5 The Grotesque Migrant Body: Rosa Cappiello's Oh Lucky Country
No, vorrei mettere una bomba in culo all'Australia e poi andare a vendere giornali tra le rovine. Ridi? Ridi, ridi. Tu ti adegui. Ti nutri a scopate secche leggendo libri. Ti sazi di parole mute. Io non ci riesco. Io non reggo questo deserto. Io crollo. (Cappiello, 1981:54)
I'd like to stick a bomb up Australia's arsehole and then go sell papers among the ruins. You're laughing, are you? Well, go ahead and laugh. You adapt yourself. You get by on dry fucks by reading books. You stuff yourself with dumb words. I can't take it. I can't bear this wasteland. I'm going to pieces. (Cappiello, 1984:52---3)
There are no stiff upper lips in Rosa Cappiello's Oh Lucky Country, no Anglo-ethnic understatements. In fact there are no stiff or solid boundaries anywhere in this novel, which inflates migrant oppression to such absurdist proportions that in its very excessiveness it becomes a force for renewal and imaginative energy. Cappiello, an immigrant from Naples, initially wrote the book in Italian. Unfortunately, as the introduction by the translator Gaetano Rando informs us, readers of the English version miss out on the word play and allusions which draw upon the Neapolitan dialect as well as on Italo-Australian inflections. But readers of the English version certainly hear a new voice in Australian writing, wickedly parodic:
Anzac day is a great national holiday, a day for lots of drinking. Dusty ghosts who resurrect the martyrs of the past, no longer with us, kaput, and, after the parade, when cannon, machine guns, flags, patriotic speeches are all wrapped up and put away, the wankers rush off to the pub to wash the residue of desert dust out of their throats. For me it is a day of rest, a different day from the usual, a day which makes the migrant feel part and parcel of the system, you can be patriotic in any country, and it is a comforting feeling to admire the brand new weapons as they file through the opening formed by the compact crowd and to think of what could burst forth from that pacific and bedecked ironmongery should it rush to the front in our defence . . . (ibid.:76---7)
In so far as we hear migrant or ethnic minority voices at all in Australian writing, we are accustomed to hearing them as victims, doubly enhanced by the first-person mode. These accounts, duly reworked into the muted understatements acceptable to Anglo-Celtic ears, evoke a pity tinged with complacency. Mainstream readers are not prepared for this kind of extravaganza in which outcast voices from the gutter, from the bottom of the heap, boil over into a flood which sweeps away many clichés about being a migrant:
Together with the migrant masses I am contributing to the process of your civilization, to widening your horizon which doesn't extend any further than the point of your great ugly nose. I tear the weeds out of your ears. I give you a certain style. I teach you to eat, to dress, to behave and above all not to belch in restaurants, trains, buses, cinemas, schools. You probably don't know, but I'll tell you in confidence, for your information, that your country, which is now mine too, is based on a gigantic belch. Its flag flutters in the wind created by the toxic gases produced by your stomachs which are choked up like sewers. The myth about being happy and lucky is based on your drunken bouts. Go on, then, drink. You offend us. You don't like wine? You prefer beer? Waiter, a huge bottle of beer for the lady. (ibid.:192---3)
So how has this book been received? Judging from the few reviews of Oh Lucky Country, the immediate response was to dismiss it patronisingly as incompetent:
But the essence of the book, Rosa's feeling of alienation from the angrifying world around her, is a great starting point for a putative novelist. One can only hope that she not only maintains her rage, but now sets about learning something--anything would do--of the novelist's craft. (Macklin, 1985)
The charge of incompetence is a familiar one in reviews of works by so-called ethnic writers. The obvious response to this example is first, that the reviewer himself should learn something ('anything would do') about literary history in order to give him a context other than the realist mode in which to situate texts, and second, that he take a course in literary theory which, among other things, might teach him not to confuse the author with the narrator.
But aside from these specific flaws, this review points to the much larger problem of how migrant or ethnic minority writing is positioned vis-à-vis Australian literature.To position any group as marginal always turns out to be an exercise in reinforcing some putative and dominant norm; it involves oiling the machinery of legitimation rather than interrogating that whole enterprise of canonisation.
Cappiello's text employs the first-person point of view, which is so much easier to read as transparent sociology than to analyse seriously in terms of its formal textual properties. Moreover, first-person narratives facilitate those idealist or commonsense readings which perpetuate the production of unified subjects: the author, the narrator, the woman, and the migrant converge in the spurious unity of an 'I'. The text is heard as a natural, untutored confession. What would happen to this traditional unity if it were scrutinised instead in terms of postmodernist techniques? Intertextuality--the way 'books talk among themselves' (Eco, 1984:1)--should be an automatic reading strategy for those who wish to situate multicultural writing, and who need to be alert to culturally specific antecedents. In this case they are both Italian and Australian. Dante's Commedia is an inevitable, shadowy precursor. Here, for example, is an account of the bottom of the world seen from below:
Io levai gli occhi, e credetti vedere
Lucifero com'io l'avea lasciato,
e vidili le gambe in su tenere;
e s'io divenni allora travagliato,
la gente grossa il pensi, che non vede
qual è quel punto ch'io avea passato.
I raised my eyes, and thought to see
Lucifer as I had left him;
and saw him with his legs turned upwards;
and the gross people who see not what
that point is which I had passed,
let them judge if I grew perplexed then.
(Dante, Inferno, XXXIV, lines 88---93)
Thus Dante and Virgil, with the coyness of high culture, look down on Lucifer ass-side up. In this space below the ass-hole of the world what can one say or write? And having produced it (and oneself in the process), how will it be heard? There are early references in Cappiello's text to the 'migrant inferno', and the narrator is called Rosa. There are roses, infernos, peripatetic narrators, guides in various guises, and always (I will return to this) invocations of the female principle--parodically inverted Beatrices and worse, as we shall see, when we arrive at Rosa's Assumption. Such connections need of course to be pursued more rigorously with the Italian original of both texts. We are dealing, after all with a poetic prose here.
Similarly the Italo-Australian echoes (referred to by both Rando, 1984 and Schiavoni, 1982) need to be savoured in the original. But we can appreciate some of the gestures towards culturally specific Australian images. The book opens with references to the 'prison' of 'emigration rejection', the sea, King's Cross, the pub and, at more general levels, the world of outcasts and the gutter, those masses imprisoned in squalid inner-city surroundings. As in so much early Australian writing, the prison and the process of imprisonment function as organising tropes: the overcrowded rooms, the subsistence work in factory prisons, and finally (and not least) the imprisoning stories of others (Cappiello, 1984:16). These remind us that the book does not come from nowhere, and that those who read it as the confessional voice of naive suffering are telling us more about their own preconceptions of 'migrant writing' than about Cappiello's novel. But the allusions in Oh Lucky Country point to its literary antecedents: the text is engaged in a continual parody of high or received culture of any kind.
This is my kingdom and I fit in like a gardenia in a dandy's buttonhole. I'm sorry I'm not a painter. If I were I'd express through my painting the trust this street inspires in me and the privilege of being able to live here. I'd paint the wretched gutter where the cat slakes its thirst, the unkempt woman who in the morning, already drunk, pops out of her filthy dressing gown to collect her bottle of milk. I'd paint the pretty Lebanese poofter with the misty eyes and the sincere smile on his lips when he says 'hello' to me. I'd paint the mothers with their little children dangling from their breasts who, without having brushed their teeth, run still sleepy to their work, the sound and the fury of that precise moment when they rush out into the street, spurred on by the chaotic hurry to free themselves of their offspring, blood polluted by cents when boiling over with pride and boasting, guts tangled in the machinery, tears without salt, faeces constipated because of a sedentary life, hands which give bitter caresses, the absurd words which they exchange when they gather together for their meal. I'd paint the feverish race for gain. The impulse which turns simple people into their own executioners. I would generate the song of songs in paint. The Apocalypse with an alarm clock in its hands. There would be no other canvas, pictures or displays at my passing. I'd mutate the flesh of the workers into paper money for bank reserves, their sweat into the ribbon which ties it, their feverish eyes into diamonds and gold nuggets as big as pin heads. With their fatigue and their suffering I'd paint the side dish to accompany their plate of minestrone, on a yellow canvas two metres by three point four. (ibid.:40)
But this too--this parodic, excessive, and disruptive writing--has its textual antecedents.
Migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds tend to be relegated to 'honorary' working-class subject-positions, and in this respect they are excluded from certain kinds of public, authoritative discourses. Hence they are easily labelled textually incompetent. Within Australian writing there is a tradition, in spite of its vaunted egalitarianism or classlessness, of voices from underground. One thinks here of writers such as Peter Mathers or Barry Dickins and others. In the review quoted already, Macklin remarks: 'But unquestionably her wild mode of expression adds a great deal to the pulling power of the book; not only because scatology is rare among female writers but because in this work, despite its all-pervasive presence, it is so palpably honest'.This begs the question of what dishonest scatology looks like, and ignores all those other writers who summon the rhetoric of the outcast and the powerless, such as Genêt, Pasolini and their forebear Rabelais.
In his study of Rabelais the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin (1968) develops the concepts of 'carnival' and the 'grotesque' body in relation to lower-class culture. Bakhtin theorises what he calls the grotesque body as representative of a celebratory aspect of pre-industrial popular culture which contrasts with official and classical culture. He describes this culture as non-privatised: it comprises what he terms the ancestral body, which constantly swings between death and rebirth, the one always incorporating the other. There are no boundaries or limits between the grotesque body and the world: 'The grotesque body . . . is a body in the act of becoming. It is never finished, never completed . . . Moreover, the body swallows the world and is itself swallowed by the world' (Bakhtin, 1968:317).
He characterises this marketplace culture as non-individualised and communal. Analogously, the narrator in Oh Lucky Country is prevented from acting and speaking as an individual by being constantly enmeshed in and inundated by the ethnic minority subculture, which in turn is attached to a (largely passive) working-class Australian culture:
Migrants live in a huge village square, or rather an immense rubbish heap, no matter what nationality they are, trapped into mouthing false repelling words which they then set free to wander from one lewd mouth to the other. A big happy family. Just like those universal preachers dream about. All joined together as though by an umbilical cord in a brotherhood of wheeling and dealing, trampling and dishonour. (Cappiello, 1984:37)
The reader who expects to encounter realist characterisation in Cappiello's depiction of this world discovers instead caricatures (spawned, in part at least, from the commedia dell'arte) whose qualities are exaggerated according to the precepts of a highly stylised morality. More specifically, these figures are linked with a Neapolitan folk tradition of representative grotesques (Rando, 1984; Schiavoni, 1982). As the Macklin review indicates, Cappiello's scatological style is seen as difficult to place within an English tradition, although comparisons with Swift's invective (and even with Beckett's) suggest themselves, since they share a common outraged moralism.
Bakhtin describes the grotesque body's focus on the mouth, the most important orifice for those who have no official voice: 'It dominates all else. The grotesque face is actually reduced to the gaping mouth; the other features are only a frame encasing the wide-open bodily abyss' (1968:317). It is also linked, like everything else in this dualistic world, with its opposite, the reverse face of the buttocks. These classic reversals and displacements are seen as breaking down the distinctions between high and low, sacred and profane culture, thus demolishing hierarchies of power and the more metaphysical hierarchies of birth and death. The upper and lower face give birth to new bodies, including new discourses, new textualities, often in the form of invective or abuse. Swearing is always directed at someone, and so this mode always addresses a generalised 'you'. But neither the speaker nor addressee of this kind of dialogue is individualised; there is simply 'voice'. In Cappiello the 'I' often dissolves into this representative voice.
Weigh me down with your excreta, your hates, your fights, your wretched little quarrels, and I shall take them all in and make them bear fruit. Everything that lies buried in the depths of your stinking carcasses, sex, murder, song and gangrene, that travels in the hinterland and the wide-open universes, I take it all in. (Cappiello, 1984:49)
This is reminiscent of Bakhtin's words on the imperative to produce dialogue, 'For discourse (and therefore, for man) nothing is more frightening than the absence of answer' (Bakhtin in Todorov, 1984:111).
In order to analyse in greater detail the kinds of invective used in the text and their relation to the enunciating subject, it helps to refer here to Bakhtin's (1968:427) notion of the 'blazon', which comprises lists of attributes remaining 'outside the official system of straight and strict evaluations. They were a free and ambiguous praise-abuse'. Furthermore, 'this style is characterised by the absence of neutral words and expressions. It is colloquial speech, always addressed to somebody' (ibid.:420).
The dual tone never wants to halt the spinning wheel, to find and outline the top and the bottom, the front and the back; on the contrary, it marks their continuous change and fusion. In popular speech the accent is always placed on the positive element (but we repeat, without tearing it away from the negative). In the official philosophy of the ruling classes such a dual tone of speech is, generally speaking, impossible: hard, well-established lines are drawn between all the phenomena (and these phenomena are torn away from the contradictory world of becoming, of the whole). A monotone character of thought and style almost always prevails in the official spheres of art and ideology. (ibid.:432---3).
There is constant reference in Cappiello's text (1984:120---1) to this praise-abuse pattern, flights of fancy nourished by imagery of the sewer. In his later writings Bakhtin developed (out of his notion that speech is always addressed to someone) the concept of the 'dialogic' and polyphonic modes, together with the related concept of a self balanced by a necessary other. That is to say, any social dialogue inevitably begins within the self by imagining oneself outside the self:
I cannot do without the other; I cannot become myself without the other; I must find myself within the other, finding the other in me (mutual reflection and perception). Justification cannot be justification of oneself, confession cannot be confession of oneself. I receive my name from the other, and this name exists for the other . . . I hides in the other and in others; it wants to be but another for others, to fully penetrate the world of others as another, and heave aside the weight of an I unique in the word (the I-for-myself).
(Bakhtin in Todorov, 1984:96---7, and particularly ch. 5)
Bakhtin moved from the carnivalesque and the dialogue between classes to investigate the disruption of the unified subject in his studies of Dostoievsky (Bakhtin, 1984). His dualistic subject (self/other) is more unified than the decentred self encountered in deconstructionist and psychoanalytic theories such as Kristeva's (1984) subject-in-process. But there are similarities nonetheless between Bakhtin's 'self and other' and classic Lacanian analyses of the stages of subjectivity: the mirror-stage, castration and the entry into the symbolic order and into language.
Bakhtin sees the carnivalesque as functioning to give back to those who are not authorised to speak some kind of articulate solidarity; it is a discursive strategy of subversion and comic disruption. The body of the people translates into speech of the body, and operates with particular vehemence in a culture where the body exists but does not speak. Cappiello's text sutures the suppressed and marginalised body of the ethnic minority to the communal and grotesque body of Australian popular culture, and returns both to speech. In carnival the world is turned upside down; where better to locate it, then, than in the antipodes? It also signals the reign of the body instead of the spirit. What better way to give philosophical respectability to Australia's much-vaunted devotion to hedonism? Monstrous excess rules; the last shall be first, including ethnic minorities and women. One should bear in mind, on the other hand, Todorov's (1984:79---80) objection that the carnival operates only as a safety valve whose function is to reinforce hierarchical power structures.
When considering the treatment of gender in Oh Lucky Country, ideas drawn from the study of pre-industrial popular culture are again helpful. In an essay entitled 'Women on Top', Natalie Zemon Davis (1978) looks at 'unruly women' and symbolic sex reversals in the popular festivals, carnivals, and street life of pre-industrial Europe. Her argument is that neither of these disruptive elements serve merely to confirm traditional power hierarchies, but that instead each keeps alive the possibilities for alternative distributions of power, including the deployment of power within the family itself. 'Play with the various images of women on top', she concludes, 'kept open an alternative way of conceiving the family structure' (ibid.:172). She observes that:
In fact the donning of female clothes by men and the adopting of female titles for riots were surprisingly frequent in the early modern period . . . The males drew upon the sexual power and energy of the unruly woman and on her license (which they had long assumed at carnival and games) to promote fertility, to defend the community's interests and standards, and to tell the truth about unjust rule. (ibid.:178;182)
Cappiello's book teems with unruly women, from the lesbian couple at the opening (who cause a riot in the hostel) to the narrator herself and her extended female coterie. All the women are unruly; they all curse in technicolour, and none acts out a traditional sex role. Just as it overturns familiar migrant-distress stories, Oh Lucky Country abounds with gender reversals, beginning at the level of language in ways that readers of the English translation can only barely to appreciate. According to Schiavoni,
the novel contains a whole series of images related in meaning and in sound to the richly expressive idiom 'incazzato' which means 'angry'. [Oh] Lucky Country is in many ways the work of an enraged woman, an 'incazzato'. This is semantically contradictory, as we have a feminine adjective based on a phallic image (the central part of the word). Starting from this word, which can be said to condition the narrator's very way of experiencing anger, the author consciously or unconsciously produces a rich and effective cluster of related phallic and masculine images. The important point is that in this novel a woman's anger is conveyed through phallic images and through phonetically-related expressions. (Schiavoni, 1982:8)
Gender inversions (particularly female to male) abound, both explicitly and implicitly. In addition there is a constant emphasis on inscriptions of feminine excess, thus suggesting that this is an excess inscribed within femininity itself as constructed in our culture. Recurrent images of such excess are the grotesque mouth and the grotesque womb. To explain further the way in which unruly women disrupt and overturn the ordered patterns of both society and language, it is necessary to move on from Bakhtin to the theories of Julia Kristeva. Given that Kristeva (1980:64---91) has written about Bakhtin, this is not an arbitrary shift. Bakhtin's formulations concerning carnival and the grotesque body have affinities with Kristeva's concepts of the semiotic and and what she calls the 'chora', that space of pre-oedipal drives, oral and anal, pulsions and instincts:
Discrete quantities of energy move through the body of the subject who is not yet constituted as such and, in the course of his development, they are arranged according to the various constraints imposed on this body--always already involved in a semiotic process--by family and social structures. In this way the drives, which are 'energy' charges as well as 'physical' marks, articulate what we call the chora: a nonexpressive totality is formed by the drives and their stases in a motility that is as full of movement as it is regulated . . . Our discourse--all discourse--moves with and against the chora in the sense that it simultaneously depends upon and refuses it. Although the chora can be designated and regulated, it can never be definitively posited: as a result one can situate the chora and, if necessary, lend it a topology, but one can never give it axiomatic form . . . Drives involve pre-Oedipal semiotic functions and energy discharges that connect and orient the body to the mother. (Kristeva, 1984:24---5)
Lacan has argued that the child's entry into the order of language is synonymous with its entry into the symbolic order and its submission to the law of the father. Kristeva, on the other hand, emphasises the stages preceding this entry, and argues that there remains within our experience of language (and ourselves) an earlier pre-linguistic experience which is tied to our memories of the maternal body. Labelled the semiotic, this stage is characterised by the physical aspects of language--sound, shape, rhythm--and contrasts with the notion of language as a means of ordering the self and experience rationally. From the perspective of the semiotic, there is no coherent and unified sense of identity.
To some extent derivative from Bakhtin's description of carnivalesque subversions, Kristeva's examples deal with the ways in which the semiotic (figuratively linked to maternal anarchy) erupts into the symbolic (figuratively the place of paternal law) in avant-garde writings, suspending and fragmenting the traditional transcendental subject derived from classic humanism. In Kristeva's terms, Cappiello's text could be described as organised semiotically rather than symbolically, given its reliance on jokes, exaggeration, rhythm and invective, and its disregard of sequential realist narrative structure. Certainties dissolve in this cacophany of language: 'with the act of migration we had ordered ourselves a fine funeral for our identities' (Cappiello, 1984:5). Hence the loss of the symbolic order and a unified identity. The search for new coherence is figured metonymically in Cappiello's text as the quest for money, often at the expense of children:
This is the female factory worker, wife of the modern coolie and coolie herself, who has got down to a fine art the act of tying her baby to the bed or to the downpipe of the kitchen sink so as not to forego the happy hour on Friday which is pay day. Slave of the dollar, she sends her newly-born babe to relatives in Egypt, Yugoslavia, Spain, Greece, and after a few years back it comes like a postal package by sea or by air. . . (ibid.:14)
Most of them deny themselves the satisfaction of bearing a child and living a quiet life just to procreate dollars. Children ruin the budget. At lunch a couple of mothers-in-waiting sit together at the table. I don't look at them. If I do I lose my appetite. They're having a lively discussion about the cost of foetuses. The women in an advanced state of pregnancy is downcast and depressed, she says that an abortion would only have cost her three hundred dollars and that it was a big mistake not to have got rid of the child. (ibid.:29)
The style here brings to mind not only those modernist writers privileged by Kristeva (Joyce, Mallarmé, and Lautréamont) but also those archaic texts bristling with gnomic riddles and lists that one finds, for example, in pre-Christian Celtic writing (Mercier, 1969). Although one might argue that the coherence (or monologic, to go back to Bakhtin) of the symbolic order is illustrated in these ancient texts by the prevalence of extensive genealogies (dreary feats of bardic memory), this is balanced by the many appearances of unruly women possessed of gargantuan mouths and bladders.
Analogously, one could establish the existence of the decorously symbolic in Cappiello's text by examining its intertextual relations with other books, and observing its affirmation of acknowledged cultural conventions and of other texts deriving from ethnically specific antecedents. These are gestures, as one would expect, towards a multiple readership (Sollors, 1986:247ff.) of Australians, Italians and Italo-Australians, although it appears that the Italo-Australian community has treated Cappiello none too kindly (Cappiello, 1987; Rizzo, 1992).
That multiple readership is possibly made up of women, for there are no fixed gender inscriptions in the text, but only a fluid employment of 'male' and 'female' characteristics to a range of 'male' and 'female' characters. Thus in the following passage the narrator glosses 'woman' with 'hysteric' and then displaces both with the act of writing:
What does it mean to be a woman? I get hysterical, hysteria, womb, weakness. Crap. Haven't I more strength and character than thousands of maggot males put together? There, if I were only cunning, with it, and had a degree in Anthropology or some such, I'd throw myself into an article by some famous old male writer who lets himself rave on about feminism just to get rid of the complex created by the fact that a woman can have ten orgasms to the male's single desolate one. This morning I'm feeling rather jumpy. Thanks to Lella who has upset my solitary routine, or the book I read last night which has got me up in arms. A book written in the first person where the male writer fucks all over the place making abundant use of nymphomaniacs, and all sorts of women good and bad, just to fill his six hundred pages, which is a waste because had he condensed it all to ten pages it would have turned out a masterpiece. To my mind there is nothing more effeminate and ridiculous than a man who writes, especially a man who collects the Nobel prize for literature by writing about women. All through the day while working the heavy sewing machine I think about the book I'd write. (Cappiello, 1984:88---9)
As Juliet Mitchell observes:
The woman novelist must be an hysteric. Hysteria is the woman's simultaneous acceptance and refusal of the organisation of sexuality under patriarchal capitalism. It is simultaneously what a woman can do both to be feminine and to refuse femininity, within patriarchal discourse. And I think that is exactly what the novel is; I do not believe there is such a thing as female writing, a 'woman's voice'. There is the hysteric's voice which is the woman's masculine language (one has to speak 'masculinely' in a phallocentric world) talking about feminine experience. (Mitchell, 1984:288---9)
Elsewhere, through the mouths of others as well as in her own voice, the narrator sees herself as perverse and oppositional. She signals her desire for power and for individuality with rebellious masculine imagery: 'I go back on my tracks, hands deep in my pockets. Virile thoughts whirl round in my head. Masculine thoughts also' (Cappiello, 1984:64). Her desire to escape from the undifferentiated world of her migrant peers is consistently described in masculine images. At the same time men are assigned female images. Usually they relate to impotence and the sense of passivity, but not simply that 'he was the evergreen womb which constantly sprouted snake-skin belts, crocodile-skin bags, provisions for the four season' (ibid.:209).
In Oh Lucky Country patriarchal power is partially undermined by the fact that women are consistently the bearers of phallic power. For example, one of the traditional bastions of patriarchy is the concept of virginity--the intact womb penetrated only by the rightful owner to produce legitimate descendants. Here is the narrator on this topic:
Rumours were rife about the imminent landing of a thousand or so Cypriot virgins complete with medical certification in their suitcases, irrefutable proof of their purity and sentimental sincerity. It seems that the Southern European men had been complaining about not being able to find a virgin bride. The stupid men had rushed en masse to telephone, make arrangements with the newspapers, consulates, committees, priests. A tidal wave which stunned everyone. Ah, women, little did you know the value of an intact womb here in Australia as we approach the twenty-first century. Many of the women were kicking themselves because they hadn't had their virginity surgically restored. When that black hole was being discussed, that sacred hole put up for auction, a wave of homicidal rage would sweep over me. (ibid.: 11---2)
Subsequently we encounter a host of 'patched up virgins' who have no trouble deceiving the representative male, 'prick eternally in hand'. The Virgin herself (and here we enter a world of complex Catholic intertextuality) is constantly dethroned both explicitly and implicitly. Parody often results:
My second Christmas. I am still suspended in uncertainty. Couldn't be any more broken-down than I am. My liver's fit to burst. The balls which have taken the place of my ovaries too. I've had it up to here with faeces, bile, trickery, exploitation, cowardice, barely sufficient but secure wages. Christmas. Prevent the Child from being born. I am the Christ become old and rusty on the nails. Prophet of evil. Christ gone wrong. An artificial abortion. In retaliation I eliminate His mother, the Holy Virgin Mary, egging her on to revolt against Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I dress her in skirts with such daring slits which show yet do not show what is underneath. (ibid.:107)
By contrast with this explicitness, indirect parody is possibly more interesting, because what supplants the Virgin is, as one would expect, the goddess as whore, made manifest in one of her most archaic incarnations, the pig goddess of Celtic tradition (Markale, 1975:93---103). The Great Whore is the presiding deity of Oh Lucky Country and possesses each of the major women on various occasions. For example, there is Sofia, one of the most cunning manipulators of the system:
Yes, our friends work at and exploit many trades, midwives, prostitutes, saints, pizza cooks, messenger girls, bankers, con-artists, greengrocers . . . Sofia is their founder. A sow in heat. She lets out her ample breath, attracting to her lap the Opera House, Ayers Rock, the Kwinana Freeway, Koala, Kangaroo, Emu, the Three Sisters, the Great Barrier Reef and fourteen million Australians. A superhuman task for anyone but not for her. (Cappiello, 1984:18---9)
Again there is the eruption of the grotesque mouth/womb. Sofia is the only one actually named after the goddess, since her real name turns out to be Concetta Prochetti (ibid.:185). Her friend Beniamina, also described on several occasions as a sow, seemingly capitulates to the patriarchal order--to marriage and to the making of money. But consider this passage:
She no longer eats meat, her fibrous physique can't stand it, yet she doesn't refuse Claudia's steak. Coffee contains caffeine, strains the heart, so she recycles the used coffee grounds which should be thrown away. In the bathroom torn up magazines are hung on a nail instead of toilet paper, no more deodorant to get rid of the smell of the windowless bathroom, nor sea-blue liquid in the cistern, nor Baygon against the cockroaches teeming in the cupboards. She takes a bath once a week with bran, cuts cotton wool out of sanitary napkins . . . the tepid piss which comes out she drinks for tea. In the morning she squeezes her tits to obtain a drink of milk. She wrings vitamins out of mice. Reads by the light of the street lamp on the corner. (ibid.:120---1)
Beniamina saves and is avaricious in cosmic proportions, in carnivalesque excess, particularly when compared to her more mundane migrant sisters. Beniamina signifies the grotesque body in those specifically female terms explored in Kristeva's notion of abjection (see in particular Creed, 1986). She becomes pregnant, but in a manner reminiscent of an immaculate conception, since the father is one of that army of English and Australian men consistently described as drunk and impotent. Although phallic women don't by any means overthrow the phallic order, the patriarchal family relations are constantly mocked. Not even the incest taboo is respected. In so far as we encounter any family it is constituted in metaphoric incest through the figure of Zio (Uncle) Lino, 'Zio Lino--Uncle Lino. A family relationship conceived in bed' (Cappiello, 1984:19).
Uncle Lino trails his harem of 'nieces' through the book and is also the owner of the 'evergreen womb' mentioned earlier. Lawful heterosexual union is further undermined by the numerous lesbian relationships encountered in the book. Nowhere do either traditional gender roles or traditional family relations prevail. The major female figures swing wildly back and forth along the masculine---feminine continuum, and so continually interrogate gender norms. Possibly the most explicit example of this gender fluidity occurs when the narrator becomes imprisoned by an Italian couple who wish to hire her as a surrogate mother. Momentarily she is trapped by her biological destiny (the price of a full stomach is a full womb), but in a fine carnivalesque sequence her female friends storm to the rescue:
As soon as I saw them get off the truck, some holding clubs, some brooms, I leant out of an upstairs window inciting them to revolution, mayhem and massacre. My God, I could hardly believe that this army of furious women were my friends and had come to save me. (ibid.:135)
Here are unruly women with a vengeance, and here is one moment when the lucky country is depicted as neither inferno nor purgatory.
Let me end with an image which relates to the opening and the closing of this text. At the beginning the narrator focuses her disillusionment with the country on the absence of 'a time-worn grey-stone urinal in some corner of a public square' (ibid.:1), a grotesque symbol of civilisation and history. At the end, disdaining such constraints, the narrator (Rosa's Assumption) becomes the avatar for the Great Whore and releases a second flood:
Am I perhaps a slave bought in chains and with rings in her nose, that they think they can piss on me? By all the devils in hell and all the demons in my head, by Christ and the most Holy Madonna, by all the false saints in paradise, I invoke the fights of man and all humanity. I have stored up so much of that piss over these wretched years that I could piss down from the top of the wall for centuries on end and unleash a second flood of biblical proportions. The truth of the matter is that my piss is priceless, piss streaked with blood and cancer, piss that asks no quarter, not to run to waste because in its flight it curves like a colour-changing rainbow and paints cities, plains, mountains, rivers, lakes and seas. Gather the sparkling fluid in buckets, bins, baths, troughs. A woman who has suffered too much and has learnt to piss for want of any better consolation offers it to you as a gift. (ibid.:233---4)
She ushers in a new world with (what else?) a carnival clown mask which bows to history old and new: 'and so I shortened my hair convict style and stuck a carnation over my ear' (ibid.:235).
To read this text as the outpourings of a simple soul or as transparent sociology is misdirected, for this is no unrehearsed first-person chronicle:
But it will end, I know it will, and all this will not have happened, because what has happened and continues to happen belongs to too many people and to recognize oneself in all of this is impossible. (ibid.:236)
The king of the carnival is here the queen of the underworld. To appreciate the complexities of the discourses which produce us we must extend our reading to include not merely those multicultural others who are assimilated invariably to reinforce an 'I' we already know, but also those multicultural differences constituted by an always elusive series of 'yous'.