Saturday, January 04, 2003

A Short Enforced Absence

Saturday, 4 January 2002

Zeppo Bakunin has graciously lent me some time on his PC to catch up with blog stuff that I've missed over the past few days, due to problems I've been having with connecting from home (line quality basically). If anyone's E-Mailed me over the past couple of days and is wondering why I haven't responded, that's the basic reason: I haven't started disliking anybody any more than I may already do. Normal service should be resumed some time Monday.

Like a few other Oz bloggers, I've made a visit to the political compass site (Andrea Bell has a link). I came out -6.38 on the Economic Left/Right scale and -6.51 on the Authoritarian/Libertarian scale - I think that makes me redder than Ken Livingston. More worrying is the question of where I might have been if I'd taken the test in my youth, since the general consensus is that we get more conservative as we grow older. Somewhere out in the white space below the lower left corner, I suppose. What's really worrying is that I got this result even after I disagreed with the obvious lefty platitudes in the quiz, like the "think globally, act locally" question. Maybe I should have agreed with a few more of the obvious conservative platitudes to get to a more respectably centrist position.

Yes, We Now Do Bulk E-Mail (Apparently)

Saturday, 4 January 2002

A moment of idle self-googling (alright, it was a blatant attempt at ego-gratification by trying to turn up even more new links to this site), turned up this page of bulk e-mail hosters and providers. Visit the main page and you'll discover that this is not spam (or SPAM as it's consistently misspelt by the site operators, in violation of the Hormel trade-mark).

There's probably little that I can do about this and I'm not sure that I want to. The idea that somewhere in the world someone has just received an offer of mail order Viagra from Gummo Trotsky at Tug Boat Potemkin isn't without a certain appealing absurdity. Of course I may change my mind if I become a target for the anti-spammers: when the humourless set out in hot pursuit of the opportunistic there can be hell to pay. Right now though, I'm more concerned about where the ship's archives have pissed off to for the second time in about as many months.

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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.


It's a frightening picture: thousands of innocent Cornetto gobbling middle Australians, unaware that behind the popular spectacle of Azaria's torn nightie lurks the evil menace of postmodern deconstructionism. Instead of a National Museum of which we can all be proud - we are one, and that's it, thank you very much - we have an ideological travesty, designed to seduce middle Australia with a view of history concocted according to the formula of the evil French mastermind Jacques Derrida.

There are two difficulties I have with Milne's account of the struggle over the ideological bias of the National Museum. The first is with his characterisation of middle Australia, the second with his representation of Derrida's philosophy.

It would be easy to be misled by the sneering tone of Milne's description of some museum visitors as "The Australians who wander into the museum to gawk at Azaria Chamberlain's torn nightie and share a Christmas Cornetto with the children" and conclude that Milne is something of an intellectual snob, who believes that the sort of people who want go into a museum to see Azaria Chamberlain's torn nightie with an ice-cream grubbied kid or two in tow simply have no business being there. But clearly this is not the case: Milne's remark is aimed at the debased spectacle of Azaria's nightie, which is not befitting a proper museum.

Nor should we be misled by Milne's assertion that the intellectual battle over postmodernism is a battle for the hearts and minds of middle Australia, which will be won by the side which gets to shape their view of history. As a TV journalist and newspaper columnist it is inconceivable that Milne would believe that middle Australians will be largely passive specators in this dispute, content to let the big intellects slug it out, then passively accept the view of history that is presented to them by the winners, whether it is in the history books or in the galleries of the NMA. Milne is not stupid so there is no reason to conclude that he believes the people are stupid, whatever the textual evidence may suggest.


The problem I have with Milne's summary of the theories of Jacques Derrida is more substantial: it's not just a matter of a few unfortunate lapses in style. I admit that it is nearly 20 years since I studied Derrida's theories, so my memory may be faulty and I'm certainly not up to date with Derrida's latest work. However my memory of reading Writing and Difference and Of Grammatology, plus what was said of Derrida's theory in lectures and tutorials simply doesn't match Milne's summary.

If memory serves, Derrida makes a lot out of Western philosophy's habit of creating binary oppositions in which one term is privileged over the other: Essence and Existence, for example. This usually results in a lot of argument about which is more important: should Essence open the door for Existence, or is it the other way around? In Of Grammatology he doesn't concern himself directly with this most enduring of philosophical dualities (philosophers have been tossing it around in one form or another since the Pre-Socratics), but some more apparently ordinary ones: language and speech (or for Saussurians langue and parole) and speech and writing. He also writes a lot about supplementation and the supplement, an idea which he has a lot of complicated fun with. The text he uses as the springboard for this discussion is Jean Jacques Rousseau's Confessions, in particular a passage where Rousseau uses the word "supplement" as a euphemism for masturbation.

You could easily get a joke out of this, to the effect that Of Grammatology is a big book about wanking, written by a French wanker, for a lot of other wankers. If that's your idea of satirical humour, you're welcome to it. It doesn't in any way detract from the main point of my quick snap-shot of Derrida's work: there's sod all about the British empirical method or class values in it. Whatever his virtues as a journalist and columnist, when it comes to Jacques Derrida, Glen Milne doesn't know Jack Shit.

There's still a lot to be said on Milne's article: it's one of those irritating pieces that is so damn wrong, you wonder where to begin and just how long to go on. However, now that the National Museum's presentation of history has been put on the culture wars agenda, along with the Windschuttle vs Reynolds et al stoush, its another subject I can come back to later. And later. And later.

- *** -

Update: the comments threads for the first two parts of this post are well worth reading.

Monday, December 30, 2002

My Predictions for 2003

Monday, December 30 2002

With only a day or two to go before the New Year, it's probably time for bloggers everywhere to start thinking about their predictions for 2003 (if they haven't already done so). Here are mine: I hoped to have twelve (one for each month) but fell a little short. Only by seven, but a miss is as good as a mile in the prediction business.

1. A major manufacturer of women's shoes will arouse controversy (and a few other things) with a promotional campaign of billboard advertisements featuring photographs which suggest impending cunnilingus or recently completed triolage.

2. The return of the ABC's Media Watch with new presenter Piers Akerman will signal the end of the left-wing hegemony in ABC News and Current Affairs.

3. In line with government policy on raising terrorism awareness, Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Amanda Vanstone and Attorney-General Daryl Williams will jointly announce the government's new Community Espionage Program which will be run along these lines. I won't get a consultancy fee for coming up with the idea.

4. A few English "society madams" will make discrete attempts to recruit some of Australia's better women cricketers to service the whims of a growing clientele of upper crust English masochists whose preferred form of humiliation is to be clean bowled or hit for six by an Australian cricketer.

5. After an extensive review which takes into account the need for an efficient mechanism for ensuring the free flow of water between different sectors of the rural economy, Murray Darling irrigation water will be listed on the Sydney Futures Exchange. This will inevitably described by someone, somewhere (and probably a member of the National Party at that) as floating the Australian water.


Monday, 30 December 2002

(With heartfelt apologies to Ray Davies and Kinks fans everywhere).

I went to the local library yesterday. It was a good place to get out of the heat, with the added benefit of plenty of reading material, some of which I was allowed to take home.

One tomelet will be going back to the library as soon as possible, before I'm tempted to use it for the sort of amateur studies of book ballistics which pretty much wrecked my copy of F F Armeste's Truth etc. It's one thing to destroy your own books but quite another to destroy those that belong to the community or merely, as I found in one of the books I brought home, cut out a favourite illustration to paste in your scrapbook.

Irritating as the tomelet is, I did find one curiously inspiring passage which I've posted below, followed by the curious fruits of the inspiration.

... A craving for the Dreaming funds the passion that is our life energy. It drives. We seek it here, we seek it there ...

The only cure,
For our despair.
It will make or break us so we've got to have the Truth,
Yes it's the one and only long-lost Western Dreaming.

As we endure,
Our daily grind,
With heavy hearts,
And empty minds.
Every day we're falling for more mindless fads and trends,
We need the one and only long-lost Western Dreaming.

Oh yes we do.
[Oh yes we do].
Oh yes we do.
[Oh yes we do].
Our lives are filled with emptiness and yearning,
But when we're struck by holy inspiration's blinding light
We'll find the one and only long-lost Western Dreaming.