American Dreaming: The Fictions of Peter Carey

Citation metadata

Author: Graeme Turner
Editor: Deborah A. Stanley
Date: 1997
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,076 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

[(essay date October 1986) In the following essay, an earlier draft of which was presented at the conference of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature in July 1986, Turner outlines the major characteristics of Carey's fiction and discusses Carey's use of "American" formal devices to create literature with Australian themes.]

Arguments around the concepts of nationalism and internationalism are familiar presences in discussions of Australian literature and other areas of cultural production, such as Australian film. Within such discussions, the internationalist position recommends itself as a kind of sophistication, a smoothing over of the rough edges of parochialism, and the embodiment of wider, even universal, standards of achievement. Peter Carey has been hailed as an international writer. The Sydney Morning Herald review of Bliss [October 10, 1981] is representative in its typing of Carey as a writer who `finally brings Australia out of the last stubborn crannies of provincialism' and into a `new universality and sophistication.' Reviewers may divide on such issues as the `Australian-ness' of Illywhacker, but sophistication is a word which occurs regularly in accounts of Carey's fiction. Most often, this sophistication is seen to be primarily stylistic or formal--a product of Carey's use of the modes of black humour, metafiction, or fabulation, and his employment of popular sub-genres like science fiction. Although few go so far as to deny that there are important correspondences between the worlds depicted in Carey's fiction and Australian society, the fact that such correspondences are not usually literal--they reside at the level of interpretation--makes it possible to talk of his works as universal or, conversely, un-Australian. Such judgements may be partial, but they do highlight an important feature of the reception of Carey's fiction: that is, its distinctiveness is first apprehended as a distinction of form rather than of meaning or theme. Such a separation cannot, of course, be maintained, and in this discussion I wish to make some connections between Carey's use of international forms--specifically, American forms--and his generation of Australian meanings in order to outline what I see as important constituents of his fiction.

Although I wish to examine the relationship between Carey's fiction and American forms and meanings, it must be admitted that they are not the only international influences perceptible in his work. It is possible, for instance, to draw quite precise parallels between Carey and Marquez. As writers from post-colonial cultures they stand in similar political relations to the dominant literary forms and establishments, and have close stylistic and thematic affinities; the issue of colonialism, too, is prominent in both bodies of fiction. However, it is the Marquez who has been appropriated by American traditions who will make the occasional appearance in this discussion, as it is the American connections with which it is most concerned. The ways in which Carey and Marquez might form the basis for a discussion of post-colonial writing and the dominance of American literary culture must be deferred for future explorations.

That qualification made, it is clear that there is...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100000171