Saturday, September 05, 2009

Self indulgent writing or whistleblowing?

I had a simple thank you email from Katherine Wilson, a woman whom I have never met.

She wrote an article for Meanjin on the hoax she began, ‘Holding up the Mirror: Windshuttle, Me, and the Provocateur on Trial’. In this essay Wilson writes about the way she posed as a scientist, Sharon Gould, and wrote an essay which according to the journalist, Margaret Simons is ‘studded with false science, logical leaps, outrageous claims and a mixture of genuine and bogus footnotes’.

Keith Windshuttle fell into the trap and accepted the essay for publication in Quadrant without checking it, the fake footnotes etc. Simons blew the lid off the hoax after publication and then all hell broke loose, for a while at least, given the notion that Windshuttle had once accused a couple of historians of doing the same thing, not checking their facts, or worse making them up.

This it seems had been Wilson’s aim, at least in part: to test Windshuttle out. There’s a reference to Wilson’s article on Larvatus Prodeo, and there follows a stream of largely negative comments about Wilson’s writing such that I felt compelled to comment, too. I could not let it go.

Some accused Wilson of writing badly. Self-indulgent writing, they said, writing that lacked a coherent argument. To me the accusation of self indulgent writing is a red rag to a bull. It reminds me of the argument my mother used when we were children when she was unhappy with is. The argument that this is pure 'selfishness'. Selfishness and self indulgence, what a way to try to undermine a person. That's not to say it doesn't happen sometimes, but it's not the case here. I doubt that Wilson would have garnered the attention she's received, she would not have been published in Meanjin were her writing as awful as some of her detractors suggest.

I disagreed in a comment on Lavartus Prodeo, then a couple of other commentators started to turn on me, for having a go at them, the mostly men, for not having read the essay, etc. How could I have read Wilson’s work it seemed and not share their views? One woman complained too, and she's a mother, she wrote, though at least she acknowledged that she does not like this style of writing., Each to their own taste. but to say something is bad because you don't like it or disagree with it, is simplistic in the extreme

Read Wilson’s article for yourselves in Meanjn, Vol 2, 2009, Winter or see references to her 'Diary of a Hoax' online, .

Wilson's writing is good, it’s passionate, and it’s thoughtful. She is clearly one smart cookie. It seems her detractors hate her examination of her own motives in writing the hoax article/essay in the first place. That she was about to give birth at the time the hoax came out, the original hoax came out that is, seems to have added fuel to the debate.

This is my blog. I can generate my thoughts. There may be some out there who disagree with me about Wilson’s work and I would be happy to hear from them, but there needs to be be more substance to it than the sort of criticisms that arise on Lavartus Prodeo.

I made the mistake of putting my full name to my comment, at least so one of my daughters told me. 'Never put your full name on a blog,' she said. Why? I ask. 'Why, because people you don’t want might get access to them.' I suppose this sort of self censorship applies everywhere.

As Jim remarks in an earlier comment on my blog. He presents certain aspects of himself in his blog, his writing self, with occasional glimpses into his private life, and the rest he keeps to himself.

We all do. We all censor ourselves, if we did not our words would come tumbling out like the unprocessed stuff of madness, of so called primitive process. Still I can’t help thinking that it is more honest for a woman like Wilson to try to grapple with a written explanation of what she was trying to do in creating the hoax she did, than it is for her detractors to complain of self-indulgent writing.

This issue is dear to my heart. To Helen Garner ‘writing is always a seething area of longing and anxiety, and fear and mistakes and daring and of consciousness lagging behind action'. I couldn’t agree more. I also think there is the issue of consequences. Writing can be a dangerous business. I fear that people read with blinkers on. I’m sure I do too. People surprise me then on what they take up and on what they leave out.

I have had a similar difficulty recently, where it’s alleged I said more than I should in public, not here in my blog, but in a professional gathering of colleagues.

See how cryptic I am. Censorship does this too you. It hands the reins over to the monkey on your back. I’m always swatting the monkey off my back, trying to push him out of sight (note my monkey is a he, but there are times when he’s more likely to be a she, especially when it comes to some of my colleagues.)

I think it was Ann Lamott, who referred to this monkey as being like your parents, your internal parents looking over your shoulder, approving of or more likely disapproving of what you write.

The monkey on my shoulder is big and hairy at the moment. So I seek solace in blogs, my blog, even as I recognise I run the risk of traipsing on sensitive ground.

As Wilson writes in relation to the exposure of her hoax, ‘It’s a wonderful thing to have a public voice, but it’s a shitty thing being the object of media predation’. And as she writes further ‘It’s a dirty business taking the piss. It’s dirtier still to report it’.

This is when all the moralizing starts, when the world gets split into victims and perpetrators. We all do it most of the time, we try to split the world into good guys and bad. We find it hard to see all the grey in between.

Wilson sees grey, when she writes with some compassion about Windshuttle the man, ‘in his emails…so perfectly nice, and in my own vulnerability, on a human level, I had mixed feelings playing Sharon Gould’ as opposed to her feelings about Windshuttle, the idealogue. There is a difference.
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