The Filters of Culture

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Been thinking about filters lately.  Filters in different forms.  Not so much your common water filter or your pool filter because ... well, they're not really all that exciting.  The filters that hinder our views and determine our paradigms - these are maybe as unexciting to some (definitely far more scary), but for me there is something about being reminded that I do not see everything which gives me some sort of comfort, somehow.  It is as if it balances out one of the more terrified voices of The Cast of Thousands which insists, in PTSD fashion, that I must stay vigilant at all time, and see everything.

Reading across the interwebs recently has brought me across several different examples of filtering.  I recently read an interesting account of a writer's group in Tennant Creek, in the Northern Territory.  Composed of indigenous and non-indigenous writers, it was interesting to read about the different focusses in the writing - the indigenous wrote mainly about the land, and the non-indigenous about their feelings, their place in relation to the world.  Ktima Heathcote writes:
The Aboriginal writers mainly wrote about the land, their country, as so evocatively expressed by Maureen O’Keefe and Valerie Nelson, two writers from Ali Curung, a community about 170 kilometres south of Tennant. Unconstrained by the straitjacket of ‘correct English’, there’s a natural rhythm in the way Aboriginal writers express themselves. Sure, it’s raw technically, but the power and beauty of their words is undeniable. Like the surrounding countryside, harsh and uncompromising during drought, green now due to rain, their voice seeps into your skin and ignites an ancient, almost forgotten part of you.
The non-Aboriginal writers of the group showed more structural complexity in their work, focusing more on feelings and how they see themselves in relation to the world. It’s an avenue not commonly explored by Aboriginal writers out here, but excavating memories and personal experience for their rich emotional content is starting to fuel the work of established writers such as Rosemary Plummer and David C. Curtis, both of whom are NT Literary Award winners. Holt said at the time of the retreat she loved the fact that ‘there were whitefellas as well as blackfellas’ in the group. It made for the most enriching experience of literary cultures; using language as a means to move forwards together. She believed the idea of having a well-planned and inclusive writing retreat in an area often overlooked by funding bodies would create a kernel of hope for the literary minds of this region. And she was right. Less than a year later, in July 2010, Barkly Writers’ Ink was born. With the aid of an Arts NT Community grant of $5000 came the opportunity for a core group of writers from the Barkly to meet on a regular basis to write, provide support and professional development, network, mentor each other, and learn about the craft of writing and the publishing industry.

I am a white honky Melburnite, who has never yet made it to the Top End and is thirsting to. That is where you go in this country to find Aboriginal culture because, quite frankly, the first 150 years of genocide was so successful that you will find very little on the eastern seaboard unless it's in small enclaves or being sold as safe art in souvenir shops.

My homeland has long held a duality for me ~ it feels like home.  It has sunk into my bones, so that I feel as if I could blend into the bark of a eucalyptus just about as easily as a kookaburra does.  The ground stirs in my guts.  But I don't know it in my ancestral bones.  The culture I come from clings to the outsides of the continent, scared of it, lives largely apart from it in urban centres.  The differences in indigenous and non-indigenous approaches to the different ways of viewing ourselves is so linked to the history of our country.  The blood from that genocide surely still cries from the ground, making us non-indigenes uneasy about our  place here in our home.  We view it as alien, hostile, inhospitable.  We do not yet know it intimately.

I think also the differences highlight, as Mark Vernon suggests in his post What is Lost When We Learn to Write, the differences between an oral and a written culture.  It is ironic that this is reflected in a writing group in Tennant Creek, but the vestiges of an oral culture still remain.  How could there not be a noticeable difference for a culture which sang itself across the land, which survived for hundreds of thousands of years on such a dry continent, which knew where to dig for water and food.  Knew that the land was full of good bush tucker and beauty.  A beauty which the white honkies couldn't even really see for decades, their eyes filtering beauty via visions of the motherland, of the deep greens that come from a colder climate and more rain.

The more you abstract things out there - into words, into books - which I love, and am grateful for, and adore - the more you give a tiny little piece of yourself away, a piece which was yours when you were the book, and the land was the page.

There's been a conversation going on at Pilgrim's Moon about Can You Create True Community Online?  And here again, I see the same thing at work - because communicating online is also another filter.  In the comments to that post, WOL made the observations that:
No matter what kind of interactions people have, both sides are at least one “remove” from each other–Don’t we always edit and “spin” our face-to -face interactions with each other? Don’t we always have ways of re-inventing ourselves to suit our needs. If you met Dolly Partin without the wig and makeup, you’d probably never recognize her. That’s a kind of filter. — filters between ourselves and the world — I think the online community thing is the same idea, only with one more layer of reality filtering.

That old cartoon of dogs at a computer comes to mind — one tells the other, “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Because you are not interacting face to face, and you don’t have that immediate feedback, because there are so many barriers between you and who you are interacting with, I think people tend to be more candid, more “up front” because they don’t have that instant visual feedback. I think the internet has a way of lowering inhibitions. People will say things on the internet they would never dream of saying in person — cyberbullying is a case in point.
This is always the challenge - learning to understand what we are ignorant of.  Those technologies and methodologies and all the other ologies which have brought us so far and made life so much easier in some ways ~ they have also filtered our perceptions, changed our paradigms, and in some ways removed us without our knowledge from the simple, beautiful earth and from each other as co-sharers and carers of that earth.  The way back involves learning how to be rooted in the earth, knowing our dependence on it, on the simple, beautiful ways, the ones that cannot be spreadsheeted.


  1. "...the indigenous wrote mainly about the land, and the non-indigenous about their feelings, their place in relation to the world..." - this struck me strongly, Sue. It speaks to me of 'oneness' and 'separation' respectively. Beautiful, thoughtful post. Thanks.

  2. That's very interesting, because I've always written about both (land and self, that is). Does that mean I'm half aborigine? :) I think it's all intertwined and interconnected and interdependent, and my world of self reacts and relates strongly to the natural spaces.

    And then, while our technologies have driven us separate from the natural world, in other ways it has created space and opportunity for a new world of people, their graces and loves and challenges and their worries, even, about the indigent people of their native lands. I feel like while I might be a bit more detached from trees here (although I work to foster it), I know so much more about the trees (and all that's natural, including culture) in Australia and Wales and South Africa and Alabama and southern California, and all those other places where there are people who now take a piece of my heart with them wherever they go in their native space.

    I agree about the sense of balance that comes from the equinox, like you said on Fb. I have felt that way today, too. 

  3. Thanks, Harry.  It struck me, too. 

  4. It is all intertwined and interconnected, isn't it.

    I agree that technologies create space and opportunity too.  I guess I wasn't feeling so and/or about technology as may have come across in this post.  I guess I just really feel HOW easy it is to be disconnected now, with our technologies making it possible for us to important oranges from over the other side of the world when that kind of bullshit just shouldn't happen.  Not when the ships bypass a whole bunch of starving people to get from one place to the other - just seems obscene.

    But yeah, technology is great too.  I think of places like Kiva, that does enable people to help redress the balance.  I love the way you describe how good it is to be able to become so intimately knowledgeable of other people and their environments because of this amazing thing called the interwebs :)


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