Weaving the Past into an Unfolding Present: Subject Formation in the Māori Novel
This thesis investigates how four of the most prominent contemporary Māori novelists—Keri Hulme, Alan Duff, Witi Ihimaera and Patricia Grace—have explored in their novels the significance of the Māori past in the formation of contemporary Māori individual subjects. The term “the Māori past” as deployed in this thesis refers to cultural, social and political influences from the past which are felt by Māori individuals to be particularly relevant in their subjective sense of being Māori in a postcolonial, hybrid society. While the persistent presence of a preoccupation with the Māori past in the Māori novel has been intermittently noticed in previous scholarship, this important thematic concern has most often, and primarily, been discussed in terms of its formal and cultural attributes or socio-political functions. The implications of the Māori past for Māori subjective experience, on the other hand, have not received the degree of critical attention they merit. What I propose in this thesis is that an investigation of the formation of a subjective sense of identity on the part of contemporary Māori characters, as depicted in Māori novels, can provide a valuable insight into the ways in which the Māori past is related to as of significance by Māori individuals. Such an investigation is thus concerned with how the Māori past is demonstrated in Māori novels as being woven into lived experience in contemporary Māori life, against the backdrop of a society characterised by increasing cultural exchange and globalisation. Through analysing a select number of novels by Hulme, Duff, Ihimaera and Grace, which represent their most intensive reflection on the Māori past, this thesis shows that their artistic explorations of subjective responses to the Māori past are not only highly distinctive, but together also constitute a wide spectrum, ranging from nostalgic longing, to a movement from frustration to reconciliation, to unresolved tensions between loyalty and reform, to a gentle embrace of cultural tradition in individual and collective experience. Finally, the thesis concludes that individual Māori characters are shown to develop a sense of subjective agency in relation to their experience of sharing a collective identity with other Māori in a postcolonial society, which is itself marked by an inescapable cultural hybridity. The investigation also concludes that the significance of the past for the present has important implications for the tackling of tensions between individual choice and group allegiance in the project of community building in postcolonial liberal democratic societies with a significant indigenous population.
Advisor: Fox, Alistair; Drichel, Simone
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Department of English and Linguistics
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: the Maori novel; subject formation; the past; Keri Hulme; Alan Duff; Witi Ihimaera; Patricia Grace
Research Type: Thesis