'Twenty years ago, when I first arrived on the plains, I kept my eyes open. I looked for anything in the landscape that seemed to hint at some elaborate meaning behind appearances.
'There is no book in Australian literature like The Plains. In the two decades since its first publication, this haunting novel has earned its status as a classic. A nameless young man arrives on the plains and begins to document the strange and rich culture of the plains families. As his story unfolds, the novel becomes, in the words of Murray Bail, ‘a mirage of landscape, memory, love and literature itself’.' (Publication summary : Text Classics)
'The Australian writer Gerald Murnane was born in a suburb of Melbourne, in 1939, and has spent his entire life in Australia. His novel “The Plains,” first published thirty-five years ago and reissued next month, is a bizarre masterpiece that can feel less like something you’ve read than something you’ve dreamed.' (Introduction)
'In the late 1980s, as the Canadian scholar Robert David Stacey remarks, 'talk of postmodernism was everywhere' (2010, xii). Yet postmodernism certainly took regional forms. Novelists in Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific briefly and tentatively identified under the banner of the postmodern, while writers in Canada took up the cause and title of the postmodern more visibly and actively.'
Thus opens Gerald Murnane's novel The Plains. It begins with a border crossing of sorts. The narrator, who remains nameless throughout the novel, recounts the process of crossing from Australia into the plains. The reader obligingly follows. Yet, the narrator cannot be sure of exactly when and where, let alone if he crossed from Australia into the plains. The border is imperceptible. This imperceptibility is not merely a problem of borders, or even a problem of place. As Gillet notes, it is a problem of 'language' and 'knowledge' - a problem, perhaps, of interpretation. What I am alluding to here is acknowledged and even perpetuated by the narrator himself. In these opening few lines the narrator refers to interpretation twice, both times in reference to the land around him. The plains, he states, seem to be the source of hidden meanings. The person approaching the plains is willed to search for such meanings. Furthermore, the search for hidden meanings, the act of interpretation, is a private one. The plains, the narrator comments, 'seemed more and more a place that only I could interpret.' (Introduction)
'This article takes account of the ‘spontaneity’ of the post-colonial fiction of Gerald Murnane within the ‘dominating space’ of the philosophy of Spinoza. My use of Paul Carter’s terms here is strategic. The compact of fiction and philosophy in Murnane corresponds with the relationship of spontaneity to the dominating organization of desire in Carter’s rendering of an Aboriginal hunter. Carter’s phrase “‘a figure at once spontaneous and wholly dominated by the space of his desire’” worries Ken Gelder and Jane M. Jacobs, who suggest that it subjugates the formation of Aboriginal desire (incorporating spontaneity) to impulses of imperialism. The captivating immanence of Spinoza’s philosophy in Murnane’s fiction, which I will demonstrate with various examples, puts pressure on the fiction to occupy the same space as the space of the philosophy. Here is a clue to why Murnane’s post-colonial thematics have been little explored by critics with an interest in post-colonial politics. The desire of Spinoza’s philosophy creates a spatial textuality within which the spontaneity of Murnane’s fiction, to the degree that it maximizes or fills the philosophy, is minimized in its political effects. That is to say, the fiction shifts politics into an external space of what Roland Barthes calls “resistance or condemnation”. However, the different speeds (or timings) of Murnane and Spinoza, within the one space, mitigate this resistance of the outside, at least in respect of certain circumstances of post-coloniality. It is especially productive, I suggest, to engage Carter’s representation of an Aboriginal hunter through the compact of coincidental spaces and differential speeds created by Murnane’s fiction in Spinoza’s philosophy. This produces a ceaseless activation of desire and domination, evidenced in Murnane’s short story ‘Land Deal’, and indexed by a post-Romantic sublime. What limits the value of Murnane’s fiction in most contexts of post-colonial politics, is precisely what makes it useful in the matter of Carter’s Aboriginal hunter.' (Publication abstract)