Printer Friendly

ARMED ANGELS.

VISIBLE DARKNESS IN MALOUF & GOLDING

It is our complex fate to be the children of two worlds, to have two sources of being, two sides to our head. The desire for something simpler is a temptation to be less than we are. Our answer on every occasion when we are offered the false choice between this and that, should be, `Thank you, I'll take both.'

These words from David Malouf's 1998 Boyer Lectures refer specifically to his investigation of Australian identity, but I will try to show that they might have a wider relevance, especially in what has been referred to as a "Third Space" of enunciations(1) in which certain hidden mutualities offer a revised and revising perspective to overcome the assumption that there is an unbridgeable gulf between what are frequently seen as absolute polarities. In particular, I suggest that Malouf's refusal of "false choice" is the perilous but necessary transgression of boundaries by which "we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves."(2)

So, when Gemmy Fairley approaches the boundary fence of the Queensland settlement in which most of Remembering Babylon is set "one day in the middle of the nineteenth century,"(3) it is to reclaim the birthright of two worlds. To the children who watch him coming, put up by their yelping dog -- to Lachlan Beattie and his cousins Janet and Meg McIvor -- he looks first to be an Aborigine, and Lachlan's initial shocked thought articulates the isolated settlement's perpetual nightmare: "We're being raided by blacks" (RB, 2). But then, as the figure detaches itself from the fiery background of the, ti-tree swamp, a "no-man's land" where "everything savage and fearsome" lives, and "all that belonged to Absolute Dark" (3), the children have the impression that the figure, flickering like a flame itself, has been halfway changed into a bird, a strange, particolored creature that launches itself onto the top rail of the fence and remains poised there, preparing for flight. But it is not an Aborigine. As the figure hovers there, the words "Do not shoot ... I am a B-b-british object" (3) come stammering from his mouth. For Gemmy Fairley, as becomes clear in the course of the book, is the victim of the metropolis, of a Dickensian Britain we now tend to look back on with nostalgia. As such, he is not a representative of Aboriginal culture, though his understanding of its language and vision are a source of access to and misinterpretation of the native Australians who have become the victims of the colonial expansion of the same metropolis.

Gemmy was brought up in a workhouse orphanage, and his earliest buried memory (brought to life again by the smell of a wooden chest) is of crawling under the machines in a sawmill with other children to sweep up, and tasting the grease from a bolt mixed with sawdust as a special sweet. Once he is too big for this job, he is sold to Willett the rat-catcher as Willett's Boy. Knowing nothing else, he loves Willett, even though Willett makes him pull the sewer-rats out of the cage for the weekend fights and subjects him to beatings and casual sexual abuse when he is drunk or wants some fun. One day, not knowing quite why, but, the author suggests, as the result of "a darker nature" and the fact that "he has resentments" (151), Gemmy sets fire to the house, leaving Willett to burn on in his mind ever after, runs through the docks, finds himself on a ship, and then, after some three years of bullying and abuse, is brought up on deck, burning with fever, set adrift under the burning sun, and washes up on the Australian coast, where an Aborigine clan, with some hesitation, take him with them.

So, Gemmy's hybridity, which is the historically verified "seed of this fiction" (202), is a hybridity of victimhood, not a traditional colonial encounter. It differs significantly from Patrick White's A Fringe of Leaves, with which it has sometimes been compared, both in this and in the attitude of the Aborigines, who treat Gemmy with guarded wonder as an in-between creature, their own version of a Caliban, "half-child, half-seacalf, his hair swarming with spirits in the shape of tiny phosphorescent crabs, his mouth stopped with coral," until "he had risen up in the firelight and danced, and changed before their eyes from a sea-creature into a skinny human child" (27). No woman will touch him, and he is tormented with visions and words that are dissociated from each other and have no place in his present environment. When he finds droppings that he does not recognize and sniffs them, a clattering fills his head. Sense impressions, buried memories, and English words are potent but unconnected. In this sense he is a British object, because he has lost the grammatical power to control the world. And yet he is drawn to the settlement by something that he can only think of as a creature within that needs to be drawn to the surface by the bait of the strange words and objects from this other world:
 It was, after all, the creature, which was so drawn towards them, that
 had begun to run and for a long moment kept him aloft on the rail, which he
 gripped with his toes, using his outstretched arms to steady himself, while
 the dog pranced and slashed the air with its yelping, the boy stood with
 the gun pointing, clouds rolled, the sky weighed on his neck, and the
 country, all swamp and forest one way, raw clearings the other, swung in a
 circle about him.

 He waited for a bullet to bring him down, or for the creature, or
 spirit, to decide it was time to rise upwards and lift him away. But it
 deserted him, and it was his body that brought him down. On a cry from the
 smallest of the children, he overbalanced, began to fall, and the next
 instant was on all fours on the other side. (33)


When the shamanic spirit deserts him, and he is unable to hold both worlds within the circle, his fall is that of the helpless animal.

There is a clue here in the word spirit to the other way in which Gemmy belongs in two different worlds, and the link which makes it clear is, somewhat unexpectedly, William Golding's fiction, in particular his novel Darkness Visible. Just as Remembering Babylon begins with Gemmy "stumbling about over the blazing earth" (3) amid images of flame "in the intense heat that made everything you looked at warp and glare" (2), the mysterious boy who will be christened Matty Septimus Windrove comes walking out of the "burning bush" of the London blitz. As the firemen watch, "at the end of the street or where now, humanly speaking, the street was no longer part of the habitable world ... something moved."(4) It is a naked child. The child is taken to the hospital, and survives. No one knows who he is or where he comes from: "For all that the most painstaking inquiries could find, he might have been born from the sheer agony of a burning city" (DV, 20).

His terrible injuries have left Matty with a divided face, a good and bad side, which most people find hideously repulsive. However, a hospital nurse also discovers that there is something special about Matty, that he has experiences and perceptions which are out of the ordinary. At the Foundlings School he is responsible for the death of the boy fancied by his pedophile teacher, Mr Pedigree. The boy is found dead after a fall from the roof with Matty's gym shoe under him. Matty's mumbled words, misheard as "Eden" but later correctly identified by the headmaster as the biblical curse "Over Edom have I cast out my shoe," were a spell to dislodge the boy from the roof.(5) This is Matty's judgment on the seductive power of beauty, but officially the affair is hushed up and Pedigree sent off to prison.

Matty's later career involves him in a search for identity, progressing from the question "Who am I?" to "What am I?" and finally "What am I for?" A visionary experience of seeing a skrying stone in a bookshop window filling with sunlight on an overcast day accompanied by a "feeling of waters rising"(6) prompts Matty to go to Australia. The author's humorously detached description of Matty's hopeless sexual longings and determination to make himself a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of God is the prelude to his being attacked and almost castrated in Queensland by an Aborigine in a mockery of a crucifixion, after Matty has objected to him muttering to a stone. The vet who subsequently rescues him points out that he was actually not in the outback but near the suburbs, and that the Aborigine is a well-known local character with a grudge against missionaries. Thus, both Matty's spiritual stigmatization and the Aborigine's experience of colonial oppression, perhaps as one of the notorious stolen children, are hidden in a farcical carnival. So is Matty's subsequent prophesying in front of State House in Brisbane, where, following the example of Ezekiel, he gathers crowds who watch him enact allegories: he builds futile towers of Babel with matchboxes and explodes some seeds which scorch a number of passersby, rightly interpreted by an astute but passionless civil servant as a protest against the environmental effects of Britain's nuclear tests. After a weird self-baptism ceremony of immersion in a primeval swamp, Matty returns to England. Through diary entries, the narration shows how his literalism gives him contact with angels in conventionally colored robes with "expensive hats," who eventually assign him his part as a school caretaker in the rescue of a child whom terrorists are trying to abduct. The abductor drops his prize when Matty approaches, set alight by burning petrol from their diversionary blaze. Matty ends as he began, consumed in fire.

But he appears once more to the elderly Mr Pedigree, who is trying to lure children with a colored ball in the park. It is the moment of Mr Pedigree's death, and he finds himself communicating with Matty about the nature of human desire and the infliction of pain, until, in an alchemical apotheosis, Matty changes before his eyes:
 It was at this point that Sebastian Pedigree found he was not dreaming. For
 the golden immediacy of the wind altered at its heart and began first to
 drift upwards, then swirl upwards then rush upwards round Matty. The gold
 grew fierce and burned. Sebastian watched in terror as the man before him
 was consumed, melted, vanished like a guy in a bonfire, and the face was no
 longer two-tone but gold as the fire and stem and everywhere there was a
 sense of the peacock eyes of great feathers and the smile round the lips
 was loving and terrible. (DV, 265)


Then Matty reaches into him and forces him to relinquish the ball he is holding, which is his heart.

We may wonder what enigma is being referred to in a late twentieth-century novel, ostensibly about the condition of contemporary society, by this angel of death, or guardian angel, or worker of magic, in the shape of a simpleminded school caretaker. Conventional religious interpretations have been tried, but they fail to convince.(7) And why does Matty, who shares a number of features with Gemmy Fairley, apparently spawn other postcolonial angels? I am thinking of Gibreel Farishta in Rushdie's Satanic Verses, objectifying the memories and imagination of a dying woman in a house on Pevensey Beach. I am thinking of Mr Vercueil, the tramp who establishes himself in the garage of a South African woman academic the day she is diagnosed with cancer in Coetzee's Age of Iron; she persists in thinking he is her angel of death, and indeed he turns out to be so, as well as being Virgil, her guide through the circles of the Inferno of late apartheid, though he remains an ordinary tramp. And Virgil too provides the epigraph for Darkness Visible: "Sit mihi fas audita loqui" -- may it be permissible to me to speak the things I have heard. This in turn recalls Yeats, who wrote about magic: "I look at what I have written with some alarm, for I have told more of the ancient secret than many among my fellow-students think it right to tell."(8)

We may get further toward an answer in another aspect of Darkness Visible. Matty's story, the story of a hideous and unbearably pious simpleton, is reflected symmetrically in the story of the angelically beautiful but cynically evil twins Toni and especially Sophy, the organizers of the attempted abduction.(9) At the age of ten, Sophy discovers what she calls "Of course," which is connected with the "Sophy creature" she discovers in the dark tunnel inside her head. Through "Of course," a stone fits itself exactly to her hand and finds its unerring way to kill the last in a line of baby dabchicks swimming behind their mother. Sophy understands how her will has participated in this event, which to others could appear to be coincidence or "beginners' luck": "Only once could you allow that stone to fit itself into the preordained hand, preordained arc, and only once do so when a chick co-operates and moves inevitably to share its fate with you" (DV, 109). This is the basis of her magical powers. She connects "Of course" phenomena with two talks she hears on the transistor radio that belonged to her father's ex-lover, an Australian au pair. One talk is about "the universe running down," and the other about an experiment at guessing cards. The first is clearly the principle of entropy, the tendency of ordered structures within closed systems to descend into equilibrium -- our era's substitute for apocalypse. Acting in sympathy with this ultimate senselessness provides the ethical context for Sophy's actions. The second talk alludes to J. B. Rhine's experiments, which were referred to by Jung in postulating synchronicity as an "acausal connecting principle": the idea that things, apparent coincidences that violate the statistical laws of probability, may be vitally connected with no conventional causative link between them except meaning, a sense of inevitability, of rightness, or what Sophy describes as "Of course." But, as Sophy realizes, synchronicity does not always happen. For magic to occur, a further element is needed, which the "single vision" of Newtonian science and mechanistic conceptual language has been unable to recognize: "What they missed out of their experiments in magic which gave them little or no result, was just the stinky-poo bit, the breaking of rules, the using of people, the well-deep wish, the piercingness, the -- the what? The other end of the tunnel, where surely it joined on" (232).

The tunnel is the unconscious, and in the Jungian conception it is not just the personal unconscious, the repressed product of the drives of Eros and Thanatos, but the complex organism, independent of space and time, formed by shared archetypal pathways which, when activated, begin to glow and burn with a numinous fire. As the archetypes are potential opposites and "adversarial twins,"(10) the fire can be destructive or alchemically redemptive. Synchronicity arises out of this area where things are joined on. It is the dark complement of the rational order of the conscious mind, which observes law-governed material. It is the participating dance of rhythm and connection between the spiritual and material by which the individual and society, human beings and the environment, the animate and inanimate, can be seen as an elaborately self-regulating organism. The perception of this, and the human being's unique role in mediating between the various parts of the system in order to redeem an unbalanced and fallen creation and restore its communion with a lost spark of divinity, is the central idea of Gnosticism, the thread which joins the Renaissance Magus with Blake, Yeats, and postcolonial writers like Wilson Harris. What all of them have recognized is the primacy in this process of the creative imagination, offering access to the extremes of danger and potential in the collective unconscious. This is not artistic imagination as Romantic hubris or solipsism, because the unconscious -- and that is the difference from the Freudian unconscious -- is not a reflection of the ego. It can be integrated with the ego, and the representations of the integrated state, lung maintains, are indistinguishable from the representations of the divine.

Golding was aware of this,(11) and indeed it was Golding who gave James Lovelock the word Gaia with its associations for the concept of the earth's biosphere as a self-regulating system.(12) So, it may be too restrictive to see Matty in conventionally Christian terms. After all, "darkness visible" is a phrase drawn from Paradise Lost(13) to describe the medium in which sight is possible for the fallen angels under Lucifer, who, as light-bringer and wise though dangerous serpent entwined round Mercury's caduceus, takes on in Gnosticism an entirely different role in the liberation of humanity from the dictates of an unjust creating demi-urge. Charles Montieth, the Faber editor who "discovered" Golding's manuscript of Lord of the Flies on the reject pile and fought against odds for its publication, and who later was to champion Wilson Harris and Palace of the Peacock, recognized that Matty and Simon in Lord of the Flies are "variations on the same mysterious theme."(14) Simon is the boy who, in conversation with the pig's head on a stick -- the lord of the flies, Lucifer's deputy Beelzebub, the Beast -- is confronted with the knowledge of inner darkness and its role in the conflicts being fought out on the microcosm of the island and in the macrocosm of the nuclear war that has led to the boys' being stranded.

So, if we see Darkness Visible as an intertext of Remembering Babylon, then we are justified in reading Gemmy in the context of Matty, and indeed of Simon. I believe we are justified in this, not only in the striking parallels in the emergence of the main figure; not only in the references to fire and water (both Matty and Gemmy emerge out of a fiery landscape and disappear into fire, and Matty's swamp baptism parallels the abduction of Gemmy and his half-drowning in the creek, marking the end of Jock McIvor's attempt to integrate him into the settler community); not only in the magical description of Gemmy's body washed up and covered with tiny crabs, like Simon's dead body carried away from the shore "surrounded by a fringe of inquisitive bright creatures";(15) not only in the Queensland settings; not only in the multiple narrative perspective; but there is even a direct allusion to the title of the Golding novel in the description of the effect Gemmy has on the settlers. He is at the same time one of them, yet also the Other from "a half-forgotten swamp world going back deep in both of you" (RB, 43):
 It brought you slap up against a terror you thought you had learned,
 years back, to treat as childish: the Bogey, the Coal Man, Absolute Night.
 And now here it is, not two yards away, solid and breathing: a thing beside
 which all you have ever known of darkness, of visible darkness, seems but
 the merest shadow. (42; italics in original)


And in the epigraph that precedes the book, "Whether this is Jerusalem or Babylon we know not" from Blake's Four Zoas, which most of the novel's reviewers found merely confusing, we can recognize the wider Gnostic context referred to above.(16) It is taken from the Third Night, and refers to the situation after the fall and death of the Great Man, Albion, in a universe now dominated by single vision and Urizen, the equivalent of Lucifer's city of Pandemonium. Babylon, the tower of Babel brings confusion of languages, and the whole of Malouf's novel is full of misunderstandings of language, dialect, register, and speech impediments. It is also a place of exile. But at the same time it is imprinted with the matrix of the City of God, in which, as Yeats writes, the creative impulse can "make and unmake mankind, and even the world itself, for does not `the eye altering alter all'?": "Our towns are copied fragments from our breast; / And all man's Babylons strive but to impart / The grandeurs of his Babylonian heart."(17)

For Malouf, as I have indicated, the chance of connecting is in this power of the creative imagination. And that too is intimately related to language. To return to the scene of shimmering heat at the boundary fence at the opening of the novel, Lachlan has just been persuading his cousins that they are Siberian hunters on the trail of wolves in the snow. Only the dog, unsusceptible to this kind of imaginative human language, fails to understand the game. It is the stick Lachlan is using as a hunter's gun raised toward Gemmy, "with a belief in the power of the weapon he held that he knew was impossible and might not endure," which prompts Gemmy's cry of "Do not shoot" and crystallizes their relationship. Imagination need not be positive; it is the source of misunderstanding and illusion, for example, in the recording of Gemmy's story: the result of guesswork, wishful thinking, or, on the part of George Abbot, the schoolmaster scribe, mischievous falsification. Gemmy, meanwhile, is convinced that magic in the writing holds the whole of his life captive in the sheaf of papers. False imagination prevents the settlers from seeing the use of the plants and animals around them. Mr Frazer, the minister, writes the following in his botanical notebook:
 I think of our early settlers, starving on these shores in the midst of
 plenty they did not recognise, in a blessed nature of flesh, fowl, fruit
 that was all around them and which they could not, with their English eyes,
 perceive, since the very habit and faculty that makes apprehensible to us
 what is known and expected dulls our sensitivity to other forms, even the
 most obvious. We must rub our eyes and look again, clear our minds of what
 we are looking for to see what is there. (129-30)


Imagination comes to Jock McIvor almost against his will in the form of poetic sensibility, which gives him the epiphany of a new way of seeing: the bright insects on the grass, or a bird drinking and seeming to draw long silver threads out of the bunched or running tangle in the heart of the water. But at the same time it cuts him off from his neighbors and their oversimplifications. For Andy McKillop, another of society's victims, but a resentful one, the visit of two Aborigines to Gemmy one day is an opportunity to let his mixture of paranoia and chronic mendacity give him a chance to improve his status by claiming that the "fucken blacks" have brought Gemmy a stone:
 And the stone, once launched, had a life of its own. It flew in all
 directions, developed a capacity to multiply, accelerate, leave wounds; and
 the wounds were real even if the stone was not, and would not heal. Andy
 McKillop felt miserably that he was the first victim of it. (102)


The incident, and Andy's presentation of it, leads to an increasing polarization among the community which prefigures the larger catastrophe of World War I, and the treatment of Australian Germans during the war, which are referred to in the final chapter.(18) By contrast, what the Aborigines in fact bring Gemmy is a reminder of the power of their own vision of the land:
 ... the tract of land up there under the flight of air and the stars of the
 night sky, that was the tribe's home territory, with its pools and creeks
 and underground sources of water, its rock ridges and scrub, its edible
 fruits and berries and flocks of birds and other creatures, all alive in
 their names and the stories that contained their spirit, for a man to walk
 into and print with the spirit of his feet and the invisible impact of his
 breath. (227)


As Malouf points out in the second of his Boyer Lectures, this process of imagination, the continuity between the life without and the life within, is needed if one is to take true possession of a place -- not, he hastens to say, as yet another way of dispossessing others, but "as a move towards what is, in effect, a convergence of indigenous and non-indigenous understanding, a collective spiritual consciousness that will be the true form of reconciliation. That convergence will take place in the imagination."

But it is not Gemmy who can achieve this reconciliation, nor any of the men in the settlement. After the nighttime abduction, Gemmy is moved out to stay with Mrs Hutchence in her house in the in-between space outside the settlement. Mrs Hutchence, the enigmatic mother-figure who presumably made her money as a whore in the Malay ports, now presides over a domain of initiation into the world of the feminine focused around her niece or daughter Leona. Mrs Hutchence keeps bees, and Janet McIvor becomes her helper. One day, when Janet is having her first period, the swarm of bees descends on her:
 ... She just had time to see her hands covered with plushy, alive fur
 gloves before her whole body crusted over and she was blazingly gathered
 into the single sound they made, the single mind....

 She stood still as still and did not breathe. She surrendered herself.

 You are our bride, her new and separate mind told her as it drummed and
 swayed above the earth. (242)


Standing there, blazing, she feels possessed by something for which the "little furry-headed armed angels" (243) are only agents, which changes her in a way that Gemmy, seeing her "as a charred stump, all crusted black and bubbling" (244), has understood, but at the same time she has felt perfectly safe in the power of her own belief, "which could change mere circumstance and make miracles" (244).(19)

The incident leads Janet into a religious order. As Sister Monica, she becomes an expert in bee lore, corresponding with a German beekeeper on the bees' dance language, which causes her to be suspected of espionage. She sees the living darkness of the hive as an image for the City of God: "She would have thought of it once, the many-minded, one-minded swarm, as an angel. She thought of it these days as a machine, which was a change but not a difference" (192). From this it is clear that Malouf is using the hive as an image for the collective unconscious. It is, I feel, interesting in this context that the latest scientific work on bee colonies by Thomas Seeley has reversed the evolutionary orthodoxy prevalent since the 1970s that natural selection only operates on the level of the individual. Seeley's work has been "heretical" in proposing that bees represent an example of adaptive units at the group level:
 Recent experimental analyses of honey bee colonies have revealed striking
 group-level adaptations that improve the foraging efficiency of colonies,
 including special systems of communication and feedback control ... showing
 that evolution has produced adaptively organized entities at the group
 level.(20)


It is a fascinating indication of a possible reconciliation between the machinery of modern biology and the concept of a self-regulating organism, Gaia, with which the collective unconscious and its magic synchronicitous powers might be related.

Gemmy feels, looking back at the moment on the rail, that had he given himself over to the intensity of Janet's gaze rather than the boy's pretend gun or his body's own heaviness, he might never have fallen. Now, at the end of the book, that moment remains as an image in Janet's consciousness, with Gemmy overbalanced by some need or love in them, but not yet falling, as the tide is moved by the moon and the mind balances the margin between sea and continent. Remembering Babylon stresses that choice, between two cultures, or between the inner and outer world, is an impoverishment. The challenge is to see angels approaching, maybe in the guise of a nightmare, and to hold them in flight forever straddling the boundary between the two worlds.

Universitat Essen (Germany)

(1) A concept discussed by Homi Bhabha in "The Commitment to Theory," in The Location of Culture, London, Routledge, 1994, p. 38.

(2) Ibid., p. 39.

(3) David Malouf, Remembering Babylon, London/New York, Chatto & Windus/Vintage, 1993/1994, P. 1. Subsequent references are to the Vintage edition and are abbreviated RB where needed for clarity.

(4) William Golding, Darkness Visible, London, Faber & Faber, 1979, p. 12. This and subsequent references are to the paperback edition and are abbreviated DV where needed for clarity.

(5) This spell is an interesting parallel to the spell with which Hartley's narrator in The Go-Between begins his career as a magician, after which his tormentors also fall off a roof.

(6) One is reminded of Eliot's pool in the rose garden, or Yeats's Hawk's Well.

(7) For instance, Gunnel Cleve, "Some Elements of Mysticism in William Golding's Novel Darkness Visible," Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 83:4 (1982), pp. 457-70.

(8) Yeats, "Magic," Collected Works, vol. 7, P. 52. Yeats also provides a connection with another central postcolonial "angel" fiction: Wilson Harris's Angel at the Gate (London, Faber, 1982).

(9) The symmetrical pattern is discussed in detail in Philip Redpath, "Tricks of the Light: William Golding's Darkness Visible," ARIEL, 17:2 (1986), pp. 3-16.

(10) The phrase is taken from Wilson Harris, "Merlin and Parsifal: Adversarial Twins," in Selected Essays of Wilson Harris, London, Routledge, 1999, pp. 57-66.

(11) Baker, "An Interview with William Golding," Twentieth Century Literature, 28 (1982), p. 131.

(12) Stephen Medcalf, "Bill and Mr Golding's Daimon," in William Golding: The Man and His Books, ed. John Carey, London, Faber & Faber, 1986, pp. 41 f.

(13) John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1.

(14) Charles Montieth, "Strangers from Within," in William Golding: The Man and His Books, p. 59.

(15) William Golding, Lord of the Flies, London, Faber & Faber, 1954 (1958), p. 170.

(16) An exception is Peter Otto, whose perceptive review article "Forgetting Colonialism" (Meanjin, Spring 1993, pp. 545-58) returns to Blake and Clare to show the relevance of the epigraphs on a literary and political level. He also correctly draws attention to the centrality of the imagination in a tradition that reaches back through Romanticism. However, in trying to restrict the novel to a pre-Romantic conception of the Sublime (Burke), he not only imposes a reductionist straitjacket on the book but fundamentally misconstrues the meeting with Gemmy, which does not involve the irresistible power of the Unknown causing subjection and subsequent elation, which Otto assumes to be at the heart of the "Discourse of the Sublime." Gemmy only represents such primitive unknown forces to those of the settlers who mistrust his presence as a threat to all they believe that their civilization stands for. Malouf, in fact, using multiple narrative perspective, makes Gemmy a conduit through which the Aborigines' inviolable spiritual possession of the land is suggested at the moment of their violent physical dispossession. Malouf's images of this, for instance in Gemmy's description of how they would see Mr Fraser -- "a shape, thin, featureless, that interposed itself a moment, like a mist or cloud, before the land blazed out in its full strength again and the shadow was gone, as if, in the long history of the place, it was too slight to endure, or had never been" (RB, 68) -- far from being a strenuous attempt to forget the realities of colonial dispossession, as Otto claims, are made to glow at the heart of the book with a subtle and revealing power allied to Janet's final vision of the sea and land.

(17) W. B. Yeats, "The Symbolism of Poetry," Collected Works, Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare Head Press, 1908, vol. 6, p. 192.

(18) In this connection, Patrick White and the treatment of the German Fritz in The Tree of Man come to mind. The allegory of wider wars in Lord of the Flies might also be mentioned, especially as the outrage by which the neighbors signify their dissatisfaction to Jock is the smearing of a wall with excrement, on which Jock finds "a gathering of greenflies that heaped and bubbled" (115).

(19) Here again, Otto, while recognizing the importance of the feminine in Malouf's conception, rather willfully misreads the text. Janet is not "possessed by the spirit of this new land" (552) in being covered by the bees, as the bees are also European imports (with stings). The new spirituality which emerges from this (true) encounter with the sublime is not a "displacement of the indigenous population," as Otto argues, for only Gemmy, whose vision most closely approximates to theirs, is capable of appreciating its significance.

(20) Thomas D. Seeley, "Honey Bee Colonies Are Group-Level Adaptive Units," The American Naturalist, 150 (1997), P. S22. In the detailed report on his experimental work in The Wisdom of the Hive: The Social Physiology of Honey. Bee Colonies (Cambridge [Mass.], Harvard University Press, 1995), Seeley writes: "In 1978 no one knew that a colony can thoroughly monitor a vast region around the hive for rich food sources, nimbly redistribute its foragers within an afternoon, fine-tune its nectar processing to match its nectar collecting, effect cross inhibition between different forager groups to boost its response differential between food sources, precisely regulate its pollen intake in relation to its ratio of internal supply and demand, and limit the expensive process of comb building to times of critical need for additional storage space" (264). None of this activity is centrally controlled, but is the result of adaptive mechanisms which Seeley, somewhat subversively, contrasts with the economic sophistication supposedly unobtainable without the use of money (261).

MICHAEL MITCHELL teaches English at a Gymnasium (high school) in Germany, and is completing a doctoral thesis at the University of Warwick (in the U.K.) on links between the Gnostic/Hermetic tradition and the work of Athol Fugard, David Dabydeen, Derek Walcott, and Wilson Harris.
COPYRIGHT 2000 University of Oklahoma
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:interpretation of David Malouf's "Remembering Babylon"
Author:MITCHELL, MICHAEL
Publication:World Literature Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2000
Words:5718
Previous Article:The Stars.
Next Article:CARRICKFERGUS.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters