Indigenous Sovereignty and the Crisis of Whiteness in Alexis Wright’s Carpenteria

Alexis Wright's recent novel Carpentaria (2006) has given debates about Australia's troubled legacy of racism new currency and new forms. Set in a small rural town called Desperance, the town being metonymic of the white postcolonial nation (with particular reference to rural northern Australia), the novel searingly portrays contemporary indigenous people's subaltemity. Wright says that her aim is to represent 'the living bell of the lives of many Aboriginal people' (Wright, 'Politics of Writing' 13). She describes the indigenous population of Desperance as 'the edge mob' (Wright, Carpentaria 62) - geographically, economically and racially at the periphery of the white nation. In the brutal frontier world of neo-colonial Australia, there is almost no interaction or exchange between the indigenous ' Pricklebush ' people and the white inhabitants ofUptown. The little that does occur is, in the main, exclusionary and violent or sexually predatory. There is little evidence of affiliative relationships, though the friendship between the indigenous protagonist Norm Phantom and Elias, the amnesiac white newcomer, is a crucial exception that I will address below. Despite the bleak depiction of unremitting and systemic white supremacy and indigenous disadvantage, however, white characters in the novel are not simply set up as rogues to be demonised.4 Rather, the novel investigates cross- racial relations through the lens of satire which lays bare the complex disavowals and denials ofAustralian postcolonial whiteness.

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Published 1 November 2010 in Volume 25 No. 4. Subjects: Aboriginal Australians, Australian literary criticism, Reader response, Textual analysis, Writer-reader relations, Sovereignty.

Cite as: Brewster, Anne. ‘Indigenous Sovereignty and the Crisis of Whiteness in Alexis Wright’s Carpenteria.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 25, no. 4, 2010, doi: 10.20314/als.10d6ac2daf.