4 In Journeys Begin Dreams: Antigone Kefala and Ania Walwicz
In dreams begins the journey. . . (Kefala, 1973:5)
How easy is it, even now, to attach notions of the literary to ethnic minority writing? If not, then what are the implications for practitioners who wish to participate in selecting the words which, according to Barthes, consolidate social meaning? 'Literature remains the currency in use in a society apprised, by the very form of words, of the meaning of what it consumes' (Barthes, 1967:38). What kind of signification is ethnic minority writing permitted within Australia? Such writing is not usually received as 'literature' which, for the moment, can be described as a textuality which is visibly more worked over, and more conscious of textual conventions, than other forms of writing, and whose implicit opposite is the apparent 'disorder' of speech (ibid.:25). If we accept the suggestion that ethnic minority writing signifies only within the formations of sociology and history then, paradoxically, its value lies here with speech rather than writing. In other words, when made synonymous with migrant writing, it is the migrant's speech (rather than writing) which is solicited, and the more disordered it is the more authentic it supposedly sounds. In those terms, ethnic minority writing is valued precisely in so far as it is inscribed with the marks of linguistic naivety and (even) incompetence: broken language is perceived as symptomatic of subjects not yet 'assimilated' (rendered the same) or 'naturalised'.
In the little writing of this kind which receives limited exposure (whether autobiographical or autobiographically based), any obvious signs that the language has been crafted are read nonetheless as relatively unmediated confessions (see chapter 5). Complexities, if acknowledged, are thought of as provided by 'life', the complicated history of the migrant or marginalised subject--rather than by any consciously wrought textuality. To consider ethnic minority poetry, for instance, is under those circumstances therefore perverse. Poetry, the least transparently functional manifestation of linguistic self-consciousness, can be read only with difficulty for sociological or historical content. In Barthes' terms, classical poetry is 'a speech which is made more socially acceptable by virtue of the very conspicuousness of its conventions' (ibid.:48). To write poetry means that one is staking a claim to the literary and hence to public cultural participation. On what grounds can this be legitimated, more particularly when the language used is patently either not English, or, if English, then filtered through other languages and literary traditions with their own codes, canons and conventions? Those 'conspicuous conventions' alluded to by Barthes are not simply acquired when setting foot on this continent, nor are they part of the naturalisation certificate. Rather, they belong to that cultural ghosting which floats above the home territory and signifies a mystery only gradually comprehended after many rites of passage. Poetry? From ethnic minorities? Classic realist narratives, perhaps, and reluctantly, but not poetry.
To some extent, as I have argued elsewhere (Gunew, 1985), the experience of migration, particularly when it involves negotiating another language, changes the conditions governing signification. In some ways, speaking psychoanalytically, it may be seen as analogous to re-entering the Lacanian symbolic (Wilden, 1968:xii), or (in classic Freudian terms) changing the secondary, censoring processes of the preconscious (Silverman, 1983). In either model we are dealing with a foundational process in the construction of human subjectivity, namely the conditions under which subjects both participate in and are produced by signification. To enter language is to become a social being rescued from the incoherence and anarchy of drives, 'the mental representative of a somatic impulse' (ibid.:67); but inevitably this is achieved at the cost of certain repressions, including degrees of alienation from the drive.
In the last few decades there have been considerable efforts to mark the discursive formation of Australian literature, in gendered and cultural terms, as predominantly Anglo-Celtic and male. Hence the work of those who consider the implications of treating Aboriginal writing as either true to oral traditions or colonised by white forms (Davis and Hodge, 1985; Benterrak, Muecke and Roe, 1984), and also of those who see women's writing as throwing new light on, for example, foundation myths of mateship and the bush (Modjeska, 1981; Ferrier, 1985; Schaffer, 1988). The further complications offered by poetry written from non-Anglo-Celtic perspectives raise questions about the modernity of such writings that relate as much to form as content (Sollors, 1986). Those able to think from the beginning in more than one language find it impossible to consider language as a 'natural' and unproblematic expression of experience. And those who have experience of more than one culture may find it more difficult to regard one culture as universal. As David Malouf points out:
What we may have to be vigilant about is the groups in our society who feel that the culture belongs to them, who insist that their version of the culture is central or the only authentic one. Mostly the only cultural history we get of a society is the one that is passed down to us by those who have power, privilege and the use of language. (Malouf, 1985:61)
The reception of Walwicz and Kefala has been instructive in so far as it can be read symptomatically to gauge the ways in which ethnic minority writers are positioned in Australian culture. Let us consider Kefala first.
I am tired, living at home among strangers,
sitting at the same tables,
waiting for an acceptance that never comes,
an understanding that would not be born,
the measure in us already spent. (Kefala,1973:8)
It is arguably easier to forget a language than to banish the various selves forged by it, since it is through language that we are forced to contend with the nuances of gender, culture, race and class. And when that mirror is veiled or shattered? To change a language is to change one's selves; these are always plural and fragmented, just as dictionaries barely harness the anarchic excess of even one language between their rigid covers.The austerity of Kefala's writing (misread by some as a lack of attention to concrete detail) testifies constantly to these states of precarious subjectivity, lifted free of contextualising mutabilities. Kefala's refusal to 'tell stories' in any simple sense (as identified disparagingly by one early reviewer) is perhaps, more accurately, a refusal to abide by the conventions of classic narrative, with its emphasis on closure and sequential events. She seems concerned rather with being and becoming, the conscious and the unconscious, and hence with dreams and thoughts in preference to events: 'In dreams begins the journey' (ibid.:5).
The reception of her work over the years shows the difficulties Australian reviewers have in dealing with anything other than classic realist texts, and particularly if it comes from an ethnic minority writer. Hence the bewildered tone of those reviewers who accuse her of 'committing' novellas instead of 'proper' novels or, at the very least, seemly short stories. 'There are far too many seemingly gratuitous passages', wrote one such reviewer, 'such as long descriptions of characters who are peripheral or of scenes which are not integrated into the story' (Thorne, 1976). Kefala's earlier reviewers speak from the stability of a common language which assumes that English is never subject to the seismic disturbances of history, class, race or gender, and that Australian English, as developed over almost two hundred years, should not be fissured by the many dialects which produced those numerous groups of voyagers. From whence do these reviewers derive their authority to speak in the name of 'Australia' and of 'literature'? Presumably, as always, it amounts to a matter of access to the processes and institutions of literature.
Often it is not so much the writer's words which are being assimilated as her biographical exotica, including the strikingly iconic photographs which frame each of her books. Thus, unsurprisingly, early reviews refer to her 'femininity' and 'vulnerability' (Shapcott, 1973:135; Dutton, 1978:62) without needing to explain these terms. They would appear to be confirmed by the signifier of the poet's photograph, which in the second book of poems, ironically, presents her with her back turned upon a mirror. This does not prevent her from being received, however, in terms of that trope of the 'feminine': reflected surfaces (Kefala, 1978). This putative female terrain is predictably taken up by another reviewer as 'private' and 'constantly groping', driven by a supposed compulsion to write (Kim, 1976). How often women writers are described as being afflicted with these 'instinctive' pressures, and their works reduced to their 'femininity' and 'female corporeality' (see Ellmann, 1979, esp. ch. 3). And what are we to do with the following, which begs a number of questions?
The cover picture of the author, the first-person form, and something about the style combine to imply a female protagonist. When the reader learns otherwise it is surprising but not jarring. The impressions maintain a non-masculine air but never shy from youthful male sexual awareness. The description of the people is subtly sexual but unbound by the usual confines of sexual perspective. (Stender, 1977:19)
The foreign name is also a signifier which appears to function independently of the texts produced 'in its name'. Critics apparently allow the authorial signature to pre-empt the space of the text. Assumptions made on the basis of the signature engender reviews which evoke heroic voices and references to 'the elegance of hundreds of years of mannered Europe' (Vaughan, 1979:24) or to 'Greek epics of passage as told by ancient voices' (Lindsay, 1979: 65). Another review refers to a 'tragic and uniquely Greek mood of un-belonging' more at home in 'the wintry Balkans' than 'the bright Aegean' (Junius, 1976). Such links between signature and presumed tradition continue to be made, as is illustrated in a more recent review of European Notebook (Kefala, 1988a), according to which 'many of Kefala's poems read as if they have been well-translated from a modern Greek poet under the influence of such masters as Seferis and Ritsos' (Page, 1979). I am reminded here of Peggy Kamuf's well-known study of the complications provided by the signature in a deconstructive frame:
As a piece of proper name, the signature points, at one extremity, to a properly unnameable singularity; as a piece of language, the signature touches, at the other extremity, on the space of free substitution without proper reference. At the edge of the work, the dividing trait of the signature pulls in both directions at once: appropriating the text under the sign of the name, expropriating the name in the play of the text. (Kamuf, 1988:12---13)
Other reviews complain about a 'lack of any structural development' (Kim, 1976) in The First Journey (Kefala, 1975), a book which blurs the boundary between poetry and prose but is not seen as good enough in its own right to merit a new term for its new form. Another reviewer praises the novella 'The Boarding House' (ibid.) because the writer is aided and abetted by readers already familiar with the Sydney setting (Thorne, 1976). A familiarity with whose Sydney is being invoked here? Finally, what are we to make of this? 'If there is a fault to be found, it is in too great a reliance upon set images (however appropriate they are) cast within one tone of voice and one philosophical framework, little advanced upon "The Alien" ' (Lindsay, 1979:65).
What can one do in the face of being 'condemned' for producing both a distinctive 'voice' and a coherent philosophy?
Antigone Kefala came to Australia via Rumania, Greece and New Zealand, where she received her tertiary education (Kefala, 1988b). Her prose works clearly explore gender roles, especially The First Journey (Kefala, 1975) and The Island (Kefala, 1984a). Kefala's poetry, however, establishes a narrator who is not easily or consistently gendered, but who clearly derives from a 'foreign' culture, in so far as it evokes a contrapuntal cultural vision (Said, 1984b), both inside and outside the culture being observed. The informing perspective is positioned in a bourgeois European cultural tradition, from which the first two volumes of poetry comment on both New Zealand and Australia, as can be seen by looking at the juxtapositions of her collected work to date. The worlds created in The First Journey, Alexia (Kefala, 1984b), European Notebook (Kefala, 1988a) and Absence (Kefala, 1992) depict an intimately conjured-up world of European émigrés. Dreams play a significant role, but in very different ways from, say, the work of Ania Walwicz, which is discussed below.
When one is deprived of a collective unconscious, in the sense of a shared body of mythic underpinnings to experience, what is left but a recourse to personal dreams? Kefala inserts into her poems what often appear to be very personal and idiosyncratic dream sequences; but this characteristic may be, more precisely, a strategy for constituting a new body of myth. In other words, the ostensibly personal is in fact a way of moving beyond the specific individual to that territory of the personal which everyone shares. The Jungian concept of the collective unconscious is not quite appropriate here, for as Lacan would have it, the unconscious is always collective (that is, social) and functions moreover like a language, which is also social. It may therefore be more accurate to speak of a mythic dimension (including the ritualisation of daily acts) which comprises a crucial element in that elusive concept we term 'culture'. We all dream but not all cultures acknowledge the importance of circulating dreams as part of the daily, fully conscious life. If one is displaced to a part of the world where public dreaming (a mythic system) has quite different resonances, or none at all, what remains but to draw attention to this absence and to begin to fashion a new mythography?
Dreaming allows for, supports, releases, brings to light an extreme delicacy of moral, sometimes even metaphysical, sentiments, the subtlest sense of human relations, refined differences, a learning of the highest civilization, in short a conscious logic, articulated with an extraordinary finesse, which only an intense waking labor would be able to achieve. In short, dreaming makes everything in me which is not strange, foreign, speak: the dream is an uncivil anecdote made up of very civilized sentiments (the dream is civilizing). (Barthes, 1975:59---60)
The first words of Kefala's earliest collection are, 'In dreams begins the journey' (Kefala, 1973:5). Australian and New Zealand culture and myth are predicated upon journeys, so that the chord touched here creates a group of readers who can indeed concur, at some level, that we (non-indigenous peoples) are all immigrants, particularly in the sense that the concerns of modernity are intimately bound up with migration and displacement (Carter, 1992; Papastergiadis, 1993a). Immediately after this tenuously shared territory is established, there evolves a landscape utterly foreign to Anglo-Celtic readers:
In dreams begins the journey, they would say
moving the candle in the darkened room
that smelt of cherry jam and basil.
I watched their shadows moving on the walls
straining to hear the corners creaking in the dark
afraid of the black night that fell outside
in silent, feathered sheets, of the abandoned
courtyard, save for the big dogs,
and far away the well. (Kefala, 1973:5)
In so far as the cherry jam, basil, courtyard and well constitute a familiar foreignness, it vaguely conjures up a (possibly) Greek territory already textualised by the nineteenth-century Romanticism of Byron or the twentieth-century romanticism of Lawrence Durrell. Those to whom it speaks with utter familiarity are Greek Australians (or Greek New Zealanders). The landscape evoked in the poem lacks distracting detail, as in old photos. The narrator recalls a childhood and a hidden menace of adult voices issuing from darkness with their prohibitions, hinting at the dead and the threats of the past. The escape, in the last stanza, attributed to the (possibly) dead 'Katka', evokes a childhood Land of Cockayne which dispels the dark: 'And you are the light, shadowless, falling/ upon these fields forever petrified in silence' (ibid.). These ambiguous last lines make it unclear whether it is the 'fields' or the 'you' which will be forever 'petrified in silence'. References to gender have intruded earlier, linking women, the well, the darkness, 'wild men's eyes' and again the notion of silence ('dumb mouths').
The gender of the narrator in 'Memory' (ibid.:17) is hinted at only through the introductory quotation from Sophocles' Antigone. Antigone--that proper name from Western myth, who puts family ties above duty to the State--figures, not unexpectedly, in this poet's private pantheon. Here again we are presented with the motif of being uprooted, this time in conjunction with the dutiful daughter who guards both father and brother. Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, shares his exile, and after his apotheosis defies her uncle in order to bury her rebel brother.
The opening lines of the poem address the epigraph and signal the context of exile, both from country and from sustaining Gods (significantly, these are plural and capitalised, for we are not on familiar Christian soil). The second stanza moves into a dream where a maternal 'I' cradles a 'you' suffering from 'some dark disease'--possibly the exile itself, or something more. Men in uniform converge silently. In the second part the 'you' remains fitfully lost in the darkness, but sometimes recaptures the 'far country' of the past with its 'stray sunray, some meaning'. The 'you' is distinguished from an 'us' who are protected by 'narrow knowledge . . . and our social ways'. The third section evokes a 'common house' of locked doors and men in white:
'They steal my time', you said in a low voice.
Then watched the floor as if my presence were too much.
And in the silence, the white men moved,
their pockets full of time, their steps so sure
cushioned by what they stole.
'They steal my time, I shall not last much longer.'
And I protested, unconvinced, for you had aged so much.
And who could say what they forced out of you
behind those walls. The essence maybe of our time,
dripping so slowly in our blood.
Maybe they stole the measure. (ibid.:19)
Like Oedipus's daughter, this speaker also considers the possibility that enlightenment may well emerge from those cast out of the familiar social context. After all, Oedipus the outcast bestowed the most powerful guiding myth of Western civilisation, although the nature of the guidance may still contain unexplored interpretive possibilities (Olivier,1989). The last line of the stanza quoted above re-echoes in the opening stanza of the title poem of the second collection, and offers one possible gloss on 'measure':
To find our measure, exactly,
not the echo of other voices.
The present growing out of our lungs
like a flower, with a smell
that we have re-traced through our veins
some dark, secret smell
that will bloom when the hour has struck
an animal smell
reminiscent of blood
the world's scent. (Kefala, 1978:8)
In this poem a 'we' is established as firmly bonded by a communal experience of 'foreignness'. The first part explores a disjunction between subjects and place; all are reduced to shadows. The second part moves once again into the alternative realities of madness. The 'you' of 'Memory' echoes in the words, 'They were stealing your time'. The mark of madness settles silently, disguising blood as golden powder, the inner nightmare still contained by the ordered daily self. Part three recalls the dark room and disruptive 'foreign laugh' of 'Memory', but fleshes out in further detail the encroaching hallucinations which manifest themselves in 'the silent room'. In the outside world the counterpoint hymn to Mary carries an undercurrent of menace in its appellation, 'Siren of the Waters', and in its 'chorus of women, black clad'. The 'new' religion barely contains the old. Part four follows the stricken emissary to the nightmare house which contains gorgons' heads and the message 'The virgin they had hidden'. The old forces appear to have triumphed, though the nature of their victory is only hinted at: 'the mirrors everywhere/ blooming relentlessly, pools of white fire/ unable to contain the unimagined' (ibid.:11).
The final part offers images of 'the ring' and menacing 'nets' which evoke the bloodthirsty world of the Oresteia, or even older orders. The 'you' is enmeshed in sacrificial rituals, and the earlier allusions to light and fire culminate in the image of 'fire worshippers' and 'thirsts no air could cure'. The final stanza, akin to the end of 'Memory', observes the troubled 'you' caught in an obsessive search for water; the mechanised miming of actions strips them of their familiar meanings, as in the behaviour of the dying and the insane.
The effect of the poem is to suggest an intensely personal but completely private experience. The details bring it to vivid life but do not evoke specific individuals; we never even know the nature of the bond between the narrator and the protagonist. The movement at the end recalls the Lacanian concept of aphanisis--the fading of the subject (Lacan, 1977a:216---29; 1977b:283---4). When the myths are withdrawn and social rituals no longer signify, when possible selves proliferate, there arises a fear of inundation, of not emerging as a subject at all, and being unable to sustain subjectivity. This situation is rendered most graphically in the title poem 'The Alien' (Kefala, 1973:20). It surfaces also in 'Farewell Party' (' my shape was going from me/ while I watched it'. Kefala, 1978:42), in a section about the Eumenides, who are the chthonic goddesses of (perhaps) a matriarchal era in which blood ties and the rights of the mother and of the earth dominated in law.
Kefala's poetry constructs a writing subject for whom the use of words is not a reassuring entry into the social but, rather, a journey on to a tight rope with no safety nets--as, for example, in her poem 'The Acrobat' (Kefala, 1973:11). It is a process, moreover, where visibility in the public world is too often confined to the execution of clever tricks, and to the loss of a darkness and silence which offer other, and perhaps shattering, possibilities.
The family constellation, so often a ghetto of solidarity in realist migrant writing (see Lewitt, 1980, 1985 for fine examples of this genre), is here breached and vulnerable, and offers no protection:
I am tired, living at home among strangers,
sitting at the same tables,
waiting for an acceptance that never comes,
an understanding that would not be born,
the measure in us already spent. (Kefala, 1973:8)
The family group disperses into individuals isolated by not being 'interpellated' or hailed into social identity (Althusser, 1976). A much later poem on this theme is set within the context of a return to Europe, but here too the family proffers no help: 'Marble dusted, ancient faces/with eroded eyes,/ shell eyes of statues bleached by time' (Kefala, 1988a:19). The eyes offer no reflection, no confirmation. In Lacanian psychoanalysis it is the terrain and gaze of the Other which consolidates the subject. The Other may consist of the social in many forms: the mother, language, a range of signifying systems.
While Kefala's novellas explore gender roles in some detail, the poetry does so only sporadically. As in the case of Walwicz's work, discussed below, gender roles are depicted as masks, costumes, and charades. For example, 'At the Pictures' offers a disturbingly cannibalistic spectacle of the traditional young couple:
They had started the evening together,
waiting in their seats, the girl silent,
the boy noisy, with curly hair,
his busy hands touching her hungrily,
like a thirsty man who would never
have enough, eating her away, diligently,
absorbed, with vacant eyes.
The hunger not his, passed on,
untouched, from the beginning,
inhabiting shadows. (Kefala, 1973:16)
The shadows contain the lurking gods who often inhabit the wings in Kefala's work, and who enact in this example their traditional rites of possession. The comment on heterosexual traditions is clear and devastating.
In 'Concert' elderly women perform their allotted role as bearers of culture, 'powdered white . . . suspended . . . in ether' (ibid.:9), just as in other poems women are represented as 'staging' their femininity (Kefala, 1978:26, 50). Pathetically anachronistic, these votaries are, like their culture, slightly out of place. The final stanza, however, transfigures them and gives renewed significance to their own 'promised land' and 'unseen god'. A different kind of elderly woman appears in 'The Women in Black', sustained by another kind of faith--Christian but linked also with older gods who inhabit other poems (ibid.:22). Such figures (women in black) are rooted in the earth and are in touch with its chthonic powers. The later work links the 'lady herself' of the Christian pantheon with these other goddesses:
The evening was falling
on the porcelain dust
that moved on the waters
the milky white breath
of the goddess with snakes
who travelled below
her slim arms outstretched
poised at the centre
a secretive smile
on her listening mouth.
At her feet
the octopus waited
with eyes of the deep. (Kefala, 1988a:18)
After all, others have also seen a connection between pre-Christian snake goddesses and the traditional icon of Mary standing on the serpent.
The two poems which conclude Thirsty Weather offer the convergence of a series of places from which the writing subject has been speaking in the course of each of the first two volumes. In 'Epilogue' (Kefala, 1978:52), there is a collective 'we' moving like lost souls or Homeric shadows in the limbo of 'long medicinal rooms'. For ethnic minority readers whose presence is not yet acknowledged within mainstream Australian culture, this is a poignant image. The lurking insanity depicted in 'Memory' and 'Thirsty Weather' haunts all those who have been uprooted from the signifying systems which gave them meanings. In the final poem, 'The Hour', a dreaming narrator witnesses the silent murder of another alien people, culturally identified by the reference to 'greenstone tongues' (ibid.:53). The image of Maori suffering is juxtaposed with Tiresias, the bisexual poet and seer who is then linked with the narrator.
Kefala is not the first ethnic minority writer to seek affinity with other silenced voices (Gunew,1987b). It is interesting to see how she taps the pre-colonial mythic darkness of New Zealand and links it with her own cultural legacy in order to construct, via dreams, a new language of myth. Both individual and at the same time impersonal, Kefala's poetry constructs fragments of migrant subjects which draw the attention of some Australian readers to a 'foreignness' with which they should be more familiar. To other Australians, aware of their hyphenated cultural affiliations, she signals 'a new measure'. More recently, Kefala's work has finally generated analyses informed by contemporary post-structuralist criticism and the debates around modernity (Hatzimanolis, 1990; Papastergiadis, 1992).
Broadly speaking, Ania Walwicz's prose poems reproduce or re-enact the linguistic and social contradictions which construct any subject. Walwicz, a very different kind of writer, approaches language by replicating its semi- or unconscious shaping powers: hence the incantatory and repetitious style of her texts. Not surprisingly, given its overtly experimental style, Walwicz's work has had a reception history very different from but no less troubled than Kefala's (Walwicz, 1992b). For example, she is continually taken to task for techniques which clearly derive from high modernism--stream of consciousness, automatic writing, dream sequences, and so on. Nonetheless, she is constantly ridiculed for these quite traditional ways of marking experimental or avant-garde writing. She has frequently situated herself not only in a literary tradition evolving from Gertrude Stein (Gibbs, 1989/90) but also from popular culture such as rock music (and particularly icons such as Elvis Presley). Because she is a charismatic performer of her own work, this has also been construed as a limitation: it has been said, for instance, that the work literally requires her voice in order to convey its full meaning (Walwicz, 1992b:821---2). This marks a particularly vulgar manifestation of the notion of authorial presence as a sustaining device in literature.
Ania Walwicz arrived in Australia from Poland in 1963 at the age of thirteen. Her prose poems adopt, in the main, a parodic mode. Recurrent motifs include cultural dislocation, and gender conceived as a continuum rather than as the fixed opposition of sexual difference. In that area of her writing which deals specifically with the migrant experience, she has fashioned a powerful trope which reduces adult migrants to children (Walwicz, 1982a:34---5; 1982b:84; in Gunew 1981:2). Terms depicting childhood often function also to indicate social hierarchies or class differences (Ariès, 1979:24); and in Walwicz's world of power inversions, adults shrink to children, while children are forced to become the caretakers of their own parents. Another significant device in her work is parody of the so-called 'broken English' of immigrants. Walwicz's poetry is characterised by simple language and hypnotic repetitions well suited to performance poetry, and her performance skills may be sampled in the record included with the anthlogy called Off the Record (½.O., 1985). The prevailing associative logic is familiar to us from dreams, or, at least, from traditions of surrealist writing. Displacement and condensation are the governing devices: similar words and contiguous words structure the poems.
Displacementinvolves the transfer of psychic intensity from an unacceptable element to an acceptable one, while condensation effects the formation of a new signifier from a cluster of previous signifying materials. In other words, the first of these agencies neutralizes the differences between two similar contiguous things by asserting their emotional equivalence, while the second achieves the same thing by insisting on their absolute coincidence. (Silverman, 1983:89)
A cluster of Walwicz's poems deals with first contacts with the new culture, and offers variations on the trope of parent---child reversals. The parents grow increasingly smaller under the pressures of alien social processes and rely on their children to negotiate the social apparatus. The children, in time, disappear under this burden as, for example, in 'so little':
We were so big there and could do everything. When you have lots you know it. Lucky and lucky and money. My father was the tallest man in the world. Here we were nothing. There vet in the district and respect. The head of the returned soldiers and medals. Here washed floors in the serum laboratory. Shrinking man. I grow smaller every day. The world gets too big for me. We were too small for this big country. We were so little. We were nothing. We were none and naught and no money. We were no speak. There we were big and big time. Here we were so little. Hardly any. We grew tiny. Scared lost not knowing how to speak. At the mercy of other people to put us up. We didn't amount to much. There I was good at school. Here they put me in a grade lower. We grew smaller in height. We were reduced. We had a smaller area. Before we had a house. And here we had only one room to be in. I had big ideas before and here I didn't know how to say what I wanted to be. Was no one and nothing at all. I didn't belong anywhere. I was hardly here. Waiting for people to pick me up after school. And I forgot my address and wouldn't know what to say to anybody. And if they didn't pick me up I'd stand there all night and wouldn't know what to do at all. I was so small. The shower was too big for me. When you have plenty you can be kind. Father goes away. Mother goes away. They had room to move. Now we didn't have any. We were put in a box. We are so poor and all together. I used to think how nice that could be. But it wasn't nice. And we were at one another. We turned on one another. And quarrelled. And I ran away. And he ran away. And I didn't go to school one day. And we went to the golf links. And sat on a bench and escaped. And I got a cold and stayed in bed. And I was unhappy. And we were lost. And he could not do his job. And had to pass exams. And we didn't have any money. And the landlord came. Two little girls hid under the bed. He saw through the window and felt sorry. I had to be old early and ashamed of what happened. We are going to travel he said. Your name will be Anne. Your name will be Mary. I was hoping they'd catch us near the border. But they didn't. And we travelled in the white snow that was nowhere. And in the blue ocean that was nowhere. To get to a place where we were less and had less and were less and less and grew smaller every day. (Walwicz, 1983:19)
The poem begins by invoking the childhood fantasy that parents, particularly fathers, are all-powerful and confer these privileges, by extension, on the whole family ('We were so big there and could do everything'). In the oneiric logic of condensation, the shrinking father shrinks the child narrator. Words structure reality, as in Freud's analysis of dreams, where words are treated 'as if they were things, with all the same affective and sensory properties' (Silverman, 1983:84). Social impotence means literally to shrink in size and progressively to fade away (the reference is to aphanisis); loss of speech is equated with loss of existence. Within their alien environment the migrant subjects progressively dissolve: from 'tallest . . . in the world' to being confined in a house, then a room, a box, to hiding under the bed, to nothing ('the white snow that was nowhere'). Even names, those potent signifiers of social identity, disappear: this is a common motif in ethnic minority writing that is specifically migrant writing.
In 'Poland' (Walwicz, 1982a:37) memories of the previous culture are rapidly transformed into a total fabrication: 'child stories', stories told by a child and to a child. Again meaning is dependent on words organised at a literal level: memory, like a piece of cloth, fades and then unravels. Those who have gone 'over the horizon line' have died. Initially, the link is provided by dreams ('I went back every night'), but when these are not confirmed by the daily life, the past place and the past self disappear. Poland becomes 'Poland', simply a place on the map which one reads about in the papers. Poland may be said to function as the 'lost object' of psychoanalysis: 'The erotogenic zones or somatic gaps become the points through which the child attempts to introject into itself those things which give it pleasure, and which it does not yet distinguish from itself. The first such object is generally the breast, and it is of course inserted into the orifice of the mouth . . . Other objects which enjoy the same privileged status are the faeces, and the gaze and voice of another, such as the mother. There will be many such objects in the life of the subject. Lacan refers to them as 'objets petit a', which is an abbreviation for the more complete formula 'objets petit autre'. This rubric designates objects which are not clearly distinguished from the self and which are not fully grasped as other (autre). The object derives its value from its identification with some missing component of the subject's self, whether that loss is seen as primordial, as the result of a bodily organisation, or as the consequence of some other division' (Silverman, 1983:156). Underlying the vehement tone of Walwicz's poem is the harrowing implication that the self constructed 'over there' in Poland has no currency in the present 'here' and 'now' in Australia: a self derived from a particular cluster of signifying systems has become irrelevant ('This is finished and finished . . . gone and is gone').
In 'wogs' (in Gunew, 1987a:133) the predicament is viewed, so to speak, from the other side. An unpunctuated, relentless chorus announces the stereotypes of prejudice familiar to immigrants. Although it is an evocation of untutored voices, full of contradictions, it is uncannily reminiscent of certain enunciations deriving from so-called high culture. The logical momentum of the poem invokes all the standard fears associated with racism: miscegenation, alien food, skin the wrong colour, and uncontrolled breeding. All add up to the concept of 'wogs' as non-human ('dark skin monkeys'). A later poem, 'europe' (Walwicz, 1989b:71), is also based on stereotypical images from mass culture, in this case, the discourse of travelogues. The narrator, initially not gendered, catalogues European diversity metonymically and appropriately as consisting of rich food: this recurrent link between migrants, ethnic minorities and food needs to be theorised (Gunew, 1993b). There is also a hint of the pre-Oedipal and pre-linguistic child who recognises no boundaries and absorbs the world, everything, into its own body ('inside me is Europe'). As in post-war Australia, the signifier 'Europe' gestures towards an undifferentiated conglomeration of foreign countries. Once again, as at the beginning of 'Poland', there is the sense that living memory, the actual memory of Europe, displaces or is more palpable than the here and now of the new place. In this case, though, the tone is more mocking and parodic, as though the readers are being served only the clichéd concepts (if not the forms) they expect. The advent of 'carl', fresh from Europe, shifts the narrator's 'europe' back into dreams ('I ride in my first night with goblins'). The narrator labours to sustain and give back body to 'europe' as reminiscence, but is increasingly dependent on the support of artefacts such as pictures. The reference to 'soir de paris perfume my wrist' hints at gender, only to be displaced shortly afterwards by 'I'm young man' (see Silverman, 1983:158, on the 'mirror-stage' identification with the 'ideal' self in the Lacanian model of the acquisition of subjectivity). In this final mastery of 'europe' the narrator is established as male, Teutonic and full of potential ('everything is going to be').
'New World' (Walwicz, 1982a:67), the final poem in Walwicz's first collection, comprises the paradoxical celebration of a subject who is visibly there but refuses his own history. Beginning as 'Mister New' with no forebears, the narrator simultaneously refers to 'prison' and to 'hospital', possibly signalling the past which is being disavowed. Gender becomes increasingly complicated when Mister New gives birth to a new self ('I give me birth'). The male autogenesis is presumably more authoritative than the more familiar female parthenogenesis, but is then qualified by 'Thin dress . . . Joy is my name'. For those who are marked negatively by social sign systems (migrant, female), the possibility of rebirth is a compelling fantasy. It is accompanied, explicitly and implicitly, by the concept of an autonomous and originating subject. This theme is celebrated at greater length in the poem 'I': 'I am the driver . . . I am the world. There is nothing outside of me' (in Gunew, 1987a:134). Paradoxically, what is finally signalled here is that pre-symbolic stage before the subject develops a coherent subjectivity: the period when the child cannot distinguish between itself and the world at large.
The construction of gender in Walwicz's poetry is illuminated by Juliet Mitchell's analysis (1984:289---90) of how the hysteric refuses to line up on one side or the other of a socially constituted sexual division. Walwicz's poetry is indeed filled with this refusal. 'Masculinity' and 'femininity' are displayed as a series of poses and masquerades rather than as referring to any essential truths (Owen, 1985:7---8). For example, 'The All Male Sauna' (Walwicz, 1982a:14) begins with 'I was a little girl again', which sets the tone for a tongue-in-cheek catalogue of 'femininity' (what are little girls made of?). What is being celebrated here is the over-determined femininity associated with female impersonators, but which is, at the same time, part of a continuum of what constitutes 'normal' femininity in our own society. Many of Walwicz's poems deal with bisexuality, and a play of hers performed in Melbourne at the Anthill Theatre in January 1985 is called Girl/boy Talk. Also on this continuum is the Freudian notion of the fetish, succinctly described by Elizabeth Wright (1984:93) as an over-investment in something in order to cover over a lack. In 'Photos' (Walwicz, 1982a:56) anxieties engendered by the fragmented (or even non-existent) self are covered over with fetishised images. The endless taking of photos becomes a guarantee of existence, serving the recognition or hailing into being of the subject by social institutions ('So other people will look at me and see me'). Autogenesis and self-control (or control over the self) are again present. Recorded here is a series of selves--the strip of photos on the book's cover becomes teasingly contextualised. The self exists only on film fragments (or in fragmented writing), 'This comes out of me' and is unified only through the assertions of the narrator's 'I' ('I want to catch what I feel . . .This is really me'). But as we know from linguistic analysis (Silverman, 1983:185---6), the signifier 'I' has meaning only within the terms of the discourse in which it appears (for example, in relation to a 'you') and not in relation to an outside referent. Thus the repetition in the poem of 'I' perversely draws attention to the very absence that is being strenuously denied. The vehement affirmation of a unified subject puts that very concept into question.
Both the 'second childhood' motif and the fragmentation of language recur in her text 'translate' (Walwicz,1989b:83), which forms one of a trio of performance pieces on the video entitled Europa (Walwicz, 1987b). In his essay 'Des Tours de Babel', Derrida reminds us that the recognition of the need for translation 'ruptures the colonial violence or the linguistic imperialism' (Derrida, 1985a:174) upon which the notion of a universal language is predicated. This focuses our attention on the political aspects of entering a homogenised or unified language, where one of the values incorporated by those who arrive (the immigrants) is to remind those already there of the codes of initiation and entry (Sollors, 1986:251---2) which operate in that culture. Another value is that these immigrants affirm the identity of the dominant group by functioning, in Gayatri Spivak's (1986) terms, as self-confirming others. Migrants are constituted for sociology and oral history as unproblematic informants who deliver the putative validity of unmediated experience--that true-life story or paradigmatic narrative which consolidates the unified subject who, in turn, confirms linguistic and other imperialisms.
One of the most effective ways of upsetting such cultural imperialisms is to insert other tongues into the prevailing English idiom. Those who derive from non-Anglo cultures and languages, and are forced to negotiate a new symbolic (in Lacan's sense of the term), find that the name-of-the-father which dominates in the old symbolic has become delegitimised in the new country. In other words, since in Western culture we operate inevitably with binary oppositions (and there seems only one place for the dethroned 'father' to go) this is tantamount to arguing that the illegitimate name-of-the-father is assigned the maternal position--not simply that of the biological mother, but of that pre-symbolic realm of the semiotic, which Julia Kristeva has described as consisting of pulsions and a rhythmic babble. (Kristeva, 1980:124---47)
In the essay on translation Derrida (1985:167) also plays with notions of legitimation, moving from the Father/God as origin of language to the plurality of mother tongues. The importance for nationalist enterprises of an original, sacred and legitimising language has often been explored (Hartman, 1980). In this case, the question Derrida poses is not simply how to convey the necessary plurality of languages but how to achieve this in translation. In the present instance, how does my own critical interpretation, which involves a translation, convey the plurality of the English and Polish? As Paul de Man puts it, 'Both criticism and translation are caught in the gesture which Benjamin calls ironic, a gesture which undoes the stability of the original by giving it a definitive, canonical form in the translation or in the theorization' (1985:35).
The Polish language in the poem functions, for those who don't understand it, as the untranslatable which is the condition of translation. It emphasises the importance of recognising both the need to translate and its inherent impossibility. It registers itself as the indigestible aspect of a vulgar multiculturalism which cannot simply be consumed as ethnic cooking, costumes or quaint customs.
The tower is built and confusion reigns: but for whom? The narrator speaks of needing to renovate her house in conjunction with painfully remembering the Polish language, the former life that she has almost forgotten. 'Self' and 'house' are familiar metonyms of one another. At the same time we are informed that the renovator, like all authority figures, will not come on call. Does this signify the lost name-of-the-father? To juxtapose this poem with the first text in the trilogy of pieces, 'dad' (Walwicz,1989b:163), renders such a reading perhaps too easy. Before that we are given the dwarf (krasnoludek) --possibly, again, the father reduced and refashioned as trickster, transgressively associated with pissing. This is the symbolic father returned to the semiotic space of the body criss-crossed with spasms and pulsions. The carnivalesque is also suggested by references to play and the theatre--the lost scene of childhood and language. The lost words become synonymous with old or 'tragic' toys. In an interview, Walwicz (1987a) refers to these 'tragic old toys' as being associated with war, an image of damage and cruelty to the self, and cruelty perpetrated on a child.
In the video version, the red hood and trousers of the narrator are linked with a plaster garden gnome, which visually recalls the stunted adults of other poems. Also evoked is the powerful transgressive image of an earlier poem in which little Red Riding Hood haunts the shadows, carries a knife and accosts men with, 'Want some sweeties mister?' (Walwicz, 1982:7). The child/adult as clumsy foundling sardonically re-enacts the migrant experience: the adult baby who suddenly cannot speak.
Another frame of reference for the poem (reversed of course) is that of the language class: all those after-hours English classes held in schools, in which adult immigrants are squeezed into children's desks. Here, the implied Anglo readers are put into the position of being assaulted with a language they cannot understand. In addition, the piece caricatures the first-person mode: the 'simple' telling of one's life story, the 'simple' identity of the migrant subject. From the assumption of authority in the language lesson, the narrator moves to explore other advantages in having access to another language. The 'foreigner has some extra'. Whether by being able to discuss other people openly on a tram, or having the knowledge of another country in the back of their heads, migrants are emphatically not defined through lack: neither the lack of English nor its supposed corollary, the lack of cultural plenitude.
The poem begins, 'inne different'--the absence of difference precedes the acquisition of language with its concomitant assumption of subjectivity. The subject cannot return to a pre-linguistic self. In the video version we are given the shot of a pickled tongue. The old tongue cannot simply be pickled, though this makes for good eating. Walwicz's work continues to confound expectations concerning ethnic minority writings. More generally, her experimental style--equally marked in her first novel red roses (Walwicz, 1992a)--continues to antagonise reviewers like Oakley (1992:8) and Davison (1992). But Walwicz's writings are now attracting sustained academic analysis (Jacobson,1990; Gillett, 1991) in ways that as yet Kefala's have not.