The Tales We Tell: Perspectives on the Short Story

By Barbara Lounsberry; Susan Lohafer et al. | Go to book overview

8
Generic Variations on a Colonial Topos

Ian Reid


I

Whenever we read or write, we are seeking significance by applying or creating interpretive frames. 1 More generally, perception itself depends on framing. In this broad sense, anything can serve as a frame if it is perceived as enclosing an area within which meanings take shape. Frames place things in relation to one another and mark off insides from outsides, albeit ambiguously. Without flaming, signification itself would be impossible; so also would self/other distinctions, and so would any differentiation between types of text. This chapter will consider some shilling historical relationships between certain text types, or genres, and a colonial consciousness of place.

In most cultures, a primary perceptual frame for forming one's subjectivity is the familial house. That shared early experience of domestic self-placement has produced, in turn, a certain conventional set of ways of "framing" written narratives about children's emergent consciousness of their home environment. Of course, it is not the case that writers have always used a single and stable generic frame for this theme. Domestic framings of early childhood experience can, for instance, be reframed generically according to the land of colonial situation about which they are written. This process is exemplified in the group of texts to be discussed here: British writer Walter Pater "The Child in the House," the New Zealand stories of Katherine Mansfield, and Australian writer David Malouf's 12 Edmondstone Street.

The starting point of my chapter is a nonfictional text: Malouf s autobiography 12 Edmondstone Street. 2 What makes it relevant here is that, as its title indicates, Malouf attaches signal importance to the house, the familial home, as a shaper of memory and imagination:

First houses are the grounds of our first experience. Crawling about at floor level, room by room, we discover laws that will later apply to the world at large; and who is to say

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