Synthetics Surveillance and Sarsaparilla: Patrick White and the New Gossip Economy

Lorraine Burdett


This essay proposes a new model for reading Patrick White’s novels of the 1960s in their treatment of the tensions between the rights of individuals and their relation to ‘the group’, charting the circulations of exclusion inherent within this dynamic. I argue these novels are connected with a preoccupation of postwar American literary fiction that rehearses the experience of the individual whose identity lies in peril at the hands of a collective regulatory consciousness.

In this essay I contend that White deploys the synthetic matter of his time as a means for exploring the synthesis of human connections formed through social organization. I argue that White’s treatment of the anti-suburban American tradition is distinct for its exploration of the threat suburbia poses in its outward spread towards the edges of civilization, as it destroys the organic unpredictability and artistry of nature, and eradicates human agency.


Patrick White, Philip Roth, Cold War

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