The Law of Storytelling: The Hermeneutics of Relationality in Alexis Wright's The Swan Book


  • Arnaud Barras University of Geneva


Alexis Wright, hermeneutics, relationality, The Swan Book, postcolonial fiction


In this paper I argue that Alexis Wright's novel The Swan Book (2013) establishes a hermeneutics of relationality that complicates the genre of Australian literature by aestheticising its transnational quality. Through the interplay of foreign swan stories told by the European migrant Bella Donna and local country swamp stories embodied in the Aboriginal protagonist Oblivia, Wright questions the origins and nature of Australian literature. In other words, The Swan Book suggests to its readers that Australian literature, from its production to its reception, transgresses national and spatial boundaries. In light of The Swan Book, the genre of Australian literature can no longer be located precisely within the borders of the continent, but has to be understood in relation to the world. In the first part of the essay, I briefly draw on concepts of hermeneutics and relationality to show how the novel creates an interpretive matrix whose function is to enmesh Aboriginal storytelling in Australian literature. In the second part of the essay, I analyse the manifestations of the hermeneutics of relationality, which takes the form of self-reflexive episodes that dramatise the process of interpretation. Ultimately, I argue that self-reflexivity is so powerful in the novel, and that Wright reproduces, varies, corrects and changes the rules and scope of Australian literature to such an extent and with such an aesthetic impact that the story of Oblivion Ethyl(ene) may in effect be the first brush of a horizon change in the literary landscape of Australian literature.