A Response to Ken Gelder’s review “Reading Stephen Muecke’s Ancient and Modern: Time, Culture, and Indigenous Philosophy”

by Stephen Muecke

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Ken Gelder’s review can be read here

I appreciate the attention Ken Gelder has paid to my work, more than once over the years. I think we both recognise the importance of intellectual dialogue, as well as documentation. But I feel he has missed the point of my book Ancient & Modern, so I’d like to respond, but without boring the readers by going into a lot of detail. I’d rather just pitch some statements to make it clearer what I thought the book was about.

  • This was not a book I wrote to ‘articulate’ or ‘describe’ Aboriginal philosophy, as if it were out there to be discovered by yet another whitefella. In saying at the beginning that I wanted to ‘open the door onto the possibility of an indigenous philosophy’, I stated I wanted to write an experimental rather than a reference book. I noted the absence of both Aboriginal philosophy and Australian philosophy as areas of study and publication, on which topics, I said, ‘there can be no final word’.
  • The crucial point of Ancient & Modern is not to align the blackfellas with the ancient, and the whitefellas with the modern. I attempted a non-progressive definition of culture that, with Walter Benjamin, identifies the necessary to-ing and fro-ing between ancient and modern forms which characterises all cultures.
  • I did not say that Aboriginal people ‘are connected singularly to feeling, intuition’. This phrase is not in the book (Ken cites it as being on p. 170). To align people in this way would be to primitivise them, and Ken knows me better than that. But to say that attention to intuitions could be taken into account would be to go along with august political theorist William Connolly, whom I cite on p.174.
  • Mimesis is not about ‘what you see is exactly what you get’, as Ken says. Check Taussig’s Mimesis and Alterity again.
  • Why would anyone ‘[wish] that all Australians could be equally “indigenous”’?
  • What’s the point of saying I have neglected work by urban Aborigines, or by women, and what percentage will clear me of this charge? The book starts with a film of Rachel Perkins, and I use, among others, the philosophies of Coral Edwards, Marcia Langton, Mary Graham, Debbie Rose and Fiona Magowan. The last two women are not indigenous, at least, I’m pretty sure Fiona isn’t.

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