Keith & Jacques & Glen & Jack
Tuesday, 31 December 2002
Glen Milne finished his year at The Australian yesterday with this op-ed piece on the coming review of the National Museum of Australia (NMA). When I first read the reports of the review in The Age, which referred to the review as an inquiry into excessive "political correctness", I was a little skeptical, but according to Milne too, the committee's brief means "that the committee would be justified in going to questions of ideological balance."
Milne's report relies very heavily on an address by Keith Windschuttle to a conference at the NMA in December 2001. Milne gives this summary of the museum's problems and their source:
The Australians who wander into the museum to gawk at Azaria Chamberlain's torn nightie and share a Christmas Cornetto with the children would probably be amazed to know that what they're looking at is now the centre of a fierce dispute that goes back to the establishment of postmodern philosophy under the French deconstructionist, Jacques Derrida. But what might sound remote is also intensely political. And all politics is local. What this debate represents is a battle for the hearts and minds of middle Australia. The way they view their history will affect they way they vote.
What has now been joined at the NMA is a fight for ownership of the past in the sure knowledge that whichever side of politics owns the past will also own the future.
Derrida's theory rests on the claim that the British empirical method of establishing facts and recording them is inadequate because such history is polluted by existing class values. Therefore, says, Derrida, history should be revitalised using contemporary values. Within Derrida's world view, "facts" in the old sense cease to exist.