or global cultural systems' (Carter ix).

Waterway provides a strong example of a cosmopolitan commitment that remains partial to local place. Dark's novel is poised between the allure of international modernity and the commitments of settler-colonial nationalism in the interwar period. Dark brings these contradictory impulses to bear upon the contested site of Sydney Harbour, which she uses both to celebrate the romance of modernity and to point to the discriminatory relations that shaped Australia's position as a 'provincial' nation. The novel's investment in distinctly national projects, including the struggle to distinguish Australian interests from those of Britain and to locate a settler-colonial sense of 'indigeneity,' is registered in the persistent imagery of the soil, which rivals that of the sea.

Regional cosmopolitanism offers a framework for reading Dark's work that accommodates her commitment to both the 'sea' of internationalism and the 'soil' of national or local place. Until recently, Dark has predominantly been viewed as a writer concerned with national problems. …

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