Magical Realism and the Transcultural Politics of Irony: Alexis Wright’s Plains of Promise

Maria Takolander



Magical realist fiction has been repeatedly explained in terms of territorialised projects of cultural renewal and in ways that rhetorically exceed its status as literature. Such readings, however, have overlooked the transcultural nature of the literary form and the ways in which it is always radicalised by the dialogical play of irony. The neglect of irony can be understood in relation to a traditional suspicion of the aesthetic within postcolonial discourse, according to which the aesthetic is conceptualised as inimical to the political concerns of postcolonial texts. However, following Bill Ashcroft’s reassessment of the aesthetic in postcolonial contexts, and engaging Gerald Vizenor’s theorisation of irony’s valence in postcolonial magical realist fiction, this paper reconfigures the hermeneutic tradition associated with magical realism in order to redeem its aesthetic and political vitality. Focusing on the magical realist novel Plains of Promise (1997) by the Australian Aboriginal (Waanyi) writer Alexis Wright, this paper reveals the aesthetic strategy of irony as central to the magical realist text’s subversion of colonial discourse and its dynamic vision of Aboriginal sovereignty.


Magical realism; postcolonialism; transculturalism; irony; Aboriginal literature; Alexis Wright

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