In Extremis: Apocalyptic Imaginings in Janette Turner Hospital’s Post-9/11 Novels

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McKay, Belinda
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Jessica Gildersleeve; Richard Gehrmann

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While the instability of memory has been a constant preoccupation of Janette Turner Hospital’s fiction, terrorism and the Wars on Terror provide her with a new locus for exploring the operations of memory and its reconstructions in two post-9/11 novels. Due Preparations for the Plague (2003), which ends apocalyptically on the eve of 9/11, explores the collateral damage to the child survivors and families of victims caused by the hijacking of an Air France flight in 1987. In Orpheus Lost (2007), childhood trauma is reenacted to disastrous effect by three central characters whose lives become entangled with the Wars on Terror, when for the first time America is simultaneously prosecuting wars abroad and under attack from within. Through the constant juxtapositioning and interpenetration of the microcosm and the macrocosm in these novels, post-9/11 modernity presents itself as an individual and collective psychopathology generated by living in extremis. Janette Turner Hospital’s own Pentecostal childhood has given her insight into the disintegrative effects on the psyche of living in the ‘end time’, but also—paradoxically—a heightened awareness of how that experience can open up transformative possibilities for reintegrating the ‘puzzle of the self’. A hermeneutical conundrum lies at the heart of both novels: surveillance and recording are ubiquitous in the modern world, but asking the wrong questions produces false answers. Only the individual with a conscience can challenge this self-replicating machine. Always at risk of psychological disintegration, Turner Hospital’s protagonists must effect an inner transformation by scavenging for the truth, reassembling the self, and taking responsibility for interpretation: only then can they have an ethical engagement with each other and the wider polity. These densely allusive, syncretistic, and self-referential works forge links between different times and places through palimpsest and myth, drawing on extant traces of past prophecy to renew the role of prophecy in the post-9/11 world.

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Memory and the Wars on Terror: Australian and British Perspectives

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Australian Literature (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Literature)

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