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Towards a Postcolonial Ecopoetics of Relationality: Journeying Through the Borders of Self in Alexis Wright's The Swan Book

ContributorsBarras, Arnaud
Presented atApproaching Posthumanism and the Posthuman, Geneva (Switzerland), 5 june
Publication date2015
Abstract

From the 1960s onwards, intellectual movements of contestation have interrogated the concept of "the human" as a separate individuality. Postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, environmentalism and feminism have begun challenging the mechanistic, instrumentalist and dualistic assumptions of Western epistemology. In many ways, these movements of contestation have paved the way for a conception of the human not as a bounded and discrete individuality, but as an embodied and embedded consciousness caught up in a meshwork of interactive relations. Against the individuality of the human, posthumanist perspectives offer the relationality of becoming. In this essay, I will argue that Alexis Wright's The Swan Book epitomizes the shift to a relational self. In this complex narrative system that combines poststructural, postcolonial, and ecofeminist undertones, Wright enables the reader to experience the dissolution of the bounded notion of "self". The protagonist of the novel is the mute Aboriginal girl Oblivion Ethyl(ene), or Oblivia. After her rape by a gang of petrol-sniffing youths, Oblivia is silenced, marginalized, traumatized, traditionalized: she is left for dead by her family, despised by her community and married by force to an Aboriginal president of Australia whom she does not even know. However, Oblivia is able to overcome her dire situation by transcending her Self through stories. In an Aboriginal mode of characterization combining postmodern and indigenous counter-epistemologies, Wright establishes a postcolonial ecopoetics of relationality where Oblivia is made to reconstruct a more suitable environment for herself by combining foreign folk stories about swans with Aboriginal dreamings, and by then juxtaposing this combination onto her direct surroundings. In this metaleptic storyworld, Oblivia becomes an intertextual-intersubjective-transcultural-being. As Oblivia overcomes the Western categories of individuality, culture and body, through empathy the reader is made to journey along with her through the borders of "self".

Keywords
  • Posthumanism
  • Alexis Wright
  • The swan book
  • Aboriginal literature
  • Organism-environment relationship
  • Embodiment
  • Ecology
  • Environment
  • Body
  • Relationality
  • Postcolonial literature
  • Australian literature
  • Story
Citation (ISO format)
BARRAS, Arnaud. Towards a Postcolonial Ecopoetics of Relationality: Journeying Through the Borders of Self in Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book. In: Approaching Posthumanism and the Posthuman. Geneva (Switzerland). 2015.
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