Heaven in a grain of sand - Patrick White's Contemporary Vision
Forum on Public Policy
Education and Arts
Executive Deans Office, Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts,Technology, Education and Communications
Australia's Nobel Prize-winning writer, Patrick White, has unequivocally stated: "Religion-that's behind all my novels ...." He remains acutely aware of the challenge before a writer with such preoccupations in the context of the contemporary world and his writing strategies present a range of subtleties designed, it would appear, to negotiate the challenges its dominant secular ethos. The dismissal of the religious stance as irrational is undermined in these texts by the consistent projection of the irrational as a source of valuable cognitive experience. Indeed the overvaluing of the rational faculties is shown to cripple the human spirit. Against the charge of the evasion of human realities, the religious experience is shown to be deeply imbricated in the mundane realities of ordinary existence. White's evocative style of writing exploits all the suggestiveness of image and symbol and the devices of poetry to enforce an acceptance of his vision of human experience as innately involved with a transcendental religious dimension. Most interesting is the nature of White's "saints." They are all sinners first, conscious of the flaws of their imperfect natures. Spiritual understanding is grasped through embracing the mundane realties of ordinary existence, not an ascetic withdrawal from it. Mystical experiences are projected as a kind of seeing deeper into the phenomenal world rather than an escape into transcendence. White's saints attain understanding of transcendental mysteries through immersion in the gritty realities of the mundane world. White's novels project a Blakean vision of "Heaven in a grain of sand."