David Malouf, Remembering Babylon, 1993
Remembering Babylon is one of David Malouf’s most celebrated novels. It has scooped up numerous literary prizes, including the inaugural international Dublin Literary Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction. It was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Miles Franklin Award.
The novel opens with an extraordinary encounter between three children from an early white settler community and the dishevelled figure of Gemmy, who appears at a fence that is both literally and metaphorically at the boundary between two worlds. Gemmy is a confounding ‘in-between creature’ who, in the eyes of the adult settlers, is not quite white nor black and not quite human. In his luminous prose, Malouf employs Gemmy’s liminality to explore the deep anxieties of racism and the settlers’ experience of exile in an unfamiliar landscape.
Like Dostoevsky’s figure of the epileptic ‘idiot’, Gemmy appears to the settlers as a simpleton, but to very different effect. Gemmy may be illiterate but he can read the settlers and the landscape, which he learned from the original inhabitants to the north, beyond the swamp and the ti-tree forest. These inhabitants are rarely seen but their presence and belongingness is palpable.
Yet Gemmy has his own struggle too. Between his appearance and disappearance, Malouf provides more than a glimpse of our shared human and more-than-human nature.
The masterclass will explore the themes of liminality, the anxieties of racism, belonging (and not belonging) to landscape and to nature, the relationship between inner and outer nature, and the sources of the self that go beyond language.
Professor Robyn Eckersley
Robyn Eckersley is Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor in Political Science in the School of Social and Political Sciences and a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. She has published widely in the fields of environmental political theory and ethics, environmental justice, climate change politics and governance and international relations. Her book The Green State: Rethinking Democracy and Sovereignty (2004) won a Melbourne Woodward Medal in 2005 and was runner up in the International Studies Association’s Harold and Margaret Sprout Award for 2005 for the best book on international environmental studies. Her other books include Environmentalism and Political Theory (1992), The State and the Global Ecological Crisis (2005, co-edited with John Barry); Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge (2006); Special Responsibilities: Global Problems and American Power (2012, co-author with five others); Globalization and the Environment (2013, co-authored with Peter Christoff) and The Oxford Handbook of International Political Theory (2018, co-edited with Chris Brown).