Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda
HOW IS SACREDNESS IMAGINED in postmodern and postcolonial cultures such as contemporary Australia? It was commonplace for cultural critics in the later twentieth century to situate the formation of 'Australia' at the limit of Western concerns about the sacred or, more specifically, religion. Russel Ward's iconic legendary Australian bloke from the mid-twentieth century is “a hard case, sceptical about the value of religion and of intellectual and cultural pursuits generally”;1 the poet James McAuley's Australians are “hard-eyed, kindly, with nothing inside them”;2 the critic Jennifer Rutherford, in her account of the reception of Patrick White's Riders in the Chariot, declares:
Not only is the religious thematic deemed un-Australian “…”. Almost unani-
mously, the critical community has understood White to be exalting and
idealising the four 'mystics' in opposition to a profane, malignant and aes-
thetically stupid suburban Australia “…”. This attests to implicit conceptions
of Australia as a site devoid of any encounter with those modalities of being
that we can variously name mystical, sacred, religious or ecstatic.3
And David Tacey, in his influential 1995 volume Edge of the Sacred, summarizes a common (stereo)type of the Australian identity, arguing that
1 Ward, The Australian Legend (Melbourne: Oxford UP, 1958).
2 McAuley, “Envoi,” in McAuley, Collected Poems 1936–1970 (Melbourne: Angus
& Robertson, 1971): 6.
3 Rutherford, The Gauche Intruder: Freud, Lacan and the White Australian Fantasy
(Melbourne: Melbourne UP, 2000): 193.