Sung by an Indigenous Siren: Epic and Epistemology in Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria

Cornelis Renes


One of Australia’s most distinguished Indigenous authors, Alexis Wright, stages the fleeting presence of a popular character of Northern European folklore, the mermaid, in an awarded novel of epic proportions. The mermaid is not a haphazard appearance in this Antipodean narrative, but one of the multiple, cross-cultural ways in which Carpentaria, first published in 2006, invites the reader to reflect upon the ongoing tensions between the disenfranchised Indigenous minority and the empowered non-Indigenous mainstream, and their serious lack of communication due to the antagonistic character of their respective universes, one rooted in a capitalist paradigm of ruthless economic exploitation and the other in a holistic, environmentalist one of country. This essay addresses how Carpentaria, by writing across Indigenous and European genres and epistemologies, makes a call for the deconstruction of colonial discourse, for an invigorating Indigenous inscription into country, and for intellectual sovereignty as the condition sine-qua-non for the Indigenous community to move forward.


Alexis Wright; Indigenous Australian literature; generic innovation; mermaids; Indigenous sovereignty

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