The Plains by Gerald Murnane

The Plains by Gerald Murnane

The Plains is a narrative of obsessive recursiveness situated somewhere between the hilarious awkwardness of Kafka and the compulsive interrogation of Bernhard. Akin to Kafka, too, The Plains operates as an allegory. Or, more accurately, it has the feel of allegory, though deciphering the lessons in its parables is no easy task. To quote the book, it often seems “…a convenient source of metaphors for those who know that men invent their own meanings.”

The Plains is a work of unknowing, a travelogue of a journey toward alternate terrains and surrogate selves. An equally fitting title would have been The Planes, as every component of this text (narrative, setting, theme, etc.) is ultimately found to be multi-dimensional. It illustrates perfectly the platitude: “the more I learn, the less I know,” or, to pull again from the text itself:

“And I knew that plainsmen commonly consider all art to be the scant visible evidence of immense processes in a landscape that even the artist scarcely perceives, so that they confront the most obdurate or the most ingenuous work utterly receptive and willing to be led into bewildering vistas of vistas.”

Being led into bewildering vistas of vistas is as accurate and succinct of a description of the experience of reading The Plains as can be mustered. Confounding, to be sure, but The Plains is equally riveting and affirming. It’s a text I foresee frequently revisiting—each reading revealing entirely new terrain.