Sunday, September 10, 2017

the indigenous imitation game

"Man is a creature who makes pictures of himself and then comes to resemble the pictures”
- Iris Murdoch, Existentialists and Mystics, p. 75
“the magical power of replication, the image affected by what it is an image of, wherein the representation shares in or takes power from the represented”
- Francesca Merlin (1998), p. 150 quoting Michael Taussig (1993)
Most of us, white fellas, have images of the indigenous “problem”. Some of us even have images of the indigenous “solution”.

Ever since Whitlam, 45 years ago now, indigenous self determination has been on the table. The indigenous will determine their own future. Old style, immoral, coercive assimilation into white culture will be a shameful thing of the past.

Into this power vacuum step indigenous thought leaders who map out the requirements for self determination.

Is this real? Or is it more an imitation of an image of what aboriginality is meant to be. An attractive delusion for the guilt ridden white middle classes down south. (Please, please someone fix this problem, this terrible shame in our nation's history)

The reality is that aboriginal culture was never a unity but divided into more than 100 different tribes with differing language and cultures. Those different cultures are now positioned in a complex limbo somewhere in between their old partly forgotten, partly degraded traditions and western culture, the good, the bad and the ugly.
“Representations of Aboriginality as made most powerfully by others come to affect who and what Aborigines consider themselves to be. The imitative relation as lived out in Australia has rested on the assumption that Aboriginal cultural production continues to be autonomous from what previously sought to encompass or displace it. Further, the relation often requires from Aborigines demonstrations of the autonomy and long standing nature of what is seen of their cultural production.”
- Francesca Merlin (1998)
Caging the Rainbow by Francesca Merlin (1998)


mimesis: an attempt to imitate or reproduce reality

Imitation is inferior to the real thing. In imitation we select something from the coninuum of experience. We create boundaries that don't really exist.

Humans create texts, poetry. We have a strong urge to represent reality. Imitation may approach reality but is not quite real.

Plato distrusted art and poetry. Divine madness. It may persuade by rhetoric rather than truth. It is seductive.

mimesis₁: actual praxis (ethnomethodology), real life, day to day drama. Marx called this sensual human activity. What people in real life actually do.

This makes ethnomethodology a radical alternative to all other forms of research

mimesis₂: a created world, a world of text. This world works well on paper using abstractions from the real world. If it describes practice then that description is not really practice but a formalisation of practice. This is not an argument against abstraction as such. But abstraction should only be introduced when it has a clear empirical use and can be verified in actual human behaviour.

mimesis₃: a theorisation or reconfiguration of mimesis2 by academics or bureaucrats three steps remote from the actual praxis.

We hear complaints from teachers who often state that what they learn in university courses is of little use in their actual praxis; and that their praxis is little if at all captured is the theories that they encounter in their university courses. The same point applies to education department documents such as the new national curriculum, which is meant to act as a guideline for teaching practice. Teachers end up turning themselves into knots trying to make their more realistic programmes conform to the supposedly higher level theory.

Reference: The Mathematics of Mathematics: Thinking with the late, Spinozist Vygotsky by Wolff-Michael Roth (2017), p. 22 and pp. 30-32. The link goes to a pdf of Chapter one.
Wikipedia: mimesis