Monthly Archives: June 2007
Note: This essay was written for Contemporary Australian Fiction unit at CQU, Australia, Sem 1, 2007. Apologies for typos and occasional font issues, as using an OCR can mess with formatting.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously stated that “you cannot step into the same river twice”: While there is a source and an outlet to the sea, the river itself is moveable, alive, changing — never the same. Everything in the universe is like that river, he argued — always in a constant state of flux. Applied to history, Heraclitus’ observation would suggest that there is no event from the past we can point to and say We know it l with certainty. As Heraclitus’ descendants, the deconstructionists would have it, all texts are ambiguous, and every event is a text. We look out at a landscape and read it, but the I person standing next to us and looking out will not be stepping into the same text. In David Malouf’ s Johnno, such ambiguity plays an important role not only as a meta-narrative overlaying the pseudo-memoir Malouf has written, but more importantly in the specific conclusions and actions resulting from the choices his literary characters make in reading the Australian historical landscape and wading into her sustaining myths. In this brief essay, I will discuss the characterizations Malouf appeals to in Johnno in constructing his own fictional Australia, and argue that the work is a deconstructive analysis of mythmaking in Australia, as well as a romantic homage to that tradition in its own right. In addition, as a point of comparison, I will take note of relevant myth-wading in Peter Carey’s My Life as a Fake.