Abstract: This article deals with two ethnic hoaxes – O’Grady’s They’re A Weird Mob and Demidenko’s The Hand that Signed the Paper – examining their reception in the Australian literary market through the lens of Freud’s theory of the comic and the joke. Focusing on etymological implications of the comic and the joke, their respective containing and rupturing effects and how these interlink colonial, assimilationist and multicultural discourses in Australia will be pointed out. Apart from revisiting the social and literary backgrounds of the novels this will cast light on their similar perpetuation of binary oppositions which de-aestheticise the inferior “other” in favour of the superior “White” subject. On the other hand, the comic-joke relationship will be useful in order to interpret the psychoanalytical reasons for the diametrically opposite reception the novels received after the hoaxes were unveiled. This reception was due not merely to the different content of the novels but also to the locus of the comic. In They’re a Weird Mob the comic is embedded inside the text, thus containing the rupturing effect of the joke, which reveals the mimicral relationship between the two subjects of the above binary opposition and, thus, the post-colonial/post-multicultural “similarity” between them, even after the hoax was revealed. However, in Demidenko’s case the locus of the comic is to be found in its epitextual elements which meant that, once the hoax was discovered, the joke with its psychoanalytical meanings and fears haunted the “White” subject in the open, rupturing such a subject’s putative superiority. It is with the latter meaning that the neologism “hoaks” is used in this article; that is, to sum up the idea that ethnic hoaxes play on the slippery psychoanalytical ground of the comic and the joke, of superiority and its opposite, uncanny fears.

Keywords: hoaxes; hoaks; John O’Grady; Helen Darville; Helen Demidenko; the comic; the joke; assimilation; multiculturalism

Copyright © Giovanni Messina 2012. 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.