Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On today's The Book Show on ABC Radio National there is an interview with Pamela Gordon who is the literary executor and niece of the famous NZ writer Janet Frame. Ms Gordon was not at all pleased when a doctor gave Frame a posthumous diagnosis of high-functioning autism last year. I do not think autism is mentioned in this interview, in which Ms Gordon discusses her role, publishing and some of Frame's work. This show is repeated at midnight and audio can be downloaded.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Is Helen Dale/Darville/Demidenko autistic?

Helen Dale b. 1972, born Helen Darville, changed name to Dale to (reportedly) avoid discrimination in job interviews, literary pseudonym Helen Demidenko, Australian writer, P.E. teacher, winner of The Australian/Vogel Literary Award in 1993 (at age 22), the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 1995, and the Australian Literary Society Gold Medal in 1995, as Helen Demidenko, all awarded for the novel The Hand that Signed the Paper. This novel, it’s author and the awards ignited a storm of controversy in Australia that inspired the publication of four books about the controversy. Helen clearly misrepresented her ethnicity, her surname and her past in her published writing and also in her public appearances, claiming to have a Ukrainian father (untrue), claiming to be a part of the Australian Ukrainian community (untrue) and claiming to have come from a deprived underclass suburb and high school (also apparently untrue). Helen's deception is a part of a long tradition of Australian writers and film-makers exploiting a cultural preoccupation with ethnicity and gender identity politics and multiculturalism by misrepresenting their own ethnic or gender identities. Helen was also accused of plagiarism in her writing, with some justification.

The enigmatic “Helen Demidenko” became a part of Australian popular culture. A measure of her fame/infamy is the fact that some men dressed up in drag as “Helen Demidenkos: Miss Ukraine” in the 1996 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Her fame has faded considerably, possibly due to the fact that the height of her infamy pre-dated the establishment of the internet and is thus mainly reported by archival scholarly documents online, and the printed texts about the Demidenko controversy are now old.

According to an autobiographical article in Quadrant Dale was given phonics tuition and occupational therapy as a child for dyslexia and went from the bottom of the class to the top within 6 months. A number of writers have referred to a university medal awarded to Helen D. and she has claimed to have a very high IQ. Dale has expressed political views that could be categorized as right-wing. She has been involved with the Australian Skeptics. During the Demidenko affair she was defended by Australian poet Les Murray, literary editor of conservative journal Quadrant who himself has claimed to be autistic and considers himself a pariah from a leftist Australian literary establishment. Dale finds commercial law fascinating and is reported to be currently studying postgraduate law at Oxford.

Some quotes from Helen Dale:
“’Doesn’t play well with others’ was on my report card.”

“I didn't have that tendency to conform and I found it easy not to conform. I didn't scare easily. And it amazed to see that people who I respected, who I liked—would just fit in without ever really thinking about the consequences of what they did.”

“…. I saw the Waffen-SS tattoo in his armpit and I knew what it was. It's the kind of obscure thing I knew, but then I never picked up a Dolly magazine the entire time I was at high school.

“My journey through the upper reaches of the chattering classes as ‘Helen Demidenko’ was surreal.”

“I think that if people need to be told that that sort of thing is wrong, then maybe they don't have as sure a grip on their own moral sense as they might think they do.”

“I can't be responsible for other people's feelings.”

“Australian literature is burdened with a level of ideological conformity that would do East Germany proud.”

“Journalists have a remarkable talent for behaving like kiddy-fiddlers.”

“Thinking in this profession [law] is actually a good thing.”

About Helen Dale/Darville
Dale, Helen (2006) My life as a young Australian novelist. Quadrant. May 2006 p. 14-21.
[article with comments, I found Dale’s explanation of why she chose to enter the world of literature, in comment no. 17, interesting]
[not currently in Quadrant archives]Dale, Helen (2006) The Hand Behind The Hand that Signed. Skeptic. Autumn 2006 Volume 26 No 1. (journal of Australian Skeptics Inc.)
[this is the same article as above, info given about childhood, family, the Demidenko affair, her treatment by journalists, “the chattering classes” and literary people at the time, and her life in recent years. Interestingly, Dale described a childhood in an itinerant family with debt problems which seems incompatible with her private (high) school education at Redeemer Lutheran College, which was not explicitly mentioned. Another thing that strikes me as odd is Dale’s most negative description of her father in this article and in other media stories, compared with p.47 of the 1996 book by Prior listed below, which says that Dale/Darville’s father was reported in the press as being the same “Harry Darville” who was a candidate for the Greens in the 1993 federal election (winning 4.5% of the vote in Fadden), “and that Helen was his election manager.” I find it hard to believe that any political party would choose a person to represent them in an election who is as shady as the description of her father given by Dale/Darville in recent writings. In the All in the Mind radio interview listed below Dale/Darville gives 1996 as the date of her father’s appearance in court on a soliciting charge – running for federal parliament in 1993 and in court for soliciting 3 years later? If it is true it is quite a story. No mention of AS or autism in this article.]

Dalley, Helen (1997) Helen Darville breaks her silence. Sunday. Ninemsn. June 8th 1997.
[feature story/interview on a current affairs TV show, I found the bit where they discussed Demidenko as a persona interesting, no mention of AS or autism]

Jensen, Erik & Harvey, Ellie (2008) The pain that may explain Helen Darville. Sydney Morning Herald. May 9th 2008.
[“Helen Darville … suggests characteristsics of Aspergers syndrome may explain her aloofness.”]
Malcolm, Lynne (2006) Whatever happened to Helen Demidenko? All in the Mind. ABC Radio National. April 29th 2006.
[transcript of a radio interview, discusses her childhood, family, the Demidenko affair and recent life, gives a negative description of her father (discussed above), no mention of autism or AS]

*Prior, Natalie Jane (1996) The Demidenko diary. Mandarin.
[an interesting account of the Demidenko affair from the point of view of a writer “friend” of Dale’s who sheltered her while she was in hiding from hostile journalists, “What immediately caught my attention on this first meeting – apart from her striking appearance – was the way she totally failed to be absorbed into the group.” (p. 15), some unusual autistic behaviour (of Dale’s) described on p. 79, after reading this book I became convinced that Helen D. is/was autistic]Wheatley, Jane (2008) Reinventing Helen. Sydney Morning Herald. Good Weekend. May 10th 2008.
West Australian. WestWeekend Magazine. September 6th 2008 p.24-28.
[feature article, Wheatley claims she was considering whether Dale has AS before Dale brought up the subject, Wheatley appears to have summarized and accepted Dale’s description of her childhood in an itinerant family with debt problems from the Skeptic/Quadrant article, which seems incompatible with her private (high) school education at Redeemer Lutheran College, which I could find no mention of in this article, gives a negative description of her father (discussed above),]
Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2008) Helen Darville. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2008) Redeemer Lutheran College. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
[the college gives it’s side of some stories, and this seems to be confirmation that Helen Dale/Darville did attend this school]Wilson, Katherine (2006) The blogger formerly known as Demidenko. Crikey. September 11th 2006.

Works by Helen Demidenko
Demidenko, Helen (1994) The hand that signed the paper. Allen and Unwin.
[the novel that started it all]RePublica: issue 3: Scarred for life. (1995) editor: George Papaellinas. Angus and Robertson.
[Other Places by Helen Demidenko is on p. 93-97, about a blonde Ukrainian girl who has won an award and fame, and is invited to make a speech at the outer-suburban Australian public high school that she graduated from. There nothing to indicate whether this is presented as an autobiographical essay or a fictional short story. This volume includes a diverse mixture of genres. There have been accusations that this story contains some content plagiarized from a work by Brain Matthews. I tried to check this out for myself but found that if his work had ever been stocked in our state public library system, it now appears to no longer be in stock.]

About the Demidenko Affair
Cultures of forgery: making nations, making selves. (2003) editors: Judith Ryan & Alfred Thomas. Routledge.
[includes a chapter about the Demidenko affair]
The Demidenko file. (1996) editors: John Jost, Gianna Totaro & Christine Tyshing. Penguin.

Manne, Robert (1996) The culture of forgetting : Helen Demidenko and the Holocaust. Text Publishing.

Manne, Robert (2005) Left right left: political essays 1977-2005. Black Inc.
[includes material from his book about the Demidenko affair]
*Prior, Natalie Jane (1996) The Demidenko diary. Mandarin.
[an account of the Demidenko affair from the point of view of a writer friend of Dale’s who sheltered her while she was in hiding from hostile journalists]*Riemer, Andrew (1996) The Demidenko debate. Allen and Unwin.
[described as sympathetic to Helen D, but even-handed, there is a lot of stuff in the afterword of this book that I believe supports the proposition that Helen D. is/was autistic, including her explanation on p. 263-264 of why was so fascinated with the Ukraine. Some quotes from this book; “She has always had a strongly visual imagination …” “She was the school freak: bookish, brainy, the loner …” “…the thought strikes me not for the first time that she might well be an intensely committed and obsessive writer…” ]Warren, Agnes (1995) Why it took the media so long to write a story about the life of prize-winning author Helen Demidenko. Media Report. ABC Radio National. August 24th 1995.
[“a language therapist” associated with Dale’s high school is mentioned as one of the people who identified “Helen Demidenko” as Helen Darville]
Who's who?: hoaxes, imposture and identity crises in Australian literature. (2004) editors: Maggie Nolan & Carrie Dawson. University of Queensland Press.

Link to a photo from the 1996 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Helen Demidenkos: Miss Ukraine

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

I guess the latest bit of fun in pop psychology must be the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI)

Is it really much more than a measure of the personality psychology dimension of "conscientiousness", mixed up with attitudes resulting from life experiences? I guess I'll have to read the book.

Every time I see a photo of Professor Zimbardo I can't help wondering whether he should be pulling a rabbit out of a shiny black top hat rather than writing psychology books. Does he lead a double life as Zimbardo the Magician? I'd have trouble keeping a straight face if I had to sit through one of his lectures. I'm so immature and I'm so old.