Thank you for letting me re-discover parts of you this recently. This enriching experience has, however, occasioned twinges of regret for abstaining from acquaintance with you at university (this is colloquially known as ‘blowing you off’, ‘snubbing you’ or ‘giving you the cold shoulder’).
Your subject ‘Contemporary Australian Literature’ enticed me. But I was repelled by the thought of rushing through such delicacies (‘A book a week?! That’s crazy!’); unable to savour their unique taste. I was also uncertain about whether I could avoid plays – sorry to offend those members of your family. I decided to pursue my love of analysis through political science and history. In a sense, I searched for living water in other wells.
But oh literature I do like you. Your carefully constructed words laden with meaning and imbued with emotion. Or seemingly flung – discordant and haunting – onto the page but with pattern and form floating almost imperceivable underneath.
I love how you compel a myriad of readings that are then spun into impassioned essays: Marxist, post-structuralist, feminist, post-colonialist, psychoanalytic. Your interlocutors are rarely detached and distant. If we’ve taken the time to converse with you then you’ve probably engaged, enraged or invaded us. Your expressions have coalesced with our own to move us somewhere unexpected. Unlike a tidy formula in a political science journal, you speak to the universal and particular of human experience.
And yet you construct meaning as we construct our readings of you. The dynamic interplay of reader and text, meaning and interpretation is unceasingly re-formed and shaped. You grow as we grow, and change as we change. New spaces within culture, time and geography extend you, but there you remain: your neat black text just waiting to be unravelled in a new way.
My favourites sit quietly upon my shelf. Each is attached to memories, places and people – it seems that no book (even in a library) is an island. It’s a delight to see my housemate discovering many of your treasures. Her delight at compelling narratives reignites mine. In contrast, thus far my bulky tomes of history inform me, but they don’t often move me. They change my thoughts but largely leave my heart stagnate and languishing (n.b. Reformation and Post-Reformation church history may be an exception to this, but we’ll see).
So, to summarise: literature, I’m sorry for deserting you. We got on so well in year eleven and twelve where you drew me in with pensive T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath poetry, contemporary Australian works by Hannie Rayson, Tim Winton and Louis Nowra and surprisingly even Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Though you failed to nurse my interest during your Judith Wright period (sorry, I just couldn’t get into veiled references to the Vietnam War through nature-based analogies, perhaps because I’ve never been able to appreciate the sensory delights of nature in the same way as Wright); the amazing metaphors within The Great Gatsby, Donnie Darko and A Streetcar Named Desire re-kindled my appetite.
Your Hosea’s Wife,