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Expanding space: A study of selected contemporary native Canadian and aboriginal Australian prose writing in English

Kelly, Jennifer G. (1990) Expanding space: A study of selected contemporary native Canadian and aboriginal Australian prose writing in English. Masters by Coursework thesis, Murdoch University.

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This study attempts to reach toward a critical understanding of selected contemporary Native Canadian and Aboriginal Australian prose writing in English. It examines the powerful literatures emerging from two separate cultures sharing a colonized space created by British imperialism. It details the methods indigenous Australian and Canadian writers are using to write themselves out of their dispossession. This study, finally, attempts to combinde the divergent approaches of current literary theory with the socio-political convictions to formulate an appreciation of both the literature and the realities serving as its motivating force.

The oppression of indigenous peoples in Canada and Australia, its horrors of disease, massacre, hypocrisy and inhumanity, is as much current reality as past fact. The guns and shackles have been replaced with political, social and economic chains which continue to bind indigenous peoples to the tragic position of outcast, in countries which only they can claim their own. Although language has been shown — and correctly so — to be an artificial construct, and the written text to be an unstable source of meaning, such theoretical advances haven’t stopped Aborigines from dying in Australian jails or Native Canadians from killing themselves in frighteningly-disproportionate numbers.

Indigenous writers in Canada and Australia however, are adopting the weapons of their oppressors, European literary forms, to celebrate their own cultures, to educate non-indigenous readers, and ultimately, to alter the realities of their peoples’ continued oppression. By infusing traditional indigenous narrative forms and languages into their work, these writers are posting a challenge to accepted literary boundaries and are / working to revitalize language as an agent of social change. This powerful writing is emerging from the widening gap between the too-tangible realities of oppression and the theoretical inability of language to accurately reflect reality. Developing from traditional oral cultures, this writing also offers a rich and diverse potential for Fourth World, national and international literatures. This study considers a variety of aspects of selected indigenous writing, including: the influence of orality, historical revision, form, humour, the woman’s voice, the collective rather than individual voice, the Canadian/Australian comparison, and critical issues involved in the study of indigenous literature.

Native Canadians and Aboriginal Australians share history as oppressed peoples under the powers of British imperialism. The examination of their current writing in English — much of which overtly aims to refute accepted British versions of history — will be introduced through a brief survey of representative non-indigenous writing. This "white" writing reveals how indigenous peoples have been constructed, mythologized, "Othered," by language, in first contact, colonial and postcolonial literatures. Recognition of the imperial ideology structuring such non-indigenous literatures presents both an understanding of the revisionist nature of indigenous writing, and also raises a challenging issue in its study. Many of the writers studied here overtly attempt to rewrite history, to claim to express "what it is like" to be part of an oppressed indigenous minority in a Commonwealth country. Post-structuralist theory would argue that such a position of authorial intent and access to reality is untenable. Yet, strict application of this theory - however technically valid - would ultimately serve to repeat the European colonization, and negation, of indigenous peoples, this time in the literary forum. "By using Western critical theory uncritically is to substitute one mode on neocolonialism for another." Language is indeed a construction, but to ignore the realities of indigenous life beyond literary theory is itself a political stance. Indeed, in the realm of the Humanities, "there is something futile about approaching these texts, which speak of tortures and lynchings, passionate love and hatred, with a critical apparatus that precludes any interrogation concerning their truth and values.4 This is just what the better pan of contemporary criticism is not a step forward here." what this study suggests is that in this literary realm into which indigenous writers have crossed — have been forced to cross -- the arena of the English language, a blending of European and indigenous approaches will prove least restrictive and ultimately most productive. A willingness to be decentered, to be ourselves "Othered" is not only critically challenging, but is a step toward the understanding and tolerance of difference, the celebration of difference, and the ultimate achievement of universal freedom.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Coursework)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Arthur, Kateryna
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