Post-Colonial Essays on South Pacific Literature

By Birns, Nicholas | National Forum, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Post-Colonial Essays on South Pacific Literature


Birns, Nicholas, National Forum


PATRICK D. MORROW. PostColonial Essays on South Pacific Literature. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1998.189 pages. $79.95.

Australia and Fiji (with a brief detour to New Zealand) are the focal points in Patrick Morrow's lively, provocative, and delightfully informal study, Post-Colonial Essays on South Pacific Literature. Morrow, who teaches at Auburn University, is one of the pioneers of the study of South Pacific literature in this country. This book, far more a log of the author's "explorations" (2) than an authoritative treatise, gives the reader a sense of the excitement of discovering a whole body of writing far beyond the restrictive canon of traditional AngloAmerican masterworks. While in many cases the emergence of new or "post-colonial" literatures in English has occasioned a torrent of academic self-importance, Morrow is a strikingly unpretentious writer, admitting personal failings and limitations in a way that will at once charm and jolt those accustomed to reading contemporary academic monographs. Morrow's casual style is often deceptive, though, as he addresses matters of deep seriousness. Morrow instructs as well as entertains when he discusses the idea of conflict in the work of Colin Johnson, Australia's leading Aboriginal writer (since selfrenamed Mudrooroo), or calls for a reconsideration of an Australian World War I writer (Frederic Manning), who emerges as laudably ironic and unpredictable.

Australia is often seen as a parallel and unfallen America, of smaller political scale but similar dreamy psycho-territorial expanse. This image, inevitably stereotypical of both countries, seems to obtrude when Americans actually try to read Australian novels, which, Morrow contends, we find vexatious and tough to get a handle on, as concluded in his discussion of the fiction of Elizabeth Jolley. Literature, for Morrow, is already a site of struggle for mastery and voice, between author and character as well as author and reader, and the transcultural interchange of Americans reading Australian literature adds only another layer to a tension that is already there.

If Americans see Australia as just like us, but only more innocent and with the added bonus of Christmas in summer, our view of Fiji is colored by the image of an exotic paradise still associated with the archipelagoes of the Pacific. Morrow's ability to demythologize that preconception was heightened given that he visited Fiji in the late 1980s, in the aftermath of a violent coup by the native Fijian military. The coup forestalled the ascendancy of an Indian-dominated party and led to the disestablishment of the British monarch as sovereign of Fiji and the proclamation of a republic. …

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