Re-Imagining the Human
Drylands, Thea Astley’s final novel and her fourth to win Australia’s prestigious Miles Franklin Award, was published in 1999 when Astley was 73 years old. While her writing style often divided critics, this novel which revisits the themes of violence in small town life that characterize much of her work, garnered reviews with headlines such as “Angry prophet of doom” and “Venom of a country town.” 1 These reviewers painted Astley as a cynical, aging woman bemoaning a changing world, and they charged her with writing a novel that failed “to take its anger and despair anywhere” (Sheridan 165). Placing the novel within this context reveals that Astley herself fell victim to the very attitudes that her novel works to critique: she was faulted for being angry, female and old, and her powerful insight that links colonial attitudes toward land and people to contemporary neoliberal globalization went unnoticed. Analyzing the novel by pairing ecofeminist and affect scholarship demonstrates that Astley does indeed take her anger somewhere: she delivers a stinging critique that targets rationalist conceptions of the human as an underlying factor that connects colonial and postcolonial exploitation of human and non-human others. My essay begins by investigating how this pairing of ecofeminist and affect scholarship can provide a theoretical basis for re-conceptualizing the human; I then apply this framework to Astley’s novel to explore how the narrative strategies and formal structure of Dry-lands contribute to the project of re-imagining the human.