Inga Clendinnen

Inga Clendinnen’s most recent books are Reading the Holocaust and Tiger’s Eye: A Memoir.

Van Diemonians: Convict Culture in Tasmania

Inga Clendinnen, 4 December 2008

I first came across James Boyce five years ago, when he wrote the lead essay in a collection called Whitewash, intended to argue against the ruthlessly revisionist ‘frontier history’ of Keith Windschuttle. In The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (2002), Windschuttle had argued that, contrary to the claims of various ideologically driven left-leaning historians, very few Tasmanian...

When I think of Raul Hilberg an image pops into my head. A man gazes thoughtfully up at an Everest of fraying documents, some manuscript, some printed, some typescript. Looming behind the monstrous pile is an elaborate Gothic structure: the interlocking bureaucratic organisations through which the Nazis effected the Holocaust. Hilberg achieved the Herculean task of reconstructing that obscene...

Diary: Liver Transplant No. 108

Inga Clendinnen, 19 July 2001

Big Louis is dead. I found out only yesterday, because the last time I went to the Clinic I didn’t meet any of the people who might have told me, which can happen when you’re down to three-monthly visits. He might have died as long as five months ago. It’s odd to discover you have been orphaned for months without knowing it. Louis was the first person to receive a liver...

Vlad the Impaler: Hairy Humbert

Inga Clendinnen, 10 August 2000

Ever since Lolita ignited the American literary scene in the late 1950s Vladimir Nabokov has been the most famous lepidopterist in the world – indeed, the only one most of us have ever heard of. The covers of books written about him quiver with these interesting insects; even the name ‘Nab-o-koV’, properly spread, seems to have a butterfly look to it. And we can all toss together a quick case for butterfly-chasing to be seen as a comprehensive metaphor for his literary art: ‘in a luminous landscape a single vibrant dancing mote in exuberantly idiosyncratic but ultimately patterned flight’ kind of thing. Now we are being offered two large books seeking to uncover rather less opportunistic linkages between the lepidopterist and the writer.’‘

Homo Narrator

Inga Clendinnen, 16 March 2000

Some years ago, I heard the psychologist Jerome Bruner give a talk about a girl named Emily. At two, Emily was a virtuoso night talker: put to bed, storied, kissed and left, there would be a brief silence, and then the small voice would begin. It could go on for hours. Her loving, anxious parents installed a bug in her bed and recorded her talk – so much for infants’ right to privacy. Analysing the tape, academic eavesdroppers discovered that while in her talking Emily often worked on existential problems – practising the past tense, adjusting to the arrival of a baby brother and the consequent diversion of her mother’s attention by sturdily listing all the other people she could rely on to change her nappy – what she did most, and most earnestly, was to rehearse the events of the day. She made stories out of encounters and contretemps with parents or playmates: stories in which she emerged, if not triumphant, at least unbowed. And then, having brought her self-and-history-making up to date, she would go to sleep.’

On 25 January 1788, HMS Supply eased her way between the imposing sandstone cliffs that mark the entrance to Port Jackson and into a waterway that John White, the First Fleet’s surgeon,...

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The Hunger of the Gods

David Brading, 9 January 1992

Shortly after their dramatic entrance into the island city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Hernan Cortes and his companions climbed the 114 steep steps of the great central pyramid there to encounter in...

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