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David Malouf’s Treatment of Spirituality in 'The Conversations at Curlow Creek'

Hausarbeit 2013 11 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Literatur, Werke


1. Introduction

David Malouf was born in Brisbane in 1934[1] and he had already written several poems before publishing his first novel Johnno in 1975[2]. He is said to be an ‘exceptionally diverse writer’ who deals with ‘certain fundamental, consistent and unifying themes’[3]. His novel The Conversations at Curlow Creek was published in 1996. It is characterised by a ‘basic double movement’[4] because the presentation of the story ‘goes backwards into the individual recollections by the two men of their lives in Ireland’[5] while it actually moves forward towards Carney’s execution at dawn.The Conversations at Curlow Creek thematises ‘the entanglement of anti-colonial resistance with imperial power’ with the help of ‘highly ambivalent characters and an action that moves continually from the exertion of control to its radical disordering by the very agents of power’[6]. Within this novel, which ‘challenges difference and division by integrating two ways of seeing reality that have traditionally been regarded as being antagonistic’[7], Malouf succeeds in uniting both a historic and a mythopoeic vision and therefore he ‘undermines the conventional opposition of the two’[8]. In this assignment I discuss Malouf’s treatment of spirituality in The Conversations at Curlow Creek. Before I actually analyse the novel with regard to the different uses of the word spirit, to spirituality in a religious and non-religious context and regarding the spiritual link between Adair and Carney, I first define the notion spirituality.

2. Definition of the Phenomenon ‘Spirituality’

Basically, the word spirit is derived from the Latin word spiritus which means breath[9]. Although the origin of the word is clear-cut, it is difficult to define spirituality because it is not a clear concept.[10] In the past, spirituality was closely linked to religion[11], but nowadays it has many meanings outside the religious context[12]. In religion, spirituality is often used as a term to describe ‘the eternal, nonphysical aspect of ourselves’[13]. Consequently, spirituality ‘represents a belief in this nonmaterial dimension, a dimension seen as permeating the physical world and creating other levels of being accessed in mystical experience and in the afterlife’[14]. This implies that human beings are more than their body[15]. In theistic religions, spirit is often used as a synonym for ‘soul’, but in general spirit is defined as ‘eternal and unchanging, while soul is seen as carrying the imprint of one’s behavior during earthly life and [as being] subject to rewards, punishments, purgation, and […] to further development in afterlife’[16]. Consequently, spirituality can be said to be representing ‘the extent to which the individual recognizes his or her spiritual nature, and allows this nature to express itself through the soul and in behaviour during material life’[17]. Still nowadays, some researchers treat spirituality almost synonymously with religion[18], although Margaret Burkhardt emphasises that ‘though we are all spiritual, some people might not be religious’[19]. David Fontana claims that ‘both in the secular and the religious sense “spirit” originally referred to the force that unified the unseen and the seen dimensions’[20]. In the Oxford English Dictionary spirituality is defined as ‘the animating or vital principle of a person, which links to the idea that God breathed the spirit of life into Adam, the first man’[21].Theoretically, a belief in spirituality obliges the individual to certain practices such as compassion and understanding towards others. Fontana claims that for spiritual persons ‘these responsibilities are defined by personal conviction rather than by formal religious doctrine’[22]. After having stated that, Fontana presents some other meanings of the notion spirituality. One of these meanings of spirituality is that the individual wants to experience the spiritual source of his or her own existence[23]. According to Walsh, to which Fontana refers in this context, this experience is ‘a process of inner change and development’[24]. This inner change is necessary to become a complete human being and to touch our deeper potential[25]. Furthermore, the term spirituality is used to indicate ‘an openness to the spiritual teachings in all religions and schools of thought, rather than a dogmatic rejection of everything that does not come from one’s own favoured tradition’[26]. In addition to that, Kees Waaijman states that spirituality touches the relation of human beings to the Absolute[27] and that in our everyday life spirituality is present as ‘a quiet force in the background, an inspiration and an orientation’[28]. In relation to the Australian novel which this paper deals with, it is important to state according to Gary Bouma that ‘Australian spirituality, both indigenous and more recently arrived, is grounded in place and land’[29]. In the following chapter the phenomenon spirituality is examined in The Conversations at Curlow Creek[30].


[1] Ivor Indyk, David Malouf (Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia, 1993), p. vii.

[2] Ken Goodwin, A History of Australian Literature (London: Macmillan, 1986), p. 226-227.

[3] The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature, ed. by Barry Andrews, Joy Hooton and William H. Wilde (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 455.

[4] James Tulip, ‘Religion as Discourse’, in This Immense Panorama: Studies in Honour of Eric J. Sharpe, ed. by Carole M. Cusack and Peter Oldmeadow (Sydney: School of Studies in Religion, University of Sydney, 1999), pp. 254-260 (p. 255).

[5] Tulip, pp. 254-260 (p. 255).

[6] Stella Borg-Barthet, ‘Resistance and Reconciliation in David Malouf’s The Conversations at Curlow Creek ’, in Resistance and Reconciliation: Writing in the Commonwealth, ed. by Bruce Bennet and others (Canberra: Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies, 2003), pp. 265-277 (p. 266).

[7] Borg-Barthet, pp. 265-277 (p. 268).

[8] Ibid., p. 268.

[9] David Fontana, Psychology, Religion and Spirituality (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008), p. 11.

[10] Ibid., p. 11.

[11] Kees Waaijman, Spirituality: Forms, Foundations, Methods (Leuven: Peeters, 2002), p. 307.

[12] Fontana, p. 11.

[13] Fontana, p. 11.

[14] Ibid., p. 11-12.

[15] Ibid., p. 12.

[16] Ibid., p. 12.

[17] Ibid., p. 12.

[18] See for example Rick Richardson, Spirituality: What does it mean to be spiritual? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p. 5.

[19] Margaret A. Burkhardt, Spirituality: Living our Connectedness (Albany: Delmar, 2002), p. 11.

[20] Fontana, p. 11.

[21] Ibid., p. 11.

[22] Ibid., p. 12.

[23] Ibid., p. 12.

[24] Ibid., p. 12.

[25] Ibid., p. 12.

[26] Fontana, p. 12.

[27] Waaijman, p. 1.

[28] Ibid., p. 1.

[29] Gary Bouma, Australian Soul: Religion and Spirituality in the 21st Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 2.

[30] During the analysis, Malouf’s novel is mostly referred to as Conversations.


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University of Malta – English Department
david malouf’s treatment spirituality conversations curlow creek



Titel: David Malouf’s Treatment of Spirituality in 'The Conversations at Curlow Creek'