Ivor Indyk on Gerald Murnane and the Provincial Imagination

Ivor Indyk presenting his seminar

In his essay on 'The Provincialism of Small Nations', Milan Kundera defines provincialism as 'the inability (or the refusal) to see one's own culture in the large context.' I would like to reverse this definition, and give it a positive value, by arguing that provincialism can be characterised by its determination, precisely, to see the large context in one's own culture. I am interested in this compensatory power, when from a vantage point on the periphery, the provincial imagination reaches out to encompass the whole world. There are two ways, in particular, in which the whole world might be invoked from a remote or neglected standpoint. The first, in which the world is seen in a detail, many things in one thing, we may term encyclopaedic – we see it particularly in the writing of such declared provincials as Joseph Furphy, Les Murray or Murray Bail. The second, in which a detail or a scene acts as an entry point to another world, nestled in or encompassing this one, I think of as recursive – a better term might be 'imaginative recursion', the imagination's capacity to engender worlds within or beyond the given world. The writer who most embodies this drive, from an avowedly provincial standpoint, is Gerald Murnane. I track the recursive tendency in Murnane's writing, in order to illustrate the reach of the provincial imagination, from his formulation of the opposition between the haresmen and the horizonites in The Plains, through his continuing fascination with Emily Brontë and the countries of her imagination, to its latest iterations in Barley Patch, The History of Books and A Million Windows.

Bio: Ivor Indyk is the founder of the award-winning Giramondo book imprint, and Whitlam Professor in the Writing and Society Research Centre at the University of Western Sydney. A critic, essayist and reviewer, he has written a monograph on David Malouf for Oxford University Press, and essays on many aspects of Australian literature, art, architecture and literary publishing.

Audio: Listen to Ivor's paper (right click and "save link as" to download)

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