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'This is dog country': reading off Coetzee in Alex Miller's Journey to the Stone Country

Mullaney, Julie (2008) 'This is dog country': reading off Coetzee in Alex Miller's Journey to the Stone Country. ISSN 1705-9100

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Abstract

This article explores how Alex Miller excavates the terrain of the animal mined by JM Coetzee in Disgrace, to reconsider Australian belongings post-Mabo. It distinguishes Miller's interventions from Coetzee's, while noting that Coetzee's animals are part of a wider consideration of the limits of the sympathetic imagination in encountering alterity, with peculiar resonances in Australian locations post-Mabo. Miller's novel encapsulates some of the challenges in reconfiguring Australian belongings across difference by facing the intractability of difference in Australian locations. His dogs suggest the deleterious effects of a particular mode of occupation peculiar to pastoralism, while his wild bulls denote a more elusive form of habitation, attuned to the contingencies of place post-Mabo, but formed out of the traumatic rememory of the hidden histories of pastoralism. Dogs and cattle are linked in Miller's work too in the focus on the nature of the appeal the suffering animal makes to the human. Miller is, I argue, still preoccupied by the animal as a repository of allegory and metaphor, and by the various historical resonances of the animal as an index of indigeneity. This means that his configuration of the animal risks repeating as well as illustrating settler tropes of the indigene as animal striating colonial racism. His modulation of the idea of the sacrificial animal or scapegoat to configure pastoralism in its dying throes foregrounds how the failure or exhaustion of one mode of engagement can facilitate the beginnings of a more ethically directed encounter with alterity.

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