Australian Studies, Volume 3, Series 2 (2011)

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Kinsella contra Dante: 'Who was ousted so hell could be installed?'

Jaya Savige


Taking Dante’s cosmography as its point of departure, John Kinsella’s Divine Comedy: Journeys Through a Regional Geography (2008) envisages Mount Purgatory as Walwalinj, or Mount Bakewell; his Paradiso and Inferno are the wheatbelt district of West Australia; his Florence, Perth, flush with mining money. Kinsella’s Comedy comprises what he calls a ‘distraction’ on Dante’s Commedia – less a translation or a version, than a ‘rupture’ that both inhabits and subverts its epic model. This paper examines Kinsella’s rupturing of the structural logic of Dante’s epic poem, and its implications for the discourse of nationhood that the epic mode legitimises. Transposing Dante’s Commedia into an antipodean key, Kinsella foregrounds the primary discontents of the discourse of Australian nationhood: the dispossession of indigenous Australians and the ecological degradation instantiated by pastoralism. In doing so, it comprises a critical development in what Peter Minter has called Kinsella’s ‘immanently political’ poetics.

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