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.

5 thoughts on “Self indulgent writing or whistleblowing?”

  1. There are people out there who never put their names on things. I get comments all the time from people who I only know by their screen names. And that's fine. The question is: what are they really hiding? Asking for a bit of privacy is one thing. We all appreciate a bit of privacy. But it is in the nature of being a writer that we give up a level of anonymity because people being people are very curious creatures. On the whole though I find that people online recognise this and (probably because they want to be afforded the same level of respect) don't pry overly much. No one yet has asked me what my daughter's name is for example. I've made no secret who my wife is since we're a couple and she is heavily involved in my life as a writer but my daughter is simply my daughter and she deserves her privacy.

    People feel more comfortable when they have a name to work with and even more comfortable when they can put a face to that name. It affords the relationship a level of reality. For all I know you could be a builder from Brixton called Bert but I choose to trust that you're the woman in the photo. I don't need the photo and I have several online friends who I have no idea what they look like but it's always nicer I find to have a visual image in ones head.

    I can see where your daughter is coming from and although I understand why she might recommend that I'm not sure that you would feel as good about yourself in you felt you had to hide behind an avatar. Youngsters are acutely aware of the need to protect themselves online but I'm not so sure that applies quite so much to older folk as long as we play nice. Of course there will be consequences. That's a part of being alive. They're unavoidable.

    Perhaps I'm naïve. I actually suspect that I am. One can be quite controversial though and get away with it as long as you're respectful of other people's opinions. I'm not a know-it-all so I don't sell myself as one but if I know that something is so then I'll state that . . . and be willing to provide my reasons or sources. People don't have to agree with me but what a boring world it would be if they all did.

    I can understand the reason for the hoax but knowing about things like that builds up a level of distrust that I think we can all do without. We simply have to accept that everyone has something they want to hide and move on. Just because I have things I want to keep secret doesn't mean that I want to keep everything in my life secret. You just need to know what the parameters are. If you talk about something on your blog then I assume that you are looking for a response within the framework of that post. Okay, you've mentioned you have a daughter too. That's nice but it's clearly not central to the theme so why so I allow my curiosity to take us off-topic? A modicum of self-control is all that's needed.

    It's nearly 5:30 in the morning and I've been up since 2:30 and I can assure you if anyone looks grey then I do. Don't let my photo fool you.

  2. Wonderful thoughts, Jim. Thanks. I shall write more on this when I have time. For now it's Monday morning and the day's work beckons.

    Just one question – however do you manage to write so lucidly at such a late hour?

  3. I'm basically nocturnal, Elizabeth, at least my body wants to be. Society says I should sleep through the night and work from nine till five but my body's having none of that not while it can get its own way anyway. It's four in the morning just now. I went to bed just after twelve and I was up at half-two. I'll try and go back to bed soon but I may well not sleep. I could be up till the back of one when Carrie generally takes her nap and maybe I'll have an hour or two then. I'm always at my most lucid in the early hours. The drugs muck me around like no one's business but a good night's sleep is not the answer. There have been days when I've slept for eight, even nine hours straight and woken up as if the night's given me a good doing. And sometimes that afternoon nap can have the same effect and I get nothing done for the rest of the day. My basic policy is to work when I can for as long as I can. I woke up at two-thirty like I said and had a first read-through of a book of poetry I've said I might review. Nothing much went in. I guess I wasn't as clear-headed as I thought. I have time though, it's not due till January but I want it out of the way or at least its back broken.

  4. I got here via (Latin!) your comment on the Latin bumper sticker at SLWCats place.
    I am with your daughter. Never put anyone's whole name in a blog comment or your own anywhere online.
    If I have to I run them together to evade them getting a result when they Guugle themselves ie KevinRudd.
    I had a very bad experience when I mentioned a person far away in a comment. Years after, despite their common names, let's say it was JohnBaker, he must have waded through 468 pages of results to get to it, and a family rift (irrepairable) resulted.

    I am now too timid to comment on certain femmo political blogs because other very RUDE commentors have attacked me for old-fashioned opinions. I think it is rude to attack visitors to someone elses blog, eg if I attacked Jim above, when we are both guests at your blog. I could possibly attack him at my own place and it would be slightly less offensive.
    I really hate all the nastiness in blogland and only visit nice blogs.

  5. I have been wondering about this idea of only visiting 'nice' blogs.

    I'd like to think it were possible, to visit only nice places, but still your thoughts have made me wonder yet again : Is it worthwhile reading some of those harsh and cruel 'political' blogs?

    They remind me of parliament in session. The comments often lack any empathy or concern for real people. They have that disembodied quality, a bit like road rage.

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