Academic journal article Antipodes

Hope at the End of the World: Creation Stories and Apocalypse in Alexis Wright's Carpentaria and the Swan Book

Academic journal article Antipodes

Hope at the End of the World: Creation Stories and Apocalypse in Alexis Wright's Carpentaria and the Swan Book

Article excerpt

It was strange what a view can do to how people think.

-Alexis Wright, The Swan Book (11)

Philosophy's great projects mantle hope for revolution and possibilities for cultural survival and transformation. The spirit of philosophical inquiry is to expose societal wrongs and model hope for the future-as found in Marx's account of human alienation, Hegel's exploration of the master-slave relationship, or Levinas's writing of ethics and human relatedness. It was Ernest Bloch however, who was concerned with "hope" and the political and social potential for utopian society. In his concept of concrete utopia, he argues that "active hope" and "active belief" are materialized through "conscious human work on it" and that "realism without such hope and without the dominating mode of being of the good possibility is not realism. There is nothing real without a place for revolution and a better future" (qtd. in Zipes 5). Yet such discursive constructions of "hope" can be slippery when applied to political worldviews, and as Australia has experienced, creating frameworks for "hope of a better future" has left the most vulnerable subjects "hopelessly" marginalized and oppressed. Early colonial society, for example, was hoped for-it was created through language of writers such as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson who affirmed a national identity from a dominant white perspective. As a result, a hopeful society was created (for these subjects) but one that did not consider the "hopes" of Indigenous subjects. On the contrary, the modern Australian author Alexis Wright challenges mainstream philosophical paradigms of hope and re-creates the "future" from an antiutopian Indigenous view. In her recent novels Carpentaria (2006) and The Swan Book (2013), she critiques humanities' projects, reconciliation, and "closing the gap" for having little utopian potential because these discourses operate on a nexus of "hope" that serves hegemonic national interests of assimilation, appropriation, solidarity, and interventsionist politics. Wright therefore calls for the violent dialectics of hope to be philosophically rectified: "These were past times for kicking Aboriginal people around the head with more and more interventionist policies that were charmingly called, 'Closing the Gap'" (Swan Book 49).

Wright's novels point to the continued colonization of Indigenous people when reconciliation means hoping for one people, of one nation, speaking in one voice. Her vision of future society resists colonial articulations of hope, preferring oblivion to harmony, exclusion to inclusion, polarization to absorption, and economic hopelessness to cultural extinction through assimilation. Wright reveals how seeing society as either dualistically hopeful or hopeless is reductive when considering these concepts as mutually exclusive or as opposite ideals. In her imagination, these concepts coexist in the cultural and spiritual understandings of her Indigenous beliefs about creation, imagining outside white mainstream values of hope bequeathed from early Australian writers, allowing herself to think, speak, write, believe, and dream differently as an Indigenous author.

What does it mean, however, for white readers to see and feel these ideological differences and explore Indigenous metaphysics by entering into alternate imaginary worlds? How does one read "hope" in new ways that contradict familiar literary representations and colonial constructs of hopefulness for white subjects? Does confusion about what is hopeful for some and hopeless for others stop reconciliation being a story to be hoped for and believed in? Perhaps this lacuna created by Wright is space in which to acknowledge that reconciliation offers both tensions and choices for postcolonial nationhood and that these tensions and choices are not always bridged between historical, political, and economic paradigms approached in a framework of "hope" because there first needs to be acknowledgment of a nation's suffering. …

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