Remembering Whiteness: Reading Indigenous Life Narrative
University of New South Wales
1. Memory is a powerful tool to counter white disavowal of Indigenous histories and disavowal of the mutual entanglement of white and Indigenous subjectivities since white invasion of Indigenous lands. It has the status of an historical agent in the production of contemporary Indigeneity and in the Indigenous enterprise of intervening in the discursive reproduction of the liberal democratic nation. In this essay I examine the role of memory in Indigenous life narratives, taking as an exemplary text Ambrose Chalarimeri's The Man from the Sunrise Side which was short-listed in the non-fiction categories of the 2002 New South Wales Premier's Literary Award and Western Australian Premier's Literary Award. Chalarimeri is a Kwini elder whose traditional country is Oomarri on the King George River in the north Kimberley region of Western Australia. Chalarimeri spent his childhood and adolescence (from the 1940s to the 1960s) in the Benedictine Mission of Kalumburu in the north Kimberley. His book consists largely of a description of life on that Mission but also ranges over events of his adult life.
2. Chalarimeri extols the pedagogical virtues of 'go[ing] backwards' (48) into the history of Indigenous lives; 'you see a lot of things drawn behind' (134), he suggests, and this renovated history allows you to grasp the 'big picture'. Memory, John Frow reminds us, does not have an unmediated relation to experience; it is elaborated through specific technological and institutional conditions. By 'technological' he means that memory is mediated by particular textual practices of recall and reminiscence (Frow 230). In this essay I look at several social technologies of recall in The Man from the Sunrise Side , including life writing, archival photos, Indigenous rock painting and Chalarimeri's mobilisation of a particular ontology of the land. (Martin et. al 1988) I would like to look first at writing as tekhne—a craft of memory—and the particularised textuality of the life story.
3. By way of introduction to this discussion I want initially to remark upon the issue of first-person narrativity in The Man from the Sunrise Side and the original vernacular scene between Chalarimeri and his former non-Indigenous partner and transcriber, Traudl Tan. The Man from the Sunrise Side is the product of a series of discussions and taped interviews between Chalarimeri and Tan, and the reminders that this relationship is the foundational scene of the narrative break through the text in the form of the occasional direct narratorial address to her in the vocative case. Early on in the narrative an asterisked remark at the bottom of the page glosses Chalarimeri's phrase 'when you and I went there...' by explaining: 'Ambrose addresses Traudl from time to time' (10). In the course of the narrative Chalarimeri intermittently and briefly addresses Tan, usually to confirm the identity of particular places or events, family connections or a moral/ethical point (136, 163, 178, 206, 224, 225). These traces of the oral performance of the story remind us of the transactional and transitive nature of storytelling—the fact that it constitutes a social exchange of telling and listening. The original oral performance of the text foreshadows its re-animation in the broader public sphere through an act of reading, which convokes Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The intimacy and immediacy of Chalarimeri's address to his non-Indigenous partner is reproduced in the first-person narrative address to the reader.
4. The effects of an Indigenous narrator taking up the subject position in literary texts have major ramifications in terms of refiguring the zone of the intersubjectivity of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The rise of the eighteenth-century novel constituted an interiorisation of the world and an imaginative production of a private realm of contemplation and elaboration of feeling (Bell). These have become enshrined within the Western canon of fictional and, we might add, autobiographical narrative. (Life narratives have for some decades now been admitted into this canon as evidenced by university syllabi in departments of literary studies.) Yet if the affective individualism ( Bell, 11 ) and detailed psychological landscape constitutive of the literary and auto/biographical textuality of the Western literary canon has had a much documented history, internal complexity and the literary practice of emotional self knowledge has been reproduced as the exclusive domain of a European subjectivity. The post-Augustinian inwardness and reflexivity of the expressive individuation which have become central to western modernity and its traditions of literary and philosophical commentary (Taylor) are, in effect, a mark of the possessive investment of the white/European subject.
5. The counter traditions of the new postcolonial literatures in English, many of which have been seen as 'writing back' to the literary traditions of empire (Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin), have been demarcating subject positions and specific 'post'-colonial identities of their own. For example, Indigenous literature has developed into a significant visible presence in the field of contemporary Australian cultural production since the 1970s. With regard to the cultural development of interiorised subjectivity, Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, in Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity , argues that the 'self-focussed forms of modern [western] subjectivism' are characterised by 'a certainty of self-presence' which is 'contingent on the fact that knower and the known are the same' (Taylor 133). Given the explosion of Indigenous literary production in recent decades, one of the questions this article will focus on, is: what impact does the intervention of Indigenous literary subjectivity have on this western/European/white certainty of self-presence in contemporary Australia?
6. In order to answer this question we need to consider the issue of personal address in the first-person narration of the Indigenous life history of The Man from the Sunrise Side . The narrative voice here is clearly complex and internally inflected, marked by affective 'depth' as the narrator fleshes out his life through remembered bodily experience. The first-person address is characterised by an expressive individuality which positions the reader in an intimate connection with the narrator. In its delineation of a privatised literary realm of feeling it is 'personal' both in its mode of address and in its project of self-fashioning. From this point of view it successfully intervenes in the western literary tradition of affective individualism. When the subject position of a literary affective individualism is taken up by one of western modernity's 'others', the primary effect, I would suggest, is the decentering of the western subject. This is a process of defamiliarisation which shifts non-Indigenous readers from the position of writing subject to the position of reader and of witness of the 'other' and the processes by which this subject has been made 'other'. Non-Indigenous readers become, in effect, witnesses of their own western cultural processes of othering.
7. Defamiliarisation comprises a dual process of, on one hand, the estrangement or destabilisation of non-Indigenous centredness and, on the other, a recognition of the dependency of non-Indigenous subject-formation on processes of othering. It reminds non-Indigenous readers that their subjectivity is predicated upon an elided inter subjectivity and that, to rephrase Sara Ahmed, the encounter of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples is ontologically prior to the notion of the subject who encounters. Ahmed reminds us of the priority of encounter over identity. The subject, she argues, only comes into being through its encounters with others and its identity cannot be separated from its psychic and social interactions with them.
8. In observing the process of Indigenous literary subject-formation we become aware of the fact that western cultural identity and authority are produced by cultural processes of racialised domination. The racialisation of others is a foundation stone of the phantasmatic project of nation formation and the teleological narrative of progress that informs it. As Charles W. Mills suggests, race is not anomalous to western liberal democracies but fundamental to them; the political production of race and that of nationhood are intimately linked. Elaine Thompson similarly argues that the white Australia Policy is the ideological foundation of Australian democracy (qtd in Kane 118-9). We live in a system based the political, economic and social domination of racialised others, a system in which the dominating group enjoys widespread entitlement and privilege. We can define this dominating group as 'white', with the understanding that the cultural and 'ethnic' constituencies which make up this group of 'whites' changes throughout history. Whiteness, Mills argues, did not pre-exist the social contract of the nation; it came into existence through it (Mills 451; Allen 1994; Roediger 1994 ). The ideology of racial hierarchy is indeed integral to Australian culture; white privilege and differential entitlement and the subordination of racialised minorities are mutually constituted.
9. A recognition of this mutual imbrication entails the recognition that the contractual relations of the Australian postcolonial nation are founded on the suffering, dispossession and genocidal destruction of Indigenous peoples and their cultures. This recognition puts into question the familiar narrative of the sovereign state's guarantee of justice, its citizens' delivery from violence, and the law as guardian of public good, contractual promises made by the state in compensation for individuals' subjection as citizens. The necropolitics of the nation shadow its redemptive promise of liberal progress, civil rights and universalist citizenship. (Mbembe in Vogler and Markell, 7) The colonialist expansion which lead to the formation of the Australian nation is exposed for the instrumentalist brutality of its profit motive and its exploitation of colonial labour. A recognition of colonial violence in turn reverses the colonial paradigm which attributes savagery to colonised peoples. The recognition of the reversibility of this binary brings into view the psychic, historical and contemporary interconnectedness of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples; it confronts the disavowal and denial of the terror of the colonial past and entails a certain degree of trauma for white Australians, an issue I will return to below.
I I I I I I
10. I have been arguing here that the development of an Indigenous literary tradition (in which life narration has been a dominant genre) has staged an intervention of Indigenous affective individualism in the Australian social imaginary. Certainly the first-person narration of The Man from the Sunrise Side creates an engagingly rendered interiorised world of the life experience of the author. I would like to suggest further that Chalarimeri mobilises memory not only to forge a zone of privatised experience which is central to the formation of a complex literary Indigenous subjectivity, but that this zone functions simultaneously as a private and public zone. These private memories are, after all, published as a book which is then circulated within the public sphere.
11. Michael Warner defines public spheres—or simply 'publics'—as 'social spaces created by the reflexive circulation of discourse' (Warner 62). He argues that publics are always text-based; that in fact they come into being only in relation to texts, and do not exist apart from the discourses that address them. Publics are social and exist only by virtue of being addressed. He further suggests that 'a public is a relation among strangers' (Warner 55) and that writing addresses people who are identified through their participation in discourse; they do not know each other. He defines this condition as 'stranger sociability' or 'stranger relationality'. A public brings people together simply through participation in reading. Warner goes on to argue that the act of belonging to a public is not a permanent state of being but one that is ephemeral. Belonging to a public requires only minimal participation; publics are conjured into being simply by people paying attention to a particular discourse—indeed publics commence from the moment of attentiveness—and they cease when there is no longer attention directed to them. There can be an infinite number of publics and one can belong to many publics simultaneously.
12. Not everyone, however, has equal access in being able to address a public. Warner discusses the formation of what he terms 'counter', 'specialised' or 'alternative' publics. He describes these as often being characterised by an expressive corporeality. Counter-publics are not unique in this respect, as Warner argues that public discourse in general exploits the poetic, expressive and affective functions of language and corporeality. The poetic-expressive aspect is foregrounded in counter-public discourse, however, because marginalised discourse is not normative and constitutes an intervention within the dominant public. Warner suggests that all public discourse is fundamentally performative in that it is a process of worlding: '[w]riting to a public helps to make a world, insofar as the object of address is brought into being partly by postulating and characterising it' (Warner 64). He argues that counter-publics in particular exploit the performative dimension of public discourse as they are often oriented around aspirations of transformation:
The subordinate status of a counterpublic does not simply reflect identities formed elsewhere; participation in such a public is one of the ways its members' identities are formed and transformed. (Warner 87)
13. Warner's ideas are useful in thinking about how Indigenous writing functions as discourse and especially about the nature of the cultural work Indigenous writing does in addressing a white audience/public. This is not to argue that Indigenous texts don't also address Indigenous audiences/publics; I have argued elsewhere that Indigenous literature participates in a number of different political and cultural imperatives and performs a range of functions in its simultaneous address to Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers (Brewster 1995). However my interest in this essay is in the cross-cultural work that Indigenous texts such as The Man from the Sunrise Side perform in their address to a non-Indigenous audience.
14. I would like to pick up a number of different issues that Warner raises in his discussion of publics and relate them to the textuality of Indigenous literature and the counterpublic it invokes. The first issue that I would like to discuss is the Indigenous expressivity of the first-person narrator and how voice in The Man from the Sunrise Side functions as public discourse. In his life narrative Chalarimeri's expressive, affective subjectivism is both privatised and public. It is, in Warner's words, 'the elaboration of intimate life among publics of strangers' (Warner 57). An example of the reversibility of the public and private functions of Indigenous life writing can be seen in a couple of instances of Chalarimeri's expressions of grief for Indigenous friends and family members who were seriously injured or killed in accidents while working for the Kalumburu Mission. The first incident concerns Willie Maraltadj, a young man who was assisting on an airstrip during a difficult landing by a plane in fog. The plane had been organised to take a bishop visiting the Kalumburu area back to the New Norcia Mission in the south of Western Australia. There was an accident when the plane crash-landed in the heavy fog and Willie Maraltadj was killed. The young man was from the region and had close connections with the Mission. He was the father of four children and was related to Chalarimeri.
15. Chalarimeri relates the story movingly with great storytelling skill. It is introduced with a framing celebratory narrative about the building of a road from Wyndham to Kalumburu. This road allowed access to Kalumburu Mission which had been 'the most isolated mission in the Kimberley [region of Western Australia]' (34). He sums up the advent of the road with the warming words: '[o]ur feeling was very good because first time we see so many outside people at once' (34). He then flashes back to a year before the road was built when the accident occurred: it was 'about 1953'. The accident left the Indigenous community in shock and grief. Chalarimeri relates how 'people couldn't stop crying for a long time' (36). He tells us that the memory of this tragic event has not abated: 'I don't know about other people, but I still remember it each time I go to Kalumburu' (36). It persisted for other Indigenous people too: '[p]eople talk about it among themselves and I think they blamed the pilot' (37). We learn also that no compensation was paid to Willie Maraltadj's family despite the fact that he was working for the Mission. We are told that some time previous to Willie Maraltadj's accident, Father Rosendo had fallen off the roof and had received compensation from the church.
16. Here, we see introduced into the narrative not only grief but blame. The narrative has taken on a different trajectory; as well as being a personal story of grief it becomes a narrative about injustice and an outstanding moral and financial debt. This is a story which pays meticulous attention to detail, detail which comes together in the form of a legal testimony, recording specific dates, names of victims and witnesses, a conversation regarding the amount of money paid, and an entry in the Kalumburu War Diary which indicates that the Mission was indeed insured at this time. As well as presenting the 'evidence', the narrative assigns moral (and perhaps legal) responsibility to specific individuals; we are told that Father Rosendo, who had received the earlier insurance payout, was in charge of the Mission at the time of Willie Maraltadj's accident. Chalarimeri tells us that he attempted to seek redress in 1996 when he raised the matter with senior members of the church. The explanation he was given contradicts the evidence of the sources he cites. Chalarimeri is unable to attain redress for this situation but he is able to counter the church's silence ('[w]e never hear no more about the accident from anywhere' ). He is able to put the event on record and also bear witness to a history of the racialisation of bodies in which Indigenous bodies were mere labour chattels, engaged under conditions which afforded them minimal legal rights and rarely any remuneration. The chapter closes with a similar story about a friend who was badly burned while working on the Mission outstation. It is a short vignette of suffering and heroism. The man, Lesley French, 'still today ... got big scars' (38). As a book, a social technology of memory, The Man from the Sunrise Side is also a scar, visible and troubling.
17. The story of Willie Maraltadj is significant in recording the coming to political consciousness of Indigenous people in the region. Just as the story of Willie Maraltadj is preceded by another story—that of the road being built from Wyndham to Kalumburu and opening up the Mission to the 'outside' world—so Chalarimeri documents a general change from isolation to Indigenous peoples' wider participation in the public sphere. He analyses the event of Willie Maraltadj's death in terms of Indigenous people's ignorance of their legal rights: 'they didn't know their rights at all in those days' (38). The Man from the Sunrise Side is a testament to the development of Indigenous engagement with the public discourses of history, law and state governmentality. The change from being ignorant of the church's and state's policies for the management of Indigenous peoples - such as child removal and the defining of removed children as 'wards of the state'—to knowing the 'big picture' of post/colonial management is a profoundly significant and empowering one for Chalarimeri. Of indigenous people's loss of their children he says, 'they wouldn't have understood what it all meant, none of us did. It's only now that I find out' (27). The Man from the Sunrise Side represents one means of participating in and talking back to these discourses.
18. The expression of grief in the episode about Willie Maraltadj is thus both private and public; it constitutes a range of the different functions of memory. It is simultaneously a personal mourning for a friend and a family member, a public commemoration and political testimony. In addition to producing a zone of Indigenous literary interiority, memory is thus mobilised in Indigenous life narratives in the project of refunctioning European historical and legal consciousness. The personal witnessing of the Indigenous trauma of colonisation becomes, in Kimberly Benston's words, 'an effective political modality' (Benston 290). In the first-person narration of Indigenous life stories, voice becomes an instrument both of a renovated Indigenous identity and of an intervention into the national social and judicial imaginary. In the 'alignment of voice and purpose'—which Kimberley Benston identifies as characteristic of the expressive tradition of African-American modernism and which we could argue is also characteristic of Australian Indigenous life narrative—'political critique and self-enactment are affiliated' (Benston 293). Voice, as it is mobilised in Indigenous self writing, is an important instrument whose expressivity and performativity are both aesthetic and political. To analyse the function of voice and its expressivity in the textuality of autobiographical narration is not to invoke the category of presence and an unmediated, transcendental subject; it is, rather, in Benston's words, to be attentive to the 'mobile, ever-changing relationship of voice to signifying practices' (Benston 286).
19. The social construction of change has, nevertheless, been little theorised to date, according to Brian Massumi. He analyses the catalytic role of affect in triggering change. He suggests that affect is akin to a turning point in which a system embodies the potential for change (Massumi 2002, 32-3). At this point the past opens out directly onto the future (Massumi 2002, 30) and a field of emergence is created. This field is constituted by passage and by indeterminacy (Massumi 2002, 8) and it is open-endedly social, that is, 'it is social in a manner "prior to" the separating out of individuals and the identifiable groupings that they end up boxing themselves into' (Massumi 2002, 9). Massumi insists, like Ahmed, on the priority of relationality, an idea we can apply to our discussion of the psychic, social and historical intertwining of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples: 'coming-together, or belonging-together takes logical and ontological precedence over discreteness of components' (Massumi 2000, 197). He also suggests that relationality is characterised by the 'openness of an interaction to being affected by something new in a way that qualitatively changes its dynamic nature' (Massumi 2000, 191). Relationality, moreover, registers on the body materially and affectively before it registers cognitively or consciously. Participation (in the dynamics of interrelationality) precedes cognitive understanding.
20. Hence affect is an indicator of change taking place in the zone of interrelationality. Affect, Massumi suggests, is situational, processual and it inhabits passage. The moment of change is a moment of surprise. The recognition of racialised otherness, prompted by the act of reading Indigenous texts, I suggest, is precisely such a moment of surprise. The double scene of white estrangement and recognition embodies a moment of emergence across the threshold of surprise. What emerges is the potential for a refiguring of whiteness and intersubjectivity. There is a temporal gap/disjunctive temporality in this double scene of estrangement and recognition: a sense of belatedness. For white Australians, recognition of the violence of the colonial past is accompanied by a abject sense that it is too late; the acts have already been committed. This can lead to a sense of guilt. In the theatre of white postcolonial citizenship, guilt is almost inevitable for the middle class, marked as the latter is by an awareness that it has benefitted from Indigenous people's dispossession of land and the exploitation of their labour in the production of the nation. Julie Ellison describes contemporary first-world neo liberal guilt as 'liberalism in its current abject mode' (Ellison 348). She suggests that liberal guilt accompanies a sense of the failure of a utopian project, in this case the triumphalist liberal promise of nationhood.
21. I would like to suggest that one of the moments of intense white abjection/neo liberal guilt produced in reading The Man from the Sunrise Side coalesces around memories Chalarimeri has of being told by the old people about chained indigenous prisoners being moved across land on foot. He never saw this directly, and it was a painful memory not talked about much (85), but he found evidence of this practice in the archives. He describes how
[o]ur people were tied up with the chain round their neck. It was like a heavy iron collar, round, and they were tied one to the other in a line together. While the police was riding horses, their prisoners had to walk behind the horse for hundreds of miles. No road there, only horse tracks in the '40s. Sometime the iron ring round the neck was too tight, and at least one man died because of it. When on the march, the chain that held the prisoners was tied to the horse that carried the police. Sometime horse get in a fright and bolt and run and drag the prisoners. I saw one case recorded in the archive when I was looking in there; there must have bin more like that. (84)
The image of people chained at the neck to each other immediately calls to mind a widely-known photograph of just such a scene, one of the most haunting archival reminders of the brutal colonial disciplining of the Indigenous body. When we see these images we are reminded that power is not an abstract set of signs or functions, but that it is a material force and functions directly on bodies, which are its primary object (Grosz 64). We are reminded of the socially-sanctioned forms of institutionalised cruelty that comprise the colonial regime and of the 'body-writing-implements' by which the Indigenous body was racialised through a 'mnemonics of pain' (Nietzsche qtd by Grosz 66). The melancholy image of chains proliferates in The Man from the Sunrise Side in numerous reminiscences. Chalarimeri tells us about sick people, such as lepers and those with venereal disease, kept in chains so that they wouldn't run away (83, 95); of women being kept in chains (85); and his brother, Martin, as a boy, being placed in a dog collar and chained to a tree (25). It has been suggested that the primitive body is understood as all surface and that depth and interiority—the marks of a psyche, a private, psychological self—are symptomatic of the modern, western body. (Grosz 1990, 70) The juxtapostioning of images of two-dimensional, anonymous Indigenous figures of the colonial past and a highly personalised, individuating narrative of Indigenous self-fashioning produces an uncomfortable ironic contrast. The 'savage' body of the Indigene, marked with the colonising body-writing-implements, is a haunting inscription of the depth of suffering wrought upon an absented Indigenous subjectivity. White abjection proliferates around a recognition of colonial brutality and the instability and reversibility of the binary civilised/savage.
22. As Elizabeth Grosz suggests, 'power functions directly on bodies by means of disciplinary practices' and bodies and behaviours are 'the means by which power functions and proliferates' (Grosz 64). Throughout the narrative Chalarimeri describes the clash between 'tribal way' (1990, 23) and church practices. These conflicts were inevitably resolved through the violence the church metted out on Indigenous bodies. This violence was specifically coded—'[t]hey called it discipline I think' (23)—and was invoked in the name of the civilising mission: '[p]eople used to be punished a lot so they could become good and civilised' (27). Indigenous bodies were the subject of the social contracts of church and state and were racialised according to a spectrum of differentialising punishments such as the use of chains and flogging; as Chalarimeri states: 'I never seen a white person flogged' (27).
23. There were a range of other disciplinary procedures by which Indigenous bodies were racially corporealised and turned into subordinate subjects in order to be mobilised as a post/colonial labour force. A photo from the Benedictine Community of New Norcia shows Chalarimeri as a boy with a group of indigenous boys and one of the Fathers at Kalumburu Mission in the late 1940s or early 1950s (87). The older boys in the back row are in awkward positions with their chins tilted upwards, heads tilted back and lips pressed together. We can see the traces here of the incorporating practices and stylisation of the body enacted on the ceremonial institutional occasion of having a photo taken. We can read the instruction to 'stand up straight' from the mnemonics of the disciplined body: the stiff postures and facial expressions. The act of taking a photo is the occasion for the disciplinary practice of standing to attention; it acts as a technique of surveillance. The camera as an apparatus of control supplies the material for compiling an archive; it is also an instrument by which the church and state produce, circulate and consume knowledge of the Indigene thus consolidating their authority. Another photo from the same archive, this one of the docile men lined up for rations (54), is a graphic image of the supervision, regulation, regimentation and routinisation of bodies, the confinement and containment of which contrasts markedly with the photo above it which depicts a group of men—of similar number and distance from the camera—this time in an animated array of dancing. (Throughout Chalarimeri's narrative, dancing is an important practice of Indigeneity in which contemporary and traditional interests and concerns merge.)
24. If indeed the body is 'the coursing sign of subjective life' (Pollock 8), literature is an efficacious vehicle for recording the traces of the embodied everyday life of the subject. Indigenous life narrative links racialising social processes and institutional practices to their effects on bodies. It invests racialising processes with materiality and presence by demonstrating, through the singularity and particularisation of voice and narrative characterisation, the systemic incorporating practices of the postcolonial nation. Elizabeth Grosz argues that as well as being the site of post/colonial knowledge-power, the body is also a site of resistance which can mark a counterstrategic reinscription of the body. The body, she insists, 'always entails the possibility of a counterstrategic reinscription, for it is capable of being self-marked, self-represented in alternative ways'. (Grosz 64)
25. I have been arguing that, in its first-person address, The Man from the Sunrise Side convokes a public of non-Indigenous readers (in addition, of course, to a public of Indigenous readers) and in so doing convenes a cross-racial 'dialogue' on the troubled issue of white Australia's inter-racial relation to the past. I'd like to suggest that The Man from the Sunrise Side is a deeply philosophical text which, in its ruminations on the ongoing effects of colonial violence, theorises two Indigenous spiritual/psychic practices which constitute a philosophy of Indigenous corporeality. The first of these focuses on memory and the second on continuity/reversibility. I will look first at Chalarimeri's discussion of memory and the role it might play in the Reconciliation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous constituencies in the postcolonial nation.
26. I have discussed already two technologies of Indigenous memory in The Man from the Sunrise Side, namely the book and archival photos, and I'd like now to look at two more, the Guyon Guyon rock paintings and Chalarimeri's conception of the land. The Guyon Guyon rock paintings are located in Chalarimeri's traditional homeland, the Oomarri region of the north Kimberley in Western Australia. These paintings represent a contested site; they have been named the 'Bradshaw paintings' after an Englishman who examined them in 1890. Since then a number of contemporary white professionals continue to insist upon their authority and expertise in naming and defining the paintings, and to arrogate to themselves the right to reproduce and distribute photos either in scholarly discourse or for commercial profit. Chalarimeri, on the other hand, draws on the authority of an elderly relative and other indigenous elders to establish both the meaning and his custodianship of the paintings. The paintings are deeply significant to him in their function as a technology of memory. They represent an index of his ancestors—'our tribe has bin there'—and the ancestors' occupation and inhabitation of the land: '[y]ou know that people had been there before, you look at the rocks there; people might have been sitting on it' (77).
27. Chalarimeri's cousin sister, Mary Pandilo, an indigenous authority, names and explains the figures represented in the Guyon Guyon paintings: '[t]hey're jimi , they're here one minute and gone the next' (80). And Chalarimeri provides us with a vivid and precise description of the figures in the paintings:
There are people in the paintings, they're like people but they're spirits, jimi , good spirits. The way they have bin painted they're like floating, just like people bin float past in the air with their feet point downward. They look like real people with ngadarri (paperbark hats) on their head shaped like a cone ... The body is mainly thin and long, very thin, with a bit of a tummy in the front, long legs and long arm, and narrow shoulders. (79)
Perhaps what is most important is the paintings' signification of persistence: '[t]he painting is still there, no matter how old it is' (77). As a technology of memory the paintings are more durable than the book: 'rock ... last much longer than any paper' (77-8). The paintings also represent the persistence of Kwini culture: Chalarimeri catalogues the hats, hairstyles, clothes, accessories and weapons of the jimi according to their Kwini names, and we know from his descriptions of traditional Kwini dances which are still practised, that these same accoutrements continue to be used. Despite the fact that 'there's not too many left' (78) of his people, Chalarimeri takes comfort in the fact that '[his] people live there long time' (78). The slippage between past and present tenses in Chalarimeri's Aboriginal English points to an understanding of the past as co-existing with the present. The ancestors live on as spirits: '[t]heir spirits are there now. You can feel it when you're there' (77). In this form they are perceived at the edges of everyday life and perception: they 'float' like the jimi spirits; they are perceived intermittently - like the jimi 'here one minute gone the next'; and register as aural traces - sounds at night, noises among rocks and grasses, footsteps. These persistent (in)corporeal traces of the ancestors affirm an intertwining of spirits and land; of spirits and people; of land and people; and of paintings and spirits/land/people. These intertwinings in turn point to a relation of reversibility, evident in statements such as, a person 'belongs' to a painting (80). This statement breaks down the hierarchised binary according to which paintings can only belong to people. It challenges the Enlightenment fantasy of the authoritarian, wilful, knowing, owning self and points to different forms of (in)corporeal performativity and relationality.
28. A non-Indigenous theorist may be able to provide further (if necessarily limited) directions for understanding the complex ideas that Chalarimeri raises. In body images Gail Weiss borrows from Merleau-Ponty's discussion of écart, which she summarises as 'a space of non-coincidence which resists articulation' (Weiss 120). She defines écart as
a space of disincorporation [which] marks the fissures and gaps that allow us to separate bodies from what they were, what they are not now, and what they may or may not become' (Weiss 127).
While Weiss takes up Merleau-Ponty's concept of écart and reversibility mainly in the context of cyborgian posthuman linkages between bodies and machines, these concepts have interesting resonances with Chalarimeri's image of the floating figures of the Guyon Guyon paintings. The concept of écart, the space of non-coincidence, has parallels with Chalarimeri's cosmology where continuities and reversibilities of land, painting, person, spirit, past and present befuddle western binaries. It gives us another way of theorising mobility, openness and change. Needless to say, the image of the floating figure of the Guyon Guyon paintings seems to encapsulate simply and eloquently the abstract formulations of disincorporation/reincorporation, rising elegantly above the attenuated labours of the non-Indigenous theoretical enterprise.
29. This philosophy of relationality, continuity and performativity finds further elaboration in Chalarimeri's theorisation of a Kwini relationship to land. His Indigenous ontology of land reverses several western binaries, perhaps the most widely recognised instance of which is the notion that the land belongs to the people; in his formulation the land is primary and the people 'belong' to it. Chalarimeri also tells us that 'you can talk to the land and the land can talk to you' (141). The continuity and reversibility of land and people for the Kwini is not interrupted by time: 'the land will always be there, it never go away' (141). Indigenous discourse of the land moreover is a powerful technology of feeling and remembering, preserving the memory, for example, of massacres such as the Forrest River Massacre of 1926 (177). Its significance for Chalarimeri and others like him is infused with mourning and a penetrating sense of loss; in the diasporas produced by missions and reserves, Indigenous people like Chalarimeri 'were grown up away from their country' (141), losing much of their traditional knowledges and practices and making difficult their claim to the land in white courts of law. The Indigenous diasporic condition, like white abjection, is marked by a sense of belatedness; recognition comes after the event, as when Chalarimeri says 'only later they turn around and realise ... the land bin taken away from them' (133). It is also marked by a sense of it being too early for healing or completeness. 'Reconciliation' or a renovated postcolonial community, like the 'other', is always located in the future.
30. Throughout the nation, land is a violently contested site: even though Chalarimeri counts himself 'lucky' in the Kimberley, as 'many Aboriginal people [elsewhere] cannot go back to their land any more, it's all full, no space left for them, because other people are on it' (134), his own land is the subject of disputed native title claims and ongoing incursion by mining and flooding due to the construction of dams. His custodianship of the land locates him within the global arena of late capitalist expansion and consumerism, and the national realm of differential citizenship rights. In these publics he performs the role of community spokesperson, advocate for Indigenous rights and mediator. The cover of The Man from the Sunrise Side depicts a photo of Chalarimeri superimposed upon the 'floating' Guyon Guyon figures. The juxtaposition affirms Chalarimeri's custodianship of and groundedness in the land and ongoing political struggle. It also affirms Indigenous psychic, spiritual and cultural continuity and performative mobility.
31. I have argued that the public remembering of Indigenous lives and the deprivatisation of Indigenous memory and feeling convokes a zone of non-Indigenous witnessing. Published in 2001, The Man from the Sunrise Side appeared immediately after the decade of the national policy of Reconciliation. At this time the book was commonly situated within this discourse: in a review in a Broome newspaper, for example, it was assessed as making 'an apt contribution to the growing number of Indigenous tales in a time of reconciliation' (Shinju Matsuri, 2002, p.9). I have suggested that Chalarimeri's narrative directly addresses non-Indigenous readers in its discussion of numerous cultural and political issues that it sees as of concern to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. I would like to suggest further that, in its elaboration of a philosophy of memory and forgetting, The Man from the Sunrise Side directly engages with the question of Indigenous affect and that this has important ramifications for the cultural formations and affective dispositions of whiteness.
32. As I have suggested, Chalarimeri's narrative inevitably raises Indigenous issues of loss and mourning. In addressing painful memories he develops a complex philosophical formulation of justice. In several of the instances which focus on unresolved issues of injustice, such as in the stories of Willie Maraltadj and Lesley French which I discuss above, Chalarimeri indicates that the pain of injustice lingers. This is a situation where forgetting is not an option available to Indigenous people. Historian Peter Burke suggests that
It is often said that history is written by the victors. It might also be said that history is forgotten by the victors. They can afford to forget, while the losers are unable to accept what happened and are condemned to ... relive it and reflect how different it might have been. (106)
33. Life narratives such The Man from the Sunrise Side bear evidence of the persistence of Indigenous memories of colonial terror and violence. Chalarimeri dwells at length on floggings and other colonial disciplinary practices, which were mobilised to punish Indigenous people, as I discuss above. Against the white system of justice he juxtaposes an Indigenous system which, he argues, has the merit of facilitating forgetting. He describes, for example, how fighting to resolve disputes is seen as a way of achieving closure: 'when they break up the fight, that's the end' (24); 'the matter is finished then' (24); 'it's all right after. No more then ... finished' (25). He describes how fighting produces resolution for a range of wrongdoings (see for example Cowlishaw 120) and how this is seen as a more effective means of conflict resolution than attenuated white legal processes:
that was the [Indigenous] rule; no trial, square him, that was it. White man way you still go for a long time against this one and that one ... Aboriginal law ... [decrees that] once the two finished [fighting] that is the end, no more then, people don't think about it any more. (31)
34. Forgetting is seen here as the desired outcome of conflict resolution. I would like to suggest that Chalarimeri is advocating a form of 'forgetting' for white Australia, regarding cross-racial guilt and white Australia's unresolved relationship with the violence of its colonial past. This forgetting would comprise neither disavowal, cultural amnesia nor nescience. It would be generated by recognition and acknowledgment and would constitute a 'finishing' of the pain that generates denial and disavowal. (Brewster 1995, 30)
(I do not advocate here a denial or a refusal to commemorate figures and events in indigenous history.)
35. Just as Geoffrey Stokes suggests that Indigenous people have a distinctive tradition of political thought (Stokes 159), I would propose that Indigenous life narratives, in their address to non-Indigenous people and their discussion of racialised inter-affective dispositions, contribute to an ongoing tradition of public intellectual debate and produce new ways of figuring contemporary Australian social imaginaries. Indigenous figuring of the relationality of the past, people, land and spirituality draws on the ideas of reversibility and continuity, rather than hierarchised binary oppositions. Such a model is also useful for figuring the relationality of Indigenous and non-Indigenous constituencies within the circumference of the postcolonial nation. The western analytical philosophical tradition has been clearly inadequate in terms of its lack of attentiveness to the place of feeling in ethics, largely due to liberal humanism's detachment from the body. Indigenous discourse, on the other hand, mobilises affect in a way which facilitates, among other things, a renovation of a white postcolonial ethic of relationality.
36. Stephen Muecke has called for attention to be directed to 'Aboriginal philosophy'; I would like further to suggest that any such project be accompanied by an analysis of the imbrication of whiteness in the racialising cultural, psychic and political processes of the postcolonial nation. As Aileen Moreton-Robinson says, '[a]s long as whiteness remains invisible in analyses[,] "race" is the prison reserved for the "Other"' (Moreton-Robinson xix). I would suggest that non-Indigenous commentary on Indigenous texts, debates and agendas should be complemented with a political and cultural analysis of the subject-formation of whiteness. For example, Indigenous literary texts and cultural formations can be read in a way which, in Giroux's words, 'take[s] a detour through race in order to decide how "whiteness" might be renegotiated' (Giroux 295). In other words, in their scholarly and pedagogic enterprise of mobilising and circulating Indigenous literary texts within the educational public sphere, non-Indigenous academics can examine how the space of relationality, in which racialised and white subjects are conjointly produced, is figured.
37. I have talked about how white Australia is haunted by the violence of its colonial past, a phenomenon recognised by many Indigenous cultural workers, intellectuals, politicians and community activists. Aden Ridgeway, for example, suggests that the stories of the stolen generations can aid in bringing about 'a national cathartic confrontation with the past in order to transform ourselves and deal with the unfinished business' (Ridgeway 16). Additionally, Sir Gus Nossal, deputy chair of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, talked about the need for 'an acknowledgment of the tragic history since white settlement' (Gratton 6). White Australia has quarantined the past rather than recognise how it continually lives on in and animates the present. I have argued that in their convening of a public sphere of dialogue about the troubled zone of racialised intersubjectivity, Indigenous writers and story tellers such as Chalarimeri are brokering reconciliation—not just that of/with Indigenous people—but the reconciliation of white Australia with its own history of terror. The act of witnessing Indigenous life narratives has enabled white readers to witness their own act of witnessing and to mobilise the effects of the defamilarisation of whiteness. As I suggest above, the truth claims of Indigenous life narratives foreground the stakes in the larger, more profound national crisis of truth. The stakes in this crisis are the possessive investment in the authority, privilege and entitlement that accompany whiteness.
38. A recognition of the reversibility of the relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can lead to a sense of neo liberal white abjection as the triumphalist narrative of national progress collapses. I'd like to suggest that The Man from the Sunrise Side can move white guilt and abjection into productive anti-racist cultural and political positions and enable non-Indigenous people to imagine new modalities and metaphoricities of relationality. The project of renovating white postcolonial ethics through an attentiveness to, among other things, white affect, does not reconfigure the assimilationist fantasy of a nation beyond the categories of race. Rather, it locates white subjectivity within a racialised realm of becoming and recognises: the dual orientation of beings inwards and outwards; the non-coincidence of whiteness with itself; that whiteness is inseparable from the immediacy of its relations with its others; and the reversibility of racialised identifications. It understands relationality as dynamic, open to interaction, emergent and actively indeterminate. If white abjection arises from the terror occasioned by the threatened dissolution of the border between the inside and outside, reading Indigenous texts such as The Man from the Sunrise Side enables non-Indigenous people to shift terror into recognition and to affirm the generative openness of indeterminacy. Non-Indigenous Australians are in some sense also floating beings, the relation to themselves being continually reconfigured, as Deleuze puts it, 'elsewhere and otherwise' (104). It is the political consequences of the 'elsewhere and otherwise' that we need to attend to.
Anne Brewster teaches at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. She has published widely on whiteness and white readings of Australian Indigenous literature. Her books include Reading Aboriginal Women's Autobiography (1996) and Literary Formations (1995) and she has co-edited, with Angeline O'Neill and Rosemary van den Berg, an anthology of Australian Indigenous Writing, Those Who Remain Will Always Remember (2000). Email: email@example.com
Thanks to the UNSW Ethics Reading Group (Gay Hawkins, Raya Massie and Di Powell) which in its early stages discussed some of the philosophical material that informs this essay. Thanks also to Raya Massie for comments on a draft of this chapter. I would also like to thank Peter Cook and Souk-Yee Wong for their research assistance.
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