I'll Show You Love In a Handful of Dust

The Material Poetics of Voss


  • Samuel Jesse Cox University of Adelaide


This article argues the final and arguably most permeable frontier Patrick White’s Voss sets out across is the material. Informed by the environmental and material turn in the humanities and turning away from the purely psychological and ‘country of the mind’ readings of White’s novel, I explore Voss’s engagement with various non-realist traditions to open questions on how literature and the text might materialise new sources of intimacy and interconnection with the mineral realm. Tracking a journey through stone and rock to dust, I connect Voss’s material poetics to larger themes and the wider question of the texts relationship to the Australian environment. I argue that in White’s novel a confrontation occurs between an inherited European literary aesthetics, connected to humanist ideals, and the dry and uniquely Australian material environments of the interior. Whereas colonial Sydney seeks stability and impermeability through their relation to stone and the material world, the journey inland will fracture and fissure established forms. The ultimate triumph of Voss’s material poetics, manifested largely through Laura, is to discover not simply fear in a handful of dust, as in T.S. Eliot’s famous line from The Waste Land, but love.

Author Biography

Samuel Jesse Cox, University of Adelaide

Samuel J. Cox is a PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide. Engaging with ecocritical, ecomaterialist approaches and existing criticism, his research traces the (geo)poetics of dust to unravel ideas of place, space and arid environments in Australian literature. He is also a photographer and youth worker. His work has been published in The Saltbush Review and Westerly, with two further forthcoming publications in ALS and Motifs. Samuel won the University of Adelaide’s Heather Kerr Prize and ASAL’s A. D. Hope Prize in 2022.