Fall and response: Alan Duff's shameful autoethnography

Otto Heim


This article reads Maori writer Alan Duff's fiction as enacting strategies responding to difficult situations in the context of the identity politics underpinning New Zealand's policy of biculturalism. Situating Duff's writing in the context of its own reception, it analyses how Duff's most provocative novel, _Both Sides of the Moon_, charts the situation of being caught between Maori and Pakeha identities so as to devise a set of responses that imaginatively transform this situation into an opportunity for cross-cultural acknowledgment. The article argues that Both Sides pursues this objective in a fictional confrontation of shame, which generates a mediating narrative that leads to the discovery of the ability to respond to the presence of strangers as the foundation of identity. It demonstrates how Duff's novel relates the persistence of unacknowledged shame to the history of cultural contact in New Zealand by engaging with the cultural inscription of the estranging gaze in the form of ethnographic writing. The article ends by suggesting that this engagement places Duff's writing in a Maori tradition of autoethnographic writing that has so far predominantly been associated with women writers.


Maori writing; Alan Duff; shame in literature; autoethnography; biculturalism

Full Text: