Tag Archives: Inga Clendinnen

Self Flagellation

In the dark old days of Mao’s China, erring party disciples would, if they were exceptionally lucky, be made to write self-criticisms.  In these documents, the straying member of the flock would abase themselves, detail their crimes against the collective and swear to be a better and truer comrade in the future.  For all I know, this sort of thing still goes on.

In the short life of this blog, I find I have urinated copiously from the lofty internet heights on Robert Frost, Inga Clendinnen, Nick Hornby, Francis Collins, Emma Beare, Don DeLillo, Ron Rash, Madeleine St John, Andrew Porter, Bret Easton Ellis, Margaret Atwood, Norman McGreevy, Michael Leunig, Colleen McCullough, J D Salinger (the day after he died), Bryce Courtenay and Tim Winton.  Well over twenty per cent of my posts, in other words, have been more or less slavering attacks.

The tables must turn, however.  In the interests of fairness, I’m going to have a go at me.  Ladies and gentlemen, the scorpion is about to sting himself.  Let the Mao-style self-criticism begin.  I direct this not to Mao, but to George Orwell, whose Politics and the English Language is and shall always be my final guide to writing.  The idea of taking up a totalitarian epistolary notion and directing it at Orwell is grievously inappropriate, but I can’t resist. Continue reading


Pashing Agamemnon

Everyone knows – in theory – how to write an essay, but very few people can write them to really high standards.

Excellent essays can begin with the author in a state of frank confusion: Montaigne not only invented the form, he made an art form out of just such beginnings.  But Montaigne never reached the end of an essay without having achieved a pellucid certainty about his topic.  You are never confused at the end of his essays, much as you and he may be at the start of them.

Now that’s the kind of trick that very few essayists can be trusted to turn ever, let alone at will.

Inga Clendinnen wrote an indispensable book on the dawn of European occupied Australia: Dancing With Strangers.  The central message of Dancing With Strangers was that 1788 need not have been (indeed did not at the time look like being) the cusp of various cultures’ destruction.  This message is a useful one to remember when reflecting on Australia’s modern history, and all the more so as our history sidles haltingly into the twenty-first century. Continue reading