But he is doing more than offering some kind of a romanticised meeting between East and West. China operates too ambiguously for that. On one level he wants his writing to enact some kind of cross-cultural collision: ‘We are more free when we struggle, more free even when we encounter friction between cultures, than if we wrapped ourselves in cotton wool. Cultural collectivity arises out of its knowledge of its presence in the world, out of its internationalism’ (‘Necessary Idiocy’ 30). At the same time, however, he plays with the very notion of the Oriental. He delights in Kafka’s suggestion to his fiancé Félice that ‘Indeed I am Chinese’ because for Kafka the marker of race has nothing to do with nationality. Instead it becomes a propensity to psychic fragmentation. Castro plays the Oriental card with flourish throughout his work, where being Chinese is and is not always about race. We hear a cautionary whisper in the experiences of the architect in After China: ‘She was not really at one with him. Perhaps he was paranoid. His sensitivities about race, sex, his sense of not belonging, not wanting to belong…Perhaps she knew that the exotic was sometimes as tiresome as bureaucracy. He would never seduce her with that’ (63).
Seduction is Castro’s main game, which he achieves through the rhythm, music, and stylistic brilliance of his prose. Soon after the publication of Birds of Passage, the historian Geoffrey Blainey, whose words Castro used for his epigraph to that novel, delivered a speech in which he questioned whether multiculturalism, and in particular Asian immigration, was in Australia’s best interest. A divisive and incendiary debate ensued. Birds of Passage suddenly had added contextual relevance, and Castro began receiving abusive missives from racist Australians. In response, he retreated into Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past and there rediscovered a ‘language…from the interior’ (‘Necessary Idiocy’ 26). It is that Proustian-style language of the interior that seduces us again and again. It is a lyrically musical language of pain, memory, contemplation, obsession, love, loss, and death.
Any critical study that attempts to offer a comprehensive analysis of Castro’s rich and evocative writing must by necessity fail. But failure, according to Castro, is always a positive thing. For Castro, completion and satisfaction are fatal to writing; failure and loss are constitutive of creativity.