The prodigal son
Parables of return
in Translations, an autoethnography
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One object of a migrant ethnography is to establish migration as an end in itself: the migrant generates the meaning of a life from the quality of the journey, not from its beginning or ending. A corollary of this is that the migrant’s identifying ‘story’ is not given: it is produced by the journey, here imagined as an endless translation and its concomitant performances. The migrant who goes back brings with him the experience of distanciation; the primary ‘break’ is treated as constitutional, offering a critical perspective on mythic constructions of the ‘old country’ that depoliticise its history of organised land theft and institutionalised exile. I illustrate these propositions with the personal example of the Bronze Age hill figure, the Uffington White Horse, dear to me from childhood. Here is an archetypal ‘connection’ to an ancient ‘sense of place’: how is it renewed? James Dawson returns in this chapter in a new guise: showing how his Aboriginal interests were connected to his pre-migrant family interests in Scotland, he becomes my historical ‘native informant’, showing how ‘the Break’ (as poet David Jones calls it) is historical, internal to the culture. The new outsider is uniquely qualified to bear witness to this.

Translations, an autoethnography

Migration, colonial Australia and the creative encounter

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