What is it to dwell? What is found in the intimate places we inhabit and in those spaces where we contemplate? Where is the sanctuary you dream in, the place where you no longer hold the edges of your self so tightiy? Where is your breathing space - that place made from your own minute rhythms?
The experience of dwelling within something is an ever-present but powerful part of human experience. It suggests continuance in some sheltered state or place; it implies an individual's intimate interaction with a particular environment; it conjures a concept of home. Writing the experience of these everyday realities seems to concentrate a nexus of intensities and ambiguities about being-in-the world and about the dialectical relations of different spaces. The intimate individual architectures of dwelling spaces are deeply entwined with the imaginative processes and preoccupations of reading and writing but also with discourses of travelling and landscape. Even in visual art or prose there are dwelling spaces that seem involved with a kind of environmental poetry.
This is an essay in ideas of dwelling in Australia. It brings together a set of contemporary Australian conceptions of interior space and suggests a way of considering the mechanics of writing intimate places. It outlines an approach to analysing the microstructures of houses and focuses upon experiences of both physical and discursive dwelling. It draws its material from the dwellings of some Australian literature and painting and aims to read these spaces through each other in order to develop a discussion around the question of intimate spaces and places in Australia. It is concerned with a pattern of themes and correspondences. By choreographing a selection of Australian texts around the ideas of poetry and intimate dwelling it aims to suggest the recurring use of particular motifs to model experiences of home.
By doing this the study asks: what common ideas, tendencies and assumptions underlie the writing of these dwellings? It suggests the presence of a poetic tendency to incorporate linguistic and physical movement with the still sanctuary spaces of one's intimate dwellings. Crucial here is also a conception of discursive spaces and the notion of dwelling within the movements of words and language. Imagined spaces can also be dwelt in, just as one can dwell within the pages of a book. It is this power of poetry to dwell and to move which allows a dialectical way of writing architecture in which the barriers between an interior and a landscape become permeable and exchange their dimensions. These houses are written, imagined and experienced as systems of ecological-like exchanges entwining the exterior lie of the land — or a sensitivity toward the natural world - with an individual's interior intimacy. The discussion marks the way a variety of Australian habitations are evoked as not only densely contemplative environments of concentrated self-defining experience, but also as places of dynamic roots which propel an inhabitant outwards into the world.
The discussion concentrates on the critical work of Paul Carter (1987, 1996, 2002); David Malouf s memoir 12 Edmondstone Street (1985) and Barbara Blackman's nearby '15 Edmondstone Street' (1997); Brian Dunlop's exhibition Eumeralla Paintings (1993-94); Tim Winton's novel, Cloudstreet (1991); Drusilla Modjeska's fictional essay, The Orchard (1994); and James Cowan's diary of A Mapmaker's Dream (1997). By focussing upon their various approaches to intimate interiors the study groups these works around some possible points of intersection identifying common tropes, similarities and variations. Each work is considered in terms of the way it uses and complicates these ideas to deal with the idea of home or intimate space. Each contributes something to a contemporary idea of dwellings and what it is to dwell.
By establishing a flexible conceptual background in the work of Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space and Martin Heidegger's "Poetically Man Dwells" the discussion makes use of both poetic and phenomenological underpinnings. It provides evidence of common threads between Australian work and these continental thinkers, but also suggests a process of translation in which these ideas are re-written into a local landscape and into their own world of Australian experience. The study also notes the presence of a post-colonial thinking about place and space and more subtle Romantic preoccupations underlying these evocations of dwelling. Perhaps the most important thing these broader echoes suggest is a sense of the primacy and possibility of language and poetic thinking.
The essay's structure could be called isomorphous as it undergoes a more or less extended continuous variation in composition, with accompanying variations in its sources, whilst still attempting to maintain the same central core of ideas. These include an Australian concept of 'wide open spaces' which infiltrate the space of the home: this preoccupying outside seems so strong as to permeate and mediate the perceptions and representations of the inside spaces. Natural habitat and poetic habitation become inseparable. Another ongoing theme is the suggestion that the dwelling spaces found in some contemporary critical analysis and fictional works appear to amplify a duality between motion and stillness. It appears that these poetic dwelling spaces are forms of a dialectic interchange between sanctuary and travel, environment and architecture, indeed, between a still interior intimacy and a constant exterior becoming. The houses here are spaces written from both interior meditation and outward movement. As such, the ambiguities of landscape and identity in Australia can be played out within the experience of its interiors.