Knowing and Being in Eco-critical Visions of Carpentaria: Escaping Anthropocentricism in Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria

By Clare Archer-Lean.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context

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Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria (2006) is a highly significant event in Australian Literature, winning the 2007 Australian Literary Society Gold Medal among many other awards. The story constructs various fictional and real contemporary, historical, and Indigenous mythological events in Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria in tropical, far northern Australia. It examines themes such as frontier violence, land rights, deaths in custody, impacts of mining, activism and the "Dreaming". Yet, its potential to influence the mindsets of sustainability exist beyond the literary, because while the novel is an exploration of the regionally specific perspective of its author, a member of the Waanyi nation of the Gulf, it also stands in metonymic eco-critical significance for all Australians. For the gulf country, with its extremes in seasonal shifts, experiencing flooding rains, cyclones, and intense heat and aridity presages the vulnerable future for all of Australia during climate change. This is painfully ironic, given that Australia is recognised as one of the most unsustainable and most environmentally vulnerable continents (WWF Living Planet Report 2010). There is, it is clear, recourse in Indigenous epistemologies. This paper investigates how Carpentaria, with its epic scope and experimental structure, suggests a new poetics and discourse for human engagement with the environment. The non-Indigenous reader is immersed in a startling and transforming story. The poetics constructing the novel normalises both cyclical temporality and communal cognition. The narrative incorporates climate and landscape as character rather than simply backdrop setting. Most importantly, it offers a non-didactic warning against human hubris in environmental interaction. This paper, using eco-critical analyses, proposes that such aesthetically innovative and compelling construction of narrative operates to dilute the anthropocentric nature/culture divide, a divide arguably at the heart of human destruction of the environment.

Keywords: Indigenous Fiction, Eco-criticism, World Literature, Sustainability, Culture

The International Journal of Social Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp.85-96. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 576.418KB).

Dr. Clare Archer-Lean

Discipline Leader of English Literature, School of Communications, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore, QLD, Australia

Dr. Clare Archer-Lean has been researching, teaching, and writing in the field of English literature and communications for 15 years. Her research has focused on Indigenous literature, identity and representation, particularly the works of Thomas King and Colin Johnson (Mudrooroo). She has book and article publications in crosscultural criticism, Australian literature, and discourse analysis. She is on the editorial collective of the journal, Social Alternatives.