And then, of course, there is the question of just what it is that we want from it, this landscape home, elusive and perhaps ultimately impossible as it might be – or, rather, of what it is that we feel that we are not getting, cannot have, or cannot have access to. If it is just a matter of terms for certain feelings that we experience – terms for feelings of connectedness, say, or of our love of place, our sense of its somehow sacredness – and leaving aside the fact that our real unpossession might inhere not so much in terms themselves, or the lack of them, as in a sense that we do not have a ‘right’ to the feeling in the first place – then surely it amounts principally and to no more than a kind of linguistic / artistic challenge. And at first glance this is not or should not be a great problem. The Australian land and its landscapes have generated many, many languages already – there were, it has been estimated, several hundred indigenous languages at the time of white invasion – and surely it can generate one language more. But, while particular words may be its surface, its most overt sign, it is not really a question of words. And here, again, we face a kind of chimera. There may be many different indigenous languages, but beneath them there is, arguably, one deeper, wordless language, and it is this language – if language is the right term for it – that is the problem. Words themselves are surface. The ‘home’ we long for is something – a language? – beneath or beyond them. It is, we could say, this language we are kept from, this language that holds us at bay.
And this ‘home’, this deeper language, represents a problem in several ways. There is the problem of access to this language. There is the problem of appropriation of this language. There is the problem of the relation of this language to the language of those who are seeking it. And there is the problem of the relation of this language – just as there is of the language of those who seek this language – to language itself: of this language as language.
Non-indigenous Australian artists and writers – that proportion concerned to feel, explore and articulate their place – have the challenge not only of finding – opening themselves to – this new language in which to articulate the place of their real but nevertheless illegitimised belonging, but also of relating that language to the language they already have, or – and one can understand this thought even more readily – of releasing themselves in some manner from the grip – what I have already called the deep grammar – of that language.
Arguably, of course, some of these matters – of the definition and conception of landscape, or of the landscape’s generation of or relation to language and culture – are not so much of indigeneity and the complications thereof as they are to do with our own evolving arguments concerning human capacities of perception and representation per se: emanations of an exploration of and struggle with our deeper structurations that have been preoccupying Western theory for decades, and that have already produced some significant propositions. Many, for example, in a readily understandable recourse, have seen this as a matter of reconceptualising that which does the conceiving, i.e. of finding a new way of handling and conceiving of ourselves within the places we find ourselves. We are offered (by Deleuze and Guattari amongst others), release from that Freudian ontology which sees the individual constructed about a lack; we are offered a rhizomatic rather than an arborescent conception of knowing and arranging the known; we are offered, as a concomitant conception of procedure, the idea of a nomadic rather than a settled being. That the latter is an idea which has been seen to be so deeply sympathetic to and even in some measure to have originated within indigenous Australian culture strongly substantiates the assertion already made that the matter of the indigenous, for the non-indigenous, cannot readily be separated from matters of authenticity, language, perception and representation at the heart of our own cultural moment.
But these are perhaps for a further stage of this discussion, not this one. If the land teaches and informs, then it will not be changing its lessons and languages to suit intellectual fashion. Somehow this idea of being in-formed and the idea of finding new ways of being don’t seem to go too readily together. Even for those who pursue the latter in one or another of its various forms, the problem of language, and the grip of language, and the releasing of that grip, will maintain. Central amongst and to the manifold epistemological adjustments to be made, there will still be the problem of the language in which they are made and discussed, and of how that may be opened and adjusted to accommodate and allow them, since the language itself, it must be presumed, carries within it the tentacular roots of many of those very things they will be seeking to change, and without substantial alteration to the one it is hard to see how there could be any substantial change in the other.
Poets who for these or some other reasons choose not to follow the path of or into such ontological reconceptions will have an awkward and uncomfortable choice. To accept a kind of internal exile from their own home, as it were, or to haunt it, mute, or to give themselves over, open themselves to it, and take the consequences, of being ridiculed, made to seem thieves when they know or feel that they are not. The poetry might be marked, as a consequence – and as many would argue Australian poetry has been – by a diffidence, a guilt, an uncanniness (unheimlichkeit), or some later developments of the same. They may, on the other hand, chose not to use the words or the concepts that are there, in front of them, just over the fence or down from the ridge, but these words and concepts will still be there, absent, at the hearts of their poems. It’s not, after all, as if it is not a price they – those of the tribe of they – have not already asked others to pay.
There is of course another way of looking at this. The poem (/ poetry) is – is brought about by, exists because it is – a site of tension, a disagreement, a quarrel, a facing-off, as, therefore, is and will be the poetry of this landscape – a settling between the emanations of the landscape itself and those who are trying to express it. Were they able to mirror the landscape exactly – were it the idea that they do so – then it is likely that the poetry which attempts to do so would not exist at all – would not need to.
It may not all come down to grammar, but grammar, surely, is a large part of it. A grammar moulds us. To accept and learn and conform with it is, potentially, to let a very insidious thing into your mind. The unheimlich may be a matter of a grammar that has not released us – and perhaps cannot, will not – in the face of, encountering, a grammar new to us, emanating from this place, these landscapes of our invasion.