Not half as nice
Nothing jolts a writer like finding that her book has been read in serious discord with her intentions and produced the last effect she’d have wanted. Heather Neilson (ABR, October 2002) thinks I’m ‘preaching’ and condemning to outer darkness those who don’t agree with me. This is disquieting, but also salutary. However other reviewers may differ – and they do – Dr Neilson has a right to her own reading of How Simone de Beauvoir Died in Australia. I’m sorry she found no pleasure in my book; but, acknowledging her seriousness, I respond to the question she raises twice in the course of the review: for whom was it intended? The answer is: for any and every reader, not only academics, for whom the shifts and struggles of the liberal conscience are never finished with, and for whom such struggles, as they are lived out, make stories worth telling. It’s also for those who share the sense that carrying Australian nationality is now a more complicated and troublesome business than we once supposed – not half as nice, in fact. In that framework, I’ve proposed that the legacies of writers such as Beauvoir and Raymond Williams have important things to offer and tried to explore how. Since the questions raised by their and others’ works are left alive but unresolved, there’s no ‘preaching’ to the ‘converted’ or anyone else. Ethical exploration isn’t preaching; the speaking position isn’t from a rostrum or pulpit, but from within argumentative milieux that are both divided in the present and shifting over time. I think this is made clear, particularly from the elements of memoir in the book.