I'll Show You Love In a Handful of Dust
The Material Poetics of Voss
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.
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