Autobiographical Writing For Reality: It's A Damn Good Thing For All Of Us

Keaney Michael Michael.Keaney at
Mon Sep 9 03:44:36 MDT 2002

Hunter Gray writes:

If I'm going to expect anyone to listen to me, I'm packing that Ego with all
the rest of the tools of my trade -- the Rigging -- that I carry wherever I
go. And that happens to be right here, right now.


With respect, comrade...

I'm not going to dispute with you the importance and value of personal experience, and the undoubted role that ego plays in all our activities -- including the composition of this message. But some perspective is in order.

Just over a year ago on Marxmail you and I had a brief exchange regarding your blanket dismissal of Swedish-speaking Finns, based, as with your favourable impressions of Mormonism, on your personal experience. I can just as equally cite very good personal experiences with Swedish-speaking Finns, some of whom are my colleagues and others of whom are my personal friends. Then there are those Swedish-speaking Finns who are involved, in one way or another, in various branches of left politics. You ignored the relative poverty of Swedish-speaking communities in the west of Finland traditionally reliant on fishing and farming. Your dismissal of Swedish-speaking Finns rested then on your experience of them as restricting themselves to their own circle, and always identifying themselves first and foremost by reference to their linguistic heritage. This is a bit ironic from one who goes to great lengths to parade his heritage on-line. Since then you have augmented your original fatwa b!
y referring to historical Swedish linguistic and cultural imperialism in Finland. The implication is that the Swedish-speaking minority should assimilate totally and renounce the sins of their forebears. If you think I have misinterpreted you I will supply you with quotations from your own published writings as an explanation.

I was, however, prepared to follow your own example...

"So when there's a sullen, clenched-teeth growl in the brush and thickets,
when there's a bitter little  sting from the jaundiced shadows --  I shrug
our Native shrug and keep right on keeping on Blazing Trail."

...until the recent dispute over Mormonism, followed by the publication of this rather self-serving screed. It's not that I don't appreciate the value of experience, or even the value of your own efforts here and elsewhere. Rather, it's the fact that, in the case of both the Swedish-speaking Finns and the Mormons, your analysis is totally devoid of class, and depends instead upon exclusively personal impressions of a sort that, in other circumstances, would be leapt upon as mistaken indulgence or prejudice. What if I were to condemn Blackfoot Indians because a few I had met were always insistent upon identifying themselves by their heritage, including their language? What if I were to reconsider the Ku Klux Klan in light of my acquaintance with a few working class members of that organisation who had showed me kindness and hospitality?

Re Mormonism, it is still an institutionally racist organisation, as a cursory Google search would confirm. The Mormon Church, whilst welcoming darker-skinned converts (including, most famously, Gladys Knight) and even permitting non-white priests, does not sanction inter-racial marriage. Apparently the "cultures" don't mix.

As for autobiographical writing, as a contribution to political work at least, it is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Michael Keaney

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