Native informants
Enigmas of communication
in Translations, an autoethnography
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The ’native informant’ is an essential figure in colonial anthropology. My radio work The Native Informant gives a migrant twist to this ideal translator, showing, in a different context, that she or he is a projection of the host’s narcissism. In a number of high-profile art commissions, I have been cast as ‘native informant’ to the Australian public. My poetic responses restage the enigma of communication where the parties have nothing in common, deriving from the culture of guesswork a migrant poetics. James Dawson, whose 1881 publication Australian Aborigines, is rich evidence of this differential power politics (and perhaps incommensurable expectations) in action, is introduced. As a colonial ethnographer and linguist, Dawson is unusual in laying bare the dialogical dynamics of language-getting. He establishes what every migrant also finds, that improvising rules of communication precedes any intellectual exchange: externalising the desire of communication exposes fundamental presuppositions about the other and the enigma of mutual encounter opens up the possibility of a new poetics able to escape the native informant double-bind.

Translations, an autoethnography

Migration, colonial Australia and the creative encounter

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