'After decades of strict, puritanical censorship, Australian writers are free to address sexual issues. But sex remains a controversial and disturbing topic - its representation in poetry or fiction can never be free of ambiguities and still requires a variety of literary strategies to be made acceptable.
Messengers of Eros examines those strategies and offers close readings of many Australian literary texts. It revisits classics such as Coonardoo, Capricornia or Such Is Life as well as major modern writers such as Patrick White, Peter Carey, David Malouf or Richard Flanagan, and engages with contemporary works whose status is still a matter for debate. It takes into account the postcolonial context of Australia's culture, especially where Indigenous and multicultural writers are concerned.
This original and compelling book draws on the lessons of French theory and, though its approach is sympathetic to postmodernism, it never falls into academic jargon, remaining easily accessible to the general reader.' (Publisher's blurb)
'All serious art breaks the rules-there can be no innovation without some form of transgression. Yet the breaking of rules is not enough to produce serious art, and while the very focus of erotic writing seems to invite transgressions, these are not necessarily liberating or creative. When transgressions lie for the most part in the subject-matter, their translation into literary break-throughs is problematic, and they can in fact be undermined by writing that is bland, conventional and predictable. Literature, it bears perhaps repeating, is not the thing itself but a representation and thus a re-creation of it. Modes of representations are always ideologically loaded and, while the contemporary period has invented very little in terms of sexual practices, it has been able to innovate significantly in terms of representational practices. It remains to be seen what kind of articulation can be found between the two.' (p 39)
'In the arts generally and in literature in particular, depictions of sex are never a mere representation of life-they are more like a substitute for it, an alternative to it. They often express desires which cannot find fulfilment in reality, and thus are entrusted to the imagination by which, for all their 'baser' nature, they are turned, or sublimated, into something more acceptable to society, something that can appear on a canvas or a sheet of paper and relieve the artist's, as well as the viewer's frustration.' (p. 61)
'Australian culture is frequently described as materialistic, hedonistic and fun-loving, and no doubt it is, in some respects, all those things. The 'land of the long week-end', its 'great stupor' perhaps, even the 'lucky country' - all these more or less flattering tags suggest, sometimes in the face of what their authors intended, that nothing can go seriously wrong in Australia, where life cannot be but easy-going and enjoyable. And so it would appear that, as Craig McGregor observed, 'the Australian race is engaged in a whole-hearted pursuit of happiness without guilt. The beach, in particular, has been for several decades one of the major symbols of the Australian way of life, the locus of Australian hedonism, where people worship the sun, display their near-naked bodies, and ogle other people's...' (p. 81)
'In the literature of the last few decades depiction of sex have become commonplace. The old taboos which made any allusion to these matters something daring or transgressive have disappeared, to the extent that the reader is surprised, and perhaps a little disappointed, when he or she fails to find any sexual descriptions in the novel. It would appear that the characters have as few inhibitions when it comes to having sex as the writers when it comes to describing it.' (p. 119)
'...[Norman] Lindsay's novel Redheap, first published in Britain in 1930, was promptly banned in Australia for some three decades. This made Lindsay a hero in the eyes of some younger writers...
With the advantage of hindsight, some critics have wondered what the fuss had been all about, arguing that Lindsay's writings were little more than a kind of adolescent caper, and have now outlived whatever subversive quality they might once have possessed.' (p. 139)
'The issue of sexual contact across the racial divide-that is, for the most part, of white men having sex with black women-has long agitated Australia's culture and society. The unintended result of such contact, the appearance of a growing 'half-cast' population, was seen as a grave threat to the racist dream of a white Australia, and led to the policy of systematically removing mixed-race children from their mothers in order to 'breed out their colour,' thereby creating the 'Stolen Generations'. The policy so earnestly promoted the likes of A.O. Neville and Cecil Cook found widespread approval throughout Australia: hardly any voices were raised in dissent, and several decades later many still regarded it as entirely justified.' (p. 157)
'David Malouf is hardly a gay icon. Although he has never kept his homosexuality a secret, neither has he flaunted it, either in his life or in his writings. Where the latter are concerned, there is no doubt that Malouf doesn't want to be pigeonholed, that he rejects restrictive levels that would do an injustice to his wide-ranging preoccupations and his considerable appeal to all manner of readers.' (p. 271)