LITERATURE - AUSTRALIAN - OUT OF EDEN - REVIEW
Winnicott, Klien, Reich, Deleuze, West, Laing, Lacan, plus twelve or
thirteen more. I stopped counting when I got past twenty names. That’s
enough theorists for any psychoanalytic view of anybody. But no. Pons
also serves up the common sense of biological determinism when he mis-informs
us that “Violence is in man’s genes” which is perhaps why there
are so many “narcissistic wounds” in his text?
stopped counting the “narcissitic wounds” after the first dozen, but
started again once I realised that there were six mentions of narcissism
on the final two pages of the last concluding chapter. It is not clear
from these usages what Pons means by a “narcissitic wound”.
grab bag of psychologists, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists makes it
impossible to know if he is following Freud, or Freud’s opponents. The
task of sorting gout Pons’s meaning is not made easier by his failure
to index any of terminology. Thus, Oedipus is given as a person, but not
as a complex.
is worse than eclectic in his psychoanalysis. If he had taken ideas from
different people and put them to work to make his own interpretation
when we might have got a glimpse of Henry Lawson. Instead, Pons cites
this or that theorists according to the twists of his own argument.
Worse still, Pons concocts his account as if all psychoanalysts,
psychiatrists and psychologists silent agreed with each other.
third of the way into his book, Pons tells us that “Lawson had to
resort to partial, borrowed identities to express a whole gamut of
sentiments which his ago could hardly integrate”. How true that
statement is of this book, where his failure to integrate theories with
each other is equalled by his failure to integrate evidence with those
first two chapters are sub-headed ‘Mother and Son” and “father and
Son”, they cite no psycho-writings at all. The theorising is saved up
for chapter three which is appropriately sub-titled, “a pseudo-oedipal
triangle”. These three chapters come under the general heading, ‘The
Family Constellation” which is a promising idea but one which Pons
never sets in motion. Instead of a constellation, we get diagonals;
couples, never a family. Nor do we get any reference to the founder of
constellation analysis, Alfred Adler.
version of Lawson’s family constellation would be unconvincing even if
he did not contradict himself. Well into the story we are told that the
father was discouraging and the mother supporter which is the direct
opposite to the thesis in the opening chapters. The two versions need
not exclude each other. To account for them both, it would be necessary
to welcome complexity.
incapacity to think about more than one thing at a time means that he
remains blind to the irony in Lawson’s writing. Lawson said that he
was a realist and that statement tells Pons that what he sees at first
glace is all that there is to read.
division between generalisation and evidence reappear in the later
chapters where fair-to average literary criticism is followed by
sections tacking on their psychoanalytical meaning.
Pons tries to keep everything in separate boxes, his literary criticism
becomes psychological reductionism. Thus, Lawson’s concern with social
issues and his political preoccupations were merely a pretext for his
egoistic interests. Here to, Pons has made no effort towards complexity,
complications or contradictions.
a model of his simplification, there is pons’s treatment of
homosexuality. Let me make it clear that Pons does not suggest that our
Henry was gay. He refers to the consequences of “suppressed
homosexuality”. Because Henry’s sexuality was all in his head, Pons
does not mention similar tendencies n two of Lawson’s associates –
Le Gay Brereton and Earl Beauchamp.
evidence and generalisation do not meet, the suppositions fall thick and
is led to surmise that Lawson did not experience the usual Oedipal
situation, and thus could not surmount it, because the configuration of
his family constellation did not allow it
Sixty pages later:
disembodied love for Hannah also reveals the writer’s lack of interest
in heterosexual relations and, correlatively his homosexual leanings.
These sentences are
not theoretical, or even hypothetical. They are fancies spun from
Before Pons rings down
the curtain on these speculations, he spotlights mateship:
is indeed a form of love, whose homosexual connotations cannot be
overlooked, and its prominence in Lawson’s works is significant of the
writer’s unconscious preoccupations.
What are these
“homosexual connotations’ of mateship that “cannot be
overlooked”? Where have they been established, documented, explored. I
know of no such scholarship.
There continues to be
plenty of glib remarks on the topic, but no thorough investigation. We
do not have a complete etymology of “mate” in Australian parlance.
So what licence is there for assuming that homophilia is suppressed
homosexuality. Because I fail to have sexual relations with my closest
female friends, does that make a repressed heterosexual?
Pons’s treatment of
homosexuality is as insensitive as it is judgemental. It never occurs to
him to ask whether Lawson would have been happier had he been
“un”-suppressed. Nor does Pons ponder whether Lawson the writer
benefited in any way from his alleged condition. For Pons, the
suppression is not the trouble with Harry. The problem is homosexuality
itself, which Pons represents as an “anal-sadistic” disablement.
It is easy to pick
holes in Pons’s “psychoanalytic view”, just as it is easy to poke
fun at all such approaches. The fact remains that we do all love and
hate, hope and despair, dread and desire. To leave those passions out of
a life story is to depict objects, not to account for another human
Pons’s book is no
worse than most biographical studies, which either ignore the emotional
and subconscious, or dip into the vocabulary of analysis for a phrase or
two. The effort must always be made and there are sound French
achievements, such as Sartre on Baudelaire and Flaubert. Pons does not
include Sartre in his round-up of big names.
Pons should cheer up
cultural cringers since his failure shows that not all French scholars
are Sartre. It is nonetheless depressing that Australian Studies abroad
should achieve its greatest successes by attracting third-raters.
If we must have
simplistic explanations for Henry Lawson, let us have ones as engaging
as John Manifold’s version. The change in Lawson after 1900 took
place, says Manifold, because Le Gay Brereton pushed Lawson overboard
during the voyage to London and thereafter assumed his identity. That is
one suppression that I am happy to accept.