If you’re in your late 30s or early 40s, you’ll remember the enormous war cry that arose in Australia when writer/historian Keith Windschuttle released his book The Killing of History, which was closely followed by The Fabrication of Aboriginal History.
The only thing I recall with clarity is, Keith Windschuttle is a revisionist. And I remember not knowing what a revisionist is, but knowing that it was bad m’kay.
So what happens if he was right, though?
I ask that intentionally. In doing so I want you to set aside all of your polemics; disregard every piece of your cultural upbringing that wants to do as The Monthly did in 2010 and tell the world that Windschuttle has ‘astonishing ideological blindness’. He might have. But if he’s right then it changes everything you believe, and that makes you feel like you’re being threatened, which is why you react like a surprised snake.
Fascinating, no? That’s why these arguments–Windschuttle’s, and his critics’–are grist to my propaganda project mill.
I realised this after attempting to watch Ray, which is a piece of political propaganda masquerading as entertainment. (If that triggers you, well, feel free to send me hate mail.)
Now, I haven’t (yet) read Windschuttle’s works. But I have read loads and loads of righteous commentary about his work since I was 17, much of which is succinctly argued and well-supported. It would be. It’s academic. That’s what academics do for a living.
Except occasionally you see claims like this:
‘There are also scores of relevant articles, books and doctoral theses that he clearly has not read,’ which was in this piece in The Monthly in 2010.
The author of the article relies on his own construction of ethos to craft a situation in which the reader simply accepts that he has read all of them, which is just as unlikely.
Further, as any Honours student understands, if you don’t reference your examiner’s work then you’re automatically in trouble, which is part of the problem here, too:
In my own case, he has not read either a chapter on the question of genocide and Aboriginal child removal before 1940 that I contributed to a monograph published in New York,[v] or even a 40,000-word document collection on the stolen generations that proves many of his empirical claims to be misleading or entirely false, which has been available on the Monthly website for more than three years.[vi]https://www.themonthly.com.au/nation-reviewed-robert-manne-comment-keith-windschuttle-2256
Feels butt-hurt, doesn’t it?
Remember, I haven’t read any of the offending author’s works, so I pull these pieces out merely to illustrate the critic’s own power play.
I started to go down this rabbit’s burrow after I had a sudden realisation that the propaganda project is probably going to throw me into the same boat as everybody that the ‘intelligentsia’ loves to hate.
You see, dear reader, I recently had the joy of writing about the language around ‘consumption’; issues of ‘advertising pollution’; and politics masquerading as entertainment. In doing so, I found myself rubbing hard up against a perspective that forms the very fabric of most narratives now. It’s a narrative that says that violence is ok, that division is important, that separation and labelling is requisite. It is inevitable that I will be thrown to the wolves, because of ‘cancel culture’. When you read propaganda you will want to cancel me, too.
Woven into this issue of being potentially cancelled, I had begun to consider what it might mean to simply write and not reference. Many of the greatest works, that our culture has come to revere as almost holy, are not referenced. Aristotle didn’t lean on other people’s work, for example. And his Republic is held in the highest esteem.
I began to wonder whether this penchant for “science” and “reference” holds our greatest minds back.
Does it throw a rope around their feet, hobble them, and force them to capitulate to the dominant narrative? What value is it to them, beyond being able to discuss the breadth of issues with clarity? Does it simply enable others to judge them as someone to take seriously? Or might it simply enable others to destroy them on apparently reasonable grounds?
Here, again, the issues surrounding Windschuttle and his works are instructive.
Seeking an answer to the questions I was turning over, I emailed someone whom I’ve begun to view as a bit of a mentor.
His response was simply a raft of questions back:
As to your question, taken seriously by whom — and what does seriously mean?
Who do you want to take seriously what you write — other than yourself?
What do you expect them to do thereafter?
What do you think they take seriously, if not what you write, however
you write it?
Are you sure that you care whether “they” take you seriously?
After a week of chewing on this response, I’ve decided on the answer.
The answer is:
Risk attends everything you do anyway, but care not for whether you are torn to pieces, disregarded, or taken seriously. These are all things that you cannot control, will never control.
When you are a non-fiction writer whose work challenges the dominant line, it’s not an act of courage. It’s an act of vulnerability.
If you are unwilling to make yourself vulnerable, you will never produce your best work.
Thus it is that in writing this piece I am writing my own pep talk: Who cares if what you write causes society to eat itself?
Society will eat itself anyway. So, Leticia, just write.