Decomposing Suburbia: Patrick White’s Perversity

Suburbia, whatever else it may be, is also a euphemism for normality. As such it has become central to representations of transgression, deviance or perversion that are either implicitly or explicitly anti-suburban in their refusal of a life-style that is immediately recognisable, yet notoriously difficult to specify. Recent Australian films like Strictly Ballroom and Muriel's Wedding, for example, constantly allude to something that we recognise as suburban normality and suggest that it is responsible for the damage and alienation that drives their plots into eccentricity and beyond it to redemptive heterogeneity. These representations of suburbia are at least implicitly organised by notions of prohibition, repression or lack, according to which 'the suburban' functions as a negative pole, as that which impedes the pleasure of heterogeneous group or individual expression. By this reckoning both freedom and pleasure are only available as a resistance to suburbia, requiring a narrative of flight, liberation or coming to consciousness in order to be fully realised. This approach to the issue of suburbia has also been rehearsed in post-war writing and indeed shows no signs of loosening its grip on the Australian imagination. When, in Justine Ettler's The River Ophelia, Sade declares 'I can't stand the suburbs' (6), he also suggests the logic of supplementarity in which suburbia and the variously violent and abject realm of inner-city sexuality Ettler's novel explores are clearly and inextricably linked.

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Published 1 November 1998 in Writing the Everyday: Australian Literature and the Limits of Suburbia. Subjects: Aesthetics, Australian architecture, Australian culture, Australian literature and writers, Characterisation, Human condition, Sexuality & sexual identity, Suburbs.

Cite as: McCann, Andrew. ‘Decomposing Suburbia: Patrick White’s Perversity.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 18, no. 4, 1998, doi: 10.20314/als.c705e2407a.