University Of Tasmania
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Aspects of metamorphosis in the fiction of David Malouf

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posted on 2023-05-26, 23:36 authored by Hamilton, VM
Central to David Malouf's fiction is the importance of individual perception and interpretation in the determination of a reality which ultimately must be subjective and relative. Although his narratives include significant changes of place and circumstance it is through characters' psychological and spiritual development that transformation, or metamorphosis, is most apparent. In other words, external changes remain subordinate to the internal ones of individual growth of consciousness and altered perception. Malouf also focuses on transforming readers' perceptions through creating a new mythology. His is a mythology based on imaginative recreation of the past which is then synthesised with the present. It is these aspects of metamorphosis which will direct my analysis of Malouf's novels. Diverse thematic levels in Malouf's fiction afford a variety of critical perspectives. A review of the extensive range of material written about Malouf reveals that three critics dominate the field: Amanda Nettelbeck, Ivor Indyk and Philip Neilsen. Nettelbeck's analysis of Malouf's fiction demonstrates her claim that 'the tendency to look for national definition is [...] being replaced by a more critical concern with the processes and effects of national myth-making.' 1 The significance of language and memory, defining aspects of Malouf's style, form the basis for her detailed study. The value of 'memory' was also intrinsic to the nineteenth-century Romantic vision and indeed Nettelbeck acknowledges a Romantic influence in Malouf's novels: 'Malours writing is imbued with both a romantic aesthetic (in its appeal to enduring universals and natural cycles) and a political consciousness (in its review of cultural history in general and Australia's cultural history in particular).' 2 Despite her claim that his work contains 'contradictions' Nettelbeck asserts that Malouf achieves a perpetual balance or compromise between these two opposing critical perspectives: `Malouf forges a tentative but persevering balance between potentially oppositional ways of viewing and of knowing the world' (iii). Post-Romantic elements in Malouf's fiction are also noted by Philip Neilsen who published a revised edition of his 1990 critical volume Imagined Lives, in 1996. In this analysis of the binary oppositions underlying Malouf's writing, he also discusses the recurring themes of 'a yearning for self-transformation and for wholeness; [and] a postRomantic deference to Nature and the imagination' which prevail in Malouf's writing (218-9). Ivor Indyk, in David Malouf, provides a detailed analysis of post-Romantic aspects of Malouf's novels which include Malouf's portrayal of 'imagination as \the first principle of creation' the significance of the organic cycles of nature and psychological and spiritual self-transformation from fragmentation to wholeness and a sense of continuity (27). While I don't ignore the critical perspective of Nettelbeck which was in fact a major source of inspiration for this thesis my analysis here emphasises the post-Romantic elements of Malouf's construction of individual metamorphoses. Although geographical temporal and cultural issues play an important role ultimately my focus transcends national and contemporary aspects of identity. It is Malouf's fictional representation of the spiritual and emotional stages of life which direct my analysis. These 'stages' are exemplified by relationships with the natural world experiences of loss and displacement a coming to terms with one's own mortality and a search for spiritual meaning. It is these moments of inner metamorphosis common to human development and regardless of culture or era which create a universal dimension for Malouf's novels. In order to clarify the thematic focus for this thesis 'aspects of metamorphosis' I will explain some of the basic elements informing my concept of metamorphosis as it relates to Malouf's fiction. The concept of metamorphosis or transformation has interested humankind for centuries and much has been written about it from many perspectives. Theories of evolution and transformation have yielded valuable links to the past that have inspired fear and fascination throughout history. Changing form or substance changing circumstances and changing attitudes paradoxically remain constant elements of human experience from which we can trace our development. The idea of evolutionary connection between nature animals and humankind remains a focus for both spiritual and biological arguments."


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Copyright 2001 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (MA)--University of Tasmania, 2001. Includes bibliographical references

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