Intersubjective acts and relational selves in contemporary Australian Aboriginal and Aotearoa/New Zealand Maori women's writing
Seran, Justine Calypso
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This thesis explores the dynamics of intersubjectivity and relationality in a corpus of contemporary literature by twelve Indigenous women writers in order to trace modes of subject-formation and communication along four main axes: violence, care, language, and memory. Each chapter establishes a comparative discussion across the Tasman Sea between Indigenous texts and world theory, the local and the global, self and community. The texts range from 1984 to 2011 to cover a period of growth in publishing and international recognition of Indigenous writing. Chapter 1 examines instances of colonial oppression in the primary corpus and links them with manifestations of violence on institutional, familial, epistemic, and literary levels in Aboriginal authors Melissa Lucashenko and Tara June Winch’s debut novels Steam Pigs (1997) and Swallow the Air (2006). They address the cycle of violence and the archetypal motif of return to bring to light the life of urban Aboriginal women whose ancestral land has been lost and whose home is the western, modern Australian city. Maori short story writer Alice Tawhai’s collections Festival of Miracles (2005), Luminous (2007), and Dark Jelly (2011), on the other hand, deny the characters and reader closure, and establish an atmosphere characterised by a lack of hope and the absence of any political or personal will to effect change. Chapter 2 explores caring relationships between characters displaying symptoms that may be ascribed to various forms of intellectual and mental disability, and the relatives who look after them. I situate the texts within a postcolonial disability framework and address the figure of the informal carer in relation to her “caree.” Patricia Grace’s short story “Eben,” from her collection Small Holes in the Silence (2006), tells the life of a man with physical and intellectual disability from birth (the eponymous Eben) and his relationship with his adoptive mother Pani. The main character of Lisa Cherrington’s novel The People-Faces (2004) is a young Maori woman called Nikki whose brother Joshua is in and out of psychiatric facilities. Finally, the central characters of Vivienne Cleven’s novel Her Sister’s Eye (2002) display a wide range of congenital and acquired cognitive impairments, allowing the author to explore how the compounded trauma of racism and sexism participates in (and is influenced by) mental disability. Chapter 3 examines the materiality and corporeality of language to reveal its role in the formation of (inter)subjectivity. I argue that the use of language in Aboriginal and Maori women’s writing is anchored in the racialised, sexualised bodies of Indigenous women, as well as the locale of their ancestral land. The relationship between language, body, and country in Keri Hulme’s the bone people (1984) and Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria (2006) are analysed in relation to orality, gesture, and mapping in order to reveal their role in the formation of Indigenous selfhood. Chapter 4 explores how the reflexive practice of life-writing (including fictional auto/biography) participates in the decolonisation of the Indigenous self and community, as well as the process of individual survival and cultural survivance, through the selective remembering and forgetting of traumatic histories. Sally Morgan’s Aboriginal life-writing narrative My Place (1987), Terri Janke’s Torres Strait Islander novel Butterfly Song (2005), as well as Paula Morris and Kelly Ana Morey’s Maori texts Rangatira (2011) and Bloom (2003) address these issues in various forms. Through the interactions between memory and memoirs, I bring to light the literary processes of decolonisation of the writing/written self in the settler countries of Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand. This study intends to raise the profile of the authors mentioned above and to encourage the public and scholarly community to pay attention and respect to Indigenous women’s writing. One of the ambitions of this thesis is also to expose the limits and correct the shortcomings of western, postcolonial, and gender theory in relation to Indigenous women writers and the Fourth World.
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