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Mahu on the Beach

Greg Dening, 22 May 1997

Gauguin’s Skirt 
by Stephen Eisenman.
Thames and Hudson, 232 pp., £19.95, April 1997, 0 500 01766 2
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... Soyez mysterieuses,’ Paul Gauguin had carved into the lintel of his last residence in the South Seas, the ‘House of Pleasure’, or ‘House of Orgasm’, as some would translate Maison du Jouir. ‘I am not a painter who copies nature – today less than before. With me everything happens in my crazy imagination.’ In September 1901, at the urging of that crazy imagination, Gauguin had left Tahiti ...

Standing on the Wharf, Weeping

Greg Dening: Australia, 25 September 2003

The Enlightenment and the Origins of European Australia 
by John Gascoigne.
Cambridge, 233 pp., £45, September 2002, 0 521 80343 8
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Looking for Blackfella’s Point: An Australian History of Place 
by Mark McKenna.
New South Wales, 268 pp., £14.50, August 2002, 0 86840 644 9
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Words for Country: Landscape and Language in Australia 
by Tim Bonyhady and Tom Griffiths.
New South Wales, 253 pp., £15.50, October 2001, 0 86840 628 7
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The Land Is a Map: Placenames of Indigenous Origin in Australia 
edited by Luise Hercus, Flavia Hodges and Jane Simpson.
Pandanus, 304 pp., AUS $39.95, October 2002, 1 74076 020 4
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... Earlier this year, bushfires engulfed the east coast of Australia. In Canberra, where I work, five hundred houses were lost. The National University was in a state of shock. Mount Stromlo, an icon of Australian astronomy since Federation, is gone, with all its telescopes and research data. In Melbourne, where I live, the air was thick with smoke from fires 300 km away ...

Where am I?

Greg Dening, 31 October 1996

Far-Fetched Facts: The Literature of Travel and the Idea of the South Seas 
by Neil Rennie.
Oxford, 330 pp., £35, November 1995, 0 19 811975 5
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... There has never been a ‘Pacificism’ to go with Orientalism, the South Seas having always seemed more luscious than mysterious. The obligations felt by the ‘civilised’ to turn South Sea islanders into something else was too strong for there to be any thought of learning from them, and scholarly encounters seemed a little too hedonist to be serious ...

Dirty Linen

Patrick O’Brian, 4 August 1994

Mr Bligh’s Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on the ‘Bounty’ 
by Greg Dening.
Canto, 445 pp., £7.95, April 1994, 0 521 46718 7
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Admiral Satan: The Life and Campaigns of Suffren 
by Roderick Cavaliero.
Tauris, 312 pp., £29.95, May 1994, 9781850436867
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... more than the mutiny of the Bounty. It has an important ethnographical and historical side and Mr Dening has some uncommonly interesting things to say, particularly when he deals with quantifiable matters such as the flogging of British seamen in the Pacific during the 18th century and the value of their diet in calories; he also gives a fine account of ...

Evil Man

Simon Schaffer: Joseph Priestley, 21 May 1998

The Enlightenment of Joseph Priestley: A Study of His Life and Work from 1733 to 1773 
by Robert Schofield.
Pennsylvania State, 328 pp., £35.95, January 1998, 0 271 01662 0
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... In which case, Priestley might have figured in a brilliant study by the historian-anthropologist Greg Dening, whose book on Gooch’s death treats symmetrically the cultures of Hawaii and of the English academies where the astronomer was taught his science. Or perhaps, less happily, the martyred Priestley would have attracted the attention of an ...

On the Beaches

Richard White: In Indian Country, 21 March 2002

Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America 
by Daniel Richter.
Harvard, 317 pp., £17.95, January 2002, 0 674 00638 0
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... in colonial accounts is the conundrum of this book. The problem is not peculiar to North America. Greg Dening, writing about Polynesia, located the issue around actual and metaphorical islands and beaches. The islands – the interior of native cultures and society that Europeans only slowly penetrated – had a shadowy history, much of it ...

What would the Tahitians say?

Joyce Chaplin: Captain Bligh, 24 May 2012

Bligh: William Bligh in the South Seas 
by Anne Salmond.
California, 528 pp., £27.95, October 2011, 978 0 520 27056 5
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... tattooed Man of Feeling, dripping with sweat. Among the many published accounts of the incident, Greg Dening’s Mr Bligh’s Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on the ‘Bounty’ (1994) is the one to beat.* Dening, an anthropologist, analysed the mutiny as an incident in cultural history, a microhistorical ...

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