Gardening in Hell: Abject Presence and Sublime Present in Dead Europe and The Vintner's Luck

Laura Joseph


In two recent Australian and New Zealand novels, Christos Tsiolkas’ Dead Europe (2005) and Elizabeth Knox’s The Vintner’s Luck (1999) respectively, Europe is cast as hell according to the matter of abjection and the temporality of the sublime. As Kristeva theorises this relationship, “the abject is edged with the sublime. It is not the same moment on the journey, but the same subject and speech bring them into being.” (1982:11) This essay investigates these two moments arguing that the irruption of the abject or shock of the sublime also enacts a temporal disturbance. In Dead Europe and The Vintner’s Luck, the immanence of the abject and sublime is figured according to an insistence on embodiment, propelled by homoerotic and perverse desires and haunted by an irreducible otherness. This essay takes up the theme of ASAL 2007 “the colonial present” in its consideration of temporality and substance – the present, and presence – in these two novels that flesh out queer spaces within individual and national identity.
These two texts, individually, but perhaps more potently in their conversation, figure queerness as the becoming and undoing of the subject, the locus of a necessary impossibility and a queer opposition to the logic of opposition.
This essay analyses The Vintner’s Luck, and Dead Europe in order to show, via the rhetorical operations of queerness, how the dark matter of literature, by seeping into impossible spaces, opens up new possibilities.


Christos Tsiolkas, Elizabeth Knox; queer theory; trans-Tasman; abject; sublime

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