Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

David Malouf, Dream Stuff (2000)

David Malouf’s Dream Stuff (2000) is a collection of short stories that are diverse in their settings and subject matter but linked by Malouf’s overarching adherence to the ideology of the politically correct Left and the postmodern theoretical tradition that informs it.  In addition, the short stories are linked by the notion of dreams or, more precisely, by Malouf’s interest in Freudian psychoanalysis and its notions regarding the effects of different states of consciousness, of which the dream state is one of several.

The ideology of the politically correct Left includes: pacifism, anti-racism/multiculturalism, Marxism/socialism, feminism, environmentalism, and gay rights.  It is an ideology that is informed by the theoretical tradition of postmodernism, which puts ‘social justice’ at the centre of its concerns and agenda.  This ideology and philosophy feature a fascination with what is perceived to be unequal and unjust social divisions along the lines of: race, ethnicity, class, gender and sexual preference.  Political correctness, combined with postmodernism, is hostile to free-market liberalism, conservatism and nationalism. 

This ideological disposition lead Malouf to express critical perspectives on Australian history, traditional Australian nationalism and what he perceived to be the Australian national identity at the time he wrote.  His short story collection is also critical of Australia’s links to the British Empire or the Commonwealth, and it is critical towards Australia’s links with the United States.  It is particularly critical of Australia’s involvement in foreign wars.  The text is profoundly anti-military, to some extent equating it with a culture of bastardisation and bullying.  And war is represented as an expression of the dark side of human nature.  The text also links Christian fundamentalism to hostility towards gay people.    The text also reflects the Marxist and neo-Marxist historical revisionism that regards the settlement of Australia as featuring racist violence, frontier wars, massacres and Aboriginal resistance. The text also questions the value of Australia Day and the Bicentennial, questioning their worth by depicting a patriotic nationalistic Australian challenged by a former hippy who espouses the ideology of the politically correct Left. 

The text also reflects feminist concerns about correcting the representation of women in literature, with Malouf seeming to adhere to the demands of many feminist literary critics in this regard.  The text includes female characters that show an assertive independence and a capacity to do things that men can do, like ‘fix a fuse, and use a soldering iron’, rather than reflect the notion that their sense of worth is defined by their relationships with men. 

Although existentialism is not a dimension of the postmodern philosophy that underpins a great deal of political correctness, it has been embraced by many on the politically correct Left, including by Malouf.  Consequently, the text includes references to existentialist principles, such as the unpredictability of chance or fate and the need to live one’s life to the fullest while one can because life is full of absurd surprises and no one knows how long it will last.

Malouf also tends to situate this existentialist outlook in the context of an environmentalist perspective that the ultimate reality that should ground any philosophy of life is an appreciation of the inescapable, all-encompassing, eternal cycle of life that is intrinsic to the natural world.  To Malouf, one should recognise the interconnectedness of living creatures and exhibit an awareness of one’s place in the cycle of life and in the grand scheme of nature. 

Malouf’s appreciation of postmodernism is consistent with his interest in Freudian psychoanalysis.  This led him to reflect on the impact that events in childhood can have on determining the character of adults.  Hence a number of stories feature the perspectives of children.  Meanwhile, some stories depict the impact of what Freud defined as ego-defence mechanisms, such as repression and denial.  Malouf’s interests in Freudian psychanalysis also lead him to reflect on states of consciousness, including dreams and the nature of thought and understanding.

Another theme running through his text conveys Malouf’s fascination with the writer’s craft, with writers being people who think and reflect, and who plunder events from their own past, or from the past of others, in order to produce meaningful writing.  

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2021 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Dream Stuff meaning, Dream Stuff themes, Dream Stuff analysis, Dream Stuff notes