Patrick White’s “Voss”

Spoiler Alert: I give away some details of the plot of Voss in this post. I don’t believe this will impact anybody’s enjoyment of the book as the literal aspects of the plot are not central to the meaning of the work, but people planning to read the book should be aware.

This year I’ve been making a conscious effort to read more fiction and have finally gotten around to checking out some Australian works that have been on my to-read list for ages. I started off with the book that is widely regarded to be the first Australian classic, Joseph Furphy’s “Such is Life”, written in 1897 and set in the Riverina district of NSW. Its claim as the first classic is definitely warranted. It’s a charming book full of memorable characters and scenes including a comedic yarn that P G Wodehouse would have been proud to author. I can definitely recommend it to anybody wanting a glimpse of what life was like in the squattocracy days of 19th century Australia.

Joseph Furphy
The young Patrick White

Having ticked Furphy off the list, I decided to turn to meatier fare and try my hand at the author widely regarded as Australia’s greatest: Patrick White.

Back when I was at uni, I did a semester of literature. White was not on the syllabus but I did get to sample the, errr, joys of some of the modern Australian fiction which White is supposed to have influenced. I was not impressed. Modern literary fiction, not just in Australia, is characterised by endlessly flowery quasi-poetic prose made unfathomable by a complete absence of plot and character. I had assumed White was a member of that category and it is for that reason that I hadn’t gotten around to reading him til now. These days, I approach anything called modern literature the way I’d approach an Eastern Brown Snake. Which is to say, I don’t. I back away slowly, then turn and run.

Now that I’ve read White, I can certainly see why he might get lumped in with the dreaded genre of modern literature. His prose is often overwrought. But I suspect that the writers he inspired were just mimicking him. They knew his writing was great but didn’t know why and, in the absence of that understanding, tried to achieve greatness themselves by copying the form but not the content. It’s the same error made by people who noticed that most of the great Irish writers were alcoholics and concluded that the thing to do to become a great writer was to drink a bottle of whisky for breakfast every day. As Jimi Hendrix once said, I’ve been plagiarised so much, I’ve even heard people copy my mistakes. What would be flaws in a lesser artist become charming quirks in an artist of greatness. Even technical errors look like they were done on purpose.

Given this background, I approached White with caution. I decided to dip my toe in with one of his lesser (and shorter) works and began reading Fringe of Leaves, which is based on the true story of Eliza Fraser whose boat got shipwrecked in 1836 on the island that now bears her name, Fraser Island, near Brisbane in Queensland. Here I discovered the other of White’s main flaws as a writer which is his habit of telling instead of showing. Rather than have his characters reveal themselves to us through their words and actions, White frequently gives us his interpretation of them. That would be bad enough but he delivers his interpretation in a cryptic, quasi-psychological fashion that, much like his unnecessarily convoluted sentence structures, makes the reader do the work. And far too often the payoff is not worth the effort invested. The good news, I quickly realised, was that the reader can simply skim over these sections without missing anything of importance.

Having thus attuned myself to White’s style, I decided to tackle one of his major works, the book that won the inaugural Miles Franklin Award, Voss. Like Fringe of Leaves, Voss is based on a true story from Australian history; this time, the disappearance of German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt who attempted to cross the continent from the Darling Downs in Queensland to the Swan River in Western Australia in 1848. After beginning the journey, Leichhardt and his party were never seen again, at least not by white folks. Despite several expeditions to find the remains, to this day there is no hard evidence about where they died but only various theories based on the recovery of different artefacts and marks left on trees.

The real life Leichhardt was a man of science and won several awards for his work. But science, at least as we would think of it nowadays, plays no role in the story of Voss. What Voss is, is a work of Faustian culture, in my opinion one of the greatest works of modern Faustian culture incorporating the ideas of two of the greatest exponents of that culture in recent times: Nietzsche and Jung. Being set in Australia, Voss is also a critique of Australian culture from within the Faustian paradigm. The protagonist is a German who is going to “discover Australia”. He is supported in his task by the Anglo-materialist bourgeois culture of Sydney in the mid-19th century with its Victorian era moral pretences and staid social rituals.

White himself was appalled by the modern version of that bourgeois society which still dominated 100 years later when he returned to Australia from continental Europe in the 1950s. Thus, Voss can be seen as White’s attempt to show Australians where the problem lies and also the solution; namely, to balance out the yin of Anglo materialism with the yang of what I would call the spiritual Faustian exemplified by the continental tradition. If Voss as a work is completely unconcerned with the everyday life of its characters, it is because White wants to counter a lack of spirituality in modern culture with an extra hard dose of it in literary form.

The result is that there is no drama in Voss. We never learn why the characters are doing what they are doing or even why they think they are doing what they doing. This is true even of the titular character. Why does Voss want to go on this journey? What does he hope to achieve? Why was he selected by whoever did the selecting? What do they want out it? None of this is ever dealt with. Even at the start of the book where we are introduced to the characters, there is little about the details. White gives us small glimpses into everyday life by having secondary characters give their impression of Voss and Laura, the two protagonists. But these are just to show that the other characters do not understand precisely because they are lacking the spiritual Faustian.   

This approach gives the book an inevitable pretentiousness. The two central characters, Voss and Laura Trevelyan are given some lines that could be straight out of Nietzsche. We hear, for example, about the will and fate and rising above baseness. It reminds me of the comedy sketch “Shit Nietzsche Says”, which admittedly is not that funny, but does capture the awkwardness of what happens when you speak philosophical ideas in an everyday setting where they do not belong. Voss and Laura are a bit like that in the book. This would be a problem if it wasn’t clear that White was doing it on purpose. Such ideas are not made to be comfortable. They are made to shake people out of the drowsiness caused by excessive comfort. In White, they become a direct challenge to Anglo Australia and its materialist mediocrity.

Because of the lack of drama in the story and because we know the plot in advance, the novel has an epic tone that is firmly within the romantic tradition. We know from the start that Voss is doomed. He is the loner, misunderstood by society, destined to die like we all are but willing to face that death honestly unlike the bourgeois society with its big houses, its garden parties and its fancy clothes all of which seem like an elaborate scheme to hide the truth away so it doesn’t spoil one’s appetite before dinner.

It’s that bourgeois world that we enter at the start of the book as Voss visits his main financial sponsor, Mr Bonner, at Bonner’s estate to take care of some business about his expedition to Western Australia. It’s Sunday morning and everybody is at church except Laura Trevelyan, Bonner’s niece (coincidentally, Voss is not at church either). White gives us the prototypical beginning to a love story which could be straight out of Jane Austen. An odd couple meeting in an aristocratic house. She the niece of good, morally upstanding citizens. He an outsider not well versed in the manners of polite society. Later, there is a scene at a small dinner party where Laura goes into the garden for some air. Is she going outside in the hope that Voss will follow her and they can be alone? Does he take the hint and join her in the garden? That would be what happens in a typical love story but, as already noted, in Voss everyday emotions and desires play no role especially for the two protagonists.

So lacking in the normal dynamic of a romantic love affair are these initial encounters that it comes as a shock when Voss, just before starting his journey from the Darling Downs, sends a letter to Laura telling her he plans to ask her uncle for her hand in marriage. She is just as surprised as we are because, not only has there been no hint of romantic love prior to that, there is no indication that Voss would or could settle down and become a proper husband assuming that he even makes it back from his treacherous journey. Laura writes back neither confirming nor denying her acceptance of Voss’s proposal. It’s the last communication between them in the book and it marks the beginning of act two of the story and the signal that we are entering the psychological and spiritual world that characterises the main body of the novel. Voss goes wandering in the desert in true biblical fashion. Laura is going to become the Virgin Mary. The love story was just a ruse. We are now in a symbolic realm whose correspondence with Jungian psychology is so precise that I cannot believe it is accidental.

Many people have heard of the anima and animus. These are the archetypes that represent the opposite sex in our minds. They initially belong to the unconscious part of the mind and a big part of our growth as individuals is the extent to which we can integrate them into our psyche and bring them to consciousness. The anima is the unconscious part of a man’s psyche that represents the feminine qualities and the animus is the unconscious part of a woman’s psyche that represents the masculine. The integration of the anima or animus determines, among other things, what we can perceive in members of the opposite sex. We’ve all heard the criticism that men objectify women and this is a true fact of male psychology which is only overcome by the man integrating his anima. Conversely, a woman who has not fully integrated her animus sees in men little more than a physical presence, hence the truism that women love a man in uniform (White represents this in the novel by the character of Belle Bonner, who marries a Lieutenant).

The integration of anima and animus begins in earnest with the development of sexuality at puberty and is therefore integral to sexual and romantic love. But it also drives the higher integration of  the psyche in those who are ready. This is why Jung referred to the integration of the shadow as the apprenticework while the integration of the anima/animus was the masterwork. It’s also why great religious symbolism contains both the masculine and the feminine; Christ and Mary, for example.

The relationship between Voss and Laura quite literally takes place outside the physical plane as they are not co-located for most of the book nor in contact. Rather, they exist in each other’s minds. What is being represented is nothing more or less than the Jungian individuation process in action. Laura is Voss’s anima. And Voss is Laura’s animus. The story does not show us any romantic love between Voss and Laura because they have already skipped what we might call the first stage of the Jungian journey. That’s how we find them at the start of the book. Voss is the of man action ready to undertake a great mission. Laura is insightful and intelligent but not virtuous. She tells us so herself. They both need each other to begin the process of ascending to the higher plane. They are each other’s instigator for the male and female individuation process.

This takes place in the second act of the story. Voss transcends the man of action to become a spiritual guide for both Laura and the men he is leading in the desert. He rides ahead of them on his horse, aloof and abstract. He barely interacts with them but he shows them the way. Meanwhile, Laura attains virtue. She transitions into the Virgin Mary symbolised by her adoption of an orphan girl who she names Mercy. By the end of the second act, Voss has ascended to the highest plane. He is a messenger of meaning sent from the Gods, a prophet, symbolised by White in the presence of a comet in the night sky. His death leads to Laura’s final transcendence. She becomes Sophia, wisdom, and can finally see Voss for what he really is whereas earlier she had wondered “are you just a myth?” Before he dies, Voss also see Laura for all that she is, no longer a mere object.

These Jungian themes are reinforced in the third act where Voss is equated with Christ: the fully integrated Self capable of good and evil and inevitably having manifested both as a result of being human. This is contrasted with the bourgeois society which cannot accept evil and must pretend that everything is for the best. Laura is still a part of that society but she has left the house of her aunt and uncle. The question of Voss is in the air but as little more than gossip. “What happened to that German?” Laura is the only one who really understands the meaning of his journey. In biblical terms, she is Mary Magdalene; the true witness to the death of Voss in the way the biblical character was to Christ.

If the relationship between Laura and Voss is symbolic of Jungian integration at the personal level, White brilliantly extrapolates this further in a way that is consonant with both Jung and occult theory. As above, so below. If individuals can individuate, so can societies. The relationship between Voss and Laura becomes a synecdoche for Australian society and culture. Laura is the Anglo inheritance, brought to the country in trying circumstances to find a colony mired in materialism. Voss is a German representing what I earlier called the spiritual Faustian. Crucially, Laura is not the daughter of Anglo materialism (that role goes to Belle Bonner) but its dissatisfied niece. She represents the Australia that is looking for something more. That something more is the spiritual Faustian represented in the Germanic tradition – Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Jung – and embodied by Voss.

The question of Australia is raised at the start of the book where Voss mentions that, though a foreigner, he hopes to find the “real Australia”. It is to this question that White returns in the third act of the book. Voss is dead. He has played his symbolic role of bringing Faustian spirituality to Australia, but he is just the messenger of the gods. It is up to Laura, now in her psychological and symbolic role as Sophia (Wisdom) and representing Australian culture, to interpret and transmit the meaning of Voss. Fittingly, she is now a school teacher. She will teach the next generation, including her adopted native born daughter, the meaning of Voss; which is to say, the meaning of Faustian culture.

In the final scene, Laura morphs into an 18th century French salonnières, holding court with her artists, thinkers and geniuses. An Englishman makes a wisecrack at the expense of Australian culture to which she responds. “We…will humbly attempt to rise in your opinion if you will stay long enough.” How long is enough, asks the man. For those strive for perfection, an eternity, answers Laura.

“The eternal feminine draws us on high,” wrote Goethe at the end of Faust. White finishes his book on the same note.

And that’s what Voss is, of course. It’s the Australian Faust. Note that the word “Voss” is phonetically almost identical to the word “Faust” (White pulls a similar trick in the book by giving the Judas character the name “Judd”). What Voss is, is a classically Faustian story updated to incorporate the ideas of Nietzsche and Jung and translated into the Australian landscape. It is neither more nor less than the attempt to uplift Australian culture from its mindless materialism. If this task sounds absurdly, even arrogantly, grand, White actually pulls it off. Voss is a masterpiece of Faustian literature, not just Australian literature.

I’ll finish with a few brief points.

Because Voss is set in Australia and was written at a time when Australian cultural identity was still trying to break free of the “cultural cringe”, it has inevitably been bound up with questions of Australian culture. It’s clear that White meant it as a clarion call to Australians. But the problem it addresses, the languishing in mindless materialism, has become pervasive across all Faustian culture (the West) in the aftermath of WW2. The Anglosphere “won” the wars and Anglo materialism has come to dominate everywhere. But the loss of the Germans was more than just a military one. The resources of the spiritual Faustian were put to work in service of the Nazis, most famously in their absurd invocation of Nietzsche who had himself predicted and warned about the looming threat of the bloodthirsty nationalism that was taking hold in Germany. Jung, Spengler and Heidegger also got dragged into the maelstrom. The Nazis ensured that the spiritual Faustian became tarnished by association with a great horror; an association it has retained to this day.

The obsession of the Anglosphere with the Nazis has many elements, but I suspect one of the main ones is this: the spiritual Faustian was the yin to the yang of Anglo materialism. Without the spiritual element, Faustian culture has been out of balance; malfunctioning. That was true in Australia in 1848 when Leichhardt started his voyage. It was true in 1957 when Voss was published. It’s even more true today.

We are missing our yin, our Faust, our Voss, not just in Australia but everywhere in the western world. White doesn’t seem to have appreciated that fact but perhaps he was blinded by the fact that Australia simply was more mindless than Europe at that time. Bertolt Brecht had a similar response when he moved to California. But rather than Australia and America rise to the spiritual Faustian, what has happened in the post war years is that the home of the Faustian, Europe, has descended to the material. That is what the “victory” of the Anglosphere has brought. Voss should have been a wake-up call to all Faustian culture in general, but by being written in Australia, it has become merely a work of Australian literature.

Of course, the book is not understood in Australia anyway. I’ve read numerous reviews of it now, including by people who are paid to be serious commentators of Australian literature. There is nothing, not a single review, not a single sentence of a single review, which indicates that anybody has any idea what White achieved with Voss. I’ve seen it referred to as a “romance” or, even worse, a “psychological thriller”. I guess this makes sense. You have to know the Bible, Goethe, Nietzsche and Jung as a bare minimum to understand the references in Voss. Maybe you have to have actually lived, like Patrick White did, in the Faustian heartland and absorbed its symbols. It’s precisely because the spiritual Faustian is lacking its basic elements that nobody could see what Voss really was.

Because of this, Voss takes on a meta meaning. It is autobiographical. Like its main character, the book is prophetic. But Voss needs his Laura Trevelyan to understand and interpret him and that is what is completely missing here in Australia. People know Voss is a work of greatness but they don’t know why. Spengler had already identified this problem. Australian culture is a Faustian pseudomorphosis. White intuited that. Voss is his attempt to create a true Faustian culture but nobody understood. And people wonder why White was notoriously grumpy!

And so one of the great works of Faustian culture was written in Sydney, Australia and nobody knew. To this day, I doubt anybody knows because Voss is treated like mere literature; even worse, Australian literature.

This is the final point I will make: you can’t understand Voss if you treat it as just literature.

This follows from an idea that emerged within Faustian culture, I think around the time of Nietzsche. If God is dead and religion moribund, who will interpret and propagate the symbols of the culture? The answer was: the artists. It was art which would fill the vacuum. Art would become the forum and the medium of interpreting and disseminating the symbols which constituted the culture. Art would be what would keep the symbols vibrant and alive and lift the culture out of mindless materialism.

It’s this role and this vision of art which White aims for and attains with Voss. To treat Voss as mere literature, let alone Australian literature, is to miss the point entirely, especially since literature itself has degraded to the point where it is now nothing more than a hobby of the upper middle class; exactly the thing that White was railing against.

It would be more accurate to treat Voss as a spiritual text. It is, to use another Nietzschean phrase, a re-evaluation of all values. It takes the symbols of Faustian culture and updates them for the modern world. It sets a challenge, not just for Australia, but all Faustian culture. It’s the kind of book that could make you believe in Faustian culture once more and yet, as I have already alluded to, it fell on deaf ears.

Maybe that’s the way it has to be. I’m sure White had read Nietzsche and Jung, but I’m guessing he hadn’t read Spengler. Voss looks set to become one of those late works of genius that comes during the civilisational phase, before the barbarians are at the gates, but when there is nobody left inside the gates who can understand.

That is what is at stake when talk about “culture”. Without Laura Trevelyan in her highest manifestation as understanding, Voss is reduced to a mere historical fact. He is Ludwig Leichhardt, the German explorer who went into the desert and never came back. It is only in the minds of a people and a culture that knows how to interpret symbols that he becomes all he can be. He becomes the son of God. He becomes Voss.

All posts in this series:

Patrick White’s “Voss”
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 1
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 2
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 3
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 4
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Final

28 thoughts on “Patrick White’s “Voss””

  1. Strange: I had forgotten all of this until your post. I don’t have your background in psychology and philosophy so maybe his writing was pearls before swine to me. The only book of his i have read is The Tree of Man, which was hugely depressing to me, as perhaps it was meant to be as a critique of the dullness of middle class Australian life in the 40s, 50s & 60s.. It wasn’t even ” life is hard, then you die” It was more ” Life is relatively easy and meaningless, then you retire” I tried a few pages of Voss and gave up.
    I was living in Sydney in the mid 60s. My mother came to visit from the US, and we got together with a writer friend of writer friends of hers in the US.He was a fairly well known travel writer at the time, whose name I forget: Colin something. One of his books was about Japan, called The Country Upstairs. He was a friend of Patrick White and we were meant to get together for drinks. For some reason it never happened. White was ill or busy or something. However i can still remember his house being pointed out to me on the NW corner of Centennial Park.
    A funny story about cultural cringe which I had also forgotten. I subsequently married a Paramatta girl. Her father was fascinating and had been a coast watcher in the Solomons in WWII. Her mother on the other hand was probably a typical Paramatta housewife. She once said to me ” I have never been home” Now I knew she had been in Paramatta earlier in the day, and I knew she had been born in the Solomons of German descent, so I didn’t know what she was talking about. It finally came out that she meant she had never been in England.
    Just so I don’t come across as too catty, or my ex is reading this: we were steps on each others life journey and have made many more steps since, and I wish her well.

  2. A few spoilers here, Simon! Luckily I’ve read it, but when I was too young to understand it. Looking back, it’s obvious the much older, worldlier ex who urged me to read it (+ a truckload of other modern lit) didn’t understand it either. Great analysis. Of course, Jung has been ignored by the Oz lit academy: uncool in a leftist, atheist PC climate. A uni tutor, trendy poet, once gaped blankly at me about 15 years ago when I referred to post-Jungian theory; he’d stopped at Freud & post-Freudians like Lacan.

    When you say ‘just literature’, what goes by that name today is largely debased, partly due to its exponential proliferation & the unrestrained profit logic driving conception & production. Of course most art merely echoes the mindless materialism of our culture, as enshrined in our education system.

    According to Jungian lit prof David Tacey, White told him he hadn’t yet read Jung when he wrote Voss – not until the time he wrote The Solid Mandala (title’s a giveaway ;)). Do you believe him? Did those first five novels come out of his unconscious?

  3. Stephen – I only went in depth with Jung in the last two years myself. So, if I’d read Voss before 2020, I probably would have missed the most important symbolism. It also helps that I’ve written several novels and so can recognise 3 Act structure which lets me parse the book properly. It’s the literary equivalent to jazz. White is interpreting story structure metaphorically and symbolically so he’s a lot like a jazz musician throwing in altered chords all over the place.

    Great story about the cultural cringe. Australians have been protesting about the Roe v Wade abortion ruling the last two weeks. And tens of thousands protested for BLM over the Floyd killing. Seems that we swapped a “home” of England for a “home” of the USA!

    Shane – fair point. I’ll put a spoiler warning in. Although, I could list every detail of the plot of Voss and it wouldn’t matter. All the meaning is in the symbolism.

    That’s fascinating that White hadn’t read Jung. In that case, Voss is a genuinely prophetic/spiritual work as I suspected. Actually, I’ve been blowing my mind in the last few days with an idea. I also recently finished Jung’s Answer to Job and realised he had predicted The Devouring Mother phenomenon. He said we are at the time of integrating the “feminine” as the fourth face of God. But White actually made the “feminine” in Laura Trevalyn the main character in Voss. So, if Voss is a genuinely prophetic work as it seems, he had also tapped into the same vein as Jung. What is going in the world now is the integration of the feminine. Like all Jungian individuation, it’s a painful process and could get more painful yet. That would also go some way to explaining the gender wars.

    Anyway, I’m still wrapping my head around the idea. More posts to follow if I get it clear in my mind.

  4. Excellent.
    When you say Faustian culture in the context of Nietzsche and Voss, aren’t you talking about Faustian civilization already?
    I think those factors stabilising a civilization to not merely wither and die but use what vigour it has got to, via the arts and other things, imagine its own future are something that needs to be described in more detail.
    After all, we’re witnessing an example of how to quickly lose that plot right now.

  5. Michael – are you referring to Spenglerian “civilization”?

    I think it might have been Guenon who made the point that Spirit and Intellect are the same thing. If you look at the state of the West right now, especially in Europe, it looks for all the world like unbelievable stupidity. But if Intellect = Spirit, then it’s really at base a spiritual failure which has been building ever since the wars, and probably longer than that.

  6. How interesting! I’d never heard of Patrick White. In fact, I believe I’ve only ever read one single Australian book (“A Fortunate Life” by A.B. Facey), but that was a couple of decades ago, and I barely remember it. I’ll have to add “Voss” to my reading list, but not before I finish my project of reading 10 000 pages of Czech (I’m currently somewhere around 6 500).

    Re: showing vs. telling

    Showing instead of telling seems to be a big thing in English-language literature. In continental European literature, it’s by no means uncommon to get lengthy philosophical passages in the middle of a novel, and it’s something I rather like (some of the time, anyway). So, White may have been trying to write in a more continental fashion.

  7. Interesting about the BLM and Roe vs Wade protests. I was in the US in the 90s and remember all the Free Tibet and Boycott South Africa bumper stickers. It is a very cheap method of virtue signaling. It impresses your chosen audience, costs nothing but the price of the bumper sticker, and affects absolutely nothing. It will be interesting for Australia if/when China replaces the US as the mental homeland. One may have to be a bit more discreet in one’s protests.

  8. I’m referring to Spengler’s civilization, yes, as what the Faustian culture could have become – a universalistic, ever more artfully refined state of minds and things that could have endured for centuries, decaying gracefully.

    We find ourselves a new fin de siecle; an inverted, but not dissimilar one:
    Back then political forms were those of a bygone era, while technology was already racing ahead to 20th century levels.
    Today our political forms are so futuristic that they lack any dignity or stability, while economically we rapidly need to confront – even embrace – an era of radical consolidation.
    (I think housing and the housing market will become its icon.)

  9. Irena – interesting. You mean the story breaks off and the author starts talking in their own voice? I think I’d find that annoying. “We interrupt War and Peace to bring you a word from our sponsor, Socrates”. 🙂

    Stephen – you’re absolutely right, that is the big shock that is headed our way. I don’t think Australia has much to worry about economically from the demise of the US empire, at least in the short term. But what happens to Australian culture when we no longer have an Anglo “boss” or, heaven forbid, have to take orders from Beijing? That will be the big question that once looked far off in the future but might not be that far away now.

    Michael – got it. I think Nietzsche’s whole project was to try and snap people out of “civilisation” and back to “culture”. That’s why his tone was so over the top. It sounds like a man shouting from a rooftop but nobody is listening. Of course, you shouldn’t need to shout in a properly functioning culture.

    I wouldn’t say our political forms are futuristic. But that’s an Australian perspective. The EU looks like something new, at least in form. In practice, it looks indistinguishable from a Politburo.

  10. And continuing in this vein of moebial inversions:
    Last summer I read the book that’s the Brazilian equivalent to Voss – Os Sertoes.
    It describes the creation of what is now modern Brazil, literally from the ashes of a war against an internal Other whose spirit had to be crushed to make way for the streamlined profitability of an integrated national economy.

    I can only recommend it to anyone. (The first part can be skipped, as it primarily seeks to establish a mental Brazilian landscape to a national audience-to-be.)

    And today? The internal proletariat is growing restless, and we might be seeing the story revisiting itself on its way back to the beginning.

  11. P.S.: I meant futuristic like cheap scifi pulp, the equivalent of the fin de siecle whizz kids claiming that technology would shortly be solving all of mankinds problems.

  12. @Simon

    “War and Peace,” you say? Well. How about this:

    https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2600/2600-h/2600-h.htm#link2HCH0183

    (take a look at the second paragraph, the one starting with “Natásha’s illness was so serious that”). That’s the sort of thing I have in mind. And right now, I’m making my way though “The Magic Mountain” by Tomas Mann (in Czech translation; working on those 10K pages 😉 ), and it’s the same sort of thing. Long passages on the nature of time, for example.

  13. Michael – well, the question of the indigenous people is one area where Patrick White’s books come under criticism. I don’t think people understand what he is doing symbolically, which is almost identical to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness with the natives representing the subconscious mind. The political implication is not something anybody would agree with now. Maybe that’s a reason why White is not better known in Australia. He is a direct challenge to the direction of modern Australia (and if he’s right, we’ve made a big mistake).

    Irena – wow, that’s a big coincidence. In Voss, there is an almost identical scene with Laura Trevelyan in bed with a fever and the family and doctors surrounding her. They don’t know what’s wrong and neither does Laura. But White sets the scene up perfectly so we, the reader, know that she is suffering because Voss is dying. Symbolically, White is representing the final stage of the individuation process (the Jungian masterpiece) which is, as Jung noted, incredibly painful. So, actually, in the most important aspects of the book, White is very good at showing and not telling.

    But I see what you mean about telling. When White does something similar to Tolstoy, it’s like that passage you referenced except in cryptic language that you can’t understand and you have to sit there trying to decode it. Very annoying. It just occurred to me that White might have been doing it as a joke. It would actually make sense as a parody of that 19th century style. Come to think of it, so do the scenes that resemble Jane Austen. Hmmmm.

  14. I didn’t expect a cut this deep of Australian literature Simon! Great review and interesting ideas, and it amazes me in the comments that White had never read Jung. The Anima/Animus dichotomy almost seems obvious in Voss. I definitely got a ‘Heart of Darkness’ vibe from Voss as well.

    As to Aus books, have you ever read ‘Here’s luck’ by Lenny Lower? It was a favourite amongst the post war generation, set in 1930s Sydney. It’s silly, irreverent and altogether stupid, but it is hilariously funny, and captures something, although I’m not sure what .

    Latin America literature also interests me from an Australian perspective because they seem to grapple the issues of relating to colonial/indigenous better than the anglos do.

    And I don’t think Beijing will be the new imperial Master of Aus – Delhi is my guess. Language bonds, colonial bonds, sporting bonds, mutual Chinese xenophobia, trade relations, immigration flows all point towards India and Aus coming closer together. The two landscapes are from the same parent rock so it makes sense I suppose.

  15. Skip – well, if White hadn’t read Jung, I’m now putting Voss in the “religious visionary text” category. It’s what Nietzsche was trying to do with Zarathustra but couldn’t because his rational mind was in the way. More importantly, the protagonist is not really Voss but Laura Trevelyan. If that’s true, then Voss really is about the “eternal feminine” and is therefore directly relevant to where we are now in the devouring feminine.

    You could be right about the India thing. Having been to both countries, I’ll take Delhi any day if for no other reason than I suspect that relationship would be more “friendly” and less dominating.

  16. Simon – Interesting. If it is a work of mysticism or visionary religiousness, it’s impact was always destined to be negligible in our time in a spenglerian sense, and would have been more impactful in the past. But as you say we are a pseudomorphisis, which among other things usually means that the development of Faustian culture can’t really happen here, which can just ape it. The true visionary/prophetic work in aus would be something altogether different and herald a new world feeling.

    So do you think White was subconsciously tapping into the growing feminine within western culture and putting it in literary form?

    Greer has talked about a India/Japan/Aus power bloc forming to oppose China as the USA retreats, although he himself admits he is not knowledgeable on our area.

    I can see it happening though because of the historical ties, and especially between India and Aus some deeper cultural connections that can be built upon. There is no Chinese person who holds Australian attention the way say, Virat Kohli can.

    Pakistan/India reunification would form quite a powerful bulwark against Chinese influence, but can’t see it happening anytime soon.

  17. Skip – I’m thinking it’s actually prophetic and the Jungian connection reinforces that. I’m still sorting it out in my mind but I’m seeing a grand connection of Goethe’s eternal feminine, Voss’s Laura Trevelyan (Sophia) and my Devouring Mother analysis of corona (which was also, I think, predicted in Jung’s Answer to Job). Interestingly, Fringe of Leaves features a female protagonist going through arguably the ultimate confrontation with the female shadow so this does seem to have been something White was intuiting through his writing. It ties in with social trends too, I think.

    The one thing China is lacking is “soft power”. I mean, there’s some ok Chinese film but that’s about it. Bollywood is more popular as far as I can tell. Does pop culture and sport effect geopolitics? Probably more than we think.

  18. Simon, re: ‘What is going in the world now is the integration of the feminine. Like all Jungian individuation, it’s a painful process and could get more painful yet. That would also go some way to explaining the gender wars’ – the progressive edge of the astrological community has engaged intensively w/ this theme since the 2005 discovery of a new planet, Eris, named for the Greek goddess of discord. (JMG gives a fascinating account, in his new book on Pluto, of how each planet’s discovery has corresponded w/ the emergence of a new influence – or archetype ripe for integration? – in the collective consciousness.) Some of the excitement among astrologers has to do w/ the rise of a new feminine archetype (Moon & Venus – Mother vs. Whore? – have offered limited options, besides being outnumbered by masculine archetypes, & umpteen asteroid goddesses didn’t redress the balance: too small & scattered, in numbers so vast as to cancel each other out). On the surface, Eris doesn’t look much like the Devouring Mother, but she rears her head in, e.g., #MeToo: a movement initiated in 2006, the year Eris was named & classified.

  19. Shane – very interesting. I don’t know anything about astrology, but the Moon would fit given the magnitude of what seems to be happening. Maybe Pink Floyd were hitting on the same topic with Dark Side of the Moon (I doubt it but it is one of my favourite albums).

    From Jung’s summary of hte Book of Revelations: “a vision of the sun-woman with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was in the pangs of birth and before her stood a great red dragon that wanted to devour her child.” Jung believes this to symbolise something new coming from the unconscious.

  20. So how does one integrate the anima, and will it help me get along better with women? Asking for a friend…

  21. Simon – I seem to recall your insight that all archetypes more or less boil down to a total of seven, & those you identified correspond w/ the Sun, Moon & the five visible planets. In this schema, Eris, as strife-inciting sister of war-god Ares, would correspond w/ the Warrior archetype.

    Meanwhile, another debate running hot in the field of astrology concerns whether or not the Age of Aquarius has begun yet. The thing is, constellations don’t have neat & tidy edges, nor are they of uniform size, so the overlay of zodiacal signs, a projection of the human mind, can’t not be somewhat arbitrary. Yet if we’re emerging from the 2000+year-long Age of Pisces, w/ its Virgo shadow (the axis being expressed on some level as divine Son/Mother), then I guess a crisis of integration is timely. While Jung would say the Aquarian age has begun – he dwells on the question in Aion, as well as the symbolism of Christ (Pisces) & Mary the Virgin Mother (Virgo polarity of Pisces) – he reads the two fishes of the Pisces constellation as Christ & the Antichrist, but also as Mother & Son. Archetypes aren’t neat & tidy!

    The Devouring Mother sure doesn’t look like the Virgin Mary, but the modern obsession w/ hygiene & needless medical intervention (a woman I knew had both breasts removed, based on her genetics, then got ovarian cancer instead; like getting fully vaxxed only to catch a bad case of Covid?) looks a lot like the dark side of Virgo.

    (The Dark Side of the Moon has a better ring to it: one of the greatest rock albums ever!)

    Of course it’s hard to be objective about the archetypal big picture while we’re all still in it – patterns tend to emerge more clearly in retrospect. Any individual is most likely to see whatever part of the weave is closest to them.

  22. Alex – hah! I wonder if some pickup artist guru has found that idea yet. “Bro, take my 12 week course on integrating the anima. Special price of $5,000.”

    Jung believed the full integration of anima/animus happened in the second half of life. Coincidentally, this maps to hormonal changes (women get a testosterone bump and men an oestrogen one). So, I’d say, no, integrating the anima wouldn’t help and your “friend” will have to do it the hard way like the rest of us 🙂

    Shane – yes, that’s the way I’m leaning now too. This definitely looks like the end of the Antichrist era and the beginning of something new. I think Jung would say we can learn what’s going on through symbols of the psyche. I’m now quite convinced that Voss is exactly that. I’ll be fleshing that our more in the next few posts.

  23. Hi Simon,

    “Hi mum. Sorry. That was my jerk room-mate, Nietzsche” I’m still laughing about that clip. Come on man, that part of the segment at least was funny. There was a lot of awkwardness, as philosophical insights are out of place in everyday life as you say. In point of fact, their point appears to be to frighten. And most of the points declared by Nietzsche, were worded in a voice of command. He may be correct, but I’m of the opinion that communication is a method of transferring ideas between people.

    As an interesting aside which is partially relevant to your analysis, I have a great deal of difficulty encouraging people to at least consider that our civilisation is in a slow decline. Invariably they say: “So you mean I won’t have to go to work Monday morning? Cool.” I’m pretty sure I didn’t say that.

    Cheers

    Chris

  24. Chris – contrary to the way he’s portrayed in the video and in the culture in general, I think Nietzsche was a bit of a trickster. One of the more famous ideas in his philosophy is the master-slave morality. In my opinion, he formulated some of his writings as if he was the master and you were the slave in order to demonstrate that idea. Are you the kind of person who will take orders and blindly believe a German philosopher? If so, you might have a slave morality problem. That was no laughing matter, of course, because the entire nation of Germany (well, most of them) would later fill exactly the same role in relation to a guy named Adolf.

    Incidentally, as the last few years have shown, we’re not that much better.

  25. Hi Simon,

    Ah, thanks for the explanation as that makes sense, and I hadn’t considered that possibility. The way the words were constructed and used, from my perspective, set off internal alarm bells.

    And you’re right, it is no laughing matter. What do they say about power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely? It was with little fanfare that another three month extension was put into place only very recently, so yes, we are no better.

    What has interested me is that many people surrounding the err, Chairman Dan, have recently resigned. High turnover is always a red flag in my books as to what is going on in the background just out of sight. And the fall guys appear to be taking their seats at the table.

    Cheers

    Chris

  26. Chris – Andrews is giving people what they want and what people want involves politicians having more power than they ever should have. That is the danger but I’m afraid it seems we’re going to have to learn the hard way.

  27. Hi Simon,
    This post is fascinating – all of it. And the follow up discussion.
    I wanted to add that I read an Australian author (read it twice) within the last three years.
    The writer is Gerald Murnane and the book is Border Districts.
    No need to print this letter but wanted to let you know about a beautiful s…l…o…w… book.
    All best from Toronto!

  28. Steven – thanks for that. I hadn’t heard of Murnane but he sounds worth a look. Thanks for the recommendation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.