Abstract: David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon (1993) chooses an imagery that evokes a Indigenous-inspired way of dealing with historical experience so as to “heal” the nation. Thus, his fictional attempt at the Reconciliation of mainstream and Indigenous Australia partakes in the official revision of contact history which recognises Indigenous claims upon a de-Aboriginalised past from which an Anglo-Celtic national identity has been constructed. Yet, Malouf’s revision of Australianness is as troubling as the official Reconciliation process proved to be. Malouf’s romantic adaptation of the life of the historic James Murrells—emulating the iconic figure of the white man gone native—replicates the tense 1990s debate on Reconciliation and Apology but takes it out of its political context. Unlike his real-life model, the cultural hybrid Gemmy Fairley is consistently infantilised and feminised at his return to white civilisation, which undercuts his possibilities for agency and takes the reader back to the very tensions in race and gender the narrative underplays but cannot overcome. Whereas Malouf’s subscription to a romantic literary project aims to bring the nation into contact with itself through a healing re-Dreaming of history, this produces a f(r)iction in which re-imagination and distortion of the past uncannily circle through each other, unsettling the political correctness the tale aims to forward. This postcolonial uncanny ambiguity, the result of competing histories and world views, is in tune with the open-endedness of Malouf’s novel: as a postmodern Australian explorer narrative, rather than offering a notion of resolution, its longing for a repaired or “full” Australian identity remains trapped in nostalgia.
Keywords: David Malouf, Australianness, Indigeneity, the Gothic, the uncannny
Copyright © Cornelis Martin Renes 2014. This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged.