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Mapping the Australian archaic: reflections on black medea
conference contributionposted on 2006-01-01, 00:00 authored by Ivar Kvistad
Wesley Enoch’s Black Medea is explicit about what is, and what is not, its project: the chorus implores the audience not to read the narrative of its infanticidal heroine as one that demonises black women. Instead, the play affirms that its narrative can be understood differently and in a way that has a wider social significance. Taking my cue from the claim that the story is somehow ‘about everyone,’ I would like to begin unravelling the play’s relevance to contemporary contentions of Australian and indeed ‘Unaustralian’ subjectivity, particularly in relation to the discourses that seek to construct ‘Australian’ identity through an appeal to antiquity and what I describe as ‘the archaic.’ It seems to me that Black Medea presents an opportunity for thinking about the ways in which the discourses of aboriginal and classical antiquity operate to inform contemporary, contesting definitions of Australian identity. Regardless of whether these discourses of antiquity are claimed as ‘Australian’ or abjected as Other or ‘Unaustralian’ – and they have been used in both ways – they remain, I argue, formative to current conceptions of Australian identity and are positioned in the economy of discourses that comprise that arena. As will be seen, the mixed reception or ambivalence with which these complementary discourses of antiquity are treated in Australian culture gives Black Medea the potential to be situated among them in subversive and questioning ways, and in ways that may highlight the reasons for their ambivalent status.