Reading the Tracker: The Antinomies of Aboriginal Ventriloquism

Jonathan Dunk
unpublished
I acknowledge the elders of the Ngunnawall past and present, on whose land this work was first read, the elders of Wangal past and present, upon whose land I live and work, and the elders of the Wonnarua and of Yadhaykenu past and present, from whose history this narrative emerges, none of whom ceded sovereignty. This paper traverses an array of theories and disciplines bearing on the representation and interpretation of Aboriginal people within the narratives of colonial Modernity and the
more » ... tutions of Western scholarship descended from these narratives. While these discourses occupy contiguous spaces, their fault-lines articulate ongoing contradictions within Australian cultural discourse, and between that discourse and its material conditions. The rise of Aboriginal Literature, as such, and of global Indigenous Studies, has further illuminated the inability of classical textual analysis to describe certain forms of difference. This deficiency was demonstrated by the post-structural turn, but not, it seems, substantively understood or implemented, and present conditions demand a more urgent reconfiguration of the assumed relationships between writing, interpretation and culture. In his sweeping pedagogy Trans-Indigenous (2012), Chadwick Allen argues that the structures of 'orthodox' literary studies have largely restrained rather than enlarged the ability of interpretation to ethically or accurately reckon forms of literary and philosophical meaning that are outside, and antithetical to, the axioms of Modernity. This makes penetrating sense in light of the theological origins of philology and criticism in typology and hermeneutics-both of which are structured to maintain identity and contiguity with a metaphysical origin. Anxious disciplinary preferences for certain forms of relation and the corresponding erasure of others are further exacerbated in the context of the settler state, where the interpretation of Indigenous culture continues to be structured by the false curatorial terms of survey and 'celebration,' which wittingly or otherwise reiterate 'old regimes for the regulation of authenticity' (xxxii). This history presents the contemporary, non-Indigenous scholar with a series of obdurate methodological problems. One of these is the antinomy between historicism and theory. Their assumed lucidity makes historical research and close reading intuitive tools to address the structures of ongoing dispossession, but these disciplines and the assumptions that buttress them have been shown to be intricately complicit with the erasure and ventriloquism of Aboriginal presence. As Maria Nugent and Felix Driver have shown, among others, the exploration archive is explicitly structured against the recognition of Indigenous labour (Nugent, 67; Driver, 8). If we add to this structure the epistemological problems of curation, dictation and redaction involved in what colonial literature of Aboriginal presence the archive retains, then historicist methods can be seen to be at least as likely to distort as to illuminate this particular field. A comparable problem attends the more abstract methods of critical theory, if such can be opposed to historicism, in that their estranging force is liable to obscure material realities beneath any narratives dislodged and to emphasise the discursive over the material. One of theory's more influential proponents Paul de Man notes the totalising effects of its
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