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The Plains by Gerald Murnane

The Plains (1982)

by Gerald Murnane

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A curious book I'm not quite sure what to make of. A film maker in search of a sponsor goes to the 'plains' or the interior of Australia. There follows a monologue that devolves into surrealism. 'Plains' feature frequently but it is hard to say whether the word is descriptive or symbolic. If symbolic of what? ( )
  Steve38 | Mar 5, 2019 |
I find it interesting that the solipsistic and possibly unreliable narrator is able to touch upon so many universals and raise so many mysteries, not least how we get started (or not), embark, move forward through time. A Proustian dissection of seeing and recording upon a tabula rasa that is endlessly erased.

The infinite possibilities of endless regress ‘everything that passed...existed only as a set of possibilities’ (p.133) - his book project becomes as fraught with possibilities as his film ...extreme control of freezing a moment in time past that never in fact happened, though giving rise to a possibility that had it, thereby pre-figuring an entirely different narrative, it would violate ‘the poise of the worlds that surrounded us’.

The journey seems to be ever inwards: ‘the truly perceptive seem to me those who turn their faces away from the plains’ with exchanges negotiated seemingly hidden from the plains, with libraries providing a Borgesian maze of search, hide and find, or not find, as the plainsmen weave their discursive paths, usually fueled by copious quantities of alcohol, ever more elaborately embellishing while their craftsmen, their librarians, their storytellers, gardeners, painters, continue searching for a defining moment, the golden mean that catalyzes and reveals their manifest destiny.

The hyperrealities imagined are reminiscent of Calvino (‘Invisible cities’) but also recalls Ismail Kadare, Dino Buzzati (‘The Tartar Steppe’), Kafka and even Magnus Mills. A masterpiece. ( )
  peterbrown | Apr 9, 2018 |
Que alguien pare el tren que me acaba de arrollar.

Este libro es absolutamente increíble. Es una mezcla entre poesia, filosofia, psicologia, ensayo, alegoria, satira, es imposible definirlo.

El autor, yo creo, lo ha escrito para el mismo, para explorar, para comprender, por puro placer de perderse en si mismo.
Un libro mirandose a un si mismo que se explora a un si mismo mas interior con una alegoria increible basada en las planicies que no son mas que eso indescriptible que llamamos 'yo'.

Y lo ha hecho de una forma bellísima. Muchas de las frases podrian ser poesia. Otras creo que simplemente mi IQ no me llega para comprenderlas en su plenitud:

And I traced all the while whatever had the appearance of a theme in that uncertain region: following as far as its seaming source some flaw or fingermark that could have suggested this or that human propensity wavering but persisting in a landscape which itself came and went; discerning a play of powerful opposites in the alternate predominance of differing textures; or deciding that whatever seemed to point to some unique perception of a private terrain might suggest in another light that the artist had failed to see the scattered vestiges of what passed for another country with another observer.

Quiza lo entiendo, umm, solo quiza. De una forma u otra es una frase increible. O esta otra:

And each behaved as though there was yet time to hear from the other a form of words acknowledging some of those possibilities that had never realized for as long as each had despaired of arranging such things in a form of words.

Necesite papel y lapiz para entender esto.

El libro esta repleto de estas frases conectadas creando ideas todavia mas complejas que te hacen volver atras y pensar, pensar mucho.

Y todo para crear algo tan universal y tan personal, me recuerda a los cuadros de Dali donde pinta los paisajes de su niñez que luego se convierten en clasicos globales. Y quiza es una buena comparacion, un libro que habla de forma muy concreta e intima y que habla sobre planicies amarillas con un horizonte borroso y quiza es la imagen que te queda en tu mente, un paisaje Daliniano practicamente vacio con uno mismo como protagonista.

( )
  trusmis | Apr 30, 2016 |
A combination of several things, but most notably J. M. Coetzee’s recent article on Gerald Murnane in the New York Review of Books, made me realize that it was high time to revisit Murnane’s work. In particular, because I found Inland to be a very repetitive work which was better fleshed out in the rather complementary Barley Patch, I thought that a more generous immersion into this enigmatic (and often elusive) writer’s work would do me well.

The Plains is considered by many critics to be Murnane’s finest work, and, in many ways, I wish that my journey through his oeuvre had commenced here. The Plains is a metaphysical meditation on our relation to landscapes, how they form our individual, familial, and cultural identities—and yet also how they complicate these identities. Like the narrators of Barley Patch and Inland, the narrator here is trying to fathom creatively the dynamic, interrelated pieces of the plains and yet continually finds his attempts at analyzing fall short of the medium of art.

From “outer Australia,” the narrator journeys to “inner Australia” in order to research the region of the plains for a projected film he plans to make entitled The Interior, a “film that would reveal the plains to the world.” As an outsider, he wavers between letting the plainsmen know of his true identity or else letting them think that he comes from the borderland close to “the interior.” It helps, as he gets to know the plainsmen and the history of the plains themselves, that he is an artist. Indeed, the world of the plains that Murnane creates here is one that is deeply rooted in and also one that is highly respectful of the arts—particularly poetry: “writing was generally considered by the plainsmen the worthiest of all crafts and the one most nearly able to resolve the thousand uncertainties that hung about almost every mile of the plains.”

That this portrayal of “inner Australia” is better-versed than its “outer” counterparts, and also that the narrator is able to locate philosophical truths that resonate across borders and cultural spaces, is one that Murnane maps skillfully on to larger questions about artistic creation (“I’ll go in search of the places that lay just beyond the painted horizons; the places that the artists knew they were only able to hint at”); the importance of living as opposed to learning; the many possibilities and routes our lives can, and perhaps do, take (“the moment when a young woman saw as he might never appear again a man who saw her as she might never appear again”); traveling as revealing and yet also isolating (“each man in his heart is a traveller in a boundless landscape”); how life resembles one’s own landscape (“They saw the world itself as one more in an endless series of plains”; “I was trying to discover my own kind of landscape”); how we spend our lives “shaping from uneventful days in a flat landscape the substance of myth”; and the perpetual sense of dislocation that we feel whether we are in our homeland or in other lands—the landscape “always invisible even though one crossed and re-crossed it daily,” “a land beyond the known land.”

The Plains showcases all of Murnane’s omnipresent themes and concerns while remaining a wonderfully lucid and self-contained narrative in its own right. Murnane might well be said to be one of those writers whose different books all speak to one another in an overarching piece, as if each of his books were a piece of a puzzle that contain ruminations on similar questions but in slightly different keys. If anything, The Plains made me think about Murnane’s other work in a wholly different light, and I thank Coetzee for making me see that this revisitation of Murnane’s work was a journey well worth taking. ( )
1 vote proustitute | Jul 17, 2014 |
The "annual revelations" that our narrator describes near the end of this fine book gives credence to what came before. The evidence contained decanters of hard liquor, stiff-backed uncomfortable chairs, tents staked in tall grasses on vistas of windowless walls, and little said or exampled but more of the same in a serious study never concluded in which libraries remain for all students and scholars to be seen and read of the vast and mounting compilations of a history regarding these interior plains. An exhausting review by me of this book so unnecessary, and even to seem, if exhibited, redundant in its praises. A Murnane language pure and sophisticated, transcribed in flowing terms, its manner appealing and appreciated by a person such as I who wishes he could have been instead the one to have written this book first.

The narrator wanting, it seems, to be seen as a film maker whose work truly matters, for years out of sight and hidden away in some corner behind drawn blinds of a silent library, who after all this time still remains dedicated to his project and long efforts to discover a fitting landscape in which to film, necessarily recognizing the meaning of what he saw, and would one day perhaps actually film the dark chamber beyond its visible darkness. The only comparison I have to Murnane's writing is the many scribblings of philosopher Gilles Deleuze who spoke almost endlessly of being and becoming, of rhizomes and their meanderings, and the difficulties of finally getting anywhere. This is a book I will definitely read again and it is likely to have led me on to a further study of the complete work of Gerald Murnane, which in my opinion, is the highest compliment to ones efforts of a lifetime.
( )
  MSarki | Aug 3, 2013 |
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'We had at length discovered a country ready for the immediate reception of civilised man...'

Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, 'Three expeditions into the interior of Eastern Australia'
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On the Plains the landowning families on their vast estates have preserved a rich and distinctive culture. Obsessed with their own habitat and history they hire artisans, writers and historians to capture in minute detail every aspect of the nature of the land. But nothing is as it appears and the plainsmen and artists are compelled to explore to the edge of every moving horizons.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 1876485442, 1921922273

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