ENTRANCING OBJECTS: History, Place and Collecting in Brian Castro's The Garden Book, Jillian Watkinson's The Hanging Tree, Andrew McGahan's The White Earth, Delia Falconer's The Service of Clouds, and Steven Carroll's The Time We Have Taken

Freya Massee

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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In this thesis, I discuss the entrancing potentialities of the motif of collecting
and examine its relationship with themes and motifs of hauntedness and
enchantment in five recent Australian novels (Brian Castro’s The Garden Book
(2005), Jillian Watkinson’s The Hanging Tree (2004), Andrew McGahan’s The
White Earth (2004), Delia Falconer’s The Service of Clouds (1997), and Stephen
Carroll’s The Time We Have Taken (2007)). My discussion of these novels
focuses on the way that themes of historical representation and post-colonial
dispossession, identity and belonging emerge through their depiction of a
heritage of stories and material relics; and I identify the collecting motif in
these texts as a site where the textual and the material intersect, revealing a
haunting and sometimes enchanting past.

I have chosen Castro’s, Watkinson’s, McGahan’s, Falconer’s and Carroll’s
novels because they are stylistically diverse, yet, when considered together,
they trace a cross-section through Australia’s contested geography and
troubled past; and provide a small but significant sample of some Australian
literary preoccupations during the last two decades. They offer opportunities
to test the versatility of a collecting-based reading and explore its relevance to
their shared themes and motifs, which indicate the importance of the uncanny
as a trope of post-colonial destabilization and resistance, and also emphasize
the potential value of tropes of materiality, proximity and presence in postcolonial historical writing. My thesis makes an original contribution to
Australian literary studies by utilizing insights from European collecting theory,
in conjunction with some aspects of material culture studies and Australian
post-colonial criticism, to develop the notion of the entrancing or “entranceing”
potentialities of collecting as a critical perspective and literary motif and
to consider its possible contribution (as a trope of material presence) to post-colonial critiques and discourses which traditionally esteem ambiguity,
hybridity and instability.

In Part I, “Ghosts and Gardens”, I discuss collecting’s relationship with tropes
of hauntedness in Castro’s, Watkinson’s, and McGahan’s novels, in which the
effects of colonial and post-colonial dispossession and trauma haunt the
novels’ protagonists, and the past is portrayed as uncomfortably close. I refer
to Walter Benjamin’s seminal work on history, collecting and narrative; as well
as aspects of post-structuralist, psychoanalytic and ecocritical theory, to
explore collecting’s relationship with ghosts and hauntedness and argue that,
in these novels, collecting offers alternatives as well as supplements to
historical narratives which fail to take account of the ghosts (metaphorical or
otherwise) of the past. I show how the collecting motif’s uncanny qualities
emerge both literally and metaphorically, through allusions to ghosts, gardens,
wilderness and certain forms or modes of materiality (fragmentation, detritus,
contamination), creating a sense of temporal and spatial ambiguity which is
analogous to hauntedness, and through which accepted concepts and
perceptions of history and place are successfully destabilized. I argue that the
collecting motif in these texts is used in ways that form an effective and
entrance-ing strategy for unravelling the rhetoric that connects land, heritage
and identity in post-colonial society.

In Part II, “A Distant Country”, I focus on the sense of enchantment that
permeates Falconer’s and Carroll’s novels, and consider its association with
collecting and its role in their representations of a seemingly-distant past,
recalled in terms of nostalgia, intimacy and desire. Referring to Jane Bennett’s
concept of enchanted materialism and Bill Ashcroft, Frances Devlin-Glass and
Lyn McCredden’s analysis of the Australian sublime, I argue that these novels, this is expressed through a complex interplay (or “shimmering”) of collecting-related
metaphors, images and experiences of distance and proximity (physical,
emotional, and temporal), which draws attention to the role of certain visual
and spatial concepts and metaphors in establishing control of territory and
shaping subjectivity.

In conclusion, I contend that in Castro’s, Watkinson’s, McGahan’s, Falconer’s
and Carroll’s novels, the collecting motif, in association with the tropes of
hauntedness and enchantment, contributes significantly to these texts’
problematization of specific representations of Australian history and place,
and provides “entrance” to the space in which new hi/stories may emerge. My
analysis of these novels also suggests that a collecting-based reading, focused
on tropes of material presence, may usefully augment current debates about
Australian post-colonial writing and its approach to the risks and responsibilities of representing the past.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Award date01 Jan 2012
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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