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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