The corner of your eye ; and, Beyond the bush : mythology of place in Australian literature

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This exegesis examines the links between mythology, history, memory, identity, landscape and place in Australian literature, with reference to a variety of colonial, postcolonial and contemporary Australian literature, and with particular attention to the work of David Malouf. It proposes that a specific and mythologised version of the past has been indivisible in our literature with a mythologised version of place. This ‘place of the past’ in Australian literature has invariably been the wilderness, in the form of either desert or bush. Mythology is defined here as collective remembrance ordered by narrative and produced through sets of binary oppositions identified by Claude Lévi-Strauss as endemic to mythological structures (Neilsen 1990, p.440.) The relationships between mythology, memory, history, place, culture and literature are identified through the common denominator of narrative; as a prominent and celebrated form of cultural narrative, what is deemed to form our national literature plays a vital role in creating and legitimising both national mythologies of place and mythologies of national identity. At the same time, there is a continual conflict in both literature and culture between collective mythologies of place and individual mythologies of place. In essence this is a conflict between stories we tell ourselves and stories we tell each other. This raises the question of the function of literature itself: whether it is or should be a means of representation for individual and anomalous experience or whether it is a tool for enunciating collective notions of identity and experience. I argue here that the dominance of the wilderness mythology in Australian literature has fostered reductive and limited notions of both our national literature and our national identity. My novel, The Corner of Your Eye (2006), set in contemporary urban Sydney, is examined in terms of these relationships between memory, landscape, the self and an Australian literary mythology of place. Concepts of individual memory versus collective memory, the marginal identity versus the national identity, and individual mythologies of place versus national mythologies of place are all central concerns of my own work. In light of this discussion, the exegesis suggest a way out of some of the contradictions and limitations inherent in a national literature defined by a historical relationship to place and a national literature which revolves on exclusive notions of a national identity: namely a heterotopic literature which represents and celebrates difference rather than unity, and one which replaces homogenous versions of self and place with a more various and inclusive approach to representations of self and place.
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