tedious and mean
Content warning the settler-colonial project etc
My opinion of Dark Emu, based on several flicks in and out a few years ago, amounted to grave disappointment in each of raving book-lender, skilled story-teller, and exciting publisher.
The second of the three, Bruce Pascoe, achieved the most monumental feat — especially for such a practiced raconteur and fierce devotee of his thesis — of rendering the inexhaustibly rich and intricate an aching bore. Extruded from a staunchly colonial corpus, observations (and more so their concomitant filters) were massed so carelessly over the argument of the book as to homogenise, beyond any real remnant intelligibility, the author’s representation of the pre-Invasion world(s) that he sought to (of all incongruous, unnecessary things) exonerate.
Shockingly, throughout each of the fumbling passages that I read, Uncle’s own framings and phrasings were disparaging and elitist; colluding in the task of replicating Western empire’s wrenchings of cultures into its dehumanising hierarchy, perpetuating the same ideological enormity upon which the lie of terra nullius fed, feeds. Rather than challenge the chauvinisms of British-cum-Australian occupation, the text sought to reposition the continent’s Aboriginal civilisation (including, on the odd moment he remembered, that of Zenadth Kes) more prestigiously within reinforced models of those. Scant to no understanding was demonstrated that one might celebrate, say, achievements in urban planning, without belittling those engaged in nomadic practices; or that farmers and foragers might both be respectable, deserving of self-determination in relationship with land/waters, or in no way fair game for genocide. (Being in selective quotation), citations even from settlers known to have gone in for overt massacre often came across the milder.
Yet as a speaker, Pascoe has the benefit of some charisma, the invocation of his more dependable and thoughtful — choice — public insights. It becomes easier to tolerate the dry and the spiteful, melded into the patient delivery of a casually cruel character who burbles on with or without the listener’s collaboration; where to read print (for meaning) is to necessarily engage in the cognitive manifestation of oncoming ideas, judgements, conceptualisations in a more immediate way, which (in such lifelessly skatable writing especially) can leave them overwhelmingly raw. But the audiobook is in, mostly, the kind of dreary Reading Aloud Voice that seems to take any attention for granted. Forty anorak-modelling minutes between structural thrusts can soften a text. As can ambiguity of quotations’ extents.
Still, in speech too, Dark Emu is worded to make its distance by the white, outmoded, institutional (even quasi-assimilationist?) book and throw societies under the bus. It serves as a project of pandering, a betrayal, a rejection of solidarity, robbings of validity, shoring up of shonky-scientific supposition, and a push to gamble entire peoples’ standing on a single proposition: an all too eager appeal to racism and its mechanisms of oppression.