Malcolm Gladwell has been subjected to significant amounts of criticism over the years, which are to varying degrees compelling and valid. His approach to storytelling is both overly simplistic and engaging. He reproduces what others have researched in accessible ways, but makes mistakes and misrepresentations. He is entertaining but, given his reach and looseness with the truth, arguably dangerous.
A travelogue tells you about a person, and a place, and, sometimes, a travelogue tells the reader something about herself. I love travelogues. I love travelogues of Australians in Australia, non-Australians in Australia, Australians not in Australia. I also love travel tales of people in China and Malaysia and Singapore, the other places of my heart and my ancestors. Whether these are accounts of people in their homes or on the road, these stories are always new to me, and there’s always the joy of exploration and unfamiliarity.
It is – or should be – the role of creative writing programs to challenge students’ ideas, to confront and reconsider every assumption a student might hold. Craft matters, but so too does originality of thought, of building on knowledge to produce something genuinely new. Removing literary theory from writing courses is an anti-intellectual move that is ultimately self-defeating, and it is one that de-politicises creative work.
It sounds like science fiction, but there’s no question it works. Late last year, I wrote about the ‘debate’ over PrEP, short for pre-exposure prophylaxis, which allows people who are HIV-negative to take a daily pill to prevent getting infected. It works whether or not condoms are used, and therein lies the rub: people who are opposed to gay men and transgender people getting it on freely tend to oppose PrEP as well. This, along with the fight for same-sex marriage, has reheated an older debate about gay ‘promiscuity’.
One of my earliest memories of New Zealand is of being told to ‘Go back to China!’ in the playground at school (ironically called the Confidence Course). This irked me, because I wasn’t from China.