THE CYBERNETIC WHEATBELT: john kinsella's divine comedy

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John Kinsella's poetry returns again and again to the landscape of the Western Australian wheatbelt. The wheatbelt is a region that was suddenly and violently re-made by capital in the service of cereal and fibre production during the course of the twentieth century. Despite this radical repurposing of land and the wholesale eradication of an ancient biome, the new farming zone quickly took on the halo of a natural landscape within state and nationalist ideologies. Against the backdrop of this event, Kinsella's wheatbelt can be viewed as a comprehensive deconstruction of the forces that have led the wheatbelt to where it is now and which still provide the material conditions of its existence. In this essay, Kinsella's Divine Comedy: Journeys Through a Regional Geography (2008) is considered as exemplary of his wheatbelt poetry. The essay explores the basic conceits that animate Kinsella's poetics of critique. It argues that Kinsella's poetry offers a strategic intervention into the claims of "capitalist realism," which is Mark Fisher's term for the foreclosure of alternatives to profit-driven patterns of production and consumption. Capitalist realism, in the context of the wheatbelt, asserts that whether we like it or not, one cannot argue against the basic entitlement that productive imperatives (and its agents) have to use land as they see fit. This essay attempts to detail the kinds of ways that Kinsella's poetry tries to fracture this claim to common sense that capitalist production monopolises. What it finds, somewhat counter-intuitively, is that Kinsella's poetry draws together two things which are traditionally regarded as antinomies - the machine and the organism. In this respect, Kinsella's poetry is distinctly different from conventional ecopoetry, which tends to uphold the distinction between an authentic nature and a corrupting technology. Kinsella's Divine Comedy makes use of the tripartite layering of Dante's eschatology to evolve new topologies of being in the wheatbelt, and indeed, being in the world. Further still, the essay makes the claim that Kinsella delivers us a "cybernetic wheatbelt," which refigures nature as a communicative machine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-54
Number of pages12
JournalAngelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2021


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