1st Edition

Poetics and Politics of Relationality in Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Fiction

By Dorothee Klein Copyright 2022
    222 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    222 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This is the first sustained study of the formal particularities of works by Bruce Pascoe, Kim Scott, Tara June Winch, and Alexis Wright. Drawing on a rich theoretical framework that includes approaches to relationality by Aboriginal thinkers, Edouard Glissant, and Jean-Luc Nancy, and recent work in New Formalism and narrative theory, the book illustrates how they use a broad range of narrative techniques to mediate, negotiate, and temporarily create networks of relations that interlink all elements of the universe. Through this focus on relationality, Aboriginal writing gains both local and global significance. Locally, these narratives assert Indigenous sovereignty by staging an unbroken interrelatedness of people and their land. Globally, they intervene into current discourses about humanity’s relationship with the natural environment, urging readers to acknowledge our interrelatedness with and dependence on the land that sustains us.

    Introduction: Towards a Poetics and Politics of Relationality

    Chapter 1: Non-Human (Narrative) Authority in Bruce Pascoe’s Earth

    Chapter 2: Place-Based Storytelling in Kim Scott’s Benang and That Deadman Dance

    Chapter 3: Precarious Relations in Tara June Winch’s Swallow the Air

    Chapter 4: Non-Egocentric Relations and Ambiguity in Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria

    Chapter 5: Travelling Narratives and Community in Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book

    Chapter 6: Stories, Language, and Sharing in Kim Scott’s Taboo

    Conclusion: Experiencing Relationality


    Dorothee Klein is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of English Literatures and Cultures at the University of Stuttgart in Germany. She has published articles on Aboriginal life-writing, contemporary Aboriginal fiction and short story cycles, and (cognitive) narratology.

    "Poetics and Politics of Relationality in Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Fiction is an absolutely outstanding study that pushes the specifically literary aspects of indigenous Australian fiction into the centre of interest. By focussing on the interrelations between narrative forms and political attitudes, it also contributes to the further development of a postcolonial narratology. And the book demonstrates convincingly how the prose narratives by Bruce Pascoe, Kim Scott, Tara June Winch, and Alexis Wright negotiate relationality. What I find particularly impressive is the sensitive ways in which Dorothee Klein reflects upon and comments on the (not at all unproblematic) reception of indigenous Australian literature by a Western reader. Klein treats the texts with caution, modesty, and respect. This is how to do it."

    Dr. Jan Alber, Professor of English Literature and Cognitive Studies at RWTH Aachen University and Past President of the International Society for the Study of Narrative


    "This new book by Dorothee Klein takes a fresh look at Australian Aboriginal literature through a New Formalist lens. Her innovative readings of canonical writers Bruce Pascoe, Kim Scott, Tara June Winch and Alexis Wright focus on the poetics and politics of relationality. They attend meticulously to the narrative techniques of each writer, analysing the ways in which the language carves out the relational space of reading.


    Yet this book is in no way dry. Klein links narratological analysis to historical, social and political issues and argues passionately that Aboriginal literatures address globally urgent themes such as climate change and other catastrophes. She demonstrates through her readings of the fiction that Aboriginal onto-epistemologies insist on the interconnectedness of humans, non-human actors and the environment. 

    This book is beautifully written. Impressively erudite and well-researched it fearlessly grapples with Big Ideas but in a way that is always accessible and a great pleasure to read. It is an important book and a must read for anyone interested in Indigenous literatures."

    Dr. Anne Brewster, honorary Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales


    "Unprecedented in scope and content, this study discovers a common aim in contemporary Australian Aboriginal fiction that has so far not been discussed at length: relationality. It considers how Aboriginal fictions use narrative form to create a tight knitted feeling of connectedness among its indigenous characters and a sense of relatedness to their local environment. By delving into the narrative techniques of authors like Bruce Pascoe, Kim Scott, Tara June Winch, and Alexis Wright, we learn how relationality offers a productive alternative to a wide-spread individualistic care of self. Although the study engages with the aesthetic qualities of these narratives in an in-depth-manner unusual in postcolonial criticism, it does not ignore the socio-political context. Indeed, its main premise lies in the theoretically advanced conceiving of form as a way of knowing. Working with the concept of a "poetics of relationality" that functions to analyse perspective-taking, plot-design and landscape description, it is able to elaborate how a broad range of narrative techniques in Aboriginal fictions creates a sense of relations that reach beyond the human to interlink all elements of the cosmos. Besides this achievement in the narratives, the study elucidates how the narratives also have the potential to engage the reader in imagined temporary communities that share its dynamic, non-hierarchical and diverse ways of knowing. At a time like today, when social distancing is the order of the day, practising an imagination of communality may constitute a key to ethical and politically sensitive awareness. Given these responsive effects, this book goes beyond most academic studies in challenging notions of human centrality and emphasising our role as care-takers of the environment."

    Prof. Dr. Renate Brosch, University of Stuttgart