My 2022 Reading List Part 3

Welcome to part 3 of chronological list of why I can’t form an emotional connection with other human beings – see part 1 and/or part 2. Here I picked up the rest of the First Knowledges series and binged those in between various other works for university essays.

Black Politics: Inside the Complexity of Aboriginal Political Culture – Sarah Maddison

A book on Indigenous politics by a white person, this is actually a really comprehensive look at Black politics in Australia up to 2009 when it was published. I asked my Indigenous Politics lecturer at university, who was (sigh of relief) Indigenous, about it and she said it was an excellent starting point that brought together writings and interviews from multiple voices. Alongside The White Possessive talked about in part 2, this helped inform, or at least led me to other sources for, my own writing in this space.

What really made it work, as a book by a non-Indigenous person, was that it never made suggestions or took sides – Maddison explored the complexity and handled arguments from different “sides” among First Nations’ voices. I would highly recommend it as an accessible primer on a topic there’s much to learn about.

Tampering With Asylum: A Universal Humanitarian Problem – Frank Brennan

Published in 2003, this book is a little dated but it does provide some history and context to the more current asylum seeker debates. Not the most interesting book on the topic, but what is noteworthy is that the author is a (small l) liberal who is sincere in their political convictions. Liberalism has it’s flaws and, in practice, is often just a cover for violent imperialist and capitalist exploitation, but there is something to be said about the basic ideals of it, particularly as a bouncing off point for more libertarian and socialist frameworks. In this case, the humanitarian aspect of liberalism shines through, despite often being veiled by “national security” and plain racism.

Another interesting sidenote was the reference to Gough Whitlam’s comments on Vietnamese refugees – “I’m not having hundreds of fucking Vietnamese Balts coming into this country with their religious and political hatreds against us!” Referenced here.

The Universe Next Door – Marcus Chown

Small pop-sci book, also from the early 2000s but, being physics and cosmology, arguably more dated. Still a fun little book discussing things like the multiverse. I can’t think of any specific examples, and don’t have the book on hand to review, but one aspect of reading older science books is being able to go “ah, we now know the answer to that” or “there have been major strides in research and capabilities since then”. Goes to show, from one perspective, how science is not a wholly objective and static field, but living and dynamic like all human endeavours.

Crimes Against Nature: Capitalism and Global Heating – Jeff Sparrow

Despite the title, this book by Jeff Sparrow is a rather optimistic book. It goes through a fairly standard list of issues and environmental abuses but with enough detail for new ideas and information. For instance, I don’t think this was the first place I read about it (maybe Merchants of Doubt?), but the fact that we knew the science (at its most elementary level) of greenhouse gas emissions in the late 1800s is always a fun fact to surprise people with. Never mind the fact that the US government knew in the 1950s that emissions were going up and could cause issues (coinciding with the rise of the US as a global hegemon), or that fossil fuel companies researched and buried similar results two decades later before it becoming one of the largest public conversations of the 21st Century. We had the means to know this almost 150 years ago.

I was also able to tell a university class I was in about the origins of the term “jaywalking” from this book – originally it was “jay-driving”, driving dangerously on public roads with pedestrians, but car manufacturers over time twisted it and made people the problem and roads the possession of their products.

Songlines: The Power and Promise – Margo Neale | Lynne Kelly

This is the first book in the First Knowledges series on Indigenous topics – the third of which, Country, is in part 1 – as I found and bought all of the currently released books together. This one talked about the Songlines – a part of Indigenous culture that I had never heard of beforehand but which is the basis for all Indigenous knowledge and story. Not only do they spread all over Country, but also the sky (i.e. space and the stars) and sea. There are physical landmarks that help convey the stories being told, whether it’s the Seven Sisters’ journey or the location of a particular food being cultivated.

The other half of the Songlines is the rich oral history and memory techniques. Rather than writing, knowledge and story in First Nations’ societies was passed down orally, with different knowledge being granted to people based on their role and age. Instead of books, this knowledge is stored in the land as well – a certain landmark may contain a story that when the speaker recalls it, they can remember the story associated with it too. This method of storing knowledge is one I’d never heard of – and admittedly I would be terrible at, I’m happy to keep outsourcing to the books I own – but it is incredibly successful.

If you can associate a place or object with a particular set of knowledge or a story, you can train your brain to think of it when you see or think of said place or object. This also appeared to be the method of the orators of ancient civilisations like the Greeks, with epics by the likes of Homer being recited ostensibly by associating the story with a walk through the city streets. And the results are good – there are stories told by Indigenous people dating back 20,000 years ago that have been verified, such as volcano eruptions and stories about land that, with changes in climate, was revealed and reclaimed by the sea on the coastlines.

Perhaps the most important thing about the Indigenous “way of knowing” is that, unlike in Western disciplines, everything is connected. Law, science, history, religion, everything is connected to each other and is connect in some way to Country. Where I pick up a history book to learn history, or a science book to learn about a specific scientific field, a particular story, song, landmark, dance, etc. could contain pieces of knowledge that encompass various “topics”. It’s just a fascinating and different way of viewing the world than what I grew up with and use, which is highlighted by the fact that the series is a book series that is complemented by other outlets and exhibitions. This “third way” is the purpose of the series, combining Western and First Nations’ knowledge and ways of knowing.

Design: Building on Country – Alison Page | Paul Memmott

This one (the second First Knowledges book), admittedly, I did not read all of. I have zero interest in design, so much of the content I had no interest in reading. What was cool, however, was reading about how Indigenous people approach design – not just the object being designed, but also how it is made, with what, and for what purpose. All of this is, as above, connected and it all has a place. I am sure there is a better source dedicated more to just the theory and philosophy, but this was a good introduction to it.

Astronomy: Sky Country – Karlie Noon | Krystal de Napoli

The fourth in the First Knowledges series, this one was perhaps the one I questioned or misunderstood the purpose of. It drew heavily from the Songlines book, focussing on Sky Country – the stars and planets visible in the night sky. Like many other cultures, First Nations’ people looked to the stars for navigation and story. There were some constellations, such as the Dark Emu, that incorporated the dark spaces between the stars as well, and that throughout the year as the stars moved across the sky let people know when it was emu breeding season or when was the time to collect emu eggs.

My hesitation with this book isn’t that the knowledge and culture involved isn’t worthy in its own right, but trying to tie it to modern cosmology is a bit of a stretch. Astronomers though they were – and brilliant ones at that – cosmologists and astrophysicists they weren’t. The authors are though, and the value of the book in the combination of the two types of knowledges.

The Men and the Boys – Raewyn Connell

This was an interesting book drawing from various studies around Australia about gender, in particular masculine expressions of it. The most interesting concept I got from it was the hierarchy of masculinities, with some being hegemonic and others suppressed. An obvious example talked about by Connell is homosexual men, or just men experimenting with homosexuality, versus the dominant heteronormative society. Perhaps a little niche, but it was a quick one I read for university.

The World News Prism: Digital, Social and Interactive – William Hachten | James Scotton

This was not a particularly interesting book, another university reading that could have been a series of more relevant journal articles.

Journalism Across Cultures: An Introduction – Levi Obijiofor | Folker Hanusch

And another one – you cannot get more 101 on a topic, and as someone who has been interested in journalism, both local and international, there was very little here I did not know of that was of use. Most of it was also just citing statistics which, given it’s a decade old, could really use an updated version. Anything for a lecturer to get their book on a course reading list I suppose.

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