White Closets, Jangling Nerves and the Biopolitics of the Public Secret


‘This essay attempts to outline the relationship between the ‘raw nerves’ that Denis Byrne describes in the epigraph above, and the cultivation of ‘indifference’ that Stanner identifies as being characteristic of ‘European life’ in Australia. Here I situate indifference as numbing the ‘jangling’ of ‘raw nerves’ and as cultivated, disseminated and feeding specific forms of public secrecy. How did the white men who enforces segregation by day and pursued Aboriginal women by night manage their ‘jangling nerves, if indeed they did jangle? How did they manage to be seen and known and have their secrets kept for them, as much as by them. How did this contradiction of segregation and sexual intimacy, if indeed it is a contradiction, work, My hope is that if we can understand how the white men (and those around them), regulated these jangling nerves, then we might be able to understand the relationship between indifference, public secrecy and the biopolitical forms that Australian whiteness took in the twentieth century, and specifically in the period of assimilation, extending from the 1930s to, roughly, the end of the 1960s.’ (Author’s introduction p. 57)

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Published 1 June 2011 in Volume 26 No. 2. Subjects: Aboriginal-White relations, Australian literature and writers, Biopolitics, Crosscultural relations, Public life, Secrets, Sexual relations, Whiteness.

Cite as: Probyn-Rapsey, Fiona. ‘White Closets, Jangling Nerves and the Biopolitics of the Public Secret.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 26, no. 2, 2011, doi: 10.20314/als.e92bc78d0d.