• working/reading

    I am reading through 'both ways' literature of Yolngu and non-Yolngu working their knowledge systems together. Alongside I am reading Lorraine Code's 2006 book Ecological Thinking. I am also browsing through blogs and discussions on knowledge work and community development.
  • About this Blog

    Here I post some of my work and thinking. It is a much harder task than I thought! It is an extension of my research on knowledge and difference connecting my experiences, reflections, formal written pieces, and hopefully friends and colleagues. As work and self cannot be separate this blog is both personal and intellectual. Comments are moderated because, while it is a site for collective work, it is not anonymous.
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  • January 2009
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So here is an idea for a blog: “skirting”.

The thought appeared as the act to skirt, to around around or to edge. I guess this capture my writing as generally not being direct, not being blunt, but edging and opening. I usually write non-fiction passages to open up questions, to show the confusion, the disconcertment or puzzlement, that make you think ‘what do I do with that?’ ‘where do we go from here’. Usually, the next bit I write is showing off and providing an answer, or perhaps a framing. This can be closing it back down, showing an academic force that recaptures an ordering, a neatness, a security.

But skirting runs around an edge and in doing so generates some room to question and to think. Maybe skirting is a form of thinking.

An image I have is a man striding through a house or building. Buildings are immodest projects, structures of protection and property, and these may hold too strongly to the metaphors of construction, building, developing, architecture, and plan. So a person with this feeling of security strides through the building, through a door, around a corner and trips on a younger smaller body hunched against the wall.

‘What are you doing there?’ ‘Skirting’ says the hunched body not looking up, but carefully placing a timber against the wall and tapping in a few nails. The strokes are even, with no climax characteristic of usually hammering. No. This is tapping.

A face lifts from the work, looking up at the passer by. The passer by looks past the face to the timber. Its runs down the hall and around the corner. Another enters from the opposite wall and runs back towards them, another stretching further away. For a moment he forgets where is was going and the word gets stuck in his head, gathering his forehead into a frown as it enters. Skirting.

One can also skirt a forest or a lake, taking account of the terrain and one’s limitations. But skirting is not this innocent. Skirting avoids, and ignores. It is perhaps a little cunning, and one who skirts the ‘issue’ is not to be trusted.

[From Skirting]


a gesture

I am thinking of a blog not as a repository, but a part of knowledge production. In my case, partly as a portfolio that might give me opportunities to continue being involved in research, writing and thinking, but also as a places to make connections, push things around, to educate and to learn. To be generous with what I put up and be thankful of people’s contributions. It is only one thing and I still used and value email, phone and person to person communication. Often these are better and therefore there is not posting to the blog, except by me. Over all it is about engagement and collective work – of the kind of science Donna Haraway talk’s about:

Science becomes the myth, not of what escapes human agency and responsibility in a realm above the fray, but, rather, of accountability and responsibility for translations and solidarities linking the cacophonous visions and visionary voices that characterize the knowledges of the subjugated. A splitting of senses, a confusion of voice and sight, rather than clear and distinct ideas, becomes the metaphor for the ground of the rational. We seek not the knowledges ruled by phallogocentrism (nostalgia for the presence of the one true Word) and disembodied vision. We seek those ruled by partial sight and limited voice-not partiality for its own sake but, rather, for the sake of the connections and unexpected openings situated knowledges make possible. Situated knowledges are about communities, not about isolated individuals” – 580

[From a gesture]

time in Gapuwiyak

“Every year this happens. Every year the shearers come, every year there is tis adventure and excitement. It will never end; there is no reason why it should ever end, as long as there are years.”

It is our second year here. As long as there are years, you can have a second year, and a third, a forth and so on. And as long as you can have a second year life comes into a fresh relief. You can think about altering your routines, become grateful for the good things that continue, reserve your some energy by out maneuvering the bad ones. Last year was a year of heart break and living inbetween: between languages, between ways of living, between houses, between homes, between families. We are still in between but hopefully a little nimble. We take care in how we rake up the mown grass as we know blistered bleeding skin doesn’t heal in the humidity, we have one dedicated embrace a day as shared experiences aren’t guaranteed, and we are careful of complaining as its immediate catharsis of its release only makes it harder to change.

Part of me wants to pursue the logic of ‘as long as there as years’. What about months, days and minutes. ‘As long as there are minutes’ can we live better in the second minute than the first? Right now, I am too keen to get things going to be paying attention to minutes. I have got a new desk and wireless broadband. Perhaps recursion is better suited to constant improvement than reflexivity.

The school had a new beginning too, doing things again and doing things differently. On the first day the Yolŋu staff had organised a cleansing ceremony. Lara and I had come back early especially for this. The stones where gathered, the bark pounded and soaked, and students and teachers gathered. The students and staff, first primary, then secondary men and secondary women, knelt around the fire pits that had heated the stones. Soaked bark was laid on top creating a steam that was held in by sheets covering the assembly of bodies. After each person had to bite a hot rock covered in bark to feel the heat that was at once energizing and disciplining. It was a powerful moment, too powerful for some of the little kids who cried, causing some of the teachers to watch the children out of the corner of their eye as their teeth clamped down on the bark. But elders and parents supported the children, standing next to them holding them.

At the end of the ceremony, one staff member said how it was like any school and than many school’s would have had mass today. She said all these ceremonies are just ‘people rituals’, as we are one humanity. It made me feel uneasy, though at the time I probably nodded at the positive comment, the likes of which were not certain to be forth coming. The comment put a frown on my face until late that night when I thought: they got out of trying to understand anything of the ceremony. It was the immediate resolution of difference that worried me. Such a quick move to become ‘we are all the same’ that can easily close off mutual learning across a difference. The next day I read of transcript of a senior Yolŋu man talking about education: “That is the gap that we want to close up, that we’re Yolngu people sitting on the land, saying that that rock is actually alive.”

I have been working on and off at the school. One day I was printing something out and needed a man to move away from the printer so I could put more paper in. He was on the phone. I asked him once and he didn’t seem hear. I looked up at him and he was signing softly down the phone. If he wasn’t so focussed on the phone I would have been certain that he was simply on hold and signing as many men often do. I said his name again. “Don’t. Someone has died”, an older man said next to me. I immediately tried to make myself as small as possible in the office. In year two. mistakes are still frequent.

Although we are keen to be back; happy and a little more confident, I am hanging onto the simplicity of the premise “as long as there are years”. In Coetzee’s novel from where I have taken it, it is clearly naïve, more an expression of the immediacy of boyhood than anything else. Last year, Lara and I were told by a lady that photos of her coffin would be sent to us when she dies. I remarked, ‘we might still be here!’ ‘No, you won’t’ came the reply. At least it is good enough motto with which begin a second year.

[From time in Gapuwiyak]

showing not telling

“A limited point of view is wonderful as a device; when, for example, there’s a fist person narrative talking to us and that character lacks self insight. For a reader, that is a marvellous experience, to be filling in the insight that the character doesn’t have about themselves.

When we use that old adage of showing not telling, what we’re showing is insight into a character that the character doesn’t have about themselves, the stuff they’re trying to keep hidden without realising that they are. That creates a beautiful, vivid and evocative space for the reader to immerse themselves in. Lack of self-insight can be used for great comic effect or dramatic effect, or create poignancy or great suspense.” Kate Kennedy interview in Overland 193.

This technique, ‘limited point of view’ or ‘showing not telling’ as Kate calls it, I have often used. For people like me, writing where partiality (embraced in both meanings), situatedness and modesty are virtues in one’s methodology showing not telling seems to work. It seems to be a style perfect for the task. You use first person narratives, showings you own ignorances, limitations and muddled practices. For people like me, also wanting to open up possibilities, different ways to go on, ‘showing not telling’ can also be created by making stark the limitations of a seemingly self evident reality, and hence the possibilities of other realities. And as Kate clearly puts it, this type of writing is often very engaging to read.

But it can be done in bad faith. It is too easy to show the limitations of others, use there ignorance for ‘comic effect’ and release from other wise dry academic genre (wild caricatures are the worst form of this). And as authors, it is too easy to build suspense simply to add rhetorical force to your conclusion. After re-readnig interviews, fieldwork stories, watching video footage over and over again, it is easy to feel like little can hide from us, we are with the reader now ‘filling in the insight’, and this for of reflexive move silently reverses the modesty we set up with humorous stories of our own flounderings.

[From showing not telling]