Chris­tos Tsi­olkas On Pa­trick White

The Saturday Paper - - Books -

This short book, the third in Black Inc’s “Writ­ers on Writ­ers” se­ries, sees Chris­tos Tsi­olkas re­viv­ing his love of Pa­trick White. Tsi­olkas ac­knowl­edges David Marr’s thor­ough and ac­claimed White biog­ra­phy early on – here he’s writ­ing some­thing be­tween a per­sonal– pro­fes­sional ap­pre­ci­a­tion and a crit­i­cal study.

The main idea is to po­si­tion White, who comes from white, wealthy, landown­ing, set­tler, Bri­tish ori­gins, as the au­thor of a hu­man­ist, poly­glot lit­er­a­ture that should be read in the Aus­tralia of to­day. We may not need an ar­gu­ment against White’s ir­rel­e­vance, and he may not need de­fend­ing from the post­colo­nial read­ings Tsi­olkas seems con­cerned with here, which are more and more in­ter­ested in con­tem­po­rary be­hav­iour and less and less in 20th-cen­tury nov­el­ists. But Tsi­olkas’s read­ing feels in­tu­itive and sound. How does a per­son of White’s back­ground – and the artis­tic cli­mate of his times – write some­thing that feels un­ex­pect­edly cur­rent?

Tsi­olkas lo­cates this in White’s re­la­tion­ship with his long-term part­ner, Manoly Las­caris, and adds Vrasi­das Kar­alis’s book about Las­caris to the list of es­sen­tial books on White, “not only for the in­sights it pro­vides into White and his re­la­tion­ship with Las­caris, but also as an hon­est re­flec­tion by Kar­alis on the ex­is­ten­tial im­per­ma­nence of the mi­grant ex­pe­ri­ence”. It is prox­im­ity to the mi­grant ex­pe­ri­ence that ac­counts for White’s qual­ity and reach. For Tsi­olkas, “by choos­ing to link his own per­sonal and sex­ual alien­ation with the cul­tural iso­la­tion that he saw mir­rored in the ex­pe­ri­ence of the ex­ile, White was able to cre­ate a lit­er­ary lan­guage and a fluid and highly sen­sual writ­ing that al­lowed him to move be­tween gen­ders and be­tween states of be­ing”.

It’s a great idea, and it could be ex­panded and adapted to say some­thing use­ful about many au­thors. How do the peo­ple around an au­thor in­flu­ence their abil­ity to think beyond them­selves? This is one ques­tion among many in a crowded, lov­ing, en­er­getic book. Tsi­olkas ad­mires some of White’s books above oth­ers, in­clud­ing The Eye of the Storm, which may be the most like Tsi­olkas’s re­cent work. What could be done with an es­say of this length that fo­cused on any sin­gle one of them? In­stead, the book con­veys “some­thing of the won­der [he] ex­pe­ri­enced as both reader and writer in find­ing White, at first ten­ta­tively and then with greater con­fi­dence, cre­at­ing an im­mi­grant lan­guage”, and it will send other read­ers back to White as well. CR

Writ­ers on Writ­ers, 112pp, $17.99

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