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Zone of the Marvellous: In Search of the Antipodes by Martin Edmond
Auckland University Press, 2007. Reviewed by SCOTT HAMILTON

Over the last couple of decades Martin Edmond has won critical acclaim and a considerable readership with a books that combine autobiography, history, and fiction. Edmond’s 1992 breakthrough book The Autobiography of My Father is a study of his own grief as well as a reconstruction of his father’s passage through postwar provincial New Zealand society; his wonderful 1999 volume The Resurrection of Philip Clairmont combines a hallucinatory journey in search of the late painter’s surviving canvases with memories of the recklessly experimental life Clairmont lived in the 1970s; Chronicles of the Unsung, which was published in 2004, moves between accounts of youthful wanderings in America, Europe and the Pacific and meditations on the fates of Rimbaud and Van Gogh; and the baroque masterpiece Luca Antara mixes memories of the seedy side of Sydney in the ‘70s and ‘80s with the bizarre and violent story of the first European visits to Australia.

In all of the books just mentioned, an autobiographical or semi-autobiographical narrative unfolds between asides which take the reader into recondite and fascinating corners of the past. These asides are made possible by Edmond’s massive reading, but they are shaped by a poetic imagination, rather than by scholarly procedure.
Edmond has sometimes been compared to WG Sebald, the Anglo-German professor whose accounts of walking tours over the drained swamps of East Anglia are punctuated with, and sometimes almost overwhelmed by, asides about the violent history of Europe. Despite the superficial structural similarity between their books, though, Edmond and Sebald treat the relationship between the past and the present in very different ways. Where Sebald contrasts a dour present with the drama and horror of the past, Edmond establishes a much more dynamic relationship between history and the present. The ecstasies, sufferings, and absurdities of the poets, painters and explorers Edmond finds in the past are paralleled in strange and instructive ways in the lives of the characters that live in the present tense of his books. For a generation of Kiwi writers, Edmond’s poetic explosions of the limitations of both literary fiction and scholarly non-fiction have been an inspiration.

Last year Edmond published The Supply Party, a book which retraces the route of the Burke and Wills expedition whilst telling the story of Ludwig Becker, who had the misfortune to be the expedition’s official artist. In his review of The Supply Party in the Kiwi literary journal brief, Jack Ross noted that the book seems more interested in the past than in the present. As he drives north into the Australian Outback that killed Burke, Wills, and Becker, Edmond engages in desultory conversations with locals in bars or hotel lounges, and reports fragments of news or rumour, but his mind moves quickly and hungrily back to the details of the doomed expedition, and to the life and art of the ascetic aesthete Becker.

The present was a fading presence in The Supply Party, but in Zone of the Marvellous: In Search of the Antipodes it has disappeared completely. In place of the old pattern of autobiographical narrative and historical asides, Edmond’s new book offers up eight historical essays connected precariously by a theme. Zone of the Marvellous is, Edmond explains in his introduction, an enquiry into the long history of European fantasies and misperceptions of the South Pacific, written in the ‘neutral and passive’ third person voice favoured by academics and most other writers of non-fiction. Drawing on an improbable variety of primary texts – sweat-stained diaries of sailors, obscure treatises of medieval geographers, the fragments left behind by the conceptual explorers of antique Greece – Edmond works his way through the history of Europeans’ fascination with the liminal ‘southland’ at the bottom of their maps.

Edmond’s abandonment of the structure that worked so well in books like Luca Antara and Chronicles of the Unsung creates a couple of problems for Zone of the Marvellous. One problem is epistemological; the other is structural. In Edmond’s earlier books, his excursions into the past seemed intended to create new contexts for the narratives they interrupted; they asked to be judged as literature, not scholarship. The scholarly format and tone of Zone of the Marvellous means we are inclined to subject the book’s truth-claims to much more rigorous standards. Edmond’s abandonment of the autobiographical narrative that drove most of his earlier books forward also creates structural problems for Zone of the Marvellous, because it leaves the text needing some other way of carrying the reader from page to page and essay to essay.

It seems to me that Edmond struggles to deal with either the epistemological or the structural problems that his turn away from the format of most of his earlier books creates. Although the essays in Zone of the Marvellous show a formidable familiarity with primary sources relating to European conceptions of and early contact with the South Pacific, they are almost innocent of the body of commentary on these sources. The history of the ‘exploration’, (mis)representation, and colonisation of the Pacific is a politically explosive subject, and it has bred an enormous and disputatious literature, as generations of scholars have interrogated the speculations and rationalisations of European adventurers and imperialists, searching for lacunae and distortions, as well as genuine historical and ethnographic insights.

In the introduction to Zone of the Marvellous, Edmond defends his lack of interest in this secondary literature, claiming that he does not ‘read much theory’ because he prefers ‘ideas in things’. But what Edmond calls ‘theory’ is inescapable whenever we study the past, or indeed any aspect of the universe. As philosophers as different as Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn have shown, we can never view even the simplest fact, or indeed fiction, without theoretical presuppositions of some kind. To study the past we must become aware of our presuppositions, convert them into hypotheses, and modify or replace them if they conflict too egregiously with the evidence our research uncovers.

By avoiding an engagement with the secondary literature on his subject, Edmond has not avoided theory: he has simply refused to recognise and interrogate his own presuppositions. As a result, far too many of the claims his book makes are informed by unacknowledged and outdated theories. At one point, for instance, he tells us, without bothering to support the claim with evidence, that ‘all Polynesian societies’ were ‘highly stratified’. This stock proposition of nineteenth century ethnology was long ago demolished by anthropological and archaeological research revealing the diversity of the sixty-odd societies that make up Polynesia. Peoples like the Tongans and the Hawaiians certainly evolved intricately hierarchical societies, but other Polynesian groups, like the Niueans, the Maori of Murihiku, and the Moriori of Rekohu created much more egalitarian societies in their corners of the Pacific.
Zone of the Marvellous is not a book rich in arguments. Rather than lay out a network of propositions and support them with evidence, Edmond tends to flit from interesting anecdote to diverting detail. This impressionistic approach works splendidly in the historical asides of his earlier books, but it gives Zone of the Marvellous a static, confusing quality, as detail piles upon detail without apparently leading anywhere.
When Edmond does construct arguments, they are too often speculative and whimsical, and thus at odds with the scholarly format and tone of Zone of the Marvellous. In a chapter called ‘Ulimaroa, Yonaguni, and Other Enigmas’, for instance, Edmond uses the work of the crank ‘scholar’ Stephen Oppenheimer to argue that the Polynesians and other Pacific peoples might be related to the inhabitants of a continent that supposedly existed near South East Asia before disappearing into the sea many thousands of years ago. Oppenheimer’s theory seems to appeal to Edmond as a sort of poetic myth, and he might have discussed it in a book like Luca Antara without trying to make us take it too seriously. The scholarly format and tone he adopts in Zone of the Marvellous, though, seems to compel him to try to make a sober case for Oppenheimer’s absurdities, and such a case can only be made at the expense of the evidence accumulated by generations of historians, linguists, archaeologists, and anthropologists, not to mention the oral histories of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific.
It is painful to see Edmond trying to misrepresent the now-discredited claim that kiore bones two thousand years old have been found in New Zealand as evidence for Oppenheimer’s thesis. Even if the test results which gave the kiore bones that age had not been disregarded after several exhaustive investigations, the fact is that they would not give any credibility to Oppenheimer’s claims that Polynesians were dispersed across the Pacific many thousands of years earlier than is generally believed. Even though mainstream opinion holds that the Eastern Polynesian islands which were the launching pad for the colonisation of Aotearoa were uninhabited two thousand years ago, the more westerly archipelagos of Tonga and Samoa were then already host to thriving Polynesian cultures, and could easily have been the source of the canoe voyage to these islands that would be required to deposit rats. In ‘Ulimaroa, Yonaguni, and Other Myths’ Edmond comes worryingly close to the special pleading which is the speciality of crank pseudo-historians like Gavin Menzies or Stephen Oppenheimer himself.
Martin Edmond is an extraordinary writer who has produced a series of books which deserve permanent and prominent places in the canon of New Zealand literature. In Zone of the Marvellous, though, he has lost his way.

LINKS

SRB’s first, and far more postive, review can be viewed here

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Scott Hamilton is a writer and researcher based in Auckland. He has a PhD in sociology from the University of Auckland, and has published extensively on literary, historical, and political matters. Manchester University Press will be publishing The Crisis of Theory, Hamilton’s study of the work of the great British historian and political activist EP Thompson, later this year. A collection of Hamilton’s literary writing called To the Moon, in Seven Easy Steps was issued by Titus Books in 2007 Hamilton’s blog, which can be found at http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com, attracted more than sixty thousand visitors last year.

20 comments:

  1. Gaius, 11. March 2010, 12:09

    The Critic

    Call them bricks, doorstops
    or by their proper name: tombstones.
    The Collected Reviews of Varus
    (Memoirs of a Ditch-digger)
    turn the heart into a cemetery.

    *

    Enemies, friends, near contemporaries:
    all lay face down in the blood pool
    made by ivory-tower Marxism. Man-child,
    beaming in the hatchet blade―
    do jaws of a jackal snap back at you?

     
  2. Scott Hamilton, 12. March 2010, 2:41

    Reply from Varus

    All poets inform on themselves, Gaius
    Catullus. I see you
    in your study, I see you
    as your study, as an ornament
    for the sagging desk, the wheezy
    swivel chair:

    I see your shaky fist holding
    the pen aloft, like a crumbling
    cigarette, while you choose
    a word – while you choose
    one
    word, over
    a dozen others,
    the way Lesbia chooses
    a man from her stable.

    You write the poem, you write other poems,
    until you have a book
    your publisher posts to me, the reviewer,
    in an indiscrete brown envelope.

    I find your book underneath my bills
    and take it inside.
    I open my kitchen draw
    and pull out the knife
    which I have sharpened
    on a loaf
    or a stone.
    I slit open the envelope
    as if it were your throat.

    I peel back your pages
    like layers of skin.
    I put down the knife.
    I pick up my pen.
    Your sentences turn red.

     
  3. Chris Trotter, 12. March 2010, 9:29

    Gaius Gracchus replies to Varus

    My brother, Tiberius, knew them:
    seated in the tavern corners,
    ostentatious in their borrowed poverty.
    (They were all from good families.)

    Down among the plebes
    not to talk and argue like free men,
    but to observe – at a distance.
    Consuming the common man’s dusty world
    with the same fastidiousness
    that they drained their cups
    of cheap wine.

    Leaving their tables
    just before dawn.
    Brushing from their tunics
    the last greasy crumbs of their
    symposium populare.

    Their shadows stumbling
    across graffiti-covered walls.
    Nervously eyeing the toughs.
    (Though they had little to fear from them
    – possessing nothing any honest thief
    would want to steal!)

    Safe at last in their hilltop villas,
    nostrils purged of plebeian sweat,
    still tumescent in the afterglow of danger;
    they’d scratch out their condescending
    ‘Poems to the People’.

    Liars!

    Their cudgels rose and fell
    alongside the best
    of the furious Senate’s,
    when Tiberius attempted
    to redistribute
    their paltry patrimonies
    among the wretched subjects
    of their poetry.

     
  4. third party, 12. March 2010, 11:28

    Chris Trotter’s contribution is at
    http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.com/2010/03/tribunes.html

     
  5. Scott Hamilton, 12. March 2010, 12:00

    Some discussion of the mysterious Gaius (see the comments thread as well as the post) here:
    http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com/2010/03/zone-of-controversy.html

     
  6. Martin Edmond, 13. March 2010, 14:29

    It’s probably never wise to respond in person to a review like the above; but I would like to make a couple of points. First, I stand corrected on the question of the hierarchical nature of all Polynesian societies; I should have confined my remark to those found on the larger islands. However, the notion that there were egalitarian, peaceful societies on some of the smaller groups strikes me as retrospectively romantic and more in accord with some idea of a quasi communistic golden age than with attested anthropological or historical fact. Second, Stephen Oppenheimer is not a pseudo-historian like Gavin Menzies – see his later, fascinating, work on human population genetics. Third, I think it is drawing a long bow to say that I have ‘lost my way’; the point of a book like Zone of the Marvellous is to try to map a speculative field whereby we might make our way towards a future that is as yet unknown; and that finding clues or guides to what that future could be requires that we keep an open mind about what may have happened in the past, what is happening now, what will happen. If that makes of me an heretic with respect to whatever orthodoxy it is that the reviewer is espousing, then so be it. I’ll keep on chewing at those kiore bones.

     
  7. some good advice, 13. March 2010, 18:39

    this site should be a supportive place for readers and authors. big long statements with words never used by ordinary people just push away readers. and negative comments hurt authors who are working for almost nothing in nz. come on guys this is nz not some intellectual wanker’s paradise like paris!!! keep reviews short and simple and positive. and if you don’t have any good to say don’t say anything at all…

    scott hamilton is just getting notorious as the king of the intellectual wankers here. he should go to france and be a wanker there.

     
  8. RIchard, 13. March 2010, 22:32

    “this site should be a supportive place for readers and authors.”

    Why should it be so?

    “… big long statements with words never used by ordinary people…”

    What, so Martin Edmond and other important writers are “ordinary? So why read such ordinary writers using such ordinary words?

    “… just push away readers…”

    They can do, but I feel, a reviewer has to be honest to what that reviewer believes. So if this book is ‘bad’ (or not as good as Edmond’s previous books) then that needs to be said if that is what the reviewer thinks. (And If Edmond’s latest book is crap, then why should anyone including myself waste time reading it? To subsidize his life as taxi driver and a writer?)

    “… and negative comments hurt authors who are working for almost nothing in nz….”

    Yes they do. But such negative comments can assist a writer to reevaluate, IF they are valid or have import.

    “… come on guys this is nz not some intellectual wanker’s paradise like paris!!!…”

    What does that mean? You mean that you favour a non intellectual hell? Like…where? New Zealand? Sydney?

    “… keep reviews short and simple and positive….”

    O.k. A review of “Baxter’s Complete Works” . Review: “No’ ba’ – bu’ I ave seen be’er.”

    “…and if you don’t have any good to say don’t say anything at all…”

    So if a review of the above book was a bank sheet you would be greatly incited to read the book?

    “…scott hamilton is just getting notorious as the king of the intellectual wankers here….”

    What does this mean? You have never indulged yourself? Are you jealous of his prowess in the sport referred to here?

    “… he should go to france and be a wanker there…”

    Why France? What is you issue with France? Are you saying that the country that produced Balzac, Flaubert and Hugo is not for you? Or the he would do better as a Wnkr in France..it being congenial to that noble and very ancient profession? But why could he not be allowed to wonk in China or Zimbabwe? My place is Mongolia by the way… a great place to indulge… Is Edmond perhaps one of those who has never indulged?

    And, you attack the reviewer? Your name?

     
  9. kayte denham, 14. March 2010, 6:50

    Eish! Exposure to Zones of the Marvelous establishes a dynamic relationship between history and the present; slits open the envelope as if it requires that we attack the reviewing reviewer! Keep an open mind, as if it were your throat.

     
  10. Scott Hamilton, 14. March 2010, 20:57

    I queried Martin’s claim that all Polynesian societies were highly stratified by naming the quite egalitarian societies we have located in pre-contact Niue, Murihiku, and the Chathams. I said nothing about peacefulness or lost golden ages.

    The automatic attachment of egalitarianism to notions of peacefulness and to notions of a golden age belongs to the primary literature of European explorers and early ethnographers – it is a linkage made in the European imagination. For contemporary archaeologists and anthropologists, there is no reason why a society which is egalitarian need be peaceful – and there is no reason to attach sentimental myths of a golden age, or of any kind of age, to the evidence taken from the ground.

    Niue was a quite egalitarian society, but it was also frequently a violent one, as mini wars broke out. The same seems to have been true of Murihiku. The Chathams, on the other hand, were both very egalitarian and very peaceful. I can’t go into all the evidence related to the character of these different societies here, but I will mention the masses of material Doug Sutton and his University of Auckland team accumulated on their digs in the Chathams in the 1970s – material which was published at the time, and which was popularised in Michael King’s famous book on the Moriori. Sutton and his crew found fewer and fewer distinctions between rank, and fewer and fewer ornamental artefacts, as they went deeper and deeper into old burial sites – an unmistakable sign, in a Polynesian perspective, of a decline in social complexity.

     
  11. Scott, 14. March 2010, 21:10

    The more general point I wanted to make is that the field of the study of Polynesian prehistory (the very term prehistory is under attack) is vast, and the notion that it constitutes some sort of closed shop or orthodoxy is one that can safely be left to pseudo-historians and conspiracy theorists like Menzies or Doutre. There is a veritable tumult of disputation! But disagreement is only worthwhile if it takes place within certain limits. We waste our time if we conduct investigations into hypotheses which have been refuted, or into beliefs which are so vague and so contradictory and so bizarre that they cannot be made into hypotheses.

    To take one example: Heyerdahl’s claim that Polynesia was settled from South America deserved investigaton sixty years ago, but anyone who proposes it, however tentatively, today, in the light of the vast weight of new evidence we have accumulated that refutes it, is being, at best, obscurantist. It is not that Heyerdahl has fallen out of fashion, as some new ‘orthodoxy’ has been imposed: he has simply been refuted. This is how science works. Progress, however halting, is made. Literature, of course, works to do different principles than science. We need both literature and science, but neither does its job when it is confused with the other.

     
  12. Skyler, 15. March 2010, 10:44

    ‘some good advice’, your comments are ridiculous and you obviously don’t understand what a review is. It does a disservice to an author not be read a book carefully and be honest in one’s review. I believe Scott has shown that he is an obvious fan of Martin Edmond’s previous writing but feels that there are some flaws in his latest book.

    What’s the point of just writing puff reviews? It does nothing for the integrity of the literature scene – people will just not bother reading reviews if the know they are just PR pieces. Most of the reviews Scott writes are positive but occasionally he is forced to write some criticisms (and I know he finds that difficult, esp. if he is friends with, or likes the author involved) but he must be honest and I think that takes guts – good on him!

     
  13. Martin Edmond, 15. March 2010, 15:12

    ‘This is how science works’ – an obnoxious platitude; ‘Literature . . . works to different principles than science’ – another platitude, this time containing a deliberate obfuscation. Both survey an imaginative realm but science likes to pretend to be the one dealing in fact alone. Nor is the book closed on Heyerdhal’s speculations, which are more complex and more various than a simple claim that Polynesia was settled from South America. There was certainly a period of complex interaction between societies in the eastern Pacific, and those on the seaboard of what is now Chile and Peru; with influences proceeding in both directions; as Heyerdhal himself was told by an old man he met on Fatu Hiva in 1936. I remain wary of a habit of mind that will airily dismiss a committed researcher like Stephen Oppenheimer to pseud’s corner (any retraction there?) and in the next breath damn the life’s work of another independent scholar like Heyerdhal; in the name of, what was it, ‘progress’? Towards what?

     
  14. Scott Hamilton, 15. March 2010, 21:30

    I can’t resile from the idea that literature and science work in very different ways, and that science is fundamentally progressive, as we gather more information about the world and create theories which do a better job of catching the complexity of that world. Pacific prehistory has made incredible progress in recent decades.

    Sometimes we make progress by ruling out theories which conflict with new evidence we have gathered. Heyerdahl’s rather patronising belief that the people of Rapa Nui were incapable of building their massive sculptures, and that an ancient race with its origins in the Old World must have pushed through South America into the Pacific, was refuted long ago, and the new evidence relating to Polynesian contacts with America (Lisa Matisoo-Smith’s discovery of Polynesian chicken bones in a Chilean cave for instance) only reinforces that refutation, because it demonstrates how wrong Heyerdahl was to underestimate the abilities of Polynesians.

    Matthew Dentith wrote succintly about the failure of Heyerdahl’s theory during an earlier debate at the Scoop Review of Books:

    ‘We can respect Thor Heyerdahl the man for being willing to test his hypothesis and put his money where his mouth is, but that does not mean we have to respect the theories of Thor Heyerdahl the researcher. His theory, whilst novel and interesting, has not withstood repeated testing, given that the genetic, material cultural, linguistic, archaeological, oral historical and the like evidence not only not supports Heyerdahl’s thesis; it falsifies it.

    Don’t get me wrong; Thor’s theory is interesting and it makes for a good read (my father had all his books so I had a very early introduction to it) but, unfortunately, its a bold conjecture that just didn’t pay off. Had he been right he would have been celebrated in the academic world (despite what people like Doutré think academics are constantly looking to undermine existing theories, when there is good and plausible evidence to do so). He wasn’t right, but that doesn’t detract from the story of the Kon-Tiki expedition. It just didn’t prove what he thought it did.’
    http://books.scoop.co.nz/2008/11/18/no-to-nazi-pseudo-history-an-open-letter/

    I’ll discuss Oppenheimer in a blog post.

     
  15. Matthew Dentith, 16. March 2010, 11:16

    I was going to make a point, but Scott has beaten me to it, using my own words.

    So yes, what Scott quoted from me. We can damn Heyerdahl’s theories without having to damn him. That’s how progress works; theories get falsified and replaced but that doesn’t mean we need think less of the person who put forward the idea, as long as they did it sincerely.

     
  16. Edward, 16. March 2010, 14:57

    Martin Edmond,

    I’m not sure how to say this kindly, so I won’t bother, but what a load of relativistic twaddle! Judging by your sentiments and serious lack of scholarship and understanding of the epistomological issues you rattle out, i’m inclined to place you into the realm of pseudo-science myself.

    As for “If that makes of me an heretic with respect to whatever orthodoxy it is that the reviewer is espousing, then so be it. I’ll keep on chewing at those kiore bones.”
    My how clever of you. I’ve never heard that before, you know, about the ‘heretic’ and ‘orthodoxy’ (here we try to draw a parallel between tyrannical church doctrines of the past and current scientific disciplines, just like with global warming denialists, intelligent design proponents, and yes, pseudo-archaeologists).

    Scott seems to have some respect for you, so I guess you can’t be all bad, but if your latest book is as full of nonsense as your comments are then I for one am glad he reviewed it and saved me suffering through reading it myself.

    Cheers

     
  17. Martin Edmond, 17. March 2010, 8:41

    One more time: Zone of the Marvellous is a speculative work. It makes no claims to be anything else. Some of its speculations may seem zany to some, they may interest or entertain others. There is no hidden agenda; I just think we should keep an open mind. The reviewer didn’t like the book – fair enough, that’s his right. I don’t have a problem with that. I do however think that he’s wrong to describe Stephen Oppenheimer’s work as that of a pseud; and said so, both above and in an email to him. Subsequently he admitted he ‘doesn’t know much about Oppenheimer’ and was relying instead on the opinions of others for his opinion. He defends this as an appropriate way to proceed, on the basis that ‘you can’t read everything’. I think it dubious. If you don’t know someone’s work, don’t comment. More generally, I would say that this reflexive condemnation, made in ignorance, is the habit of mind of one who is wedded to a particular view of things – an orthodoxy – and is intolerant of anything that might challenge that view. This habit is often found among fanatics of various kinds, and especially religious fanatics. The fact that the religion, in this case, is called science, doesn’t change that interpretation though it probably does make it more controversial.

     
  18. Edward, 18. March 2010, 12:06

    Martin,

    That’s fine. Speculative work is up to you, and to be fair to you as I said I haven’t read it. I’m just basing my opinions upon your comments. But hiding behind speculation isn’t really good enough if you’re making strong claims about certain matters and then putting it out into the public domain for dissemination, you really should make sure you either do your research and back up your claims, or make sure you make it very plain that these ideas are seriously flawed and/or challenged by experts in the related fields.

    You seem to like to refer to science as the equivalent to church orthodoxy, and the scientists as equivalent to religious fanatics. Such strong claims only seem to stem from your own ignorance of how science works. Science is cumulative and self-correcting – it grows and changes according to the evidence. This is the entire point of it. Quite different to religious dogmatism i’m afraid. But what can I expect from someone who isn’t a scientist or apparently in the least interested in science other than that of a pseudo or quasi nature? Sounds harsh but this is the gist of your own comments.

    As for the comment you make about our replies being made in ignorance, please stop embarrassing yourself. Scott is a sociologist well read in Pacific literature and scholarship, including the modern literature which is obviously below you seeing as you haven’t bothered to read any of it. In addition, he has for the last couple of years been involved in numerous debates with pseudo-scholars who can’t even grasp the difference between ‘idea’ and ‘theory’, and who, without exception, resort to claims of corrupt academics and conspiracy when their pathetic arguments start collapsing around them once prodded. Strangely enough, they also don’t understand science and call scientists fanatics.

    Matthew Dentith is a philosopher who specialises in epistemology and conspiracy theories, and is also clued up on modern Pacific literature as well as the kinds of fallacious arguments you put forward.

    As for me, i’m a trained archaeologist who has been working with Scott over the last two years or so in debating the pseudo-historians and pseudo-archaeologists who go otherwise unchallenged in NZ in pushing their utterly rejected, unsubstantiated and politically motivated claims upon unsuspecting New Zealanders. Time and again these pseudo ideas have been tested and debated and found pathetically inadequate, and you wont find one serious or respected scholar who supports such unsubstantiated ideas.

    So in fact our comments do not come from ignorance but from a very good understanding of the evidence and of the kinds of arguments you put forward. I for one have heard them all before and found that they collapse due to data and reasoning deficiencies. And let me tell you your pathetic defense of relativistic speculation is not any better than the worst arguments i’ve heard. As for your ‘habit of mind’, you might find that when one has already repeatedly dealt with exactly the same bullshit argument again and again from different people, ‘habit of mind’ in fact just equates to ‘knowledge of one’s subject matter’, again something you are obviously lacking in.

     
  19. Ken Slugg, 21. March 2010, 20:38

    Now I don’t know much about postmodern clashes over epistemology but I do know that we had this sort of problem down Wairarapa way in the late 80s when a new cockie came in and reckoned he had the systems management techniques to add 20% productivity to the milking. Now I told him, as head milker, that he was all booze and BS, but he said, “nah, mate, have a listen, and gimme a chance”. After some arguing he finally got around to telling me what he was on about, and I finally listened to him. And it turned out we were both right – you can’t increase a milk yield if you play Bach in the yards, but you can increase it by 8-10% if you put on some Prokofiev.

    My point is that these Edward and Martin characters seems to be locking horns, so to speak, without actually addressing mutual problems. Edward seems to be defending his book against some one who hasn’t read it, and so he uses the term ‘ignorant’ in that regard, as well as a perfectly legitimate skepticism of scientific knowledge , though perhaps erroneously applied to Mr Martin.

    On the other hand, Mr Martin seems to think that Edward is disingenuous in his defense of his work, using broad generalisations about science to discredit Martin’s work.

    The answer is obvious. Both Edward and Martin need to read some Richard Rorty, and not just his wikipedia page. There Edward will sharpen up his understanding of the variants of relativism, including those that have sprung up to critique science, while Martin will find a more robust critique with which he can borrow from in his next keyboard joust with Mssrs Maps and his merry friends.

    Your friend,

    Kenneth Slugg

     
  20. Karen, 4. April 2010, 18:58

    Furthermore, there’s a fascinating book on the subject published by Schiel & Denver Book Publishers (http://www.schieldenver.co.uk/)