Yesterday I went along to a Melbourne Writers Festival session on Australian hoaxes, from Ern Malley to Quadrant (one of the panel was my friend Simon Caterson, whose book on hoaxes is out later this year).
Session chair and Meanjin editor Sophie Cunningham began by quoting from an article she had published by Quadrant hoaxer Katherine Wilson, an article I had missed (perhaps because I miss everything that is published in Meanjin).
Wilson briefly rejects a point I made at the time, that this wasn’t a good hoax because it didn’t attack a position associated with Quadrant. In her article as ‘Sharon Gould’, Wilson used her own obsession with GM foods, rather than Quadrant‘s obsession with climate change scepticism.
But another point I made is supported by Wilson’s Meanjin piece. I said that
she wants to discredit Quadrant and Windschuttle in particular not by directly taking issue with what they publish, but by making them look foolish by publishing an article she had booby-trapped with errors and false statements
The real surprise in Wilson’s article is the bizarre source for her political strategy – the English classes of former schoolteacher and Victorian Opposition leader and current Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.
If Wilson is to be believed (maybe Sophie Cunningham is being hoaxed?), not only was she once Robert Doyle’s student but that like the other girls in the class found him to be
a corker; a spunky, charismatic idealist who infected his students with passion.
Or something more erotic than passion. Which isn’t to suggest the girls were hot for him in that way, though some may have been (he later married one of his former students). But in Mr Doyle’s classroom, there was a certain eros—that exquisite intimacy described by the American literary scholar William Deresiewicz as a ‘kind of erotic intensity between student and professor’. This intensity ‘begins with the intellect, that suspect faculty and involves a form of love that is neither erotic nor familial, the only two our culture understands. Eros in the true sense is at the heart of the pedagogical relationship.’
Many of us enjoyed group brain-sex with the splendid Mr Doyle—but it was his humanity, his kindness, that sealed my love for him.
Clearly the Victorian electorate was missing something. But one of the things that Wilson learned from Doyle was ‘show, don’t tell’. In literature, I presume this means that good novels don’t spell out their message; novels convince emotionally via their story rather than through the logic of an argument.
In politics, I presume ‘show, don’t tell’ means that at one level it doesn’t really matter whether Wilson’s hoax makes much sense in itself, since it neverthless successfully embarrassed a man and a magazine to which she is ideologically opposed. She’s certainly right that it was more effective than writing an article criticising Windschuttle’s views.
Compared to journalism, Wilson writes,
a hoax is easier, more playful and more erotic. It’s more literary and revealing; as a spectacle it is more able to speak truth to power. Why? Because it employs, in the purest sense, literature’s ‘show, don’t tell’ principle, first aroused in me by the erotic Mr Doyle. The Windschuttle hoax didn’t tell folks anything, as journalism does, but I’m still holding out hope that it—and the reactions it spawns—showed them plenty.
Indeed, with a vague hoax like this one there were plenty of theories about what it showed. But nobody would have guessed that it showed that Liberal schoolteachers can inspire left-wing pranksters.