‘Land Deal’ by Gerald Murnane

Like a number of people, I’ve only recently been introduced to the work of Gerald Murnane through the efforts of And Other Stories. ‘Land Deal’ is almost Borgesian (there are shades of ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’) but again, there is something else, something original in this tale of dreamers dreaming of dreamers.

‘Land Deal’, is collectively narrated by a group of Indigenous Australians who are offered material goods and tools by strangers in exchange for land. They are familiar with the ostensibly alien items because they have dreamed of them, but have long distinguished between the possible (dreams) and the actual (reality). That the possible is being offered to them sets up the hypothesis that they are in fact dreaming. The vagueness of the men’s actions and motives, the perfection of their tools, confirms their hunch.

But the matter is considered further and the narrators come to see that it is in fact the men who are dreaming of them. In the dream in which they are the subject, the narrators come to be cognisant of their dream status, and through this cognisance see both constraint and liberty. The men’s aim – possession of the land – is final proof. Dreams are absurd; the division and ownership of the land similarly so.

The land deal is thus approved, for it can only have consequences in the possible dream world, and not the actual real one, although there remains disagreement between the narrators as to how to perceive events. Some still hope that they will wake to find the possible become the actual, but others…

…insisted that for as long as we handled such things we could be no more than characters in the vast dream that had settled over us—the dream that would never end until a race of men in a land unknown to us learned how much of their history was a dream that must one day end.

From Collected Short Fiction, And Other Stories, 2020

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