Stammering 'Country' Pedagogies: Sickness for and of the Home

By Gunew, Sneja | Journal of Australian Studies, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Stammering 'Country' Pedagogies: Sickness for and of the Home


Gunew, Sneja, Journal of Australian Studies


'Do not shoot ... I am a B-b-british object!' (David Malouf, Remembering Babylon)

'the detours and blockages of the stutter with its rejection of familiar endings' (Sandra Buckley, 'An Aesthetics of the Stutter')

The first register on the sensory grid is that of the smell--the gum trees perhaps. And this is not even the country proper, whatever that may be, but Tullamarine airport on the outskirts of Melbourne. And then there is the light, usually in winter since those are the summer breaks in the northern hemisphere, occasions I can get away. The horizon has expanded, flooded by the sun which now punctures my skin almost instantaneously. Australia makes me sick. I pay for each visit with months of antibiotics and salves. What has happened to my immune defences in these intervening years? The skin barrier is now more porous than ever, open to being invaded by Country: Australia.

Contemplating the idea of writing about the Australian countryside when I left the continent eight years ago presents some challenges. Although I manage an annual visit, there is of course a filtering process that has taken place over these years so that only certain elements impinge. What registers about Australia now? Of course I continue to have textual relations, of varying kinds. I subscribe to journals; friends send me newspaper cuttings that have either outraged or amused them, usually both at the same time so that one cutting cancels the other or renders it palatable. These mechanisms of coupage punctuate my periodic forays into teaching Australian cultural texts in Canada. In a 2001 graduate seminar I attempted to induct a group of students into contemporary Australian texts. (1) I stammered continent-country-'country' at them in my endeavours to encompass the continent as well as the countryside (in the sense of extra-urban spaces) and, given my public and private history there over more than thirty years, tried to evoke those other 'countries' that also reside within Australia, whether these be Aboriginal ones, or those wispy filaments attached to those who once came from places other than England or Ireland. (2) All this is, of course, an impossible task.

It is an impossible task that I attempted to formulate in an essay written in Australia fourteen years ago, well out of print by now and so it may help to reproduce some of its points. (3) The essay speculated about the received opinion that 'migrant writing' was limited in its appeal because it was organised primarily around nostalgia. I began by asking where nostalgia begins? Was it a desire to excavate beginnings, lost origins and for whom? The apparatus of nostalgia might indeed function to reconstruct a unified subject, but once again, for whom? In such an ideological context, Australian 'migrant writings' are principally 'discovered' by mainstream readers in the domain of oral history: the story of a life, the paradigmatic narrative of coherence and closure. But what kinds of legitimation or authorisation does this entail in a two-way process? Julia Kristeva reminds us of the 'impossibility of existing without repeated legitimation (without books ... family)'. (4)

For those who are positioned as individuals from minority groups, these stories may indeed offer a kind of legitimation. But what are they for the others, the collective ear, insofar as it exists? There is always a double audience for these stories. We can speculate, rather crudely, that the impulse to transmit such validating narratives arises from a repression in the public sphere leading to a particular negotiation of the symbolic, which is often linked with another, prior language. This term refers to the Lacanian schema in which the human subject comes into being not so much by acquiring language but through insertion in an already existing order of language and the law: the symbolic order. Such a formulation resists the social dimensions of a specific language, but this does not preclude the consideration entirely. …

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