Badlands and Borderlands: Self-Determination and the Limits of Intercultural Negotiation in the Fiction of Patricia Grace and Alice Tawhai

The 'borderlands' of my title is borrowed, in the first instance, from Penny van Toom's article in Social Semiotics, 'Transactions on the Borderlands of Aboriginal Writing' (2001). The trope of the borderlands is a potent one, given that so many postcolonial theorists have invoked it as a conceptual geography, sometimes correlated to a physical one, which allows us to conceive of social, linguistic, political and economic relationships in spatial terms. Competing postcolonial epistemologies have addressed whether the borderlands constitute a zone between spaces, or a new, 'third' space;whether anybody dwells there, and if so who; whether anybody speaks from the borderlands, and if so in what language, to whom and to what effect; and who patrols the borderlines that set the borderlands apart from more habitable spaces. Elaborating on van Toom's article, I wish to manoeuvre my way between two particular spatialisations of the borderland that generate very different forms of postcolonial politics. The first kind of borderland, and the one closest to van Toom's apprehension of the term, is the constantly shifting interstitial zone of communicational exchange between or within cultures. The second kind of borderland relies more on a centre- periphery model, and it sites the borderlands on the outskirts of some central or dominant authority. This exclusionary zone is where an outlaw might dwell, rather than a space where discursive transactions take place, and I will term it a 'structural', as opposed to 'negotiatory', conception of the borderlands. In what I hope is not too great a stretch from the context of colonial Australia to that of postcolonising Aotearoa New Zealand, I wish to develop this discussion through a comparison of the recent fiction of two Maori writers, Patricia Grace and Alice Tawhai, who foreground the material conditions of borderland existence, albeit for very different political purposes.

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Published 1 November 2010 in Volume 25 No. 4. Subjects: Postcolonial literature & writers.

Cite as: Lawn, Jennifer. ‘Badlands and Borderlands: Self-Determination and the Limits of Intercultural Negotiation in the Fiction of Patricia Grace and Alice Tawhai.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 25, no. 4, 2010. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.39228b4b14.