Re-Inventing New Zealand : Essays on the Arts and the Media [1 ed.] 9780995126800, 9780992245382

With its unusual breadth and depth, this book is the harvest of a lifetime of thinking about the arts and media in New Z

204 63 5MB

English Pages 444 Year 2016

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD FILE

Polecaj historie

Re-Inventing New Zealand : Essays on the Arts and the Media [1 ed.]
 9780995126800, 9780992245382

Citation preview

  re-inventing new zealand

RE-INVENTING NEW ZEALAND Essays on the arts and the media by

ROGER HORROCKS

other titles from atuanui press Then It Was Now Again: Selected Critical Writing by Murray Edmond The Gold Leaves: (Being an Account and Translation from the Ancient Greek of the So-called ‘Orphic’ Gold Tablets) by Edward Jenner The Millerton Sequences by Leicester Kyle Toa by Vaughan Rapatahana Oceania: Neocolonialism, Nukes and Bones by Andre Vltchek Waiheathens: Voices from a Mining Town by Mark Derby with paintings by Bob Kerr On Tongan Poetry by ’I. Futa Helu

re-inventing new zealand Essays on the arts and the media

by

ROGER HORROCKS

Atuanui Press

For Shirley

Acknowledgements Thanks to the many people over the years who have commissioned or published my essays, helped in my research or lent encouragement. Too many to name them all, but I’d like to mention a few: Brian Boyd, Elizabeth Caffin, Neil Cairns, Alex Calder, William Dart, Susan Davis, Eve de Castro-Robinson, Liz Eastmond, Murray Edmond, Tony Green, Ruth Harley, Margaret Henley, Ngaire Hoben, John Hood, Nigel Horrocks, the Kreisler family, Michele Leggott, Glenda Lewis, Alan Loney, Helen Martin, Claire Murdoch, Michael Neill, Nick Perry, Priscilla Pitts, John Reynolds, Sarah Shieff, Laurence Simmons, Graeme Turner, Evan Webb, Jane Wrightson and NZ On Air. I miss the conversations I used to have with Leigh Davis and Julian Dashper. My family (Dylan, Simone, Steve and Tony) have shared the years. And I owe very special thanks to my friend Wystan Curnow and my inspiring publisher Brett Cross.

Cover design by Dylan Horrocks

Published with the assistance of Creative New Zealand Atuanui Press Ltd 1416 Kaiaua Road, Pokeno, 2473 www.atuanuipress.co.nz ©Roger Horrocks 2016 All rights reserved. Published 2016. No part of this book may be reproduced without prior permission from the publisher, except as provided under New Zealand copyright law. ISBN: 978-0-9951268-0-0

Printed in New Zealand

Contents Introduction

7

Re-inventing New Zealand 37 The Invention of New Zealand 69 Off the Map ‘Natural’ as Only You Can Be: Some Readings of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry 83 Re-locating New Zealand 91 Reading and Gender: Watching Them Change 107 When Fringe Writers are ‘Warmly Invited’ 125 A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ 131

Film and Television How to Create a Film Industry New Zealand Cinema: Patterns of Evolution Cultures, Policies, Films Turbulent Television: The New Zealand Experiment Documentaries on New Zealand Television The Late Show: The Production of Film and Television Studies

183 195 211 229 249 271

Artists, Writers, Composers John Reynolds: Painting, Planting and Performance Julian Dashper and the Art of Misreading Popular Productions: Merylyn Tweedie Tom Kreisler’s Esoteric Pressure Systems Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless ‘My Word My World’: Len Lye’s Poetry Frederick Page: A Musician’s Journal Douglas Lilburn: Nationalism Now

291 309 321 329 347 381 395 403

Original Publication of the Essays in this Collection A Selection of Other Writings Index

427 428 432

Introduction

D

uring my lifetime I have watched New Zealand pass through an extraordinary series of changes and re-inventions – a British colony (or to use the official term ‘Dominion of the United Kingdom’) transformed by a number of different influences including American culture, corporate capitalism, the economic extremism of the 1984 Labour government, the Māori renaissance, Pacific Island cultures, links with Australia, immigration from Asian countries, the women’s movement, gay rights, and now the digital revolution. The speed of the changes appears to have been heightened by the small size of the country. Some of these influences have been global but they took on distinctive forms in New Zealand. The essays in this collection were written over four decades but their subject matter covers eight decades. Each focuses on a period or aspect of New Zealand culture. By ‘culture’ I am referring to the semiotic aspect of our society, its shaping of word, image and sound. I am aware of the broader meaning of ‘culture’ as ‘way of life’ which is relevant to the social sciences; and on occasion I discuss this surrounding context which involves such matters as economics and politics, but my primary interest is always the semiotic environment, and above all the sophisticated play with signs that we know as the arts. The book attempts to provide not a continuous history but a series of case studies, written at particular moments in recent history, preserving the flavor of their period. One reason for collecting them was the fact that many younger New Zealanders seem unaware of the

8 / Re-inventing New Zealand

extent to which the country has changed. The period from the late 1960s through the ’70s was a particularly dramatic turning point – in many ways it represented our ‘sixties.’ When today’s younger historians and biographers write about a pre-1970s period, they strike many false notes since they lack personal experience of that time. Also, our 1960s and 1970s are often confused with the British or American ‘sixties.’ One consequence of a long involvement in the arts is a sceptical attitude to progress. For example, I do not share the current uncritical enthusiasm for the digital era but see its expansion as a source of threats as well as opportunities. New technologies have often involved problems for New Zealand, and a country such as ours with a small market and limited funding needs to keep a sharp eye on the potential disadvantages. The New Zealand nationalism associated with the art, music and poetry of the 1930s was an extremely creative movement, and we need a deeper understanding of it than the superficial versions usually invoked today. Several essays in this book seek to conjure up the original spirit of cultural nationalism and to analyse its power. My aim is not to resurrect it, however, but to study how its DNA has persisted or evolved. For example, when New Zealand finally developed a film industry in the 1970s, to what extent did it replicate the codes of the 1930s? Any concept of the ‘national’ requires an on-going process of smart re-invention, since otherwise it is likely to become fossilized and parochial. Many of my essays are attempts to open up what seems to me a congealed area of the arts. It is important to consider what the concepts ‘local,’ ‘national,’ and ‘global’ can mean today in a society dominated by consumerism, neoliberal ideology and technological upheaval. ‘National’ is a term that still has its uses but needs to be handled with caution. In discussing writers and artists who stay based in this country but have a strong international awareness, my book proceeds on the assumption that the context of the ‘local’ remains vital, especially in a period when the media landscape (as well as the natural landscape) is being radically reshaped. Obviously not all change is benign. One of the key concerns of this book is to see how the principle ‘Think globally, act locally’ can most effectively be applied to art.1

Introduction / 9

The impulse for writing Since the main driving force for my teaching and writing has always been enthusiasm, the reader can at least be assured that these essays are not routine ‘publish or perish’ projects, the kind of work that is now flooding the universities. I belong to an academic generation that was less strategic about developing careers. I was advised not to devote too much time to New Zealand subject matter, because universities tend to be more impressed by overseas topics and publications. This is a perennial form of cultural cringe, which J.C. Beaglehole was already challenging in his 1954 lecture ‘The New Zealand Scholar.’2 If I am excited about something new I want to share it, and most of my essays have taken their starting-point from that impulse – a crusade of sorts. Some essays are about artists neglected because they do not fit the national canon. For example, I have sought to convey my enthusiasm for the work of Leigh Davis, Tom Kreisler, Merylyn Tweedie, and Len Lye (who was still unknown in most parts of New Zealand at the time he died in 1980). My essays also grew out of the discovery of ideas such as semiotics, or reader-response and reading theories (such as the work of Stanley Fish), conceptual or post-object art, and ‘Language Poetry.’ Ezra Pound once defined literature as ‘news that STAYS news’3 and I believe his definition also applies to the lasting energy of creative ideas such as these. Another impulse has been anger or irony when I see something valuable threatened. Public policy influenced by ‘more market’ thinking has had negative effects when applied to many cultural areas. I have tried to draw attention to clichéd or intolerant attitudes, for example in my essay on anti-intellectualism (‘A Short History of “the New Zealand Intellectual”’). In an age of talkback ‘shock jocks,’ tabloid television, belligerent blogs like ‘Whale Oil Beef Hooked,’ and philistine politicians, anti-intellectualism continues to create a hostile situation for challenging forms of art. I am pleased that two other writers have recently published collections of essays about the same period of the arts in New Zealand – Wystan Curnow4 and Murray Edmond.5 Later in this introduction I shall describe and compare their perspectives. But first I will provide a brief autobiography, not for reasons of self-importance but because

10 / Re-inventing NZ

my experience can help to illustrate the ways in which the country has changed over seven decades. Also, this personal account will provide contexts for some of my essays.

Growing up in the 1950s I was born in Auckland in 1941, five years short of being a baby boomer. I think the period of the 1950s and early ’60s needs to be seen as a distinct phase in our culture. The young adults of that period were an awkward, in-between group, in contrast to the famous generation of ‘the thirties’ (those born in the 1900s and 1910s who were challenged by the Great Depression but succeeded in creating a new style of cultural nationalism), or the second wave of that movement (those born in the 1920s who lived through the Second World War), or the legendary generation of ‘the sixties’ (the baby boomers who became hippies and political activists in the late ’60s and ’70s). In 1960 Allen Curnow offered a ruthless literary summary of the in-betweeners: ‘Nowhere in the last decade has there been any poetic departures worth mentioning …. [S]ome of the better verse of this last decade has been muted in tone, deficient in energy, a dulled mirror; it is the curious half-art of a half-people, too safe to be interested, sure of everything but themselves.’6 In political terms New Zealand was then a more secure and equitable society than it is today – a welfare state, albeit one in which the capitalist aspect was growing in strength. I am grateful for the fact that the period offered a much richer spectrum of politics, with debates between many versions of capitalism and many versions of socialism. But while New Zealand had made progress politically, its mainstream culture was unsophisticated in its attitude to the arts. Many adults who had suffered through the Great Depression and the Second World War were desperate for a chance to settle down and work hard to earn their first house, car, refrigerator, and so on. For them this was not a gloomy period since they had greater security and a better standard of living; but the arts seemed a leisure activity for which they had little time, money, or need. In general, parents and school career advisers could not conceive of a young person seriously aiming for a career in the arts,

Introduction / 11

unless they intended to go overseas. In the 1950s writers and artists were highly critical of this mainstream culture. In 1954 when Beaglehole was in London, he wrote of New Zealand: ‘I could summon up from the shadows the rather scrubby vulgarity, the third-rateness, the complacency.’ And on his return: ‘I put it mildly when I say that my first sight of the Wellington streets … was dispiriting.’7 Then there was Bill Pearson’s devastating 1952 essay ‘Fretful Sleepers’: ‘There is no place in New Zealand society for the man who is different’ and ‘we huddle together in our threadbare conventions but the cold blows through.’8 This fretful mood permeates much of the poetry of the period describing the atrophy of the suburbs, such as James K. Baxter’s ‘Ballad of Calvary Street’ (‘an empty tomb / Where two old souls go slowly mad, / National Mum and Labour Dad’),9 Louis Johnson’s ‘Song in the Hutt Valley’ (‘Houses still grow, the children / Like cabbages are seen’)10 or M. K. Joseph’s ‘Secular Litany’ (‘That we may avoid distinction and exception / Worship the mean, cultivate the mediocre … / Saint Allblack … / Pray for us’).11 In their personal lives, many writers and artists of the 1950s struggled with depression and alcoholism. I grew up in a suburb of Auckland called Sandringham, very unlike ‘the private home of four generations of British monarchs’ after which it was named. (The neighbouring suburb was Balmoral.) My Sandringham was a working-class and lower-middle-class area, mostly Pakeha. The surrounding culture was so British-oriented that radio announcers had to adopt a plum-in-the-mouth BBC accent. During my teenage years, this sycophantic colonial society seemed frozen permanently in place. Later the re-inventions began, with Sandringham turning South Asian, known for its Indian restaurants, Halal meat shops and Bollywood movies.12 And currently it seems to be undergoing another metamorphosis by heading upmarket and yuppie. But in my boyhood the area was modest and monocultural. Apart from the Saturday afternoon cinema matinees and the comics I read voraciously, it felt claustrophobic. I became obsessed with astronomy. I saved up for a serious backyard telescope, and astronomy became my first choice for a career. I was also a voracious science fiction fan, another vehicle for transporting me light years away. From the mid-1950s I attended a single-sex public grammar

12 / Re-inventing NZ

school, described by Peter Wells who was a student a few years later as ‘an august institution, hallowed by sports victories, a good academic name and a general aura of late-British-Empire radiance.’13 Today I try not to be unfairly critical of the school as its teachers were good representatives of the culture of the day – serious men who set high standards. But their style was antiquated – they wore gowns, caned frequently, and seemed more concerned about memorizing famous poetry than interpreting it. The curriculum included no New Zealand literature and very little New Zealand history. Instead we learned in detail about British kings and queens and their wars, and we read a great deal of Dickens and Shakespeare. Our poetry textbook was Palgrave’s Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language which climaxed with Tennyson.14 This was a rich collection but it implied that the best poetry ‘in the English language’ came only from the past and only from Britain. I was drawn to poetry as another getaway, but the poems I wrote failed to reach escape velocity because all I knew was old-fashioned Romantic lyricism. In retrospect the ’50s has come to be associated with the emergence of rock n’ roll and teenage culture, and that was certainly an exciting breakout, but it was limited in scale. There were lots of little tremors in the arts but the general culture remained inert. The dissatisfaction that some individuals felt would not reach critical mass until the late 1960s and ’70s when the number of young New Zealanders was greatly boosted by the baby boom, and ‘the sixties’ in the U.K., U.S.A. and France had already set the style. The central character of John O’Shea’s feature film Runaway (1964), strikes me as a perfect example of the restless in-between period. David Manning, who was about the same age as me, spends the film travelling round New Zealand, searching for the meaning of life in a country that seems unable to supply one – he is literally a ‘rebel without a cause.’ O’Shea thought of Manning’s wanderings as symbolic of New Zealand’s troubled situation. In 1961 Britain had announced that it was seeking to join the European Economic Community (EEC), which meant that New Zealand urgently needed to find a new market for its dairy products. John Graham, the film’s co-scriptwriter, added: ‘I think at the time the symptoms of change were not so much thought about as intuitively felt. There was a bewilderment, a grop-

Introduction / 13

ing for understanding of what couldn’t adequately be expressed.’15 Graham and O’Shea’s rebel was clearly a mixture of John Mulgan’s Man Alone, the British Angry Young Men of the 1950s, and the bored, alienated characters of European art films such as L’Avventura (1960). (John Reynolds summed him up shrewdly as an ‘Angry Young Man Alone.’)16 Unfortunately the confused and not very articulate character of Manning lacked the context of British class politics or European existentialism and was thus no substitute for a Jimmy Porter or an Antoine Roquentin. Nor was he a hippie or an ‘easy rider.’ Because of its sex and rebellion, the film inspired angry letters to local newspapers hoping that ‘for the sake of New Zealand youth the film would not be sent overseas’ because ‘people will think New Zealand extremely crass.’17 The film did reach England but reviewers were not impressed. The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote: ‘In a vague way (too vague to mean anything to anybody) the script tries to embody the whole ethos of mixed-up kids.’18 Overall, Runaway lost so much money that it left O’Shea’s film company on the edge of bankruptcy. Despite the failure to create a convincing protagonist, the very making of Runaway was a brave act of rebellion because it was one of the only two feature films made in New Zealand between 1941 and 1964 (that is, during the first 23 years of my life).19 The attitude of overseas film studios was summed up by Denis Stanfill, chairman and president of 20th Century Fox, who was shocked to hear in 1977 that the New Zealand government was finally getting round to the idea of setting up a local film commission. Stanfill ‘told [Minister for the Arts Alan Highet] firmly there was no need for a local film industry because Hollywood could supply all the needs of New Zealand film-goers.’20 Even as late as 1977, I am sure that many New Zealanders would have agreed, provided they could still have some British films as part of the mix. In 1981, the road movie Goodbye Pork Pie was a huge success, like an Easy Rider re-make of Runaway, though it also had a strong kiwi flavor, at times more hoon than hippie.21 By then, the late 1970s had given us a film industry, along with many other additions to our cultural infrastructure – resources that back in the ’50s had seemed totally out of reach.

14 / Re-inventing NZ

Escape routes In my final years at school I did some wide-ranging independent reading, and that led to various life-changing discoveries – modern art, modern literature, Existentialism, Zen Buddhism, and other marvels. I learned that there were many possible idioms – marvelous pockets of otherness, if only they could be found. I was never going to learn about them from parents, teachers, or mainstream New Zealand culture. They were also unknown to peers, unless miraculously one discovered a kindred soul, another troubled outsider with an interest in the arts. Left-wing thought was also a source of alternatives and one that was more widely shared. There was a lively culture in some trade unions. I sampled various left-wing groups and took part in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s ‘Ban the Bomb’ marches. (CND was formed in Britain in 1958 and reached New Zealand in the following year.) I felt a huge sense of relief when I enrolled at university since I no longer needed to suffer the sense of inferiority that went with being enrolled at a boy’s school but having no talent for rugby. By this time I had dropped my ambition to be an astronomer, and instead enrolled for an Arts degree (though I still studied mathematics). Unfortunately, the Arts curriculum was very conservative – French literature stopped before Rimbaud, and philosophy was dominated by Descartes. This was not good news as I was obsessed with Mallarmé, Robbe-Grillet, Sartre, Wittgenstein, et al. The Classics Professor ridiculed me in front of the class after spotting me in a ‘Ban the Bomb’ march. But to my delight the university had a large library where I could pursue my own education. My greatest classroom windfall was a ‘New Zealand Literature’ course taught by Allen Curnow and Bill Pearson. All my previous revelations had had an overseas origin, but now I was introduced to serious New Zealand poetry and fiction. Today, when local literature is widely taught in schools, I don’t know if young people can understand just how startling and exotic it was to discover a body of literature by smart people writing about the pleasures and horrors of life in this country. Here was a new kind of escape – I could see my situation clearly, warts and all, from a perspective that was both inside and outside. Curnow’s great Penguin anthology (the subject of the first essay

Introduction / 15

in this book) was published while I was a student. Its theme was the search for an appropriate New Zealand idiom or idioms. My essay on Douglas Lilburn describes him as engaged in the same quest. Arguably such a goal was a chimera, but at the same time this pursuit was very productive. There have been many movements in the arts whose central idea was considered a chimera but which still produced striking results. (Consider, for example, the claims of Surrealism, or the European search in the 1970s for ‘authentic’ versions of early music.) I was also excited to discover active writers, artists, and critics among my fellow students. Wystan Curnow became a close friend, with whom I shared discoveries (and I have continued to do so ever since). We clicked initially through a common interest in Samuel Beckett and in the Beat writers. My girlfriend was a talented art school student, Vanya Lowry, who introduced me to the home of Bob and Irene Lowry, famous for their literary parties. Robert Nola joined me in running the Auckland Society for Contemporary Music for two years (196263), arranging for performances of everything from Anton Webern to New Zealand composers. We gave obscure lectures on Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen. I was proud to be the target of an official complaint from the Head of Music about a student newspaper article entitled ‘Cage Breaks Musical Bars’ in which I hinted that his department might be a little behind the times. I also wrote excited reviews of French New Wave films such as Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year in Marienbad for the student paper. This was a great golden age of films, with astonishing work by Fellini, Bergman, Godard, Resnais, Antonioni, and others. I changed my major from Philosophy to English. Among the lecturers in that department, Dr John Reid, then the weekly cinema reviewer for the Auckland Star, encouraged my reviewing of art films; and Karl Stead deepened my interest in New Criticism, whose links with modernism and emphasis on form and close reading felt like a cutting-edge approach, since much English scholarship was still clouded by Victorian habits of moral and philosophical musing.

16 / Re-inventing NZ

In the U.S.A. In 1963 after I completed my M.A., the Department helped me to obtain a scholarship for further study, which made possible my first overseas trip. I deeply shocked my lecturers by selecting an American university rather than Oxford or Cambridge. And my friend Wystan Curnow also chose the United States.22 We were both fired up by Abstract Expressionism, African-American jazz, Beat poetry and other Evergreen Review attractions; and after being involved in Bruce Jesson’s Republican group, studying in England would have compromised my post-colonial politics. Wystan and I had no illusions about the dark side of American politics and culture, but in 1963 serious art seemed to be thriving. Sure enough, a few days after I arrived, I attended a performance by Merce Cunningham’s dance group with sets by Robert Rauschenberg and music by John Cage and David Tudor. After the concert, I was even able to talk with Cage. New Zealand rapidly faded from sight! I married Eleanor Seguin, an anthropologist. Through our conversations, an awareness of the social sciences became an increasing part of my approach to literature. Our first child was born in 1964. We named her Simone since we had just discovered The Second Sex, one of the first ripples of the new wave of feminism. I spent two years at the University of Minnesota studying with Allen Tate, a poet, novelist, and leading New Critic. I was familiar with New Critical approaches to poetry but learned from Tate that there was a related approach to fiction. The textbook for his ‘Creative Writing’ course was the fascinating anthology The House of Fiction (edited by Tate and Caroline Gordon), which traced a modernist tradition of fiction from Henry James through James Joyce to the present. Tate may have seemed a conservative choice as my PhD supervisor but I was still on a steep learning curve and eager to absorb many areas of literature. He was very helpful and I learned much from this brilliant man about the work of modernist writers whom he had known personally. My methods have since moved far away from New Criticism but I have never lost my belief in the value of close reading and technical analysis. At the university I was also able to attend poetry readings by W. H. Auden, Anne Sexton, John Berryman, and many others.

Introduction / 17

Eleanor and I were kicked out of our student flat after a party. (Our friend Spider John Koerner had performed his blues with too much energy.) But we found an apartment in a slum area, not far from an inexpensive jazz club where I heard many of the great jazz performers of the 1960s such as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Cannonball Adderley. The club was next to a railroad track and the whole place shook when a train passed. The fact that I was a jazz fan from New Zealand and not a white American seemed to help me to be accepted by the black clientele. Elsewhere I went to gigs by John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus, and Ornette Coleman. Minnesota was an agricultural state, and I was intrigued but also disappointed by its similarities with New Zealand. After two years I was so impressed by news of counter-cultural ferment on the West Coast that I decided it was worth dropping out of my Minnesota PhD to broaden my American experience. It was one of the best decisions Eleanor and I ever made, since the University of California at Berkeley in 1965-66 was a centre of ‘sixties’ activity, with Vietnam protest, draft card burning, the Black Panthers, the Sexual Freedom League, the Fugs, the Merry Pranksters, the Yippies and Diggers, along with some great ’60s rock groups and the first conceptual artists I had encountered. I marched and conversed with my old heroes the Beats. Not that I threw myself into everything, since being a political activist and a conscientious husband and father limited my involvement in Berkeley’s drugs and free love; but I experienced enough forms of cultural rebellion to feel I had completed my liberation from the New Zealand ’50s.

Rediscovering New Zealand Unfortunately after a year we ran out of cash and faced with some American hospital bills, I applied for a job back in Auckland. Luckily the flood of baby boomers had begun and more lecturers were urgently needed. Thanks to references from Tate and Thom Gunn (a poet I studied with in Berkeley), I obtained a lectureship despite having dropped out of two American PhDs. Our second child, Dylan, was born soon after our return. Bob Dylan had come from Minnesota, and we loved his 1965 electric album Highway 61 Revisited. His stage name

18 / Re-inventing NZ

also echoed that of Dylan Thomas, another poet we greatly admired. What I wasn’t yet aware of was the fact that the poet had been a close friend of Christchurch-born artist Len Lye. I had come across Lye’s Flip and Two Twisters in a kinetic art exhibition in Berkeley early in 1966 and been amazed by it, but the signage had described the sculptor as ‘American.’ Back at Auckland University I persuaded the English Department to permit me to introduce courses on American poetry and contemporary literature. Living in the United States had advanced my education on both those fronts; and more generally, I felt it had led me out of the in-between or Runaway generation and into the ‘sixties.’ When the remarkable Freed generation arrived at university – baby boomers such as Alan Brunton, Sally Rodwell, Ian Wedde, Murray Edmond and many others – I was ready to offer them Whitman, Dickinson, Williams, Pound, Olson, and The New American Poetry 1945-1960 (the Donald Allen anthology), along with stories of Berkeley and San Francisco. Of course they were already making other discoveries on their own. I experimented with new teaching methods such as asking students to keep a journal and to try writing imitations. An imitation of Allen Ginsberg by a new student called Brunton was so convincing that at first I was certain it must be a plagiarism, so I called him to my office! He later published the poem in the group’s magazine Freed. I helped to organize readings for them, one of which attracted so many complaints for being indecent and noisy (with some recorded help from Led Zeppelin) that the Auckland Festival was outraged. There was still plenty of conservatism in New Zealand – the ‘sixties’ had erupted later than in other countries – and when I first arrived back at the end of 1966 I was shocked by how quiet things were. But when the revolution did get underway, there was so much work to be done that it lasted longer than in other countries, at least through to 1981 (the Springbok Tour). It felt as though our society was at last being re-made, as it needed to be, by a marvelous communal effort. There were new literary magazines, publishers, art galleries, film-makers and drama groups. Educational radicals set out to transform schools and universities. Nga Tamatoa, feminist, and gay and lesbian campaigns flourished. In other countries, identity politics emerged as a second wave, but because our ‘sixties’ began late and continued through the

Introduction / 19

’70s, all the movements criss-crossed. Wystan Curnow returned from the USA in 1970 (impressively having completed his PhD, which was on Herman Melville) and joined me in teaching the American poetry course for the next three decades. He had been similarly transformed by his American experience. We were determined to keep our poetry course up to date with contemporary developments. Robert Creeley was a visitor, and I spent time with him in Buffalo in 1973 during my first period of leave. In later years the course was dominated by the Language Poets, some of whom we managed to import as guest lecturers (starting with Charles Bernstein and Jackson Maclow in 1986, followed by Lyn Hejinian, Carla Harryman, Barrett Watten, and others). Our poets said they were surprised to find a New Zealand university ‘more fully up with the play’ than the English departments they visited in the U.S.A. In 1975 I finally succeeded in introducing the first Film Studies course. There was a great student demand for the subject because of the local upsurge in film-making, but – as I explain in my ‘Late Show’ essay – many professors tried to block it as they feared that watching films would lure students away from ‘serious’ subjects. I pointed out that at the end of the 19th century English had also struggled to gain entry to the university curriculum because academics had felt that reading novels was a frivolous activity. Other young lecturers were expanding the curriculum in areas such as ‘Post-Colonial Literature.’ English now meant ‘literature in the English language’ not ‘literature mainly from England.’ In 1979-80 I helped Aorewa McLeod to launch her Women Writers course by teaching with her for the first two years, in order to satisfy the Department’s demand for a token male lecturer! My essay ‘Reading and Gender’ (in this collection) sought to document how reading was changing under the influence of feminism. And from the early 1980s, Wystan and I were also involved (with Jonathan Lamb and Alex Calder) in teaching a new graduate course on contemporary literary theory – Semiotics, Structuralism and Post-Structuralism. All the essays in the first section of this book are influenced by this area of theory. As my thinking and Wystan’s had been transformed by the sixties, we were now struggling to come to terms with another cultural upheaval, the ‘language turn.’ This involved French theorists and – in a different but related way –

20 / Re-inventing NZ

American Language Poets. Our aim was not to imitate but to look for tools useful for our own activities. The magazine And (for which I wrote the first essay in this book in 1983 and then became one of the editors) started out as an experiment in applying overseas theory to New Zealand subject-matter. Eleanor and I separated in 1973, but we sought to share the parenting of our two children in an amicable manner. In 1979 I married Shirley Heim, a film-maker who has made notable documentaries about writers and artists (including Allen Curnow, Albert Wendt, Merimeri Penfold, Len Lye, Marti Friedlander, John Reynolds, Tom Kreisler, Julia Morison, Lisa Reihana, and many others). I helped with research and writing for many of those projects, a minor role in comparison with Shirley’s work as director and producer, but it has kept me in touch with the film-making process. This book includes one of my essays on the documentary genre. Shirley had two children – Steve and Tony – and we established a new, closely knit family. The children sometimes accompanied us on leave trips, while Eleanor took Dylan to Papua New Guinea on a field trip. I was proud that the kids felt we had given them an international childhood, very different from what ours had been. The range of their careers also reflects today’s greater variety of options. Steve marketed films in Europe and now runs an ‘Eco B&B’ in the Hokianga; Tony qualified as a lawyer but came to find other roles such as landscape gardener more satisfying; Simone has directed a feature film in New Zealand and one in China, but is now back at university; and Dylan writes and draws graphic novels which are published in many countries. All have worked overseas but continue to be based in New Zealand. From the late 1960s on, many new components were added to the country’s arts infrastructure. I am particularly interested in cultural growth and have often done organizing work. Creative people are inclined to assume that any ‘middle-man’ is a bureaucrat, and certainly that is sometimes the case, but the arts can benefit a great deal from having a support structure. Over the years I have been involved in many startups such as the Auckland International Film Festival (1969), Alternative Cinema (1972), Artspace (1986), the Association of Film and Television Teachers (1983), NZ On Air (1989), the NZ Electronic Poetry Centre (2001), Script to Screen (2006), NZ On Screen (2007),

Introduction / 21

and the Len Lye Centre (2015), besides introducing a new subject and department at the University. I have also co-edited five magazines and been involved in one way or another with the NZ Film Commission, the QE2 Arts Council, Creative NZ, Te Ara, the Len Lye Foundation, the Auckland University Press, film archiving, and the development of school curricula. Of course many other people besides me were involved in these initiatives, and my main reason for mentioning them is to offer examples of the extensive culture-building that has occurred since the ‘sixties.’ Many of the startups produced controversy, but each one added another piece to the jigsaw (which still has a number of gaps). They also served as the context for many of the essays in this book, such as those concerned with film and television. I have played the role of an ‘artist’ in so far as I have published two books of poetry, directed a film, co-written scripts, written an opera libretto, etc., but I have spent at least as much time being a critic, organizer, and teacher. This was a matter of personal inclination, but it is also common for a New Zealander interested in the arts to pursue a wide range of activities because the culture is not broad or deep enough for complete specialization. The perennial danger in this country is to be spread too thin, but the various cultural roles can strengthen one another. Criticism, organizing and teaching are certainly congruous, since all (at their best) are concerned with understanding, growing and deepening the culture. Work as an artist stands apart since it comes from a different source, but I believe it is important for a critic, organizer or teacher to have some direct personal experience of making art.

Lessons from history What larger lessons can be drawn from the period I’ve lived through? Several essays record the great surge of growth in the 1970s when the country developed a film industry, an independent television production industry, theatres to perform local plays, book publishers, composers and performers to play their music, dealer galleries and art fairs, etc. In each of these areas – still thinly populated before the ’70s – a whole community or culture has developed, and with it the possibility of at least some professional careers. There was support and interaction

22 / Re-inventing NZ

so that a local feature film (for example) could give work to a director, actors, writers, technicians, designers, composers, etc. Some arts such as film and theatre are expensive, and critical mass had to be reached for real growth to be possible with an audience buying the books or paying to see the plays or films. The fact that schools and universities began to study local work gave a major boost. It is also clear that growth in the arts has not happened regularly or automatically. One problem with thinking of one’s activities (teaching and organizing) as cultural activism is that it often seems wasted effort – our culture takes as many steps backwards as forwards. The country’s brain drain is a perennial problem. And supportive councilors or board members may be replaced by a faction less sympathetic to the arts. (Those involved with arts projects in New Plymouth, for example, have seen extreme examples of both.) New technology tends to have both good and bad effects, as when the arrival of sound put an end to our small but growing feature film industry at the end of the ’20s because it doubled the cost of film-making. And digital culture is destroying many professional careers at the same time as it opens up new avenues for distribution. Then there is national politics. As the ’70s counter-culture grew in strength, it became clear that the conservative, provincial New Zealand represented by Prime Minister Muldoon was overdue for a cultural revolution. Unfortunately, in 1984, this possibility was superseded by an upheaval of a very different kind – effectively a coup d’état on behalf of a new generation of businessmen. Under the unlikely banner of Labour, this élite group took control of the government and began to re-invent New Zealand according to its imported doctrine of neoliberalism. Since then, many areas of our lives have been reshaped by ‘New Right’ thinking with its narrow focus on ‘marketing,’ ‘branding,’ and consumer-style individualism. ‘Rogernomics,’ as this movement was initially known, certainly had some positive effects in shaking up institutions, introducing competition and encouraging enterprise. But that approach was designed for business and it was a grave mistake to impose it on cultural areas. ‘More market’ in a small country tends to mean ‘down market.’ What happened to our television and newspapers provides a vivid example, as our ‘public sphere’ (to use Jürgen Habermas’s term) has become corpora-

Introduction / 23

tized and trivialized. Ideologically-driven politicians and administrators are also doing great harm to our tertiary institutions. When politicians talk of ‘growing the culture’, they often assume it is simply a matter of power-point presentations, mission statements and five-year plans. They talk of ‘efficiency,’ ‘markets,’ and ‘consumer choice,’ and are determined to ‘get runs on the board’ or ‘more bang for the buck’ rapidly, since their time in office is limited. Following the lead of Margaret Thatcher, some want to avoid the term ‘culture’ altogether, but one of the things I like about the word is its link with agriculture and horticulture. Growing things in a garden is a highly complex business. The arts similarly require careful, long-term tending. There must be time to allow for unpredictable spurts of growth and unexpected crops. The fertilizer of money will not automatically improve the harvest, but applying some at the right moment can keep a crop alive (as happened for example in 1978, at a crucial moment in our film industry). Arts administrators need plenty of down-toearth knowledge since the devil is in the detail. Big is not necessarily best. Too often I have seen politicians and arts administrators make a sweeping change that had devastating effects – one frost can wipe out a promising harvest overnight. My essay on television offers examples both of growth and of destruction. The problems created by New Zealand’s small population and marginal position still exist today. In each of the arts, there tends to be a couple of major traditions but not much else. Minority idioms exist but they struggle to reach critical mass. New Zealand artists who spend time in large cities overseas are amazed by the variety of art scenes. For example, a visitor to New York has a choice of Uptown or Downtown, or Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway. Each category encompasses a variety of styles. In New Zealand we may have a mainstream and a couple of off-broadways, but with rare exceptions that is the extent of our choice. An artist with an unusual idiom struggles to find a publisher, theatre or audience. The most diverse and experimental area in our country tends to be the visual arts because of a more favourable economic situation. Whereas it is cheaper to import books, films and television programmes than to produce them locally, it is more expensive to import overseas art than to buy the local version. Also, as unique objects, paintings

24 / Re-inventing NZ

may have re-sale value. Not surprisingly, the visual arts have flourished and become a magnet for creative people from other areas.

The meaning of the local Considering that many of my interests are centred overseas, it may seem puzzling that I have remained based in New Zealand. Certainly, I seldom get sentimental about its culture, and I would get depressed if I were not able to make an occasional overseas trip. So why stay? Family links have been a consideration, but also important is the fact that working for the arts in New Zealand presents a special challenge. In European and Latin American countries, we often see the arts accepted as an important part of life. Not that artists overseas don’t have their own struggles, but the New Zealand situation – with its anti-intellectualism, its sceptical attitude to anything ‘obscure’ or ‘pretentious,’ its small audience size, and the general preference for sport and other outdoor activities – combine to give an edge, a sense of politics, to any serious practice of the arts. If one considers such activity valuable, then there is work to do. This is not a demand for propaganda art, or political correctness, but a sense of purpose that can help to sustain an artist or an organizer when the rewards are negligible. This kind of cultural politics was encouraged by the nationalists of the 1930s, as the first generation of ambitious creative people who chose to dig in and fight rather than emigrate. As A. R. D. Fairburn wrote ironically: If you have no stomach for roughage, if patience isn’t your religion, if you must have sherry with your bitters, if money and fame are your pigeon, if you feel that you need success and long for a good address, don’t anchor here in the desert— the fishing isn’t so good: take a ticket for Megalopolis, don’t stay in this neighbourhood!23

Introduction / 25

Granted, a cynic may regard the cultural activist’s rationale for anchoring in ‘the desert’ as self-importance, priggery, masochism, or some kind of Freudian family romance. But I respect the fact that critical forms of nationalism or localism are based on a sense of community, in sharp contrast to the me-first individualism of the neo-liberals, or the ugly jingoism sometimes seen in national sport or politics. The 1930s writers and artists developed a particular set of concerns: realism, history, landscape, along with opposition to British colonialism (‘Empire’), religious Puritanism, parochialism, and materialism (the pioneer practicality which saw no value in art). Some of these issues are still relevant, but today all of them are differently inflected. For example, respect for the landscape has become part of global environmentalism in an age of large-scale pollution and climate change. The ’30s group already had a greater knowledge of international art than most other New Zealanders, but today’s artists have far more opportunities to link up with the world. The option of desert or Megalopolis no longer needs to be a stark choice. If artists still choose to retain a base in New Zealand, they can ‘think globally but act locally’ – or act globally with a special perspective gained from their regional background. As I suggest in my Lilburn essay: Such an artist will certainly not be a nationalist in the old sense but may engage with local contexts in subtle ways. Examples in the visual arts (to mention just a few) are et al, John Reynolds, Rick Killeen, Michael Parekowhai, Max Gimblett, Julia Morison, and the late Julian Dashper; and critics such as Wystan Curnow, Robert Leonard, John Hurrell, and Jim and Mary Barr. When the older generation is inclined to notice only their ‘internationalism,’ we need better ways to discuss the complex interaction that these artists and critics have with New Zealand. Serious art of any kind is to be welcomed, but personally I take a special interest in work that derives at least some of its originality from a sophisticated use of local elements. My essays focus on artists of this kind who are not simply imitating overseas ideas (a bad habit in our country) but find novel ways to acclimatize them. An example of how poorly this approach is understood was the public outcry against the

26 / Re-inventing NZ

selection of et al to ‘represent New Zealand’ at the Venice Biennale. Although this artist’s work has been rich in satirical allusions to local culture, critics considered it alien and irrelevant. (I discuss this controversy in my essay on anti-intellectualism.) As Robert Leonard sums up Wystan Curnow’s stance: ‘His writings help us to understand how New Zealand art evolved out of its inwardlooking nationalism … to take its place in the brave new global art world of the twenty-first century …. But, as much as Curnow wants New Zealand art to be part of a bigger discussion, he refuses to sacrifice place, recognizing that his unlikely location provides insights into and leverage upon the dynamics of “international art” and “world art”.’24 Leonard also describes him as ‘an internationalist from here, an antipodean internationalist.’25 Of course, there have been precedents in the arts such as Len Lye, Gordon Walters, Jim Allen and Alan Loney, whose local knowledge gave them ‘insights’ into ‘international art’ but whose work did not follow a nationalist model.

Other critics Supporting local art should never mean trying to impose a particular formula. The aim is simply to sustain an active culture in our vicinity, generating original art of one sort or another. A group of artists takes things in a particular direction, and temporarily their work comes to represent the local tradition; then another generation reacts strongly against it. In doing so, the younger artists re-define ‘New Zealand art’ and add a new layer to the tradition. Action and reaction is a healthy dynamic, so that the local tradition has a series of overlapping layers. One way to expand on my view of the period and the culture is to compare it with two recently published collections of essays which also span the last four decades. They are by Wystan Curnow, whose focus is the visual arts (as critic, curator, founding father of Artspace, and collaborator with Billy Apple), and Murray Edmond who emphasizes poetry and theatre (as writer, performer, producer, dramaturge and teacher). Although I have covered other areas, such as film and television, there are many similarities in our concerns and career paths. Even though our birthdates are a little different – 1939 for Curnow, 1941

Introduction / 27

for myself, and 1949 for Edmond – the three of us taught the American poetry course together and we have shared various projects. All three of us went overseas (Edmond to England and Poland), and were excited by the new work we encountered, but we returned and have remained based in New Zealand. Following the usual local pattern, we have all been involved in a spread of activities. Besides making a living as lecturers, we all write criticism and do some organizing in addition to creative work. Each of us appears to have gone through similar stages. First we had to evolve out of ’50s into ’60s culture (an easier shift for Edmond). Then there was a subsequent shakeup in coming to terms with French theory, language poetry, conceptual art, and other new developments. This could also be described as a move from ‘modernism’ to ‘postmodernism,’ though personally I would prefer to see it as an expansion of modernism to include new elements. The ground was shaking unpredictably and we were struggling to keep our footing. These changes overlapped with what has been called ‘the cultural turn,’ which influenced us in different ways. In my case it meant a strengthening of my involvement with the social sciences since I was now teaching courses in ‘Media Studies’ and therefore grappling with the ideas of the Birmingham School (a novel amalgam of sociology, Marxism, and French theory, used to analyse the mass media and other forms of culture). Today, we are all attempting to adjust to the new digital culture. (Edmond and I have been involved in startups, such as the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre.) Each of our essay collections reflects these international paradigm shifts (or revolutions) which were global but acquired a local accent. There have, of course, been other new movements – including many in popular culture – but the above history offers one way to understand the changing priorities of artistic and intellectual life during the period. In Then It Was Now Again, Edmond describes the writer’s role as ‘a wrestling match with his own culture and the language it has debased.’26 He grapples with many flabby or pretentious forms of art. For example, he says of mainstream theatre: ‘Groups need good audiences to survive, but New Zealand theatres are invariably choked with the stuffy and the stuffed who cannot be shocked or overjoyed, who cannot laugh, and who love it all, [who] thank Christ they are here,

28 / Re-inventing NZ

safe in furs, and not out there threatened on the street.’27 In covering 40 years of local cultural history he identifies various bursts of ‘revolution’ which were gradually tamed and domesticated by the establishment, creating a new ‘staid parade’ so that ‘now’ became ‘then.’ Yet it always remains possible for new cultural energies to surge up. As a canny historian, Edmond is aware of the ironies and naive ‘Romantic streak’ that may complicate such upheavals: ‘The idea of “revolution as carnival” … has accompanied … the problem of how to transform a colonial society and its brutalisations into something else – that “something else” remaining undefined, and therefore tantalizingly alluring and also frustratingly unrealized.’28 Along with Big Smoke (the anthology he co-edited with Michele Leggott and Alan Brunton), Edmond’s book of essays offers an invaluable record and interpretation of cultural change in our vicinity. As the son of Allen and Betty Curnow, Wystan Curnow grew up in the heart of ’30s cultural nationalism, but soon developed a different approach. One of his key concepts has been ‘high culture,’ a concept he borrowed from a favourite American teacher and theorist, Morse Peckham. Curnow attaches huge importance to art as a path-finder and innovator, with the role of generating ‘new forms of thought and feeling.’29 Once new forms have been developed in the field of high culture, there is a natural process of ‘trickle-down’ that can influence not only the arts but crafts, popular culture, advertising, and life styles. For example, early 20th century Modernism has come to shape many areas of fashion and architecture. And many aspects of what we know today as ‘New Zealand culture’ were initiated by the maverick artists of the ’30s. As new ideas spread, however, they tend to become diluted. (This is shown today by the loose use of terms such as ‘deconstruction,’ ‘conceptual’ or ‘performance art.’) Innovative art is vital to the health and renewal of our society yet it has always met with fierce resistance. Curnow argues in his major essay ‘High Culture in a Small Province,’ that ambitious, experimental art needs space or ‘psychic insulation’ for its development, within a small ‘community’ of ‘artists and art-world insiders’ (‘expert viewers and readers’).30 Such space and support are rare in this country. He has been frequently criticized for saying so by reviewers who feel compelled to stamp out the idea of ‘high culture’ in the interests of equality. A recent

Introduction / 29

Art New Zealand review of his book by Edward Hanfling is typical of this response. He accuses Curnow of a ‘weird and old-fashioned’ belief in ‘high culture,’ driven by ‘snobbery’ and ‘inveterate elitism.’ This causes Curnow to ‘miss out on an awful lot, while implying that everybody else is wallowing around in crap.’31 In fact, Curnow has never had such a narrow perspective as this, and he’s been a popular, un-snobbish teacher for over 40 years. Why shouldn’t he be a passionate advocate for his ideal, for work of the most ambitious kind? I am sceptical of the political equation often drawn between highbrow art and high social class. Many of our best artists (such as Len Lye, Janet Frame and Colin McCahon) came up the hard way. I have had fierce arguments with politicians who disapprove of funding for the Concert Programme because they assume that classical music is nothing but a pastime for the rich. Pierre Bourdieu’s link between high culture and social status may apply to the French bourgeoisie, but our country is a very different situation. A successful businessman in New Zealand needs to be able to talk knowledgably about topics like rugby, yachting, and the stock market, and if he initiates a conversation about high culture – or indeed art of any kind – he is likely to cause raised eyebrows rather than impress his associates. It is true that well-worn operas and ballets occasionally provide a glossy opportunity to dress up and be seen with the right people (Edmond’s ‘stuffy and the stuffed’), but that is middle-brow territory, and the kind of ambitious, challenging work that genuinely qualifies as highbrow is more likely to be found in dingy venues catering to a small, less affluent audience.

The culture at large Art which is complex, original, and challenging to the audience needs to be singled out and supported; but both Curnow and Edmond know that it is also important to understand the workings of the culture as a whole. I share their desire for a broad view, and also feel that the best art can often be found in unexpected places. Many of the essays in my collection focus on forms of ‘high culture,’ but the section on film and television ranges more widely in also exploring the dynamics

30 / Re-inventing NZ

of so-called ‘popular culture.’ Once again, the local versions have their own distinctive character. During the 11 years I was a board member of NZ On Air, I found that the main New Zealand television channels used the term ‘highbrow’ to describe what I would call middle-brow programming. That was the limit of the known world. Again, they challenged the distinction I wanted to make between ‘popular’ and ‘populist.’32 ‘Populist’ material, represented in my view by stereotyped versions of ‘the reality programme,’ was taking over an increasing amount of television space. My sympathy was with ‘popular’ culture, and I am proud to have played a small part in initiating Shortland Street, New Zealand’s first daily prime-time soap opera. It has now been running for 23 years and has served as a training ground for countless directors, actors and writers. NZ On Air investment was a crucial part of its creation, although such funding was gradually reduced until the series became self-supporting in its third year. That a public fund should be helping ‘popular culture’ provoked fierce protests from politicians and other establishment figures whom I would describe as champions of middlebrow taste. Their conception of public service broadcasting was borrowed directly from Britain and not adapted to such differences as the small size of our market and the scarcity of our television drama. In 1992 Shortland Street seemed to me good ‘popular culture’ – admittedly not ‘high culture,’ but a well-written soap which tackled some current social problems, was multi-cultural, struck a chord in its young audience, and in many respects broke new ground for local television drama. Again, I shared NZ On Air’s decision to use some of its limited funds to subsidise documentaries but not formulaic ‘reality programmes’ or thinly disguised ‘infomercials’ loaded with product placement. We were criticized for this – described on one occasion as ‘pointy-headed, sandal-wearing, muesli-munching, politically-correct, ivory-tower snobs’! Meanwhile we were attacked from the opposite direction by academics who condemned local television documentaries as ‘too populist.’ What they wanted were documentaries of a festival type, or something like a British upper-middle-brow approach. Our local documentaries were consciously made to be accessible to a broad audience, but they had solid journalistic values and broke much

Introduction / 31

new ground. I saw them not as ‘populist’ but as good ‘popular culture.’ Unfortunately they soon became an endangered species; and today, with so few alternatives left at its disposal, NZ On Air has been forced to fund populist material. I have documented these battles in my television section because they help to identify the overall field of forces that shape our culture. As a whole, the collection of essays provides soundings of various corners and levels of the local artistic eco-system, which is alive with many species from scattered avant-gardes to teeming popular genres. Ever since the arts introduced me, as a teenager, to their expanded forms of thought and feeling, I have been drawn to explore and map this complex, volatile environment.

32 / Re-inventing NZ

endnotes 1 The term ‘art’ will often be used in this book in a general sense. Likewise, the term ‘artist’ can cover not only painters but also writers and film-makers and others working in the arts. 2 J. C. Beaglehole, The New Zealand Scholar (Margaret Condliffe Memorial Lecture, Canterbury College, 21 April 1954), Christchurch, Canterbury University College, 1954. 3

Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading, London, Faber and Faber, 1961, p.29.

4 The Critic’s Part: Wystan Curnow Art Writings 1971-2013, Wellington, Adam Art Gallery / Victoria University Press / Institute of Modern Art, 2014. 5 Murray Edmond, Then It Was Now Again: selected critical writing, Pokeno, Atuanui Press, 2014. 6 ‘Introduction,’ The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, ed. Allen Curnow, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1960, pp.64-65. 7

The New Zealand Scholar, p.10.

8 Bill Pearson, Fretful Sleepers and Other Essays, Auckland, Heinemann Educational Books, 1974, p.6 and p.28. 9 The Auckland University Press Anthology of New Zealand Literature, ed. Jane Stafford and Mark Williams, Auckland, Auckland University Press (AUP), 2012, p.384. 10

Ibid, p.386.

11

Ibid, p.393.

12

This change began in the early 1990s.

13 Peter Wells, in R.C.J. Stone and N.A.C.McMillan, Tradition and Change: Mount Albert Grammar School, The First Seventy-five Years, Auckland, Mount Albert Grammar School, 1997, p.118. 14 ed. Francis Turner Palgrave, Oxford University Press. (I think we used the third edition, in a 1936 reprint.) For a comment on the influence of this anthology in New Zealand, see Chris Hilliard, The Bookmen’s Dominion: Cultural Life in New Zealand 1920-1950, Auckland, AUP, 2006, p.47. 15 Quoted in John Reynolds, ‘’Going Far?’: John O’Shea’s Runaway in the Context of his Attempt to Establish a Feature Film Industry in New Zealand,’

Introduction / 33 PhD thesis, University of Auckland, 2002, p.161. 16

Ibid, p.357.

17 p.345. 18 p.357. 19 John O’Shea had also made the other film – Broken Barrier (1952) – in collaboration with Roger Mirams. In 1940 Rudall Hayward had made Rewi’s Last Stand. 20 Lindsay Shelton, The Selling of New Zealand Movies. Wellington: Awa Press, 2005, p.22. 21 Geoff Murphy told me that Abbie Hoffman’s Steal this Book had been one of the early inspirations for his film. 22 See The Critic’s Part: Wystan Curnow Art Writings 1971-2013, p.2 (and elsewhere). 23 ‘I’m older than you, please listen,’ Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, p.154. 24 ‘Curnow’s Leverage,’ in The Critic’s Part: Wystan Curnow Art Writings 19712013, p.10. 25 Ibid. 26

Then It Was Now Again, p.11.

27

Ibid, p.90.

28

Ibid, ‘Preface,’ page v.

29 ‘High Culture in a Small Province: Further Thoughts 1998-2013,’ The Critic’s Part: Wystan Curnow Art Writings 1971-2013, p.433. 30 Ibid. 31

‘High Culture,’ Art New Zealand No.153, Autumn 2015, pp.103-105.

32 From an academic viewpoint, those are categories that re-open an extensive Cultural Studies debate about the difficulty of distinguishing ‘authentic’ popular culture from capitalist mass-production. Nevertheless, when local production is limited, and available funding is restricted, then choices have to be made.

Re-inventing New Zealand

The Invention of New Zealand Written in 1983, this was the opening essay in the first issue of And. Alex Calder and Leigh Davis launched And as a new style of literary magazine, and I joined them in editing subsequent issues. The essay introduces a major theme of my collection, the arrival of new ways of thinking about literature and the arts. It doesn’t reject the New Zealand literary tradition but seeks to read and respond to it differently.

The Invention of New Zealand

(1) The Reality Gang

I

t’s an old country. One day out in the back of beyond you come across a small town, run-down because many of its young people have headed for the city. In an unpretentious building you discover a local art gallery-cum-museum. A solitary caretaker puffing a pipe turns on the lights and you are startled by the paintings on the walls. You smile at some of the quaintness but basically you are very impressed by this local school. There is a pleasant sense of artists having worked closely together. Here are old images of heaven and hell that now have a surreal air. You’d like to understand this odd iconography but the caretaker has a curiously literal approach – he tells local stories about the paintings as though he were pointing things out to you through a window. Still, he’s a compelling talker, and the small town has changed so little over the years that it’s not difficult to feel your way back inside the artists’ frame of mind. ______________________________ Strictly speaking, New Zealand doesn’t exist yet, though some possible New Zealands glimmer in some poems and on some canvases. It remains to be created – should I say invented – by

40 / Re-inventing New Zealand

writers, musicians, artists, architects, publishers; even a politician might help …. (Allen Curnow, in the first Year Book of the Arts in New Zealand, 1945) Reading in the local library gives you a new angle on that eccentric caretaker. He was the one who designed the museum, championed the artists, shrewdly selected and arranged their best work. He starts to seem less like a small town spinner of yarns and more like a Prospero. Or a Wallace Stevens: Capable to detect where reality was not And scrupulous what to put in place of it. (Curnow, ‘Mementos of an Occasion.’) It is possible to think that we live by fictions which we tell ourselves about ourselves, by a kind of magic. For most people, or enough people at a time, they are true …. If today’s fiction wears thin, there will be a replacement tomorrow …. The experts in a more potent magic have prevailed …. (Curnow, ‘Preface’ to Four Plays.) Allen Curnow has had a long career as a magician, a maker of fictions, yet always in the language of ‘reality’ or ‘truth.’ In The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse he cooly delivered judgements such as ‘No earlier New Zealand poem exhibits such unabashed truth to its subject’ (page 38), or let you know the precise lines in which ‘the actual colours and contours do begin to appear’ (34). In later years he has become more interested in talking about ‘fictions.’ Some of his earliest poems grew out of his personal struggle to dispel the weighty fiction Christianity. His father was an Anglican clergyman and he had himself started studying for the Anglican ministry. His desire to see the world as it really was gave him a further project: exorcising all the spells cast by foreign magicians over the new islands. Local poetry, for example, was ‘ghost poetry, as we speak of the ghosttowns’ (Penguin Book p.32).

The Invention of New Zealand / 41

Black Magic language, formulas for reality – ….used by inferior magicians with the wrong alchemical formula for transforming earth into gold (‘Wichita Vortex Sutra’) (These lines are from an American state-of-the-nation poem by Allen Ginsberg, described recently by Curnow as a ‘poet of unusual genius.’) The Māoris knew all about magic and reality, but their magic was one thing the Pakehas could not take from them. Curnow was extremely sensitive to this issue. The Pakeha poet had to create his own New Zealand magic, which he preferred to think of as reality rather than magic. The invention was a joint effort. By 1960 there were enough ‘possible New Zealands’ to be shaped by Curnow into the large Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse. The book begins with a motto from Gulliver’s Travels: the reader can hardly conceive my Astonishment, to behold an Island in the Air, inhabited by Men, who were able (as it should seem) to raise, or sink, or put it into a progressive Motion, as they pleased. Any notion of ‘reality’ tends to involve a consensus among a particular group of people at a particular time. The Penguin Book included a few poets who felt they had been tricked into the consensus – the older magician was confusing their newer magic. But on the whole the Penguin Book was a wonderfully successful job of consolidation. As I write this, in 1983, I am aware that a new Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse is being prepared by Ian Wedde and Harvey McQueen. Perhaps they will be ‘the experts in a more potent magic.’ (It’s a good omen that one of Wedde’s earlier books is called Spells for Coming Out.) Certainly no other local anthology has so far exercised as much influence as Curnow’s. There is great power in Arthur Baysting’s Young New Zealand Poets and Witi Ihimaera and D.S. Long’s Into The World Of Light, but these are anthologies of a different type – they record breakthroughs rather than sort out the canon. Magic is never easy to explain but some aspects of the experience can be discussed. Unfortunately most of the critical writing about Curnow and his contemporaries has borrowed

42 / Re-inventing New Zealand

the same style of curious literalness – the critics have gone along for the ride. Other writers have jumped off the island and gone their own way. It’s hard to find a useful account of Curnow as ‘homo faber’, maker of fictions, or as venerable magician – an account that is not bored or hostile on the one hand, or on the other hand completely under his spell. I shall mention one later. More accounts of this kind are bound to come, for it is easier now to enjoy the Penguin Book as artifact, as an intricate, stylised genre something like The Western. So many words have sprouted quotation marks. The New Zealand tradition has never been monolithic – somewhere there have always been alternative styles of reading, alternative fictions. Still, the situation today seems more diverse than ever before, which is a great pleasure. It also makes it easier to think about the processes (such as reading and making fictions) themselves. ____________________ I was too young to feel the impact of Curnow’s first anthology (1945, revised 1951), but like many other readers I had the experience of being converted to New Zealand verse by the Penguin Book. As a schoolboy at the end of the 1950s my sense of poetry was based on The Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language, selected by Francis Turner Palgrave, one of the best-selling anthologies of all time. Poetry was yuletide logs blazing on snowy evenings, corbies and cuckoos, taverns, ploughmen, bards. I liked lyric poems that carried me as far away from Auckland as possible. I also read science fiction. Arriving at university and being introduced to New Zealand poetry – above all by the newly published Penguin anthology – inspired me with home truths, local adventures, a new canon and a new poetic. In making a first really comprehensive anthology of my country’s verse, I have found myself piecing together the record of an adventure, or series of adventures, in search of reality – of which New Zealand has been the scene, containing the deserts and dragons as well as the forests and fountains and fine prospects. (Penguin Book p.17.)

The Invention of New Zealand / 43

What strikes me about the Penguin Book today are its myths, its quests, its icons; what struck me in 1960 were its realities. To be mature is to be clear-sighted about harsh facts – at least, that’s one implication of ‘realism,’ and that’s the way I used to read Curnow’s sentence – as a reminder that the New Zealander (knight errant) must pay his dues. Palgravian fountains and dragons were playfully conjured up only to see them transformed by the magic word ‘reality.’ All Guesses at golden coasts and tales of monsters To be digested into plain instructions …. (p.206) The best magicians are so subtle they are taken for realists – they seem to be merely pointing to what is there, to powers inherent in things. Notice Curnow’s use of the phrase ‘I have found myself piecing together …’ as though he too were surprised to see a pre-existent pattern emerging. This ‘search’ for a pattern made a very compelling project. Baby Sebastian in one of Charles Brasch’s poems ‘sees the strangeness of life, and what things are trying to be’ (p.186). James K. Baxter writes: ‘Remote [is] the land’s heart: though the wild scrub cattle / … may learn / Shreds of her purpose’ (p.287). Michael Dunn has spoken of the attempt by New Zealand painters and writers to see the features of the landscape as ‘art works waiting for the right sensibility’ (‘Frozen Flame and Slain Tree,’ Art New Zealand No. 13, 1979). Adventuring in search of reality was not only a stylistic preference – it also involved a moral responsibility to nature and to the local community: the magician as local minister. That social role is summed up strongly in the poem ‘Journey Towards Easter,’ spoken by ‘Peter Radford, priest of a North Auckland parish’: wayward I could sing for its born people, being one knows no faith in them, being perversely of them. It takes me, makes me, taxes me, and I shall not turn from its service. (p.275) Orthodox Christianity ‘is dead’ in this priest – Faith is ‘a great fogged and empty cavern.’ But he continues with his work – ‘walking in the

44 / Re-inventing New Zealand

way of my craft’ – because he believes that a new god may emerge from this ‘soil of pain,’ a new ‘dialect for our … communion’ (272-5). These are serious aims – this secular ministry, this role of ‘unacknowledged legislator’ (to quote Shelley’s ‘Defense of Poetry’) – and I have no wish to parody them. But I do want to emphasize the elements of choice and of rhetoric, the poet as maker rather than medium. Curnow may ‘have found’ himself ‘piecing together the record of an adventure’ but as I read his anthology I am constantly (and pleasantly) aware that a powerful mind is busy shaping it. The poem quoted above is not typical of Kendrick Smithyman but it is easy to see why Curnow selected it. In terms of the older poets Curnow skillfully separated out their serious work. Erratic writers like Glover and Fairburn gained a great deal from this strong editing. Like Curnow, Fairburn conceived of the role of ‘New Zealander’ as a total commitment, moral and aesthetic, but he talked about it less subtly. In 1932 Fairburn wrote from England to R.A.K. Mason: NZ is a crude little hole, without doubt. But … I’d like to go back to NZ and be a New Zealander. Not a wistful student of French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, as some of our young artists would apparently wish to be. Not a follower of the Bolshevik Revolution …. Not a student of Anglo-Irish decadence – of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and co. But just a New Zealander. I would like to live in the backblocks of NZ, and try to realise in my mind the real culture of that country. Somewhere where I might escape the vast halitosis of the Press, and the whole dreadful weight of modern art and literature. Because we really are people of a different race, and have no right to be monkeying about with European culture. (The Letters of A.R.D. Fairburn, selected and edited by Lauris Edmond, Auckland, 1981, pp.62-3.) This ‘real culture’ of a ‘race’ that is ‘really’ different is an odd notion. Fairburn rejects Joyce, then in the following sentence seems to be paraphrasing him (‘I go to encounter … the reality of experience and to forge … the uncreated conscience of my race’). From the letter one would think that Fairburn had been exploring the world for years, but

The Invention of New Zealand / 45

he had not been away from New Zealand for much more than a year. He rejected ‘modern art’ because it was tainted by ‘internationalism,’ and took the Wandering Jew as his symbol for it. At times Fairburn’s attitudes are alarming: When I came to England, I acted the Jew. I have no roots in this soil …. Jewish standards have infected most Western art. It is possible to look on even the ‘self-conscious’ art of Poe, Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Pater – Coleridge even – as being ‘Jewish,’ in the sense I am meaning. The orgasm is self-induced, rather than spontaneous. (Letters p .80.) Fairburn uses a lot of sexual analogies – international art is masturbation, abortion, or homosexuality (which is something he dislikes almost as much as feminism). It seems that the only healthy artist is the one who marries his country. Conceived as a landscape, the country is a beauty; as a society she’s an old nag. But even in that case: ‘In the end, every man goes back where he belongs, if he is honest. The rake deserts his harlot and returns to the shrew he has lived with for long years’ (Letters p.80). Of course Fairburn was not always as bad as this, but even in terms of his best writing it is difficult for me to understand why Curnow chides Baxter for not having ‘always that instinct for a reality prior to the poem which protects Fairburn … from losing [his] subject in rhetoric’ (Penguin Book p.62). ‘Reality’ and ‘rhetoric’ have a sneaky habit of changing places. But taking the Penguin Book as a whole, I can not imagine anyone presenting New Zealand literary nationalism to better advantage – the genre is assembled, the aesthetic is argued with outstanding skill and care. Curnow’s writing has not started to wear thin as some of Fairburn’s and Glover’s has. Some individual sentences have, however, become decidedly odd, particularly if you read them slowly. Some readers may prefer them that way. Consider the Yeats quotation used by Curnow as a motto: One can only reach out to the universe with a gloved hand – that glove is one’s nation ….

46 / Re-inventing New Zealand

It’s easy to see why it was also used as a motto by Robert B1y. Here are a few Curnow sentences that have similarly moved closer to Bly or Magritte: 1. The ampler, barer perspectives of mountains, plains, and coasts of the South Island – separated from the North by the gale-threshed, ocean gut of Cook Strait – extend behind Brasch’s earlier lyrics. 2. Islands breed illusions, whichever end of the telescope one takes. 3. The roving tentacles touched, rested, clutched Substantial earth, that is, accustomed haven For the hungry whaler. Some inland, some hutched Rudely in bays, the shaggy foreshore shaven, Lusted, preached as they knew …. 4. Bowen’s hero Jason speaks for the young Englishman, whose imagination swims on and off an antipodean coast, finding no bottom. 5. It is the knowledge of evil, as well as good, which those in the surf-deafened islands cannot grasp.

(2) Travels with a Penguin Flashback: The Penguin Book was ideally sized for my parka pocket. I carried it on hitch-hiking trips, reading it over a plate of sausages or a tin of Wattie’s fruit salad, introducing the language to the landscape from Curious Cove to North Cape. 1983: the pages are going brown around the edges, and there are some nostalgic stains from various parts of the country. But the tradition is still intact, from ‘The Creation’ through to ‘Afternoon Tea’ and ‘Dawn.’ (The poetry ends with the phrase ‘last sad triumph,’ and in my copy it looks as though the typesetter gave it an ironic tilt downwards.) There are no pictures,

The Invention of New Zealand / 47

apart from symbolic penguins, just chunky poems, few gaps and no frills. The paper seems closely related to newsprint and one can pause in the middle of a poem for a bracing whiff of wood pulp. This is appropriate to poets that aspire to ‘be news,’ or for a book of magic disguised as ‘a pine-dark corner of the world.’ It’s more in line with Colin McCahon’s raw canvas than with (say) Thomas Bracken’s ‘drawingroom edition … bound in half-Morocco and gold, dedicated to Alfred Lord Tennyson’ (p.24). The cover is green, perhaps green for pines or pounamu, but it’s ended up as olive green. Were there negotiations? An arty English designer seems to have won the argument since the cover is also covered in rows and rows of an enigmatic symbol. You could see them as eyes (‘Snap open! He’s all eyes’ p.2l4), as disconcerting as Brasch’s surreal forests of eyes ‘that from groins / And armpits of the hills so fiercely look’ (p.8). Or seeds, or olives (‘in a strange land / taking cocktails at twilight’ p.180). Or a fence, such as Hart-Smith’s barbwire fence around that strange paddock ‘sharpened to a point’ where you’re ‘cornered at last’ in the heart of the heart of the country (p.2l6). Or perhaps the symbol has no meaning at all. It is, in any case, hand drawn, 1949 versions of the one motif. A few years ago this exhausting pattern began peeling off my copy like wallpaper, exposing the ‘real’ cover which is plain white cardboard. The eyes, or whatever you see the pattern as, are interrupted by a window shape. Through this frame are the words of the title. The image is so strong that when I open the book the poems are also shaped like windows, tall or square, some divided into separate panes. Some are exotic French doors or Louvres but most are plain puttied frames. In ‘Lever de Rideau’ Ursula Bethell looks out the window at ‘the plaintown’ then observes that: a salt-sharp east wind flicks and swells and tosses my emerald silk curtains (p.123) That wind is so real she can see, feel and smell it. Yet the mountains are ‘painted’ as though the curtains have gone up on a stage set. In ‘October Morning’ the window reveals what the art critics have called the special sharpness of New Zealand light:

48 / Re-inventing New Zealand

All clear, the city set – but oh for taught interpreter, To translate the quality, the excellence, for initiate seer, To tell the essence of this hallowed clarity, Reveal the secret meaning of the symbol: ‘clear’ (p .124) Perhaps the meaning will be cracked by Charles Brasch’s Baby Sebastian: What does he find there At the end of his absorbing stare, Where Mt Herbert floats weightless in the glass-clear air? (p.185) One of the best window poems in the Penguin Book is Allen Curnow’s ‘A Small Room with Large Windows.’ C.K. Stead has said of the ‘plunge of the gannet’ near the end of this poem: that occasion can be left, in the context of so rich a poem, to speak for itself, to be itself …. Like all the impressions of this final section it is set down simply and cleanly, so that the words are like a clear glass (a ‘large window’!) through which we observe the event itself: a gannet impacting. (‘Allen Curnow’s Poetry’ in Essays on New Zealand Literature, p. 67.) I agree with Stead that it’s a wonderful line, but I don’t see any way it’s ‘set down simply.’ In the poem its spaced-out singularity does not say ‘clear glass’ but ‘Imagist fragment.’ It sends me to the dictionary to explore the meanings of ‘impacting’ – the ‘impact’ of the ‘plunge’ is only one of them – and to Curnow’s essay on Charles Olson to confirm that, yes, ‘Imagist principles have been familiar ground for some of us for a very long time’ (New Zealand through the Arts: Past and Present, p.33). Both Stead and Curnow have gone through changes since that

The Invention of New Zealand / 49

poem and essay were written. In ‘A Window Frame,’ a remarkable poem published in 1973, Curnow sets out on his usual ‘adventure in search of reality’ and ends up in the back of beyond: This paper is eleven and three-quarter inches long … this house one thousand square feet, this window encloses two leafless peach branches …. Look out the window. It is on the page. Examine the page. It is out the window. Knuckle the cool pane …. Why is the cloud Inverted in the glass? Why are islands in the Gulf stained blue grained green with interior lighting by Hoyte? Why not? (Collected Poems 1933-1973 p.242-3)

(3) All Done By Mirrors Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) created ‘Fresh widow’ in 1920, a French window whose panes were covered with black leather. Here is mourning and a dark room. In ‘Discovery’ by René Magritte (1898-1967) the pieces of a broken window continue to hold fragments of the real scene visible through the window pane. Light sharp as glass, as in a New Zealand poem. An iconography of anti-realism. Wavelength by Michael Snow (born 1929) consists of a slow zoom by the movie camera towards the far wall of a room (an artist’s studio?).

50 / Re-inventing New Zealand

Instead of ending up at a window, the camera moves in finally on a tiny photograph (or Magritte painting?) of waves. The seascape fills the screen. Made in 1967 (the year of Magritte’s death), Wavelength helped to create a new wave of structuralist (post-structuralist?) film-making. The film reached New Zealand in 1983. And New Zealand in 1967? Gordon Brown and Hamish Keith were working on An Introduction to New Zealand Painting, the classic reading of New Zealand painting in terms of realism and regionalism, and a counterpart in that respect to Curnow’s Penguin introduction. But other attitudes were starting to emerge. In October 1967 Peter Tomory gave a lecture entitled ‘Imaginary Reefs and Floating Islands.’ Tomory was not a New Zealander but during his years in this country he engaged closely with local painting. His lecture noted the prevailing realist approach (taking Eric McCormick as example), then proceeded quietly but subversively to shift attention to emblematic tendencies and to traces of Surrealism (in the use of super-real light, for example). Above all, he set out to show that much of the art considered staunchly realist or anti-romantic could be viewed as ‘a New Zealand Romanticism based on English precepts.’ This was a lively challenge, but it dropped, as far as I know, into ‘a silence, broken only by a whispering of Pacific winds and surges’ (Penguin p.18). Also, it must be added that Tomory revealed some strong preconceptions of his own (on such subjects as ‘universals’). In recent years some younger art historians have come along with new readings of the tradition, combining detailed knowledge with a heightened interest in style and symbol, backed by a broad awareness of new art and literature overseas. Despite their obvious commitment to local work, their approach still tends to be considered exotic. Perhaps readers don’t like the vertigo of discovering that they inhabit a mobile island. Ron Brownson’s 1977 thesis on Rita Angus begins with a poem by Charles Olson, ‘The Lamp’: you can hurry the pictures toward you but there is that point that the whole thing itself may be a passage, and that your own ability may be a factor in time, in fact that only if there is a coincidence of yourself

The Invention of New Zealand / 51

& the universe is there then in fact an event. Otherwise – and surely here the cinema is large – the auditorium can be showing all the time. But the question is how you yourself are doing, if you in fact are equal, in the sense that as a like power you also are there when the lights go on. This wld seem to be a matter of creation, not simply the obvious matter, creation itself. Who in fact is any of us to be there at all? That’s what swings the matter, also – the beam hanging from The painting becomes a film moving in time, the poem has no ending, and what counts is your readiness to catch it as it floats by. Or rather, to ‘create’ it. Brownson’s thesis does not mention Olson again but he develops his study of Rita Angus with a comparable awareness of viewpoints, hers and his and ours. Like Tomory’s, his aim is to ‘complicate’ previous accounts; he proceeds with loving care to unpack the complexities and richness of her work. Brownson has rewritten one section of his thesis as an essay, ‘Symbolism and the Generation of Meaning in Rita Angus’s Painting,’ published in the catalogue of the recent Angus retrospective (which his research had helped to make possible). Among other things this essay contains some wonderful attempts to put into words the complex push-and-pull that can now be experienced in this kind of art – art which is trying to ‘come to terms’ with a ‘new’ landscape, busy making human sense of it at the same time as it’s acknowledging how raw and strange it is. For example, in Angus’s paintings of Cass, an isolated station: the main figure remains contemporary while its immediate environment recalls an historical context. For a moral vision we expect truth. The railway station presents itself: central, solid, leading into the north-east. The light angle is a truthful record of a recurring physical effect …. [Around it] there are three divi-

52 / Re-inventing New Zealand

sions of timber types: seedling trees on distant hills, foreground pines and building timber – three themes which imply human growth …. The symbolic meanings of Rita Angus’s paintings reveal her close pictorial integration of habitation, relationships and movement …. Her paintings ask our awareness of the here and now and reflect what she was to write late in her life: ‘I sought my roots in my own inheritance.’ This is Angus’s way of being there as the railway station flashes past/stands solid. (Or ‘impacts’?) But it is hard to convey the flavour of Brownson’s writing by a single quotation because it’s the very fullness of his account that is special – he has developed his own kind of ‘field’ approach. Brownson is himself a film-maker. He is obviously deeply interested in the relationship between art and place – he has that in common with Brown and Keith, or Curnow (whose anthology he has read carefully) – but his approach is otherwise very different, as we see in Springbok. This brilliant film is (among other things) a meditation on landscape, deeply informed by Brownson’s knowledge of Māori tradition and Pakeha cultural politics. It is not ‘realistic’ – the film seems to be working to develop a new sign language. Robert Creeley once spoke of the American poet having to be peculiarly aware of making language. The same could be said of ‘the New Zealand poet’ involved in his or her ‘generation of meaning.’ Indeed, it is said from time to time but seldom followed very far – how often do we come across a re-invention of poetry, something truly home-made? The group From Scratch provides a thorough musical example. While it is probably safer not to revive the fiction ‘New Zealand poet’ in any form, the most interesting versions stress the need for endless re-invention – ‘If you would sing you must become news’ (Brasch p.187, a line used anew by Alan Loney in ‘Riding the Mantra’). Another art historian making the tradition new is Roger Blackley. In his 1978 thesis ‘Writing Alfred Sharpe’ he remarks: To explore Sharpe’s style is to discover a way of writing about the way Sharpe paints. Merely to float through a window onto Sharpe’s world is to ignore the means of representation. We need to confront the architecture, the frame, the pane.

The Invention of New Zealand / 53

Blackley shares Brownson’s acute sense of viewpoint, context, gaps, provisional meanings, and language (textuality). In the second volume of the thesis he hands over Sharpe’s images, letters and poems, encouraging us to discover our way of ‘writing Alfred Sharpe.’ Francis Pound is engaged in a very effective mopping-up operation, ‘deconstructing’ the last strongholds of the realist tradition. His style is more argumentative than Brownson’s or Blackley’s. In his 1982 essay ‘The Real and the Unreal in New Zealand Painting’ (Art New Zealand No.25) he writes: Their expository banner led Brown and Keith, as it had led their predecessors in the march toward a New Zealand identity in art, into the pit of a theoretical fallacy … [the] fallacy … that there is a ‘real’ … New Zealand landscape … to which some artists are true and others untrue …. The fallacy … derives … from the old and discredited naturalistic theory of art: art as a mirror of – or a window to – reality. However, a styleless way of painting is impossible. That metaphorical glass is always full of paint: and any attempt to make it transparent quickly becomes a style itself. Though Pound has an axe (or a lens) to grind, he is scrupulously frank about what he is doing: the contemporary concerns of this writer … must, in all honesty, be stated: for he does not of course claim a final truth … his text too will, one day, be rewritten. So – to save subsequent writers the trouble of saying it – this discussion was ‘distorted’ from the viewpoint of modernist and post modernist painting, with all its concern for the language of art; and, above all, by the semiology of such writers as Roland Barthes. Just as Brown and Keith saw the whole history of New Zealand art through the frame painted by Colin McCahon, so too, my ideas are concurrent with a New Zealand painter who is my contemporary: Richard Killeen, whose concern is, as much as anything, and as much as mine is, with language – with the language of art.

54 / Re-inventing New Zealand

I understand that Pound is now working on a book about New Zealand landscape painting entitled Frames on the Land. If ‘roots’ is one of the key words for the 1930s writers such as Curnow, ‘frames’ seems to have a corresponding importance today. (A shift from ‘seedling trees’ to ‘timber’!) ‘Frame’ refers both to the painting as tangible object and to the painter or viewer’s frame-of-mind. Trees, effigies, moving objects – and frames. Two other art critics – Tony Green and Wystan Curnow – stand behind some of these recent developments. Green’s editorship of the Bulletin of New Zealand Art History, for example, has encouraged a wide range of experiments. And Curnow is the outstanding example of someone just as deeply involved with New Zealand art and the questions it raises as any earlier critic, but at the same time able to approach it in new ways. His work has been criticized for too much overseas influence. The old ‘frame’ of regionalism is so common – influencing the audience in conscious and unconscious ways – that there are writers now in their forties (such as Wystan Curnow and Alan Loney) who are still regarded as exotic, outside the mainstream of ‘our’ culture, despite twenty years of local involvements. There is one other kind of new frame that is beginning to transform the view of local art and literature. Jacqueline Fahey has said of her window paintings: This series of paintings, started in 1958, were the result of my first brush with suburbia. The touching vulnerability of these cloistered women. There are no bars on the windows but there might as well be. In their isolation they have fallen back on magic. Hand reading, interpreting tea-leaves … [and] the omen at the window. (Broadsheet No.110, p.19.) Fahey ‘destroyed this … series of paintings’ in 1962 ‘after they were turned down for exhibition.’ Since then a number of other feminist artists have emerged. Fahey’s early work was ‘rather Picasso inspired’; feminist art today is very concerned to develop its own language as well as subject-matter. In 1976, for example, Carole Shepheard unconsciously selected imagery, techniques

The Invention of New Zealand / 55

and an approach to working which have characterized much work by emergent feminist artists in the ‘seventies. Working at home, children about, she worked first [at] the kitchen table …. [She] frequently [used] the view through a window motif (from a deliciously decorative interior), and constructed these interiors of the self in relation to the world outside the window … they were done in a purposefully ‘finickity’ … intensity … rooted in women’s traditional arts. Foregrounding many of these windows are the vulval images of lilies, plants, shells, spread fans, richly patterned quilts …. [Her 1981 works] are windows of the self, exposed (literally, through transparent perspex window boxes). (Elizabeth Eastmond, in Art New Zealand No.26, p.18.) These quotations are taken from magazines which in 1983 published special issues on ‘N.Z. Women Artists’ (Art New Zealand) and ‘N.Z. Feminist Artists’ (Broadsheet) – evidence of the shift that has occurred since 1962. A re-reading of the poetry tradition is similarly underway. The ‘lady poet’ has been a figure of fun in New Zealand (male) literature for decades, a symbol for the gentility and amateurishness from which the Reality Gang strove to escape. The Penguin Book was relatively free of this attitude – six women poets were represented – yet even Curnow quoted de Montalk’s remark with implied approval: ‘K.M. [Katherine Mansfield] has had one most deplorable result – that of giving N.Z. women a swelled head’ (p.57). Feminist art is now a large field incorporating work of many types. There is art in a realist style; there is art that is not realist but very concerned with notions of reality; there is ritual and exorcism (the magician as witch); and there are ‘language’ experiments. All this activity has (or should have) made us all more aware of the politics involved in reading and of the way in which a ‘frame’ can shape and exclude.

(4) Canon and Variations Poetry and painting are hard to keep separate – Allen Curnow looks out the window and sees lighting by J.C. Hoyte. A poet/painter (A.R.D.Fairburn) denounces modern art. Two art critics (Wystan

56 / Re-inventing New Zealand

Curnow and Tony Green) write poetry. Such links raise the question: has New Zealand poetry been re-invented in the same way as painting? James K. Baxter’s approach was one of the first to separate out clearly from the consensus articulated by Allen Curnow. Curnow’s 1945 anthology ended with this poem by the teenage Baxter: O lands seen in the light of an inhuman dawn Lands of first-seeming dream now of surrealist nightmare …. As yet, the word ‘surrealist’ did not have to be taken too literally. But by 1955, when the essay ‘Symbolism in New Zealand Poetry’ was published, Baxter had clearly developed his own frame of reference, which – while it was not Surrealist – did offer an alternative to the poem-aswindow opening onto a daylight world. A symbol cannot be explained; rather, it must be regarded as a door opening upon the dark – upon a world of intuitions and associations of which the poet himself is hardly conscious. (The Fire and the Anvil, Wellington, 1955, p.58.) This sentence is not enough in itself to establish the differences – one needs to read his essay as a whole, to see him search for ‘symbolism’ so energetically that familiar poems look new and odd. He was not deterred by the thought that some of the authors would be surprised or alarmed by his ‘findings’ (p.57). Rather than rejecting the idea of ‘reality’, he reinterpreted it as a kind of super-reality, deeper and more primitive: it may seem strange to speak of their nature poetry as symbolist, yet it is precisely that quality in their poems by which natural features assume the significance of a pattern in the mind which distinguishes them from the guide-book verse which had come before. I have often felt the same excitement in reading a nature poem by Brasch or Glover as in looking at a painting by Rita Cook [Angus] or Doris Lusk: the contours of mountain, bush, and seacoast, are richly alive with the animistic force of a ritual dance. (pp. 63-4)

The Invention of New Zealand / 57

The personae of child or lover which the poet wears, are variants of the central role of magus, the Man Alone who, by the performance of a symbolic ritual attains to forbidden knowledge. (p.71) This wonderful essay opened up a lot of new territory, but apart from some of Baxter’s own poetry, it is hard to find much that has been done with it. ‘Deep image’ writing or anything resembling it has never been very welcome in this country. (Consider the out-of-focus reviews of the work of Michael Harlow and Russell Haley, for example.) It would be interesting to try putting together a New Zealand anthology based on Baxter’s sense of ‘symbolic ritual’ – something like Jerome Rothenberg’s collections. It would provide a very different view of the tradition. One way to interpret Baxter’s essay is as an attempt to bring Pakeha poetry closer to the spirit of Māori poetry. It’s an aim that serious Pakeha poets have always acknowledged, but they have not known how. The Penguin Book opened with a selection of Māori poetry but the gap remained. Baxter pointed out some new possibilities. We can link his work, in this respect, with the paintings of Colin McCahon, for example, or Tony Fomison. In recent years Māori writers have been thoroughly exploring the gap from their side. In ‘The House with Sugarbag Windows,’ for example, Witi Ihimaera talks of the complexity of being able to look through the same window with either Māori or Pakeha eyes. ‘The hardcase thing about windows was that one could … fill the landscape with the figments of one’s own imagination, colour it … and animate it as one wished. Hardcase?’ (Even the choice of adjective implies a frame of reference.) Baxter’s talk of landscapes ‘alive’ with ‘animistic force’ has Māori associations but he is also influenced by Pakeha writers such as Jung. Baxter remarks: the symbols occur so frequently in the work of poets … that one must conclude that some deep connection exists between these natural features and certain areas of spiritual experience. (p.70) This still involves a pure reality prior to the poem. It’s a way of talking

58 / Re-inventing New Zealand

that starts to fade out or to become more complicated in the next generation. Curnow’s strong awareness of cultural politics (‘Attitudes for a New Zealand Poet’) is still valued, as is Baxter’s interest in the unconscious mind, but today the most unusual ‘islands in the air’ have other energies propelling them also. Leigh Davis’s 1980 thesis on the work of Allen Curnow is one of the best examples of a new reading. Davis approaches the literary tradition with some of the same sophistications as the art historians Francis Pound and Ron Brownson. Davis (who is himself a poet) does not feel the need to struggle against Curnow’s ideas as Baxter understandably did – he is so far outside them that he can relax and enjoy Curnow’s poems as a genre, to be admired for their complex development of certain codes. To a realist, this sort of account probably sounds ‘formalist’ or ‘aesthetic’, traditional terms of abuse in this country. Back in 1945, for example, Allen Curnow was delivering this warning to Ngaio Marsh: I am afraid your [terms] bring us nastily close … to the degraded aestheticism which has been the curse of all creative efforts in New Zealand. I mean the arty pictures that embody … no inward or outward fact of experience …. (1945 Year Book of the Arts, p.4) ‘A work of art,’ he added, ‘is a piece of life, at the very least a piece of real and immediate experience about life’ (p.6). This emphatic comment now sounds ornately rhetorical. What is and isn’t ‘life’? What is ‘a piece of real experience about life’? A piece of life, a piece of experience, a piece of work, a piece of my mind, a piece of the action, a piece of music, a piece of poetry picked by Peter Piper for his Penguin paperback, a piece impacting …. Today it’s not so easy to ‘piece together’ the pieces as a single reality. Davis’s criticism seems more subversive than Brownson’s but what they (and some other new writers) have in common is a heightened sense of style (or stylization), and of texts-as-texts. It is frustrating that such original work remains buried in university libraries in the form of theses. Davis has tried to find a publisher but his manuscript apparently strikes its readers as too far outside the mainstream. There is a lot more to be said about this amazing piece of work but I decided not to

The Invention of New Zealand / 59

re-read it for this essay – it does its job so well I was afraid it would take away my own impulse. Most critical work involves a medley of readings. For someone to come up with a sharp new reading is very rare – it is likely to be resisted as too extreme or theoretical, but it carries the impact of a new way of seeing things. To talk about readings in this way is of course to invent a fiction, but such fictions have their uses provided they are seen merely as a way of raising contemporary questions.

(5) Faery Lands Charmed magic casements opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn. (John Keats, ‘Ode to a Nightingale’) This essay began as a detailed study of the Penguin Book but it has gathered up so much history the details have been crowded out. Let me end with a few Penguin pleasures, not as tests or examples of anything above but as pure play: First Lines Poem Alone we are born, 286 Always, in these islands, meeting and parting, 179 And again I see the long pouring headland, 281 In this scarred country, this cold threshold land, 285 Instructed to speak of God with emphasis, 261 It got you at last, Bill, 229 Nature, earth’s angel, man’s antagonist, 119 Not by us was the unrecorded stillness, 181 No, I think a footsore sheep dog, 216 The great south wind has covered with cloud the whole of the river plain, 121

60 / Re-inventing New Zealand

The mountains are empty, 183 The music ceases, 103 Wholehearted he can’t move, 213 With his weapon a shovel, 223. A teaser-trailer from the ‘Index’; 14 ways of looking at a Penguin; and a version of what Baxter calls ‘the general ideograph’ of New Zealand poetry (there are many more lurking in the backmatter).

Love Poetry There is a shortage of human love poems in the Penguin Book, as I discovered one morning in 1962 when I found a copy beside someone’s bed and went from cover to cover looking unsuccessfully for a suitable poem – something tender, sexy, a little crazy. One or two poems almost qualified but what I needed was Arthur Baysting’s anthology (not published until 1973). Curnow’s summary of the ‘deserts and dragons’ genre omits ‘fair maidens’- in their place we find ‘fine prospects’ (p.17). Love poems in the Penguin Book are involved with the country or the landscape. Secular poetry of lyric intensity is most often concerned with love … In this region … had developed an elaborate set of conventions …. The [courtly] lover was obliged to obey any demands his lady might make of him, and in return for his service he could hope only for some favour or attention to be bestowed by his beloved out of pity for his suffering. His devotion must be eternal, and it must be proof against all misadventures. While such singleness of purpose may not always have won the lover a lady, it frequently produced very fine poetry. (Irving Ribner and Harry Morris, Poetry: A Critical and Historical Introduction, 1962, p.26) Man must lie with the gaunt hills like a lover, Earning their intimacy in the calm sigh

The Invention of New Zealand / 61

Of a century of quiet and assiduity … So relenting, earth will tame her tamer, And speak with all her voices tenderly (Charles Brasch, Penguin Book, p.183) Our brooding bush shall fold them In her broad-bosomed peace. They come as lovers come, all else forsaking …. (Arthur H. Adams, pp.113-4) He found no frenzy to win him this wanton – In his full failure glistens the wild bush (Hubert Witherford, p.251) The embers of your old desire remembered still will glow, and fade, and glow again and rise in fire to plague you like a debt unpaid, to haunt you like a love betrayed. (Fairburn, ‘To an Expatriate,’ p.155) Fairest earth … deep well of our delight, breath of desire, let us come to you barefoot, as befits love, as the boy to the trembling girl, as the child to the mother (Fairburn, p.151) The modern psychologist finds far more in courtly love than meets the innocent historian’s eye. It appears that the characteristics of this unique woman are those of a mother …. The lover assumes a childlike attitude, with voyeuristic tendencies, complicated by memories of spanking in childhood. (Morris Bishop. The Penguin Book of the Middle Ages)

62 / Re-inventing New Zealand

The mountains crouch like tigers – or await As women wait. (Baxter, Penguin Book, p.285) Sexual surrealism is the chance meeting of a mountain, a tiger, and a woman on the dissection table. It is also this ménage à trois: we are our own safe island, and hold our world of cliffs and towns and bush and farms all whole, alive and integrated in our arms, granting a little life from every kiss to impregnate this rock (Sinclair, p.259) Or this troilism: we had passed beyond into the secret place and were clasped by the titanic shadows of the earth … There should be … a blackening of the walls from the flame of your mouth (Fairburn, pp.144-5)

The New Zealander It may not be easy to find the man behind these various projections of the isolated, last-ditch, forlorn-hope situation, with its hero-victims shocked into eloquence. It is not hard to find the New Zealander. (Curnow, p.44) ‘The New Zealander’ stands tall ‘in an unusually tough spot’ (p.316).

The Invention of New Zealand / 63

He may be one of the hermits in the hills (257, 288), a patient courtly lover, a wily old magician, a survivalist, or a poet-cowboy. In Horizons West Jim Kitses lists the motifs that provide the central ‘dialectic’ of The Western: the wilderness civilization nature culture the individual the community freedom restrictions integrity compromise self-knowledge illusion etc. As the Penguin impacts, it gains the density of a genre. Kitses talks of the rich associations of icons, such as the resonance of a church in a western landscape. Or Cass, a railway station on the Canterbury plains? The countryside is the setting in which to get back in touch with one’s ‘real’ feelings: ‘we came down slowly having crossed / a hundred hills from … / our premeditated city responses’ (Sinclair, p.258). And Curnow wrote in 1953 in support of M.H.Holcroft: Our urban life was, and is, confusedly disoriented …. But among the greater and remoter features of the landscape of this country, there might be found a rugged way through the dilemmas of a trans-oceanic provincialism: a real transaction upon that plane of reality: Man must lie with the gaunt hills like a lover [etc.] (Landfall, September 1953, p.223) He added: ‘There has been talk … of a “South Island myth” … but “myth” … is a curious term for what is simply a way of looking at history ….’

64 / Re-inventing New Zealand

Conceits I am Colonial, several generations, and for me, New Zealand is, in essence medieval. (Rita Angus, 1947 Year Book of the Arts in New Zealand, p.68) In addition to what it tells us about Courtly Love, the anthology could be seen as our Emblem Book. Curnow notes with approval the ‘attitude’ in Fairburn’s lines about the young man walking barefoot over red-hot fact with a load of life that mustn’t be dropped (p.319) Here is The Realist as allegorical figure, encouraging others to learn the trick of staying upright. In general, however, it is more interesting to look for Metaphysical images than Medieval ones – the emblem developed into the conceit. This is not surprising since Metaphysical poetry was a strong influence on American poetry and English literary criticism (via Eliot and Empson) during the main period covered by the Penguin Book. Indeed, poets such as Baxter discussed it. But the idea that local poets were pushing aside overseas models to concentrate on the raw realities confronting them helped to conceal this Metaphysical influence. It is present in many of the quotations in this essay. Often ‘New Zealand’ exists in poetry as an elaborate conceit – the country as microcosm (‘We are our own New Zealand’), as antipodes (‘our opposite isles / Chase each other round till the quiet Poles / Crack’), or as alter-ego (‘our second body,’ ‘This whimpering second unlicked self my country’), etc.

Anxiety Rituals Poets, painters, musicians, scientists will suffer agonies in a country serving under gross masters. But out of their sufferings the wheat lands, the cattle country and the sheep country, may be born again. At present, however, an artist can only suffer, and

The Invention of New Zealand / 65

record his suffering; hoping to make others suffer with him the necessary pains of first self-knowledge. (Curnow, from ‘Not in Narrow Seas,’ 1939) Some not insubstantial poems have sprung from those very anxieties about our footing upon our own soil, our standing in the world …. (Curnow, Book of New Zealand Verse, 1951 edition, p.48) Certainly this is true of many of the poems in the Penguin Book – they have ‘grown’ from a sense of suffering, anxiety, and absence (‘what great gloom / … in a land of settlers / With never a soul at home’ p.202). Whether or not one agrees with what Curnow says, ‘New Zealand’ was clearly a fruitful way for him to talk about the particular energies that propelled his type of poetry. Today it seems easier to recognise also a different set of possibilities – poems, paintings, music, etc., which have calmness at the centre and a heightened sense of presence rather than absence. Such art may seem non-political or ‘art-for-art’s sake,’ but in its own way it stands apart from mainstream culture, in implied opposition to its neuroses. ‘Seven Painters/The Eighties’ – one of the best New Zealand painting shows in recent years – may be set against the imaginary museum show at the beginning of my essay. The general effect of its paintings is calm, centred, extraordinary subtle. There are certainly plenty of ‘tensions’ but not ‘anxieties’ of the usual type. This is also an anti-realist show – any sense of the canvas as door or window has been carefully painted out. The little iconography that there is has been developed in a very conscious way – Killeen’s cluster of signs being the most explicit example. (Still, a generation from now, viewers may discover other codes that we are not aware of, in the same way that the impact of the Penguin Book has changed in twenty years from reality to myth). This is essentially a city form of art, and it may be said that what’s happened is simply a change of sides from ‘wilderness’ to ‘civilization,’ with all that that implies. But the new attitudes to realism and to anxiety indicate a shift in the very nature of art, not merely in its subject-matter. Poetry tends, of course, to be less ‘abstract’ than abstract painting

66 / Re-inventing New Zealand

but it has moved in similar directions. The aim is not to be meaningless but to explore a new awareness of meaning itself, of all the elements of meaning – the window, the window-as-mirror, the glass, the frame, the viewer; and not to ‘talk about’ the complexity but to find ways of working with it. Meanwhile the champions of ‘common sense’ will continue to demand that we get back to The Real Business.

May The Force Be With Us Metaphor games, myth games, linguistic games. We all play them (as I do when I use the word ‘we’). Curnow takes the phrase ‘New Zealand,’ animates it, makes us stories about it. ‘New Zealand had concentrated all its forces to confound one ….’ (p.58). And why not? They are the tales (fictions) of the tribe (ours, his). My approach to the Penguin Book is a non-anxious reading of anxious poems. It may seem a cheeky reading but I hope my basic respect for Allen Curnow is clear. He has been celebrated often enough as a realist – I wanted to celebrate him as a maker of artifice. ‘Old father, old artificer, stand by me now ….’ Alchemists have always concealed most of their secrets, though today Curnow does talk more explicitly of ‘fictions.’ He still has many tricks and poems up his sleeve – it is unwise ever to underestimate the magician of Tohunga Crescent. Announcing a prim masque, a conducted illusion …. (Curnow, ‘Mementos of an Occasion’) These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits …. (Prospero in The Tempest) … new Alchimie For his art did expresse A quintessence from nothingness, From dull privations …. (John Donne)

The Invention of New Zealand / 67

I count on most Music, and a heroic eloquence To remake man out of this chattering dust (Curnow, ‘Music for Words’) Some day thought will startle the bush like scarlet, The pillar of dust stand in the road a spinning Stiff legendary fire (Curnow, ‘The Scene’) Jack without magic springs his traps in vain (Curnow, ‘Jack without Magic’).

68 / Re-inventing New Zealand

Sources James K. Baxter, The Fire and the Anvil, Wellington, New Zealand University Press, 1955. Morris Bishop, The Penguin Book of the Middle Ages, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1971. Roger Blackley, ‘Writing Arthur Sharpe’, M.A. (Art History) thesis, University of Auckland, 1978. Ron Brownson, ‘Rita Angus’, M.A. (Art History) thesis, Auckland University, 1977. ‘Symbolism and the Generation of Meaning in Rita Angus’s Painting’ in Rita Angus, Wellington, National Art Gallery, 1982. ‘Springbok’ in Cantrills Filmnotes Nos.39-40, 1982, 39-43. Allen Curnow, ed., A Book of New Zealand Verse 1923-50, Christchurch, Caxton, 1951. The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1960. ‘Preface’ to Four Plays, Wellington, Reed, 1972. Collected Poems 1933-1973, Wellington, Reed, 1974. New Zealand through the Arts: Past and Present, Wellington, Friends of Turnbull Library, 1982. Wystan Curnow, ed., Essays on New Zealand Literature, Auckland, Heinemann Educational, 1973. Leigh Davis, ‘Noyade: Genre in Allen Curnow’, M.A. (English) thesis, University of Auckland, 1980. A.R.D. Fairburn, The Letters of A.R.D. Fairburn, ed. Lauris Edmond, Auckland, Oxford University Press, 1981. ‘New Zealand Feminist Artists’, Broadsheet No.110, 1983. ‘New Zealand Women Artists’, Art New Zealand No.26, 1983. Francis Pound, ‘The Real and the Unreal in N.Z. Painting’, Art New Zealand No.25, 1982. Irving Ribner and Harry Morris, Poetry: A Critical and Historical Introduction, Chicago, Scott Foresman, 1962. P.A. Tomory, ‘Imaginary Reefs and Floating Islands’, Ascent Vol.1 No.2, 1968, 5-19. Year Book of the Arts in New Zealand No.1, Wellington, Tombs, 1945. Year Book of the Arts in New Zealand No.3, Wellington, Tombs, 1947. [Thanks to Ron Brownson and Roger Blackley for permission to use quotations from their unpublished theses.]

Off the Map This essay appeared in Parallax in 1983 and was another attempt to highlight the arrival of new ideas. While I respected the critical writing of C. K. Stead, I was troubled by the gaps in his account of contemporary poetry and the extent to which his view had come to dominate local literary opinion. This was another essay that stirred up a lot of reaction. The more experimental work that I was describing was, and still is, on the margins in this country, so my views received little support. My comment that Stead’s position was ‘smack in the middle of the road, and it’s taking up so much room it blocks the fast lanes,’ was seized on as a prime example of my extremism. The phrase is still being quoted today by writers seeking to distance themselves from pretentious avant-gardism – I heard it used the other day by a well-known poet at Going West – but now it’s always quoted out of context since the original essay is no longer known.

Off the Map

I

wrote the following pages in 1981 as part of a reply to C.K. Stead’s ‘From Wystan to Carlos: Modern and Modernism in Recent New Zealand Poetry,’1 which was based on a lecture he gave at a writers’ conference in 1979. Islands accepted my reply then disappeared into a two year silence. Since then Stead’s essay has been reprinted,2 and Alistair Paterson has highly recommended it as an account of ‘the major direction in recent New Zealand writing,’ which is ‘what Stead has described as “modernism” but which I prefer to think of as “open form,” or even “post-modernist” writing.’3 Virtually every other writer on New Zealand poetry has mentioned Stead’s essay somewhere. And still no one has attempted to argue with it in detail. Here, then, is part of my Islands piece (with a little updating) as a final attempt to rescue Stead’s ‘critical structure’ from the fate of becoming an official monument, an account of open form that its readers don’t seem to want to keep open. First, a few comments about its reception, since the attention this essay has received makes it as much a social or cultural event as a literary one. The New Zealand literary scene has traditionally been hostile to anything that smells of theory, suspicious of manifestos and nervous that criticism is getting too big for its boots. Stead’s essay is one of the rare attempts to draw up a large-scale map. Predictably it was greeted with many grumbles about ‘dogma’ and ‘orthodoxy.’ But no one offered an alternative map, and as time passed, even the sceptical found its names and boundaries convenient. There used to be similar

72 / Re-inventing New Zealand

complaints about Allen Curnow’s essays but as soon as people got into arguments about poetry they would unconsciously start drawing upon his terms and ideas. Reviewing an anthology of New Zealand poetry in 1981 Frank McKay noted that ‘C.K. Stead’s “From Wystan to Carlos ... “ is naturally mentioned.’ He added: Though partial and tendentious ... [Stead’s essay] is a useful starting-point for discussion.’4 This is a common judgement, but when will the discussion start? According to Fleur Adcock, ‘Most serious readers of poetry will by now be familiar with C.K. Stead’s article ... and with the controversy it raised, and many will now be bored with the whole subject.’5 Where was the ‘controversy,’ where were all those ‘serious critical articles’ about open form that Adcock claims to have ‘dominated’ the 1970s?6 Some writers have used Stead’s essay to express their dislike of theory or classification but hardly anyone has got down to the specific issues. Stead is not to be blamed for what has happened (or rather, not happened) to his essay. We need more ambitious criticism, and he deserves credit for giving us some. But I wince every time I hear reviewers talking casually about ‘open form’ along the lines of ‘From Wystan to Carlos.’ Enough is enough, we have to disarm (or deconstruct) the damn thing! The only effective way to avoid orthodoxy is to keep up a feisty debate, and never to forget that each account of history, however objective it may sound, involves a number of theoretical assumptions. Also, it is time that Stead’s ‘open form’ ceased to be thought of as an advanced position, as ‘the new mode.’ Certainly there are still readers who regard The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse as their bible, or who wish that Stead spent more time with British poets and stopped hanging out with American punks. Still, the position described in ‘From Wystan to Carlos’ is smack in the middle of the road, and it’s taking up so much room it blocks the fast lanes.

The Tale of the Tribe ‘From Wystan to Carlos’ displays a strong sense of tact, for though Stead attempts large statements he seldom appears pushy. He is careful to add qualifications, to keep things cool. If any approach can make

Off the Map / 73

theory palatable to an audience of New Zealand writers it is this one. He begins: Insofar as the discussion of New Zealand poetry has had any critical structure over the past quarter of a century the structure has come from Allen Curnow’s introductions to his two anthologies and from the counter-statements these elicited. What I propose to do in the present lecture is to enquire whether we can’t discover another set of terms – not because there’s anything wrong with the ones we have, but because a new point of observation is likely to alter the picture, and it is surely time for a change. This 1979 lecture/essay was in one sense a public declaration of independence because for many years Stead had been regarded as a disciple of Curnow. He had, for example, stated his allegiance clearly back in 1960: ‘Mr Curnow expressed for his generation a point of view which our New Zealand situation still confirms.’7 A few years after that, in an essay on Curnow’s poetry, he described the objections made by other writers to Curnow’s regionalism as ‘a heresy in our criticism.’8 To turn from such statements to ‘From Wystan to Carlos’ is to realise how far Stead – and the mainstream of New Zealand poetry – have moved in the intervening years. Yet while emerging from under Curnow’s ‘historical umbrella,’ and opening up his own, Stead still maintains his respect for the older poet, explaining his move in terms of ‘time for a change’ rather than anything being ‘wrong.’ Certainly such an enquiry was overdue, as Stead pointed out: ‘It is, after all, about nine years since Murray Edmond suggested in Freed 3 that it was time to “construct a poetic rather than name them hills & define a national consciousness,” but I don’t see much sign that anyone has followed his suggestion.’ The metaphor of moving to ‘a new point of observation’ is a helpful one. Writers who have previously dominated the scene (such as Yeats and Eliot) recede into the distance. Pound looms large, and Williams no longer seems a far-out minor poet. Now 30 years of New Zealand poetry grow sufficiently remote for all their subtle distinctions to blur into a single idea (‘Georgian realism,’ or ‘content’ poetry). Such is the

74 / Re-inventing New Zealand

landscape from Stead’s new vantage-point. Throughout the essay he seems genuinely to believe that he is not being polemical, not ‘taking sides,’ merely providing an objective account of ‘literary history.’ His final paragraph is an example of this curious balancing act: In tracing the development ‘from Wystan to Carlos’ I have not been trying to lay down prescriptions which poets should follow ... and I have not offered a measure by which poets can be judged better or worse. I have tried to describe a piece of our literary history and to suggest that there has been in recent years an expansion of poetic possibilities. In particular I suggest that the change in Baxter’s poetry during the last decade of his life, the continuing fluency of Kendrick Smithyman, and the re-emergence of Allen Curnow as a major voice, together with the appearance of a group of younger poets of whom Ian Wedde seems at present the most energetic and versatile, are all explicable in a set of terms which must include a proper understanding of the Modernist tradition as a variable but powerful force operating upon the practice of poetry now. Without that tradition our poetry would be less alive, less confident, with a narrower range of possibilities and an uncertain future. Stead’s assertion that he is merely being descriptive is undermined by his talk of ‘a proper understanding’ and the need to use a particular ‘set of terms.’ The word ‘must’ creeps in. And the claim that he has ‘not offered a measure’ is then followed by some measuring – Wedde is ‘the most energetic and versatile,’ Curnow is ‘a major voice,’ poetry which ignored ‘that tradition’ would be ‘less alive,’ and so on. There are similar tensions between Stead’s statement that ‘Life does not order itself into narrative, or into logical argument’ and the confidence with which he sometimes makes causal connections: ‘Only the tradition of Modernism could account for such a poem, and before 1960 there was no one in New Zealand could have done it.’ And: ‘When he [Allen Curnow] reappeared in 1972 his poetry had – I would say had of necessity – assumed at least some of the features ... of Modernism.’ It is impossible to write an account of ‘history’ without having

Off the Map / 75

some assumptions, and Stead seems to me to have some very strong ones. That doesn’t discredit his account – in fact, it is all the more lively and useful because he does have a particular point of view. His ability to turn history into narrative – to tell history as his story – is one of his special talents as a critic. He is inclined, however, to be unaware of his own assumptions. He clings to the realist notion that a description can be accurate enough to ‘absorb life’ and to ‘collapse conceptual distinctions.’ Stead’s attitude is not unlike that of Allen Curnow who, though he has been one of our best literary theorists for more than 40 years, continues to denounce theory as irrelevant and doctrinaire. (See, for example, his recent essay ‘Olson as Oracle.’)9 To accuse almost any New Zealand writer of being a theorist is asking for trouble. Our writers value their innocence, their sense of travelling light, uncluttered by theories or ‘prescriptions.’ While Stead is discussing the changes in his own work, he is also telling the tale of the tribe. Hence he can keep shifting casually from ‘I’ to ‘we’ throughout the essay – ‘What I propose to do ... is to enquire whether we can’t discover another set of terms.’ Many essayists make shifts of this kind but Stead can do so with special confidence because he knows that his own experiences as a poet are in many ways representative. His essay, like some of Curnow’s, seems important not so much for its originality as for its power in pulling ideas together and expressing them crisply. It sorts out ideas that have been circulating in New Zealand since the late sixties. For example, Brunton’s manifesto in the first issue of The Word is Freed opposed American modernism to ‘Georgianism,’ and in the fifth issue Bert Hingley commented: ‘The Georgians were done over by Blast fifty years ago but Brunton thought we’d all forgotten.’ In 1973 in his important ‘Afterword’ to The Young New Zealand Poets, Kendrick Smithyman noted that ‘a part of the tradition of the Modern is at last belatedly affirmed in New Zealand writing.’ He also spoke of the ‘Modern’ being ‘overcome by enthusiasm for the Pylon poets’ in the 1930s, and pointed out that ‘Post-1945 poetry’ in New Zealand ‘now looks to be rather a second phase of the same line than a singularly different phenomenon.’ To list such precedents is not to suggest that Stead is in any way a plagiarist but to recognise that the strength of the essay lies mainly

76 / Re-inventing New Zealand

in its consolidation and its style. It contains many concise and useful formulations. Obviously it sometimes simplifies the past, for example in its sweeping statements about ‘Georgian realism,’ but this is inevitable when one is drawing a large-scale map. A poet talking about poetics is naturally more interested in the present than the past. If this essay is as clear and useful as I consider it to be, then why not simply accept it? Because it defines a ‘new poetic’ when what we need today are ‘poetics.’ In saying ‘we’ I am aware that our tribe is complex, is in fact several tribes. The period of change during the 1960s was more complex than Stead acknowledges. New Zealand poetry opened up to a wide range of new possibilities, but one set of possibilities (‘open form’ as Stead defines it) has since become dominant, sweeping others aside. It is a perennial problem in New Zealand that there seems little room for more than one ‘major direction’ at a time. Even as thoughtful a critic as Stead does not see the need in his essay to make ‘discriminations ... within the Modernist (or, as one may choose to call it, postModernist) tradition.’ Admittedly the essay ‘aspires to represent recent literary history only in very broad terms.’ But for certain writers, such distinctions are crucial. Those writers may have accepted the need for a united front in 1969, but in 1979 it is not acceptable to them that a critic should continue ‘to speak ... as if no poetic thinking, no pressing the limits of known form had taken place’ since Pound.10 Where Stead is most clearly crowding out alternatives is the way he takes over the central terms of post-modernism such as ‘field’ and ‘open form’ and applies them to Modernist poems, even to ‘The Waste Land.’ He obviously does so in good faith, from a genuine confusion which is shared by many other New Zealand writers. But sincere or not, this use of the terms destroys their original meanings. The main thrust of ‘From Wystan to Carlos’ is to draw a distinction between ‘modern’ and ‘Modernist,’ which some readers may regard as unimportant but which Stead considers vital to ‘the understanding’ of the most ‘powerful force operating upon the practice of poetry now.’ Today there are poets equally concerned about separating ‘post-modern’ from ‘Modernist.’ Unfortunately no local writer has so far defined this new ‘point of observation’ as thoroughly as Stead has defined his, though there is a useful essay by Alan Loney (a critique of Stead’s poetry) in Islands No.30. There are also plenty of overseas essays such as ‘Mod-

Off the Map / 77

ernism and Postmodernism: Approaching the Present in American Poetry’11 by the poet David Antin who gives a view of Modernism radically different from Stead’s. While Stead bases his conception on Pound and Williams (emphasizing the ‘Red Wheelbarrow’ aspect of Williams), Antin regards such ‘Modernism’ as a period style. In somewhat the same way Stead has ceased to see Yeats and Eliot as central figures, Antin considers Pound to be a ‘monument,’ a poet who still deserves to be greatly admired for what he has achieved, but whose style of ‘carving at English’ is no longer a suitable approach. Antin is more interested in Gertude Stein and John Cage, for example, and he draws extensively upon poetry in other languages, and upon the other arts, as many of the early Modernists used to do. It is obvious from Stead’s poetry that he too has wide-ranging interests but curiously he narrows his discussion of Modernism in ‘From Wystan to Carlos’ to ‘poetry in English.’ In Antin’s eyes, Charles Olson occupies somewhat the same position that Pound does for Stead – he belongs to an earlier period, his work is ‘uneven, fragmentary’ (to transfer Stead’s phrases), and yet in some respects it is ‘still active among us.’ In short, Antin’s ‘postmodernism’ differs as greatly from Stead’s as the latter’s ‘Modernism’ does from ‘Georgian realism.’ I have no wish to deny Stead his particular form of ‘Modernism’ which is obviously proving fruitful in his own poetry, but I do want to point out the boundaries of his position so that room is left for others. One particularly noticeable boundary is his rejection of surrealism. It is puzzling that he should champion ‘an expansion of poetic possibilities’ then proceed to block off a whole range. He remarks: ‘There is in fact no surrealist tradition in the poetry of the English language.’ What then of the Penguin collection of English and American Surrealist Poetry? What of some of the writers in the Donald Allen anthology, or in Revolution of the Word? What of Edson, Ginsberg, Ashbery, Creeley (Presences), Bly (Leaping Poetry), and many other American poets? Bly’s anthology Forty Poems Touching on Recent American History takes as its motto the same Yeats quotation about ‘reaching out to the universe with a gloved hand ... one’s nation’ that Curnow chose for the Penguin anthology, and Bly uses it with equal appropriateness. Why, in any case, is it necessary to ignore French and Spanish poets? Stead’s attitude to surrealism seems to have a good deal of support in this country,

78 / Re-inventing New Zealand

and for several decades a similar attitude prevailed in the U.S.A., as Donald Hall points out: Among young poets of the [nineteen-] forties and fifties, almost without exception, surrealism was quite literally beyond consideration. The orthodoxy which prevailed in every literary context had decided, while the poet was still in short pants, that ‘surrealism had failed.’ And that was the end of that. Yet typically the modern artist has allowed nothing to be beyond his consideration.12 Hall also observes that Williams was admired at this time only for his visual poems; his surrealist tendencies (in Kora in Hell, for example) were left out of the picture. I am sure that Williams would have been unhappy to hear Stead using ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ as part of an anti-surrealist argument. The widespread dislike of anything that looks surrealist illustrates the extent to which ‘Georgian realism’ lingers on among our critics. Stead remarks: I currently feel poetry must be public … Primarily the poem must be public in not being private. It must be one man’s vision, or one woman’s vision of a shared world. All those ‘must’s! This point of view seems out of keeping with the Modernism Stead seeks to define. Len Lye, one of our earliest Modernists, whose book No Trouble was included in a recent exhibition of surrealist art and literature, expressed an attitude shared by many other Modernists: I don’t know what an audience is. It’s a whole lot of other people who are basically a unique version of individuality … so I’m only interested in me … My excitement in life is to discover something that’s significant to me. Now how the hell can I work it out if it has to be significant to an audience?13 Stead’s anti-surrealism aligns him with conservatives such as Basil Dowling who delivered a warning to New Zealand poets in 1979 that

Off the Map / 79

they were in serious danger of ‘repelling the common reader’ because their work was becoming ‘exclusive, cold, aloof, and largely unintelligible.’14 On many other points, of course, Stead’s attitudes are very different from Dowling’s. And the ‘younger poets’ have been generally more relaxed about surrealism, valuing traces of ‘shadow energy’ or ‘deep image’ in their poems. But writers whose work seems heavily ‘surrealist’ still receive little support. Michael Harlow and Russell Haley, for example, have received more than their fair share of uninformed reviews. To talk of a ‘shared world,’ or of ‘common sense’ and ‘the common reader’ tends to involve an over-confident view of realism. Stead writes: ‘My preference is for the point of balance between subjective and objective, where language consequently is used at maximum stretch.’ And: ‘one requires of poetry – any poetry – the real, the concrete, the particular, not on any theoretical grounds but simply because without it the language will seem underemployed ….’15 Here, a certain way of thinking about poetry (influenced by Pound) is being promoted as the best way, as the approach that ‘one’ (anyone?) requires of ‘any poetry.’ The terms ‘concrete’ and ‘particular,’ and the phrase ‘balance between subjective and objective’ point the poet towards a specific kind of verbal texture. There is nothing wrong with Stead defining his preference, but he has to expect disagreement when he formulates it as though it were a universal formula. And how can he claim that he is not ‘theoretical’ when he talks about such matters as ‘the real,’ the boundary ‘between subjective and objective,’ the ‘maximum stretch’ of language, and what one ‘requires of any poetry’? His confident notion of ‘mimesis’ or ‘likeness to life’ seems little changed since his 1963 essay on Curnow’s poetry which included such comments as this: ‘all the impressions … [are] set down simply and cleanly, so that the words are like a clear glass (a “large window”!) through which we observe the event itself ….’16 ‘Clear glass’ realism has been very important to New Zealand writers, but it is hard to reconcile with Modernism. This is a strong tension in New Zealand writing today, for example in some of the very interesting recent poems by Allen Curnow, where realism and Modernism seem to be negotiating under great pressure. ‘Language’ poetry is something different again – it moves in to the

80 / Re-inventing New Zealand

glass because a heightened awareness of the material makes this shift to a new ‘point of observation’ seem unavoidable. To transform the surface of the glass so that it becomes visible, so that the whole process of looking (writing) can be looked at (written) in new ways, requires extreme measures. Poetry of this sort is likely to produce claustrophobia in readers accustomed to large, clear windows. I also hear the fear expressed that this and other forms of post-modern writing amount to a rejection of ‘our tradition.’ Certainly they do reject any kind of straightforward realism or literary nationalism. But they may create new interest in other aspects of the tradition. Leigh Davis’s critical study of Allen Curnow’s poetry, for example, approaches its subject with respect and care, but goes on to transform it by treating realism as a stylised genre and emphasizing its iconography, the density of its codes, the surface structure of the ‘glass.’17 Similarly, when Ron Brownson or Francis Pound talks about New Zealand painting, he works from an intimate knowledge of the tradition but his sense of style and sign presents that tradition from a new angle. Despite my disagreements with Stead’s essay, I think it has helped a great deal to bring certain questions into focus. But the most interesting places to visit right now lie outside his map. The challenge for map-makers today is to create a ‘critical structure’ that is flexible and ‘open’ enough to accommodate ‘new poetics’ (in the plural) and to keep their differences clear. Also, with writers shifting away from ‘realism’ (for various reasons) and becoming more interested in theory, it is likely that local criticism will soon become a lot more varied in its forms and more challenging.

Off the Map / 81

Endnotes 1

Islands No.27, November 1979.

2

In The Glass Case, Auckland, AUP/OUP, 1981.

3

Alistair Paterson, The New Poetry, Dunedin, Pilgrims South Press, 1981.

4

N.Z. Listener, 23 October 1981.

5

N.Z. Listener, 8 May 1982.

6

The Oxford Book of Contemporary N.Z. Poetry, Auckland, OUP, 1982, p.ix.

7 ‘For the Hulk of the World’s Between,’ in Distance Looks Our Way, Paul’s Book Arcade for the University of Auckland, 1961, p.91. 8

‘Allen Curnow’s Poetry,’ Landfall, March 1963.

9 Allen Curnow, ‘Olson as Oracle: “Projective Verse” Thirty Years On,’ in Look Back Harder: Critical Writings 1935–1984, ed. Peter Simpson, Auckland, AUP, 1987. (This was a lecture Curnow delivered in 1981.) 10

Alan Loney in Islands No.30, p.249.

11

Boundary 2, No.1, 1972.

12 Contemporary American Poetry, ed. Donald Hall, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1960. 13

‘Interview with Len Lye,’ Film Culture No.29, Summer 1963, p. 43.

14

‘Letter from an Expatriate,’ Landfall No.131, 1979.

15 The London Review of Books 1 May 1980; added to ‘From Wystan to Carlos’ when Stead’s essay was reprinted in In the Glass Case. 16 Essays on N.Z. Literature, ed. Wystan Curnow, Auckland, Heinemann, 1973, p.67. 17 Leigh Davis, ‘Noyade: Genre in Allen Curnow’, M.A. (English) thesis, University of Auckland, 1980.

‘Natural’ as Only You Can Be This essay from And No.4 (1985) looked at contemporary New Zealand poetry. It analysed poems by Cilla McQueen, Ian Wedde and Bill Manhire. The title of the essay was borrowed from one of Wedde’s poems. Twenty years later, the examples feel out of date and some of my criticisms were somewhat brutal. However, I think the opening and closing comments are still relevant since the genre of such poems has become ever more popular and more diluted, which is not surprising in an age of ‘selfie’ photos and copious blog and Facebook posts. The ‘we’ used in this essay was a playful reference to the complexity of the first person, but also emphasized the fact that I shared a particular approach to literature with my And co-editors.

from ‘Natural’ as Only You Can Be: Some Readings

of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry

N

o longer the tiresome repetitions: ‘Who is the real author?’ ‘Have we proof of his authenticity and originality?’ ‘What has he revealed of his most profound self in his language?’ New questions will be heard: ‘What are the modes of existence of this discourse?’ ‘Where does it come from; how is it circulated; who controls it?’ ‘What placements are determined for possible subjects?’ (Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice)

A particular gift of the gab may become so widespread that it appears synonymous with poetry. To define this ‘discourse’ is to force it to stop sprawling and to shrink back inside specific boundaries. Or we can deliberately read it from an unexpected ‘placement’ – become a ‘resisting reader’ (Judith Fetterley’s term), or make a Lacanian analysis, say, not as an end in itself but as leverage, a way of unsettling familiar texts. This can be ‘a political act whose aim is not simply to interpret the world but to change it by changing the consciousness of those who read and their relation to what they read’ (Fetterley, The Resisting Reader, p.viii). Poetry in New Zealand today tends to stick so closely to a few routines that in many cases the names of poets and magazines could

86 / Re-inventing New Zealand

easily be swapped. In particular, there is mass-production of the short (one page or less) lyric in unrhymed or loosely rhymed ‘free’ verse. It’s remarkable how many people write poems, despite the small audience. (Even a university press publishing a well-known poet does well to sell 500 copies.) Much of the writing seems to have a personal therapeutic value since it develops the poem as an assertion of individuality – ‘I can sing’ – or to translate it more fully: ‘It’s difficult being me, but here I am fighting back against all those forces that are trying to keep me silent or anonymous.’ The poem is a rush of adrenalin to the ‘I.’ Interest focuses on its bursts of imagery, its ‘expressive’ language, its charm – the poem is not strong in structure, sustained thought, or experiment with language, but writing proves that one is not prosaic. As C. Day-Lewis recommended in his book The Lyric Impulse (1965): A man sings in the bath, partly because its walls flatter his voice, giving it unusual resonance, but chiefly because warm water (who ever sings in a cold bath?) reminds him of his origin, relaxes inhibitions, recalls a primary, instinctual self. It is this self, I believe, from which the lyric impulse arises … (p.152) The warm water (or hot tub) mode of local poetry emphasizes ‘self,’ ‘voice,’ ‘resonance,’ and seducing the reader to climb in. There are, of course, various ways to sing. The 1960s introduced styles less inhibited and less ‘willed’ (to use Ian Wedde’s term), but since then the studied spontaneity of this poetry and its methods of ‘openness’ have operated as new conventions and new limits. Anyone who writes poetry regularly qualifies as ‘a poet,’ a term that still carries special (Romantic) associations within the community. Compare Ezra Pound’s comment back in 1913: The scientist does not expect to be acclaimed as a great scientist until he has discovered something. He begins by learning what has been discovered already. He goes from that point onward. He does not bank on being a charming fellow personally. He does not expect his friends to applaud the results of his freshman class work. Freshmen in poetry are unfortunately not confined

‘Natural’ As Only You Can Be / 87

to a definite and recognizable class room. (‘A Retrospect’) The irony of the notion that poetry is an exemplary defence of individuality arises from the predictable form of most of these poems – they are neither more nor less individual than suburban houses. Meanwhile, the idea of individuality has itself come under intense scrutiny from writers such as Foucault, or – from another direction – from Māori critics who see the self-contained unique subject as a Pakeha conception. They challenge the Romantic assumption that such individuality – developed through conflict with one’s community and one’s ancestors – should be the basis of art, or that it enjoys a privileged relationship with nature. Instead of diving deep to locate the ‘primary, instinctual self,’ some poets have refocused their attention on language surfaces: As soon as I speak, I speaks. It wants to be free but impassive lies in the direction of its words. Let x equal x, x also equals x. I speak to hear myself speak? … Here in ‘The Pattern,’ ‘I’ (‘Robert Creeley’) can speak or sing only along the lines of language. Instead of relaxing into words as into a warm bath, both writer and reader have to stay on the surface, obliged to keep asking questions by the awareness that language is following rules of its own, translating the speaker into something spoken. It’s a

88 / Re-inventing New Zealand

cold shower to keep us alert. It may also look like a poet painting his self into a corner, but in recent years a number of American writers (such as Ron Silliman, Charles Bernstein, Barrett Watten) have carried this approach several stages further, not merely talking about language as a system but finding new ways to apply that awareness to all aspects of reading and writing. In this essay we intend to bring a similar ‘language’ pressure to bear on contemporary New Zealand poetry, not because we regard this as some sort of ultimate test but because it seems at present to be the most effective way of displacing the lyrical clichés. Questioning the desire of poetry to be received as a unique message by a unique speaker, we shall re-direct attention to genres, conventions, contexts, and shared assumptions. We shall consider the ways in which a poem creates an implied or (as it’s sometimes ironically called) ‘ideal’ reader. Another issue is the extent to which the poetry has worked out its relationship with the surrounding culture. Many contemporary poems are explicitly critical of consumerism, advertising, or capitalism, yet their own transactions with the reader or with language are permeated by those influences. Advertising, with its desire to be both natural and seductive, and its use of excited association, has much in common with the lyric. Studies of ‘Ideology and Political Art in New Zealand’ have tended to concentrate on explicit ‘messages’ or ‘statements’ – for example: ‘The isolation of the artist, under capitalism, has caused … a self-referential concern with technique. It, therefore, takes courage for an artist to break out of this isolation and make statements of a public/political nature’ (Jonathan Smart and Hugh Lauder, Landfall No.153, 1985, pp.99-100). In contrast to this sort of content analysis, we assume a continuous awareness of ‘technique,’ of the language of art and the politics of reading, to be the basis of any serious attempt to become a ‘resisting’ reader, writer or artist.

____________________

… This essay was designed to round out some earlier And essays by exploring an adjoining area: contemporary New Zealand poetry. Locally, the main models of writing have ranged from naive (‘warm bath’) lyricism, through more sophisticated versions of expressive

‘Natural’ As Only You Can Be / 89

poetry, to examples of modernism that set up a different reading transaction. Instead of treating poems as self-contained objects, we have again tried to deal with the give-and-take between writer, poem, and reader within the field of language. While stressing the complexity of the transactions, we have emphasized one particularly neglected aspect, the process of reading. How do we read the world, how do we read the poem, how does the poem read the world? The answers are many and they need to be located historically and socially, in relation to specific ‘reading communities’ and ‘models’ of reading, together with the politics of their interplay. The And essays have, in those terms, explored dominant New Zealand readings. When an impatient voice says, ‘Stop mucking about and get on with it – tell us what the poem means – tell us what the people in the poem are feeling – tell us which are the best lines … (etc.),’ we are as curious about the choice of those demands as we are about the poem. ‘Normal’ reading needs to become aware of itself as only one of a range of possibilities, as ‘a reading.’ We can look back along the ‘direction’ of its words, back from the results of a reading (or a writing) to the basic setup (or ‘programme,’ or ‘model’). Obviously we are not demanding that everyone should read or write from the same position, but that we should occupy positions more consciously.

Sources Robert  Creeley, The collected poems of Robert Creeley 1945-1975, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1982. C. Day Lewis, The Lyric Impulse, London, Chatto and Windus, 1965. Judith Fetterley, The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1978. Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, Ithaca (N.Y.), Cornell University Press, 1977.

Re-locating New Zealand This response to the huge political, economic, and technological changes happening in the 1980s was published in Antic in 1988. Those changes have not slowed down and we are still struggling with their consequences today.

Re-locating New Zealand

1. London (Finsbury Park) February 14 1988

I

flew out of New Zealand on New Year’s Eve and I’ll be on the move until the start of 1989. Although New Zealand scarcely exists in newspapers or on television screens I’ve already received plenty of reminders that I’m a New Zealander – arguing my visa with Immigration in Los Angeles, trying to explain where and what New Zealand is to a Houston cab-driver, or trying to rent a television set in London without paying a huge deposit. I can’t separate myself from my national baggage – an accent, a particular set of conditioned reflexes, and a volatile exchange rate. It’s also obvious that New Zealand isn’t (yet) the locus of fascination in England and the U.S.A. that Australia has become, thanks to its Bicentennial, the publication of The Fatal Shores, and the release of Crocodile Dundee. Meanwhile the first letters catch up with me, carrying news clippings of the challenge to Prebble and Lange’s turnaround on the Douglas tax package. So the changes show no signs of slowing down during 1988, and ‘New Zealand’ will be significantly different – if only for New Zealanders – by the time my visas and dollars run out and Air New Zealand (or Ansett, or British Airways?) drops me back into it. When I was growing up during the 1950s, ‘New Zealand’ seemed to me oppressively stable, changing

94 / Re-inventing New Zealand

too slowly for my liking. Of course this catatonic state was an illusion, and the late 1960s brought some undeniable changes, but I see ‘New Zealand’ as more unsettled today than at any time in recent history. Its meaning is up for grabs, to the wealthiest developer or the most persuasive image-maker. Related signifiers such as ‘ New Zealand art’ or ‘New Zealand literature,’ not to mention the ‘New Zealand Labour Party,’ have also lost their familiar contours. Our brand-New-Zealand could be built overnight in mirror glass, or become a new mix of cultural styles, or resemble the Deconstructive Architecture they’re debating this week at the Tate Gallery. I send these foreign despatches, notes scribbled on the run, back to Antic to play my small part in the noisy fabrication of the New Zealand we’ll have to live with in 1989. 2. London (Vauxhall) February 21 Vauxhall is full of New Zealand expatriates, some of them former squatters. I enjoy the surreal precision with which four of us have just compared notes on a particular street in Grey Lynn. But some expats find it impossible to believe that life in Auckland has changed in recent years as radically as I claim. They have a personal investment in still thinking of New Zealand as lotusland, a place where you listen to the grass grow round your feet. It remains a point of reference for their own odyssey, a harbour to which they’ll one day escape out of the trade winds. The tourist posters in Oxford Street don’t mention Rogernomics, their New Zealand still consists wholly of snow-clad peaks, sheepy pastures, and Māori hakas. 3. Oxford March 1 A well-known poet explains that ‘serious publishers’ have become almost an extinct species. Their publishing houses have been bought

Re-locating New Zealand / 95

by conglomerates who understand nothing but the verbal equivalent of fast food. None of these firms is now prepared to publish a book for reasons of prestige or long-term investment. Although there is a continuing supply of poets, poetry itself is declining into a hobbyist’s craft or a form of psychotherapy. I heard similar stories when I passed through the United States, about the unequal struggle between muscular market forces and short-winded ‘serious’ writing. What interests me is what seems to be happening to the ‘serious’ writer’s psychology. In the 1910s and ’20s the modernists had to operate outside the market but they were always fiercely ambitious and international in their perspectives – they had no desire to settle down as a cosy cottage industry or mutual admiration circle. Another poet talks enthusiastically about ‘localism’ as a resistance to the levelling tendencies of ‘the post-modern.’ Certainly the main tradition of English poetry today – what I’ve read of it – does have a regional flavour, but largely because it restricts itself to such narrow boundaries. A visit to Oxford bookshops confirms what I’d noticed in London – that most American poetry is considered irrelevant, even by specialised literary booksellers. I had hoped to obtain copies of current American anthologies such as Douglas Messerli’s Language Poetries (New Directions, 1987) or Ron Silliman’s In the American Tree (National Poetry Foundation /University of Maine at Orono, 1986), but I discovered that even the previous generation of American poets wasn’t available. For example, Anne Sexton’s books have not been published in England and even the American editions are not kept in stock. The only significant exceptions appear to be poets who came in person to live in England (for example, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath). Reading a wide range of overseas poets is no guarantee that you are going to write well, but it is at least likely to relieve the claustrophobic atmosphere of much contemporary poetry. One reason the 1980s has been such a positive phase for New Zealand writing is the fact so many writers have put their energy into breaking down barriers and trying to establish new connections.

96 / Re-inventing New Zealand

4. Essex March 3 Why did writing in New Zealand enter a period of rapid change? One answer is ‘come-uppance.’ Every energetic development in the arts involves exclusions and repressions, and later the groups it has neglected or ‘appropriated’ (often unconsciously) are likely to reappear speaking strongly for themselves. A tradition that calls itself ‘national’ is particularly likely to incur embarrassing debts of this kind. In the 1980s the phase of ‘New Zealand literature’ that was initiated in the 1920s and ’30s reached the peak of its official recognition – with Queen’s Honours, busts in libraries, and a steady flow of theses and conferences – but simultaneously it was challenged by Māori writers, by women, by gays and lesbians, by political radicals, by avant-garde writers, by theorists, and by other groups who had felt themselves treated as marginal, foreign, deviant, etc. Today the phrase ‘New Zealand writer’ should raise questions not supply answers. 5. Bath March 13 After a tour of the Roman baths, and a walk past the elegant 18th century houses (now much in demand as a television set), I read my mail, a parcel of recent magazines from New Zealand. They still convey a sense of ‘rapid change’ but what’s all this melodrama? Now that yesterday’s champions of ‘New Zealand art and literature’ are down, people are having a good time putting the boot in. To borrow Plath’s lines from ‘Daddy’: There’s a stake in your fat, black heart And the villagers never liked you. They are dancing and stamping on you. They always knew it was you.

Re-locating New Zealand / 97

Reading a range of recent essays I have a feeling that this communal exorcism is becoming as predictable a ritual as the ‘nationalism’ it seeks to stamp out. For example, Stevan Eldred-Grigg’s contributions to Landfall Nos. 162 and 163 can be respected for their energy, or their attempt to relate literature to social issues, but they are onetrack-minded in their desire to turn yesterday’s heroes into stereotyped villains. Eldred-Grigg suggests (in Landfall No. 163, p.305) that the socialist nationalism of New Zealand writers looks suspiciously like National Socialism. Such claims may be an unavoidable part of the exorcism (‘I made a model of you / A man in black with a Meinkampf look’) but they fail totally to acknowledge the anti-fascist, left-wing commitments of some nationalist writers (Bill Pearson, for example). As a snappy punchline for his review of A Destiny Apart in Landfall No. 162, Eldred-Grigg implies that ‘Thousands of people get killed’ by listening to discourse such as Keith Sinclair’s. This claim may help the sales of Sinclair’s book – it would make a memorable dust-jacket quote – but it’s also a cheap shot. If we are going to chastise the writers of the ‘New Zealand’ tradition for having had a limited view of their social context, we can’t afford to simplify that context with an equal crudeness. It’s possible to challenge their assumptions without implying that all forms of nationalism are equally vicious, and without ignoring the valuable ways in which the writers of the 1930s-1950s did represent a counter-culture or oppositional tendency. In other words, a critic should develop a complex model of culture; but perhaps we are now in a phase when cultural melodrama seems more exciting and heroic. 6. Surrey April 3 This month all letters posted in England will be franked with the slogan ‘Jesus is Alive.’ The Royal Mail postmark was put on the market (is nothing sacred?) and a wealthy evangelist bought it for a month. Several groups protested that the slogan was culturally offensive to them but the Post Office dismissed their complaints as a minority point-ofview. Now someone has started collecting money for a month of ‘Jesus

98 / Re-inventing New Zealand

is Dead,’ but the money is coming in so slowly that the Post Office may never have to make a decision about its acceptability. I’ve just found out that Raymond Williams died on January 26. I’m struck by a Williams quote in the New Left Review’s tribute: ‘I’ve learned the reality of hegemony. I learned the saturating power of the structure of feeling of a given society, as much from my own mind and my own experience as from observing the lives of others. All through our lives, if we make an effort, we uncover layers of this kind of alien formation within ourselves, and deep in ourselves.’ The most interesting writing I’ve seen in England has been published not in literary contexts but in magazines of ‘cultural theory’ (such as New Formations, Cultural Studies, Textual Practice, Screen, etc.). They are based on the assumption that art should be analysed alongside popular culture and other types of social construction. Such writing is ruthless in stripping away the mystique of art but it is also concerned not to oversimplify. It draws upon literary criticism, sociology, and anthropology, within a theoretical framework derived from such writers as Michel Foucault or (at the other end of the spectrum) Raymond Williams. The aim is to use theory politically, to bring a theoretical rigour to ‘close reading’ that attempts to deal with not just one but a number of specific variables (race, gender, class, local differences, etc.). Though sharing a strong interest in Marxism, the contributors to these magazines do not follow a single party line but raise problems relevant to a rethinking of ‘left’ politics today. 7. London House May 5 A New Zealand graduate in London to study Psychology urges me to read Howard Gardner’s The Mind’s New Science: A History of the Cognitive Revolution (N.Y., Basic Books, 1987). It’s an excellent piece of popular science writing that relates linguistic research to computers, artificial intelligence and neuroscience. I can see that anyone in the future who wants to make sense of the intellectual life of the 1980s (‘worldview,’ ‘zeitgeist,’ etc. etc.) will somehow have to explain the

Re-locating New Zealand / 99

extraordinary divergence between its two main lines of thought – the approach I’ve just described which stresses social construction and ethnocentrism, and the ‘cognitive’ approach described by Gardner which has achieved its greatest successes by focusing on ‘universals’ and ignoring variables that seem culturally relative. Each tradition regards the other as theoretically naive and old-hat. From a cognitive point-of-view, ‘cultural studies’ is simply a rehash of the Sapir­Whorf hypothesis, while the other group sees cognitive science as unable to get past structuralism and unable to deal with urgent social problems. One reason the two traditions are out of step is the fact that ‘cultural studies’ is – within the arts – a ‘comeuppance’ for halfa-century of modernism. Some modernist art and literature did pay close attention to questions of cultural relativism (and ‘point-of-view’) but much of it was in love with the idea of universals – timeless myths, geometrical forms in ‘pure’ abstract painting, archetypal themes that allowed poets to juxtapose many historical periods, supposed affinities between different types of ‘primitive art,’ etc. Generally the two schools of contemporary thought keep to their own turf – either to science or to the humanities – but both lay claim to ‘language’ so that linguistics is often a battleground (between Chomskians, say, and some sociolinguists or post-structuralists). The two schools may eventually be seen as complementary, but at present there’s an understandable fear of blurring their intellectual differences. 8. New York (SoHo) June 10 New York is in the middle of a heat wave. At Canal Jeans I bought a summer shirt made in the Philippines for the Peninsula Company of San Francisco. I liked it because its world-map pattern gave a prominent place to something it called ‘New Zealand.’ I’m amazed at the speed with which an image of ‘Australia’ has materialized in New York. I remember 15 years ago trying to find an Australian best-seller in the bookstores of New York and being treated with the same puzzlement I would encounter today if I asked

100 / Re-inventing New Zealand

for (say) a book on New Zealand art. Yet this week Crocodile Dundee II has outgrossed even Rambo III. Admittedly one macho film looks much like another, but there are also plenty of other changes. Our local bird shop (‘Bird Jungle’) reports a big demand for Australian parrots. The sales of Foster’s Lager have more than tripled in the U.S.A. over the past three years, and – to quote the marketing manager: ‘Far from simply selling a beer, Foster’s Lager views its role here as selling contemporary Australia.’ Also, My American shirt the New York restaurant listings now include a new category – ‘Australian/American’ – as represented by the Cupping Room Cafe (‘Down Under in SoHo’) where dress is ‘casual,’ or by the Visa Hotel’s Greenhouse which urges the Financial District to ‘Have a go at some Aussie food and drink, mate!’ When Shirley and I tell New Yorkers we are from New Zealand, the country has inevitably become Australia in their minds by the end of the conversation. Despite the dazzling achievements of Paul Hogan and the Australian tourist industry, a staff-member from the Australian Consulate-General confesses to us at a party that she is driven to despair by the New Yorkers who still confuse her country with Austria. 9. New York (Downtown) June 22 We visit the top of the World Trade Center with friends from New Zealand. Though visibility is bad it’s still a memorable view of lower Manhattan, the biggest money machine in the world. Leigh draws my attention to an item in today’s New York Times – the ‘Economic Declaration’ issued by the ‘seven major industrialised nations’ at the end of their economic summit conference. This begins:

Re-locating New Zealand / 101

Over the past 14 years, the world economy and economic policy have undergone profound changes. In particular, the information­technology revolution and the globalization of markets have increased economic interdependence, making it essential that governments consider fully the international dimension of their deliberations. Since I go overseas once every seven years (on sabbatical leave), I tend to expect the world each time to have entered a new ‘phase.’ Some of my divisions and extrapolations soon prove to be too dramatic. But after my latest taste of London and New York I am prepared to believe that there have been ‘profound changes’ to the ‘world economy,’ and an essay about the re-invention of New Zealand had better try to deal with them. Transnational corporations (TNCs) have been major players for a long time but lately their operations have been strengthened by an ‘information technology revolution’ – cheaper air travel, electronic data processing, and telecommunications, ranging from the fax machine to the satellite station. Another muscle-building factor – also noted by The Seven – has been the integration of financial markets around the world. It is not easy to distinguish causes from effects but the over-all result is clear – a shakeup in capitalism that has affected whole countries and industries. The fastest growing occupations include those needed to operate global capitalism, the ‘advanced service industries’ such as management consulting, executive recruiting, accounting and legal services, computer software design, public relations and marketing, property development, investment analysis, etc. This class of highly-paid professionals, articulate in the language of business and its various local dialects, has become increasingly international, linked with the new mobility of money and information. 10. New York (West Village) June 28 Another stage in ‘the globalization of markets’ will be reached in 1992 when all the E.E.C. countries drop their national trade barriers.

102 / Re-inventing New Zealand

European companies are desperate to expand before 1992. This is producing what English papers describe as ‘a merger mania’ throughout Europe. Will the United States continue to be the centre of capitalism as business activities become more global? Wall Street is far from certain, but one report this week is hopeful that even a ‘post modern’ or ‘post industrial’ economy still needs a brain: New York is ‘emerging as a central brain for the global system,’ said the Regional Plan Association … in a report on the city’s role in the international economy. ‘So many important decisions affecting world production, trade, investment and finance are made here that decisions themselves might be considered one of the region’s most important exports.’ (New York Times, June 27 1998, p.82) And: Confirming that the city is becoming a paper-work empire, the largest export commodity shipped out of New York Harbor, as measured by tonnage, was waste paper bound for recycling in the Far East. (N.Y.T., June 26, p. 25) 11. New York (Midtown) July 4 National Independence Day – we watch Macy’s giant fireworks display from the balcony of a 31st floor apartment occupied by a member of New Zealand’s (very effective) mission to the United Nations. The fact that the United States has just shot down a passenger plane in Iran adds a note of irony to the explosions. The last New Yorker (dated July 11) includes a half-page colour advertisement by NZTP showing sheep clogging a country road. This is ‘Rush Hour Traffic in New Zealand.’ New Yorkers are urged to

Re-locating New Zealand / 103

trade their freeways for ‘the easy-going pace Down Under!’ New Zealand offers ‘Friendly faces. Flip­flopped seasons. Laid back lifestyle.’ The mail brings more news clippings about battles within the Labour Party. From this distance the arguments on both sides seem oddly local since ‘Rogernomics’ is – for better or worse – clearly a reflection of what’s happened in other capitalist countries. Traditional manufacturing and agriculture (whose thinking is in many respects nationalist and protectionist) have had to yield ground to industries such as finance that thrive on the new international developments. Small countries like New Zealand have been under pressure from TNCs who are able to shop around for the lowest business costs and taxes and the fewest government regulations. The ideology of ‘the open market’ was a powerful way for the various emergent forces to articulate their interests. When this alliance had the strength to take over a parliamentary party it chose the Conservative Party in England and the Labour Party in New Zealand – an important local difference since the English equivalent of Rogernomics has since kept company with right-wing social attitudes (such as an antipathy to feminists, gays, and some racial minorities), and also with displays of old-fashioned nationalism. In New Zealand the change was more abrupt and disorienting for the left because the new approach to economics was accompanied by Labour’s non-nuclear policy, the creation of a Women’s Ministry, an interest in Māori issues, etc. In this general climate of innovation, many talented young people who had previously been frustrated by local bureaucrats could enjoy watching the young turks of Rogernomics carve up the civil service and require people to become ‘more competitive.’ The last seven years have proved for the first time since the war that change in New Zealand politics does not have to be gradual. Even if one disagrees with the values of Rogernomics it is difficult not to admire the exceptional speed and scope of its culture-building. Of course, there

104 / Re-inventing New Zealand

is some irony in the fact that this new ‘market culture’ tends itself to suppress notions of ‘culture’ or ‘society’ by its constant foregrounding of ‘the individual.’ A long distance view (from the World Trade Center?) can have clear outlines but runs the risk of oversimplifying. Letters from New Zealand speak of serious economic fall-out from last October’s stock market ‘meltdown’ (and certainly the New Zealand market seems to have suffered more damage than that of most countries). I’m too far away to know whether public opinion is now swinging to the right or to the left or in some direction too new to classify. If the traditional left wins its battle against Rogernomics too quickly it will be a hollow victory since it seems not yet to have developed a clear analysis of international changes. Also, many left-wing writers appear to be unfamiliar with the particular discourses of economics and management that other groups have succeeded in establishing as the main field of battle. It’s a stale situation with many writers on both sides insisting that ‘My language is the only possible one. I wouldn’t be seen dead mixing with your language.’ But some people have understood that the left in this country has a very special opportunity, for we have been thrown into the 1980s so abruptly that the need to shed clichés and overhaul ideas is unusually clear. 12. New York (Jones Beach) July 6 A friend has arrived from Auckland wearing a ‘Kiwi Republic’ t-shirt. This new brand is presumably based on ‘Banana Republic,’ a successful chain of clothes stores in New York, but the small change of name makes a big difference. (I’m reminded of how Bruce Jesson – who’s always had lots of good ideas – used to make rubber stamps with the slogan ‘Off with her head.’ It wouldn’t take Bruce long to get most of the people in a pub enthusiastically stamping over the Queen on their banknotes. Imagine a month of that as the Royal Mail postmark.) At last there’s an item about New Zealand in a New York newspaper – or rather, an item about Michael Fay and the America’s Cup.

Re-locating New Zealand / 105

It’s natural for KZ7 to float into any discussion of ‘global capitalism.’ KZ7 was a joint effort by leading jetsetters in finance, law, marketing, and the media, and a clear example of how rapidly national culture can be constructed today. The campaigns for Steinlager and Kiwi Lager have had a similar power. Whether one launches a new boat or a new beer, national symbolism helps to make one’s product distinctive in the international market place and national(ist) public support is a valuable bonus. Those who design such campaigns are highly skilled image-makers who might in a different age have preferred to work in the arts. Their media machinery is increasingly expensive and effective – a single communications satellite or television superstation can transform a local culture. The idea that culture and its meanings are socially constructed (rather than revealed from the depths, or grown organically, as artists claim) is today clearer than ever. The arts must come to terms with these developments or risk becoming a backwater, a nostalgic cottage industry. As bricoleurs or makers of new meanings, artists cannot ignore the patterns of association being shaped on such a large scale by marketing, advertising, television, etc. By ‘coming to terms’ I mean not conforming to the same rules but understanding the game so well you can play your own games with it or against it. The tradition of ‘New Zealand literature’ provides some relevant tools – for example, Allen Curnow’s shrewd critique of the ways in which history is squeezed into the shapes of sentiment or self-interest. But the tradition has clear gaps, particularly the limitations of realist thinking in making sense of a mediated world. 13. New York (Fifth Avenue) July 7 A final note before posting these hasty thoughts back to Antic. I’ve just been sitting in the reception area of the (very helpful) New York branch of the BNZ, listening to the American accents of the staff and reading the two books on their coffee table: McIntyre Country (‘a brief account of a lifetime of holidays in, and painting expeditions to, lakes,

106 / Re-inventing New Zealand

beaches, rivers and mountains’) and The New Zealanders (by Robin Smith et al.) with a ‘Frontispiece’ that has the following summary of our history: On this land the giant moa grazed. Men hunted him, dressed themselves in his feathers …. And then many white men came and the men became new, and the land changed …. And then they cleared the land to make room for sheep, and for all the people to grow in, and then they discovered how to freeze the meat and send it in great ships to other men 10,000 miles away, and they found how to make the wool and make their clothing in great quantity, for many men, all around the world, and then they said, when the sheep came down in the morning to have the wool taken, that they had found a great peace. Does the final ‘they’ refer to ‘the men,’ or to ‘white men,’ or to ‘the sheep,’ or to The New Zealanders, or to members of the Wool Board of the Garden of Eden, or timelessly to all at once? The book was written in 1975 but reprinted not long ago. Perhaps readers of Antic could assist the Kowhai Publishing Company by suggesting another sentence or two that would bring this idyll of a woolly agri-culture up to date for 1989?

‘Reading’ and ‘Gender’: Watching Them Change The upsurge of feminism was another major change, particularly during the 1970s and ‘80s. There was much debate over the relationship between feminist theory and feminist activism. This 1986 Antic essay makes use of certain theories of reading in tracking the way attitudes to gender changed during the period.

‘Reading’ and ‘Gender’: Watching Them Change

‘R

eading’ needs to be understood in more complex ways – this is the challenge set for us by a lot of recent critical writing (or so this reader understands it). But why should reading be such a big deal when it’s widely assumed that what counts is the making of art? In New Zealand the arts have seldom had much use for criticism or theory. Today, however, overseas writers are analyzing reading as an activity basic not only to criticism but also to art-making. The pressure from ‘theories of reading’ has influenced both areas – not as an attempt to impose an orthodoxy but as a growing sense of obligation to analyze what we are doing and what its social implications are. The newer forms of criticism focus on the specific ways in which a text (a painting, poem, or film, say) is shaped so as to organize readings. Not only the text but the writer and the reader are assumed to be programmed (or ‘coded up’), as their negotiations with language take place within an established set of cultural codes and social relationships. Since there are important questions to be raised about this setup, we can hardly trust those confident artists and critics with intuitive ‘good taste’ who stroll off to another open-minded encounter with pure reality (the book or the slice of life that they propose to read for us). Recent talk about art has moved in two interesting directions. First, there is ‘overreading,’ the attempt to analyze how a text expects to be read, and then to assert one’s freedom to use it differently. The initial

110 / Re-inventing New Zealand

effort of trying to understand the text in its own terms distinguishes this approach from glib forms of appropriation. Eventually, the overreader seeks to multiply problems rather than to celebrate coherence. Such readings – Barthes’s S/Z, for example, or Simon During’s essay on Sargeson in And No.1 – have been welcomed as evidence that criticism is finally running with modern art rather than trying to tie it down. Or we can see this as an anarchist attempt to multiply options, an attempt that holds political implications for us as readers (and printouts) of the social text. Such critical writing is often closely linked with (and difficult to separate from) vanguard art. The artist makes problematic signs, the critic makes signs problematic. The second tendency acknowledges such fluid possibilities but is also interested to know why reading has remained fairly stable (like society itself ), at least for particular periods of history and groups of people (‘target audiences’ or ‘reading communities’). Such groupings need to be studied in terms of reading habits and in terms of power. Whose style of reading dominates? Whose definitions of reality are most influential, and why? The two tendencies are sometimes in conflict. To establish generalizations about readers and history is to run a constant risk of becoming too knowing, creating stereotypes that have to be dissolved. Despite this push/pull, both tendencies share a distrust of ‘normal’ (unexamined) readings. In the area of feminist criticism (on which I shall now focus) the related interests seem to be: (1) the attempt to make a close study of the history of reading and writing in terms of gender politics, and (2) the attempt to subvert gender codes, to read or write one’s way to a new freedom or jouissance (as proposed, for example, by Hélène Cixous). Both projects seem to demand a new thoroughness, and a distrust of any thinking that involves ‘essences,’ universals, absolutes, or assumptions that can not be questioned.

2. What we see, we see and seeing is changing (from Adrienne Rich’s ‘Planetarium,’ 1968)

‘Reading’ and ‘Gender’: Watching Them Change / 111

The development of feminist criticism is a particularly dramatic example of how rapidly reading can change. ‘I would have thought the film was a lot older’ is a frequent response to films produced only five years ago – they are already history. If we go back to 1960, it is hard to find any signs of ‘feminist’ debate. As an English student at the time I was vaguely aware that there were scarcely any women writers in the curriculum, but discussion of this issue was confined to the rhetoric of literary taste. Elsewhere, the most original work by women was that which explored the problems of anxious, isolated individuals – the poetry of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, for example, or the fiction of Janet Frame. A few years later the awareness that ‘this way of grief / is shared, unnecessary / and political’ – that many of the problems of women were a matter of gender politics – came more clearly into focus in the work of writers such as Adrienne Rich. Women began to form ‘consciousness raising’ groups, and some critics made a detailed study of female stereotypes – for example, film critics such as Molly Haskell (Popcorn Venus) and Marjorie Rosen (From Reverence to Rape). By 1968 feminists had become a distinct ‘reading community,’ with a support structure (particularly in the United States) of galleries, magazines, festivals, etc. Feminist art moved to a more confident phase, addressing itself primarily to women readers, concentrating on relationships between women and the creation of positive role models. Now that the ‘content’ of art had changed, more energy was devoted by both artists and critics to experiments with style and process. The impact of Monique Wittig’s highly original novel Les Guérillères (1969) illustrates this new emphasis. Then, in the mid 1970s, the desire for a more rigorous method of ‘deconstructing’ gender codes led some critics to semiology. This shifted attention from personal experience (that of the reader or writer) to texts, to a minute analysis of how the ‘male gaze’ was implied, how the unconscious side of reading was shaped, and how ‘woman’ existed as ‘a message being communicated in patriarchal culture, a sign that is being exchanged.’ Feminist theory and experimental art urged each other on – for example, in the films of Laura Mulvey, Pam Cook, Claire Johnston, Michelle Citron and Sally Potter. Today, the general situation is diverse, with many forms of feminist criticism in our vicinity. The most far-reaching debate seems

112 / Re-inventing New Zealand

to be that between ‘theorists’ and ‘essentialists.’ Each regards the other as still trapped within patriarchal attitudes – one is accused of using ‘male intellectualism,’ the other of promoting ‘gender stereotypes that are merely the old ones in reverse.’ Obviously such a summary is crudely oversimplified (and it takes its dates from overseas events which have often occurred earlier than their equivalents in New Zealand) but it does suggest the speed of change. Those inside a ‘reading community’ are acutely aware of its complex developments, whereas those on the outside are likely to think of it statically in terms of the one aspect they know best. In the case of feminism we ought to keep in mind not only the changes since 1960 but the whole of that complex history that has produced gender as we know (and live) it today. I am also suggesting the possibility of analyzing such a history in terms of reading. That film-making and film criticism have become such a strong centre of feminist activity owes something to the fact that film is clearly a social practice, embedded within a public context of readers and changing responses. To approach feminist art and criticism as a ‘reading community’ is different from thinking of it as a single ‘-ism’ or as a series of texts. There is a strong tendency for any area of art history to be eventually reduced to a linear sequence of objects, so once again we must remind ourselves of the larger context – the thousands of people who have been reading, arguing, sharing responses – from which a few texts have emerged. The feminist tradition clearly illustrates the complexity of this give-and-take. It complicates many generalizations such as the old idea that ‘surely to goodness theory can only arise out of practice?’ (Louis Johnson, quoted in Talking  about  Ourselves: Twelve New Zealand Poets in Conversation with Harry Ricketts, Wellington, Mallinson Rendel, 1986, p.157). At various times feminist theory has preceded artistic practice, lagged behind, run parallel, been enmeshed with it, etc. To tackle any part of the history of reading is a daunting task because there are many areas from which nothing has survived except a few texts. Granted, texts may be said to carry ‘implied readers,’ and over a period of time they create readers in their own image, so to speak. But a history of reading deserves a greater variety of information than this. Is it possible to chronicle even something as recent as the feminist ‘reading community’ in New Zealand? Christine Dann’s book

‘Reading’ and ‘Gender’: Watching Them Change / 113

Up From Under (1985) provides useful documentation in its chapter on the arts (‘Creativity’), but it is concerned basically with texts, dates, and explicit themes: ‘content is the key distinguishing feature of the women’s art movement’ (p.114). Broadsheet Magazine, now in its 15th year, provides a richer record of changing attitudes. I make no attempt to write such a history (or ‘herstory’) myself; I merely wish to record a few details that may be relevant, that may provoke others to record their own. I see this as a tiny corner of a communal project. (Is it possible to make an ‘oral history’ of reading?) For some years I have been teaching a ‘Film Studies’ course at Auckland University. Each year’s class has consisted of 50 new readers – and it’s one of the privileges of teaching a course on the arts that one learns a lot about the ways people read. By the early 1970s, gender politics had become an inescapable issue and there were new ways to talk about it, exemplified by Kate Millett’s book Sexual Politics (1969). Class discussion became particularly heated after the screening of certain New Zealand films directed by men which focused on the lives of women – Gone Up North For A While (1972), The Street (1973), Blues For Miss Laverty (1976), A State of Siege (1978), and one or two others. Initially, women students welcomed them as ‘sensitive’ films that highlighted social problems. They speculated about how much input had come from women – Carole Stewart’s shrewd editing of The Street, for example, or Denise Maunder’s remarkable performance in Gone Up North. As for male students, they could share the anti-suburban implications of The Street, but some of them challenged the conclusions about sex roles which the women were drawing from it. There has been a strong tradition in New Zealand culture that depicts men as the victims of suburbia, tricked into ‘settling down’ by conventionallyminded women. (See Robert Chapman’s essay ‘Fiction and the Social Pattern’ for a number of examples.) It therefore required a considerable shift in male thinking to see women as the victims of suburbia, locked into the housewife role by conventionally-minded men. By the late 1970s The Street had come to seem very old-fashioned. It was a black-and-white film and the clothes looked dated, but what had changed most rapidly were the attitudes of the audience. Feminists commented: ‘This film gives a very external view of women. The stereotype of the pathetic, neurotic housewife isn’t much better than

114 / Re-inventing New Zealand

the stereotype of the radiant little homemaker. The film implies that women are desperately filling the void of their lives by such activities as sewing, having afternoon teas, chatting about children. Still, maybe there are ingredients of a women’s culture there? We need to look more closely.’ Such comments reflected an increased interest in the lives of all women, in their work as mothers, in their craft skills, etc. The most lively class discussions tended to use the film merely as a starting-point for an exchange of personal experiences and attitudes. There was a big release of energy in this ‘non-academic’ way of using a text. Sometimes the discussion came back to the film with a new awareness of the political implications of its style and format: ‘The male interviewer’s questions are patronising. It’s as though people are being “set up” for the classic television situation of “him contradicting her.” Television – in both its news and drama programmes – thrives on conflicts. The neatness of its oppositions reduces serious problems to spectacle or entertainment. To see those women in a three-dimensional way, the film-makers needed to have not only a deeper interest in their lives but also a different documentary format. Not many local films have usefully explored the lives of so-called “ordinary people” (people who seldom create their own texts), and the films that achieve it generally move far away from the stylistic norms of New Zealand television.’ These may be harsh judgements of The Street, which was produced for television by the National Film Unit, and politically was much livelier than most of the Unit’s output; but they illustrate the fruitful way in which feminist criticism could shift from the text to the personal, from the personal to the political, and then from the political back to the text. Already in the mid-1970s some feminist students were rejecting ‘sensitive’ N.Z. films such as Gone Up North on the grounds that ‘They always show women as victims – we need some resourceful women on screen.’ This demand existed before such films were made locally. There were clear reasons for a timelag, such as the expensive nature of the medium and the degree to which men dominated the industry in those days. Some Of My Best Friends Are Women came along in 1975, followed by the Women series (screened by television in 1978), In Joy (1980), Irene 59 (1981), the Pioneer Women series (1983), and a few others. Among men, even the most sympathetic directors have

‘Reading’ and ‘Gender’: Watching Them Change / 115

gone on making films about women as victims. When they do tackle something more positive – such as Sylvia (the feature-film about Sylvia Ashton-Warner) – the characters tend to be clichéd and the style sentimental. Women directors have been responsible for all the best of the ‘role model’ films. One male student described this genre as ‘Feminist Realism – like Socialist Realism except that the heroic workers are all women.’ But in a society that has so many subtle ways of undermining a woman’s confidence, there is a strong continuing need for such films. Films directed or scripted by women are still relatively few. Any chronicle of class discussions would show the influence exerted by current events. For example, A State of Siege has acquired new political associations in recent years with the increase in rape attacks on older women living alone. Today the film almost always triggers off debate about the experience of being a woman ‘under siege,’ though some male students regard this as irrelevant to what the film is ‘really’ about (‘internal versus external reality’?). In moving ‘outside’ the text in this way, or in demanding a different kind of text (‘Was it necessary for Malfred to be so overwhelmed by the situation that she dropped dead of shock?’), feminist criticism enters into conflict with an academic tradition based on ‘doing justice to the particular text in front of you.’ Certainly there are occasions when political anger oversimplifies the reading of a film; but equally, there are times when it complicates it in a useful way – by looking at the relationship between texts (to see what films have included or excluded), or at the manner in which the film text has organized its reading of the social text. In comparison with similar work overseas, local feminist film criticism and film-making have tended to remain strongly tied to ‘realism,’ but this is an old preference among New Zealand artists. There has also been a widespread distrust of theory. Last year two visiting writers spoke at Auckland University – Robin Morgan and Mary Jacobus. Jacobus began her talk about Kristeva and Lacan by remarking: ‘To have a theory of the woman reader, you need a theory of gender and a theory of reading. For me, the necessary theory is psychoanalysis.’ Whereas Morgan left her audience enthused, Jacobus’s talk was criticised by a number of women students. She was perceived as having ‘a male style’ and a dubious fascination for Freud. Nevertheless, in the last few years there has been a steadily growing interest in feminist theory, which is

116 / Re-inventing New Zealand

now extending to the types of theory influenced by psychoanalysis. (Lacan, Kristeva, and others have re-read Freud in a way that makes his work useful to feminism.) Some women students have formed their own discussion groups. Evidence of the new interest in theory can be seen in Dawn Danby’s 1984 M.A. thesis ‘Voices in the Liturgy’ and in work done by film students in Wellington; and in criticism by such writers as Linda Hardy, Sophie Tomlinson, Liz Eastmond, etc. One of the earliest local examples was the essay by Susan Davis and Anne Maxwell in Alternative Cinema Magazine (Spring 1983/84). This shift towards theory and the overreading of texts may create a demand here as it did in England for a more experimental approach to feminist filmmaking. Alison Maclean’s Taunt (1983) is an underrated precedent. Most local work has remained close to naturalism, though Shereen Maloney’s double-feature Irene 59 and Doc (1985) is a rich variation. The juxtaposition of these two ‘realist’ films (one about Maloney’s mother and the other about her father) stimulates a great deal of thinking about how men and women are shaped by (or in the mother’s case, break out from) the social conditioning of their time. Perhaps the most contentious classroom subject in recent years has been film censorship. People born in the 1940s or earlier have lived through three distinct phases: (1) the uptight sexual puritanism of the 1950s, (2) the struggle for greater sexual openness during the 1960s and early ‘70s, and (3) the growing concern about pornography in the 1980s. When I began teaching in 1967 many students (both male and female) were scornful of censorship. The freedom to talk freely or even outrageously about sex seemed an integral part of the cultural revolution of the late ‘60s. It was part of the energy of writers such as Anne Sexton and Erica Jong. Germaine Greer was arrested for ‘obscene’ language during her 1972 visit to Auckland. Now in the 1980s when sexual harassment and rape have become central concerns, many women students believe that tougher film censorship may help these problems. Two years ago Not a Love Story (an ‘anti-pornography’ film) generated a particularly complex discussion because it was a film that had been viewed with equal interest by feminists, conservative Christians, and ‘the raincoat brigade’ (aka ‘dirty old men’). While many film students are hostile to pornography, they are also concerned about the fact that some protestors have little interest in films and

‘Reading’ and ‘Gender’: Watching Them Change / 117

are poorly informed about the titles they condemn. Sharing a picket line with fundamentalists also makes some students uneasy. To adapt Jacobus’s remark: ‘To have a theory of pornography or censorship, you need a theory of sexuality and a theory of reading’ – but so far neither side in the debate has provided such an analysis. One sign of change is the article by Athina Tsoulis in the April 1986 Broadsheet which introduces some new ideas on this complex topic, ideas that are also being explored overseas in Pleasure and Danger and other recent books by women. Any reading community is surrounded by other communities that influence it, become influenced, or try to crowd it out. There is a complicated history of feminist alliances with lesbian and gay politics, socialism, Māori sovereignty, and other viewpoints. Meanwhile, many male students (and male film-makers) seem hardly influenced at all by feminism – they have learned a range of possible readings but feminism is not one of them. In terms of their attitude to gender roles, women seem to have gone through bigger changes than men. Today there are signs of another shift among younger students – female as well as male – who say they are thoroughly bored by anything associated with feminism. They regard it as a worn-out fashion, its terms as dated to their ears as hippie talk from the 1960s. Increasingly, too, I hear women students objecting to feminist ideas as an ‘orthodoxy’ (‘They’re trying to impose their stereotypes on me’). Obviously a university sample is too small to draw any large conclusions; but it’s strange now to hear the women’s movement described not as an opposition but as a kind of establishment. The competition between different approaches to reading needs to be seen in the context of society as a whole. Some institutions carry a special responsibility because it is their business to teach reading. Feminism seems to have found a stronger base among university students than school students, and a stronger base among school teachers than university lecturers. (Obviously there are exceptions such as Aorewa McLeod whose ‘Women Writers’ course at Auckland has for years been an important centre of activity.) Formal education is still only one factor, since advertising and the popular media compete in the promotion of their own styles of reading, some of them in direct opposition to feminism.

118 / Re-inventing New Zealand

I have used the terms ‘community’ and ‘reading’ rather loosely, but I hope I have sketched out a general approach that seems particularly relevant to a rapidly changing tradition. The notion of ‘ideas in the air’ can be focused in these terms. To speak of a ‘reading community’ is not to suggest that everyone knows everyone – it refers to a much looser network through which ideas circulate in a variety of ways, gradually becoming more familiar so that new people can pick them up more rapidly. In this continuous buzz of questions and answers, there is a special energy that comes from resisting traditional readings (as Judith Fetterley suggests in her book The Resisting Reader). To quote Sandra Coney: ‘Building our own theory as we went … [was] always a heady process’ (Broadsheet October 1985). Within such a community, reading is unmistakably seen as part of history and part of politics.

3. The final section of this essay is based on a single classroom discussion, to illustrate some other complexities of reading. A sequence from the Spanish film The Spirit of the Beehive seemed particularly apt because it’s a kind of Rorschach test. (The equivalent film term is ‘Kuleshov experiment.’) The sequence is wordless and it doesn’t seem to advance the plot so the viewer must speculate about its meaning. I asked a class which had already seen the complete film to watch the sequence again and give me (anonymously) some written comments. There is no way to make a purely ‘objective’ description of any sequence, but I shall provide some photos and a script-like list of the relevant shots: Shot 1 (17 seconds): a train has stopped at the railway station of a Spanish town (in 1940). Teresa walks past the engine through clouds of steam, posts a letter in the mail slot, then stands back (in a Medium Shot) to watch the train. (First 3 photos.) Shot 2 (3½ seconds): A man in uniform, seen in MCU (Medium Closeup), looks through a window of the train, his face partly concealed by reflections. (Photo 4.)

‘Reading’ and ‘Gender’: Watching Them Change / 119

Shot 3 (6½ seconds): A closer (MCU) shot of Teresa who looks screenright, then pointedly turns away, then turns back a moment later. Shot 4 (6½ seconds): The train starts, the soldier moves off-screen (to the left) but the camera pans to keep him in sight a little longer.

120 / Re-inventing New Zealand

Shot 5 (4 seconds): Teresa (MCU) turns her eyes slightly to screenright. (Photo 5.) Shot 6 (9 seconds): As other train windows pass, they show (1) a man asleep, (2) a man looking out, (3) a woman asleep, and (4) another man looking out. (Photo 7.) Shot 7 (2 seconds): Teresa (MCU). (Photo 6.) Shot 8 (5 seconds): A more distant shot of the train and Teresa. She exits screen-left. (Last photo.) These shots add up to less than a minute of screen time. It is amazing how many conventions are implied even in such a brief sequence. We have to be active readers but our activity has been pre-organized. The class took it for granted that the time was continuous though in practice it would have taken several hours to film the sequence. Everyone assumed that shots 2, 4, 6 were the ‘reverse-shots’ of 1, 3, 5 – in other words, that Teresa and the man were looking at each other, and that her eyes turned to follow his face as the train moved. These readings were implied by the basic convention that ‘screenleft’ movement complements ‘screen-right.’ The sequence observes other rules of framing such as the focus on the head as point of reference. There appears to be a little ‘cheating’ in the fact that her eyes look upwards in Shot 1 but at eye-level in later shots. Despite this detail, viewers assume that Shot 3 is merely a closeup. Pairing (for ‘point-of-view’ shots or for ‘cut-in closeups’) is such a basic feature of film syntax that we ‘read’ it automatically. The shift to a new and more distant camera position in shot 8 is a clear signal that the sequence has ended. Now, it would be possible to ‘unlearn’ all these conventions, or to foreground them so prominently that the eight shots would seem as strange as an experimental film (like Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son by the American film-maker Ken Jacobs which takes a short sequence from an old narrative film and turns it into a two-hour semi-abstract montage) – but most viewers prefer to have a ‘clear gestalt’ and to make sense of a sequence in the normal way. Here, they interpreted the facial expressions in terms of a wide

‘Reading’ and ‘Gender’: Watching Them Change / 121

range of emotions – ‘grim,’ ‘curious,’ ‘intent,’ ‘annoyed,’ ‘bored,’ etc. Though their conclusions were different, the students were sharing the same activity (reading emotions ‘in’ to the images). Each student had acquired a certain range of critical skills, which were applied in a more or less flexible manner. They spent their time discussing technical or aesthetic questions (editing, composition, colour); or finding possible symbols (Teresa lost in the cloud of steam); or tracing possible connections within the film (letters and trains as motifs); or moving outwards from the film (to relate it to other films, or to personal experiences); and so on. There was a variety of responses yet most could be related to familiar traditions of reading (which are few in number). Two issues struck me as particularly interesting. Firstly, there was the question of whether the sequence needed to be placed in a social and historical context. Few students did so. Though this is obviously not only a local habit, New Zealand readers (and reviewers) seem less interested than most in placing texts in their contexts. I’m not sure why we are so prompt to read everything in terms of our own local situation. On this occasion, however, several students did attempt a contextual reading: ‘It’s Spain in 1940. They’ve just had a bitter civil war, and now war is breaking out all over Europe. It’s probably these political conflicts that have separated Teresa from the person she’s writing to. The political situation in Spain explains the mood of sadness that hangs over this scene, and over the whole film.’ The problem is that once we attempt such a reading we become aware of how little we know about a Spanish town in 1940. For example, what did the people on the train and their clothes signify to Teresa? Also, the historical context is a double one since the film may have carried subtle political messages to the Spanish viewers of 1973. For example, is the discussion of Frankenstein an allusion to Franco (who was still in power at this time)? The closer we look, the more complex the film becomes, yet few readings or reviews ever express uncertainty. For a classic example, see John Gillett’s over-confident review of this film in Sight and Sound Winter 1973/74. When a letter to the editor pointed out a Spanish language howler, the reviewer admitted that he had watched ‘an unsubtitled print … at a noisy festival screening, with a whispered translation from nearby Spanish colleagues.’ Some aspects of the film’s ‘implied reading’ are difficult to pin down,

122 / Re-inventing New Zealand

even when the film is considered as a whole. In the present sequence the play of eye contact generated a great deal of debate. One student interpreted it as a universal human experience: ‘You meet a stranger’s eye and look away. Wordless contact. You’re brought up not to stare, but if there’s some distance between you, why not indulge your curiosity? It’s an odd intense little experience.’ One student focused on ‘the soldier’: ‘I bet that poor bastard is thinking “I’d sooner be home with my girlfriend than on this train being carted off to some trouble spot.” And later in the film we see what happens when someone tries to desert – he’s hunted down and shot.’ A surprising number of students read the scene in terms of gender politics. The viewer is clearly invited to identify with Teresa insofar as she is given a lot of screen time, but what are the terms of that identification? One person wrote: ‘Men are always staring at women. They don’t consider whether a woman wants to be appraised. I can understand how uncomfortable Teresa feels – she’s “the sheila on the platform.”’ Another wrote: ‘Men gaze, they have the power. But he’s on the train – he can’t bother Teresa – so for once it is safe for her to look. She stares defiantly back.’ And another: ‘Teresa is nice to look at. It’s a fact we take for granted – that the main woman character in a film has got to be good looking. There’s a much wider range of looks among male characters such as the ones in this film.’ The first two responses are personal but they proceed to find the ‘political in the personal.’ The second writer uses the feminist term ‘male gaze’ (which originated, I think, in Laura Mulvey’s essay in Screen in 1975). In terms of mainstream criticism, such responses are likely to be attacked as ‘irrelevant,’ an attempt to impose modern feminist thinking on a 1940 Spanish town (or a 1973 Spanish film). The question of ‘relevance’ is, however, tricky. What does any of us know about the codes of eye contact or the feelings of women in such a town? Like ‘reading,’ there are many aspects of women’s history that are thinly documented. In any case, is the film necessarily asking us to read it in ‘realist’ terms? It has been argued that many films have an implied male reader and that most women learn to adopt a male reading style. Today there are some viewers putting a great deal of energy into reading as women, as feminist (rather than feminine) readers. In an extreme form, such readings use films merely as a training ground for resistance: ‘Sexual politics

‘Reading’ and ‘Gender’: Watching Them Change / 123

penetrates every exchange. Small events are as informative as big ones. Each film is a sample piece of patriarchal culture.’ Or: ‘I realise that I’m using this sequence to analyse “male gaze” but why shouldn’t I?’ One student understood that reading/writing could be equivalent to film-making: ‘My eye is the camera. And I can be the distributor (of the meaning I make).’ To do this is to read as a conscious producer rather than an unconscious consumer. Reading or criticism becomes a form of political activism. Such an approach seems perfectly valid provided it is explicit about its aims. In the case of the person just quoted, the reading involved such a heightened sensitivity to details and their political implications that I thought: ‘If this sort of reading were common it would certainly change the texture of social life!’ Some critics, however, give no serious thought to the question of implied reading, and their ‘deconstructions’ seem as overconfident as the cocksure texts they want (understandably) to dismantle. To overread is to complicate any form of preaching-to-the-converted. The final issue that interested me was the possibility of a reflexive reading. Any film can be read as a film-about-film, and increasingly today it is something that critics want to attempt. The Spirit of the Beehive seems more eager than most films to welcome this approach. It begins with the screening of a fantasy (Frankenstein) accompanied by its own framing film that advises the Spanish audience not to take Frankenstein ‘too seriously.’ It then proceeds to trace the serious emotional effect of Frankenstein on Teresa’s small daughter Ana. The Spirit of the Beehive raises complex questions about point-of-view (Ana’s, Teresa’s, ours). In the train sequence we watch Teresa as Teresa watches the train. The screen of the cinema is like a window, like the window of the train. That window is also full of reflections – and the film we see (like the film Ana has seen) is to some extent our own projection. What we ‘read out’ is mixed with what we ‘read in’ – but it’s important to try to understand the process, as the characters in the film painfully discover. (Or is what I’ve said here just one more projection? Is there no ‘spirit of the beehive,’ no ultimate meaning ‘in’ the film?) I must assume that the present essay will be read in a variety of different ways, with perhaps something to offend everybody. My aim was to render the notion of reading problematic bv analyzing what I had seen in my teaching (admittedly a limited vantage-point), and

124 / Re-inventing New Zealand

then to look at possible ways of developing that awareness. There is a traditional expectation that critics, artists, and teachers should be clear and authoritative in their approach to reading. When clarity is based on the championing of a single tradition, we should challenge that confidence. Feminism has raised questions of this kind for all of us. It has shown reading and gender to be thoroughly implicated in history and politics; and neither the artist nor the critic can now afford to turn his/her back on that complexity.



[Note: A ‘thank you’ to all the students in my film class – their readings made this essay possible. e term ‘reading community’ is borrowed from Stanley E. Fish’s Is There A Text Th In This Class?, Cambridge (Mass.), Harvard University Press, 1980. Other relevant work includes Reader-Response Criticism ed. Jane P. Tompkins, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 1980; many issues of Screen Magazine; books by Annette Kuhn and E. Ann Kaplan on feminist film criticism; Diacritics Summer 1982; Pleasure and Danger, ed. Carole S. Vance, Boston, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984; Poetics Journal No.4 (‘Women & Language’ issue) 1984; etc. For another history of changing attitudes at the university, hear the talk that Aorewa McLeod contributed to In Search of Identity, Auckland University Winter Lectures, 1985 (available in the university library collection as a recording).]

When Fringe Writers are ‘Warmly Invited’ By 1992, Landfall was suffering an identity crisis. The magazine turned over issue No.182 to Michele Leggott, Anne Kennedy and Ruth Watson to try something new. The guest editors used John Barnett and Lesley Kaiser’s electronic text exhibition ‘Like They Are Now’ as their starting-point. The exhibition had taken place at the corner of Queen and Victoria Streets in downtown Auckland, and a number of artists and poets contributed texts that resembled advertising slogans. My own contribution was: ‘GOOD BUY / COMMUNISM / GOOD BUY / CAPITALISM.’ (The ‘U.S.S.R.’ had ceased to exist just a few months earlier.) The guest editors invited about 36 New Zealand writers and artists to contribute two pages each to this issue. Many of the contributors combined words and images. I chose to focus on politics. Neoliberalism had begun its assault eight years earlier and was now at its height. (‘Rogernomics’ was continuing in the form of ‘Ruthanasia.’) I was distressed that Landfall and other cultural magazines were paying little attention to these political developments. I was told that Caxton Press was less than delighted with my contribution, but it did serve to generate discussion.

When Fringe Writers are ‘Warmly Invited’

1. When fringe writers are ‘warmly invited’ by a well-mannered literary magazine to ‘occupy two pages’ – with the content ‘up to you’ – the offer feels distinctly fishy, like graffiti artists being shipped in to decorate the back wall of the Aotea Centre. Or offered a gig as warmup band for Placido Domingo. To test the legal status of Landfall’s friendly letter, we could send them something obscene, or libellous, or already under copyright. But since their use of terms like ‘site-specific’ suggests that what they want is something singular and experimental, then the most contrary thing to do is play it straight – deliver a load of prose, plain old landfill, none of their avant-gardening. 2. Barnett and Kaiser’s ‘Like They Are Now’ set out shrewdly to intervene at one of Auckland’s busiest corners and on the sign above the Bank of New Zealand. But quite a few of the ‘36 writers and artists’ appear to have been less interested than Barnett and Kaiser in the politics of the project, thinking of it mainly in aesthetic terms – one’s words in lights, postmodern fun and games, another exhibition to add to the C.V. Some texts simply became part of the Queen Street spectacle. One of the valuable things about ‘Like They Are Now’ was the way it focused the political strengths and shortcomings of the local art scene. With luck that’s what Landfall will examine – because otherwise the

128 / Re-inventing New Zealand

shift to a literary magazine will aestheticise the work further, removing what’s left of its politics and taming its ephemeral, anonymous mode of presentation. 3. Basic to Landfall in the 1940s and ’50s was a sense of social and political seriousness. The magazine had grown out of the war and the Depression; its writers were acutely aware of the marginal status of the arts in New Zealand but they saw their work as a challenge, even as a kind of cultural revolution. Not every item in the magazine dealt with politics but there were a number of lively essays on the subject. Brasch said of the arts in his first editorial: ‘Their present relationship [with everyday life] is disastrous. They have been made to appear unreal, a decoration on the surface of life, which may be of use in whiling away a few leisure hours, but scarcely worth the attention of those engaged in the serious business of mankind.’ This general attitude to the arts has scarcely changed over the last 45 years – the difference is that Landfall has given up worrying about it. To read through the issues of the 1980s is to be astounded at how little they had to say about the extraordinary political changes of that decade. The magazine paid only occasional attention to the Treaty or to feminist issues. On Rogernomics, the dismantling of the welfare state, and the recession there was even less (just a few poems and stories?). The 1990s has at least seen an essay by Brian Easton on broadcasting, one on the election by Tony Simpson, and two book reviews. In general the magazine’s subtitle, ‘A New Zealand Quarterly,’ has shed most of the social implications it once held. Politics seems to have been re-defined so its main business is writing attacks on earlier Landfall writers. Also, the magazine no longer offers the regular discussions of popular New Zealand culture (such as films) that appeared in its early years. With occasional exceptions (such as Nick Perry discussing television), the essays and reviews in Landfall tastefully avoid these non-literary topics. 4. The narrow perspectives of the present are epitomised by the form that has dominated local poetry over the last decade – the ‘personal poem,’ short, anecdotal, usually in the first person, mostly prosaic in a free-verse way but climaxing in a little burst of lyricism. Such poetry invites the reader to share a humane space in which some likeable, lib-

When Fringe Writers are ‘Warmly Invited’ / 129

eral person (usually the poet) becomes a little more sensitive or learns some wry lesson about life. This genre has become a cliché not only in Landfall but also in Metro, the Listener, and other magazines. The ambitious sense of ‘we’ in Landfall in the 1940s has given way to a sprinkling of sensitive first persons. 5. Obviously Landfall cannot go back to the 1940s, but nor can it afford to go on drifting. In the last few issues its new editorial board has tried out some interesting new directions. Perhaps in response to the fact that Sport now dominates the niche for well-made but conventional literature, Landfall appears to be looking for new allies in the visual arts. This seems a smart move provided the magazine doesn’t try too earnestly to be ‘experimental.’ Other options? The magazine has occasionally explored theory – in the Katherine Mansfield issue (No. 172) or Simon’s During’s essay on post-colonialism in No. 155 – but it has not managed to keep the debate going. Then there is popular culture. And politics. For a ‘New Zealand Quarterly’ to be clearly more than a cosy corner for its readers to get published behind a fence of nationalism, it needs to keep re-thinking its relationship to the local – or to adapt During’s grand phrase, it needs to become a testing ground again for new ‘idioms in which New Zealand may know itself least blindly.’ 6. The collapse of the Mercury Theatre a few days ago reminds us that the arts ‘establishment’ in this country is still small and fragile. Have we come far since 1947? In the 1940s Landfall quickly reached a circulation of around 1000, inciuding 750 subscribers (as we learn from John Geraets’s essay in And No.3). Today, while the country’s population has almost doubled, Landfall prints an average of 1050 copies per issue – including 500 local subscribers, 250 copies sold through bookshops, and 200 overseas subscribers. Its base audience is the universities. The magazine receives approximately 20 poetry and 15 prose contributions per month. My thanks to Caxton Press for providing these figures. In financial terms it is the generosity of Caxton Press that has kept Landfall alive all these years, since the magazine runs at a loss even after a Literary Fund subsidy of approximately $4467 per issue. What do we make of all these figures? Among other things they illus-

130 / Re-inventing New Zealand

trate the precarious nature of the arts in a small culture in a recession. They also suggest the need for a debate about the magazine’s future direction – which should also be a debate about the meanings ‘New Zealand’ holds after eight years of radical economic change. Like we are now, March 1992.

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ This essay appeared in a 2007 Auckland University Press book entitled Speaking Truth to Power: Public Intellectuals Re-think New Zealand, edited by Laurence Simmons. It is a companion to ‘No Theory Permitted on these Premises,’ a study of antiintellectualism that I had written in 1984 for the second issue of And. Two of the columnists discussed in the 2007 essay – Paul Holmes and Frank Haden – have since died but their role as leaders of populist opinion has been taken over by Paul Henry, Cameron Slater (‘Whale Oil’), and others. The continuing stream of public controversies over art – such as the fierce opposition to the building of Michael Parekowhai’s ‘state house’ sculpture in Auckland or the Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth (despite the fact that both were gifts to their respective city) – suggests that my essay has not lost its relevance.

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’

E

very culture has areas of repression that make it distinctive or notorious – such as various forms of puritanism, racism or sexism. Outsiders are quick to notice the gaps but insiders go about their lives without being aware of them unless personally affected. If ever the gaps are directly challenged, the culture will produce elaborate (and often passionate) justifications. For insiders, such repressions may inspire secret strategies and perverse pleasures, adding piquancy to what goes on behind closed doors; but in most cases the effect of this blocking of human energies is to limit the potential both of the individual and of his or her culture as a whole. New Zealand has outgrown much of the puritanism that dominated its way of life at least until the 1960s. But another old repression – anti-intellectualism – still rules. Its style has changed over the years, but the basic belief persists that thinking leads to trouble once it departs from the quiet, normal suburbs of common sense. Less downto-earth ideas stir up scorn and suspicion, an extreme response that I hope to explore through a range of examples. The stimulus for writing this essay was a friend’s request to write ‘a short history of New Zealand intellectuals.’ I could see that a history of that subject would indeed be short, and like most tasks of its kind it would also be unpaid, and bound to be given a hard time by those who regarded it as pretentious, like the ‘hoity-toities’ it described (to

134 / Re-inventing New Zealand

borrow one of Michael Laws’ favourite terms).1 I chose to persevere because I have spent my life in New Zealand and I’m still waiting for a writer to succeed in nailing down the slippery character of local anti-intellectualism. My brief is to chronicle intellectualism in this country but to understand its history I need also to study its shadow – anti-intellectualism – and that shadow is long. The first half of this essay will look broadly at history (with some links to the present), while the second half will focus on contemporary examples. The concept of ‘public intellectual’ should raise particularly interesting questions since the allergic reaction of the New Zealand public appears to make it a contradiction in terms.2

National biography How many New Zealanders have ever willingly described themselves as intellectuals or applied that term to others except as an ironic putdown? I could not find the word ‘intellectual’ or the phrase ‘intellectual community’ in the index of any of the country’s main histories or reference books. I also made an on-line search of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography which includes more than 3000 biographies of ‘New Zealanders who have “made their mark” on this country.’ The word ‘intellectual’ appeared only three times as a noun, though it also turned up in 149 biographies as an adjective. While the adjective generally had positive associations, it sometimes functioned as a warning. Dorothy Kate Richmond, for example, had (in her father’s words) developed ‘a great taste for the life of a refined intellectual swell.’ Frances Hagell Smith was remembered as ‘thoughtful, kindly – though reserved and intellectual.’ William Salmond saw classical Calvinism as ‘intellectual terrorism.’ And Philip Wilfred Robertson struggled ‘to escape a narrow intellectual view of the world.’ As for the three uses of the noun, one had an edge of irony in noting that William Pember Reeves became ‘the principal intellectual and ideologist of what would be the Liberal Party’ despite his ‘little understanding of Marx.’ The two respectful entries referred to leftwing activists – to William Noel Pharazyn, ‘a committed left-wing

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 135

intellectual and enthusiast for the Soviet Union,’ and to Chip Bailey, a taxi driver, union leader, and communist. Internationally there has been a strong tradition of left-wing intellectuals, often from a workingclass background and self-educated. Antonio Gramsci helped to theorise the role played by these ‘organic intellectuals.’ One of the great New Zealand examples was Bruce Jesson, yet Jesson often deplored the thinness of this tradition locally. ‘New Zealand radicalism must be about the most theoretically-barren in the world,’ he wrote in 1977.3 His sense that intellectualism was constantly under attack prompted his essay, ‘The Role of the Intellectual is to Defend the Role of the Intellectual,’ in which he remarked: ‘Most New Zealand intellectuals, I suspect, are prone to timidity as well as conformity. Those who stand aside from the crowd may find themselves isolated, lacking the support of a cohesive intellectual milieu. Their careers may suffer …. Like many frontier societies, New Zealand has not provided a friendly environment to culture or to thought.’4

We don’t need formally educated fools The anti-intellectual atmosphere of New Zealand as a ‘frontier’ society has been well documented.5 It is widely assumed, however, that these were simply growing pains as the country progressed to its current level of sophistication. Yet our cultural spokesmen still get nervous when confronted by the ‘i’ word. Gordon McLauchlan provides our first example with ‘We Don’t Need Formally Educated Fools,’ his Herald column for 6 September 2003.6 He wrote: ‘I winced when I heard of a forum of “public intellectuals” set to perform [at Auckland University] …. I don’t attack the people involved, just the growing claim that we have this species called public intellectuals or that we should.’ He remembered that the term ‘intellectual’ had come up during an international meeting of writers in the USA a year earlier. When an Argentinian had asked why intellectuals were not mounting a more effective opposition to President George W. Bush, McLauchlan replied: ‘Intellectuals? … where I come from to call someone an intellectual is to faintly insult him.’ He noted that ‘the English writer and an American nodded with understanding. Everyone else, especially

136 / Re-inventing New Zealand

those from Latin America and Europe, stared at me bemused and I realised that the suspicion of people who call themselves intellectuals is essentially Anglo-Saxon.’ What was striking about McLauchlan’s column was not the antiintellectualism he described but the fact that he approved of it. He saw it as based on ‘a historical reverence for common sense.’ He argued that New Zealand had been ‘always well-managed’ in the century before 1975, and ‘of the 17 prime ministers during that period, only three had had a university education and two of those were in office for less than a year.’ McLauchlan had long been regarded as the Herald’s most highbrow columnist, and letters to the editor often took him to task for being a wooly-woofter, but in this column he sought to make it clear that he sided with ‘the clear-thinking everyday people’ against the ‘intellectuals.’ He knew that too much education produced ‘formally educated fools’ with a tendency to ‘vanity.’ He saw our current Prime Minister preening herself in this way, displaying a ‘mounting hubris.’ He added: ‘for anyone to claim to be an intellectual probably means they aren’t, and the journey from would-be intellectual to prig is short.’ McLachlan’s assumptions – which are widespread in our culture – help to explain why the term ‘intellectual’ produces an immediate ‘wince.’ Any claimant to the term is trapped in a double bind. Robert Muldoon, though pointedly excluded from McLachlan’s list of good Prime Ministers, liked to argue similarly that the ‘so-called intelligensia’ was automatically guilty of snobbery. He used this as a diversionary tactic when experts caught him out making mistakes. He would ridicule his critics as ‘ivory tower types,’ and if they objected to that he would make use of another double-bind: ‘The left-wing intelligensia frequently accuse me of using what they term the argumentum ad hominem …. Frankly, I think that many of the so-called intelligensia raise this question just to show they know what the term means – a little bit of intellectual snobbery, if you like.’7 Writers as different as McLauchlan and Muldoon can thus be seen indulging in the same New Zealand rite of fellowship, the gleeful dance round the same straw man. A crowd will always gather to enjoy the verbal fireworks as some Professor Guy Fawkes – some ‘prig,’ ‘ivory tower type’ or ‘socalled intellectual’ – is put to the torch. Not that any physical harm is intended – the tone is playful and the violence purely symbolic – yet

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 137

we may still be reminded of historical events such as the Nazi burning of the books. Of course all cultures have stereotypes, and anti-intellectualism is certainly not unique to this country. But its associations are embedded with particular strength in our culture, forming part of the vocabulary of any comedian or politician or columnist. To sum up the local cluster of associations for ‘intellectual’: • someone who lacks ‘common sense’ (based on a particular local definition of common sense which makes it the opposite of ‘intellectualism’); • someone from the ‘ivory tower’ (the opposite of ‘down to earth’) – out-of-touch, pointy-headed, airy-fairy, arty-farty, etc. – and the word ‘academic’ in public usage is almost interchangeable with ‘intellectual’; • a lover of big words, a show-off who gives himself away by his ‘cult lingo,’ a specialist in ‘bullshit’ or ‘crap’ (terms that spring irresistibly to mind whenever one hears pretentious talk); • a snob or ‘elitist,’ an ‘arrogant wanker’; • a champion of ‘political correctness’ (for even if intellectuals say nothing, we can imagine what they are privately thinking – it’s their nature to be judgemental, to look down their noses at us); • not ‘a real New Zealander’ because he is too much influenced by overseas ideas and fashions; and • a bludger who thinks the world owes him a living, doesn’t understand an honest day’s work, and is always at the public trough.8 I am not trying to suggest that such characters do not exist – there are academics and artists with an inflated sense of self-importance. But I would argue that the nuisance caused by a few conceited intellectuals can only partly explain the power of these stereotypes in our culture. Why is there an instinctive shoot-first reaction towards anyone who even vaguely resembles an ‘intellectual’? The politicians and columnists who will be seen gleefully discharging their verbal shotguns in the examples collected in this essay display little interest in facts or fine distinctions. While ducking for cover, I’m intrigued by the traditional character of this hunt and its ritualistic function in our culture.

138 / Re-inventing New Zealand

Noone can deny that McLachlan is a thinker, but local traditions require his thinking to be bounded by ‘common sense,’ the sensible way people think when they are not led astray by intellectuals, experts, academics and scientists who are constantly tangling themselves up in their own cleverness. This preference is summed up by the subtitle of a Garth George column in the Herald: ‘It’s time to do away with a lot of scientific discourse and revert to a bit of plain old common sense.’9 How does it happen that Europeans and Latin Americans regard intellectuals as useful? For one thing, the term carries a different cluster of associations for them. An intellectual is someone who: • engages in hard thinking, which is as demanding an activity as (say) playing a good game of rugby; • can work comfortably with ideas, having developed skills in conceptual, strategic, and lateral thinking; • thinks independently, keeps an open mind, and is always questioning his or her own assumptions as well as those of the mainstream – and is therefore capable of making original discoveries; and • is dedicated to serving something larger than ego or career – truth, art, science, or the community, for example. One idea implied by this list is that the intellectual may be out of step and abrasive but such idiosyncrasy can lead to discoveries that later benefit the whole community. From Galileo to Picasso, European history has offered many examples of mavericks later vindicated. Their ‘pure research’ or ‘critic and conscience’ role has meant that their intelligence has a disinterested quality. This distinguishes the activity of the intellectual from jobs such as public relations, advertising, or certain forms of politics and entrepreneurship that rely on intellectual skills but use those skills in a self-interested way or circumscribed by assumptions that can not be questioned. Brian Easton uses the term ‘occupational-intellectuals’ to distinguish such heads-for-hire from thinkers of the more independent kind.10 The idea that intellectuals may be genuinely ahead of their time tends to be a missing link in New Zealand thinking – we have business and sporting role models of that kind, but there is less understanding of the trickle-down process

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 139

in other areas of the culture. In Europe, on the other hand, there is an established function for intellectuals which encourages respect, status, association with the rich and powerful, even political office. This can be a Faustian bargain that leads to arrogance and compromise, but it also ensures that such a society is a better conductor of intellectual energies.

The listener over your shoulder To understand how such energies get short-circuited in our culture, Bill Pearson’s 1952 essay ‘Fretful Sleepers’ remains the classic startingpoint. It is not merely a description but an analysis of cultural dynamics at grass roots level. Pearson offers a key insight: ‘“Being different” in New Zealand means “trying to be superior.” I know of no other country where this is so.’ As a consequence, ‘There is no place in normal New Zealand society for the man who is different.’11 This applies to many types of difference – Pearson also understood the lack of acceptance for those who were gay – but what interested him particularly in this Landfall essay were the implications for artists or intellectuals. Unless they suppressed their particular talents and sensibilities, they stood out from the norm and thus risked being accused of elitism and snobbery, which clashed with the deep local commitment to egalitarianism. Pearson has a simple image to explain how this works – the listener over your shoulder. ‘I can’t speak for others [but] I know I hate talking anything but gossip in a bus or train or in the pictures: otherwise you sense the rest of the bus listening united in one unspoken sneer at half-cock. The New Zealander fears ideas that don’t result in increased crop-yield or money or home comforts. The wise man never mentions his learning.’12 More than half a century after Pearson’s essay, I know that a sceptical listener of this kind is still internalized in me. I may disobey it or say rude things about it but I know it’s always there. Putdowns like ‘pretentious’ or ‘bullshit’ come quickly to mind, and when companions agree with such a judgement there is often a rush of solidarity, like welcoming one another back into the community of common sense. Avoiding what Pearson calls ‘the mutually flattering cult-lingo of a class of intellectuals pretending to be better than the

140 / Re-inventing New Zealand

ordinary chap,’13 I have developed a way of talking about art or ideas in public that is cryptic and flavoured with colloquialisms and downto-earth comments, so I am not embarrassed to be overheard. Anyone with a university job needs to prove to neighbours and even some relatives that he or she is still a regular person, not sniffy and judgemental. A couple of years ago I visited Berlin and was sitting in a cafe with a New Zealand expatriate who told me how different he found the European big-city ambience. If people heard an esoteric conversation at the next table, their immediate reaction would be curiosity. They would be impressed, they would strain their ears because this might be something new and interesting, perhaps the Next Big Thing. I have had similar experiences in downtown New York. The culture encourages a different kind of listening (or reading). Confronted by art that ignored their usual expectations, Berliners or downtown New Yorkers would not ‘wince’ or ‘sneer’ but be intrigued. To put that another way, they would be prepared not only to meet an artist halfway but to take a few extra steps, to work hard for their gratification. In contrast, most New Zealanders take it as self-evident that art has an obligation to be audience-friendly and offer immediate rewards. Of course our society is not as claustrophobic as it was in 1952. It has a thriving café culture, and there are many immigrants from societies that take education and the arts seriously.14 But within mainstream culture, the old stereotypes have survived and absorbed the changes. For example, the growth of café culture has made certain areas synonymous with pretentious intellectualism. A recent Fagg’s Coffee campaign was built around the slogan: ‘Not as Ponsonby as it sounds – Faggs, the great straight coffee!’ This smirking campaign reminds us that Ponsonby has connections with the gay community as well as with café culture.15 The listener over your shoulder is never far away, even though the priorities of Ponsonby Road are more about fashion and the high life than about Left Bank intellectualism. Young New Zealanders continue to learn the old stereotypes through the media, through their peer group, and in many cases through their families. Parents may want educational success for their children but they tend to conceive of it in ‘common sense’ terms. A little thinking or questioning is good, but too much nerdiness is likely to be seen by peers and parents as contentious, queer, unhealthy.

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 141

In the 1950s Pearson’s response was not to seek citizenship elsewhere (he was in London at the time he wrote ‘Fretful Sleepers’) but to return to New Zealand. The ‘only solution to the so-often-talked-about plight of the New Zealand artist’ (p.30) was ‘living not only among but as one of the people and feeling your way into their problems.’ And: ‘Our job is to penetrate the torpor and out of meaninglessness make a pattern that means something’ (p.31). His essay was thus a manifesto for the New Zealand public intellectual, as a thinker who seeks to use his or her skills to serve the local community, whatever the personal cost in ‘humiliations and misunderstandings’ (p.32). Pearson stressed that this did not mean ‘a rush to the proletariat’ (p.31), though his ideas obviously drew on left-wing traditions. He preferred the word ‘artist’ or ‘writer’ to ‘intellectual’ and was in fact somewhat critical of local ‘intellectuals,’ devoting several pages of his essay to detailing their failings (pp.24-25). These were all key strategies of the New Zealand nationalist artists and writers, and one can see how the attempt to identify deeply with the community required some involvement in anti-intellectualism. But while a writer such as McLaughlin may simply internalise local attitudes and limitations, Pearson remained aware that he was making difficult strategic choices.

The sources of New Zealand anti-intellectualism Anti-intellectualism has been strong in Australia, the UK, and the United States, as documented by writers such as David Mosler, Frank Furedi, and Richard Hofstadter.16 Characteristics of the current American President (George W. Bush) that critics see as signs of ignorance and stupidity are treasured by admirers as proof of his down-to-earth common sense. Even in France, Michel Foucault once commented: ‘I have met many people who talk about the intellectual. And from listening to them I have come up with an idea of what this animal might be. It is not difficult, the intellectual is guilty. Guilty of practically everything – of speaking, of remaining silent, of doing nothing, of meddling in everything. In short the intellectual is prize material for a verdict, sentencing, condemnation, exclusion.’17 Despite these parallels, the New Zealand situation remains distinctive in terms of the specific combination of circumstances that has

142 / Re-inventing New Zealand

reinforced anti-intellectualism. The following quick summary can not do justice to the nuances but it sets out the main parameters. 1. Small population The country’s small population has had a huge impact on media production and career opportunities. This has created a different situation from Australia or the United States, where intellectuals may be a beleaguered minority but still have enough critical mass to be a force to be reckoned with. 2. Isolation Our country is a long way from the main centres of intellectual and artistic life. Air travel and the media have helped a great deal but we still suffer from marginalisation. This is symbolised by the experience many New Zealanders have had on an overseas trip of coming across a representation of the world that includes Australia but does not extend as far as New Zealand.18 3. Exodus New Zealand has always suffered from a ‘brain drain,’ losing many of the most talented members of each generation. While isolation may have eased in recent years, the awareness of off-shore opportunities has increased. 4. Ruralism Internationally, New Zealand is better known for its nature than its culture. Asked which aspects of the country give them the greatest pride, most New Zealanders will cite the landscape and outdoor activities. Intellectual life is not limited to cities but they provide an important base. Our cities have expanded but sophisticated forms of urban culture have been slow to develop. 5. Pioneer culture ‘It may well be,’ says Brian Easton, ‘that in frontier societies such as New Zealand there is more respect for the practical and less for the intellectual – for things rather than ideas – than in the countries from which the majority of settlers came.’19 A century of pioneering has

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 143

left us with stereotypes similar to the American Western’s parody of tenderfoot types from back East. 6. Colonial attitudes Our relationship with the world has been typically colonial, in cultural as well as economic terms. Intellectual activity leans towards consumption rather than production, and to a considerable extent our universities are an import business. Colonialism created the curious phenomenon of ‘cultural cringe,’ vividly illustrated by the decades when New Zealand colloquial speech was excluded from radio, film, television and the stage because it was seen as inappropriate or unworthy.20 The same situation has encouraged a double standard for while there is little respect for the local expert (a term almost as problematic as ‘intellectual’), the overseas expert ‘often has a status out of line with her or his competence’ (as Easton notes).21 Our colonial settlement also involved the suppression of intellectual strains within Māori culture because they were seen as subversive or an obstacle to assimilation. Leigh Davis’s Te Tangi A Te Matuhi22 and Judy Binney’s Redemption Songs23 pay tribute to the intellectual energies of the prophet Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki who was exiled to the Chathams. Linda Tuhiwai Smith has described the 1907 Tohunga Suppression Act as the outlawing of ‘a whole class of traditional Māori intellectuals.’24 7. Puritanism Puritanism implies a lot more than censorship, but the battle against censorship was a primary concern of New Zealand artists and intellectuals at least until the 1980s. Freedom for gay and lesbian writers and artists has been particularly hard won. Puritanism may now seem reduced to its shadow, but its current resurgence in the United States should remind us of the fearsome power it once exercised within our culture.25 8. Egalitarianism The traditional strain of egalitarianism in New Zealand culture is perhaps the main reason why so many thoughtful people have succumbed to anti-intellectualism. The culture has constantly linked intellectual activity with social ‘elitism,’ and decades of left-wing thinking have

144 / Re-inventing New Zealand

made intellectuals very prone to guilt feelings on that score. Yet this is a strange definition of egalitarianism, concerned not with equal freedom for each individual but with a fear of difference. In the old days New Zealand was a small, isolated, relatively uniform society which embraced equality as an idea but had difficulty putting it into practice. Even today this is a society quick to feel threatened by difference (as every immigrant group can confirm).26 Everyone will be familiar with the eight factors listed above but we have seldom discussed the way they interact, the negative multiplier effect that these trends have on one another. Isolation and smallness produced an homogeneous, claustrophic society that was narrowed still further by puritanism. Egalitarianism (normally a positive idea) became distorted in a conformist society of that kind. The brain drain continued to impoverish the culture, and colonial history had a profoundly negative effect, promoting ‘cringe’ rather than independent habits of mind. Similarly, the ‘more market’ attitudes of the ’80s and ’90s, when applied to a country with a small population and a shortage of cultural capital, led in some cases to the worst kinds of commercialism – not the benefits predicted by New Right politicians who were using older countries with larger populations as their model. This is not to suggest there is no way out. Rather, I have focused on the main forces contributing to anti-intellectualism in order to know our enemy – to understand the scornful listener at our back (or in our own heads) – and why he is so confident.

Public versus pure intellectuals Intellectuals who stay in New Zealand may attempt to make a living as artists or free-lance writers. Most will need to find a ‘day job’ that is tangential to their intellectual interests. In sorting out their relationship with the culture, they may attempt to keep out of the public eye as much as possible to concentrate on their particular specializations, or they may be drawn to the role of ‘public intellectual.’ That can mean quiet community work behind the scenes (Pearson’s approach), or engaging in open debate in the public arena (for example, the mass

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 145

media) or finding shrewd ways of operating within the status quo. The New Zealand situation has tended to encourage a ‘public intellectual’ stance among many of its artists, not because their opinions are welcomed but on the contrary because there is so much about our society that disturbs them. This sense of political urgency can be found for example in paintings by Nigel Brown, Jacqueline Fahey, Tony Fomison, Pat Hanly, Ralph Hotere, Robyn Kahukiwa, Colin McCahon, Selwyn Muru, Peter Robinson, and Carole Shepheard, to mention a few examples. A provocative 1973 essay by Wystan Curnow – ‘High Culture in a Small Province’27 – argues that such a tendency can be a trap for artists. Since the public is reluctant to meet them even half-way, artists are obliged to compromise and dilute their work. Eager to be relevant, artists strive to avoid the ‘ivory tower’ stereotype. Curnow argues that these pressures prevent much of the arts production in New Zealand from attaining the richness and complexity that distinguish ‘the highest level of culture.’ Professional opportunities in this country are limited and artists are encouraged to become versatile rather than specialised; and the cultural infrastructure is stretched too thin to provide the ‘insulation’ necessary for the most intense forms of ‘experiment’ or ‘problem-exposure.’ Curnow suggests that what is regarded here as highbrow art or cultural commentary would correspond elsewhere to middle-brow or upper-middle-brow. We do not notice the missing dimension. Some highbrow art of the past has trickled down and become absorbed into our culture, but opportunities to present challenging new work are limited. Curnow does not specifically use the term ‘public intellectual’ but he implies that any call for intellectuals or artists to focus more on the public – whether the aim is to seduce the public or to argue with it – is risky because the arts in New Zealand are already diluted by too many mainstream, middle-brow requirements. In the 1970s this essay aroused fierce controversy because it questioned so many aspects of common sense. Particularly controversial was the way it challenged the local taboo against anything perceived as ‘elitist.’ New Zealand has changed a great deal over the past 30 years – for example, private patronage is now more prominent – but the essay has retained its relevance because it identifies what are still key tensions in the culture. Lydia Wevers in an overview of New Zea-

146 / Re-inventing New Zealand

land literary culture in 2003 identified similar problems: ‘I think it’s hard to argue we have a truly high end to our literature – the kind of difficult, innovative, risk-taking, reader-alienating work that perhaps has trouble getting published anywhere in the world but exists in bigger markets …. I have trouble thinking of anything in our literary culture that is reader-alienating, and possibly the reverse is true – our literature is required to be reader-friendly, even when it seeks to push boundaries and be ambitious.’28 Even public funding tends to encourage ‘an emphasis on the middle ground.’29 The one area in which one can find a range of exceptions is the visual arts, which benefits from a particularly favourable economic situation. (It is cheaper to produce paintings locally than to import them, and economies of scale do not operate as they do with books, films, CDs, etc.) Curnow’s conclusions may seem the opposite of those advanced by Jesson, Easton, Jane Kelsey and others who argue that New Zealand urgently needs more public intellectuals. My overview of history would see the two positions as less contradictory than they appear, for the country welcomes neither public artists and intellectuals nor their pure (‘high culture’) counterparts. Public attitudes tend to create a double bind: intellectuals are chided for being ‘ivory tower,’ yet when they attempt to get involved in the public arena they are told to go away. Both species of intellectual are scarce.

Sites of intellectual work Potential bases, concentrations, or sources of intellectual activity in any country include (1) the media, (2) the arts, and (3) universities and schools. Of course intellectuals with a commitment to the community turn up in many other areas also, such as business, but I will focus on the areas I am most familiar with.30 Public intellectuals in politics and economics have already been documented by Brian Easton in his book The Nationbuilders (Auckland University Press, 2001). How do these areas operate within the broader New Zealand culture? One reason to explore these four sites would be to see them as places to make a living; but here my interest focuses on how they function as conductors of intellectual energy. We have seen that, over-

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 147

all, the social environment is a poor conductor. To extend the physics analogy, it is like a field that continues to lose potential energy or heat because there is so much resistance and there are so few free electrons on hand to sustain the flow. The emigration of talented people further drains the available energy. And anti-intellectualism functions as a direct form of short-circuit. Pearson’s image of the listener over your shoulder provides a practical example of how that happens. The question here is whether these smaller fields (or micro-climates) have an atmosphere that is more conducive. (1) The media Overseas there have been various attempts such as Jurgen Habermas’s concept of ‘the public sphere’ to define a well-functioning media environment.31 Habermas sees such a situation as characterised by broad participation, freedom of speech, and rational, well-informed debate on the issues of the day. Such debate helps to prevent either big business or the government from simply imposing its own views. The mass media can do much to assist the workings of the public sphere, provided they are not captured by commercialism or sensationalism. In these terms New Zealand is a highly imperfect media environment. The country has always suffered from the problems associated with a small audience, and there is less support for the public funding of media than in Australia, Canada, Britain, or other European countries. We can be proud of our two non-commercial Radio NZ stations that follow the British philosophy of ‘public service broadcasting’; but when the more expensive medium of television reached New Zealand in 1960, such an approach was not considered possible. While many other countries have at least one non-commercial, national channel, New Zealand television has been required to chase advertising revenue to supplement its public funding, and has diluted its approach to programming accordingly. While the BBC and other public service broadcasters in Europe do not offer a non-stop diet of high culture, they have a clear strategy of incorporating such material as a valued part of the schedule. One reason is their belief that the audience benefits and the culture grows by a constant process of trickle-down. Since the early 1980s, a ‘more market’ approach has dominated

148 / Re-inventing New Zealand

the media environment and this has further heightened the problems associated with small population size. Multi-national corporations have taken over the ownership of most New Zealand newspapers, magazines and radio stations and instituted a ruthlessly profit-driven style of corporate control, with immediate sales and ratings figures as the key concerns. The result has been basically to shrink the space in which the kinds of in-depth discussion and analysis valued by Habermas might occur. New Zealand’s serious readers envy the kinds of weekend papers on sale in the UK, as our local papers seldom look beyond human interest, entertainment, and sport. There was a brief burst of excitement when the Herald announced in 2004 that it was going to launch a Sunday paper, but serious readers were astonished to see the Herald On Sunday pitched even further down-market than the Sunday Star-Times. In a small country like New Zealand, media competition almost always heads in that direction – the local approach is not trickle-down but dumb-down. Today, for editors or journalists, the listener over one’s shoulder takes the form of the bean-counter, consultant or hatchet man despatched from an overseas head-office. The few magazines such as the Listener that have traditionally made room for in-depth current affairs or arts coverage lead an anxious existence in today’s commercial environment. Meanwhile the media favour personalities who are champions of common sense and can vividly convey its classic sneer. The present lineup – Paul Holmes, Frank Haden, Michael Laws, Garth George, John Banks, and Deborah Coddington among others – make up a powerful group of conservative opinion-leaders. Holmes has been prominent in both television and radio, as well as writing newspaper columns; Laws is an ex-MP who writes a column, fronts Radio Pacific talkback, and is Mayor of Wanganui; Banks, a former Cabinet Minister and Mayor of Auckland, is a talkback host; Coddington, a former MP, is now a columnist; and George is a columnist who is also in change of the New Zealand Herald’s Letters to the Editor page. These commentators are extraordinarily sure of their own opinions. (One of Michael Laws’s columns opened with the phrase ‘It’s always nice to be proven right’32 and one of Frank Haden’s began: ‘I love being proved right.’33) They have chosen to use their intellectual skills to become populist motor-mouths. At times they disagree among them-

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 149

selves but their disagreements fall within a narrow range of conservative opinions. My concern here is with their anti-intellectual rather than their right-wing attitudes, but contemporary American politics demonstrates how closely these two concerns can be linked. (Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with America?34 looks in detail at the way ‘the Republicans today are the party of anti-intellectualism, the rough frontier contempt for sophisticated ideas,’ with right-wing newspaper columnists and talkback hosts leading the fight against ‘conceited eggheads’ and ‘pantywaist book-learning.’35) Television in New Zealand provides a revealing case study. There have always been some public intellectuals working in television (illustrated by series such as The New Zealand Wars and Work of Art) but in the late ’90s most gave up the struggle as the National government destroyed all remaining vestiges of public service broadcasting in order to make TVNZ a more attractive package for potential buyers. Some directors went overseas, some looked for new careers. Programmers and commissioning editors functioned as a listener over the shoulder, making sure that every aspect of a programme was viewer-friendly. They referred frequently to generic viewers (‘Mr and Mrs Smith’) who should never be allowed to feel intimidated. To avoid that possibility, programme-makers were to stop interviewing experts, particularly academics. ‘Documentaries needed to be personalised (to be structured round individuals rather than ideas), to be as emotional as possible, and to move along briskly. They had to avoid being complicated, “pointy-headed” (intellectual), or overtly educational.’36 The culture of television reviewing adopted a similar approach as newspapers replaced expert reviewers by populists – representative viewers with mainstream taste, an entertaining turn of phrase, and no knowledge of production. This is a valid form of reviewing but it has crowded out alternatives. By the end of the ’90s, New Zealand had a free-to-air television culture whose very highest aspiration was middlebrow – perfectly illustrating Curnow’s hypothesis about the lack of a local high culture. The election of Helen Clark’s government in 1999 represented a last-minute rescue for TVNZ. Preparations for the sale were halted, and a voluntary Charter was drafted as a way of rolling back a little of TVNZ’s commercialism. The Charter, coming into force in 2003, met with predictable opposition from National and ACT politicians.

150 / Re-inventing New Zealand

As the New Zealand Herald reported: ‘“It is a day when we see the era of the bow-tie and ballet-tights brigade being ushered in at TVNZ,” National MP Murray McCully said. “This is a sad day for New Zealand broadcasting.”’37 National’s broadcasting spokesperson, Katherine Rich, attacked ‘the increasingly politically correct environment at TVNZ,’ adding that ‘The Government must abandon this social engineering … before the Charter does more damage to what was once the state-owned jewel in the Government’s crown.’38 National valued the ‘jewel’ not by its cultural potential but strictly by its market price. The Charter is a modest initiative but it does open up space for a few thoughtful programmes each year, some imported and some made locally. The government deserves great credit for having pulled television back from the brink. The most experienced directors who want to make Charter-style programmes will, however, receive only one or two commissions in a good year, and to make a living they will need to find other work.39 TVNZ managers whose attitudes were shaped by the commercialism of the 1980s and ’90s continue to have difficulty understanding what the Charter should mean in practice. The government itself has continued to give mixed messages by providing some funds for Charter programmes but still expecting TVNZ to make a profit and to return a dividend ($38 million in 2004). TVNZ is the only national public broadcaster required to deliver a dividend to the government.40 This strange ritual of giving with one hand and taking away with the other reflects the fact that the Government has rejected only some aspects of the neo-liberal legacy. TVNZ remains primarily a commercial broadcaster and much of its local content consists of lifestyle and reality programmes that are cheap to make and easy to consume. Meanwhile, the election of a National government will result in the repeal of the Charter and probably the sale of all or part of TVNZ. SKY gives us an alarming foretaste of what the country’s television future would then look like since SKY funds almost no New Zealand production apart from its sports channel. In general, television provides a vivid example of the vulnerability of the country’s culture at all levels. (2) The Arts Intellectual activity may be only one ingredient of art but it is often

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 151

an important ingredient. While it is more acceptable in New Zealand to present oneself as an artist than an intellectual, even that term sounds pretentious and is likely to activate the same stereotypes. A significant number of New Zealanders do not see the arts as essential, in the way that sport or commerce is, and they do not understand the trickledown benefits. At best they see the arts as ‘entertainment.’ As Brian Taylor expressed this idea in a letter to the Herald objecting to public funding of the Auckland Philharmonia: ‘If people want to play instruments they can fund it themselves. If not enough people want to listen to them as paying listeners then the orchestra should not be looking to the council to fund them. It is the function of councils to provide roads, parks, water sewerage and other essentials. It is not their function to help people who want to entertain themselves.’41 Back in the 1920s and ’30s serious artists needed a rationale for continuing to work in a country where they were not wanted. A movement took shape that created a strong sense of drama round their activities. Known today as nationalism or cultural nationalism, this upsurge in the arts was the platform for some of our best-known public intellectuals. In his essay ‘The Recognition of Reality,’ Pearson summed up its basic sense of purpose: ‘I assume that collectively it is the function of a nation’s artists, modifying Stephen Dedalus’s words [in James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man] to forge the conscience of the race, to provide a moral and imaginative context in which their people can feel, think, and behave.’42 The assumption was that any self-respecting country needed its own culture, even if its citizens did not yet understand what they were missing. The appropriate basis for such a culture was not ‘common sense’ (or the community’s ‘sentimentality’ and ‘attitudinizing’43), but ‘reality … local and special at the point where we pick up the traces.’44 Before the 1930s, most of the major artists born in New Zealand had chosen to emigrate. Nationalism offered a cause, a reason to stay, a sense of community, and a creative challenge. This was not a complacent, jingoistic nationalism – it was highly critical of the status quo, and in many cases it could be better described as ‘localism’ or ‘regionalism.’ It is also important to understand that there was a strong international (as well as intellectual) dimension to this movement since it was linked with modernist ideas, and often with international politics.

152 / Re-inventing New Zealand

The attempt to define local reality provided a compelling, nonelitist project for New Zealand artists. Although they would have shied away from such a term, creative people took on the role of public intellectual in an extremely dedicated way. (Charles Brasch, R.A.K. Mason and James K. Baxter are three of many examples.) To the activists of the 1930s and ’40s we owe the creation of much of our cultural infrastructure. But art always involved a balancing act – it was important not to lose touch with the community by flaunting ideas too openly. Allen Curnow’s anthology introductions had great influence but more than a few poets saw them as excessively intellectual and polemical. Artists might be realists and nationalists but such labels made them uncomfortable, as did any theoretical discussion of those ideas. In the traditional kiwi style, creative people got on with the job, concentrating on experience and practice, not theory. Despite its squeamishness about ideas – some would say because of it – this approach produced a great deal of very good art. The need to give as much ‘reality’ to one’s ideas as possible produced some remarkable writing such as Curnow’s essays in which ideas were advanced with exceptional care because of the certainty that they would come under attack. Humour was another way of penetrating public culture, with Curnow writing satirical verse as Whim Wham, and A.R.D. Fairburn and Denis Glover adopting jokey, blokey styles. Another ‘Trojan horse’ tactic was the use of colloquial language, developed with great subtlety by Frank Sargeson. Artists liked to employ a double mode of address that was simple and direct on the surface (such as McCahon’s words) but with other levels or layers for those interested in going deeper. Composer Douglas Lilburn commented: ‘I’ve always felt … that I’d like my music to be a bit like a parable – both very simple and to have many degrees of meaning, according to how far one wants to move into it. I think that might be true for something like the Nine Short Pieces for Piano – they can be listened to very simply on the surface; [but] if you go looking for structure then there are quite adequate structures.’45 Yet there were dangers in working so close to mainstream culture. In seeking to be relevant, artists were more strongly influenced by that culture than they realised at the time. The 1960s and ’70s saw a strong backlash, recuperating a range of possibilities that had been repressed or at least under-represented in nationalist art and politics. A new

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 153

generation of public intellectuals spoke out not on behalf of the nation but on behalf of their particular communities – Māori, Pacific Islanders, other ethnic groups, women, gays and lesbians. These movements were primarily social and political but each was linked with innovative work in the arts. The new artists saw the nationalist tradition as part of the establishment. (Indeed, the tradition was just assuming that status, at least in some progressive areas of politics and education.) Although many of the new activists would not have wished to describe themselves as intellectuals, they generated a wealth of new ideas and drew upon international currents of thought. The Māori renaissance showed that nationalist writing had tended to focus too much on Pakeha concerns. Many Māori writers, painters and film-makers emerged, along with theorists such as Ranginui Walker and Donna Awatere.46 There were public intellectuals associated with other ethnic and national communities such as Albert Wendt47 and Manying Ip.48 A new wave of feminism exposed the fact that nationalism still retained many links with ‘a man’s own country.’49 Feminist public intellectuals included Sandra Coney, Anne Else, Jocelyn Jesson, Sue Kedgley, and Pat Rosier. Gay writers and filmmakers – such as Peter Wells and Stewart Main – joined the critique of nationalism.50 The left-wing, class-based politics of the 1930s gave way to what has been summed up as the identity politics of the 1980s, with its own traditions of theory and history. Initially there was an emphasis on international solidarity, but localism is such a strong part of our tradition that it soon re-emerged, albeit in looser and more diverse forms. Also, with a few notable exceptions, writers continued to stay close to the down-to-earth interests of local readers. It is a standard rule of publishing that a non-fiction book, even if assisted by a Creative NZ grant or published by a subsidised university press, has to be accessible to non-specialist readers if it is to have any chance of covering its costs in the small New Zealand market. .

The thing about culture vultures Although a tradition of experimental writing and associated theory has maintained a lively but marginal presence with the help of ‘little magazines,’51 the only art form in New Zealand that has consistently given

154 / Re-inventing New Zealand

prominence to experimental work is the visual arts. Not surprisingly this area has been the site of much public debate, richly documented by Jim and Mary Barr in their book When Art Hits the Headlines: A Survey of Controversial Art in New Zealand.52 The hard-line common sense attitude is that difficult art is a kind of confidence trick, and art experts are intellectual bullies who try to intimidate those who can see through the racket. Since common sense also assumes that art should at least be serious, it is baffled today by the many works that have a playful or ironic tone, interpreting them as further proof that artists are sneering at the public. Older art experts whose taste has been shaped by earnest forms of nationalist art also tend to have difficulty with post-modern playfulness. Just as artists are hesitant to describe themselves as intellectuals, their critics would never see themselves as anti-intellectuals – rather, they are bravely speaking out against snobs and bullies. A prominent example is Michael Laws who has frequently attacked ‘pseudo-elite’ art and the intellectuals who defend it. On 3 October 2004 he wrote a Sunday Star-Times column on ‘professional dunces,’ New Zealand’s know-it-alls: ‘Most of history’s great crimes have been perpetrated by those who assumed that they’d been gifted an especial knowledge. And books are no better. The Hitler Youth was probably onto something when it decided to chuck onto the bonfire as much of the West’s great literature as they could find …. Too bad they stopped before they got to D.H. Lawrence.’53 He added an attack on today’s education experts: ‘The great irony is that Kiwi society worked best when fewer had degrees and more had jobs. Yes, but these are post-modern times and that means that fad is the fashion and that trend is the trade. We suddenly have a gross over-supply of fashion designers, media studies graduates and arts effetes.’ Laws’s typically jokey manner allows him to get away with comments like the one about Hitler Youth as we assume he is just being playful and provocative; but since becoming Mayor of Wanganui in October 2004, Laws has shown that he means business. Claiming that he was championing the ratepayers of Wanganui against those he called the ‘culture vultures,’ he immediately went to war with the local public art gallery (the Sarjeant) and scotched plans for an extension. As the Sunday Star-Times reported, ‘Law’s assessment of the gallery’s

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 155

contents is blunt (“it’s crap!”).’54 The Gallery’s trust board members ‘all resigned after they were dressed down several times by Mr. Laws.’55 The Mayor is now planning to sell some of the paintings in the gallery collection.56 He defended his approach in his Sunday Star-Times column of 28 December 2004 as a ‘collision between elitism and reality.’57 Laws represented common sense whereas the arts community consisted of pretentious intellectuals in alliance with idle wealth. In his words: ‘there is one group that hovers above all in the hoity-toity stakes that regards the rest of humanity as little more than shaved monkeys – as uncivilised, unwashed plebians with neither taste nor refinement. I refer to the arts fraternity.’ Artists and ‘their hangers-on’ are always ‘bleating’ for more public money. Laws broadened his attack from the visual arts to highbrow art in general, to other forms of elitist nonsense such as ‘that loathsome caterwauling known as opera.’ He went on to claim, with startling inaccuracy, that no public funding was available for popular music.58 As for classical music fans: ‘Why these bludgers can’t support their own musical tastes is utterly beyond me. Indeed, how ironic that the poor of Otara pay for their tastes while the rich of Remmers soak the taxpayers for theirs. But that’s the thing about culture vultures. They automatically assume that their tastes are worthy – that because they have chosen something so spectacularly inaccessible, then it’s up to others to pay.’ One is reminded of Pearson’s comment back in 1952: ‘It is common for some people to accuse people who go to symphonic concerts of not understanding the music and going out of snobbery.’59 For Laws, to encounter art that is difficult immediately triggers the traditional assumptions that it is bogus, elitist, made for the rich, and a con game by which bludgers seek to rip off the public. His polemics vividly confirm Pearson’s insight that ‘being different’ in New Zealand is interpreted as ‘trying to be superior.’ The Laughing Donkey One of the most dramatic recent art controversies began in July 2004 when the artist et al was selected for the following year’s Venice Biennale. In art circles the choice of artist was hardly a surprise as et al had been active for over 20 years and had recently had an outstanding

156 / Re-inventing New Zealand

retrospective at the Govett-Brewster. But et al was little known outside the art world. Critics pounced on the fact that public money was involved and that the artist was described as representing New Zealand. Creative NZ made $500,000 available towards expenses, with the rest of the budget to be raised from sponsors and the public. The media assumed that the artist was receiving a huge windfall, whereas in fact the Creative NZ money was to help with the overheads – the rent of a venue in Venice for six months, project management, the opening of the show, publicity, airfares, the production of a catalogue, etc. As John Daly-Peoples later pointed out, et al had received no direct grants from Creative NZ in recent years, and only about $25,000 from public galleries over the last decade.60 (Merylyn Tweedie, the coordinator of et al, had needed to hold a ‘day job’ as high school teacher.) There was outrage at the fact that the collective (or was it the single artist Tweedie?) avoided publicity except under controlled conditions.61 In today’s commercial culture it is seen as only proper that an artist should work for her supposedly huge salary by doing PR for her country. But above all what the debate focused on was et al’s type of art – ‘conceptual art,’ or what a Dominion Post letter-writer described as ‘self-indulgent pseudo-intellectual claptrap.’62 The artist had worked in a variety of media but was best known for installations using recycled junk. The most recent example – and the only example et al’s critics appeared to have heard of – was ‘Rapture’ at the Wellington City Art Gallery, a closed box reminiscent of a New Zealand ‘dunny’ or ‘portaloo,’ which emitted sounds said to be recorded at the French underground nuclear tests at Mururoa. Other sounds were reminiscent of a braying donkey. This work was confused by the media with another work on exhibition at that time as part of the contribution by three New Zealand artists to the 2004 Sydney Biennale. Daniel Malone’s ‘A Long Drop to Nationhood’ made witty use of the awkward corridor space the artist had been allocated by placing a ‘long drop’ at the end. The public condemnation of these two works curiously echoed one of the very first modern art controversies, about the exhibition of a urinal in a New York gallery in 1917 by Marcel Duchamp operating under the pseudonym ‘R. Mutt.’ The Dominion Post fuelled public protest by its front page lead story on 14 July 2004 with the headline ‘Portaloo to Promote NZ: Cash

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 157

Down The Toilet, Say Critics.’ In fact the portaloo was never intended to be et al’s art for Venice, but the Post was not interested in such subtleties. The story quoted Act MP Deborah Coddington: ‘It’s crap – and most New Zealanders know it.’ (‘Crap’ is the automatic association for strange art, and the word would be heard constantly over the next few weeks, though few users of the term seem to have reflected on its irony in this instance.) The Dominion Post caught Associate Arts Minister Judith Tizard unprepared and very much on the defensive: ‘Tizard is demanding answers …. “I think that Creative NZ have to answer the charge that this is arrogant and elitist,” Ms Tizard said last night.’ She had not yet seen the work in question. Two weeks later, Tizard – who is normally a strong supporter of the arts – was able to assure critics in Parliament that Creative NZ did have satisfactory answers.63 But meanwhile the Dominion Post story created fallout on a Mururoa scale. That evening, the country’s best-known current affairs commentator, Paul Holmes, devoted much of his TV One show to the topic. In a voice dripping with irony, he informed his audience that ‘We the taxpayers are to pay around half a million dollars to send to a very elegant international art exhibition an unseen work by an artist whose latest work is a dunny that brays like a donkey.’ He then gleefully quoted various ‘experts’ who had praised et al’s work, adopting an affected posh voice as he read their comments aloud. His aside to the audience was: ‘Please feel free to throw up!’ Other provocative details were supplied by a sarcastic associate who added the rhetorical question, ‘Do we simply not understand art like this?!’64 Art dealer John Gow and art consultant Hamish Keith appeared as experts who had decided it was advantageous on this occasion to side with the populists. 65 One of the problems in such controversies is that the art world seldom presents a united front. There will always be a dealer or critic who sees the artist under attack as over-rated. Typically they will justify their alliance with populism on the basis that controversy is healthy because (as Gow remarked to Holmes) it is encouraging to see New Zealanders talking about art. The two experts adopted a nationalist stance, with Gow objecting that et al’s site-specific installation (whatever it might turn out to be) was unlikely to make the Italians think of New Zealand. Better to have selected ‘a paua shell work by Ralph Hotere and Bill Culbert.’ Gow must have known that

158 / Re-inventing New Zealand

et al’s work has been deeply involved with representing ‘New Zealand’ (albeit from an ironic perspective), but here he was playing to Holmes’s common sense assumption that any art that represented the nation overseas had a duty to make it look good. As for Keith, he followed up his Holmes appearance with a letter to the Editor of the Herald on 17 July: ‘New Zealand art is alive, flourishing and connected to its culture. A great pity that Creative New Zealand and its experts do not seem to have noticed. We surely deserve more than this flatulent donkey in a dunny.’ These remarks implied that nationalist art had achieved its goal of becoming fully ‘connected to its culture,’ but clearly it had done so at a cost – the loss of the critical distance that separated art from populism. (It has become difficult to explain to young people in the arts who know only today’s establishment or coffee-table versions of nationalism that once it was a critically-minded counter-culture.) In repeating the sound of a braying donkey on his show, Holmes seemed totally unaware that he was confirming the identification with himself. Few commentators noticed that Holmes had scored an ‘own goal’ – most appeared to believe that he and the Dominion Post had performed a valuable service to the nation in exposing another art world absurdity. Radio talkback and Letters to the Editor columns ran hot. Michael Laws used his next Sunday Star-Times column to enlarge the attack: ‘It’s time that the elitist rubbish that parades itself as installation art was exposed as the nonsense that it is …. Art should aim to uplift all, not just be for the few [etc.]’66 Many politicians joined the outcry. Georgina te Heuheu, Arts and Culture spokeswoman of the National Party, was not afraid to flaunt her lack of knowledge of the artist’s previous work by asserting in a press statement that ‘Taxpayers have every right to be asking why Creative New Zealand has selected an installation by a group of artists whose claim to fame to date is the creation of a port-a-loo toilet which brays like a donkey ….’67 Stephen Franks of ACT deplored the way the so-called ‘experts’ of Creative NZ ‘spend the taxes of ordinary people on these artists.’ He added: ‘It is very easy for people in the arts world to despise and reject any notion that the hoi polloi, those of us who are not the insiders, should have a view on what the government should pay for by way of art.’ Today, ‘hard-earned money’ is being given to ‘tripe’ and taken away from ‘taxpayers who actually do try to beautify New Zealand and the

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 159

world; taxpayers who build gardens, who buy things that they like, who buy CDs, and who pay to sponsor the music they prefer.’68 During two periods of parliamentary debate he was backed up by other ACT politicians such as Deborah Coddington, Heather Roy and Ken Shirley. The NZ First attack was led by Brian Donnelley and Deputy Leader Peter Brown.69 All the main newspaper columnists joined in the witchhunt, including Jim Hopkins70 and Gordon McLauchlan71 in the Herald. The Dominion Post published a deluge of letters abusing the artist (‘public scam,’ ‘gibberish,’ ‘crap,’ ‘Emperor’s New Clothes,’ etc.).72 The most unlikely people became involved, including Kim Hill, who was known as Radio NZ’s most intellectual interviewer. As MC for the Montana NZ Book Awards on 26 July, Hill could not resist making et al jokes, such as introducing Peter Biggs of Creative NZ as ‘Peter Boggs.’ Even the Prime Minister distanced herself sharply from the choice of et al by means of a technicality. Helen Clark is normally a strong supporter of the arts but she was obviously conscious of the strength of the public backlash. In Parliament she said it was not her role to comment on ‘the quality of the artist’s work’ but she was concerned that the artist would not be able to meet one of the criteria, ‘the ambassadorial and publicity responsibilities required in a major international exhibition project.’ She added a warning: ‘I think this is a salutary lesson for Creative NZ, that if it delegates to a selection committee, the least it can do is ensure that it follows its own criteria. I can assure [Parliament] that that will have a bearing on my thinking about resourcing levels for Creative NZ in the future.’73 In fact, et al has given many interviews within an art context in a lateral or playful manner, in keeping with the style of the work.74 What else should be required of a sophisticated artist at the Venice Biennale? According to everyone from the Prime Minister, to Creative NZ, to the presenter of the TV arts programme Frontseat, to the editor of the Herald,75 New Zealand artists are apparently to be judged on their ability to undertake ‘ambassadorial and publicity responsibilities.’ There were more sympathetic voices, such as Rosemary McLeod in the Dominion Post,76 John Daly-Peoples in National Business Review77 and Linda Herrick in the Herald.78 Creative NZ deserves credit for having held firm, though gossip suggests that behind the scenes the

160 / Re-inventing New Zealand

organisation was somewhat rattled. In ‘The Best Art of 2004’ in the NZ Listener79 William McAloon made the interesting suggestion that the et al controversy paralleled ‘the 1978 controversy surrounding New Zealand’s gift of Colin McCahon’s Victory Over Death 2 to Australia.’ If so, it was evidence that public attitudes had changed little over the past 28 years. The controversy seemed also a clear demonstration of how fragile much of the arts establishment still is, for almost everyone rushed to prove that they endorsed the moral (or anti-intellectual) panic. Et al had the last laugh, for in October 2004 she won the $50,000 Walters Prize as judged by New York curator Robert Storr, a former senior curator of the Museum of Modern Art who will be the Director of the next (2007) Venice Biennale. Et al’s work Restricted Access was (as described by the Herald) a ‘grimly lit collection of exhausted technology.’80 There was no portaloo with a braying donkey but there was a television set screening a clip of Holmes attacking et al. As for the 2005 Venice Biennale, et al created a new installation, described by international reviewers as ‘brilliant’ and ‘fresh.’ Storr confirmed that this work was ‘entirely suited to the Biennale.’81 To date, none of et al’s New Zealand adversaries appear to have had second thoughts. (3) Universities and schools Despite an increasing number of graduates, popular stereotypes of the academic world have not changed. The term ‘academics’ is interchangeable with ‘intellectuals’ and is assumed to describe Laputa-style eggheads lost in a world of ideas. The reality of the New Zealand ivory tower is more mundane. Common room discussions are less likely to be about ideas than about gossip, sport, overseas trips, parking problems, restaurants, wine, and other topics typical of any middle-class group. Official university meetings focus mainly on regulations and budget problems. Many university courses and staff publications are routine in character, forms of intellectual busywork. Bureaucracy has mushroomed, and money-minded managerialism plays an increasing part in the running of tertiary institutions. There is considerable tension between the ‘critic and conscience’ role of the universities and their need today to keep governments happy and to fill the large holes

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 161

in their budgets by extracting money from corporations and wealthy patrons, some of whom are quick to take offence. Expensive advertising campaigns by fiercely competing universities stress academic ‘excellence’ but also promise prospective students that the campus will have first-class sporting and recreational facilities and a friendly, fun atmosphere. In short, while New Zealand universities continue to play a very valuable role in our culture, it is important not to overlook their prosaic, conformist, commercial aspects. It is ironic that back in 1988, in a Sites issue on ‘Intellectuals at Work,’ Steve Maharey attacked ‘the anti-intellectualism of New Zealand universities.’82 It is not obvious that this critic has made the universities a much stronger site of intellectual activity since becoming Minister of Education. The cultural nationalism of the 1930s was as important for New Zealand universities as it was for the arts. These institutions had suffered from timidity, as J.C. Beaglehole noted in 1936: ‘[Events] made amply clear the fact that more than one [university] college council would tolerate independence of thought and courage of utterance only with difficulty … an attitude which they were at pains to make explicit to the public.’83 The universities also tended to confine themselves to received ideas, as Beaglehole implied in his 1954 essay The New Zealand Scholar: ‘Consider the life of the teacher in the old [New Zealand] university …. He was, often enough, a pleasant fellow, and a hardworking teacher; but, if he wanted to think on his own subject, he was a thwarted mind … there was no habit of research.’84 In contrast the new style of ‘New Zealand scholar’ was to be actively critical and concerned with local contexts. Even during the most important period of New Zealand cultural nationalism, this tendency remained a minority – in some respects a counter-culture – within the university, but it was an important one. Local universities have always been obsessed with overseas status and eager to recruit staff from Oxford and Cambridge. They had to learn to value both the ‘New Zealand scholar’ and scholars from many other parts of the world. The academic staff today is more diverse – men and women, Māori and Pakeha – but the psychology of the institution still tends to be that of an import business. Contributing to the innovative literary and arts magazines that have helped to build New Zealand culture has seldom advanced the careers of academics because universities are more interested in

162 / Re-inventing New Zealand

overseas recognition and the formal context of refereed journals. While local (or post-colonial) concerns continue to represent an important strand in our intellectual life, they still tend to be viewed suspiciously by the university, unless packaged in the particular theoretical terms currently favoured by Anglo-American academic publications. Universities have served as a base for other rebel movements besides cultural nationalism, such as campaigns about nuclear testing, the Vietnam war, Māori issues, the Springbok Tour, republicanism, women’s rights, gay rights, etc. Such concerns were initially at odds with common sense but eventually many of the new ideas trickled down, providing evidence that public intellectuals can make a difference. We should not, however, give too much credit to the universities for these were movements with a broad public scope. Indeed, the new activists also attacked the universities over issues of race and gender. Like Gramsci’s organic intellectuals, some members of minority groups who have gained university positions have felt a responsibility to continue speaking out on behalf of their communities.85 New forms of cultural theory (such as Structuralism and PostStructuralism) rose to prominence overseas in the 1960s, but many New Zealand departments were slow to see their relevance. They gained a foothold here in the 1970s and ’80s, becoming a small but active counter-culture within certain areas of the university. Advocates saw the new types of theory as important because of the direct and uncompromising way they challenged New Zealand notions of common sense and realism, and the requirement that one should always avoid complex language. These traditional notions (or ‘doxa’ as Roland Barthes would call them86) were fiercely defended. This is not to suggest that such resistance was necessarily anti-intellectual, but it reflected the cautious, dry, ironic style favoured by local academics.87 By the ’90s, Barthes and Foucault had become more acceptable in local academic writing in the Arts and Social Sciences, but the new ideas were sometimes absorbed in a diluted, second-hand form, or applied with a heavy hand. Those who still delayed engaging with this work could take comfort from the fact that its influence was starting to recede in Britain and the United States. In the case of Jacques Derrida, a few New Zealanders engaged seriously with his ideas,88 but his name remains more widely known than

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 163

his writings. I remember there were quite a few copies of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness on academic shelves in the 1960s, but only the first few pages would ever show signs of use. Today there are even fewer copies of Of Grammatology, and few look well thumbed. Derrida’s books are scarce even in university bookstores. When this philosopher spoke at the Auckland Town Hall in 1999, he attracted a sizeable audience, but anecdotal evidence suggests that most people came out of curiosity rather than from a prior involvement with his work. Nevertheless, by the time of his death in October 2004, his name was sufficiently familiar to have registered on the mainstream. This inspired a kind of panic. Local commentators saw this icon of intellectualism as exercising a vast and pernicious influence. The Maxim Institute spoke of ‘the havoc being wreaked on marriage in New Zealand by his ideas.’89 The National Business Review noted his death in an editorial, ‘Deriding Derrida,’ which began: ‘One of the more curious intellectual fads to arise from the rubble of post-Stalinist Marxism was the fancy French confection known as deconstruction …. Outside France, [its] strongest followers are to be found in the safe academic halls of North America, Australia and, yes, New Zealand. Bookshops that stock “brainy stuff” are full of deconstruction tomes. These have done a lot to wreck decent critical writing about most of the humanities. Business, architecture, law and philosophy have also fallen victim to the spread of academic gobbledegook.’ The National Business Review praised local academic Denis Dutton for his heroic efforts in resisting the influence of ‘Derridaism.’90 The Sunday Star-Times ran a jubilant column by Frank Haden entitled ‘Now for the Good News: I’m Right and Derrida’s Dead.’91 Haden’s schadenfreude is worth detailing as a classic example of local anti-intellectualism. After discussing some improvements to the New Zealand traffic situation, the columnist remarked: ‘That’s good to hear, but no more satisfying than news that a man whose crazy ideas have helped drag our education system down to its present parlous state has left us. The shonky but disastrously influential French philosopher Jacques Derrida died last week, headed for the great resting place in the sky of kooks, eccentrics and air-headed distorters of truth.’ The column was remarkable not only for the glee with which it announced Derrida’s death from cancer but also for its ignorance of the man’s

164 / Re-inventing New Zealand

ideas. Haden appeared to believe that this writer was responsible for all that was wrong with New Zealand education, both at university and at school level: ‘When we think of the mess we’re in … and our shockingly high percentage of incompetent teachers, we should be thankful Derrida won’t be doing any more damage. Few countries have allowed their education systems to be perverted to such a degree by the mad ideas of Derrida and his colleagues, such as Michael Foucault, in the movement known as “deconstructionism.”’ Haden seemed to interpret the main thrust of Derrida and Foucault’s work as ‘the idea that facts don’t matter,’ the very idea that ‘has made teaching children in New Zealand so difficult.’ He also appeared to blame ‘deconstructionists’ for the spread of political correctness. After a fierce polemic on these themes, he also blamed Derrida for the problems faced by New Zealand employers: ‘It’s no wonder we are always bewailing our lack of skilled workers …. We can’t get people to fill these positions because the education system is flawed from the bottom up, thanks in large measure to the departed Derrida. We are well rid of him.’ Haden’s attack is ironic when one considers the pragmatism that actually dominates New Zealand education. During the years I have been involved with English and Media Studies teachers in Australia and the U.K., I have often been struck by their difference in approach. New Zealand teachers have little patience for the ivory tower. (‘That academic has no idea what it’s like out here in the schools. What we need are some practical lesson plans!’) Overseas teachers were more likely to be excited about new ideas and often saw New Zealand material as simplistic. I am not unsympathetic to the priorities of local teachers,92 but what strikes me is the absurdity of Haden’s claims. His attack on Derrida as the enemy of fact seems based on no facts at all. The only world to which I can relate his monstrous conception of the philosopher is the realm of stereotypes in which someone who is intellectual or academic releases a swarm of negative associations – lack of common sense, crazy ideas, political correctness, and so on. This kind of anti-intellectual panic is a regular ritual in our community. Another example occurred in September 2003 after a radio broadcast in which Paul Holmes made several references to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a ‘cheeky darkie.’ 54 people signed a letter of protest to place on record their ‘profound disgust’ at this

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 165

‘racially insulting and personally derogatory attack.’ The letter called for Holmes to resign. Not all of the signatories were academics but the letter was coordinated by Professors Michael Neill and Albert Wendt of the University of Auckland’s English Department. The public outcry against ‘intellectuals’ daring to criticise a popular media personality soon dwarfed the protest stirred up by Holmes’s comments. Neill and Wendt sent their letter to the Herald. Garth George, in charge of the letter column, sent them a furious rejection: ‘You are seriously cluttering up our email system with your nonsense, not one word of which will be published.’93 Wendt then contacted Herald editor-in-chief Gavin Ellis who agreed to overrule George and publish the letter. George used his next Herald column to explain his position: ‘I thought I was beyond being surprised by anything, but the eruption over Holmes’ words have [sic] astonished – and sickened – me.’ With a string of anti-intellectual stereotypes, he explained the total unimportance of academics and artists: ‘If you count out the inhabitants of the nether regions of academia – the inventors of political correctness in the first place – the artists, the writers and others of a self-styled intellectual elite, who all live in a different world from the rest of us, the minority becomes even more minor.’94 In the Saturday edition of the Herald on 4 October, all three columnists on the op-ed page discussed the protest letter.95 Since they were the writers at the most thoughtful end of the Herald spectrum, it was startling to see them join the attack. Gordon McLauchlan accused the ‘so-called intellectuals of stifling freedom of speech’ which made them ‘guilty of hypocrisy.’ Diana Wichtel was critical of Holmes but felt that ‘the academics, artists and all’ who had signed the open letter were overreacting – each had become ‘a pompous egghead.’ John Roughan was particularly struck by the fact that the letter had included the adjective ‘profound’ – not a word that ‘ordinary mortals’ would ever use. His column launched a general attack on academics, particularly those in English departments. ‘It doesn’t matter so much so long as these dessicated souls confine themselves to lecture rooms and literary journals. But when they attempt to impose their deadly strictures on popular life, they need to be shot down [sic].’ This is a familiar double bind – intellectuals forfeit public respect because they live in an ivory tower, but when they leave the ivory tower they are seen as a public nuisance.

166 / Re-inventing New Zealand

Columnists in other papers joined in the fun. Next day in the Sunday Star-Times Frank Haden attacked the academics’ letter as ‘a load of self-indulgent garbage.’96 Michael Laws headed his column ‘Academia’s Mass Bleat Will Achieve Nothing.’ He remarked: ‘That’s the thing about academics. They genuinely don’t understand that the world has passed them by [as] plodders who but sit and pontificate.’ His column was notable for its explicit support of anti-intellectualism: ‘New Zealanders are anti-intellectual by nature, even those with PhDs. We rightly resent being instructed as to how to think’97. Letters to the editor around the country expressed similar opinions; for example Lesley Opie offered these familiar observations: ‘More often than not the academically inclined are not down to earth, practical people. Communicating with the ordinary Joe and Jane Bloggs in the street can be quite difficult for them …. These 50 New Zealanders have shown us how so full of their own importance they are. I sense elitism rearing its head.’98 The strength of the stereotypes can be judged by the fact that the actual signatories of the letter included well-known people such as Albert Wendt and Witi Ihimaera who have held important public jobs in New Zealand and overseas, and won international recognition as writers. Another signatory was Ralph Hotere, one of the country’s most successful artists. To be able to attack them with such confidence as people who know nothing about the world, or about racism, is evidence of the extent to which the stereotypes have ossified and lost touch with reality. Meanwhile racist websites joined in the abuse, with the Stormfront White Nationalist website posting a photo of Wendt and inviting comment.99 There was some relief in the form of thoughtful articles by Pamela Stirling in the Listener (‘A Sorry Affair’)100 and by Rosemary McLeod in the Sunday Star-Times (‘“We” Are Really Not Amused, Holmes’).101 And unexpectedly, Diana Wichtel returned to apologise because she felt the public backlash against the letter had gone too far. In her Herald column, ‘Our Anti-Intellectualism is a No-Brainer,’ she re-visited her earlier reactions: ‘at times like this you learn a lot about the culture you live in, not all of it good. Take the astonishingly vitriolic response to the open letter about Holmes …. I took a shot at the letter myself [but] now I find myself feeling sorry (I stand by “pomp-

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 167

ous,” but I take back “egghead”) for the beleaguered academics. The anti-academic hostility in the media, on talkback and in letters to the editor took me back to my first primary school teaching job. Someone looked at my file and discovered – you certainly knew better than to mention such a thing – that I had a degree. A torrent of “Been to the university, have you?” was unleashed …. Even worse, I’d majored in English. I never lived it down. Yes, I know we’re an egalitarian nation with a proud intellectual tradition of just scraping through School C ….[But] if this latest bagging of the highbrow puts them up at the university off entering into public debate, we’ll all be the losers.’102 Partial as it was, the columnist’s apology was a gracious gesture and an extremely rare occurrence. If Frank Haden read it, one wonders what he made of the New Zealand school that was a hotbed not of Derrida’s ideas but of Haden-style anti-intellectualism.

Rogernomics An essay of this kind can hardly avoid commenting on Rogernomics (the economic philosophy of the 1984 Lange government) because of the confusing way it has been interpreted as an outstanding example of both intellectualism and anti-intellectualism. Muldoon was a Prime Minister who (in Easton’s words) ‘presented himself as anti-intellectual, liking to abuse [intellectuals] in public. His followers – Rob’s Mob – loved him for it.’103 In the early 1980s, as his government ran out of steam during its third term of office – which included a conflict between Muldoon and his most intellectual MP, Marilyn Waring – there was growing excitement among the academic and arts communities at the thought that this parochial version of New Zealand was at last coming to an end. After Muldoon there would be a lifting of the lid which would release many cultural energies and allow a more sophisticated New Zealand to develop, in touch with the world. When the Lange government was elected it instituted a programme of neo-liberal (or ‘New Right’) economic reform, designed by a highpowered Treasury team. Some members of the creative community endorsed this ‘more market’ approach as a way to rescue the country from its bureaucratic paralysis. They were delighted by the fact that

168 / Re-inventing New Zealand

the government ‘thought itself “intellectual”: fifteen of the first twenty cabinet members had degrees; five had, or have since, written books; four had held university positions.’104 Muldoon had always warned against academics who peered down from their ivory towers with no understanding of what the world was like at grass-roots level,105 and the subsequent damage done by Rogernomics seemed to him and his supporters to confirm their worst fears. Others saw Rogernomics in a different way from either of these perspectives. Its style might be intellectual but its results were philistine. After the events of the early 1980s (such as the Springbok tour protest), it was obvious that New Zealand was going to open wide to the world as soon as Muldoon was gone, and Rogernomics had no right to claim credit for all the new energies released. Indeed, it bungled the transition because of its obsessive, cargo-cult enthusiasm for the market. It ignored the complexities of the local situation, such as the problems associated with a small population base, especially in the arts and the media. Easton provides a strong summary of this position: ‘Fundamentally the rogernomes were anti-intellectual, evidenced by their treatment of the arts, of science research, of tertiary education (which they could not distinguish from training), of the National Library, the National Archives, and the National Museum and Art Gallery, of history, and of dissent. The emphasis that the rogernomes put on “accountability” in public spending reduced markedly the freedom to make quality judgements. When rogernomes took over the funding of the arts, the administration became centralised and authoritarian, favouring the safe status quo rather than the innovative. Had their policies been applied to Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and MIT, they too would have remorselessly turned into centres of mediocrity and stress.’106 Many artists had assumed that no form of New Zealand politics and economics could be worse than Muldoon’s until Roger Douglas came along, followed by Ruth Richardson, Jenny Shipley and other neo-liberal thinkers. The imposition of a corporate model also had the effect of destroying those nooks and crannies in the public sector where at least some intellectuals had previously found space.107 With departments either privatised or transformed into SOEs, there was little room for mavericks in the new world of commercial management, constant

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 169

performance reviews, and precisely defined inputs and outputs. Some people who have made a good living as consultants or entrepreneurs would insist that Rogernomics did open up new job possibilities for intellectuals. And there is a continuing tradition of right-wing theoretical activity (around Treasury, the neo-liberal ‘think tanks,’ and the libertarian magazine Free Radical). My own view is that Rogernomics and similar forms of ideology need to be understood as a symptom (or symbol) of larger and more fundamental changes – the upsurge in global capitalism and corporate management, energised by the power of new technology. Corporate capitalism now colours every aspect of our lives, somewhat in the way Catholicism permeated the lives of Europeans in the Middle Ages. My quarrel is not with capitalism in general, but with its contemporary corporate forms and consumer psychology. Always over the consumer’s shoulder is the voice of the advertiser stressing the importance of the mainstream product and the pleasures of instant gratification. For those employed in the cultural industries, the related voice is that of the corporate manager, constantly emphasizing sales or ratings, instructing staff to stick to familiar genres and ingredients. These voices coexist with, and reinforce, the older voices of conformity. They are also matched by the voices of today’s newspaper columnists and television presenters who ensure that the target audience is flattered and entertained and their common sense never challenged or confused. For all its promise and intellectual excitement, Rogernomics has led in practice to economic dependency and shallow media populism. Bruce Jesson saw the weak resistance to the introduction of Rogernomics as clear proof of the shortage of public intellectuals in New Zealand: ‘the reasons for [this] colossal failure … are not at all recent but go back to this country’s colonial origins. Like many frontier societies, New Zealand has not provided a friendly environment to culture or to thought …. New Zealand’s colonial origins have also meant that thought in this country is derivative.’108 There were of course exceptions to the failure of response described by Jesson, such as the work of Easton and Kelsey. Also important was the Māori resistance to Rogernomics, which helped to protect some areas of the public sector. (An example was the innovative Māori legal challenge that delayed the proposed sale of TVNZ.)

170 / Re-inventing New Zealand

Many of us saw the election of the Clark government in 1999 as a last minute rescue. This is probably the most sympathetic Prime Minister the arts community has ever known. Taking on the Arts, Culture and Heritage portfolio, Clark has attended a number of cultural events and is both interested and knowledgeable. To acknowledge the government’s exceptional achievements in this area is not to say there are no problems. Increases in arts funding have been modest, despite the outrage expressed by opposition politicians and letters to the editor. Artists are uneasy about the way bureaucrats are re-defining the work they do as ‘creative industries’ and as part of ‘brand New Zealand.’ Rogernomics or more generally global capitalism has reshaped our cultural environment at such a deep level that we continue to live and work in its shadow.

Conclusion I began by describing anti-intellectualism as an odd repression that has always been part of our culture. In the course of my lifetime, I have seen puritanism fade (though the rise of groups such as the Destiny Church warns us not to get too complacent). And in the arts I have seen the taboo against modern art at least partly lifted. But anti-intellectualism retains its dull, heavy presence. Like many local writers I have learned to live with it, making sure I avoid big words and never associating myself (at least not prior to this essay, which I will no doubt regret) with the problematic term ‘intellectual.’ It is the nature of repression to be unconscious, or easily rationalised; and our culture goes about its business unconcerned by the lack of what Lydia Wevers calls ‘a truly high’ layer of ‘difficult, innovative, risk-taking, reader-alienating work.’ But I know that this lack (or at least shortage) is one reason why more than a few talented New Zealanders are now living overseas. I have sought not merely to challenge this prejudice but to understand why and how the culture aids and abets it. I have analysed its workings as a pattern of associations or stereotypes; as a voice over our shoulders (Pearson’s useful concept); as a community ritual like the burning of a straw man; and as an unquestioned faith in common sense, defined as the opposite of intellectual activity. These processes

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 171

are internalised in almost everyone who grows up in this country and have the effect of blocking off a range of possibilities. Of course, from a mainstream point of view it is the intellectuals who cause the trouble. For example, a Michael Laws column – ‘It’s About Prejudice – and that’s how Arties Cash in’ – blames the ‘elitists’ and the ‘hoitie-toities’ for ‘demonstrating their own prejudice.’109 There have been many gains over the years, such as the creation of an infrastructure for the arts in New Zealand. Robert Chapman’s observation in 1953 that ‘New Zealand writing is conspicuously plain and straight-forward [yet it] is ignored by the public or resisted quite as much as if it had been thrown down from the highest of ivory towers’110 is now only partly true. The country has had noted public intellectuals, with the study of history as one of the main breakthrough areas. Beaglehole and Keith Sinclair have been followed by James Belich, Judith Binney, Michael King, Jock Phillips, Claudia Orange, Ranginui Walker, and others. Yet the general point that Bruce Jesson made in 1999 still holds: ‘I have known plenty of New Zealanders who have been well-read, intellectually-stimulating, non-conformist, courageous and sometimes eccentric. They have tended to be marginalised, however. There is something about the structure and culture of this country that fosters the mediocre conformist.’111 Some would say this vision is too dark, its perspective parochial. Today we have more life choices, it is easier to look for jobs overseas, and we should make the most of those opportunities. At the same time, increased immigration is bringing the world to New Zealand. One of the positive changes has been the end of the old antipathy in intellectual circles to those who chose to ‘flee’ or ‘escape’ the country rather than stay to fight. We are now more likely to think of our expatriates as still linked in some respects to our culture, so our sense of the nation is not limited by physical boundaries. To remedy its provincialism, New Zealand has always needed more of two elements – more international input and more local production. The country’s cultural infrastructure was built with the help of those fleeing Europe in the 1930s. Now immigrants from Asia are contributing new energies, and recent arrivals from the USA include artists and intellectuals escaping from Bush-style politics. Increased travel and communication can help to modify the narrow, jingoistic

172 / Re-inventing New Zealand

aspects of New Zealand culture, and this hope is reinforced by changes in the media environment. If you don’t like what the local community thinks, you can find kindred souls through the Internet. You can order specialised books and DVDs and download the music you want from anywhere in the world. But at the same time we need to encourage local production, including forms of both popular and high culture. Our country has always run the risk of being primarily a consumer or import culture. Those New Zealanders who evidently do not see intellectuals, artists and academics as serving a useful purpose need to realise that today, more than ever before, a nation needs to live by its wits. And in everyday terms, the local is still important – the particular physical and cultural environment in which we make our livings and raise our families. There are creative New Zealanders who lead successful careers through the Internet, but most of the clients they deal with still have links to particular cultures. Anyone involved with expensive media – who writes for book publication, say, or works in film or television – has to link up with a particular production community. An interest in the local is also hard to avoid if one wants to maintain a knowledge of history, a sense of political responsibility, or a respect for the local environment (concerns that tend to be the opposite of those associated with today’s multinational corporations). In short, it still makes sense to be concerned about the state of the local culture and its shortcomings. The loud (donkey-like?) voice of anti-intellectualism over our shoulders needs to be recognised for what it is and rejected as a force that continues to block some of the best local energies.

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 173

Endnotes 1 See for example ‘It’s about prejudice – and that’s how the arties cash in,’ Sunday Star-Times, 10 April 2005, p.C10. 2 Some have questioned the noun ‘intellectual’ as essentialist; but I continue to use the word because of the history it carries with it. Definitions are discussed later in this essay. I considered entitling my essay ‘A Short History of the New Zealand Nerd’ but that term seems not to have acquired its current meaning until the 1970s. Wikipedia offers a useful account of ‘nerd’ and its relations with ‘geek,’ ‘boffin,’ and ‘intellectual.’ 3 ‘Marxism in New Zealand: Tripping the Light Fantastic,’ The Republican, No.19, August 1977, p.11. 4 ‘Foreword’ in Cultural Politics and the University in Aotearoa/New Zealand, ed. Michael Peters, Palmerston North, Dunmore Press, 1997, p.11. 5 See for example Jock Phillips’ A Man’s Country?: The Image of the Pakeha Male, A History, Auckland, Penguin, 1996. Phillips ran an important university course on ‘the problems of intellectuals in new societies’ at Victoria University from 1981 to 1989. 6 p.A23. 7

Robert Muldoon, My Way, Wellington, Reed, 1981, pp.127-28.

8 My essay ‘No Theory Permitted On These Premises’ (And No. 2, February 1984, pp.119-137) explored negative attitudes to theory in New Zealand. It is a companion piece to the present essay, and its diagram of ‘theory’ associations (p.123) parallels this list of associations for the word ‘intellectual.’ 9

17 February 2005, p.A15.

10 ‘Philosopher-Kings and Public Intellectuals,’ the revised version of a lecture in the 1996 Auckland University Winter Lecture series, is available (along with other relevant essays by Easton) at his website: www.eastonbh.ac.nz/article157. html. 11 Bill Pearson, ‘Fretful Sleepers,’ Fretful Sleepers and Other Essays, Auckland, Heinemann Educational Books, 1974, p.6. 12

ibid, p.11.

13

ibid, p.22.

174 / Re-inventing New Zealand 14 There has always been respect for education within the Jewish, Chinese, and other communities in New Zealand, and these groups have made important contributions to the development of the country’s intellectual life. 15 Discussing his campaign, the advertiser explained that ‘straight’ in the local context meant ‘the opposite of pretentious.’ The campaign selected Gary McCormick to appear as the good kiwi bloke because he was admired by the public for his ‘straightforward, down to earth approach to life.’ (In fact, McCormick has a deep involvement with the arts but is best known by the public as the former presenter of Heartland.) See the Advertising Standards Authority website for Fagg’s defence and the Authority’s reasons for not censuring the campaign despite complaints that it was homophobic. 16 For example: David Mosler’s Australia: the Recreational Society (Westport, Praeger, 2002) Frank Furedi’s Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone? (London, Continuum Press, 2004), and Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (London, Cape, 1964). 17 ‘Le philosophe masqué’ (interview with C. Delacampagne), Le MondeDimanche, 6 April 1980, p.1. 18 An example in the news recently is the model of the globe at the entrance to the Universal Studios complex in Los Angeles which omits New Zealand despite the fact that Peter Jackson has re-made King Kong for Universal. At time of writing it appears that a campaign led by Roger Wadham may have persuaded the studio to add New Zealand (after it initially resisted the idea). 19 ‘Muldoon in Fiction: Politicians and Intellectuals,’ a paper delivered 9 August 1995 (www.eastonbh.ac.nz/article598.html). 20 See Television in New Zealand: Programming the Nation, ed. Roger Horrocks and Nick Perry, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, pp.280-81. 21

‘Philosopher-Kings and Public Intellectuals,’ op. cit.

22

Auckland, Jack Books, 1999.

23

Auckland, AUP, 1995.

24 Linda Tuhiwai Smith, ‘Decolonising Intellectual Identity: Māori/Woman/ Academic’ in Cultural Politics and the University in Aotearoa/New Zealand, ed. Michael Peters, Palmerston North, Dunmore Press, 1997, p.188. 25 In addition to ‘Fretful Sleepers,’ see Robert Champman’s essay ‘Fiction and the Social Pattern’ in Essays on New Zealand Literature ed. Wystan Curnow, Auckland, Heinemann Educational Books, 1973, pp.71-98. 26 Such fears became a subtext of debate during the 2005 general election when Don Brash accused the Labour government of ‘pandering to minority interests.’ As Brian Rudman put it, ‘Saving New Zealand for the mainstream was revealed as the theme of National’s election campaign.’ Despite the great

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 175 difficulty that Brash had in defining the term ‘mainstream,’ many letters to the editor and talk-back contributors shared his concerns. (See ‘Life’s just fine out here on the fringe, Dr Brash,’ NZ Herald, 29 June 2005.) 27 Wystan Curnow, ‘High Culture in a Small Province’ in Essays on New Zealand Literature, pp.155-71. See also ‘High Culture Now!: A Manifesto,’ a lecture in the 1996 Auckland University Winter Lecture series, available at: www.nzepc. auckland.ac.nz/misc/wystan.ptml. 28 ‘The Politics of Culture’ in Writing at the Edge of the Universe, ed. Mark Williams, Christchurch, Canterbury University Press, 2004, pp.116-17. 29 p.115. 30 Science would be interesting to explore since the field includes both pure researchers and public intellectuals. Some of the latter have done important work as environmentalists, but it is interesting to note the complex character of environmental activism in New Zealand because it has attracted both scientists and those who demonise some of the intellectual aspects of science. 31 Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Enquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, Cambridge, Polity, 1989. 32 ‘Academia’s Mass Bleat Will Achieve Nothing’ Sunday Star-Times, 5 October 2003, p.C8. 33 ‘Now for the Good News: I’m Right and Derrida’s Dead’ Sunday StarTimes, 17 October 2004, p.C2. 34 What’s the Matter with America?: The Resistible Rise of the American Right, London, Secker and Warburg, 2004, especially Chapter 10. 35 Obviously anti-intellectualism can also occur on the left. History offers such appalling examples as Stalinism and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. But in our vicinity, at this particular time, right-wing anti-intellectualism presents a greater threat. 36 Roger Horrocks, ‘The Dynamics of the Schedule’ in Television in New Zealand: Programming the Nation, op. cit., p.195. 37

‘TVNZ Charter Passed into Law,’ NZ Herald, 28 February 2003, p.A6.

38 ‘Axe Swings as PC Charter Takes Hold at TVNZ,’ New Zealand National Party press release, 15 August 2003. Compare criticism of the Charter by newspaper editorials (e.g. ‘TVNZ Better Make Most of its Windfall,’ NZ Herald, 10 November 2004, p.A18.) 39 In the youth-centred world of television, a programme-maker seen as new, young and trendy will often be preferred to one who is experienced or expert. The New Zealand suspicion of ‘experts’ makes things difficult for senior artists in every field.

176 / Re-inventing New Zealand 40 See Paul Norris, ‘TVNZ Profit Grab Reeks of State Control,’ NZ Herald, 20 October 2004. 41

‘Letters to the Editor,’ NZ Herald, 29 April 2005.

42 Fretful Sleepers p.137. One can see the potential match between this Joycean ‘conscience’ and the ‘critic and conscience’ role of ‘the New Zealand scholar’ (as academics such as Pearson or J.C. Beaglehole conceived of it). 43 Terms borrowed from Pearson’s ‘The Recognition of Reality,’ Fretful Sleepers, p.141. Compare his comments on ‘unreality’ and ‘dishonesty’ in the ‘Fretful Sleepers’ essay (ibid, pp.12-13). 44 Allen Curnow, ‘Introduction,’ The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1960, p.17. 45

Quoted in ‘Lilburn Remembered,’ Listener, 1 June 2002, p.66.

46 See for example Ranginui Walker, Struggle Without End / Ka whawhai tonu mätou, Auckland, Penguin, 2004, and Donna Awatere, Māori Sovereignty Auckland, Broadsheet, 1984. 47 See for example Wendt’s essay ‘Towards a New Oceania’ in The Arnold Anthology of Post-Colonial Literatures in English, ed. John Thieme, London, Arnold, 1996, pp.641-52. 48 See for example Unfolding History, Evolving Identity: The Chinese in New Zealand, ed. Mangying Ip, Auckland, AUP, 2003. 49 See Broadsheet: Twenty Years of Broadsheet Magazine, ed. Pat Rosier, Auckland, New Women’s Press, 1992. Also Kai Jensen, Whole Men: The Masculine Tradition in New Zealand Literature, Auckland, AUP, 1996. 50 See Best Mates: Gay Writing in Aotearoa New Zealand, ed. Peter Wells and Rex Pilgrim, Auckland, Reed Books, 1997. 51 For example: Freed, Frontiers, Morepork, Parallax, And, Antic, Splash, and A Brief Description of the Whole World. 52

Wellington, National Art Gallery, 1987.

53 ‘Professional Dunces and Private Lives on Parade,’ Sunday Star-Times, 3 October 2004, p.C10. 54

‘The Trouble with Michael,’ 12 December 2004, p.C3.

55 ‘Laws Wants Painting Sold to Fund Repairs,’ Dominion Post, 9 September 2005. 56

‘Law Plans Art Sale,’ Sunday Star-Times, 12 December 2004.

57 ‘An Ugly Collision Between Elitism and Reality,’ p.C10. Also see ‘It’s About Prejudice – and That’s How the Arties Cash In,’ Sunday Star-Times, 10 April 2005, p.C10.

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 177 58 For many years both NZ On Air and Creative NZ have given grants for various forms of popular music. 59

‘Fretful Sleepers,’ Fretful Sleepers p.22.

60 ‘Urban Myths and the et al legend,’ National Business Review, 20 August 2004. 61 It is strange that the use of group names and pseudonyms still arouses controversy since this strategy, once a feature of modernism, has ‘trickled down’ to so many areas of popular culture (electronic music, for example). 62 ‘Feeling Fundamentally Ripped Off,’ Dominion Post, 27 June 2005, p.A4. The writer of this letter concluded: ‘Feet back on the ground please!’ 63 Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), vol.618 (15 June to 29 July 2004), Wellington, House of Representatives, p.14461. 64 For information about subsequent complaints to the BSA, see ‘Holmes Show Complaints Rejected’ NZ Herald, 11 November 2004, and Linda Herrick ‘Empty Heads Making Too Much Noise,’ NZ Herald, 17 July 2004, p.B4. 65 It is important to acknowledge that Hamish Keith has done valuable work as a public intellectual promoting New Zealand art over a period of many years. 66 ‘Dame is the Hero of this Pay-packet Pantomime,’19 December 2004, p.C8. 67

Hon. Georgina te Heuheu, Press Statement, 15 July 2004.

68 As another example of the ACT attitude to public spending on art: ‘Deborah Coddington, ACT’s associate finance spokeswoman, said the $727,284 spent on acquiring artworks for display in Government departments and ministries was an insult to the thousands of hard-working New Zealanders finding it hard to make ends meet’ (‘Art for Politics’ Sake,’ NZ Herald, 14 January 2004, p.A6). 69 Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), vol.618, 27 July 2004 (pp.14313-15) and 29 July 2004 (pp.14461-63). 70

NZ Herald, 23 July 2004, p.A17.

71 ‘Harsh Reality Behind Mantra of Morons,’ NZ Herald, 17 July 2004, p.A23. 72 See for example 27 June 2005, p.A4, and the Editorial on 29 June 2005, p.B6. 73

Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), vol.618, pp.14314-15.

74 See for example et al: arguments for immortality, New Plymouth, GovettBrewster Art Gallery, 2003. 75 See the NZ Herald editorial, ‘Biennale Art Should Be Strikingly NZ,’19 July 2004, p.A16.

178 / Re-inventing New Zealand 76

29 July 2004.

77

‘Urban Myths and the et al legend,’ 20 August 2004.

78

‘Empty Heads Making Too Much Noise,’ 17 July 2004, p.B4.

79

25 December 2004.

80

‘Our Top Ten: et al artist,’ NZ Herald, 18 December 2004, p.B6.

81

‘Et al Makes Splash in Venice,’ NZ Herald, 11 June 2005, p.A11.

82

No.17, Summer 1988, p.47.

83 Quoted by Brian Easton in The Nationbuilders, p.278. The quote is from Beaglehole’s A Short History of New Zealand. 84 J.C. Beaglehole, The New Zealand Scholar, Christchurch, Canterbury University College, 1954. 85 Some have, however, been encouraged by the ideas of Foucault to rethink the representative aspect. Foucault’s conception of the ‘specific intellectual’ has been explained by Michael Peters as ‘a limited, more specific local role for intellectuals who can engage in a politics of resistance or a politics of marginality … and yet [refrain] from the indignity of speaking for others’ (‘Intellectuals?’ Sites, No.24, Autumn 1992). 86 ‘La Doxa … c’est l’Opinion publique, l’Esprit majoritaire, le Consensus petit-bourgeois, la Voix du Naturel, la Violence du Préjugé … ’ Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes, Paris, Seuil, 1975, p.51. 87

See ‘No Theory Permitted on these Premises,’ op. cit., for examples.

88 Cf. Derrida Downunder, ed. Laurence Simmons and Heather Worth, Palmerston North, Dunmore Press, 2001. 89 ‘Philosopher Pulled World Apart in his Mind,’ Real Issues (Maxim Institute email newsletter) no.134, 28 October 2004. 90 Nevil Gibson, National Business Review, 12 October 2004. For an example of Dutton’s work, see his ‘Debunking Deconstruction,’ Philosophy and Literature, vol.13, 1989, pp.430-34. 91

17 October 2004, p.C2.

92 Cf. my essay ‘Visual Language and the Struggle to Teach It,’ English in Aotearoa, No.53, August 2004 (especially p.80). 93

Pamela Stirling, ‘A Sorry Affair,’ Listener, 8 November 2003, pp.30-34.

94

2 November 2003, p.A17.

95 p.23. 96 ‘“Darkie” Uproar a Tribute to our Hypocrisy,’ Sunday Star-Times, 5 October 2003, p.C2. 97

5 October 2003, p.C8.

A Short History of ‘The New Zealand Intellectual’ / 179 98 NZ Herald, 4 October 2003. For some other examples see Sunday StarTimes, 5 October 2003, p.C9. 99

See Pamela Stirling, ‘A Sorry Affair.’ p.34.

100 ibid. 101 Sunday Star-Times, 5 October 2003, p.C8. 102 NZ Herald, 11 October 2003, p.A23. 103 ‘Muldoon in Fiction: Politicians and Intellectuals,’ a paper delivered 9 August 1995 (www.eastonbh.ac.nz/article598.html). 104 ibid. 105 Cf. my essay in And, No.2, pp.120-21. 106 The Nationbuilders, pp.277-78. 107 Cf. Easton’s comment in ‘Philosopher-Kings and Public Intellectuals’: ‘Institutionally we had relied upon the public sector to protect genuine intellectual activity, as it largely did even under the worst excesses of the Muldoon era.’ 108 ‘Foreword: The role of the Intellectual is to Defend the Intellectual,’ Cultural Politics and the University in Aotearoa/New Zealand, p.11. 109 Sunday Star-Times, 10 April 2005 p.C10.110 ‘Fiction and the Social Pattern’ was originally published in Landfall in March 1953. (Reprinted in Essays on New Zealand Literature, p.93.) 111 ‘To Build a Nation,’ New Zealand Political Review, April 1999, pp.30-31.

Film and Television

How to Create a Film Industry This previously unpublished essay is a paper I gave at a conference on ‘The Seventies: A Decade of Change’ in 2004 at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Since the mood of the Conference was somewhat earnest and academic, the fact that my paper emphasized the role of drugs and hippies in the creation of our film industry created a stir and was reported in The National Business Review.

How to Create a Film Industry

T

he full title of my talk, which was shortened when printed in the Te Papa conference programme, was ‘How to create a film industry: You need the right music, drugs and politics, and a few hippie communes.’ The full title is a reminder to anyone who writes mission statements for the creative industries that innovation doesn’t always come from the places you expect. Some periods are particularly important and transformational in the history of a culture, with changes dramatic enough to establish a sense of before and after. For New Zealand, the 1930s and the 1970s are the two such periods in recent history. Granted, the dates are not quite as neat as that, as Jock Phillips reminds us. The late ’20s connects with the ’30s, and the late ’60s with the ’70s. But as other speakers note, our ‘sixties’ is mostly the ‘seventies’ – it starts and finishes later than the American version. I had a personal experience of this as I spent 1965 and 1966 in Berkeley, California – ‘Bezerkley,’ as it was in those days – then returned to New Zealand, where I found things relatively quiet for a few more years. It’s interesting to compare and contrast the 1970s with the 1930s. The cultural movements in both periods had a rebel spirit, linked with serious political protest. The ’30s was a period of economic crisis and one of the consequences of that was the way it discouraged overseas travel. In general terms, this was the first generation of creative New Zealanders who did not emigrate (as Katherine Mansfield, Frances Hodgkins, Rhona Haszard, Len Lye and others had done). Through

186 / Re-inventing New Zealand

a mixture of necessity and choice, the ’30s artists dug in and devoted their energies to creating serious literature and painting locally. In contrast, the ’60s and ’70s was a period of relative prosperity, and perhaps the key factor for that later generation of young artists was the stimulation provided by international travel and cultural influence. (Granted, the contrasts were not quite as stark as that.) The creation of a local film industry was one of the great success stories of the ’70s and a striking example of the period’s particular energies, creating a very definite before and after. If we focus on 35mm dramatic feature films, which are what most people mean by ‘going to the movies,’ in the first two decades of my life – the ’40s and ’50s – only two New Zealand feature films appeared. In the ’60s and the first half of the ’70s, only two more turned up – a total of four films in 35 years! But a new generation of film-makers began making short films in the early 1970s, and from 1977 they moved on to feature films. In the last three years of the 1970s, eight New Zealand features were made – that was the takeoff. And it was sustained. In the 1980s, at least 56 features were made, including Maori, feminist, and gay films. There were huge popular successes such as Goodbye Pork Pie and Footrot Flats. Vincent Ward’s films were accepted into competition at Cannes. And Peter Jackson made his first feature. The contrast between before and after is remarkable. Those born after the ’70s would never know what it was like to have had no New Zealand feature films as part of their cinema options, just as they would never know a time when New Zealand plays were not a regular part of theatre-going, when New Zealand literature was not taught in schools, or when New Zealand novelists had almost no local publishers to whom they could submit their manuscripts. The ’70s was a turning point in all those areas. The history of the film takeoff has been poorly documented and seldom analysed. Now Susan Pointon at Auckland University has covered aspects of it in a valuable PhD thesis (‘The Independents : The Creation of a New Zealand Film Industry’). But my own focus is not on the historical narrative – rather, I want to stand back and ask these questions: 1. How was such a dramatic development able to occur, at this time?

How to Create a Film Industry / 187

2. Can we learn something from it about how to grow culture in a small country like New Zealand? 3. What form did the New Zealand film industry come to take, among possible options? 4. What does all this tell us about the New Zealand 1970s? Culture is so complex an area, and so over-determined, that it seems to defy all attempts to explain it or establish rules. Still, we have to continue making cultural choices, and thus we have to learn as much as we can about the dynamics of recent cultural changes. The emergence of a film industry in the ’70s may seem at first an unsurprising development. As nature abhors a vacuum, so does culture. Or, more precisely, mainstream New Zealand culture follows the evolution of western culture at large, so it seems natural to establish our own film industry. The predictable side of this cultural process was shrewdly summed up by Allen Curnow in 1963 as the ‘mistaken attempt to create the identical article, manufactured under licence, as it were, out of local materials by local industry’1. A more positive conception of the process is the idea of bricolage, or borrowing other people’s ideas and tools to do your own thing locally. Look at how New Zealand put together its own version of the counter-culture. The Berkeley I left at the end of 1966 had multicoloured hippies dressed up in the style of the Beatles on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, a flamboyant bricolage from San Francisco op shops. When I returned to New Zealand there were almost no hippies, but predictably they did emerge a year or two later. However, the style was as much Coromandel or Westie as it was Sgt. Pepper – more comfortable in shorts and jandals, parkas and gumboots. The kiwi hippie represented a healthy process of local bricolage. But why hadn’t such a process got underway sooner in film or theatre? New Zealand literature and painting had had their serious takeoff in the ’30s and ’40s. However, theatre and film are complex, expensive media. John O’Shea and Bruce Mason had tried to establish them in the ’60s but practical conditions were not yet ready. Film-making is money and equipment intensive, and this country has such a small population base, and willingness to provide public funding for culture has always been limited here. Also, traditional art forms fought against

188 / Re-inventing New Zealand

the idea of transferring scarce arts funding to the upstart medium of film. So there was no certainty that a feature industry would ever become established in New Zealand. Commercial logic suggested that the only film industry New Zealand could afford would be one that merely serviced offshore productions attracted to our landscape – like Hercules and The Last Samurai. Against the odds, a home-grown film industry did emerge in the ’70s. Why? I would single out these factors – (1) a critical mass was reached, (2) certain provocations were at their height during this period, and (3) an effective, ’70s-style modus operandi was developed. Critical mass is important in a small country like New Zealand. The base for film was the critical mass of baby boomers as young adults. The cinema audience as a whole had been in catastrophic decline since 1960, as the older and younger age groups deserted the cinemas for television. But young adults remained a fiercely loyal audience for films, and now there were more of this group. As for provocations, I could use the term ‘inputs,’ but I want to emphasise their energising effect. Let me start with overseas provocations. First, there was a remarkable new wave of European films in the 1950s and ’60s – by Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni, Resnais, Godard, etc. – which had led to the emergence of ‘art house cinemas’ in New Zealand in the early ’60s. Continental films offered both sexual and intellectual stimulation. They confirmed what an exciting medium film was, and greatly enlarged its sense of possibility. All the future New Zealand film-makers were art-house regulars. John Laing, for example, said of the State in Dunedin: ‘It was a great theatre – a real fleapit, full of people in duffle-coats who’d read Dostoevsky at halftime’ (New Zealand Film Makers at the Auckland City Art Gallery 12, 1985, p.1). When we started the Auckland International Film Festival in 1969, a big gamble at the time, we were amazed by the number of young adults who turned up to support it. The duffle-coats had largely disappeared, and the look was now jeans, long hair and sometimes bare feet. The first evidence of the European influence on New Zealand film was O’Shea’s Runaway in 1964, which bricolaged aspects of L ‘Avventura in its Hokianga sequence. In retrospect, Runaway also provides concrete evidence that the ’60s counterculture had not reached New

How to Create a Film Industry / 189

Zealand by 1964. Instead, the film looks back to the Angry Young Men of the ’50s, and to the anti-heroes of existentialism. It was bad luck for Runaway that it was just a few years too soon and its narrative was bleak and backward looking, except in its sympathy for Māori culture. Goodbye Pork Pie, made 6 years later, was like a remake of Runaway enriched by the new alternative culture. One film ‘before’ and one ‘after.’ In drawing this contrast, however, we should also acknowledge the important role older film-makers such as O’Shea played as mentors. As in many other areas of the ’70s, the youth revolution benefited hugely from the experience of older activists. Those were the overseas inspirations – art films and the new youth culture. Locally, the provocations were negative, starting with the fact that New Zealand parents, yearning for peace and quiet after the insecurities of the Depression and War years, had created an old-fashioned, out-of date, uptight, grey culture. This would be depicted mercilessly in many films of the ’70s such as Gone Up North for a While, The God Boy, Middle Age Spread, and Skin Deep. The Vietnam war – a local as well as international provocation since New Zealand had at least a small military stake in the war – held a great symbolic importance for the younger generation, illustrated for example when Sam Neill agonizes over a TV news item in the 1975 film Landfall. The war had ended by the time Sleeping Dogs was made in 1977 but the film was still haunted by it. The very reason its director, Roger Donaldson, had come to New Zealand had been to escape the Australian draft for Vietnam. Other provocations were racism and Māori land issues, alluded to briefly in Sleeping Dogs but more directly in other ’70s films, such as the series Tangata Whenua, or documentaries such as Te Matakite 0 Aotearoa. Sexism was the focus of documentaries such as Some of my Best Friends Are Women in 1975 and the Women series in 1977. The first gay films appeared in 1980 via the short film Foolish Things and the feature Squeeze. In other countries feminism and gay liberation tended to emerge after the first wave of ’60s activity, but in New Zealand – as Erik Olssen has pointed out – the dates are more complex because of a local time lag. Nevertheless, with a few notable exceptions, feminist and gay film-makers formed a second wave in the New Zealand feature

190 / Re-inventing New Zealand

film upsurge introducing new directors and new energies in the ’80s. Censorship was a major provocation for many areas of culture in the ’70s but especially for film-makers. Until the Cinematograph Film Act came along in 1976, New Zealand censorship operated on the assumption that the cinema was a public place still attended by the whole family – hence no sex, drugs or swearing were permitted. The generation gap reached an all-time high in the mid ’70s when almost half the films submitted to the New Zealand censor were either cut or banned. When Tony Williams returned from the Cannes Film Festival in 1976 he reported that New Zealand had gained an international reputation as having ‘the most outmoded censorship system in the world outside the Iron Curtain.’2 Censorship was a disincentive to local film-making because if you made a film you might not be able to screen it. On the other hand, battles with the Censor and with moral campaigner Patricia Bartlett did help to provide publicity. The 1976 Act took some of the pressure off but there were still crises for many years. For example, it was apparently Bartlett’s campaign against the gay film Squeeze in 1979 that persuaded the government to pass an amendment to the Film Commission’s legislation, a successful attempt to block funding for the project. To a new generation of activists, New Zealand as a welfare state had lost its original idealism and its institutions had become fossilized, bureaucratized and complacent. Evidence was supplied by films such as Tony Williams’ 1972 documentary Deciding, in which Peter Fyfe visited a variety of government and other public organizations seeking help on a real-life environmental problem, the polluting of a river. The cumulative effect of the bureaucrats’ failure to help was a Kafkaesque feeling of futility. Government officials were furious, but the documentary won a Feltex award. To would-be film-makers, the two public organizations that controlled moving image production – television and the National Film Unit – were similarly fossilized, timid and hierarchical. They held a monopoly on film processing and other resources. Granted, there were positive aspects to television. The ’70s was an important turning point for in-house television drama in New Zealand. There were progressives within the system such as Michael Scott-Smith who did their best to offer commissions to the independents. Also, a decade of television

How to Create a Film Industry / 191

news and current affairs had certainly helped to soften up audiences to accept the sight and sound of New Zealanders on screen. However, much of television remained a closed shop, and this was a major reason why the new film-makers were driven (or provoked) to create a film industry as an alternative outlet for their energies. At the National Film Unit, John Grierson’s original democratic vision for the Unit had mostly shrunk to the making of feel-good documentaries. The Unit directly obstructed John O’Shea’s attempts to create an alternative film industry. Yet there were occasional good films and helpful individuals within the Unit, fellow conspirators who would (for example) privately slip out-of-date film stock to the independents. Also, a few young directors like Paul Maunder and Sam Pillsbury obtained jobs with the Unit and began pushing boundaries, though inevitably their films were accompanied by controversy. For example, Maunder’s 1975 film Landfall, Sam Neill’s first feature film role, was made for television but it could not be screened there because it included pot smoking. Throughout the ’70s, the QE2 Arts Council was one area of the public sector that gave fearless support to the new film-makers, despite the outrage expressed by some politicians. In general, then, the new film-makers saw both good and bad in the public sector – some supportive allies, and some Muldoon-style bureaucracy. Unfortunately, through the key years 1972 to 1975 even the Labour government dragged its heels on the idea of creating a Film Commission. The independents had to take all the risk of making the first feature films, and the sacrifices involved left some of them angry towards Labour. Indeed, when the Film Commission was finally created in 1978, it was thanks to a National government. The history of the film industry helps us to understand why the rebel attitude of the ’70s would later push some individuals towards the entrepreneurial attitude championed by Rogernomics, since the public sector in the 1970s had clearly failed to welcome certain kinds of new energy. Following O’Shea’s example, many members of the new industry were strongly committed to racial equality. Many joined the Springbok protest in 1981, giving the film Patu! its wide- ranging, front-line coverage. Such a filmic record of protest would simply not have been possible before the 1970s.

192 / Re-inventing New Zealand

So those were some of the provocations. The ’70s film movement also developed a distinctive modus operandi – an unapologetic readiness to beg, borrow, or steal. An increasing number of young New Zealanders came to regard the law as an ass. A person was breaking the law every time he or she used drugs. And everyone seriously involved in protest against the unjust war in Vietnam, say, or Maori land dispossession, was likely at some stage to be arrested or at least to come into conflict with the police. Generally, then, the rebel attitude to authority intensified during the period. At the same time, this covered a wide spectrum. At the most principled end, a pacifist might be arrested while protesting against the war on religious or moral grounds. At the other end of the spectrum, there was the traditional kiwi disrespect for law, in its various westie or hoonish or rural forms. One of the original inspirations for Goodbye Pork Pie was Abbie Hoffman, a highly principled rebel, and some of us were disappointed that the film ended up closer to the westie than to the yippie end of the spectrum. But no doubt that’s also why the film was such a smash hit at the New Zealand box-office. As disrespect for the law became a popular theme, Blerta’s first film was Tank Busters (1971), about various groups of students trying to rob Victoria University’s safe; Sleeping Dogs used Muldoon as one of its models for the fascist leader Volkner; Beyond Reasonable Doubt challenged the Arthur Allen Thomas conviction; documentaries questioned the law in relation to Maori dispossession; and ’70s films did their best to sneak in drug references. Granted, films have always exploited law-breaking as a source of drama, but there was a particular ’60s/’70s resonance to the romantic outlaw. How else could Bonnie and Clyde or Butch Cassidy become heroes of the American counterculture? This attitude also explains why there was a revival of interest among New Zealand film-makers in the Man Alone story. Disrespect for authority was not only a popular theme, it was also a modus operandi. For example, Wild Man was an episode of the Blerta series that got stretched to feature length thanks to some unauthorised use of resources when television bosses weren’t watching. Blerta’s modus operandi showed as much chutzpah as the confidence tricksters who were the main characters in this film. The idea of the commune, central to ’60s/’70s culture, provided an

How to Create a Film Industry / 193

excellent organizational basis for a music group, a theatre company, or a film crew. Blerta, or the Bruno Lawrence Electric Revolutionary Travelling Apparatus, was all three. Indeed the commune ideal was perhaps the only way a film industry could have got started in New Zealand, as it was necessary for people to work for minimal or no wages. Similar trends can be seen in the other arts during the ’70s as they moved outside the scope of traditional support systems and had to rely on improvised communities of their own. Wystan Curnow’s paper at the Te Papa conference noted examples of this in both popular music (punk rock) and the visual arts (performance and conceptual art). In Auckland, a sizeable part of the film industry had its origins in Alternative Cinema, established in 1973 in a ramshackle 3-story wooden building in Hobson St. This functioned for the next 13 years as a film co-op with communal equipment. Dozens of film-makers started out here. Susan Pointon has done some interesting research on how the communal philosophy mutated, once it became clear that good films also needed strong leaders to direct and produce them. Communal, noncommercial values made the initial takeoff possible; but what began as a free-wheeling film movement evolved in the ’80s into the hierarchical ‘industry’ that we know today. This seems largely inevitable as feature film-making demands a highly organised infrastructure; but today some tensions still exist between the old communal-style ethos and the codes of professionalism and specialization. What can the development of film in the ’70s teach us about strategies for growing culture in this country? The range of influences I have described – both positive and negative – was the particular hand that history had dealt to this generation. Perversely, one can argue that conservatism can be helpful to artists as it may provoke them to think in innovative ways. But film is a medium very dependent on money and equipment, so some public support is useful. The QE2 Arts Council took exactly the right grass-roots approach by trusting a specialized panel of film-makers to make small grants that encouraged risk-taking. Beyond the Arts Council, however, there was an alarming lack of opportunities. Television offered few commissions; the National Film Unit seemed reluctant to promote the work of its more

194 / Re-inventing New Zealand

innovative film-makers (such as Maunder); the established art forms fiercely protected their turf; and successive governments ignored the many urgent calls to create a film fund until the end of the decade. Its help was almost too little and almost too late. Fortunately, unlike the earlier attempts by Rudall Hayward and John O’Shea, the ’70s film movement managed to hang on. The ’70s did, however, leave quite a few casualties in its wake – many projects collapsed, some filmmakers gave up or moved overseas. This was not untypical of the ’70s, and despite the nostalgic glow the decade often enjoys today, it was a difficult period, with Prime Minister Muldoon determined to resist change. Many groups (including Māori, feminist, environmental, gay and lesbian activists) still felt angry and frustrated at the end of the ’70s. Though they had done the preparatory work, the payoff for their efforts did not come until the next decade. Film had scored some victories (such as the creation of a Film Commission in 1978-79) but its most exciting results would not appear until the following decade.

Endnotes 1 ‘New Zealand Literature,’ in Essays on New Zealand Literature, ed. Wystan Curnow, Auckland, Heinemann Educational Books, 1973, p.141. 2 Film in Aotearoa New Zealand, ed. Jonathan Dennis and Jan Bieringa, Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1996, p.62.

New Zealand Cinema: Patterns of Evolution Since 1977, New Zealand feature-films have been regularly appearing in our cinemas. Because publicity and reviewing emphasize each film as something new and distinctive, it is difficult to gain a clear overview. To trace connections, to compare and contrast, is a task I have attempted in my essays on New Zealand cinema, keeping an eye out for larger patterns. In this new essay I argue that many aspects of our films can be usefully related to local literary traditions. I suggest that what is at work is a pattern in our culture, a kind of cultural DNA. Of course, not every film fits the pattern, but overviews are scarce, and I think this one provides a useful model, particularly in discussing the films of the 1970s and ‘80s.

New Zealand Cinema: Patterns of Evolution

I

n 2011, writing an overview of the history for Te Papa’s book, New Zealand Film, I included a comparison with New Zealand literature.1 I asked the question: When this country finally began regular production of feature films in 1977, were the results similar to the nationalist upsurge in poetry and fiction in the 1930s? This seemed to me a useful parallel, a way to identify some common characteristics of the films. Our new wave of film-making arrived as a kind of delayed ripple of the nationalist literary wave. The delay was to be expected because producing feature films required a lot more money and technical support than publishing poems or novels. The fact that regular production did not begin until 1977 involved some interesting differences from the earlier 1930s cultural upheaval because of the changes of the 1960s and early 1970s. My detailed essay sought to highlight both the differences and similarities, but what interested me particularly was the initial strength of the similarities, the parallels with the literary tradition. There were clear signs of paternity, which I set out to analyse. To put forward an hypothesis, to float a comparison, was not to suggest that I personally embraced the early Curnow or Brasch aesthetic. While my essay was warmly received by senior members of the film industry, it received a hostile reception from some academics. By 2011, rejection of the old Landfall tradition had become a stereotype or doxa among academics, even for those contributing to Landfall in

198 / Re-inventing New Zealand

its zappy new incarnation. They were shocked to see me revive the corpse, even just for the purposes of comparison. An example of this response was a review of the Te Papa book by Professor Alistair Fox, Director of ‘The Centre for Research on National Identity’ at the University of Otago, who devoted much of his Landfall review to exposing my naivety: ‘Horrocks claims that “We can take our bearings from the well-known ‘origin story’ that locates the appearance of the first sophisticated and original work in New Zealand poetry and painting in the 1930s, following the appearance of a new generation” …. Horrocks adopts this myth … to explain the evolution of filmmaking in New Zealand, seeing the “explosion” of fiction filmmaking in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a delayed version of the same impulse …. The problem with this paradigm is not only that it is too credulous in accepting the self-privileging and strategic rhetoric of the original cultural nationalists, with their exaggerated claims for novelty and exclusivity, but also that it elides the 40-year gap separating the activities of the two different groups, and thus obscures the dramatic changes to New Zealand’s historical and cultural circumstances that occurred during this time, in order to assert a false homology.’2 And so on, for several more pages. No less curious was the fact that Fox accused Francis Pound of being equally ‘credulous’ in adopting the same myth (or ‘origin story’ as I called it, with a nod to DC and Marvel). Apparently Pound and I had simply not been obvious and brutal enough in our beat-ups of nationalism. Such responses alerted me to the fact that the critiques of the Landfall tradition during the 1960s-1980s period had since trickled down through literary culture and become clichés. To downgrade ‘the original cultural nationalists’ had become an easy, academic ritual. But by ceasing to take them seriously, we were sacrificing one of the few bodies of local work that qualified as high culture. (For example, Fox appeared to rate Rudall Hayward more highly in terms of artistic ‘complexity’ and ‘modernity’ than the group round Curnow.3) I had often sparred with the nationalists but always admired their skill and ambition. Seeing them ignored, or treated in a clichéd and condescending way, provoked my essay on Douglas Lilburn (in the present collection). To write such an essay today, it seems necessary to explain that the desire to take ‘cultural nationalism’ seriously does

New Zealand Cinema: Patterns of Evolution / 199

not mean becoming a card-carrying nationalist oneself. Nor does it mean interpreting such work only in its own terms, though I think it is certainly helpful to try to understand the way it saw itself in its original context. What follows is a summary of my (unrepentent) compare-andcontrast between the New Zealand film and literary traditions.

Whakapapa In the 1970s there was an upsurge in the making of 16mm short films, which led in 1977 to the production of 35mm feature films. Tony Williams, one of the leaders of the upsurge, wrote in the Listener in 1975: ‘I’m reminded of a line in one of Herzog’s films, “Now that we have learned to speak, what is there to say?”’4 It is not surprising that what many of the early films had to say was shaped by the country’s cultural traditions. In that sense, the films can be seen as a delayed ripple of the earlier wave of literature and art. Such a delay was understandable because the production of feature films requires a lot more money and technical support than poems or novels. This essay will seek to trace signs of paternity, the transfer of the DNA of cultural nationalism, and then watch how later films mutate and a different species becomes dominant. This pattern of evolution parallels some developments in New Zealand literature. Our culture’s well-known ‘origin story’ locates the emergence of the first sophisticated and original work in New Zealand poetry and painting in the 1930s. The first wave was led by artists born in the 1900s and 1910s (such as Allen Curnow and Charles Brasch), followed by a second wave born in the 1920s (such as James K. Baxter and Kendrick Smithyman) who contributed new ideas and interests. The equivalent take-off period for film – the 1970s and 1980s – would follow a similar pattern of generations. ‘Generation’ is a loose concept but in this context it provides a useful way to highlight changes. Although ‘cultural nationalism’ was never a monolithic movement, much of its work was shaped by a cluster of seven ideas (which I will express partly in the movement’s terms and partly in my own):

200 / Re-inventing New Zealand

(1) Localism. The emphasis was on details associated with some region or aspect of New Zealand, in competition with imported or colonial culture. I witnessed the power of this approach in 1977 when I heard the audiences for Sleeping Dogs (the first of the new wave of local features) laugh and cheer when familiar locations such as the Auckland Post Office or the Moehau Tea Rooms made their first appearance in a big screen drama. Inevitably, later films lost that sense of novelty. (2) Realism. The critical writing of Lawrence Jones provides a useful guide to the realist tendency in New Zealand fiction. He quotes Frank Sargeson celebrating the ‘intensity of feeling’ that can be created by ‘naturalistic detail, presented … with … a literal-minded no-nonsense exactness and clarity.’5 Jones saw the ‘persistence’ of this approach in local fiction as remarkable because of its decline in other countries such as the United States where writers came to feel that the extreme nature of social and political life could no longer be captured by realist methods.6 New Zealand fiction continued to emphasize ‘concreteness,’ ‘probability,’ and ‘ordinariness,’ qualities that catered to the ‘common reader’ who was profoundly sceptical of anything arty or pretentious or outside common experience.7 Jones added, however, that there was a ‘a counter-tradition,’ small but important, which stressed ‘individual perception’ and a more subjective approach. This hailed from Katherine Mansfield and was associated mostly with women writers (such as Janet Frame). The two traditions could be summed up as Impressionism versus Naturalism, or ‘mirrors and interiors’ versus ‘barbed wire and cowpats.’8 Within local literature, however, there was often an overlap between the two, and not surprisingly the hybridization would increase. (3) If realism was the idiom, the lives of so-called ordinary people tended to be the subject. 4) The cultural nationalists took an interest in overseas modernism. They searched for aspects they could apply to their local situation – such as Sargeson’s discovery of the small-town naturalism of Sherwood Anderson. Their basic commitment to realism determined which aspects of modernism they could accommodate.

New Zealand Cinema: Patterns of Evolution / 201

(5) Their nationalism was critical rather than jingoistic. Because aggressive forms of nationalism were associated with sport, politics and war, these artists were uncomfortable with the term. Like later film makers, they preferred to be known as regionalists or localists. (I will continue to speak of ‘cultural nationalism’ because it is the expected term today, but I hope writers and film-makers will forgive me for using this ugly critical shorthand.) (6) They tended to be intellectuals and bohemians, generally leftwing in their politics (although there were a few exceptions). They saw their work as a necessary challenge to the dull, puritanical, parochial, conformist aspects of New Zealand. As Jones explains, their politics might be summed up as ‘liberal humanism.’9 (7) They had difficulty defining their stance towards the national audience, for initially they had hardly any audience outside of their fellow artists. The general public disliked their links with modern art and their moralistic, critical attitude towards New Zealand. The artists were creating a local culture that the country did not yet know it needed. This would become a major issue for film making because film is an expensive medium that demands a sizeable audience, much larger than the audience for fiction or poetry. As late as 1964, local cinema audiences were simply not open to critical work in a modern idiom, as John O’Shea was dismayed to discover when he released Runaway. This, then, is the genotype of New Zealand cultural nationalism, which has persisted through many changes in the environment. How has film evolved in relation to it?

Early film makers Early film makers concentrated on the first or local aim of the nationalist programme. Basically they sought to be community entertainers. They had their hands full dealing with technical problems and searching for audiences, without venturing into the territory of the

202 / Re-inventing New Zealand

art film, or modern art, or critiques of society. As a consequence, the cultural nationalist movement of the 1930s and ‘40s had no film wing. The strongest candidate was Rudall Hayward, but his work was not shaped by modernism. In one respect, however, his work drew closer to the nationalists and arguably he ended up doing a better job than them. This was his awareness of the Māori dimension of New Zealand history. In 1941, the government created a National Film Unit as a source of newsreels and documentaries. The original conception of the NFU was based on a report by John Grierson, head of Britain’s GPO Film Unit and an enthusiast for modernism. The NFU incorporated the first three principles of the nationalist programme but within limits set by the government, which ironically put the Department of Tourism and Publicity in charge. The Unit called on the talents of Curnow, Glover, and James K. Baxter at least once. Lilburn wrote music for several films, and photographer Brian Brake and writer Maurice Shadbolt became staff members. They were occasionally able to sneak in aspects of the nationalist programme, but such attempts ended frequently in conflict.10 More of the force of cultural nationalism reached the screen through the work of Pacific Films. Historian John O’Shea was the leading figure, and for the next 30 years, Pacific’s ramshackle buildings in Kilbirnie served as his revolutionary headquarters. O’Shea ploughed any profits from commercials back into the creation of feature films and innovative documentaries. He mixed with nationalist writers and artists, and as a prime mover in the Film Society movement he made sure that his staff watched overseas art films. Pacific made three features between 1952 and 1966 – one of them influenced by John Mulgan’s Man Alone – but they were hampered by limited funding and technical resources and a lack of experience in script-writing.

The explosion of the 1970s Since 1977 New Zealand has seen an average of five or six locally-made features per year in its cinemas – still only a tiny percentage of the total films exhibited, but over the past three decades adding up to a

New Zealand Cinema: Patterns of Evolution / 203

significant body of work. What style of films might we have predicted? The financial pressures would have led us to expect a populist focus on light entertainment (which has been television’s emphasis). At the other end of the spectrum, New Zealand had a subculture of experimental art, with a famous film-making ancestor in Len Lye. During the first decade of ‘the new wave,’ most feature films followed a middle path between these two ends of the spectrum. Typically the films had a serious streak (in terms of ‘liberal humanism’), focused on ‘ordinary people,’ highlighted regional settings, and adopted a basically naturalistic style. At the same time there were some elements of Hollywood and of British kitchen sink drama; but the strong influence of cultural nationalism gave a distinctive flavour to New Zealand films. The dramas produced during the first decade included: The God Boy, Sleeping Dogs, Solo, Skin Deep, Middle-Age Spread, Sons for the Return Home, Beyond Reasonable Doubt, Pictures, Smash Palace, The Scarecrow, Utu, Came a Hot Friday, Constance, Other Halves, State of Siege, Vigil, Wild Horses, Trial Run, Heart of the Stag, Iris, Mr Wrong, Sylvia, Mark II, Pallet on the Floor, Ngati, and Among the Cinders. While each of these films had distinctive aspects, they were more ‘Landfall’ than ‘Hollywood’ in their general approach. They were also notably different from the Australian films of the period. The Australians were busy making sex films (like Alvin Purple, 1973), cult films (Pure Shit, 1975), romantic historical films (Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1975), and action films (Mad Max, 1979). With a few exceptions, those highly stylized genres did not interest New Zealand, at least not in the early days. The arrival of a filmic wave of cultural nationalism in New Zealand was in some respects problematic since a young literary generation was calling for more experiment and more internationalism. But critiques of Curnow and Brasch centred on the claim that they had created a canon and continued to act as gate-keepers. Since everyone had the resources to write a poem or novel, there were many writers who potentially felt left out, but the skills and resources needed to create a 35mm feature film severely limited the number of attempts. There were so few New Zealand features that no canon had ever taken shape. Also, the creation of a new industry involved so much experiment that there were not yet clear boundaries between conventional and

204 / Re-inventing New Zealand

unconventional, or commercial and non-commercial work. At the Alternative Cinema co-op in Auckland, for example, student avantgardists shared equipment with those working in advertising. But the cost of feature film making and the need to attract a large audience to earn a cinema release soon created problems for the experimental approach. In the early days there were flashes of experiment in films such as Angel Mine, Test Pictures, Landfall, State of Siege, Vigil, and Strata, but after this brief flurry, avant-garde activity became confined almost entirely to short films. The first successful feature, Sleeping Dogs, was based on C. K. Stead’s novel Smith’s Dream (1971) which was an update and critique of John Mulgan’s Man Alone (1939). Those are two of the best known New Zealand novels, kept in print since publication, and studied in schools and universities. Also, Stead’s novel won a national book award. Yet to this day, Man Alone is unlikely to have sold more than 20,000 copies, and Smith’s Dream even fewer. The books were highly successful in terms of New Zealand publishing, and the film would certainly have benefitted from that precedent, but in the end it reached a vastly larger audience – 250,000 New Zealanders in cinemas and many more on television. Eventually the film was sold to 52 countries, but since it had cost $450,000 to produce, it would at best have made a modest profit. Few New Zealand features manage to break even. Establishing the new industry was such a struggle that film makers needed to have a strong artistic motivation, but they also needed a commercial safety net. One solution was to base many of the films on New Zealand stories and novels. The potential audience was still not great, for while cultural nationalism was firmly established so far as local modern literature was concerned, it was certainly not the mainstream of New Zealand culture at large. One had only to turn on television to be reminded of that fact. But the trickle-down of cultural nationalism since the 1930s had accustomed a larger audience to this idiom. The possibility of Education Department funding was a further advantage as an increasing number of schools were beginning in the 1970s to teach New Zealand fiction.11 Fiction or drama made into films in the early years included The God Boy (1976), Sleeping Dogs (1977), State of Siege (1978), MiddleAge Spread (1979), Sons for the Return Home (1979), The Scarecrow

New Zealand Cinema: Patterns of Evolution / 205

(1982), Hang on a Minute Mate (1983), Came a Hot Friday (1984), Other Halves (1984), and The Silent One (1984). There were also films about writers: Iris (1984), Sylvia (1985), and Leave All Fair (1985). This practice of adaptation has continued strongly to the present day.12 Those adaptations that were not realist tended to belong to what Jones calls ‘the other tradition’ – for example, the work of Vincent Ward (State of Siege), Jane Campion (An Angel at my Table), Alison Maclean (Crush), Niki Caro (Memory and Desire), and Christine Jeffs (Rain), with their emphasis on women characters and subjective experience. However, such films still displayed a strong sense of localism. In emphasizing the persistence of realism and localism, I do not mean to detract from the value of the films. While some of my contemporaries and I would have liked the new industry to embrace the ‘art film’ tradition more fully, there is – as the composer Arnold Schoenberg once remarked – ‘still plenty of good music to be written in C major.’13 A new medium can bring new life to an old aesthetic, especially one that taps some of the strongest energies of the culture.

Changing generations The first wave – or ‘New Wave’ – of film makers who came to prominence in the 1970s belonged to a generation born between 1938 and 1948. They included: Barry Barclay, John Clarke, Roger Donaldson, John Laing, Bruno Lawrence, Paul Maunder, Merata Mita, Bruce Morrison, Ian Mune, Geoff Murphy, Leon Narbey, Sam Pillsbury, Gaylene Preston, Martyn Sanderson, Geoff Steven and Tony Williams. Just as in the 1930s, there was a second group, another collective burst of energy but with different interests. Born in the 1950s and coming to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s, they included: David Blyth, Costa Botes, Jane Campion, Alison Maclean, Stewart Main, Shereen Maloney, Gregor Nicholas, Melanie Read, Harry Sinclair, Greg Stitt, Lee Tamahori, Athina Tsoulis, Vincent Ward and Peter Wells. While the younger group shared the same passion for local details, they wanted to pay more attention to contemporary issues, including the concerns of women, Māori, and gay and lesbian New Zealanders. The new film makers tended to see the films of the first wave as

206 / Re-inventing New Zealand

still compromised by old-fashioned New Zealand culture. Their films also tended to be more urban and stylised, and in some cases – such as Harry Sinclair’s The Price of Milk (2000) – their realism became ‘magic realism.’ Peter Wells clearly signalled the new approach: ‘The [previous] feature films … simply did not touch my life at any point. They were nearly always rural in their setting … and of course that standard line of the emotionally inarticulate New Zealander just drove me nuts. Nearly everyone I knew seemed very articulate about what drove them nuts.’14 Merata Mita, for different reasons, dismissed most of the films to date as the product of ‘a white neurotic industry.’15 Her critique paralleled Māori critiques of cultural nationalist literature for its Pakeha bias. By the end of the 1980s, New Zealand had not only a feature film industry but one with a whakapapa of several generations. What Jones had called ‘the other tradition’ was now strengthened by the upsurge in feminism. This period saw the first local features directed by women. Cultural nationalism was, however, far from exhausted.The interest in localism continued to be widely shared, and there were strong elements of realism and liberal humanism in the work of Preston, Maloney, Tsoulis, and other members of the second wave. Realist short films continued to be the genre by which minority groups initially sought to attract the attention of mainstream culture. Many subsequent feature film-makers have continued to be influenced by these traditions. The list born in the 1960s includes Niki Caro, Simone Horrocks, Christine Jeffs and Brad McGann; and in the 1970s: Armagan Ballantyne, Toa Fraser, Robert Sarkies and Taika Waititi. Certainly their interests have become more diverse, but many of their films show the persistence of cultural nationalism, often mixed with ‘the other tradition’ – now a common variation. Impressive feature films include In My Father’s Den (2004), Out of the Blue (2006), No.2 (2006), Rain of the Children (2008), The Strength of Water (2009), After the Waterfall (2010), and Dark Horse (2014). As for Whale Rider (2003), it combined a ‘magic realist’ ending with a style that American reviewers still regarded as under-stated and down-to-earth. (Variety observed that the ‘gritty location shooting … well suits [the] tale’s essentially realist base ….’16)

New Zealand Cinema: Patterns of Evolution / 207

Aotearoa becomes Middle-Earth The persistence of realism is particularly surprising when we consider the huge impact of Peter Jackson. Jackson was born in 1961, and he and his collaborators – Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger – represent a radical break with the Landfall tradition. They too base films on books but the books are imports – such as the work of English writer J R R Tolkein, American novelist Alice Sebold, or Belgian graphic novelist Hergé. Their films involve extraordinary characters, a non-realist style, imagined landscapes, and offer no critique of local society (although Jackson’s 1992 Braindead did contain a number of kiwiana in-jokes, and his and Fran Walsh’s 1994 Heavenly Creatures could be described as a New Zealand ‘other tradition’ film). The Jackson wave has brought major changes. Top Hollywood movies like Avatar (2009) seek the help of Richard Taylor and Weta Workshop. Since Jackson’s first large-budget Hollywood-style film The Frighteners in 1996, his studio has become a kind of second industry or a new layer to the existing industry. Films that remain New Zealandoriented, with traditionally small budgets, continue to be made, and there are healthy exchanges between the two worlds via Jackson’s Park Road Post film facility, but there are also tensions when the government is seen to favour Jackson and the large overseas projects he and Weta have attracted. Why did Jackson’s huge success not overwhelm what was left of cultural localism? Certainly in mainstream media and tourist publicity, ‘Middle Earth’ is now synonymous with New Zealand cinema, and like a new species the Hobbit-style film has become dominant. But within the local film community, practitioners of cultural nationalism continue to see themselves as the ‘real’ or the ‘serious’ local tradition.17 The persistence of this outlook shows how deeply realism and localism are embedded in the grain of our culture. These principles are seen as vital alternatives to the ‘unreality’ of Hollywood and advertising (the other commercial area that has lured away some of our best film-makers). Such tensions are very much present in the funding environment. The motive for creating the New Zealand Film Commission in 1978 was cultural nationalist so far as the film makers were concerned, but

208 / Re-inventing New Zealand

commercial on the part of the government (which saw film as a potentially profitable industry and a boost to tourism). The Commission continues to display an interest in cultural issues, but commercial considerations have the final say. Every feature is expected to obtain some overseas investment. The Commission tends to be allergic to ‘art’ films with a strong experimental streak (which might gain funding in some European countries). Projects with a linear narrative and what could be described as links with the cultural nationalist tradition have some chance of obtaining script development money, but few are ultimately given the green light. In artistic terms they represent the extreme edge of the Commission’s funding. From an evolutionary perspective, the strongest way to adapt to our environment is to concentrate on other genres, films of a more populist type. Today there are a number of scriptwriters and directors associated with the realist tradition who feel that the door has been slammed in their faces by a commercially-minded Commission. One can understand their frustration since writers in that tradition can at least go on writing (though not necessarily make a living), whereas the expensive nature of the feature film medium and the small size of the New Zealand market tend to make production dependent upon public funding. Meanwhile a still younger group of film-makers has turned to cheap digital equipment to create ‘low-budget’ or ‘no-budget’ features. These seldom obtain a cinema release but are sometimes screened in festivals or distributed via the Internet.18 We wait to see whether a significantly new aesthetic will emerge from this current surge of activity, or whether film-makers will continue to pursue either Jackson-style horror and fantasy, or updated versions of cultural nationalism. The fact that young people are growing up on computer games (now a larger industry than Hollywood) seems likely to threaten the realist tradition further, though so far that tradition has continued to show remarkable perseverance in New Zealand film and literature.

New Zealand Cinema: Patterns of Evolution / 209

Endnotes 1 ‘A Small Room with Large Windows: Film Making in New Zealand’ in New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History, ed. Diane Pivac with Frank Stark and Lawrence McDonald, Wellington, Te Papa Press in association with the Film Archive, 2011. 2

Landfall No.222, Spring 2011, p.190.

3

ibid, p.191.

4

New Zealand Listener, 6 December 1975, pp. 36–7.

5 Barbed Wire and Mirrors, Dunedin, University of Otago, 2nd edition, 1990, p.43. 6 p.187. 7 p.24. 8 p.11. 9 p.25. Also see Rachel Barrowman, A Popular Vision: The arts and the left in New Zealand 1930–1950 (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1991), passim. 10 See my essay ‘A Small Room with Large Windows: Film Making in New Zealand,’ p.10. 11 Winners and Losers and Sleeping Dogs were among the projects that received such funding. 12 To mention some examples: Pallet on the Floor (1986), Among the Cinders (1987), Alex (1992), Bread and Roses (1993), Once Were Warriors (1994), Flight of the Albatross (1989), Memory and Desire (1998), Saving Grace (1998), An Angel at my Table (1990), Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree (1990), A Soldier’s Tale (1991), Chunuk Bair (1991), The End of the Golden Weather (1991), Rain (2001), Whale Rider (2003), In My Father’s Den (2004), Under the Mountain (2008), The Vintner’s Luck (2009), Predicament (2010), and White Lies (2013). 13 Quoted by Dika Newlin, ‘Secret Tonality in Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto,’ Perspectives of New Music Vol. 13 No. 1, Autumn-Winter 1974, p.137. 14 Peter Wells, in Film in Aotearoa New Zealand, ed. Jan Bieringa and Jonathan Dennis, Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1992, p.176. 15

ibid., p.45.

16

Denis Harvey in Variety, 18 September 2002.

17 Cf. Geoff Murphy’s criticisms of Jackson (e.g. Nicholas Jones, ‘New Zealand film-maker says Rings director’s rise has eclipsed local industry,’ Herald, 17 May 2014). 18 For example, see New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History, op. cit. pp.286290.

Cultures, Policies, Films This essay was written in 1999 for an Australian book called Twin Peeks: Australian and New Zealand Feature Films. As an attempt to provide an overview of our feature-film industry, the general outline seems to me still accurate, but some of the details reflect that particular moment in time, with emphasis on the huge changes that had been produced by 15 years of New Right (neo-liberal) politics. I wrote this essay to explain New Zealand’s cultural situation to an Australian audience, and to consider how the country’s films were interpreted locally, in contrast to overseas responses.

Cultures, Policies, Films

T

he most influential attempt to define the distinctive character of films made in New Zealand is the 1995 documentary Cinema of Unease, directed and written by Sam Neill and Judy Rymer, which has been widely distributed as part of the BFI’s Century of Cinema series. The dramatic central idea of the documentary – that New Zealand has ‘a uniquely strange and dark film industry’ – has satisfied the international need for a quick way to characterise New Zealand films. Today any New Zealander taking a film overseas will encounter this idea in reviews and audience discussions. It therefore provides a useful starting-point for the present discussion of ‘New Zealand-ness’ and the issues surrounding it. This essay will explore ‘unease’ as one of a cluster of explanatory concepts. Through these concepts it seeks to build a model of New Zealand culture – that particular field of forces from which they have emerged – stressing certain complexities and differences that tend to be elided or re-conceived when the films are discussed overseas. Sam Neill’s family came to New Zealand from Northern Ireland when he was seven. In Cinema of Unease he presents a vivid, personal account of growing up in this ‘bright and rather barren’ country during the 1950s and ’60’s. It felt like ‘the furthest place on earth’ and was ‘rigorously conformist, politically conservative and socially dull.’ British influence reigned supreme. When a feature film industry emerged in the late 1970s, writers and directors were at last able to take ‘revenge’ upon the parochial and repressive aspects of New Zealand

214 / Re-inventing New Zealand

society. The later part of the documentary acknowledges that the country has changed considerably over the past decade, but suggests – by both its examples and its commentary – that today’s film-making is still haunted by the ‘darker heart’ of a ‘menacing land.’ Neill concludes that: ‘If a national cinema is a reflection of ourselves, then ours is a troubled reflection indeed.’ What many viewers have taken from the documentary is the idea of New Zealand as a Southern Hemisphere equivalent of the dark Sweden of Ingmar Bergman’s films (though the documentary also makes it clear that New Zealand film-makers have been more influenced by American ‘B’ movies than by art-house directors like Bergman). Overseas reviews of the documentary were enthusiastic. Janet Maslin in The New York Times found it ‘first-rate,’ an ‘instructive survey’ of ‘the strain of madness and savage rebellion that has poured out of New Zealand.’1 Derek Elley in Variety praised the ‘startling acuity’ of this analysis of New Zealand’s ‘dark, quirky cinema.’2 Cinema of Unease had a much cooler reception in New Zealand. The television broadcaster TV3 had bought rights to the documentary on the basis of its proposal but seemed embarrassed by its conclusions. TV3 publicity carefully avoided the word ‘unease’ because anything earnest or downbeat was out of place in the commercial, competitive atmosphere of New Zealand television. The channel also added ‘a bland and needless introduction’ by a cheerful announcer.3 Some reviewers worried about the stereotypes that would be reinforced overseas by the documentary’s attempt to link art with life. For example, Peter Calder wrote in the New Zealand Herald: Film writers in foreign countries have long speculated that life must be seriously weird in the Shaky Isles if it’s like what they see in Vigil or Smash Palace. It’s a facile notion which makes as much sense as concluding that everyone in America lives like the Brady Bunch … 4 Such responses seemed to provide evidence for the documentary’s suggestion that New Zealand is a society so complacent that it is important to keep confronting it with its own weirdness. But there were also more thoughtful critiques of the film. Although Neill is highly respected here

Cultures, Policies, Films / 215

for his international career as an actor and his contributions to local culture in the ’70s, people associated with the film industry challenged his approach. For example, Helen Martin in the Spring 1995 issue of The Big Picture saw the documentary as ‘a huge disappointment’ because of its ‘creaky thesis.’ Any film-maker ‘anywhere in the world’ could find examples to suggest that their local film tradition was ‘dark and brooding and troubled.’ Neill’s ‘expatriate musings’ overlooked many exceptions to his thesis, particularly ‘urban films’ and ‘films made here by women [or by] Māori.’ These sharply critical reviews failed to recognise the strengths of the documentary but they made sense in terms of the generation gap that has marked many aspects of New Zealand life since the early ’80s. Like Geoff Steven’s earlier documentary Cowboys of Culture, Cinema of Unease is a valuable record of the experience of a film-maker who grew up in the ’50s. Those who grew up in the ’60s or ’70s tend to have a different view of the country and a different way of reading today’s films. Neill’s generation looks back to an earlier ‘structure of feeling,’ shaped by the serious tradition of New Zealand cultural nationalism (or anti-colonialism) that had emerged in the arts in the ’30s and in some respects was still at the ‘cutting edge’ in the ’70s, having gained only token support from the political or social establishment.5 The creation of a local feature film industry in 1977 was an exciting release of energy, with an upsurge in theatre occurring at the same time. Around 1984 there was another set of profound changes – in government, in popular culture and in the arts. Ironically, each change headed in a different direction, which has contributed to the very high level of division and conflict within the country today. New Zealanders still locate themselves on one side or other of these important changes. In terms of cinema, there was (as Martin suggests) important new films by Māori (such as Barry Barclay’s Ngati, 1987. and Te Rua, 1991; Merata Mira’s Mauri 1988, and Patu! 1983) and women (Gaylene Preston’s Mr Wrong 1985, and her Ruby and Rata 1990; Melanie Read’s Trial Run 1984 and Send a Gorilla 1988). Peter Jackson broke other boundaries with his ‘splatstick’ films (such as Bad Taste 1986; and Braindead 1992). There were also stylish art films by Vincent Ward (Vigil 1984; The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey 1988), and a variety of short films influenced by new aesthetic and theoretical tendencies. The series About Face (1986)

216 / Re-inventing New Zealand

provided a showcase for a new generation of film-makers, much as the Winners and Losers series had done a decade earlier. These developments changed prevailing ideas of ‘New Zealand-ness.’ It’s not that films in the earlier styles ceased to be made, but the centre of gravity within film culture seemed to shift. Some of the new films had dark elements but Neill’s reading of them in terms of ’70s nationalism seemed to ignore their post-modern ironies. The new film-makers tended to be deeply suspicious of nationalism, seeing its artistic canon as white, macho and mostly straight. In the long run, however, nationalism reformed itself and survived – it continued to be crucially important for the arts in strategic terms. After the New Right came to power in 1984, public funding of the arts was under threat, and nationalist arguments provided a last-ditch line of public defence. Successive governments moved with dizzying speed to re-make New Zealand politics. Their choice of culture hero was the positive-thinking entrepreneur, American in style and global in ambition, diametrically opposed in his own way to the troubled ‘man alone’ of the ‘culture of unease.’ Initially the New Right received support from some independent film-makers because public institutions such as Television New Zealand and the National Film Unit had been so unwelcoming to the new energies in film. Under Muldoon the institutions of the welfare state had become so conservative that a number of New Zealanders were happy to see things shaken up. But in the media industries such support soon dwindled, except in a few large production companies. The New Right’s re-structuring of television created a new hegemony that made even a documentary as accessible as Cinema of Unease into a rare luxury. Since the early ’80s what everyone has shared – in all areas of this very disunited culture – is the extraordinary pace of change. A stolid, never-changing ‘New Zealand’ has become a floating signifier. Today, at all levels of cultural and political debate a series of possible identities are in contention, with each way of thinking seeking its reflection in films and other forms of artistic production. Intellectually this creates an exciting situation of openness, though on the economic level the associated conflicts have involved pain for many New Zealanders. Among competing identities:

Cultures, Policies, Films / 217

1. Many are strongly committed to the idea of ‘Aotearoa New Zealand,’ a bi-cultural society under the treaty of Waitangi. The concept of ‘Pakeha’ (non-Māori New Zealander) has broad support in the arts, though it is strongly opposed by some who prefer to name themselves by other terms such as ‘European.’ 2. Some argue that we should see ourselves as part of the South Pacific region, with whites as ‘Palagi.’ Certainly there has been a growing give-and-take in recent years between Pacific Island, Māori and European styles in music, art and fashion. Such developments have been reflected on the screen in Velvet Dreams and other films by Sima Urale, Martyn Sanderson’s Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree 1990, the first and second Tala Pasifika series, the comedy programme The Semisis, and in numerous music videos. 3. Some conceive of New Zealand as part of Asia and recent waves of immigration have reinforced this idea. The film industry has established links with Asia and young Asians have an increasing presence in short film-making. Leon Narbey’s feature film Illustrious Energy (1988) was first to open up this territory. 4. Others see the most logical move as New Zealand joining with Australia – a return to the old concept of ‘Australasia.’ In terms of film and television this would be in line with the frequent movement of film-makers between the two countries and with the Blues Skies campaign. 5. There have been many moves to align New Zealand closely with the United States. Indeed, this has been (by implication) the main drive of government policy over the past fifteen years. In terms of popular culture, the current generation of young New Zealanders (both Māori and Pakeha) is the most Americanised ever. Much of New Zealand culture can be analysed as a triangular relationship between the American, the British and the local. Cinema of Unease accurately depicts the strong English influence in New Zealand, describing New Zealand in the ’50s as ‘determined to be as English

218 / Re-inventing New Zealand

as possible from the other side of the world.’ Even today this influence tends to be stronger than it is in Australia. Australians hired as programmers by New Zealand television channels are astonished by the local popularity of programmes such as Coronation Street. When the popular evening soap opera Shortland Street was created, it was decided consciously to position it half-way between the style of English soaps and the ‘more Americanised style’ of Australian soaps. The unique mix of material broadcast on New Zealand television is a useful measure of the culture today. On the main free-to-air channels approximately 50% of programming is American in origin, 25% British, 5% Australian, and 20% New Zealand. Back in the 1960s New Zealand television programmers aimed at an approximate balance of British and American material. Today the general audience is divided by broadcasters into two clusters – an older group fiercely loyal to British material (and to the channel TV One) and a larger, younger group that prefers American and Australian material (provided for them by TV2 and TV3). Some programmes cut across these groupings and some viewers surf all channels, but it is clear that British influence has declined and American influence is increasing, along with Australian influence. British and American traditions compete for the attention of local rock music audiences (for example, house music has competed fiercely with grunge). High culture in New Zealand has traditionally maintained a fierce loyalty to Britain. This love-hate relationship towards Britain and the United States shapes many local films, as it shapes many of the programming battles on local television. One of the most explicit filmic examples is the first part of Peter Wells’s documentary Newest City on the Globe (1985) where three cultures compete – traditional Māori culture, British colonialism and American popular culture – for the region known today as Napier. Geoff Murphy’s Utu (1983) explores the subversive idea that Māori and Pakeha have more in common with one another than with the British. Ian Mune’s The End of the Golden Weather (1991) parodies the British attitudes of a teacher in a New Zealand classroom. Janet Frame in Jane Campion’s An Angel at my Table (1990) is welcomed into English literary circles but feels out of place. Pauline, the New Zealand girl in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994) – which is set in Christchurch, one of New Zealand’s most Anglophile cities – becomes obsessed with an English girl, Juliet,

Cultures, Policies, Films / 219

and her more refined family. Meanwhile, Juliet is obsessed with certain aspects of American culture and both girls dream of ending up in Hollywood. Bruce Morrison’s Constance (1984) is the story of a young woman whose fascination with Hollywood leads to her rape by a visiting photographer. And Roger Donaldson’s Sleeping Dogs (1977) offers frightening images of what might happen if the Americans set out to help New Zealand in the way they helped Vietnam. Similar themes turn up in such films as Gaylene Preston’s War Stories (1995), John Reid’s The Last Tattoo (1994) and Michael Black’s Pictures (1981). Overseas viewers may not be aware of the particular intensity these themes hold for New Zealanders, or the typical feelings of ambivalence – the mix of fascination and suspicion that New Zealanders associate with an overseas expert or a charismatic visitor (like the character, Lane, the American femme fatale in Alison MacLean’s Crush, 1992). At the same time we are talking about subtle undercurrents, not suggesting that these films explore the competition between national cultures as explicitly as a sports event. Film-makers tend to be more interested in characters as individuals than as symbols; and even in a small country like New Zealand, film-makers tend to be localists rather than nationalists, though they become nationalists when they lobby politicians for funding. Most films focus on local or regional issues. Relations between Māori and Pakeha would seem a national issue – the theme that is most distinctive in our national culture – yet even this subject is complicated by regionalism in important ways. For example, Māori culture is strongly inflected by local, tribal traditions. This is a difficult issue for film-makers since many overseas audiences can not bring even a basic knowledge of Māori culture to their viewing. The easiest solution is to allow them to think of ‘Māori’ in terms of ‘African-American’ or ‘Aboriginal’ – groups (or stereotypes) with which audiences have some familiarity. But that falsifies the differences. Those marketing Utu (an epic feature film about the New Zealand civil wars of the 19th century) attempted to solve the problem by calling it ‘the New Zealand Western’; and the film does indeed allude directly to John Ford cavalry films, but its attempt to do justice to the complexities of Māori culture made the Western analogy satirical, even grotesque. Utu did have affinities with the cynical Westerns made around 1970 (the so-called ‘Vietnam Westerns’ such as Ralph Nelson’s Soldier Blue, 1970

220 / Re-inventing New Zealand

and Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man, 1970), but its detailed representation of Māori culture confused overseas audiences – confused them to such an extent that the film was brought back to New Zealand and extensively re-edited. The simplified version was then re-exported but overseas viewers were still puzzled by it (despite a perceptive review by Pauline Kael who praised the film for its tough-mindedness). Utu comes as close as any film made in New Zealand to being ‘national’ in its ambitious attempt to encompass the complexities, shifting alliances and surreal juxtapositions of colonial culture. The so-called New Zealand Wars were an intricate business, as the film demonstrates – with Māori turning up on both sides in terms of local, tribal or family issues. The script benefited from fierce debates between the Māori and Pakeha members of the crew and cast. Ultimately the film attempted too much – even New Zealanders found it overloaded. Some were offended by the anti-British and anti-Christian slant. Although many young Māori viewers were excited by the film, some elders were unhappy with what they saw as a distortion of history. If even the remarkable Utu failed, what film can hope to be national in scope? Once Were Warriors (Lee Tamahori, 1994) has been discussed overseas as a representation of contemporary race relations in New Zealand. The film was widely admired in New Zealand, but those who had read its source – the best-selling novel by Alan Duff – were aware that the film had narrowed its scope. Most Pakeha characters had been dropped and the emphasis shifted to domestic violence. Some critics took the film to task for watering down the politics and for making a deliberate attempt to translate Māori culture into American terms – presumably to make things easier for overseas audiences. South Auckland, to which Duff’s story was re-located, was made to resemble films like John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood (1991). Ironically, this American style may have helped the film to be accepted by some young viewers within New Zealand. (That’s not to deny that there may also be elements of British ‘kitchen-sink realism’ – or Italian neo-realism – in the film.) American viewers found the film much more accessible than Utu, although New Zealanders were highly surprised by some of their interpretations. For example, some American viewers took the metaphorical references to ‘slavery’ in the film in a literal sense. And some, observing that Beth’s skin was lighter than her husband’s, took it as

Cultures, Policies, Films / 221

a film about the problems of mixed marriage – a reading unlikely to have occurred to a New Zealander. The significance of the rural/urban contrast was also unclear to some overseas viewers. (In New Zealand, this contrast was criticised as over-simplified.) With regard to The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993) it was striking from a New Zealand perspective to see overseas critics (except for expatriates such as Linda Dyson) devoting almost all their attention to gender issues and asking few questions about the representation of the Māori. Some local critics saw that representation as stereotyped and appropriating.6 My aim here is not simply to discredit The Piano or Once Were Warriors, for both are films with great strengths, but rather to highlight some of the different ways in which a film can be assessed by viewers aware of the local culture from which it emerges. This essay has sought to bring an account of New Zealand culture (or rather, cultures) to the discussion of individual films, a relationship that seems to me more useful than simply looking for similarities within a series of texts. The output of even a country as small as New Zealand is too diverse for us to identify more than a few similarities between films. It is certainly valid to search for such connections, but many will be merely ingenious or accidental. Cinema of Unease does attempt the more complex task of relating New Zealand films to New Zealand culture but ultimately simplifies those relationships. Granted, Neill and Rymer were setting out to make a popular documentary not an academic essay and were aiming primarily at an international audience. A local critic will typically want more attention paid to the complex dynamics of the local culture, because for such a critic simplifications feel like a form of colonialism. While the international film business loves to assert its interest in the local, the unspoken qualification is: ‘A little goes a long way – don’t overload us!’ Of course the idea of a national culture is as problematic as the idea of a nation. Still, a culture can be conceived not as a permanent essence waiting to be bottled and marketed in films but as a changing field of forces involving many conflicts and local differences. National identity then becomes a question rather than an answer – or a question with (at any given time) a particular range of competing answers. One of the problems for New Zealand film-making is the relatively small number of feature films – five in an average year – which makes it

222 / Re-inventing New Zealand

difficult for the medium fully to represent the energies of the culture or to maintain a close relationship with it. The film-making subculture is small and in some respects its values are different from those of the mainstream. Its films have interacted with that culture in a variety of ways. Many of the best local films have been linked with – and energised by – a minority group, taste or point of view. Such films have given high satisfaction to a niche or minority audience – for example Ngati, Vigil, Patu!, Illustrious Energy, amd Stewart Main and Peter Wells’s A Death in the Family (1987) and Desperate Remedies (1993). A few have become crossover films, not only pleasing a niche audience but also making some impact on the New Zealand mainstream – for example War Stories, Sleeping Dogs, Utu, Alister Barry’s Someone Else’s Country (1996), The Piano and An Angel at my Table. And a few have astonished everyone by their impact on all areas of the culture – in particular, Once Were Warriors and Goodbye Pork Pie. Despite its successes, the local industry still has a certain fragility. Why? Because its best directors are continually head-hunted by Hollywood and its best actors and producers pursue better career prospects in Australia. The small population base (less than 4 million) affects every aspect of New Zealand life. It makes us exceptionally vulnerable to overseas fluctuations, both economic and cultural, which roar through New Zealand like the ocean weather – especially since governments have been busy over the last fifteen years removing all forms of shelter. Fortunately the Film Commission has so far survived attacks, but funding remains grudging in the extreme. The Government gives the Commission a grant of $1,160,889 per annum. In 1998 the Commission was able to secure an additional grant of $8,775,000 from the Lottery Board but it must go cap-in-hand each year for this to be renewed. No New Zealand Government has ever given film or television the level of support that is customary in Australia. There are few tax breaks and no public cinemas. There is no public television channel like ABC or SBS. There are no television quotas. NZ On Air, originally intended to provide an alternative to quotas, is starved for funds and so New Zealand has one of the lowest levels of local content of any country in the world. Even when sport, news, and cheap magazine programmes are included, local content represents only 20% of the overall schedule of the main free-to-air channels.

Cultures, Policies, Films / 223

Recent New Zealand governments have prided themselves on their internationalism, except when they wanted to share in a national sporting victory. Their global interests are not so much post-colonial as comprador, engrossed in a search for overseas investors and wealthy immigrants. The idea of public support for the arts is contested by politicians and at best results in only token assistance. This perennial lack of quotas and funding has ensured that a public appetite for local films and television dramas has never become firmly established. The dialectic of colonialism and nationalism has been developed only in an uneven way. In television the local remains a minority interest except for sport and news. The appetite for documentaries has grown in recent years, but drama remains high-risk as the genre most likely to provoke ‘cultural cringe.’ The most successful television series have cautiously taken overseas formats and added local nuances (e.g. Shortland Street, Duggan, Hanlon). Audiences are inclined to approach a new local series – or feature film – with suspicion rather than affection, and their rejection can be savage. New Zealand children’s programmes struggle to compete with American cartoons. As for films, there is more than one producer who believes that success at overseas festivals is the only way to gain the attention of the New Zealand public. Fortunately Once Were Warriors has provided one example of a local film that has completely won over the suspicious New Zealand audience; yet we must not forget how pessimistic people were about this project when it was looking for funding. (The main television network passed on it.) It is in this common experience of struggle that we are most likely to find continuities between the films. Certainly, some of their most vivid scenes exploit a sense of the arts as fragile or out of place in New Zealand settings. These scenes would not have the same resonance in countries where the arts have an established role in social life. Consider the scene of Malfred abandoning her attempt to paint the sea in Vincent Ward’s A State of Siege (1978). Or Toss in Vigil escaping her ballet lesson to put on gumboots and work in the mud. Or the memorable opening of The Piano, or the vulnerability of Grace and her notebook in Once Were Warriors, or Janet in Angel at my Table receiving a copy of her first book of stories in a grim psychiatric ward. Entire films are built around these tensions – such as Angel at my Table, Pictures, Michael Firth’s Sylvia (1985) and Tony Isaac’s Iris (1984). Such examples suggest that

224 / Re-inventing New Zealand

we have a culture (if not a cinema) of unease. But it is important to note that each of these scenes functions in a different way. Not all are heroic or tragic – some are surreal, comic or down-to-earth. There is a certain anarchist (and guerrilla) energy in the destruction of the grand piano in Utu. Forgotten Silver exploits similar tensions with its tongue in its cheek and Heavenly Creatures has a strong strain of irony and black comedy. Cultural and economic pressures impact on all New Zealand film-makers but their responses are varied and imaginative. One can see positive aspects to the situation – the need for resourcefulness, the sense of crusade, the awareness of culture as something constructed. Nick Perry has developed the concept of ‘Antipodean camp’ to suggest that post-modern pastiche – despite its association with globalism – has acquired particular local energies in countries such as New Zealand and Australia. In cultures instituted by colonization, bricolage is a way of life and ‘one of the consequences … has been to induce a developed awareness of culture, including the very idea of a national culture, as artifice.’7 Perry’s account would suggest that the challenge for New Zealand film-makers is to catch the full strangeness of the local situation, its particular ‘diversities, disjunctions, juxtapositions and incongruities’ (a phrase he takes from the influential New Zealand poet Bill Manhire).8 Perry uses Heavenly Creatures and The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey as his examples, but one thinks also of Utu, Crush and Niki Caro’s Memory and Desire (1998) as films about collisions of cultures – the suburban surrealism in certain films by Peter Wells and Stewart Main, the empty landscapes of Geoff Murphy’s The Quiet Earth (1985), the juxtapositions of Paris and Auckland in Leon Narbey’s The Footstep Man (1992), the quirky local contrasts of Ruby and Rata and the full-on weirdness of Braindead (which includes a number of in-jokes about ‘kiwiana,’ New Zealand pop culture iconography). Not that one should see this as a stylistic feature – rather, individual directors are responding in different ways to a common sense of cultural dis-location (‘New Zealand on the extreme edge of the known’ as Wells puts it in an ironic sequence of The Newest City on the Globe). ‘Antipodean camp’ is one explanatory concept that may help us to grasp the complex tone of the most innovative local films – alongside other concepts explored in this essay such as ‘unease,’ ‘the fragility of culture,’ ‘the legacy of colonialism,’ ‘the triangle of influences’ (Britain/

Cultures, Policies, Films / 225

USA/New Zealand), ‘New Zealand as a floating signifier,’ ‘Māori/ Pakeha relationships,’ ‘localism,’ ‘1984 as turning point’ and ‘the New Right.’ Some have not yet received their full expression in film – particularly the impact of the New Right. It is as though the political upheaval associated with it has been so traumatic that film-makers are not yet ready to deal with it in detail, like the delay that occurred in the American industry before it was ready to make films about the Vietnam war. The surprisingly few titles so far include Richard Riddiford’s Zilch! (1989), Someone Else’s Country and the television series Revolution. The theme is present, however, as a subversive subtext in Gaylene Preston’s historical drama Bread and Roses (1993) and received more populist treatment in Market Forces and Shortland Street. One site where film must negotiate directly with New Right politics is film funding, and I shall end with some comments about public policy as a typical example of the conflict and change within New Zealand culture today. The New Zealand Film Commission was established in 1978 as a response to industry lobbying and film-makers have always thought of it as an industry support mechanism. But the idea of industry support now clashes with the Government’s open market ideology. The amount of money involved is so small, however, that the Commission has been allowed to survive. The Government appoints its board members and to some extent has followed its favourite policy of appointing hard-headed businessmen from other industries (to prevent the ‘capture’ of public funds by the film industry). Fortunately, however, it has acknowledged the need for some members with film expertise. Because of its limited budget the Commission has to make hard choices. Many film-makers expect it to support auteurs and minority projects, emphasising the cultural function of films in exploring what is new and local. But politicians are more excited about the idea of pursuing international investors and offshore projects using New Zealand locations. They do not understand talk about the potential loss of localness or the idea that there may be important films for small audiences. The New Zealand Film Commission must therefore perform a balancing act between too much commercial success (which would mean that the industry was ready to go it alone) and not enough. The Film Commission went through a troubled phase around 1996-97

226 / Re-inventing NZ

with films that attempted to be commercial but failed, thus pleasing almost no one. With a new Chief Executive (Ruth Harley), the Film Commission appears to have clarified its approach. But past failures put pressure on the Film Commission to come up with some popular successes. In a period of rapid change, public taste is hard to predict. One of the Film Commission’s current initiatives is to promote what it calls ‘feel-good’ comedy scripts, presumably on the assumption that the New Zealand public has had an overdose of the ‘cinema of unease.’ Film-makers have expressed concern that such an approach will produce pale imitations of Hollywood, but the verdict is still out. Above all the Commission is seeking to increase the overall number of films by encouraging low budget and what are known in the industry as ‘no budget’ features. Technicians are not happy with this policy but it does allow the Commission to spread its risks and it gives a chance to new directors. It also leaves scope for diversity and the occasional ‘minority’ film. The next few years should see a burst of films from New Zealand – likely to be a more diverse group than those represented in Cinema of Unease. My aim in this essay has been to describe the particular cultural and economic forces from which today’s films are emerging and to offer some ways of assessing them – as responses to a tide of change and conflict that has swept away the stolid society vividly described by Neill and Rymer. For better or worse we have lost our old bearings and local films can play a crucial role in helping us come to terms with this situation – a colony unsettled, a culture contested.

Cultures, Policies, Films / 227

Endnotes 1

Janet Maslin, New York Times, 10 October 1995.

2

Quoted in NZ Film, 54 (October 1995), p. 3.

3 Colin Hogg, ‘Neill’s camera history too candid for 3,’ Sunday Star-Times, 22 October 1995. 4

Peter Calder, New Zealand Herald, 18 October 1995.

5 For a recent introduction to the subject, see Stuart Murray, Never a Soul at Home: New Zealand Literary Nationalism and the 1930s, Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1998. 6 See, for example, Annie Goldson, ‘Piano recital,’ Screen, 38:3 (Autumn 1997), pp. 275-81; Linda Dyson, ‘The return of the repressed?,’ Screen, 36:3 (1995), pp. 267-76; Leonie Piharna, ‘Are films dangerous? A Māori woman’s perspective on The Piano,’ Hecate, 20:2 (1995), pp. 239-42. 7

Nick Perry, Hyperreality and Global Culture, London, Routledge, 1998, p.14.

8

ibid., p.13.

Turbulent Television: The New Zealand Experiment This essay was published in 2004 in an international journal called Television and New Media, and I have retained the ‘house style’ for references that the journal required. The essay sought to sum up what I had learned from many years of involvement with television. I discussed the most appropriate (or viable) version of ‘public service’ television for post-Rogernomic New Zealand. During my years of teaching Media Studies, I had encountered a great deal of academic ‘television theory’ but I felt that most of it took such a long-distance view that it failed to come to terms with the specific field of forces. I sought to develop a new theoretical understanding of popular culture and how it was produced, funded, and distributed, taking the local television system as my case study. This was an attempt to combine two perspectives – the inside view of the practitioner and the outside view of the academic theorist. As such, ‘Turbulent Television’ attracted more overseas interest than most of the essays I had written.

Turbulent Television: The New Zealand Experiment

M

y aim is at one level to survey the dramatic developments in television in New Zealand over the past decade, but at another level to use this case study to raise questions about how we are to deal with the complexity of a television system as academics and/or activists. I link these two roles because I see the dialogue between theory and practice as more than a pious slogan. Any critic, funder or policy-maker who seeks to intervene effectively within a television system must try to analyse that system from the detached viewpoint of theory, while still taking account of all the practical complexities revealed by participant observation. My paper will have a personal dimension as I have just finished eleven years on the country’s Broadcasting Commission, better known as New Zealand on Air (NZOA), and I will offer an account of that funding body as a unique public policy experiment. When I became a board member of NZOA I was dismayed to find how little of my academic reading on television was immediately useful in helping me to grasp the dynamics of a contemporary television system. Most academic studies gave too global a view, or were too polemical, or focused too much on a single factor (emphasizing some currently fashionable theory), or were too cynical and remote. I also saw that such problems were not confined to academics. Politicians who determine the local rules of the television game tend to be highly opionated despite their lack of experience in the everyday workings of the industry. I

232 / Re-inventing NZ

was struck by the fact that when both of the country’s major political parties, Labour and National, came to power (in 1984 and 1990 respectively) they produced virtually the opposite result to what their policies had promised. The academic world has shown a growing awareness that single factor studies of any cultural topic have limited value but I think we are still learning how to go forward from that realisation. Do we simply explore the many factors or contexts one at a time? Economics provides us with some concepts of interaction such as the multiplier effect, and the combination of economics with politics has created the tradition of political economy. Ideas of the unconscious have given us relevant concepts such as overdetermination. Nevertheless, cultural studies still struggles to develop methods that are up to the task of grasping the complex field of forces in a busy piece of popular culture such as television. Reception studies have added an important dimension but analysis of the dynamics of television systems remains under-developed. The desire to influence public policy highlights this problem since activists must understand the system clearly enough to be able to predict the effect of proposed changes. In New Zealand neo-liberal politicians have energetically promoted the view that all public intervention is misguided and serves merely to create noise that confuses the clear signals of the market. While the last few years have seen an easing of the extreme right-wing politics that dominated New Zealand during the 1990s (Kelsey 1995), this suspicion of public intervention still exercises considerable influence, adding a political urgency to the theoretical reasons why we need to strengthen our understanding of the dynamics of cultural systems. The New Zealand television system makes an excellent case study because in a country of only 3,850,000 people the system is small enough to be seen as a whole. At the same time the system is not typical in the sense that its very smallness has specific effects. Its elements are concentrated, closely interconnected, and therefore highly sensitive to change (Horrocks 1996). New Zealand is metaphorically as well as literally a small island nation open to whatever weather sweeps in from the rest of the globe. The waves produced by ‘the storm of progress’ in Walter Benjamin’s phrase (Benjamin 1970) may splash against large countries and modify their landscapes but there is no danger of sub-

Turbulent Television: The New Zealand Experiment / 233

mersion. For New Zealand the same wave becomes a tsunami. For this reason it is a useful test culture to observe the impact of a new trend or technology. The amplified effects may be positive but often are negative. To start with an example outside television, the coming of sound at the end of the 1920s brought New Zealand feature film production almost to a halt. During the Depression, most of the industry was too fragile to carry the increased costs or to get round the legal problems associated with patents. Production did not recover to the same level for nearly 50 years (Sklar 1971, Martin and Edwards 1997). A television example of this ‘small country/big effect’ phenomenon was the arrival of TV3, the first privately-owned, free-to-air channel in 1990, transforming a television system that had previously consisted of the publicly-owned network TVNZ, with its two channels TV1 and TV2. The coming of competition rippled through every aspect of New Zealand television from programme-buying to scheduling to organizational culture (Smith 1996). While competitiveness escalated to ugly extremes, there were positive effects as well. The previous situation had been a total monopoly and for the first time programme makers had at least one other customer for their ideas. The arrival in 1990 of the first significant pay television operator, SKY, which is dominated by Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd, has also had a huge impact (Smith 1996). Today one-third of New Zealand’s households subscribe to this service (Cleave 2003). SKY has not influenced production since it is mainly in the import business, with the exception of its sports channels. Sport is such a huge factor in New Zealand culture that the loss of major sport to pay television (since the country has no anti-siphoning rules) has reshaped our system to the point where there is concern that SKY may end up as the powerbroker of New Zealand television in the digital era. It is so strongly established in digital and pay television that it will be difficult to challenge its lead. The establishment of the funding body NZOA in 1989 as the first specific (or single-minded) mechanism to promote New Zealand content also had a significant impact with the overall hours of locally produced material increasing between 1988 and 1994 by almost 300%. Obviously the arrival of TV3 contributed to this increase, as did a boost in the public broadcasting fee to $NZ110 per household. Where the influence of NZOA was unmistakable was a shift in production

234 / Re-inventing NZ

emphasis to documentary and drama since the period saw an almost 500% increase in documentary and 700% increase in drama hours (Horrocks 1995). So far, my ‘small country/ big effect’ examples may seem to give too much weight to single factors. But the parts of our small television ecology are so interconnected that effects tend to be complex. In some respects each of the previous examples was overdetermined and some involved multiplier effects. Also, since all these television events happened during the last decade, the various tidal waves criss-crossed in complex ways. Some waves were not as strong as others – NZOA, for example, which by 1994 was losing ground to commercial forces. The shift to digital will be our next tidal wave. Confidence about the value of new technologies is characteristically a big-country optimism because small countries have learned that the storm of progress is likely to have violent effects, with losses as well as gains – there is often a devil lurking in the details. The idea of exaggerated impact is equally relevant to politics in New Zealand since the last twenty years has been a period of dramatic change and constant re-invention – for example the attempt by successive governments to promote biculturalism and to settle land claims by indigenous New Zealanders (the Māori), while simultaneously advocating extreme forms of ‘free market’ individualism and globalism as a solution to the country’s economic problems (Sharp 1994, Kelsey 1995 and Easton 1997 and 1999). How did NZOA attempt to operate in this volatile national environment? That is, how could a public broadcasting fund surf such high waves? The biggest waves were produced by the 1984 Labour government’s belief that commercialism should always override other forces (such as social and cultural priorities) in the last instance. This principle was put into practice by the SOE (State Owned Enterprises) Act of 1986, which was specifically applied to TVNZ in 1988. An SOE was expected to become a thoroughly commercial operator. It was striking to watch TVNZ (which operated the two most popular channels in New Zealand) adapt to this new rule so rapidly and relentlessly. It had never been a pure public service broadcaster – it was semi-commercial and highly bureaucratized – but we had not realised how much further it was possible for it to go in purging itself of public service concerns. The idea of television as an industry that sells audi-

Turbulent Television: The New Zealand Experiment / 235

ences to advertisers and sponsors was explicitly and proudly embraced (Spicer, Powell and Emmanuel 1996). In practice what this meant was a different way of thinking about television airtime as a scarce resource, leading to a huge expansion in financial surveillance within the organisation as commercialism became a total system. This model of television was based on constant computer analysis of the results from each programme, acquiring an air of authority and objectivity. Gatekeepers would say, ‘We’re just doing what the numbers call for.’ This was not only a matter of ratings but constant calculations as to the profit or loss on each slot, each hour of television, and whether a different audience demographic could attract more advertising revenue. A key consideration was ‘opportunity cost.’ According to the calculation of that factor, programmes offered free by funding bodies or production companies or sponsors were often rejected, series were abruptly cancelled and commissioned programmes constantly re-jigged. All value criteria other than ratings or income were eliminated, a process that was seductive for some television executives since it gave them a much simpler world in which to operate. Although politicians encouraged this new approach, the repressed complexities would one day return to haunt them. Commercialism brought other changes to the television system. There was a conspicuous shakeup in the hierarchy of power, with the maker of programmes demoted to the lowest rung on the ladder. He or she had to serve the commissioning editor, who in turn worked for the programmer or scheduler, who in turn worked for the ultimate ‘suits,’ the beancounters (Horrocks 1996, Jean 1998 and Dunleavy 1999). For programme makers and for NZOA this ladder was precisely the wrong way round. As for programme content, the changes that followed the SOE Act could be seen as an interesting test of Antonio Gramsci’s ideas about hegemony. Hegemony is one of the few concepts employed (albeit not created) by cultural studies that seems to offer a systematic overview and the possibility of prediction. The aftermath of the 1984 Labour Party victory could be seen as a shift of class power in New Zealand from so-called ‘Old Money’ to ‘New Money,’ so abrupt and unexpected it represented virtually a coup d’état, justified at the time by a financial crisis (Jesson 1987 and 1999). On the basis of Marxist theory one would have expected the new elite to

236 / Re-inventing NZ

make changes to television to ensure that their ideology dominated the screen. Indeed the Government proceeded to deregulate and commercialize TVNZ. Business leaders were appointed to the board who knew little about television and approached it simply as a business. New strains of ideology were soon apparent – most conspicuously in programmes that celebrated entrepreneurs and in the importance given to elite sporting events such as the America’s Cup – but these still constituted only a small part of the schedule. More pervasively the new order was based on a commercial mode of address with the blurring of ‘infomercial’ boundaries and the constant interpellation of the viewer as consumer rather than citizen (Atkinson 1994 and Cocker 1996). But there was a complication or contradiction. Politicians and elite businessmen were surprised by what New Zealand television was turning into – this was not their culture. While sophisticated niche markets were developing in some areas of business, television as a mass medium responded to the commercial pressure by becoming more populist and tabloid. It did not hesitate to highlight scandals involving members of the ruling elite because scandals boosted ratings. Some business leaders were also perplexed because their neo-liberal ideology called for a smarter work force, and what they saw as the ‘dumbing down’ of television (with its assumption that entertainment should always take priority over education) seemed to have gone too far. Some of the architects of the new system, such as Hugh Rennie, seemed genuinely surprised by the monster they had created (Horrocks 1996, p.61). But others felt the problem was that the government had not yet privatised TVNZ; they still believed that the broadcaster would smarten up its act as soon as it was freed from the shackles of public ownership. There is no room in this overview to look closely at the pros and cons of a Gramscian or Althusserian analysis but I would suggest that the changes in New Zealand television did provide many striking examples of a new ideological or hegemonic formation that corresponded to the shift in class power. However, there were missing links in that theoretical approach when one attempted to do justice to the complexity of the relationships between TVNZ, the government, and the new ruling elite. Such a Marxist analysis is useful in terms of large hypotheses and broad brushstrokes but loses much of its explanatory value when we get down to the more chaotic micro-politics or every-

Turbulent Television: The New Zealand Experiment / 237

day dynamics of the system. In a field of forces as depressing as this, how did the public funding body NZOA find any room for manoeuvre? In the first four years of the ’90s it defied predictions by helping to achieve a significant increase in local production. NZOA had came into existence in 1989 as a small experiment in the wake of the larger experiment of commercialising TVNZ. It was proof that the government still saw a need for compromise. While neo-liberal politicians had little sympathy for public service broadcasting they acknowledged the need for some local content and so the Broadcasting Act of 1989 which established the new funding body defined its purpose as the development of ‘New Zealand culture and identity’ in broadcasting. The Act acknowledged traditional public service functions such as programmes for minorities but placed them within the context of local content. Without NZOA, commercialization would arguably have been a tidal wave driving most local content from New Zealand screens. Establishing the fund was an untypical gesture by a government that represented a generation of capitalists so sure of their place in the world that they saw almost no need for compromise, for the kind of boundary maintenance that had been a traditional aspect of hegemony. It was a gesture criticised by both sides, with the Treasury (a strong advocate for neo-liberalism) seeing NZOA as an unnecessary concession, and lobbyists for public service broadcasting and for quotas seeing it as an inadequate concession. Although NZOA was expected to provide merely a kind of ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, its board seized the opportunity to use its money (some $40 million for television) to release new energies. NZOA was well aware that local content was only one aspect of public service broadcasting but it also regarded it as the first priority for such broadcasting in New Zealand. In our fragile media ecology, local content has almost never risen above 25% of the schedule. There has generally been at least as much British as New Zealand content, and twice as much American content (Dunleavy 1999 and Musgrave 2000). In this sense, globalisation is nothing new for New Zealand. Our television system has a problem familiar to Australia – the discouraging cost differential between making programmes locally and the relatively cheap cost of importing overseas programmes – but New Zealand has two additional problems, its much smaller market

238 / Re-inventing NZ

and its tradition of governments unwilling to adequately redress the balance. New Zealand has never had as pure a public service channel as ABC or SBS, nor has it ever had effective quotas. The production of local drama had never been regular enough to eliminate an attitude of ‘cultural cringe’ (Horrocks 1995 and Dunleavy 1999). NZOA learned through its early research that local audiences were enthusiastic about sport, news and lifestyle programmes but their feelings towards other genres remained ambivalent. NZOA needed a strategy to expand the level of local content and a theory of production or productiveness and the forces that inhibited or distorted it. Special forms of public policy are required for a small country faced with the problem of growth. Overseas television theory has little to say on the subject, being more immediately concerned with such matters as the limitation of corporate power. The immediate obstacle to growth in New Zealand was the emphasis on short-term commercialism and there was no way to override this priority unless one were a top government politician, and even then only occasionally – for example when the Police Minister managed to persuade TVNZ not to cancel a police programme – or unless one could intervene through the courts (and later I’ll discuss how the Māori community did that). Only in the area of children’s programmes was there any chance of appealing to residual social values. Otherwise one could only piggyback on changes underway in other areas, and NZOA had no choice but to adopt a strategy of this kind, which meant dealing with forces considered dangerous by supporters of public broadcasting. Our strategy was aided, however, by the fact that television was in the midst of huge changes. For example there was a shift underway within TVNZ to outsource more production. In European countries such outsourcing tended to dilute public broadcasting but in our country the opposite was the case since TVNZ’s monopoly position had encouraged a certain complacency and bureaucracy. Creating openings for the independent industry had the effect of releasing new energies, resulting for example in a significant increase in the number of women and Māori directors and producers. The increase in Māori directors, writers and producers was assisted by the funding body’s imposition of a 15% ‘quota’ for all major anthology-style series. NZOA was pleased to be associated with a big expansion in the number of small companies

Turbulent Television: The New Zealand Experiment / 239

on the ‘cottage industry’ model. Broadcasters would have preferred to limit their dealings to a few larger companies but NZOA was able to encourage a new diversity. In this case social objectives happened to coincide with a commercial trend. The law still required TVNZ to keep Sunday mornings, some religious holidays, and some children’s slots free of commercials, and the broadcaster was happy to fill such periods with specialised programmes so long as NZOA met most or all of the production costs (including a corporate rate of return). Because of the government’s principle that ‘funder’ must be separated from ‘provider,’ NZOA could have no control over scheduling. Although the relegation of programmes to remote slots remained a constant source of conflict, NZOA continued to devote about half its funding to local minority or ‘special interest’ programmes of various kinds (children, Māori, Pacific Island, Asian, disability, gay and lesbian, and other groups). Much more controversial was NZOA’s decision to devote the other half of its funding to prime time, which meant support for popular culture. The 1990s was unfolding on all sides as an age of populism but in New Zealand this was mostly a matter of imports. NZOA saw the opportunity to develop some popular local television dramas. Although some critics saw this as a dangerous flirtation with populism, NZOA’s Act said nothing about restricting its funding to high culture. Initially, however, TVNZ was unwilling to collaborate. The broadcaster saw prime time local programmes as risky and expensive and preferred to focus its resources on the more important task of crushing its new competitor (TV3) by buying up as many overseas programmes as possible. It was also so concerned about the possibility of NZOA helping to establish a successful drama on TV3, its competitor, that it tried to enlist the support of the government to keep NZOA from funding popular culture of any sort. While this argument continued, TVNZ succeeded in its aim of driving TV3 into bankruptcy, a dramatic example of how difficult it is to survive in the small New Zealand television market. TVNZ’s CEO moved then to an overseas job and his successor was more receptive to the idea of collaborating with NZOA to grow local popular culture in primetime (Horrocks 1995 and Smith 1996). While the commercial aims of the system continued to disqualify any claim that a programme should be accepted for social or creative

240 / Re-inventing NZ

reasons, the idea of ‘local relevance’ did function at times as a wild card. A broadcaster would start to think that perhaps ‘local’ could have the potential ratings magic that NZOA claimed, and this would make possible the commissioning of a jointly-funded drama series. If the results were disappointing the broadcaster’s interest in that type of local product would again decline. NZOA was fortunate that its first ventures into drama and documentary funding were successful. Assisted by a kind of conspiracy among some of TVNZ’s top personnel who were personally sympathetic to local drama, NZOA was able to hold a tender for the country’s first daily soap, the result being Shortland Street (Cairns and Martin, 1996). The ’90s seemed to NZOA a now-or-never opportunity to get drama and documentary solidly established before pay television segmented the New Zealand market and destroyed the critical mass necessary for large projects. Indeed, it is unlikely that a project as large and risky as Shortland Street could be mounted today. Once this soap was safely established NZOA ceased to be an investor. The long-term popularity of the series has helped a number of other projects to get the green light from broadcasters, unfortunately with mixed results. During the 1990s NZOA had other successes – particularly in documentary and local music (which the funding body supported in a variety of ways) – and some failures (particularly in comedy). Local content increased but NZOA continued to be criticised by influential groups who objected to the public funding of popular culture (Horrocks 1995). There was also an interesting debate about the word ‘commercial’ which revealed how complex the definition of this word is in the New Zealand context and how little the financial pressures of local production are understood. Critics tended to see commercial as an essential characteristic of certain kinds of text such as soaps, whereas the industry knew that such programmes were not commercial in our small market in the sense that no local broadcaster would risk making them without a public subsidy. NZOA drew many distinctions within the categories of ‘popular’ and ‘populist,’ and though it knew it was sailing in dangerous waters it relied on careful navigation. Its aim was to establish a local presence in all the television genres that were popular with the New Zealand public. Under Clause 34C of its Act the funding body was obliged

Turbulent Television: The New Zealand Experiment / 241

to take account of such matters as race and gender and accordingly it demanded some diversity in core casts and avoided projects with racist or sexist stereotypes. For this the organisation was parodied in the world of popular culture as ‘politically correct,’ but 34C enabled it to keep some of the more dubious aspects of populism at bay and to bring about changes in the scope of local programmes. In the second half of the ’90s such interventions became more difficult as the government increased its pressure behind the scenes for TVNZ to boost its profits in preparation for a sale. In the genre of documentary, which had experienced a 500% growth, there was an increasing demand among broadcasters for what might be called the populist documentary with its emphasis on human interest over ideas, ordinary people over experts, familiar or ‘universal’ topics over unfamiliar or minority topics, emotion (or melodrama) over reason, and a once-over-lightly approach over a slower, in-depth investigation. NZOA opposed this trend as a narrowing of the possibilities of local culture. My experience of television during these years was a matter of constant struggle. I developed a respect for the ability of commissioning editors to predict ratings but a frustration at television’s desire to play safe. If local content expanded in the first half of the ’90s, it contracted again in the second half, both in terms of the range of specific programmes and the overall amount as a proportion of the schedule. NZOA had exploited opportunities during a period of change to piggyback its own priorities and to advance its overall aim to ‘grow the local culture.’ But as the commercial pressures became stronger and more organised, NZOA could make a difference only at the level of details – there were few opportunities for large initiatives. The government froze the level of the fee and there was no other mechanism such as quotas to provide additional leverage. In 1999 the government abolished the fee entirely so that NZOA would have to go cap-in-hand to the government for its funding. These were discouraging setbacks but the earlier years of the ’90s had demonstrated the potential for carefully-targeted public funding to boost popular culture in a small country. It was frustrating that those interventions were little understood outside the industry, and programmes that pushed the boundaries seldom received any serious

242 / Re-inventing NZ

discussion. Academic commentators were so hostile to commercialism they were not interested in drawing fine distinctions within it. Even television reviewers seemed poorly informed about the pressures of local production or the boundaries of commercial television. This was a very different situation from what I had seen years before in an East European country where audiences were alert and sensitive to any unusual film or television programme that sneaked past the communist censorship. (I remember a director’s comment on a seemingly bland documentary about environmentalism: ‘There were two moments in this film where audiences laughed and cheered because they recognised the underlying political implications. Had there been another such moment, my film and I would have been blacklisted.’) The boundaries of mainstream television within a capitalist system are no less real but unfortunately they are less well understood. Media Studies has plenty of work to do in our culture to produce readers with a clear understanding of the contexts of production and broadcasting. And public policy debate, so often dominated by purists and ideologues, needs to come to terms with the agonising tradeoffs and compromises required in an under-resourced system. Meanwhile during the ’90s, the Māori community had some impressive initiatives of its own, challenging commercialism by legal means. Using the Treaty of Waitangi which had established obligations on the government’s part to protect Māori ‘taonga’ (or treasured possessions), Māori groups mounted a series of brilliant court cases all the way to the Privy Council, that argued the need for Māori language and culture to be represented on national television. Their litigation was probably the main reason why TVNZ was not sold (even though this was not the primary reason for their campaign). In response the government established Te Māngai Pāho, a funding body specifically for Māori language programmes. It also created a Māori channel in 1997 but did so in a way that invited disaster (Burns 1997). Four years later, after a change of government, funding has been allocated for another attempt (Stephens 2004). Overall, the struggle to establish Māori television is another example of how, in the New Zealand context, the need to develop effective strategies of growth remains a top priority. My New Zealand case study has necessarily been brief, but I have developed it more fully in a book I am writing with colleagues from

Turbulent Television: The New Zealand Experiment / 243

Auckland University engaged in a three-year research project on television sponsored by the Marsden Fund (Horrocks and Perry 2004). The New Zealand case study has many implications for theory and I have time to extract only one – the need to devote more attention to the workings of television as a system. This requires us to map the field of forces, their relative strength and their interaction. The way to develop such a map is to analyse examples as narratives – what has happened, what cause and effect can be seen at work, and which force (economic, legal or cultural, say) is dominant? The narrative of any project is a series of barriers or decision points (with ultimately a yes or no decision), each tending to involve compromises. The model that emerges from this analysis matches the experience of those who actively engage with the system such as funding bodies and programme-makers, people trying to get programmes made who struggle towards the green light. To identify the relative strength of different forces is difficult because decisions are often the result of more than one factor. I have mentioned various achievements of NZOA but these could not have happened without the creative energies of the production industry and some measure of cooperation from broadcasters. Indeed, I have explicitly described NZOA’s strategy as piggybacking cultural priorities on commercial trends. To gain access to primetime such piggybacking was the only possible strategy within the rules of the system established by post-1984 governments. For better or worse this kind of intervention involved a strategic involvement with nationalism and populism, or at least carefully selected aspects, as a strategy for developing a fragile, post-colonial culture. A systematic analysis – implied in the examples discussed throughout this paper – is the precondition for developing theories of production or growth. Because social and cultural priorities are as important to us as economic ones, our model will never have the simplisitic force of the dominant neo-liberal model but at least it should enable us to put public intervention on a more solid basis. This brings us to the situation today, where the current Labour government is trying to reconstruct some semblance of public service broadcasting. It has introduced a Charter for TVNZ and changed its SOE status. There has already been an exciting payoff in the commissioning of a wider

244 / Re-inventing NZ

range of local programmes. There is, however, still cause for concern in the government’s continuing suggestions that change can be achieved without reducing profits. Some members of the Cabinet are clearly reluctant to abandon the idea that television should subsidise social policy. If the government is not yet prepared to over-ride economics, something else is doing so – technology, our next tsunami. Technology was much talked about in 1990 but the adoption of a short-term profit perspective diverted attention from this issue until recently when it could no longer be ignored. This is unfortunate timing since the need to come to terms with digital threatens to override the desire of the current government to restore a sense of public service. TVNZ now sees its main commercial rival as SKY rather than TV3 and it has been working hard to persuade its owner, the government, to allow it to invest in various digital developments that will include a competitive pay service. This is a moment when digital infrastructure is being established and politicians are making choices that will determine whether the country can hope to have a significant, free-to-air, public service broadcaster. In academic circles the impulse to give up on mainstream television and to focus energies on a small access channel or the Internet is understandable but it is to give away too much in a country where the creation of an independent public broadcaster serving as a cultural forum is still unfinished business in post-colonial terms. Because of the volatility of our politics, both popular culture and mainstream culture remain important arenas for activism. TVNZ is still in danger of being sold after the next change of government, and there has long been talk of abolishing NZOA. Technology is breaking down barriers but it also creates dangers for the small local market just as sound did in 1928. Privately owned pay and digital channels in New Zealand carry almost no local content. The need to consider the possible threats as well as opportunities of digitalisation is not a symptom of paranoia or technophobia but simply an awareness of the fragility of the country’s media system. In dealing with a small eco-system it ís always a huge risk to change the temperature, say, or to introduce some new form of life. The concepts of nation and public broadcaster may disappear in time but we should question what they

Turbulent Television: The New Zealand Experiment / 245

will be replaced by in the local spaces in which we lead our lives. The most alarming thought is that politicians will continue to make decisions on these matters without coming to terms with the complexities of the local media system, or they wíll simply wash their hands of the problem because they believe that only the market has the necessary understanding.

246 / Re-inventing NZ

Sources Atkinson, J. 1994, ‘The State, The Media, and Thin Democracy’ in Leap into the Dark: The Changing Role of the State in New Zealand Since 1984, ed. A. Sharp, Auckland University Press, Auckland. Benjamin, W. 1970, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ in Illuminations, ed. Arendt, H., Jonathan Cape, London. Bell, A. 1995, ‘“An Endangered Species”: Local Programming in the New Zealand Television Market,’ Media, Culture and Society, vol.17, no.2. Burns, D. A. 1997, Public Money, Private Lives: Aotearoa Television, the Inside Story, Reed, Auckland. Cairns, B. and Martin, H. 1996, Shortland Street: Production, Text and Audience, Macmillan, Auckland. Cleave, L. 2003, ‘Sky Signs One in Three Homes,’ NZ Herald, 20 February. Cocker, A. 1996, ‘“A Toaster with Pictures”: The Deregulation of Broadcasting in New Zealand’ (PhD thesis), University of Auckland, Auckland. Day, P. 1994, History of Broadcasting in New Zealand, Auckland University Press, Auckland. Day, P. 1994, Voice and Vision: A History of Broadcasting in New Zealand, Vol.2. Auckland University Press, Auckland. Deeks, J. and Perry, N. 1992, Controlling Interests: Business, the State and Society in New Zealand, Auckland University Press, Auckland. Dunleavy, T. 1995, ‘Marlin Bay and Shortland Street: Aspects of “Localness” in Popular Television Drama’ (MA thesis), University of Auckland, Auckland. Dunleavy, T. 1999, ‘New Zealand Television Drama: The First Thirty Years 19601990’ (PhD thesis), University of Auckland, Auckland. Easton, B. 1997, The Commercialisation of New Zealand, Auckland University Press, Auckland. Easton, B. 1999, The Whimpering of the State: Policy After MMP, Auckland University Press, Auckland. Farnsworth J. and Norris P. 1997, Keeping It Ours: Issues of Television Broadcasting in New Zealand: Papers from the New Zealand Broadcasting School Seminar, Christchurch Polytechnic, Christchurch. Farnsworth J. and Norris P. 1998, The Way Ahead: New Zealand Broadcasting in

Turbulent Television: The New Zealand Experiment / 247 the Nineties: Papers from the New Zealand Broadcasting School Seminar, Christchurch Polytechnic, Christchurch. Farnsworth J. and Norris P. 1999, Fixing the Fee: What Do We Want for New Zealand Television?: Papers from the New Zealand Broadcasting School Conference, Christchurch Polytechnic, Christchurch. Hawke, G. R. 1990, Access to the Airwaves: Issues in Public Sector Broadcasting, Victoria University Press for the Institute of Policy Studies, Wellington. Horrocks, R. 1995, ‘Strategic Nationalisms: Television Production in New Zealand,’ Sites, no.30. Horrocks, R. 1996, ‘Conflicts and Surprises in New Zealand Television,’ Continuum, vol.10, no.1. Horrocks R. and Perry N. (eds). 2004, Television in New Zealand: Programming the Nation, OUP, Melbourne. Jean, R. 1998, ‘City Life: A Case Study in the Production of a Television Drama Series’ (MA thesis), University of Auckland, Auckland. Jesson, B. 1987, Behind the Mirror Glass: The Growth of Wealth and Power in the Eighties, Penguin, Auckland. Jesson B. 1999, Only Their Purpose Is Mad, Dunmore Press, Palmerston North. Kelsey, J. 1995, The New Zealand Experiment: A World Model for Structural Adjustment?, Auckland University Press and Bridget Williams Books, Auckland. Lealand, G. 1991, ‘Selling the Airwaves: De-regulation, Local Content and Television Audiences in New Zealand,’ Media Information Australia, no.62. Martin, H. and Edwards, S. 1997, New Zealand Film 1912-1996, Oxford University Press, Auckland. Musgrave, D. 2000, ‘NZ Television Programming 1984/1999’ (MA thesis), University of Auckland, Auckland. Sharp, A. (ed) 1994, Leap into the Dark: The Changing Role of the State in New Zealand Since 1984, Auckland University Press, Auckland. Sklar, R. 1971, ‘Rudall Hayward, New Zealand Film-maker’ in Landfall, no.98. Smith, P. 1996, Revolution in the Air!, Longman, Auckland. Spicer, B., Powell, M., and Emmanuel, D. (eds) 1996, The Remaking of Television New Zealand 1984-1992, Auckland University Press, Auckland. Stephens, T. 2004, ‘Māori Television.’ In R. Horrocks and Perry N. (eds), Television in New Zealand: Programming the Nation, OUP, Melbourne.

Documentaries on New Zealand Television This 2003 essay remains one of the very few overviews of the New Zealand television documentary, and was also a piece of activism, questioning why the genre of the television documentary was becoming an endangered species. The paper generated plenty of discussion and became the focus of a conference of documentarymakers sponsored by NZ On Air, but ultimately the campaign had little effect. The government had recently introduced a Charter for TVNZ, but that proved to be a mirage. Commercial pressures swallowed up the television documentary, and since that time, a similar process of ‘tabloidization’ has engulfed our newspapers, magazines, and other popular media. Among other things, the essay was a sympathetic survey of the television documentaries of the 1990s. During that period I had frequently represented NZOA in its negotiations with broadcasters so I knew something of the politics and economics of the industry. The documentaries I was supporting were not of the film festival kind, but they represented a valuable form of local popular culture – one of the things our television system did best, until it was swamped by the flood of ‘reality programmes’ and blatant examples of ‘product placement’ that we see today. I have dropped the last section of the essay as it contained specific proposals for how the genre might be salvaged, proposals which are sadly no longer feasible.

Documentaries on New Zealand Television

L

ately (2003) there have been criticisms of the state of documentaries on New Zealand television. The problem is not a drop in ratings but a sense that the level of respect and satisfaction has declined, within both the public and the production industry. To quote two typical examples: On 30 November 2002 the Listener ran an article by Peter Calder, ‘More than Pies and Breasts,’ which began: ‘Local documentary makers still struggle to have anything more than the broadest and most commercial ideas accepted by television.’ Calder summed up the last decade as ‘a remorseless narrowing of the range of stories that are told with public money,’ and reported on a recent documentary conference co-sponsored by the Directors Guild that showcased projects that ‘have been denied the broadcaster support they need to gain access to NZOA [New Zealand On Air] funding.’ In a similar spirit, the website run by the film-makers who made the festival documentary Campaign explores the theme ‘Why are NZ television documentaries so crappy these days?’ The site includes a bogus NZOA application form with a menu of all the clichés required for your very own ‘el cheapo knock-off New Zealand television documentary.’ Broadcasting staff would deny that such criticisms were representative. Yet Ian Fraser, CEO of TVNZ [Television New Zealand], has acknowledged the existence of problems. According to the Listener (1 February 2003): ‘He [Fraser] wants more challenging and provocative documentaries, whether from New Zealand or overseas. He says

252 / Re-inventing NZ

TVNZ has screened too many documentaries “at the tabloid end” in the quality of their storytelling.’ Such debate raises large, intangible issues and the present paper does not claim to be a comprehensive or purely objective survey of the subject. Rather, this is a personal perspective by someone who was involved in creating NZOA’s documentary policy in its early days. It seeks to provide a contribution to the discussion by asking: What has changed over the 14 years since NZOA was created? What lessons can be learned? What are the problems? And what options suggest themselves today? The problems most often cited are a declining quality of (1) storytelling and (2) research. These are two of the foundations of documentary-making, and there has always been a need to keep strengthening them – like script-writing skills for our feature films. I will address these issues, but also the range of documentaries which seems to me equally important, and it’s the aspect that has gone through the most obvious changes over the past 14 years. When we ask ‘what kinds of documentary should be the priority?’ the main complication has always been the basic difference between a broadcaster’s view and that of NZOA. As a commercial enterprise the broadcaster has to ask: ‘What will make the most money for us?’ whereas NZOA is required to ‘reflect and develop New Zealand culture and identity.’ It shares the broadcaster’s interest in ratings but only as one factor. The third player in this complex situation is the government, which promoted commercialism through the ’90s but is now encouraging a more public service approach by the introduction of a Charter for TVNZ – though it remains to be seen how much difference this change will make. NZOA’s greatest impact on the documentary genre came during its first years when it found (in the course of some very active lobbying and negotiation) that it could make common cause with the broadcasters (initially TV3, later TVNZ) in developing a new style of ‘mainstream’ or ‘popular’ documentary. This led to a huge expansion in documentary production. It occurred during a period of fluidity and confusion when everyone was adjusting to major changes in the industry (TVNZ restructured as an SOE, the shift to out-sourcing of production, and the arrival of competition in the form of TV3).

Documentaries on New Zealand Television / 253

Although the introduction of the TVNZ Charter is a less thoroughgoing change, the transitional (or confused) situation today seems to me the best chance NZOA has had since the beginning of the 1990s to play a pro-active role in the documentary field.

Types of Documentary NZOA set out in 1989-90 to ‘grow’ local content in terms of the overall number and range of programmes. The dominant (‘more market’) approach at that time in government circles was to expect a funding body to devote its best energies to defining what was needed and why, not to worry about the complexities of provision. After all, a funder had to beware of being ‘captured’ by providers, and thanks to the beauty of competition and the free hand of the market, a funder could always switch to a new and better supplier. Unfortunately for this neo-liberal thinking, things were not so simple in the field of culture, which was less like manufacture and more like agriculture or horticulture – like establishing a vineyard, say. You could not simply order a new kind of cultural product, you had to grow it, and that was a complex and vulnerable process dependent upon many factors in the environment, and it required a long lead-time. This was particularly the case in a small country with no compulsory quotas and a low level of local content. Cultural funders supply money as a fertiliser, but if they want good results they need to do a lot more than that. They have to understand the energies inherent in the culture and identify and nurture those energies. A television funder needs to consider why people want to make documentaries. It’s a risky activity and there’s not much money in it. Furthermore, the best documentaries have always gained their special value (or ‘x factor’) from having a stronger motivation than simply making a few bucks. They tap the energies of the culture at large, and those energies find expression (when NZOA and the broadcasters provide the opportunity) in a range of different types of documentary. To list seven of the main motivations:

254 / Re-inventing NZ

1. History and geography There is an impulse (in both Māori and Pakeha programme makers) to tell the tale of one’s tribe, to explore whakapapa, to keep the past alive, and to keep reconsidering its relevance to the present. Our landscape and geography are similarly ongoing topics for rediscovery. The New Zealand Wars (1998) is an example of a history series and Landmarks (1981) of a geography series. Both were based on the vision and research of academic experts yet held the interest of a broad audience. 2. Journalism Some documentaries are an extension of news and current affairs, and share the same impulse to unearth the truth and share it with others. While news focuses on today, and current affairs considers the events of the current week or perhaps month, documentary takes a broader perspective. A documentary is expected to offer a greater depth of research and richness of detail; it needs more production time but has a longer shelf-life. Documentaries made by journalists tend to focus on social/political subject-matter, and to emphasise ‘content’ and verbal interpretation. (While technical, stylistic, and visual aspects are acknowledged, they tend to be seen as a second priority.) Like academic research, journalistic research has always attached importance to skill, care and resourcefulness. Training in one or both of these traditions has generally been the best source of research skills for documentary-makers. This tradition also illustrates the sense of protocol (or ethics) that is common to all serious forms of documentary – the feeling that one has a responsibility to be ‘true to reality.’ The truth may not be what the average viewer wants to hear or the broadcaster wants to buy, but it should be documented and communicated. A good documentary is entertaining but its purpose is not merely to entertain, and entertainment should never take precedence over truth. Most ‘average viewers’ seem to accept this protocol, for when they watch a documentary (or a news or current affairs programme) they expect it to be well-informed and trustworthy. Consider the fierce public debate over factual details of series such as New Zealanders at War or The New Zealand Wars.

Documentaries on New Zealand Television / 255

3. Politics A separate category is needed for passionate, committed, political documentaries that share some of the same concerns as journalism but reject the current affairs requirement of ‘balance.’ With such resources as he or she can scrape up, an independent programme-maker wants to present a particular political perspective that they see as having been ignored by the mainstream media. Examples include Merata Mita’s Patu!, early feminist films such as Some of My Best Friends are Women, and Alister Barry’s Someone Else’s Country and In A Land of Plenty and other productions by the Vanguard Films group. Barry describes his aims in the classic public service broadcasting terms of informing and empowering. Television has always been nervous about such documentaries because of the risk of law suits, their presumed minority audience, and a general dislike of their style (criticised as ‘too didactic’ or as ‘old-fashioned’). In the old days, TVNZ did occasionally agree to screen such a project, sometimes because a commissioning editor was won over by the passion of the film-maker. Some of these controversial documentaries had a big impact because they represented strong minority points of view that were ‘ahead of their time’ in terms of public opinion – for example, films from the 1970s and early ’80s about Māori land issues, feminism, nuclear tests, gay rights and environmental issues. Today such films are almost never accepted by the major broadcasters, a rejection that has generated much scorn and satire. Patu! was finally screened 8 years late (in 1991, on the tenth anniversary of the Springbok Tour). Neither of Barry’s recent documentaries has been accepted. The genre continues to exist outside mainstream television with the help of community groups, video sales, and screenings on smaller channels such as Triangle. (Indeed, Someone Else’s Country did eventually reach a remarkable number of viewers.) The closest mainstream television comes to this genre is the occasional documentary on an historical subject researched with a similar passion and commitment, such as 1951, or an international topic such as Punitive Damage. This is not to challenge the sincerity or quality of television’s own in-house political coverage, such as TVNZ’s Assignment programmes, but simply to point out that a strong tradition of independent (or

256 / Re-inventing NZ

maverick) political documentary-making has largely been excluded over the past decade. 4. Cultures Some documentaries have a strong cultural motivation in representing community traditions – Māoritanga, the cultures of other ethnic or national groups, and subcultures of various kinds. Getting onto television, particularly in prime time, is seen as an important step towards social acceptance and equality. The best of these documentaries (often made by a creative member of the group concerned) provide high satisfaction for members of the community and can surprise outsiders by revealing an unfamiliar culture to them. Such projects are linked not only with journalism but also with history, sociology and anthropology. The representation of Māori culture has now a long whakapapa. The breakthrough series for television was Barry Barclay and Michael King’s 1974 Tangata Whenua. This is still widely used today and it has gained additional resonance as an historical record. The backing of the Treaty has made possible an occasional prime-time series such as Rangatira (1998); and NZOA has been able to insist upon a 15% Māori quota in the main documentary strands, which has facilitated a number of important programmes; but many Māori programmemakers are waiting eagerly for the new Māori channel because they feel that mainstream broadcasters have placed too many limitations on the expression of their culture. Some other cultures have yet to be the subject of even a single documentary. NZOA’s biggest success in terms of multiculturalism was Immigrant Nation which first went to air in 1993. In all, there were three groups of episodes up to 1996, a year when TVNZ withdrew its support for ‘minority’ programmes of various kinds. There had also previously been a few one-offs (Star of David, Exiles, I’m Taking Nana Home, and Going Dutch). Considering recent waves of immigration, debates about multiculturalism, and the many personal stories to be told, it is disappointing there have not been more documentaries of this kind. A very few have been made in recent years such as Taste of Place. Broadcasters appear nervous about them because of what they see as the risk of alienating mainstream viewers.

Documentaries on New Zealand Television / 257

As one example of the impact of television coverage on a subculture, gay and lesbian documentaries in the early 1990s seem to have been clearly a factor in increased mainstream interest, visibility and acceptance. They included: Lew Pryme: Welcome to My World (1990), The Sex We Don’t Talk About (1991), Mr and Mr (1992), and The People Next Door (1994). 5. Science People enthusiastic about science have been active in the documentary genre from the beginning. In New Zealand this has been a particularly strong tradition in terms of natural history because of the deep attachment to landscape and interest in environmental issues. The Natural History Unit in Dunedin has an impressive international reputation. Yet in the mid-1990s there was a noticeable decline of broadcaster interest in this genre. 6. The arts in general What arts documentaries tend to have in common with previous categories is a sense of pride in one’s cultural tradition, a lifetime commitment to it, deep belief in its value, and a desire to see it better acknowledged and more widely known. Such documentaries can mean high satisfaction for their target audience, can dramatically expand the public for new artists and trends and have a long life since they continue to be used for years by schools, universities, galleries, public libraries, etc. They also retain long-term importance as an historical record. The arts receive less public support in New Zealand than in most other countries. Australia’s Creative Nation report argued that while all forms of culture are to be valued, the arts are a key workshop in which new and unique forms of national culture and identity are created. NZOA has a major achievement in the area of arts documentaries – the Work of Art series, with approximately 40 episodes spread over seven years (1993-9) on TV ONE starting at 9.30 or 10 pm on Sunday nights. This series documented the arts with a depth unknown before or since. The series was also a showcase for some of the most innova-

258 / Re-inventing NZ

tive documentary making on New Zealand television. The dates of the series are, however, misleading, as commissioning had tailed off by 1996. TVNZ had decided to have no more arts documentaries, reducing arts coverage to fast-turnaround magazine programmes with short items. This appears to be still the case, apart from occasional profiles of stars such as Kiri te Kanawa. 7. The art of documentary Overseas, documentary-making has had strong links with experimental work of various kinds and with ‘high culture’ rather than popular culture. (For example, the staff of the GPO Film Unit in the 1930s was a ‘who’s who’ of leading young British writers, artists and composers. It was John Grierson, its CEO, who wrote the original proposal for our National Film Unit at the request of the New Zealand government.) Documentary-makers in this tradition (such as Peter Watkins, Frederick Wiseman, Agnes Varda, Errol Morris, Les Blank, etc.) see their genre as necessarily experimental, a constant search for new and better ways to represent and interpret reality. Overseas their work is screened by public service channels, art house cinemas, film festivals and universities. They provide the basis for courses on ‘the documentary’ taught in universities and art schools round the world. Indeed, to people interested in the art of film, this is what ‘documentary’ means, and some would regard mainstream television documentaries in New Zealand as simplistic, stylistically dull and old-fashioned. Some overseas documentaries are showcased in New Zealand by the international film festivals each year, and have certainly influenced local directors. There has also been a strain of experimental documentary-making in New Zealand (by directors such as Vincent Ward, Peter Wells, and Nicki Caro). All experimental work in this country runs the risk of being roasted by reviewers as pretentious. It is unfortunate that each tradition tends to be impatient and disrespectful of the other. Our television system has been less than welcoming, particularly in recent years, though a few projects manage to find their way into ‘auteur’ or ‘festival’ series (such as Wells’s Pansy or Barclay’s Feathers of Peace). However mixed the initial audience response may be, such work is important in keeping us in touch with the

Documentaries on New Zealand Television / 259

diverse and adventurous culture of documentary-making overseas. Clearly these seven categories intersect and reinforce one another in a variety of ways. For example, culture often has a politics. The Tangata Whenua series was primarily concerned with Māori culture but it also had strong political implications, and was innovative in some of its camerawork and editing (as it experimented with what an appropriate style for Māori film-making might be). Many of the Work of Art series were contributions to ‘the art of documentary.’ There have been journalistic documentaries of an investigative kind with a passionate political point of view – such as Cave Creek (1998) or The Remand of Ivan Curry (1991). And arguably journalism must combine with art to make a great documentary. What is important here is to acknowledge the variety of motivations. What they share is a sense of the serious potential of the documentary genre (serious in social, artistic, scientific or political terms). Simply to promote one type of documentary would be to ignore the other energies (all of which are strongly based in our culture). The problem is that virtually all of these types have become endangered species in our current television environment. All tend to be regarded by broadcasters as ‘worthy and dull’ and therefore intimidating to the average viewer. As Geoff Steven used to say, ‘No more castor oil documentaries!’ Of course, one person’s castor oil is another person’s cup of tea, or glass of champagne. A few slip through, but we seem to have limited our television garden to just a few varieties. How did this come about, and is it necessary? Was it a response to trends in the environment (financial pressures, the competition from ‘reality programmes,’ changing public taste)? To answer these questions, we need to look at the local history of documentary. At the centre of this account will be the creation of a new kind of ‘mainstream’ or ‘popular’ television documentary in the years 1990-1995. During this period of growth, other types of documentary also flowered. Then from around 1996, the range narrowed, and even the mainstream documentary came under siege. The account will bring us back to the present, and the possibilities for another surge of growth.

260 / Re-inventing NZ

History The first base for documentary-making in New Zealand was the government’s National Film Unit (NFU). From the 1940s the NFU made some memorable films about New Zealand history, natural history and the arts, among other topics, which were screened in cinemas (and later on television). Some strong creative individuals spent time in the Unit (such as Margaret Thomson, Cecil Holmes, John Feeney, and Maurice Shadbolt) but there was sometimes a tension between their interests and those of the Tourist and Publicity Department which did not want the Unit to become too political or too experimental. When television arrived in 1960, it developed its own documentary tradition, initiated by Shirley Maddock. Well-known later directors included Doc Williams, Bill Saunders, Malcolm Hall and George Andrews. Over the years the television documentary department produced some influential and finely crafted series in the journalistic tradition, along with topics from history and geography. The Natural History Unit was created in 1978. Both of these institutions – the NFU and television – came under criticism when a new wave of independent film-makers emerged in the 1970s. They took their bearings from films seen in ‘art house’ cinemas, from new trends in British television, and from the countercultures of the sixties. They took unfamiliar and sometimes controversial approaches to history, politics, culture, and the art of documentary. Although television did commission or purchase some of their work, such spending was a discretionary category that depended upon current policies and finances. Michael Scott-Smith was very receptive to independent work, but there were periods – for example, after the second channel was created in 1975 – when the NZBC went back to producing almost everything in-house. Hence, conflict developed between the film and television communities during the 1970s (the period when the new film industry was bursting with energy and eager to get its work on the screen), and this divergence has remained to the present day. There is an international belief that local production benefits enormously from a positive relationship or synergy between film and television, so the gap that exists in New Zealand can be seen as a major problem. Visiting English writer Stephen Cleary noted recently

Documentaries on New Zealand Television / 261

that he was ‘staggered at the distant relationship between local film and television’ in this country (NZ Herald 11 March 2003, p.B5). In the 1970s television tended to see the film-makers’ attitude as a case of sour grapes. Why should the NZBC feel any obligation to screen the work of directors – long-haired, dope-smoking hippies in some cases – who lacked the craft skills (particularly journalistic skills) that its own producers had carefully developed over the years? Meanwhile the film-makers tended to see the television documentary unit and the NFU as small elitist groups that held a monopoly on the genre. They saw documentaries being made by these institutions with resources, budgets, and time-spans that were almost obscene in comparison with the conditions of the independent industry. They also regarded the resulting documentaries as conservative and old-fashioned in style and subject matter. Many of the new film-makers started out by making documentaries – for example, Roger Donaldson, Tony Williams, Merata Mita, Barry Barclay, Gaylene Preston, and Vincent Ward. Such work was frequently maverick, quirky, crusading, auteurist, experimental, etc. Inevitably it was high-risk and it had its disasters as well as its hits. To supplement the limited funding available from television, film-makers scratched up small amounts from the QE2 Arts Council, the Education Department, and political groups. Some of the new wave (such as Paul Maunder and Sam Pillsbury) managed to obtain jobs at the NFU, bringing innovation and controversy to the Unit. The creation of the NZ Film Commission provided an alternative source of funding for documentaries, although feature and short drama films generally took first priority. An unfortunate legacy of this period was the bad blood between the film and television communities and it is necessary to keep this in mind in understanding the tensions that exist to this day between the so-called ‘film’ and ‘television’ traditions of documentary. The two traditions came closest to re-uniting in the first years of the 1990s (with the help of NZ On Air), but after a few years the gap widened once again, as television became increasingly commercial. By the time NZOA was created in 1989, the NFU had disappeared as a production unit and the television environment had become more commercial and more competitive. These pressures limited what NZOA could achieve, but they did suit developments in popular cul-

262 / Re-inventing NZ

ture. Indeed, NZOA’s two greatest successes could be seen as following the grain in that way: the establishment of New Zealand’s first daily (or ‘stripped’) soap, Shortland Street; and the establishment of weekly documentary strands on TV3 and TV ONE. Of course NZOA can not take more than a partial share of the credit for these success stories, but the funding body was certainly very active in facilitating them. The result was a great expansion of local content for both drama and documentary (categories explicitly mentioned in NZOA’s legislation). The annual figures for total hours tell the story: Year

1988 1989 1992 1994 1996

Drama/Comedy 39 59 223 283 357 Documentaries 43 36 175 207 252 It has been argued that these figures are misleading because TVNZ’s production was at an unusually low level in 1988-9, or it was the arrival of TV3 (rather than NZOA) that increased the amount of local content. But what these figures confirm is that the mix of programmes changed, with NZOA helping to bring about an increased emphasis on drama and documentary. Between 1988 and 1996, total NZ hours increased 239% (from 2112 to 5066), but drama/comedy increased 910% (from 39 to 357) and documentaries increased 586% (from 43 to 252). The broadcasters were initially sceptical of both developments. While Julian Mounter was CEO of TVNZ he strongly resisted the idea of a soap. And a TVNZ programmer told me: ‘There’s a world surplus of documentaries, so why make any more? Especially as there’s only a limited demand for local ones.’ Fortunately there were individual staff members within TVNZ and TV3 who thought differently – a kind of good-humoured conspiracy of those with a commitment to local production. In documentary-making, the key person was Geoff Steven who established Inside NZ in 1991 as a branded prime-time series. This ‘umbrella strand’ rated so strongly it became one of TV3’s major programmes. Eventually when Neil Roberts joined TVNZ he headhunted Steven who then established the Documentary NZ strand for TV ONE.

Documentaries on New Zealand Television / 263

The ratings success of New Zealand documentaries in the 1990s was particularly striking as it ran completely counter to overseas trends. Documentaries had largely disappeared from the primetime schedule of overseas commercial channels. New Zealand came to produce relatively more documentaries for primetime than any other country. This was one reason programmers remained nervous about the genre. New appointees from overseas had difficulty understanding it. Others would return from overseas television fairs convinced that ‘our documentary boom can’t last.’ Why did New Zealand buck the trend? There seem to be three reasons. First, documentary has always been a strong tradition in New Zealand (local audiences are more cautious in their response to local drama, and there has been a deep preference for realism in the arts). Second, the 1990s saw a surge in nationalism. As a former colony with a sense of ‘cultural cringe,’ which has always imported most of its culture (including its television) from Britain and the USA, Pakeha New Zealand had some catching up to do. Of course Māori culture has an ancient history; but a distinctive ‘high brow’ Pakeha culture did not develop in this country until the 1930s, and it was not till the 1990s – the great age of populism – that the fascination for distinctive forms of Pakeha popular culture really took off. The concept of ‘kiwiana’ did not come into widespread use until then, and some of the highest rating documentaries of the mid-’90s were Kiwiana, The Way We Were, Heartland, etc. Of course there had been precedents, as a strong sense of nationalism had always surrounded our sports and military traditions; the popular series Country Calendar had been on air since 1966; and television and NFU documentaries had expressed a sense of pride in our history and landscape. The difference lay in the increased range and quantity of such material and its more vernacular style. The third reason for the boom in documentaries was the development of a new kind of ‘mainstream’ or ‘popular’ documentary, a joint initiative between NZOA and the broadcasters. (Broadcasters tend to be uneasy about the term ‘mainstream’ but I will use it in this paper as a convenient shorthand.) Different from either the classic NFU or TVNZ model or the alternative film tradition, the characteristics of such a documentary included the following:

264 / Re-inventing NZ

a) The search for a broad audience (not just older viewers, say, or special interest groups); b) A consistent effort to be accessible, with clear storytelling and a strong ‘throughline’ as the basis; c) An emphasis on personal stories, preferably with elements of emotion and drama (hence, documentaries structured around people rather than around themes or other intellectual types of structure); d) An emotional tone that encouraged viewers to laugh, cry, or otherwise get involved – not a detached or coolly ironic approach; e) A desire to make subject-matter ‘relevant’ (as well as clear) to the average viewer – finding the right strategy (or ‘hooks’) to catch and sustain interest; f ) A brisk pace and a conscious awareness of ad breaks – so that a one-hour documentary involved approximately 46 minutes structured in five ‘acts,’ with a strong opening sequence to capture the viewer’s interest, ‘cliffhangers’ or an unfolding story to guard against ‘drift’ during commercial breaks, no sag in the middle to prevent a waning of interest, and a strong ending or ‘payoff.’ g) An attempt to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ (an emphasis on real-time immediacy, that deepened in the course of the decade). h) The ability to make the most of a lean budget since all this had to be done for $100,000 (or $130-140,000 today), helped along by developments in non-linear editing and smaller digital cameras. i) ‘Promotability’ as a key issue (‘How will the broadcaster be able to ‘promo’ it? What will be the one line description in the TV Guide or newspaper?’), with emphasis on the ability of the documentary to attract viewers through a strong concept and colourful visuals, and to stimulate discussion next day (on talkback radio, say, or in the workplace over morning tea).

Documentaries on New Zealand Television / 265

Although these principles were far from new, the thoroughness with which they were developed in the 1990s amounted to a new set of craft skills for New Zealand documentary makers. The recipe (which initially owed much to Geoff Steven at TV3) proved to be more popular than the broadcasters had expected. At its best, the new documentary was ‘less starchy’ than the old style (as someone put it in a survey), neither hi-brow nor tabloid, satisfying a potential interest in ‘ordinary kiwis telling their own stories (for once).’ Although some of those kiwis were far from ‘ordinary,’ they were placed in a context of everyday New Zealand life. There was an on-going debate with broadcasters (particularly with Mike Lattin after 1995) who wanted approaches to be faster or more gimmicky, and subjects to be lighter or more glitzy. And overseas festivals tended to find the documentaries too homespun, not sufficiently ‘artistic.’ NZOA worked at holding the line, defending the best aspects of this new ‘mainstream’ documentary because it had tapped important energies in the culture. The funding body sought work that was popular but not populist, that displayed some solid research and brought new areas of local life to the screen. Certainly the public responded. The ability of free-to-air television to function as a national forum was demonstrated by the public stir created by documentaries such as Lew Pryme: Welcome to my World (1990), Aramoana (1991), Miles and Shelley Go Flatting (1992), Britten: Backyard Visionary (1993), Scared Silent (1993), All About Eve (1993), Muldoon (1994), Kiwiana (1996), Heartland (such as the 1996 Wainuiomata episode), Out of the Dark (1996), Kirsa: A Mother’s Story (1996), Location Location Location (1998), Love Thy Neighbour (1998), The Lawson Quins (1998), Cave Creek (1998), Blokes and their Sheds (1999), Crump: A Wandrin’ Star (1999), My Name Is Jane (1999), and so on. These documentaries generated healthy discussion and/or controversy. The list shows that the mainstream ‘recipe’ still permitted a great deal of variety in form, subject, and tone. For NZOA, maintaining a good range or mix of programmes each year was a crucial factor. By the end of the 1980s TVNZ had closed its in-house drama and documentary departments and such work was now out-sourced. The drama department had a new lease of life as South Pacific Pictures, but the documentary makers dispersed, a move that sympathisers saw as a tragic victory of commercialism over professionalism. For the indepen-

266 / Re-inventing NZ

dent industry, however, this outsourcing opened things up in a positive way, and with NZOA funding available, this industry sector grew and diversified. While drama series were made by large companies, the documentary strands provided new opportunities for what the broadcasters contemptuously described as ‘cottage industry’ companies. Such companies might consist of a single producer or director who hired freelance staff when a documentary idea was accepted by TV ONE or TV3. Broadcasters found it time-consuming to have to deal with a number of different companies, but from NZOA’s point of view there were advantages to the variety of perspectives. The new energies of the culture were more directly tapped. There was, for example, a notable increase in the number of women and Māori involved in documentary making. The situation usually produced good results because those making a documentary were totally responsible for it – their reputations were on the line, they had financial liability, and they knew they would never get another commission if they screwed up. The selection process for the documentary strands normally consisted of a negotiation every couple of months between the broadcaster’s head of production (or commissioning editor) and two NZOA representatives, a board member and the television programme manager. NZOA would go to bat for ‘serious,’ ‘innovative,’ and ‘minority’ projects. The broadcaster would then propose some ‘populist’ projects seen as having the potential to be high-raters. He or she would joke about NZOA’s ‘politically correct,’ ‘arty’ and ‘highbrow’ tendencies, while NZOA would accuse the broadcaster of wanting only ‘tabloid’ or ‘light and fluffy’ documentaries. The argument would go on for an hour or two, with some projects accepted enthusiastically by both sides, some gaining acceptance by a process of barter or horse-trading, and some rejected because one side or the other could not be convinced. This sometimes acrimonious process actually produced good results for both sides – the result was a variety of documentaries that mixed solid substance with light relief. It is a matter of record that this pushand-pull between broadcaster and funding body produced both good ratings and deep respect for the genre (reflected in audience research). One may compare the first few years of Shortland Street which similarly involved a push-and-pull between NZOA’s ‘political correctness’ and the broadcaster’s desire for excitement. I would argue that the series

Documentaries on New Zealand Television / 267

became more solid and distinctive as a result of the tension. These seem to me good examples of how the involvement of NZOA produced a better result than money simply being given to TVNZ. Nevertheless, the new mainstream documentary received plenty of critical flak. Documentary makers in some of the categories listed earlier in this paper were unhappy that so much of NZOA’s funding was being poured into this one area. They also disliked the new television attitude that programme-makers were simply hired labour to provide the programmers with what they wanted for a particular slot. They contrasted the year-round jobs and sizeable salaries of television staff with their own situation of struggling from project to project. And some commissioning editors wasted no time being polite when they criticised documentaries or demanded changes. Critics also regarded the format as a kind of ridiculously tight corset – how could anyone who took the documentary tradition seriously expect the truth always to fit a 46 minute, five-act formula? Programme-makers joked about television’s ‘obsession with slottism.’ They noted that the only possible subjects for documentaries were those thought likely to interest the legendary ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ (whom programmers saw themselves as serving). Also, experts were now considered unsuitable for documentary interviews because their big words might make the Smiths feel inadequate and tempt them to reach for the remote. And quiet, slow, gentle styles of documentary (that had produced some classics in the past) could not survive the strident ad breaks or the impatient programmers. Critics also warned that the populist tendencies were likely to get out of hand – the demand for sentimentality and sensation would escalate, and the limited budget and fast turnaround would lead increasingly to a ‘once over lightly’ treatment. Many directors were happy to pursue the new opportunities, while others turned away for personal or cultural reasons, or were simply not able to obtain television commissions in the new environment. Nevertheless, what made the first half of the 1990s unusually successful was the fact that there was room for a number of documentary possibilities. Work of Art was the most important strand, but there were other series such as Immigrant Nation and the Creative NZ Documentary Fellowship. To look through the primetime documentaries

268 / Re-inventing NZ

of the period is to be staggered by the range of projects and styles. For example, the list for 1995-6 included: Cinema of Unease, Blood, The Art Collectors, I’m Taking Nana Home, Erebus, Radicals, Wearable Art, New Zealand and the United Nations, Rubber Gloves or Green Fingers, Whales and Dolphins of Aotearoa, Icon in B Minor, Prisoners of Culture, Transformers, Baxter, Fetish, Witi, The Dark Forest (dance), King Lear, Between Two Worlds, Te Pahu, A Map of New Zealand Sounds (Hirini Melbourne), and No Other Lips (Hone Tuwhare). Also funded that year were Hotere, Getting to Our Place, and Revolution. These were not equally successful but by today’s standards the range of ambitious and innovative approaches to the documentary genre is astonishing. It is hard to imagine any of the 25 being accepted today by a broadcaster, at least not without a long struggle. 1995-6 brought this phase somewhat brutally to an end. TVNZ announced it had ‘too many documentaries.’ Commercial SOE (StateOwned Enterprise) culture was now firmly established and there was no longer room for exceptions. Some unusual documentaries were completed or screened in later years but the climate had changed. The government was now pressuring TVNZ to increase its profits to make it a more attractive candidate for sale, and people were appointed to key positions with an extremely narrow commercial focus. The result, from 1996 onwards, was the expulsion of a wide range of possibilities and energies. There were very occasional exceptions – programmes such as The New Zealand Wars or Our People Our Century – but so occasional as to have an air of tokenism. Simultaneously, the mainstream documentary was also threatened. Presumably in response to pressure from above, programmers became increasingly brusque and demanding in their dealings with programme-makers. Each year they were more worried that the documentary genre was worn-out and boring. The selection process was compromised because broadcasters brought fewer projects to the meeting with NZOA, having filtered out most of them beforehand. The mix of projects became less rounded. I am not familiar with the current selection procedures but, in terms of results, ‘tabloid’ topics and ‘light and fluffy’ topics now seem central. Of course, some documentaries with explicit sexual subject matter are actually thoughtful and well made, and arguably the

Documentaries on New Zealand Television / 269

emphasis reflects a current public fascination with intimate personal experience. New Zealand has become a more up-front and outspoken society, and documentaries are pushing the boundaries in that direction, if in no other. Nevertheless the acceptance of this change is not universal, and many older viewers remain uncomfortable with its more extreme forms. People can not easily separate documentary style from subject-matter. Whereas in the past one or two risqué subjects per series have added a little spice to the recipe (e.g. Behind Closed Doors or A Double Standard), there is now heavy seasoning – documentaries about nudism, big breasts, the penis, the vagina, virginity, etc. Ratings appeared to have remained high but public controversy has increased, and potentially the almost universal respect for the documentary genre may be eroded. It would be ironic if documentaries came to be seen as something one was ashamed to be caught watching, since the previous attitude has always been the opposite – people like to be seen to like documentaries! Another new factor is the popularity of ‘reality’ programmes. There has been some overlap with documentaries, particularly as Geoff Steven was eager to develop the ‘setup’ or constructed documentary as a possible solution to limited documentary budgets. However, some reality programmes are closer to entertainment forms such as game shows (though filmed on location). It is one of the assumptions of this paper that ‘documentary’ can not simply be viewed as entertainment but must also offer some form of truth or in-depth information. Reality programmes have clearly influenced documentary style, but this new genre can not replace the old. Age demographics are clearly an issue in the trend to ‘reality,’ ‘tabloid’ or ‘light and fluffy’ documentaries. Though the upsurge in documentaries in the 1990s was broad in its appeal, the older age group has been the genre’s most loyal audience. But the advertising industry in recent years has become concerned (some would say obsessed) with the youth audience. Hence, lightweight documentaries may reflect the desire of broadcasters to attract younger viewers (the group with least interest in this genre). Certainly it is very difficult today to pitch a documentary topic to either broadcaster that they might regard as focusing on oldies. Compare earlier documentaries such as The Gullyites (1992), Seventy Something (1992) or The Nineties (1993). Even

270 / Re-inventing NZ

then the broadcasters were nervous, but they accepted them as part of the mix. The fact that New Zealand’s ageing population is proportionally growing must eventually force a re-think on the part of youthoriented advertising executives and marketing managers. What has happened then is something like the ‘ice cream seller’ effect, the famous economics example where the sellers converge in the middle of the beach rather than spread out. But in this case they have also clustered round the younger age groups. Ironically, many representatives of ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ are no longer well catered for, in comparison with the younger Smiths. So far as documentary is concerned, television is like a door that has gradually narrowed, admitting fewer of the creative energies of the culture. The limited budgets for documentary, combined with the apparent fickleness and high-handedness of the broadcasters, has caused some programme-makers to abandon the genre and tempted others not to try too hard. Why do in-depth research when it’s not an aspect that concerns the broadcasters?

The Late Show: The Production of Film and Television Studies This is an essay that sums up another big chunk of my life – my work in trying to develop film and media education in New Zealand. I hope it also offers some insights into the culture of our schools and universities, and into the institutional (and national) politics that is nevitably involved in any re-shaping of the curriculum – a struggle involving economics and self-interest as well as ideas. The essay was published in 1999 in an American collection called After the Disciplines: The Emergence of Cultural Studies.

The Late Show: The Production of Film and Television Studies

E

very year in the university handbook new courses spring to life fully formed, seemingly the result of an orderly intellectual development. Behind the scenes, however, many of these courses have involved a lengthy history of proposals, challenges, objections, arguments about budgets, high claims and smouldering rivalries. Discussions of curricular change tend to focus on intellectual developments and underestimate other factors such as organizational politics and changes in the surrounding culture. In this essay, which traces the development of film, television and media studies in some New Zealand schools and universities, I seek to examine the curriculum as a site of institutional as well as intellectual struggle. Though I admit to having a partisan point of view my aim is not simply to write another sentimental history of heroic new subjects struggling against a reactionary ancient regime, but rather to explore the complex of social forces that is always involved yet seldom documented. Within any institution, various individuals and groups compete for limited resources. Academics are particularly skilled in theorizing such conflicts in terms of large intellectual and cultural values, and this may be seen as evidence either of their seriousness or of their ability to rationalize self-interest. The curriculum in New Zealand universities tended, until the mid-1980s, to be discussed according to a rather solemn conception of ‘discipline,’ which discouraged the introduc-

274 / Re-inventing NZ

tion of new subjects proposed by younger lecturers. This policy was theorized as a need to move slowly and carefully in order to maintain standards. It was increasingly challenged in intellectual terms by those involved with new forms of cultural theory, but in the end the forces that destabilized the curriculum were not intellectual but political and financial. After the 1984 election the government introduced a programme of market liberalization (or New Right economics) that has had a huge impact on the universities and indeed on every area of our society. Successive New Zealand governments have shared the assumption that competition is a universal good and market forces need to be given the power to override social or cultural forces.1 With budgets dependent upon student numbers in a more competitive marketplace, the universities have begun to move from one extreme to the other, scrambling in a sometimes unseemly way to develop a more attractive curriculum. Film studies provides a clear example of this shift. Under the old system it struggled unsuccessfully for fourteen years to be admitted to the B.A. programme at the University of Auckland. Each attempt was blocked because of fears that the introduction of undergraduate courses in film studies would lure students away from established disciplines. But by 1988 the university was worrried about student numbers. Its change of heart towards film studies involved other factors also – such as new people in management positions and praise from a review team for the existing M.A. paper – but it is clear that student demand carried a great deal of weight, along with the fact that other New Zealand universities and polytechnics were now rushing to develop their own programmes. Over the past decade the field of film, television and media studies has continued to expand dramatically at Auckland and other tertiary institutions. Such changes suggest that the new regime has had a positive effect, administering a healthy shakeup to the curriculum. But it is typical of recent political changes in New Zealand that they have been too rapid and too extreme. Throughout our university system the current situation is extremely volatile. It is difficult to give a new subject or department the careful nurturing required when it is likely to be expensively courted by the university for a year or two and then sidelined in favor of a newcomer. Peter Munz, Emeritus Professor of History at Victoria

The Late Show / 275

University, spoke for many academics when he made a recent public statement expressing concern over the state of the local university: ‘It is now being run as if it were a bank or a firm of stockbrokers. All this [has happened] under the pretext of saving money and of promoting financial efficiency.’2 Curricular change still involves a complex field of forces with departments often in conflict with administrators and new subjects in conflict with old subjects (who suspect the newcomers of being opportunists with more glamour than brains). Although universities are forced to make higher claims for themselves than ever before, they struggle in the new environment to maintain adequate forms of quality control. These are worldwide problems. The changes of the last decade have highlighted the complex process of social construction involved in shaping the curriculum. Alongside theoretical analyses that seek to deconstruct the idea of disciplinarity we can now place historical accounts which document the rapid changes of thinking that have occurred in response to material and other changes (economic, technological, political and social) within the education system and the surrounding society. The example that follows does not seek to discredit the idea of discipline – indeed, ‘thick description’ of the kind I have just described seems to me a basic method of film and television studies. Rather, it aims to document a sample local history, highlighting the political pressures, the complex chains of cause and effect, and the idiosyncrasies of individuals and institutions that often seem more closely related to chaos theory than to the broad generalizations of philosophers of culture.

The School Curriculum I will be discussing both schools and universities since I was witness to the turf battles in both areas of education and observed many common problems. Films have always occupied an important place in our society, as Gordon Mirams observed in 1945: ‘We New Zealanders are a nation of film fans. Only tea-drinking is a more popular form of diversion with us than picture-going [which] exerts an enormous influence upon our manners, customs, and fashions, our speech, our standards

276 / Re-inventing NZ

of taste, and our attitudes of mind …. Few persons would disagree with the assertion that the cinema’s influence upon us is enormous and far-reaching ….’3 Educators, however, tended to see the film medium as a distraction. Education in those days was about books, particularly the classics, and not about films or any other form of contemporary popular culture. From my own schooldays I can remember only a couple of class trips to the cinema (we saw a film about the 1950 ‘Empire Games’ and another about the Queen’s 1953 visit to New Zealand). We kids were not sorry that our teachers ignored films since that left us with a culture of our own. We were the last New Zealand generation to grow up before television, and the Saturday matinee at the local cinema was our weekly escape from the boredom of home and school. Television reached New Zealand in 1960. By then the medium of film had been in existence for 65 years and had been (as Mirams had noted) the most influential medium of popular culture. It had also developed its own forms of high culture – a half-century of great films and a sophisticated tradition of film theory and criticism.4 The fact that New Zealand schools and universities had yet to pay any significant attention to film, apart from the efforts of a few isolated enthusiasts, seems from today’s perspective a staggering example of how out of touch our education system has sometimes been. Yet one can see why educators committed to high culture and to the print medium regarded film as a rival, a competitor. Since then a similar time lag has occurred in the case of television. Despite the profound influence of television on our lives (for better or worse), the amount of serious attention that teachers have paid to this medium over the past thirty-seven years seems again a case of ‘too little, too late’ (with the exception of a few enthusiasts). Television poses a greater challenge than film because it has less interest in high culture – but what if education were seen as having a responsibility to analyze culture as a whole, a task that would necessarily involve studying popular culture and the mass media? The slowness of the education system in coming to terms with film and television points to a wider problem. Each decade has seen the introduction of at least one important new technology or medium – how to keep up with them all? Those who grew up in New Zealand in the 1960s and 1970s were the first television generation. The children of the 1980s might be described as the video genera-

The Late Show / 277

tion since video was a revolutionary medium that not only introduced new kinds of games but also gave us video cameras with instant playback. It made it possible to ‘read’ or study films as closely as books with the help of the still-frame button (without the previous risk of breaking or scratching the film). The children coming to school in the 1990s may be described as the computer generation, another profound change. Of course not all children have had the opportunity or desire to engage with these new media, but my summary serves to suggest how rapidly our society has changed in terms of its media environment. As for the education environment, it has lagged several generations behind film, television and video, yet it has perhaps been better prepared for the computer. The fact that the computer was so obviously a tool of commerce as well as of culture helped to attract support from politicians, parents and corporate sponsors. For teachers the desire to extend the curriculum often has the character of a crusade. This was certainly the case with the wave of teachers in the 1960s and 1970s who championed film as a suitable subject for education. They were energized by the emergence of the ‘art house’ cinema in New Zealand in the 1960s, which specialized in the new wave of European films. The university students who had argued about what really happened at Marienbad had no doubts that film was an important modern art – and if that was the case, why shouldn’t it be studied alongside literature? An important precondition for the growth of film study in New Zealand schools and universities was the development of an intellectual film culture, through the film society movement (established in 1946), annual film schools, specialist cinemas and international film festivals (from 1969). Another important context was the upsurge in New Zealand filmmaking from the late 1960s. That New Zealanders could and should make their own films may seem an obvious idea today but it was certainly not obvious then. There were teachers who saw a link between the two struggles (or crusades): the struggle of filmmaking to gain a foothold in New Zealand and the struggle of film teaching to find a place in the local curriculum. There continues to be a supportive relationship between these two activities, similar to the way schools provide an audience for local literature. The existence of an industry was not essential to the teaching of film but it did allow for a more

278 / Re-inventing NZ

sophisticated dialogue between theory and practice in our vicinity, and it provided a vocational argument for the inclusion of the subject in the school curriculum. That process was initiated by individual enthusiasts. By 1977 at least six high schools in Auckland had teachers promoting the study of films as part of English.5 These teachers knew one another and shared what resources they could find. (Campaigns to extend the curriculum are not only a crusade but also something of a conspiracy.) At the beginning of the 1980s such enthusiasts gained official support from the new Forms 3-5 Statement of Aims. This controversial curriculum acknowledged the fact that a revolution in communication had occurred through media such as film and television in which words were constantly linked with images. Now English needed to teach ‘watching,’ ‘viewing’ and ‘shaping’ as well as ‘reading.’ Few schools responded fully to the challenge of this remarkable new framework, but it certainly provided film teachers with new opportunities. The year 1983 was a key year with the publication of the Statement of Aims backed by a series of in-service training courses. And there was the establishment of the Association of Film and Television Teachers to build on a network of teachers that had developed in order to share the kinds of resources that were not provided by the education system.6 This was arguably the best way for curricular change to come about, with official or ‘top down’ initiatives lending support to grass-roots activities. Interestingly this was a period in which a number of other important changes were happening to English. The 1983 NZATE Conference, for example, focused on ‘culture’ as a challenge to unconscious mono-culturalism in the New Zealand education system. There were also accusations that the traditional canon had a white, male bias. These new ideas were met with vigorous opposition from some university professors, and there was a certain amount of passive resistance from principals and heads of departments. Today film study has become a regular if limited part of English teaching. Initial resistance was based largely on the belief that films were competitors to books, but some of this resistance was overcome by showing that films could also be regarded as ‘high culture.’ It was eventually accepted that ‘reading’ skills could be taught by studying complex film ‘texts’ as an occasional change from lit-

The Late Show / 279

erary texts. Today there is a tendency to see books and films (or at least some films) as allies in the battle against the vulgarities of television. English would be better placed to deal with television if it could move closer to cultural studies (as it is doing in some university courses). This would also enable it to explore film from other angles as ‘popular culture,’ for example, or as industry. The development of ‘media studies’ as a school subject has been driven by this sense of need, and it is now taught in quite a few schools as a sixth form option. Unfortunately despite a great deal of lobbying it is still not possible to take media studies as a ‘bursary’ subject (that is, in the major examinations held in the last year of high school study). This missing rung in the academic ladder discourages many schools and students from becoming involved in the subject at earlier levels. Both schools and universities suffer from this gap. (During the 1980s schools appeared to be leading universities in their coverage of media topics, but over the past decade the field has developed more rapidly at tertiary level.) Working on the latest version of the English curriculum gave me an insight into the current debates. The new curriculum uses the category ‘visual language’ to encourage the study of a wide range of media ‘texts.’ This term covers forms of communication other than isolated oral or written language-combinations of word and image, for example, or any of the types of sign studied by semiotics. Basically this is a continuation of the approach introduced by the 1983 Statement of Aims. Like most curricula it is the end result of a push and pull between various political and intellectual forces. At one stage the visual language strand was in danger of being dropped altogether because of powerful lobbying by an influential group of business people who sought to return to an old-fashioned ‘reading and writing’ curriculum. In the end, visual language was retained but this was a qualified victory since teachers were left to decide how much importance to give it in relation to other modes of language. In general the attempts to introduce some form of television studies into New Zealand schools have been an almost total failure. To offer an occasional lesson as part of English hardly seems an adequate response by the education system to one of the most influential (most excit-

280 / Re-inventing NZ

ing, most dangerous) media of the century. Existing subjects have succeeded in blocking the development of television studies, media studies or film studies except as a minor part of English. Media teaching has attracted some dedicated teachers, but unfortunately they have not included a charismatic individual such as Gordon Tovey who successfully championed the subject of art.7 Art had struggled to make any headway in New Zealand schools until 1946 when Tovey’s appointment as National Supervisor Art and Craft coincided with a new government and a sympathetic assistant director of education (Clarence Beeby). This historical conjunction delivered significant resources to art and the subject took off. In comparison, media teachers have simply not been in the right political place at the right time (except for the curricular statement of 1983). Although the education system has made few concessions in intellectual or political terms, it has at least paid some attention to social changes such as the development of the local film and television industries and the demand by students for more media examples (which now even the most conservative teacher cannot ignore). At the same time there have been counter-pressures from parents and lobby groups seeking to strengthen traditional forms of education, with ‘media studies’ being cited as a prime example of the degeneracy of education overseas. Currently some teachers hope it may be possible to link media studies with the government’s plans for more ‘technology’ teaching, although this remains a somewhat desperate strategy.

The University Curriculum My parallel story line is the development of film and television studies at the University of Auckland. Things are going well for it today but – like so many new subjects – it bears the scars of a long institutional struggle. Before 1970 the only teaching of film and television in Auckland as subjects in their own right appears to have been through adult education courses, an important arena for the development of new subjects. Robert Chapman pioneered the study of television news and current affairs as an aspect of political studies. Tom Hutchins, a lecturer in photography at the Elam School of Fine Arts, had several talented

The Late Show / 281

students making 16mm films, and in 1970 he proposed the establishment of a film school. The university accepted the idea and Hutchins went on leave to look at overseas film schools. When he returned he found the university had changed its mind – a dramatic example of missed opportunities in light of the upsurge in local filmmaking that was to occur in the 1970s. There was also an unsuccessful attempt to introduce women’s studies around 1970, and that too would have been superbly timed, but in those days the university was more interested in studying history than in making it. Nevertheless, Hutchins continued to teach film-making as best he could, and feminist lecturers and students played a significant part in the 1970s upsurge. As an English lecturer I made my first attempt to launch a film paper in 1970. Departments in those days were ruled from the top and I failed to obtain permission. Later I tried to organize an interdisciplinary paper at masters level, enlisting the support of Robin Scholes (Art History) and a lecturer from one of the language departments. But the latter was prohibited from taking part by his head of department. Soon after, the lecturer shifted to an Australian university where he had more scope for his interest in films. In 1975 our M.A. paper was successfully launched as a joint venture between English and Art History. Scholes was a valuable contributor because she had recently returned from England with a knowledge of French film theory (via magazines such as Screen). She left after two years to join the film industry and subsequently became the producer of Once Were Warriors, Broken English and other important films. There is often a strong element of historical accident in the way subjects develop, for if I had left the university before Scholes, film would have developed as part of Art History rather than part of English. The paper averaged forty students and for the next twenty or so years it was one of the largest M.A. papers in the arts faculty. In general the university appeared to view the paper as an eccentricity, the kind of specialized enthusiasm that could be indulged at masters level. My main problems were not intellectual but administrative. I was required to run my course on a budget of $200 per year which was in line with other English papers but hopelessly inadequate when it came to renting films. In those pre-video days I had to beg, borrow and steal films to fill my schedule. My department was always fearful that a

282 / Re-inventing NZ

film course might attract large bills. Also, there was no possibility of a purpose-built classroom. For each film class I had personally to borrow the projector from the other side of the campus and tape up the curtains in the classroom in an attempt to provide adequate blackout. I received complaints about noise because the rooms were not soundproofed. Physically as well as culturally the arts faculty was the home of books, and in those pre-computer days there were academics who seemed to regard most forms of technology as a threat to the humanities. They would complain (with some justification, perhaps) that the excited students running round making a film with a borrowed 16mm camera were neglecting their other studies. Although I had a number of supportive colleagues,8 some continued to look upon film study as the Trojan horse of popular culture infiltrating the university. In the 1970s any proposal to teach or study popular culture was likely to be viewed as a joke or as hippie hokum (by members of the university’s research committee, for example). But new subjects gradually modify the environment and at some stage they cease to seem alien. Changes in the surrounding culture can also show them in a new light. Meanwhile I felt fortunate to be teaching my masters paper because the students were excited to be studying a subject that seemed directly relevant to their own culture. Also, in the early days, it was the only course of its kind in Auckland and therefore attracted many talented enthusiasts. Let me briefly summarize the rest of its history. I made a number of attempts to expand downwards from the M.A. into the B.A. In those days departments had a chance once every five years to propose sizeable developments and I applied on two occasions, unsuccessfully. I now had steady support from the English Department which had found that films could coexist with literature, but elsewhere in the university there were still fears that film studies would seduce too many students away from established subjects. To mount undergraduate courses I needed faculty approval. It is always a dilemma for people promoting new subjects to decide how much time they are prepared to spend on the necessary lobbying. My 1986 attempt to introduce film studies at first-year level was driven by desperation because I now saw other universities and polytechnics preparing to introduce programmes. This time I seemed to be making good progress, but I was headed off at the

The Late Show / 283

pass by two prominent professors who insisted that masters was still the only appropriate level for such a dubious subject. This was the one occasion I felt like giving up my campaign. Other tertiary institutions now jumped ahead of Auckland, in one case creating an entire department with unseemly haste (or so it seemed to my jaundiced eyes). I was pleased, however, to see former students obtain jobs as lecturers. Tertiary education had suddenly entered a period of accelerated change. Heads of department ceased to be monarchs for life, and there was the sense of a new generation coming to power. The government cut funding and encouraged competition in the tertiary sector and suddenly, in all parts of the country, the old conservatism was replaced by a scramble for student fees. The curriculum began to face a whole new set of dangers such as the possibility of being led astray by its pursuit of research funding, sponsorship, overseas students and other sources of revenue. In 1989 I was at last able to infiltrate the B.A. with a film and television studies paper. Then, with strong support from a new dean, I was able to set up a Center for Film, Television and Media Studies and a B.A. programme with core papers at Stages One, Two and Three which the student could combine with relevant papers from other departments. Film papers emerged even from conservative language departments as their emphasis shifted from ‘language’ to ‘culture,’ responding both to the growing academic interest in cultural approaches and to the declining enrolments in pure language courses. Film and television studies continues to be a complex subject area since each of the two media incorporates language, the visual arts, music, theatre and many other elements – but complex or not, the subject is now firmly established with its own office, logo, director, handbook, senior scholars, publications, conferences and a flood of students. It is almost time for the T-shirt and the alumni reunion. From a business point of view a successful new brand name and range of products have been established. But what exactly is this brand? Can our subject claim to be a discipline? My colleagues and I are now cautiously expanding the scope of our teaching to include other media, and we sum up the rationale of our programme in this way: ‘The social and cultural importance of the mass media of communication call for a centre of teaching and research where these media become a primary

284 / Re-inventing NZ

subject of enquiry. This enquiry needs to be informed by a knowledge of the media in their complex specificity – their particular histories and contexts and the traditions of theory and analysis that have developed around them.’ Eventually we will probably shorten the name of our programme to ‘media studies,’ a snappier brand name; but the advantage of our present title is the specific history it carries with it – the fact that we first taught film studies, then television studies, and now are learning to teach media studies. Each move has involved a fruitful juxtaposition – comparing and contrasting the medium of film with the medium of television, for example, and at the same time comparing and contrasting them in terms of theory and criticism. Our intellectual (and pedagogical) journey has proceeded slowly and carefully enough to remain coherent. It would not be difficult to argue that our subject is a ‘discipline,’ but is that necessary? Institutional politics does make it a matter of consequence. Even in my own university, which has made a very serious attempt to establish interdisciplinary ‘programmes’ (as distinct from ‘departments’), there are still subtle differences of status such as the fact that students cannot take programmes for the major as well as the minor subject of their B.A. More generally, it is inevitable that interdisciplinary programmes should feel insecure when they have watched their counterparts in the United States as well in New Zealand suffering from the ebb and flow of academic fashion. Again interdisciplinary programmes based on cooperation between departments are not easy to manage. With all the best will in the world there are sometimes disagreements about the sharing of student numbers, and lecturers who divide their time between two departments or programmes may have less visibility when it comes to decisions about leave or promotion. Nevertheless interdisciplinary teaching can be very successful, and apart from the advantage to the university in moving its staff around efficiently, many lecturers find that the intellectual stimulation far outweighs the problems. Media studies in New Zealand has provided a meeting place of this kind for people interested in cultural studies, gender studies, semiotics, postmodernism and other currents of thought. But there are strong (and often unconscious) differences in the discourses that lecturers bring from the disciplines in which they were trained, and someone must be able to act as translator

The Late Show / 285

or mediator to manage the inevitable collisions. Ideally all the lecturers in a programme develop this kind of interdisciplinary competence. But meanwhile there is always the fear that institutional pressures will bring the process of exploration to a premature end. As the result of some cost-cutting exercise, for example, centers or departments below a certain size (even those showing steady growth) may no longer be considered viable. This happened recently at two New Zealand universities where media studies departments were required to merge with a larger department (English, in both cases). In conclusion, media teaching provides a particularly eventful case study in terms of the relationship between schools, universities and the surrounding society. What seems to emerge from our study is a disturbingly high level of historical accident, usually the effects of politics (both inside and outside the institution) distorting the logical development of the subject. How powerless and cynical should this make us feel? It can still be argued that the basic process proceeds in a rational fashion. A new subject can be a starter only if it has a solid basis. Persistence will eventually payoff in most cases. Issues of social relevance will usually get a hearing. A new subject is likely to benefit from the required process of gradual development. And universities have carefully designed procedures for evaluating new subjects (procedures that today in most cases achieve a sensible balance between maintaining standards and seizing opportunities). In general terms, this process deserves our continued support. At the same time we must recognize the extent to which this process is vulnerable to political pressures, such as governments determined to impose on education the wrong kinds of competition and the wrong management model. Ironically at tertiary level film and television studies has benefited more than most subjects from the new political environment; and it is difficult for me to speak of the university and its values being under threat when for years I have heard academics using that same rhetoric to block the development of my own subject. Also, in curriculum terms, the university still clearly has some catching up to do. It remains a perennial problem that established subjects are suspicious of any development that may compete with them for resources. Nevertheless, my own conclusion is the need to be realistic rather than cynical. One of the lessons of recent New Zealand politics has been the danger of

286 / Re-inventing NZ

cynicism which has grown so widespread that the capacity for protest and outrage has been muted. Studying the curriculum process serves to clarify (if mostly by negative example) how the ideal procedures might function. Within universities we can campaign not only for our individual subjects but for a better system, something that can operate between the two extremes of rigid conservatism (which blocked the development of film and television studies in the university for nearly thirty years and is still blocking it in our schools) and rootless opportunism (the scramble for short-term gains in line with the government’s ‘more market’ approach). But we need clearly to distinguish this institutional argument from the external crisis, which may in the near future require academics to develop political skills of a less familiar kind in order to defend the very existence of the university.

The Late Show / 287

Endnotes 1 For an example of how these ideas have operated in the field of public policy, see my essay ‘Conflicts and Surprises in New Zealand Television,’ Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media and Culture, 10(1) (1996): 50-63. 2 See ‘University Run “As if it were a Bank,”’ Evening Post, 28 March, 1998, p.4. 3 Gordon Mirams, Speaking Candidly: Films and People in New Zealand, Hamilton, Paul’s Book Arcade, 1945, p.5 4 See for example, Gerald Mast, Marshall Cohen and Leo Braudy (eds.), Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, 4th ed., Oxford, OUP, 1992. 5 Some of this early history was documented in my essay ‘Experiments in Film Teaching’ in English in New Zealand, July 1977, pp.4-9. 6 AFTT is still active today as NAME (the National Association of Media Educators) which continues to publish the magazine Script. 7 See Carol Henderson, A Blaze of Colour: Gordon Tovey, Artist Educator, Christchurch, Hazard Press, 1998. 8 Professors J.C. Reid and M.K. Joseph were two members of the English Department whose interest in films had long preceded mine. Reid had reviewed films for the Auckland Star for many years, and Joseph had published essays on film topics.

Artists Writers Composers

John Reynolds: Painting, Planting and Performance I have written a range of essays on the visual arts. The four I have selected for this book focus on artists engaged in a process of re-inventing ‘New Zealand art’ that seems to me comparable to the literary shake-ups described earlier. The essay on John Reynolds was published in Art New Zealand in 2007. At the time I was doing research for the documentary Questions for Mr Reynolds. Over the years I have collaborated with my wife Shirley Horrocks on a number of documentaries about artists and writers who have not had a film made about them and deserve to be better known or understood. Shirley has acted as director and producer while I have served as researcher. A book on John Reynolds connected with our film was published in 2008 under the title Certain Words Drawn.1

John Reynolds: Painting, Planting and Performance

A

sked about ‘Snow Tussock’ and ‘Golden Spaniard,’ his recent outdoor works at Macraes Flat, John Reynolds remarked: ‘John McCormack told me these must be the largest artworks in New Zealand. My response was: Well, actually I see them as the slowest artworks in New Zealand. One doesn’t wish to ratchet up numbers as significant, but they’ll find their fullest expression 50, 60, 70, or even 80 years from now. It’s a process we’re on, and I’m hoping to visit year by year to enjoy the changes.’2 Watching tussock grow is a change of pace for an artist who made a timed sixty-second painting for the ‘Vacancy’ exhibition, based on Bob Dylan’s line ‘The next 60 seconds (can feel like an eternity).’3 But time has often been a concern of Reynolds’ art. His latest exhibition at the Sue Crockford Gallery was ‘Last Evenings on Earth,’ and its first image confronted the viewer with ‘You’ve Got Three Minutes.’ An earlier show was called ‘History and the Making of History.’ And he describes his current Auckland Art Gallery project, ‘4 Walls, 3 Layers, 2 Marks, 1 Light,’ as evoking ‘a twilight sense of a roll call of contemporary art performances of the last 40-50 years of the gallery.’4 2006 was a milestone year for Reynolds – he turned 50, celebrated his 21st exhibition at the Sue Crockford Gallery, was selected as an Arts Foundation Laureate (for artists who have had a significant ‘career’ but whose ‘richest work still lies ahead’), and contributed a major work to

294 / Re-inventing NZ

the Sydney Biennale (‘Cloud,’ dedicated to his father Ian who had died a year earlier). In progress are an independent documentary, Questions for Mr Reynolds, and a related book, and the artist is maintaining his usual flurry of activities – other outdoor works, Swanndri designs for Karen Walker, and a collaboration with Stevens Lawson Architects. A backwards scan over Reynolds’ career – 26 years of solo exhibitions since ‘Swell Drawings’ and ‘Big Paintings’ at 100 m² – reveals a major body of work by an artist whose interests have grown more distinctive over the years. He has won several major awards.5 Still, some observers express reservations. T.J. McNamara notes that ‘His work has been considered difficult, particularly his austere and complex mark-making and tracking.’6 And Michael Dunn’s New Zealand Painting comments: ‘He can appear as a draughtsman more than a painter …. Reynolds lacks a clear identity because he restlessly moves from one option to another ….’7 McNamara and Dunn are themselves basically sympathetic, but correct in suggesting that some of the very qualities that have drawn viewers to this art – its restless energy, its wit, its informality – have also led to it being read as puzzling or superficial. Poet Leigh Davis, who collaborated on ‘Office of the Dead’ (2001) and The Book of Hours (2001),8 argues in his important essay ‘Country and Western’ that ‘In the little body of writing about Reynolds’ work to date it is the ornament of the painting that has most drawn talk. The work is celebrated for its dandy doodle riot of expressive incident. That is, it is read as hovering on the edge of psychology.’9 Davis sees such readings as a failure to recognise what this art has contributed to a renewal of the medium of painting. It is also salutary to consider the relative lack of understanding for the work of artists close to Reynolds, such as Julian Dashper (who has received more recognition overseas than in New Zealand)10 and et al (the target of a fierce, nation-wide controversy after being selected for the Venice Biennale).11 One might add Davis to this list as one of the country’s most original writers who is consistently overlooked by the local literary community. All these artists, including Reynolds, have committed the sin of downgrading ‘psychology’ or ‘expressive’ elements in their art. Obviously they have found local audiences for their work, and there are a number of other artists in the same situation. But it serves to remind us that the big shift in New Zealand art in the ’70s

John Reynolds / 295

and early ’80s still represents a barrier for the culture at large. A look at Reynolds’ career will highlight some of the aesthetic issues.

Travelling light When Reynolds was at art school the tradition of expressionism or ‘anxious images’ was strong in local painters such as Tony Fomison, Philip Clairmont or Jeffrey Harris.12 Others sought to link art with social or political advocacy. Reacting against these expectations, Reynolds deliberately sought to be ‘light and whimsical, emphasizing a sense of play.’ This shifted the focus from personal experience or politics to the materials and mechanics of art. Naturally the artist’s life continued to inform his work, but only as the starting point for a process that pursued pleasures and intensities different from ‘the expression [of ] unease, anxiety, anger, fear and pain’ (as Alexa Johnston characterized the ‘anxious images’ tradition).13 Reynolds saw ‘lightness’ as the strongest ‘point of difference’ in his art, and this was its most controversial aspect, causing a nervous reviewer to enquire whether his first solo exhibition was a hoax. He was aware of overseas precedents – Pop Art, and painters such as Olitski, Hockney, Guston, and other artists who had reacted against the earnestness of high modernism or expressionism. Meanwhile there was a local shift in taste vividly showcased by the ‘New Image’ exhibition that Francis Pound curated in 1983. Focusing on artists born 1943 to 1953 (Frizell, Wong Sing Tai, Watkins, Killeen, Chilcott, and Hartigan), this survey just missed Reynolds, but he shared many of the artists’ interests: a return to figuration (with a ‘post-abstraction’ sensibility); an appetite for the whole tumult of culture (from high to low); a preference for wit over earnestness; a moratorium on ‘anguish’ and ‘neurosis’; a ‘quote mark’ or ‘semiotic’ awareness; and a strong conceptual streak, including a tendency to make ‘art about art.’ Pound also saw this work as ‘urban’ and ‘internationalist.’14 This was a new cluster of interests for the ’80s. In what ways did Reynolds’ art stand separate? Figuration tended to be less important to him – his search was less for ‘new images’ than for new methods and materials. He made a key shift of emphasis from painting to drawing

296 / Re-inventing NZ

(in its broadest definition). Also, he developed some period concerns in a distinctive manner. His cultural interests were unusually wideranging, collecting and sampling in surprising ways, giving a special élan to his art. His interest in conceptual, performance and site-specific art helped him to think laterally about painting and drawing. He identified not simply as an ‘internationalist’ but as one of a new breed of New Zealand-based artists for whom the global and the national comfortably co-existed. Other characteristic features were Reynolds’ intense feeling for language; his interest in rock music; his ‘deadpan’ humour; his extreme juxtapositions; and his liking for images that are seemingly artless, underworked, or ‘emptied out,’ or have an edgy sense of tension or wobble. These interests are not unique but their combination is distinctive, and the resourceful ways he has developed them has kept his art fresh and challenging. It also explains why it is important to see his art as a whole, as the energetic pursuit of a set of interests more consistent than any ‘dandy doodle riot’ of surface elements. This essay is one attempt to see the coherence, though there will not be time to cover all the areas (such as Reynolds’ innovative photography and print-making).

Dirty drawing Reynolds’ generation of artists emerged at a time when the medium of painting seemed creatively exhausted. His particular response was to focus on drawing, previously regarded as a secondary genre, as a servant of painting. In his words: ‘Even in my early work, painting was only the backdrop for the real drama – the drawing, often with a text component. For paint I would use an everyday commercial primer off the shelf in some crappy colour like pink, to avoid treating paint and colour as the key things.’ His work has continued to stretch the scope of the process of drawing. ‘I draw with everything except a paint brush – with chunky graphite sticks, Japanese silver enamel paint markers, spray cans, any instrument that makes a mark.’ Suiting his strong interest in text, the process of drawing has affinities with writing. It is important to him that ‘there’s something about drawing that goes with edge, with brittleness.’ He is interested in any

John Reynolds / 297

form of drawing that has an exploratory quality – such as children’s work. He likes oil sticks because they involve ‘just the right amount of lack of control.’ Such ‘dirty drawing’ evokes ‘a certain frailty.’ When the drawing produces ‘figuration,’ Reynolds likes the effect of ‘seeming to end up with it almost by accident.’ One way he describes this effect is that his drawing of a lightbulb ‘is really a drawing of the idea of a lightbulb.’ Other recurring icons in his work include signpost, tree, umbrella, and billy. He gives them enigmatic labels. When he represents something Reynolds feels ‘the desire to tip it over,’ to deny the viewer an easy payoff. A representation should have ‘provisionality’ and ‘explore as well as assert.’ Another way to give a twist to the image is to make the process obsessive: ‘Repetition has a strange intensity. It’s like when you say your name so many times that suddenly it dips into strangeness.’ In large paintings such as ‘Kingdom Come,’ 2001, there is a tension between the regularity of the rectangles and the obsessive hand-drawn energy of the dotted lines. He likes to return to painting from time to time ‘for a change’ yet his paintings retain some of the qualities of his drawings. He may include pencil lines or give the areas of paint uncertain edges, or the tense or frail qualities he associates with drawing. The memorable large canvas ‘Last Evenings on Earth’ (2006) is an unusual mix of cloudy colour patches drifting down from the bright colour at top left to the darkness at bottom right – the painting dips into strangeness. Reynolds has his own slant on Colin McCahon and several of his exhibitions have had titles that allude to his work.15 Though Reynolds is well aware of the heavy, anxious elements in McCahon’s paintings, he values his extensive use of text and ‘his methods of pictorial organization’ – especially the way he ‘under-works’ his paintings and ‘empties them out.’ He also admires McCahon’s habit of using ‘whatever materials were available in his vicinity,’ from roadside signs and comic books to the Bible. Reynolds enjoys ‘art that works with the clutter of life.’ McCahon managed to use limited means and materials to suggest complex meanings. Interestingly, Reynolds admires the best of Bruce Nauman’s performance works for similar reasons: ‘He uses only as much as he needs. Each piece is simple yet rich, a distillation of his thinking around a particular idea.’ This is not ‘minimalism’ (a label reviewers have misleadingly applied to some work by Reynolds), but

298 / Re-inventing NZ

an expert under-cooking that challenges the audience to take things further. He finds a similar simplicity/complexity in work by Gary Hume, Paul McCarthy, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter. There are parallels in Reynolds’ use of signposts (in ‘Epistomadologies’) and paintings based on single lines from pop song lyrics (such as ‘I’m doing nothing wrong,’ from P.J. Harvey’s song ‘You said something’). To Reynolds, ‘music particularly has that ability to destabilize …. Music – and every teenager in the world understands this – is a great vehicle for disassembling received ideas, fast-tracking emotive connectiveness … and for [creating] transgressions.’16 One of the first local artists to make direct use of rock music, Reynolds understands how music can have a casual, throwaway manner yet be rich and complex, especially when further sampled as part of a painting. He has drawn on Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Nick Cave, Lou Reed, Don McGlashan, Nirvana and others. His art can tap the adrenalin of music. Leigh Davis writes: ‘Reynolds’ paintings exaggerate movement. They have a distinctive body language; one could say that they are commonly either “jitterbug” figures or “waltz” ones ….’17 (not to mention some pogoing and freestyle moves). Reynolds is like a musician whose cunning off-key flourishes we learn to enjoy. They are also a reminder of the many uses of humour in art today. Humour can provide a way in for the non-specialist viewer, as shown by the feedback Reynolds received for ‘Cloud.’ Each of its 7073 small canvases bore a colloquial phrase from Harry Orsman’s Dictionary of New Zealand English, and many viewers were amused or shocked by particular phrases.18 Humour is part of contemporary art’s knowingness. Reynolds talks of bursting out laughing at one of Sigmar Polke’s paintings because of its sly understanding of the physical business of painting. Reynolds likes ‘deadpan humour’ – as illustrated by ‘Cloud’ with its consistently cool delivery of odd colloquialisms. His interest in the writer Samuel Beckett, triggered by Lucky’s speech in Waiting for Godot, has touched many aspects of his work (such as the 1995 show ‘Seven paintings around a Beckett soliloquy’); and that is also a clue that his humour can imply a sharp sense of absurdity.19 Arguably, its deadpan quality also has a kiwi resonance. The colloquialisms of ‘Cloud’ echo Frank Sargeson’s stories and their ironic subtext. We can see why humour – like lightness – can have a special strategic

John Reynolds / 299

value for the local artist when we look up the word ‘artist’ in Orsman’s Dictionary. In New Zealand usage the word tends to be ‘ironic or pejorative’ with connotations of ‘illegality, impropriety, excess.’ It is most commonly applied to ‘a hard-case or inveterate performer in a field disapproved of ’ (such as ‘con artist,’ ‘booze artist’ or ‘bullshit artist’).20

Catastrophe theory Reynolds has many ways in his pictures to create ‘dips into strangeness’ – the visual equivalent of what Ron Silliman calls ‘adding torque’ to a sentence in poetry.21 He derived ‘The Transatlantic Paintings’ (2005) from a book of X-rays of Mondrian paintings which revealed the initial drawings and constant corrections behind their tidy surfaces.22 His signposts are disconcerting for their off-centre pointing and the deadpan poetry of the street names. ‘Cloud’ offers up the verbal culture of New Zealand (‘land of the long white cloud’) in line with the Biennale’s theme of culture contact, but also confronts us with its strangeness and opacity.23 It is too large to grasp and its silver words are mercurial in the changing light. Typically, the work raises questions about the process of making art (‘the Sisyphean task’ of producing 7073 small canvases!) and about the process of reading it. It’s another example of art based on a simple idea that creates complex effects. For all its seriousness, this is a light, floating work that remains gorgeous, intriguing and funny. The installation of ‘Cloud’ across the foyer and west wall of the Art Gallery of New South Wales illustrates Reynolds’ interest in the sitespecific aspects of art. Before exhibiting the work in New Zealand, he wants to find a location with an equally striking look and relevance. He likes to set up exhibitions with dramatic contrasts and tensions. His 2001 ‘Harry Human Heights’ exhibition was a vivid example with its juxtaposition of large and small works. As Reynolds described it: ‘The “Epistomadologies” … are [off] on a tangent. They’re like broadsheets, tracts, complaints, arguments propelled against the throw of the big works …. Coherence may be on offer, but it ain’t there. The whole thing disperses or flickers into something else.’24 A small-scale example was the enigmatic black urn that turned up in the middle of his latest exhibition labelled ‘Catastrophe Theory’ – a type of phrase the artist

300 / Re-inventing NZ

likes because the words are in tension.25 ‘Cloud’ in its random ordering was an endless permutation of ‘delightful collisions between terms.’ Davis relates Reynolds’ interest in juxtaposition – ‘hybridity of material or idea, or both’ – to T.S. Eliot’s concept of the ‘metaphysical’ in art – ‘a rupture or jolt … a complicating or problematising component.’ Such surprises in art tend to be ‘often under-read as a defect,’ but they provide a way for the medium to be ‘made visible,’ to be ‘caught in operation, and changed.’26 Reynolds says of this effect: ‘It’s a mixture of collude and collide.’ In talking about art he makes frequent use of words such as ‘theatre’ and ‘performance.’ This reflects his interest in figures such as Beckett and Nauman, but also his ironic sense of the traditional role of the artist. In his Laureate acceptance speech to the Arts Foundation, he recalled his experience as a six-year-old, assisting a mental hospital patient to operate a complicated ‘tennis court painting machine.’ Their white lines were decidedly wonky but a lot more interesting than the orthodox court pattern. This anecdote (about his ‘first outdoor work’) emphasised art as a physical performance. Reynolds has done Beckett-style routines at exhibition openings, and the sense of theatre (or theatricality) crops up in his art in many ways – through movement, for example, or through repetition. Texts appear in speech balloons or resemble scripts (‘Cloud’ is like a set of cue cards). Reynolds’ comment that ‘even in my early work, painting was only the backdrop for the real drama’ alerts us to the fact that there is often a strong separation of foreground and background in his art, so that one may see his words, figures or patterns as performers on stage. (At the same time, the sense of space can be complex and ambiguous.)

Outdoor works Reynolds’ recent outdoors works may seem a surprising departure. They include ‘Cordyline,’ a work consisting of 8000 cabbage trees for Alan Gibbs’ sculpture farm at Kaipara; ‘Snow Tussock’ and ‘Golden Spaniard’ at Macraes Heritage and Art Park in East Otago; and a further work at the planning stage for a sculpture park at Brick Bay in the Matakana wine-growing district. Reynolds tries hard to keep his

John Reynolds / 301

art from becoming predictable; and he wanted to re-direct his energies after ‘Cloud’ because it was ‘the culmination of certain interests.’ Working outoors ‘broadened the conversation of materials and refreshed the eyes.’ But he is still applying a familiar aesthetic. Each work involves ‘an un-natural staging of the natural.’ The artist has chosen plants or trees that are not picturesque but ‘maverick.’ He likes cabbage trees for ‘their Dr Seuss quality – they are such distinctive characters,’ and their presence ‘both colludes and collides’ with the pasture land around them. Farmers tend to regard tussock as ‘something to burn.’ But this scruffy plant is a strong survivor that ‘does what it does well.’ Reynolds chose to transform an area used as a toxic dumping ground. It also offered symbolic possibilities since it stretched ‘from a Church to a cemetery.’ The 870 snow tussocks are ‘un-naturally staged,’ lined up in an ornamental or symmetrical way – something very new for what farmers call ‘fucking tussock.’ For ‘Golden Spaniard,’ Reynolds has planned ‘an inverse ziggurat on top of a 30 hectare ziggurat-shaped landform, creating an enclosure and viewing space for a mass planting of 10,000 Golden Spaniards, a native plant under threat as farming takes a greater hold on the Otago landscape.’27 The stiff yellowish green plants will flower into a ‘golden blaze.’28 It is still too soon to judge the results but these works promise to deliver familiar satisfactions – striking contrasts and rich connotations, humour and surprise, and pleasure in the featured materials and performers (in this case, the native species). The photo of the artist by Patrick Reynolds, his brother and longtime collaborator, on the cover of Art New Zealand No.122 (Autumn 2007), returns him to Ponsonby still dressed in country gear. He is modelling ‘the Jackal 3D body system,’ also known as a ghillie or yowie suit, used by ‘snipers and hunters with extreme requirements for camouflage.’ This is ‘a system for breaking up your outline, disrupting your landscape and disguising objects beyond the ability of the eyesight of man, beast or bird.’ While this character might be mistaken for Magritte, the hat and the double latte should tip us off. And that’s the striking thing about an artist whose work has been based from the beginning on a shift away from personal expression (at least in the form of expressionism). To some he may ‘lack a clear identity because

302 / Re-inventing NZ

he restlessly moves from one option to another,’ disrupting critical ‘eyesight.’ But others value the kinds of challenge he continues to present to his audience. While it may be difficult to predict where the hunt will take him next, he can be seen as producing a cohesive body of work that has grown more distinctive as it has gone along. He has followed a consistent set of artistic interests, informed by contemporary practice, which have led to significant innovations in the way he has developed elements such as juxtaposition, humour, text, and drawing.

Endnotes 1 Certain Words Drawn, ed. Lawrence Simmons, Auckland, Godwit / Dead Letter Office, 2008. 2 Quotes in this article not otherwise credited are from an interview with the artist by the author, 11th December 2006. 3 The line occurs in the Bob Dylan song ‘Things have changed’ (2000). The original words are ‘The next sixty seconds could be like an eternity.’ For ‘Vacancy’ (2004), see: http://www.imageandtext.org.nz/pdfs/87067_VACANCY.pdf 4 http://www.aucklandartgallery.govt.nz/research/digitalresources/reynolds. asp 5 His distinctions include: 1988 Montana Lindauer Art Award, 1993 Visa Gold Award, 1993 QEII Arts Council Fellowship, finalist 2002 Walters Art Prize, and 2006 NZAF Laureate. 6

‘Art laureate turns on bursts of colour,’ NZ Herald, 15 November 2006.

7 New Zealand Painting: A Concise History, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2003, p.179. 8 Leigh Davis, The Book of Hours, Auckland, Jack Books, 2001 (with ‘artwork’ by Reynolds). 9 ‘Country and Western,’ an ‘essay on John Reynolds’ painted language,’ at: http://jackbooks.com/Leigh/artknowledge/artknowledge.htm.

John Reynolds / 303 10 See, for example, Julian Dashper’s collection Reviews … he loves me not, Auckland, Art School Press, 2002. 11 This controversy is documented in my essay, ‘A Short History of “the New Zealand Intellectual”’ in Speaking Truth to Power, ed. Laurence Simmons, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2007. (Incidentally, the cover of that book is by John Reynolds.) 12 Cf. Aspects of Recent New Zealand Art: Anxious Images, ed. Alexa Johnston, Auckland City Art Gallery, 1984. 13 ibid, p.6. An example of how Reynolds incorporates a personal dimension in his art was his powerful 2005 exhibition at the Sue Crockford Gallery, in one sense a memorial to his late father Ian Reynolds. The artist’s interview with Andrew Clifford shows how personal elements were combined with broader cultural themes (‘I gotta use words when I talk to you,’ NZ Herald, 7 September 2005). 14 See Pound’s catalogue Aspects of Recent New Zealand Art: New Image, Auckland City Art Gallery, 1983, or his article ‘The New Image Painters’ in Art New Zealand 22, Summer 1981-82. 15 E.g. ‘Of the shadow cast by a man at night with a light’ (1991) or ‘Twelve hours of daylight’ (1997). ‘I gotta use words when I talk to you’ (2005) was actually a quote from T.S. Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes but in the local context there is also a McCahon echo. 16

Clifford, op. cit.

17

‘Country and Western,’ op. cit.

18 7073 canvases were painted for ‘Cloud,’ but the Biennale catalogue cites an earlier figure of 6944 (Zones of Contact, Biennale of Sydney, 2006, pp.234-35). 19 Beckett’s writing also has a ‘deadpan’ humour – he admired slapstick comedians like Buster Keaton. 20 The Dictionary of New Zealand English, ed. H.W. Orsman, Auckland, OUP, 1997, p.16. Another artist well aware of the strategic value of humour is Dick Frizell, who responded to the claim that he lacked seriousness with this shrewd comment: ‘I can’t say I’ve ever been particularly non-serious, though I’ve made it a lifetime mission to avoid going out of my way to look serious’ (quoted in Michael Dunn, New Zealand Painting: A Concise History, AUP, 2003, p.174). 21 See the title essay of Ron Silliman’s The New Sentence, New York, Roof, 1987. 22

Andrew Clifford, op. cit.

23 Few viewers in 2006 would also have thought of ‘cloud computing,’ but that association now accompanies the idea of a natural cloud. 24 ‘John Reynolds talks to Robert Leonard,’ SUMWHR, New Plymouth, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, 2002. p.53

304 / Re-inventing NZ 25 Juxtaposition is another aspect of McCahon’s work that impresses Reynolds – for example, titles such as ‘Angels and Bed’ or ‘Moby Dick sighted off Muriwai Beach’ which link the extraordinary to the everyday. 26

‘Country and Western,’ op. cit.

27 From the Starkwhite gallery website (http://www.starkwhite.co.nz/ story869.html) 28 Virginia Were, ‘Silver Lining,’ Art News New Zealand, vol.26 no.3, Spring 2006, p.60.

John Reynolds, ‘Cloud’ (some of the 7073 canvases, each 100 x 100 x 35mm, based on Harry Orsman’s  Dictionary of New Zealand English, installed at the Art Gallery of New South Wales for the 2006 Sydney Biennale). Photo by Patrick Reynolds.

Tom Kreisler, ‘Two Esoteric Low Pressure Systems’ (acrylic and dye on canvas, 1983). Courtesy Tom Kreisler Estate.

Tom Kreisler, ‘4 Pairs of Dancers Pulling on the Fabric of Life’ (acrylic on canvas, 1986). Courtesy Tom Kreisler Estate.

Tom Kreisler, ‘A Brush with Death’ (acrylic on canvas, 2001). Courtesy Tom Kreisler Estate.

The poster for ‘To the Unknown New Zealander,’ Julian Dashper’s 2007 exhibition at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu. In the catalogue, Dashper wrote: ‘When…I climbed the stairs at Christchurch Art Gallery to see [Rita Angus’s painting] Cass again in the flesh I was suddenly struck, as if for the first time, by the small blank-faced figure patiently sitting at the railway station in this painting. Who was this person? Rita Angus herself in some sort of back-blocks Mona Lisa self-portrait? Or that ordinary Kiwi bloke that Sir Edmund Hillary always describes himself as? Or was it me and all my New Zealand artist colleagues who had ever waited somewhere to go somewhere else? Be it Barbara Strathdee or Dane Mitchell, Philippa Blair or Neil Dawson, we’d all felt that collective weight of the severely stuffed suitcase as we slowly left these shores to show off abroad. You see, that little anonymous-faced person holding up what looked like a ticket to get punched was me, and at the same time it was all of us.’(Reproduced with permission of the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu.)

Julian Dashper and the Art of Misreading This is based on a piece I wrote for the catalogue of Four Times Painting, a 2007 exhibition at the Adam Art Gallery. One of the four artists was Julian Dashper, and I chose to discuss his lateral slant on the local. Sadly, two years later he died of cancer at the age of 49. His unique art, which often mystified reviewers, continues to be respected and influential among his fellow artists. Dashper and the other artists discussed in this book have strong international connections, and their work will never fit any identikit portrait of ‘New Zealand art,’ yet they have contributed to the local tradition and extended it in unexpected directions. This is not to demand local references, but to welcome them when they happen, for they add colour to our culture. Any thoughtful, observant artist working in our neighbourhood is likely to include some details of that kind, and the surprising choice is part of the pleasure. For example, when Len Lye saw the Cubists drawing upon indigenous, tribal art from Africa, he did not imitate them but began to study the art of his own region – Māori, Aboriginal and Pacific Island art. Colin McCahon’s modernism drew upon local elements such as roadside signs. When New Zealand artists such as Paul Hartigan were influenced by Pop Art in the 1970s, they turned to the popular culture on hand, besides adding in-jokes such as cheeky references to McCahon. Artists working with collage (such as et al) took their materials from local second-hand shops. When Rick Killeen began his semiotic play, he included some New Zealand symbols. John Reynolds chose the Dictionary of New Zealand English. When Simon Denny – one of our most international artists – made conceptual work about contemporary capitalism and the Internet, he focused on ‘The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom.’ And Dashper came up with a new angle on ‘Cass’ (an iconic painting discussed earlier in my ‘Invention of New Zealand’ essay).

Julian Dashper and the Art of Misreading

I

n ‘It Is What It Isn’t,’ Julian Dashper described his odyssey as a 15-year-old from Wellington to Auckland, obsessed with the Van Gogh in Auckland exhibition at the Auckland City Art Gallery because it was his first chance to see the original paintings.1 As he later wrote: ‘To this day, there are no major publicly accessible collections of canonical modernist works of art from overseas, the way there are in Australia for instance. This means that unless you travel your entire experience of this history is based on reproduction.’2 This story rang a lot of bells for me. I grew up with that frustration of scrambling to access all the various stages of art history that my birthplace had deprived me of. Greedily I grabbed ‘modern art’ through any book or magazine illustration that came my way, in whatever sequence, like randomized time travel. Dashper added: ‘What I thought most about on the train trip home that same night was firstly the fact that the exhibition consisted of “only” eight of Van Gogh’s works (it was advertised as a “blockbuster” show after all) and secondly that the catalogue (which I had dutifully purchased as evidence of my visit) was so resolutely abstract in its jacket design.’3 Getting excited about abstraction was Dashper’s unexpected takeout from Van Gogh (with some help from Ross Ritchie, the catalogue designer), a great example of the quirky nature of our antipodean art history. I remember an epiphany I had as a teenager in the late 1950s coming across a comment by Igor Stravinsky – the champion of ‘abstract’

312 / Re-inventing NZ

music – which introduced me to a conception of avant-garde: ‘When I compose something, I cannot conceive that it should fail to be recognized for what it is and understood. I use the language of music, and my statement in my grammar will be clear to the musician who has followed music up to where my contemporaries and I have brought it.’4 The ideas I took from this were first the necessity for art to keep moving forwards, and second the responsibility for any serious listener to keep up with the play. But Stravinsky made things difficult because nobody who lived outside a major centre could closely follow the global progress of contemporary music. Some scores and recordings could be obtained, but live performances in a country like New Zealand were (and today still are) very limited. For the composer to fail even to ‘conceive’ of listeners not able to interpret his work in the grammatically correct way was depressing news – like Clement Greenberg’s later comments to the Canterbury Society of Arts that he had ‘never heard of New Zealand art’ and that ‘nobody could expect New Zealand to turn out anything of worth – not major art – because it was too far away from…the art centres of the world.’5 The weak link in Stravinsky’s argument was its assumption that the arts evolved in a straight line. What about the radical breaks and paradigm shifts? Stravinsky had himself led a sudden shift to modernism in music in 1913, and at the time of his ‘language’ comment he had just shocked everyone again by shifting sideways to serial music. Such discontinuities are especially common in the New Zealand context, and Dashper was fascinated by such effects. One of the useful things about leaps (or ‘twists’ to borrow one of his terms) is the way they lend themselves to creative forms of misreading. Stravinsky’s serial music could be seen as an eccentric misreading of Anton Webern or Pierre Boulez – but the surprise added new energy and interest to his late work. Harold Bloom discussed similar processes of this kind in The Anxiety of Influence and A Map of Misreading.6 While this mandarin American literary critic showed little interest in any writers outside of the great canon of Anglo-American literature, his book offered a useful theory of creative ‘misprision.’ He wrote: ‘Weaker talents idealize [their precursors]; figures of capable imagination appropriate for themselves.’ His aim was not to encourage sloppy reading but to identify the most powerful and intense forms of free translation or lateral

Julian Dashper and the Art of Misreading / 313

thought. Here was a potential way to overcome the anxiety of influence which haunted our small, derivative culture. As Allen Curnow put it: ‘Too much of our writing shows not so much the true influence of good or great work … as a mistaken attempt to create the identical article, manufactured under licence, as it were, out of local materials by local industry’ [his italics].7 To symbolize and mock this kind of failure, Dashper created sculptural works with chains such as his 1993 ‘Untitled (English White Chain), a reference to a particular heritage of a country and how it does or doesn’t break free from that.’8 In 1994, he exhibited on chains a copy of Blue Poles which the National Gallery of Australia had used to determine where to hang the original Pollock they had controversially purchased.9 Dashper’s art played constantly with the idea of ‘art centres’ and local readings, ‘originals’ and ‘identical articles’ – examples of ‘It Is What It Isn’t.’ From a negative viewpoint, New Zealand modernism can be seen to have acted as a filter that admitted only a limited range of ingredients – particular forms of representation and regionalism, for example, but not abstraction or Dadaism. Yet the strongest local talents created a new synthesis or ‘misprision’ from this quirky mix of imports. In 1991 Dashper and fellow painter John Reynolds celebrated Toss Woollaston for his idiosyncratic appropriation: ‘Cézanne. Looking at the reproductions in New Zealand in the ’30s. Then you went out and you did it your way. It’s looking great Toss.’10 In 1992 Robert Leonard wrote: ‘isolation from the centres of official modern culture has caused a widespread misunderstanding of modernism as an artistic form. Ironically, it was through such misunderstanding that we have generated some of our most truly modern works.’11 Colin McCahon was an impressive example of this ‘wonky modernism.’12 In 2007 Dashper summed up his own major influences: ‘If you think of a triangle: European conceptualism is one point of the triangle, another point is American abstraction, colour-field painting, and the other side of the triangle is this little kid in New Zealand seeing everything from a distance, picking up the wrong end of the stick and running like hell.’13 The national versus the international has always been an important dialectic for New Zealand artists, but the nature of each of those terms has kept changing. Dashper, who was born in 1960, had a particularly

314 / Re-inventing NZ

fresh and thoughtful perspective. His combination of humour and seriousness anticipated the mood of much subsequent local art. Up to his untimely death in 2009 at the age of 49, he created a number of subtle projects focusing on the process of reading or misreading (‘picking up the wrong end of the stick’). It is natural for any New Zealander with a serious involvement in the arts to be critical of our own cultural environment and hugely impressed by the richness of overseas cultures, yet at the same time to be angered by the arrogance and lack of interest that those cultures display towards New Zealand. In my generation this anger had a political edge because our country was still in many respects a British colony. Since then New Zealand has become more bi- and multi-cultural, more active in the arts, and more connected to the world; and the centres of art have sought to improve their peripheral vision, supposedly to create an unbiased ‘flat’ world. Dashper was fascinated by all the bumps, gaps and tensions that remained, but his mood was bemused or ironic rather than angry. He felt there were ways our permanent sense of distance could be turned to an advantage, a perspective from which to review – or consciously misread – all the familiar odds and ends of art, including ‘modernism,’ ‘postmodernism,’ ‘abstraction,’ ‘conceptualism,’ and ‘minimalism.’14 Dashper’s basic starting-point was: ‘I always remember Gordon Walters saying to me once that “We can’t escape being New Zealanders.” Meaning that living here was kind of like a permanent tattoo of some sort for us all.’15 Again: ‘I’ve never pretended to not be a New Zealander, as it is obviously something I cannot escape.’16 Dashper liked to begin with simple assertions of this kind but would then emphasize the strangeness and complexity of ‘here.’ This lay behind his interest in ‘canonical [art history] sites and situations around the world’ where he made audio recordings.17 One of the aims was to imply that every site had the regional particularity of (say) Auckland, even though the influence of an art centre like New York made its culture appear universal and context-free. When he held a joint exhibition with Australian artist John Nixon, they entitled it ‘The World is Your Studio,’ a phrase that sounded innocent, almost clichéd, whereas the art on display (such as their Artforum projects) quickly revealed its ironies and complexities.

Julian Dashper and the Art of Misreading / 315

After 1992 Dashper operated more often overseas than in New Zealand because ‘I had an intuition early on that there would be a limited number of people here who would be interested in what I was doing.’18 Indeed, some of New Zealand’s opinion-leaders in art saw him as not a New Zealand artist, or not an artist at all. After the Herald art critic T. J. McNamara had written consistently negative reviews over a period of 21 years, Dashper published a collection of them (He Loves Me Not).19 It was also a conspicuous omission that Dashper was never selected as a ‘New Zealand artist’ to represent the country at the Sydney Biennale. One way to understand this problem of acceptance is to understand that conceptual art still remains a no-go area for many people, especially those whose taste in art was shaped before the 1970s. (It’s something like the allergic reaction of older pop music fans to the genre of hip-hop.) ‘Conceptual’ is an inevitable term to apply to Dashper’s art, though we need to remember that he preferred to be called ‘an artist’ rather than ‘a conceptualist.’20 He was sceptical of all the categories of modern art (though he had an extraordinary knowledge of the underlying history): ‘What does an artist do if they truly believe that they don’t want their work to end up fitting nicely into a neat pigeon hole?’21 Meanwhile, his art received more recognition overseas than in New Zealand, despite its many local references. One of the reasons he represented such an interesting role model for young artists was his success in building an international career while remaining based in New Zealand and ‘never pretend[ing] to not be a New Zealander.’ Dashper was a nimble writer (as well as reader). His punchy, colloquial sentences made his texts very engaging, but they often carried an ironic sting in their tail. A large, posthumous collection of his texts and interviews bears the characteristic title This Is Not Writing, which echoes ‘It Is What It Isn’t’ and other comments such as: ‘I am not a writer…. I find every word written too difficult to write. Even this.’22 The paintings and other objects that Dashper exhibited were beautifully designed and finished, but what struck the viewer initially was their intellectual thrust. The images were minimal but their implications continued to multiply. ‘Cover Version,’ Dashper’s most global ‘exhibition,’ took place in 1992 when he persuaded the highly influential Artforum to include his design for a cover which bore the title Artfrom.

316 / Re-inventing NZ

The image for this ‘cover’ consisted of rows of slides of Dashper’s work. By this time he had developed the notion of ‘portability’ as a strategy for the New Zealand artist who wanted to exhibit overseas. He concentrated on slides, recordings, CVs, or anything else that would fit his cabin luggage. His emphasis on slides was provocative because it was the opposite way he had encountered art as a student23: ‘The modernism that came into New Zealand had to come a long way to get here. It is only natural … that it got damaged along the way. Images brought into this country were held up to us as examples in slides. Now it seems obvious to me to start sending them back that way.’24 Among his many evocative (and provocative) objects was a series of drum kits, each bearing the name of a well-known New Zealand artist – ‘The Anguses,’ ‘The Colin McCahons,’ ‘The Hoteres,’ ‘The Drivers,’ etc. Dashper took a keen interest in pop music for its ‘informality,’25 its links with art, its complex give-and-take between national and international, and its cult of celebrity. He called his drum kit exhibition ‘The Big Bang Theory’; and being portable enough to exhibit overseas, the drumkits raised ironic questions about whether making an impact in New Zealand was likely to be heard anywhere else. (When he exhibited one of the drum kits in Australia, he deliberately chose a miniature model.26) Dashper made a number of lateral readings of Cass, Rita Angus’s iconic painting of a Canterbury railway station. In 2007 in ‘To the Unknown New Zealander’ he singled out a small figure waiting on the platform: ‘I was suddenly struck … by the small blank-faced figure patiently sitting at the railway station …. Who was this person? Rita Angus herself …? Or was it me and all my New Zealand artist colleagues who had ever waited somewhere to go somewhere else? ….’27 Dashper turned ‘Cass’ into an equivalent of Charles Brasch’s ‘The Islands’: Everywhere in light and calm the murmuring Shadow of departure; distance looks our way And none knows where he will lie down at night. But the dramatic tone of early New Zealand modernism became something different in Dashper’s art – he gave it a curious, whimsical slant,

Julian Dashper and the Art of Misreading / 317

as though the details of Cass were interpreted by the Roland Barthes of Mythologies. ‘Distance’ was a tired New Zealand concern but Dashper’s conceptual approach – involving slides, telephone calls, recordings, and re-readings of iconic works – created new situations (or ‘visual séances’28) in which viewers could contemplate the strangeness, humour and complexity of the theme. His works were cryptic and open-ended, typically leaving space for several ambiguous readings. A startling 2007 exhibition involved a series of canvases painted with morphine. Morphine – like opium, absinthe or heroin – was an international product which many artists had been interested to sample, but the present exhibition was precipitated by a medical crisis, by cancer treatment. Dashper’s art was a kind of creative misreading of morphine – a month’s supply – which he chose to use neither as pain relief nor as recreational drug but as a painting medium. He was always sceptical of the concept of ‘pure abstraction’ (an ideal of Stravinsky, as well as Clement Greenberg). The morphine paintings were monochromatic but hugely loaded with subtext. Dashper’s lively spirit was never overcome by his medical problems, and he joked about the national boundaries of this art: ‘I imagine, due to sniffer dogs and drug regulations, that these paintings would be highly problematic to export internationally. A complete reversal of the principle behind the majority of my work from the last 14 years.’29 In his 2012 Gordon H. Brown lecture, Robert Leonard implied that ‘To become an international artist he [Dashper] changed the shape of his project. He jettisoned New Zealand references and themes ….’ Leonard also suggested that this change paralleled the country’s evolution from an inward-looking art scene to ‘a post-medium post-national art world,’ though he conceded that Dashper’s work still retained some local traces.30 In Reading Room Leonard argued similarly that the artist had gone from ‘trying to … parody’ nationalist art in his earlier work to ‘jettisoning local references.’31 He added: ‘We are operating in a period I like to call “the end of New Zealand art.”’32 I have great respect for Leonard’s writing, but I think the conventional pattern he imposed here on Dashper’s career – from national to international – oversimplifies the artist’s originality. That is, Leonard’s misreading here is not as strong as Dashper’s. ‘Parody’ is not an adequate description of that process. What the artist demonstrated throughout his career was

318 / Re-inventing NZ

a fruitful new way of thinking about the dialectic between local and global. He sought to maximize their interaction and ‘never pretended not to be a New Zealander.’ Not that I mean to over-simplify Dashper’s art by implying that it was always linked with that theme. His work offered new perspectives on many of the concepts and narratives of modern art. Yet the local provided a starting point for many of his ideas. There were continuing benefits for a sophisticated lateral thinker in ‘seeing everything from a distance, picking up the wrong end of the stick.’ His conceptual approach, his ability to generate both local and overseas readings, and his playful, ironic slant were always different from those of a traditional ‘New Zealand artist’; yet he also did not fit the other familiar role of émigré or ‘universalist.’ Dane Mitchell offers a helpful formulation based on ‘the notion of alternative modernities, existing like a series of sub-species, in which one can fashion one’s own modernity (a Latin-American kind, a Pacific kind), problematic for any potential power modernism has had to contain all such conversations under a single unifying umbrella.’ He adds: ‘I wondered … whether or not Julian had operated in the gap between one notion of modernism and many.’33 ‘Gap’ is perhaps too negative a term for the rich location or point of view that Dashper created for himself, but it does suit his discovery that he could think about New Zealand without falling back on essentialist terms. His mapping of any location (or concept) was complex and unbounded. ‘It is difficult getting a system because there can’t be a system.’34 And: ‘It Is What It Isn’t.’

Julian Dashper and the Art of Misreading / 319

Endnotes 1 Julian Dashper, This Is Not Writing, Auckland, Clouds / Michael Lett, 2010, p.174. 2

Ibid, p.68.

3 Quoted in ‘Daspher Time,’ Four Times Painting, Wellington, Adam Art Gallery, 2007, p.15. (The original source – the Sue Crockford Gallery website – is no longer available.) 4 Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Conversations with Igor Stravinsky, London, Faber, 1959. 5 Quoted in Francis Pound, The Invention of New Zealand Art & National Identity 1930-1970, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2010, p.xiv. (Greenberg’s visit to New Zealand was in 1968.) 6 Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, New York, Oxford University Press, 1973; and A Map of Misreading, New York, Oxford University Press, 1975. 7 ‘New Zealand Literature,’ in The Future of New Zealand, ed. M F Lloyd Pritchard, Auckland, Whitcombe and Tombs / University of Auckland, 1964, p.87. 8

This Is Not Writing, p.42.

9 See Trevor Smith, Chain Chain Chainge: The Recent Work of Julian Dashper, Canberra, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, 1995. 10

This Is Not Writing, p.37.

11 Robert Leonard, ‘Mod Cons,’ Headlands: Thinking Through New Zealand Art, ed. Mary Barr, Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art / National Art Gallery of New Zealand, 1992, p.171. 12

Ibid, p.169.

13 Rosa Shiels, ‘Dashper’s Homage to New Zealand Artists,’ The Press, 26 September 2007. 14

See, for example, This Is Not Writing, p.67 and p.156.

15

Ibid, p.171.

16

Ibid, p.67. (He repeats this on p.81 #36, and p.120.)

320 / Re-inventing NZ 17

Ibid, p.86 and p.129

18 Ibid, p.126. See the 10-part Dashper documentary My Space (made by Simone Horrocks and Richard Flynn in 2008) on YouTube. For example, the sixth part includes a discussion of the New Zealand reception of Dashper’s art (www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLNJjS_24j4). 19

He Loves Me Not, Auckland, Art School Press, 2002.

20

This Is Not Writing, p.126.

21

Ibid, p.99.

22

Ibid, p.116. Dashper makes a similar comment on p.159.

23 Ibid, p.23. Another text, p.29, suggests that the idea came – or was given reinforcement – by hearing that Len Lye had exhibited films as strips. 24

Ibid, p.56.

25 Ibid. 26 See The Warriors, Auckland, Sue Crockford Gallery, 1998. 27 ‘For Captain Cook,’ To the Unknown New Zealander, Christchurch, Christchurch Art Gallery, 2007. 28

This Is Not Writing, p.69.

29

Ibid, p.172.

30

Nostalgia for Intimacy, Wellington, Adam Art Gallery, 2012.

31 ‘Rereading Julian Dashper’s The Big Bang Theory,’ Reading Room, No.5, 2012, p.114. 32

Ibid, p.115.

33

Reading Room, No.4, 2010, p.28.

34

Ibid, p.57.

Popular Productions This essay was written for the 1991 book Pleasures and Dangers, based on a documentary with the same title which looked at the work of six women artists – Alexis Hunter, Lisa Reihana, Julia Morison, Alison Maclean, Christine Webster, and Merylyn Tweedie.1 One of the reasons Shirley and I made the documentary was the fact that recent New Zealand art films had focused entirely on men (such as the six artists in the series Profiles). In 1991 some of the artists in our documentary were not well-known, but all have gone on to have important careers. Our title alluded to the 1984 book Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality edited by Carole S. Vance, which argued that a new wave of feminists was exploring gender and sexuality in radical ways. At the time, Tweedie was exhibiting her work under the name of ‘Popular Productions’ or ‘Dora Productions’, but she is today most famous, or most notorious, as the artist ‘et al’ (or should I describe her as merely a spokesperson for this and various other mysterious groups?). My essay concentrates on her highly original film-making because it was the least well-known aspect of her art. In 1988 I also had the pleasure of supervising Dora I, a thesis on feminist theory which she wrote as part of her Elam coursework. It was a great, subversive piece of work, and the experience of supervising it – if ‘supervising’ is the right word – was a very wild ride. Like her films.

Popular Productions

I

can always remember where I’ve seen Merylyn Tweedie’s films and videos because they always unsettle the situation, making the viewer scramble for the focus or the tuning or their mental equivalents. Recently I spent a Saturday at home watching ten of her videos. It’s hard to be exact about the number because her favourite sequences are constantly revisited, recoloured, remixed. (‘There are so many words and images available that it’s unnecessary to make any more.’) Whenever I stopped for tea or pressed the eject button, television came rushing back – the ‘World of Sport’, a mini-series, the Girl Guides dancing to Cindy Lauper’s song (‘A girl just wants to have fun’), the Network News – they were life in a parallel universe. A few days later I accompanied the crew of the documentary to a state-of-the-art video facility where some sequences had to be transferred from video to film. To work in one of those sound-proofed suites, with walls as white as any dealer gallery’s, is to be reminded of the single-mindedness with which all professional film and video production struggles to maintain hi-tech clarity and control. Tweedie herself gets a kick out of doing post-production in such places when enough grant money comes her way. Wonder What and Wonder What’s Wrong were completed on Betacam-SP with the help of a wondering Vidcom editor. Film-makers go pale when they see Tweedie cutting and splicing a negative – nobody, but nobody, treats a ‘master’ like that. As Rhondda Bosworth puts it, Tweedie ‘subverts virtuosity, or even competence’. An art without craft, a crafty art. I see Tweedie’s films and

324 / Re-inventing NZ

videos as the toughest, most adventurous area of her work, which has left art audiences complaining loudly either of overload or of deprivation – You Require Filmic Pleasure. She has been involved with film since 1974 and is still using some of her 1970s footage. There are many reasons why film and video are particularly appropriate media for her. For a start, there is her interest in the reproduction and circulation of images. She moved from still photography to film-making because of her growing interest in language and in narrative, or in the unsettling of them – The Story Of and A Narrative That Provides the Measure of Desire. It is interesting that her photographs already included a time element because of their long exposures, while her films have been made up of sequences that remain as oddly self-contained as photographs. The shifts of emphasis in the course of her many films and videos themselves constitute a narrative; for example, the shift from words written and scratched by hand to printed words – but this sense of development is complicated (deliberately?) by the way all those favourite old images keep popping up. Film and video also opened up to her the universe of sound. She has said that ‘People hate the sound [of my early films] and this encouraged me to challenge assumptions about technical perfection.’ She became very interested in essays such as Mary Ann Doane’s ‘The Voice in the Cinema’ and Marie-Claire Ropars-Wuilleumier’s ‘The Disembodied Voice’. Her sound tracks seem to wander all over the radio spectrum, picking up racing commentaries, soothing piano music, country and western ballads (‘If you were mine’), cries that can be interpreted either as torture or orgasm, grandiose orchestral flourishes, and the news (‘brought to you in the world service of the BBC’). Tweedie has her favourite old recordings just as she has her favourite strips of film. Listening to Satie’s ‘Gymnopedies’ on the soundtrack, one is reminded of the soothing music they play in airplanes during takeoff, especially when the cabin is shaking and the wings seem about to drop off. Tweedie has invited several people to collaborate on sound, such as George Hubbard and Tone Cornaga and indeed the fact that film-making always involves teamwork suits her basic dislike of the ‘auteur theory’, the romanticising of the artist or individual self. She talks of her work with ‘Roland Welles’ – any relation to Orson Barthes? – and all recent films and videos are credited to ‘Popular Productions’. The decision in 1988 to change

Popular Productions / 325

the group’s name from ‘Dora Productions’ to ‘Popular Productions’ coincided with the decision to stop using French feminist texts explicitly as source materials. Today a new name is being considered – C.J. (Arthur) Craig and Sons Ltd. – and we wait to see what changes are involved in this corporate restructure. To transfer a ‘home industry’ approach (‘Here’s my success secret: I studied art at home – so can you!’) from drawing and sculpture to film and video is a particularly subversive move because in those media we are really up against the big bucks and the high technology. New Zealand films are few and far between in comparison with the New Zealand paintings that dominate our galleries. So far Popular Productions has concentrated on Hollywood but it is certainly interested in putting a spanner in the works of that other massive machine of culture, Television. Tweedie’s rejection of mastery distinguishes her not only from the mainstream but also from many experimental film-makers. Watching a Popular Production is a special kind of transaction, not easy to explain. Here I reach for a book called Communication Models by Denis McQhail and Sven Windahl (Longman, London 1981) which is (as it says on the back cover) ‘an invaluable aid to the student of communication’. It has neatly drawn diagrams representing all the known theoretical models of how the media work. For example, here’s one by M. DeFleur:

326 / Re-inventing NZ

Like most of the books I’ve read lately, I keep imagining how Tweedie would deal to this one with her scissors and photocopier. However, the diagram does appropriately put ‘noise’ (or ‘random disturbance’) at the centre of things. Tweedie’s films and videos have an unusually high ‘noise to signal’ ratio. Just as she is interested in the way an image starts to fray at the edges as it’s progressively enlarged by a photocopier, she likes to see what happens when a video image ‘goes a generation’ and than another. Information theory describes the growing uncertainty of the message as ‘equivocation’. Interestingly enough, the solution for those still determined to send a masterful message is lots of repetition. In the case of Popular Productions, repetition seems to add to the shiftiness. Still, one does become increasingly interested in those odd, tacky images. There’s a mysterious shot of grass which may be a fake grass skirt. There’s a tangle of conifer hedges; a black and white image of distant waves; a very tactile impression of a cheese grater (no, it’s the surface of Judy Darragh’s bar cabinet); out-of-focus wallpaper and carpet patterns; a man (sometimes sepia, sometimes green) who is eating his breakfast too quickly; a boy with a walking stick who is seen and not heard; a woman with an umbrella who seems to be standing on milk bottles; and everywhere a dance of dirt, scratches, and other marks which may or may not qualify as ‘random’. There are also ruined texts, with words fiercely erased in front of our eyes. As words become unstable and useless, we can start to enjoy them, like neon signs with letters blinking or broken down. Or like old wallpaper, these are remnants of someone else’s pattern-making, the power of the message fading away. These films explore the whole range of possibilities from signal to noise, via abstraction (what are those beautiful out-of-focus blobs of colour?) or ambiguous spaces in which a camera slowly pans around the walls (The Master Bedroom) without quite managing to establish a convincing third dimension. After a while, this removal of certainty starts to feel less anxious. ‘The spectator is given room to construct her own reading.’ (A room of one’s own, so to speak.) Tweedie’s narratives end as inconclusively as Samuel Beckett’s. One of her recent videos ends with a title that says simply (simply?) ‘Fin’. It’s the title at the end of the Surrealist film Un Chien Andalou (and Tweedie’s the only viewer I’ve ever known who likes that film

Popular Productions / 327

mainly for the music). And at that point you press the stop button, and ‘Sale of the Century’ or ‘New Zealand’s Funniest Home Movies’ comes rushing back.

Endnotes 1 Pleasures and Dangers: Artists of the ’90s, ed. Trish Clark and Wystan Curnow, Auckland, Moet & Chandon New Zealand Art Foundation / Longman Paul, 1991.

Tom Kreisler’s Esoteric Pressure Systems This previously unpublished essay grew out of a film project, Tom Who?, a documentary about the painter Tom Kreisler which had its premiere in the 2015 New Zealand International Film Festival. As usual, my wife Shirley Horrocks was director and producer while I served as researcher. And once again we chose a subject who deserved to be better known. Although this is the most recent of my essays on art, Kreisler who was born in 1938 was an older artist than Tweedie (b.1953), Reynolds (b.1956) or Dashper (b.1960). The fact that he anticipated some of their interests as early as the 1960s is proof of how remarkably innovative he was. Neglect by critics and curators meant that many younger artists were not aware of his art until much later (if ever). A special thanks to Lesley Kreisler and her sons Aaron, Eugene and Nick for their help in providing information.

Tom Kreisler’s Esoteric Pressure Systems

It’s just a bit of rubbish I wrote one day, and it says: ‘Having lived with myself as a Foreigner, an outsider to most cultures. I know what I like in my work, and try to shape it accordingly.’ (Tom Kreisler, 1986)1

O

ccasional re-invention is essential to keep a culture healthy. Since New Zealand culture is small and constantly eroded by ‘brain drain,’ immigration has been a particularly important source of new energies and ideas. Think of the Jews escaping from Nazism in the 1930s who contributed greatly to our musical life and our universities, or the waves of Pacific Islanders in the 1960s and ’70s who introduced new forms of literature, filmmaking, music, design and comedy. Now Asian immigrants are becoming increasingly visible in the arts. I can’t cite statistics but it has always seemed to me that a surprising number of high-achievers in the arts in our country are immigrants or the children of recent immigrants. Yet this is a volatile process as New Zealanders are not always welcoming, and immigrants may not be eager to dive in to a new culture. A classic example was the famous German Jewish poet Karl Wolfskehl who arrived in 1938 and died here in 1948. ‘Legend has it that he looked at a globe to find the furthest point from Europe and chose New Zealand,’ though his first choice appears to have been Australia.2

332 / Re-inventing NZ

Wolfskehl was nearly 70 when he arrived so it is hardly surprising that he chose to continue writing in the German language. He certainly paid attention to his new country and had some interaction with New Zealand writers, but a greater priority for him was exchanging letters with old friends overseas. Unfortunately ‘As an enemy alien all his incoming and outgoing mail was censored.’3 He became a naturalised citizen in 1946 but always felt displaced, particularly in the loss of his native language. For his tombstone he chose the phrase ‘Exul Poeta’ (Poet in Exile).4 This essay discusses the life of a younger and more recent artistic immigrant, Tom Kreisler. He was born in 1938 in Argentina to a Jewish family who had fled from Vienna to escape the Nazis, coming to Buenos Aires by way of Barcelona. He grew up in an artistic environment, enjoyed drawing, and by the age of nine was a fan of Picasso.5 He was a rebellious boy who played truant from school. Soon after the sudden death of his photographer father Ernesto, when he was 13 he accepted an invitation to live with his uncle and aunt in Christchurch. He travelled alone to New Zealand, and though he was initially excited about the trip, he found his new country a very alien environment. His cousin Beatriz Schechter recalls: ‘Tom was a survivor. It’s not easy to lose one’s father when one is 12, and suddenly to then lose his country, his mother, his language, his friends, the whole family around.’ She adds: ‘My uncle and my aunt, although they were good people, were quite rigid and didn’t have any experience of children …. Tom, when I met him here, said “Do you believe that I cried myself to sleep for a whole year?” – and I could believe it.’6 Although the boy was still at a formative age when he arrived in New Zealand, his links with Europe and Latin America remained strong because his new foster parents, George and Edith Roth, were Jewish Austrian exiles. George was a nuclear physicist and consultant to the U.N., and their Christchurch circle of friends included other émigré intellectuals such as Karl Popper. When Tom was about to turn 21, they treated him to a world trip so he could visit many European museums and cultural landmarks, and also spend three months in Mexico where his mother Annie and sister Monica were now living. Dick Frizzell describes his first meeting with him around 1963, when both were students at the Ilam School of Fine Arts: ‘He had that

Tom Kreisler’s Esoteric Pressure Systems / 333

European charisma. He was very, very obviously from somewhere more sophisticated than Christchurch or even New Zealand. Just his whole demeanour, the way he carried himself, and of course the accent. He felt like a bohemian intellectual, which attracted me to him big time. You felt you were going to hear something interesting talking to him.’ Although Kreisler was to spend much of his career as an artist in New Zealand, based mostly in New Plymouth until his death in 2002, people continued to be struck by the otherness of his art. John Perry saw his work as ‘right outside anything that anybody in this country was doing.’ For Paul Hartigan: ‘The kind of paintings that he painted … were completely different to anything I had ever seen or encountered.’ For John Maynard: ‘He was not only an outsider of New Plymouth, he was an outsider of New Zealand art. He didn’t follow the conventions.’ And for Cheryl Sotheran: ‘People didn’t really get him. He was so different from any other artist working in New Zealand, and people tend to leave people out because they don’t understand them.’ If we consult major surveys of New Zealand art: Michael Dunn’s New Zealand Painting: A Concise History (Auckland, AUP, 2003); Hamish Keith’s The Big Picture: A History of New Zealand Art from 1642 (Auckland, Godwit, 2007); Elizabeth Caughey and John Gow, Contemporary New Zealand Art, Volume 1, 1997; Volume 2, 1999; and Volume 3, 2002 (Auckland, David Bateman) Gil Docking’s Two Hundred Years of New Zealand Painting in the revised edition with additions by Michael Dunn covering 1970-1990 (Auckland, David Bateman, 1990); and Gil Docking, Michael Dunn, and Edward Hanfling’s Two Hundred and Forty Years of New Zealand Painting [1769-2010] (Auckland, David Bateman, 2012) we will not find any mention of Kreisler. From a New Plymouth perspective, it is suspicious that all these books were published in Auckland. But since they mention a number of other New Plymouth artists, a deeper reason is needed to explain Kreisler’s absence. It lay in his difference, in the fact that the mainstream of the art world did not find this émigré artist relevant in terms of either his style or his subject matter. In the 1960s and ’70s, when Kreisler began his career, what national traditions was an artist expected to engage with? Which themes dominated local discussions of art history? In terms of subject matter, New Zealand social and political history was a central focus. Then there was

334 / Re-inventing NZ

the history of ‘New Zealand art’ itself, the canonic painters. Portraits constituted a strong genre, along with critiques of local bourgeois life. There was a particularly strong emphasis on landscape, the country’s unique topography, flora and fauna. Biculturalism – or Māori issues – also became an increasingly prominent concern. An impressive tradition of abstract painting was also developing, though it was still resisted as a foreign influence. In terms of Kreisler, what is interesting about this list is the thorough way in which he ignored these ‘New Zealand’ concerns. Neither was he an abstract painter. Bourgeois-baiting is the one item he shared, at least in spirit, but his styles of representation and his painting techniques were very different. Today we are likely to say, ‘So he didn’t fit any of the usual formulas for the New Zealand painter, so what?’ In those days, however, some would have seen urgent issues at stake. They would have invoked the value of history, the importance of learning from and building on the past. Our culture needed ancestors, role models, kaumatua – such was the nature of tradition. They saw this as especially vital for a country with a small, fragile culture, constantly in danger of being marginalised and swamped by the output of larger countries. If it failed to develop its own tradition, New Zealand would lapse back into the status of a colony. This sense of vulnerability was a rationale for national funding bodies to exist and for artists to prioritise local culture. There seemed to be plenty of historical evidence to support such concerns. Unfortunately, this kind of insecurity sometimes led to parochialism or fossilized taste. Today the patrolling of boundaries has relaxed, and there is now a stronger interest in new arrivals, and also in New Zealanders who were high-achievers overseas, such as Len Lye, Rosalie Gascoigne or Max Gimblett, whereas previously such figures were dismissed as deserters. I have always shared concerns about the fragility of the local culture, but I have no patience with essentialism, with the narrow conceptions of New Zealand ‘authenticity’ which still surface in art controversies and privately influence the canon. What matters is the survival of a lively, local culture continually active in the reinvention of itself – which brings me back to Tom Kreisler’s contributions to that process. After a period at Canterbury University and Auckland Teacher’s College, Kreisler settled in New Plymouth in 1968. He was not leaving

Tom Kreisler’s Esoteric Pressure Systems / 335

bigger cities in search of the real New Zealand, but taking up the job of art teacher offered by the local Boys’ High School. More importantly, New Plymouth was about to open a gallery devoted to contemporary art. Kreisler would remain a passionate supporter of the GovettBrewster Art Gallery for the rest of his life, and that would even be the location for his funeral in 2002.7 But since New Plymouth when he arrived was a city of only 36,000 inhabitants serving a region mainly of farmers, it was still a surprising choice for an avant-garde artist. Dame Cheryll Sotheran who was Director of the Gallery from 1984 to 1989, comments: ‘That he [Kreisler] should have fetched up in New Plymouth of all places was quite extraordinary really, but New Plymouth never knew how extraordinary it was. But … he liked the marginal, … he liked the idea of being on the edge, as he was in New Plymouth and in New Zealand in some ways. It is almost as if he chose the most far-out-of-the-way place that he could. That was what he wanted, yes, and I admired him for it.’8 Taranaki was a location he embraced not as an enthusiastic regional artist but as someone searching for a quiet corner where he could ignore fashion or market pressures. As he once explained it: ‘Coming to New Zealand represented a kind of exile – I had been a bad boy. I had this choice so I came (on my own) …. In a way living in New Plymouth was also like a voluntary exile – not for being bad but in order to be away from bad influences in ART.’9 At least, that was his hope.10 Kreisler often spoke of Latin America as his first or spiritual home: ‘I lived there [Argentina] for 13 years, and the first 13 years of your life are where you form basic ideas.’11 He had a three month visit to Mexico in 1959, but his interest was strengthened in 1971 when he got to know Helen Escobedo, a Mexican artist who had come to New Zealand to make ‘Signals,’ a piece of stainless steel public sculpture which still stands at the Fred Ambler Lookout in Parnell. Visiting Mexico in 1977 because of the death of his mother, he decided to move his family there. They stayed for two years, returning to New Plymouth largely for financial reasons. In 1987 he made a research trip around Latin America to study modern and ancient indigenous art,12 and went back to Mexico again in 2000. He commented: ‘South America is largely neglected in the arts field, when it has a lot to offer. I hope I can bring back to New Zealand and Taranaki a piece of [its

336 / Re-inventing NZ

culture].’13 Confirming his comment about being ‘an outsider to most cultures,’ he was – as his sister reports – still perceived as an exotic foreigner even in Mexico, because of his red hair and unusual interests. At the same time it would be a mistake to underestimate his involvement with New Zealand art. He gave knowledgeable support to all the Directors of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. He campaigned for Toss Woollaston when the Gallery’s purchase of one of his landscapes (‘Muturoa,’ bought for $1485) was attacked by a member of the District Council. Setting aside aesthetic differences, Kreisler was ready to ride to the defence of any serious artist, including Don Driver and Colin McCahon. He wrote: ‘Most Colin McCahon works require a special reading which is denied to many who are not prepared to see beyond their own nose.’14 His unorthodox teaching methods and enthusiasm had a great influence on many artists – such as Yvonne Coleman, Paul Hartigan, Paul Judge, Joanna Langford, John Leuthart, Seraphine Pick, Richard Matheson and Terry Urban – and he had significant artistic friendships with Fiona Clark, Don Driver, Dick Frizzell, Chris Heaphy, Christine Hellyar, Simon Morris, Leon Narbey, Warren Viscoe and Ruth Watson. After his work at the High School from 1968 to 1977, he taught at Taranaki Polytechnic from 1979 to 1997, followed by a spell at Waikato Polytechnic; and for many years he also taught community groups and prison inmates. Kreisler never pushed a party line, though he himself suffered from the inflexible agendas of the art world. In the words of Tony Green: ‘The word for Tom’s work in France would be confidentiel, that is to say it was known to his contemporaries and admired by them, though it was not taken up by the market; and the way in which he operated was unusual for its time as he never courted the market.’ One of his first exhibitions – in 1967 – was a sly critique of the gauche decision by the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council to pay for a full-size (five metres high) copy of Michelangelo’s David to be exhibited in New Zealand department stores. At the Barry Lett Gallery, Kreisler exhibited a series of cartoony paintings of parts of David, alluding to the way art students were traditionally trained by having to copy models of the sculpture’s ear, nose, mouth and eye. With no sympathy for earnest, local attempts to aspire to serious art, he devoted one painting to a large image of David’s penis.

Tom Kreisler’s Esoteric Pressure Systems / 337

What overseas inputs did he bring to his work? As a secular Jew, Kreisler seems an impressive example of the questioning outsider, the role played by many Jewish avant-garde artists. In his essay ‘Radical Jewish Culture / Secular Jewish Practice,’ poet Charles Bernstein theorises this role: ‘I am no more Jewish than when I refuse imported definitions of what Jewishness means. I am no more Jewish than when I attend to how such Jewishness lives itself out, plays tunes not yet played. Jewishness can, even must, in one of its multiple manifestations, be an aversion of identification – as a practice of dialogue and as an openness to the unfolding performance of the everyday.’15 I am fascinated by the possibility that if we replace ‘Jewish’ and ‘Jewishness’ by ‘New Zealand’ and ‘New Zealandness’ in the above quotation, it becomes a statement very similar to what I have been trying to say about the re-invention of our culture. New Zealand has an unusually insecure and contested identity, with most of our economy in the hands of overseas owners and much mass-produced culture dumped on our shores. It is a situation in which local art needs vigorously to question ‘imported definitions’ and to experiment. And at times it does, but often the anxiety has the opposite effect of making artists cautious and dependent. And the comparison with ‘radical Jewish culture’ breaks down once we think of the strength and power of what avant-garde Jewish writers and artists have achieved over the centuries. Kreisler deeply shared that spirit, as reflected in comments such as: ‘I like that art that constantly questions itself ’16 or ‘My work [is] frequently about exploring an ambiguity of image and language.’17 His paintings with an explicit Jewish relevance include ‘Biblical Tunes’ and various images that deconstruct the swastika (such as ‘Three Staples’ and ‘Cock a’ Heil, Cock a Teil’).18 In terms of artistic influence, Kreisler was very much of his generation in his response to the new overseas developments of the 1960s and ’70s, including Pop Art, conceptual art, semiotics, and attempts to re-think painting. He liked the new methods of making contemporary art available to the public such as t-shirts, postcards, and inexpensive prints. He was not drawn to post-object art but his work was conceptual in its strong emphasis on ideas, lateral thinking, and art that ‘questions itself.’ Semiotics (referenced in paintings such as ‘Marquis de Sade / Sadiste de Marks,’ ‘Signed Signam Freud,’ and ‘Sig/ni/fi/cant’)

338 / Re-inventing NZ

suited his poet’s fascination with language and his multi-lingualism. As Wystan Curnow has noted: ‘There was [at this time] a sense that painting was not the dominant medium any more. Painting was at loose ends, what was it to do? So suddenly I think drawing became important, because it was a place where people who did paint could address the issue of what could become of painting.’ Drawing was central to Kreisler’s work, including cartooning and graffiti. He was aware of new international approaches to painting and drawing – American artists of the 1970s and ’80s such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Italian Transavantgardists such as Francesco Clemente, and German Neo-expressionists such as Sigmar Polke and Jörg Immendorff. The 1970s also brought Punk. Kreisler looked back to Dadaism and had always admired the linear mastery of late work by Henri Matisse. He made a pilgrimage to Matisse’s murals in the Chapel at Vence. An important aspect of Kreisler’s art was his desire to heighten the sense of speed and freshness, reminiscent of free improvisation in music. As Dick Frizzell described his friend’s approach: ‘He knew everything there was to know about painting, so he didn’t have to display that he was totally secure. That just comes with competence and time and practice and deep thought and all the rest of it.’ But, seeking something new, ‘he let his brushes all dry up, so that it was like painting with a chewed stick, and he would paint with the dirty water instead of the clean water, or he would just use a bit of old carpet to paint on …. It was all about making it difficult, or making it non, trying to find something that was non-romantic or non-narrative …. it was all about non, non, non, non. Instead of making the good mark you made the bad mark.’ In a letter to Kreisler he added: ‘I always describe your method – your ongoing paradox – as someone who wants to make … a painting that’s not a painting.’19 In a previous essay, I have described the related approach of a younger artist, John Reynolds, who independently became a virtuoso of ‘dirty drawing’ with a taste for ‘munted lines.’ He has said of Kreisler: ‘He was an artist contrary to the mainstream, living on its outskirts …. It takes time for someone like that to enter the local consciousness. Our culture needs that complexity, and we need it today.’20 These shaping influences – Pop, conceptualism, semiotics, and the re-invention of painting – interacted in a very productive way in Kre-

Tom Kreisler’s Esoteric Pressure Systems / 339

isler’s art. But such an independent person was no mere imitator, he developed his own ways to put them to work. But having relinquished the ‘New Zealand themes’ listed earlier, what would he use as subjectmatter? Much of his work could be summed up by Bernstein’s phrase, ‘an openness to the unfolding performance of the everyday.’ His own intimate version of localism focused on the things he lived with – coats, coat-hangers, tables, chairs, television sets, taps, baby’s bottles, safety pins, loaves of bread, fish and chips, budgies, mosquitoes, dog turds, and so on. He transformed them by means of large canvases and a daring use of lines, dyes and washes. His vernacular sense of everyday subjects had some affinities with Pop Art but differed in its style and tone – complex, whimsical, calligraphic, and playfully intellectual. He would sport with objects such as his delightfully obscene image of ‘Multiplying Tables.’ The humour and irony do not cancel out his respect and curiosity. In his words: ‘I like that art that … looks at ordinariness and ordinary things without wishing to colonise them.’21 This thoughtful freshening of the familiar reminds me of Robert Creeley’s later poetry such as A Day Book (1972), or Hello: A Journal (1978), written during his 1976 visit to New Zealand and published by Alan Loney, who wrote his own sequence in a similar sprit (Sidetracks: Notebooks 1976-1991, published 1998). It is fascinating to watch Kreisler’s long series of coat paintings grow increasingly abstract as the coat is reduced to a sleeve, lapel, pocket or crease. These are superb exercises in line, highly unorthodox in their bold black brushstrokes over washes of diluted acrylic soaked into raw canvas. About the coat series he wrote: ‘The image has to be unmitigating and relentless.’ And on his drawing in general: ‘the ‘direct’ aspect of it was sometimes the result of [a] painstaking elimination process.’22 Also important in everyday life were personal relationships and thoughts of death. Family and friends worried about Kreisler’s health because he suffered from bad asthma and his father had died early. Kreisler admired the fact that Mexican and South American art was ‘always a mixture of the duality of life and death,’23 and he was fascinated by Federico Garcia Lorca’s essay ‘Theory and Play of the Duende.’ In great canvases such as ‘A Brush with Death,’ Kreisler drew deeply on Mexican folk traditions such as the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), but inflected them in his own lateral-thinking, painterly way.

340 / Re-inventing NZ

To explore the theme of personal relationships, he made a series of variations on the motif of dancing dogs found in pre-Colombian pottery, associated particularly with the Mexican region of Colima. The dogs (who supplied the title for Kreisler’s 1986 Govett-Brewster exhibition, ‘Not a Dog Show’) represent every phase and permutation of human relationships, hugging and bonking, tugging and brawling, and sometimes finding their tails tangled (as in ‘4 Pairs of Dancers Pulling on the Fabric of Life’). As Wystan Curnow observes, ‘There are some paintings where you don’t know if the couples are dancing or struggling or fighting with each other.’ Kreisler combined the ancient Mexican folk pottery motif with references to tango, and Curnow adds: ‘Dancing has a politics to it in Argentina and other parts of Latin America and the Tango is a pretty serious art form, at one level …. So the idea of the dance floor as a representation of society and social relations and politics seems to me to be strongly embedded in that series – life as a dance.’ The mythology of the Mexican dogs also links with the theme of death, as Kreisler made explicit in some sketches, such as an image of skeleton dogs accompanied by the Spanish title ‘Dancing with love towards death.’ Kreisler’s sense of ‘the duality of life and death’ creates a distinctive mood. As he explained to Fiona Clark, ‘That’s one of the things I found in Mexican art and South American art …. When you’re laughing, you’re never very far away from crying, and when happy things are happening, you know that someone else is dying around the corner, and I think it’s very important to keep that in mind. Well, I do!’24 There has been some critical disagreement about how exactly to read the tone of his images, with some writers claiming to recognise a New Zealand darkness, which they attribute to his insecure health or bitterness over the neglect of his art. For example, John Hurrell’s essay ‘The barf behind the laugh: loathing and laughter in the painting of Tom Kreisler’ uses the psychoanalysis of Melanie Klein to diagnose the artist as ‘a neurotic’ and to ‘place almost all of [his] artworks into categories of anxiety.’25 He implies that Kreisler was using art as a way of dealing with his demons. This seems to me a mistaken reading which imposes what Curnow calls the ‘melancholic, neurotic or grotesque’ streak in New Zealand’s ‘high art.’26 Certainly Kreisler could get angry about the local art scene, and his later work does appear darker or more anarchist, but generally his

Tom Kreisler’s Esoteric Pressure Systems / 341

mode of black comedy seems much more closely related to Mexican or Spanish styles than to Kiwi Gothic. Humour and playfulness were powerful strategies which kept him free of the earnestness that weighed down local forms of ‘serious art’ during his lifetime. There was irony in the fact that the Kreisler paintings that became best known were those linked most strongly with ‘New Zealand art.’ His one apparent excursion into landscape, ‘Dawson Falls,’ was purchased by the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. This was, however, an imaginary landscape with a playful appendage – the waterfall pours out of the rectangle of the painting. The frame is fake gold, and the waterfall looks like a playful nod to McCahon. Also, its title makes a joking reference to the exhibition of sculpture by Neil Dawson which the Gallery had just taken down.27 These ironies appear to have bypassed many viewers. Kreisler’s most talked-about series referred explicitly to New Zealand, a set of variations based on newspaper weather maps. He painted the country black (‘Night Weather’), raining cats and dogs which were literally ‘bucketing down’ (in ‘Mostly Moist on the West Coast’), scowling as a cartoon face (‘Two Esoteric Low Pressure Systems’) or becoming parts of a jigsaw (‘Prosaic Mosaic’). Cartography has been an important New Zealand tradition, and in 1989 Wystan Curnow curated the Govett-Brewster exhibition ‘Putting the Land on the Map: Art and Cartography in New Zealand since 1840,’ in connection with the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi. The exhibition travelled to seven other galleries and attracted widespread attention. As Ruth Watson recalls: ‘I was still quite a young artist at that point and there were lots of older, more experienced artists in the show, but I was especially attracted to Tom both for his personality and his work. There were titles like “The Map that Smirks” and it was just so irreverent and joyously interventionist in something that still seemed very serious at that time, the cartographic enterprise.’ For Curnow: ‘Kreisler’s paintings about map and mapping reflect his interest in signs and codes. “Two Esoteric Low Pressure Systems” looks like a weather map with a face on it, but it is also a self-portrait where the Tasman is overlaid with Tom’s Central and South American personal history.’ Reviewers were simply not attuned to his free-wheeling style and approach. Rod Taylor of The Dominion was troubled by the ‘hipster

342 / Re-inventing NZ

undertones’ of the exhibition. He added: ‘Kreisler has used maps, even if his contribution could be mistaken for a desperate last-minute attempt by gallery staff to cover a large gap at the back of the gallery.’28 Stung by this review, Kreisler wrote a letter to the editor of The Dominion questioning the critic’s habit of ‘insulting … all artists who work outside the narrow confines of [his] personal preferences.’ He observed that ‘The social/cultural climate in New Zealand is notoriously harsh for art to flourish.’ The newspaper appears not to have published his letter.29 Over the years Kreisler’s solo exhibitions received a number of similar reviews. In 1987, discussing the survey ‘Not a Dog Show’ in Wellington, Taylor summed up the artist’s approach as ‘minor Pop Art witticisms’ and concluded that ‘His [Kreisler’s] work need not be accused of cleverness nor treated with respect.’ Therefore the ‘honour’ of a survey show was simply ‘not warranted.’30 In 1990, reviewing a Christchurch exhibition, Suzy Melhop of the Christchurch Star admitted to being baffled: ‘There is no apparent theme or link between paintings, and ideas seem quite random and disconnected.’31 In 1995, Justin Paton in The Press liked some aspects but concluded: ‘The show feels slight, underwhelming, and a bit rudderless. Nowhere, really, do you get the sense that Kreisler’s heart was in it …. It risks nothing and tends to hide behind the alibi of irony.’32 Kreisler certainly had some champions, such as Wystan Curnow, Rob Gardner, Tony Green, John Hurrell, Tessa Laird, John Maynard, and Cheryll Sotheran. But as Paul Hartigan observes: ‘I think [many] people just saw it as inconsequential art and that there were far more important painters dealing with the “poetry” of the country …. Tom wanted to create a different kind of art, to break the rules and present a different kind of paradigm, a new sensibility …. But [among dealers] the attitude to Tom’s work was that it was just lightweight rubbish. They had no understanding or regard for it, no interest. Even now you mention Tom Kreisler and people don’t have any idea who the guy is.’ That kind of puzzlement was such a frequent response when people asked Shirley Horrocks who her next documentary was going to be about that she decided to call it Tom Who? (an echo of the title Len Who? which had been given in 1973 to the first documentary about Len Lye, then unknown in New Zealand).

Tom Kreisler’s Esoteric Pressure Systems / 343

Kreisler represented a great example of an artist who ‘thought global but acted local,’ and combined a provincial home with an international outlook. But though he covered the local and the global bases, he failed to fit another category – the national. His art could not easily be slotted in to ‘the New Zealand tradition’ which exists in the middle-ground between local and global. National concepts still have some value in helping us to remember our history and whakapapa, and keeping us from being completely swamped by overseas products, but any notion of ‘New Zealand’ must remain open-ended, eager for dialogue with other traditions, alert to overseas trends, and willing to consider re-invention. Our culture needs ‘Lightness of hand, fleetness of foot,’ to quote a Kreisler title, in contrast to its flat-footed, inwardlooking response to this innovative artist.

344 / Re-inventing NZ

Endnotes 1 From Fiona Clark’s interview with Kreisler, January 1986. This sentence is quoted in the ‘Artist’s Statement’ in the catalogue Tom Kreisler: Not a Dog Show, Wellington City Art Gallery, 1987. 2 Gerti Blumenfeld, ‘Karl Wolfskehl’ (http://www.holocaustcentre.org.nz/ remember/holocaust-survivors/karl-wolfskehl) 3 Ibid. 4

He is buried in Auckland in the Jewish section of Waikumete Cemetery.

5 ‘From the Beginning of a Queen Elizabeth II Grant,’ Taranaki Herald, 5 December 1997. 6 From an interview by Shirley Horrocks, for the film Tom Who?: The Enigma of Tom Kreisler (Point of View Productions, 2015). Comments in this essay not otherwise referenced are all from interviews made for this film. Our thanks to those interviewed. 7 John Maynard’s essay in comma dot dogma (ed. Aaron Kreisler, Wellington, Umbrella, 2007) acknowledges ‘the profound effect that Tom had on the development of the policies and the direction of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery through his support for the directors and staff for more than 30 years’ (p.6). 8 In addition to Kreisler, Michael Smither and Dan Driver were based in New Plymouth, and the three serious artists gave some moral support to one another; but each was an independent personality with a distinct point of view. 9 Entry for 31 December 1985 in his Orange Notebook for September 1983-August 1991, p.34. (Quoted in comma dot dogma, p.40, footnote 3.) 10 ‘One reason for coming to New Plymouth in 1968 was to work or develop my work in comparative isolation from other influences in larger centres like Auckland, whilst still being able to keep in touch through the new, and at that stage still unbuilt, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. How useful the isolation has been I am not so sure about, but it’s been pretty hard and lonely at times – but my work has come from that as well.’ (‘Redrafted version of a statement about my painting and making the application for the Trustbank Canterbury Artist in Residence Award, 1989’ from personal papers). 11 ‘Back to the Beginning with a QEII grant,’ Taranaki Herald, 5 December 1997.

Tom Kreisler’s Esoteric Pressure Systems / 345 12 In 1987 he described his research as focusing on ‘the impact of colonialism on the native cultures and subsequent visual art scenes in Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil.’ (My thanks to the Kreisler family for access to some of the artist’s personal files.) 13

From the artist’s personal papers.

14 Ibid. 15 Radical Poetics and Secular Jewish Culture, ed. Stephen Paul Miller and Daniel Morris, Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 2010, p.13. 16

Artist’s Statement in Tom Kreisler: Not a Dog Show, op. cit.

17

Letter to Hamish Keith, 14 May 2000.

18 An exhibition of Kreisler’s art was part of Leonard Bell’s symposium ‘Displacement and Creativity’ which highlighted the work of émigré Jewish artists in New Zealand. This was held at the Gus Fisher Gallery in 2001. See Brendan O’Flaherty, ‘Creativity born of displacement,’ Herald, 1 September 2001, p.E4. 19

Letter, 23 August 2000.

20

Personal communication, February 2013.

21

Artist’s Statement in Tom Kreisler: Not a Dog Show, op. cit.

22

Personal Diary, 1989.

23

Quoted by Aaron Kreisler in his essay in dot comma dogma, p.41 footnote 4.

24 Ibid. 25

Comma dot dogma, pp.11-18.

26

‘Tom Kreisler’s invitation to the dance,’ Comma dot dogma, p.20.

27 A recording of a lecture by Kreisler includes his comments on this painting (‘My show coincided with Dawson’s exhibition coming down ….’) 28 Review of ‘Putting the Land on the Map’ in The Dominion, 14 February 1990. 29 ‘Map of the Land Review,’ from the artist’s papers. The date on the letter seems incorrect. (Should it be ‘21/2/90’ not ‘21/1/90’?) 30

‘Dogged by Respectability,’ The Dominion. 1 July 1987.

31

Christchurch Star, 15 February 1990.

32

The Press, 15 February 1995.

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless Leigh Davis has been mentioned in several earlier discussions. I see him as a major New Zealand writer who is still little known and understood. Attempting to attract a wider group of readers, I wrote this essay in 2014 for the Journal of New Zealand Literature. This is a longer essay than usual because I felt it was necessary to get down to details. Critics seemed to be daunted by Davis’s poetry, puzzled by his idiom, and not aware of the scope of his writing. I don’t claim to understand every aspect, but as the first overview of his unique body of work, I hope my essay provides readers with an access point.

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless

T

he creative legacy of Leigh Davis (1955-2009) includes six published books, each one strikingly different and original; and while it may be fair to say there are uneven aspects, each of his projects represents something unique and demonstrates new possibilities for poetry. As he put it: ‘Good poetry is a rare kind of language-game, full of risk.’1 His work has certainly received some recognition – in 1983 Willy’s Gazette was selected as Best First Book of Poetry at the national book awards, and in 2009 Stunning Debut of the Repairing of a Life won the Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry – but it is surprising how rarely his work is read and discussed. All but one of his books were selfpublished, and I know from trying to get one of his books into print that the publishers I approached simply could not relate to his work. Davis is absent from some recent anthologies and in others he tends to be represented only by a single poem from his earliest book Willy’s Gazette. That is the case, for example, in the huge recent collection The AUP Anthology of New Zealand Literature.2 His later work tends to be either not known or not understood, a situation that the present essay seeks to remedy. Davis’s challenging style has not been the only reason for this neglect. Iain Sharp’s remarks about him in his survey of ‘New Zealand’ for the Oxford Guide to Contemporary Writing in 1996 explain the stereo-

350 / Re-inventing NZ

type that has scared away readers: ‘Instead of choosing one of the three customary professions (journalist, teacher, librarian), he [Davis] entered the world of high finance, working first for the Treasury and then for the country’s leading merchant bank, Fay Richwhite. Davis’s impeccable suits and gleeful determination to become a rich man infuriated most of the literati who still expected artists and poets to register in public their unceasing opposition to Mammon, even if they were not actually starving and raggle-trousered. Davis’s penchant for applying the language of marketing to the literary scene also caused great offence.’3 Davis was an energetic, high-spirited person, but the phrase ‘gleeful determination to become a rich man’ is an unfair caricature. Unfortunately, that was how many literary people thought of him. Is a business career an adequate reason to dismiss a poet’s work? Wallace Stevens was Vice-President of an insurance company, and T. S. Eliot worked in Lloyd’s Bank then became a Director of Faber and Faber. These were two of Davis’s favourite poets, though what interested him was their writing rather than their careers. His own poetry did not contain explicit political content, so, if there were problems, they had to be located in its style or form. Indeed, that is the approach many critics have taken. The most elaborate example of that approach is ‘Going Faster than Speed,’ a 2003 English Masters thesis at the University of Canterbury by Emma J. Fergusson who spends over 150 pages putting forward reasons why the ‘slipperiness’ and ‘incomprehensible’ nature of Davis’s style matches the ‘ambiguous’ rhetoric that neo-liberalism uses to disguise its appalling politics. A major tool in her analysis is the work of Fredric Jameson whose theorizing in The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture was often sweeping and inaccurate.4 Such criticism implies that Davis’s poetry is not only obscure but not worth the effort of struggling with it. In fact, what such arguments appear to prove is the strength of the resistance within our literary scene to difficult or unfamiliar poetry. New Zealanders are certainly justified in being angry about Rogernomics, but the relationship between poetry and politics is a complex one. Critics have tended to misinterpret the style and misjudge the tone of Davis’s poetry because they are not familiar with its precedents. Fergusson, for example, links Davis with the Futurists but overlooks

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless / 351

the work that more directly influenced him such as John Berryman’s Dream Songs, Robert Lowell’s Notebook, Frank O’Hara’s ‘lunch poems,’ Ezra Pound’s Cantos, or David Byrne’s lyrics for Talking Heads. Each of these texts has the characteristics that she would find suspicious – they have ‘speed,’ are obscure and fragmentary at times, and use a ‘slippery’ rhetoric – yet each writer represents a different political perspective. Neo-liberalism may exploit verbal ambiguity in its rhetoric (in phrases such as ‘free market’) but it does so furtively and for the limited, unsubtle purpose of a political sales job. A great deal of modern poetry exploits ambiguity or polysemy but does so for complex aesthetic reasons. Unlike politicians, poets draw attention to their method, encouraging the reader to recognize it and join in the artistic play. Davis was no exception, writing detailed essays on the subject such as ‘Time, Text and Echoes’ (‘Poetry is language’s double take’).5

Attitude to audience Davis was concerned less with Jameson’s ‘postmodernism’ than with the legacy of ‘modernism.’ He could not understand why local poetry had never fully engaged with this ‘big idea,’ and wrote in ‘Time, Text, and Echoes’: ‘Eliot, Stein, and Pound at least got poetry to Europe last century but it was a temporary victory and the Anglo-American tradition wrestled it back for the most part … [and] let its big idea go stale. The New Zealand tradition has been and is still largely some depowered Commonwealth derivation of the Anglo-American one …. As good poetry advanced … in broad synch with some other contemporary art developments, then its mid twentieth-century potential audience, which guides the publishing industry and its products, arguably did not. The audience became disconnected from poetry and you still get … resistance from the trade, demonization of works, ignorance, or embarrassment.’6 Unlike neo-liberalism with its ‘more market’ obsession, Davis did not attempt to make money from his writing nor did he cater to any audience. He shared the modernist attitude as summed up by Len Lye: ‘I don’t know what an audience is. It’s a whole lot of other people who are basically a unique version of individuality …. My excitement in

352 / Re-inventing NZ

life is to discover something that’s significant to me. Now how the hell can I work it out if it has to be significant to an audience?’7 In contrast, when C. K. Stead discussed modernism in New Zealand writing in his 1981 essay ‘From Wystan to Carlos,’ he saw it in very different terms: ‘I currently feel poetry must be public …. Primarily the poem must be public in not being private. It must be one’s man’s vision, or one woman’s vision of a shared world.’8 While other poets may not use exactly these words, everyone is aware that the local public is quick to view obscurity in literature as pretentious and elitist. The one area that encourages challenging work is the visual arts, an area to which Davis was increasingly drawn. The modernist stance should not be stereotyped as scornful of the audience. Lye, Davis, and most of the modernists saw their approach as based on greater respect for readers since they were not trying to second-guess or talk down to them. Their work had public value because it provided R&D for the culture. While they refused to compromise within the space of their art, they understood that readers would struggle with it and so most of them were active in writing essays and manifestoes to theorize and explain. As Davis put it, ‘I want to recruit an audience, starting with myself. I want to [create] a new electricity of meaning.’9 Modernist work was an invitation to enter a new, freer kind of space with a more subtle sense of ‘depth,’ which could ‘liberate the viewer’s interpretive skills’ (as he wrote in his essay ‘Back Operation’). In contrast to Jameson’s talk of the ‘depthlessness’ of ‘postmodern’ work, Davis placed great emphasis on ‘roundness and depth of presence.’10 Though happy to speak of ‘representation,’ he was scathing about the idea of ‘realism’ which he saw as the baggage that had held local writers back from scaling the mountains of modernism. He was deeply fascinated by the work of Allen Curnow and James K. Baxter but felt they confined themselves to the foothills, at least in their earlier work.11 Curnow’s introduction to the Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse attacked Baxter for not being realist enough. He said of ‘Poem in the Matukituki Valley’: ‘nor has he [Baxter] always that instinct for a reality prior to the poem …. This poem, like many he has written, expresses (and protests against) a failure of the sense of reality: reality of the outward scene ….’12 Baxter, in return, accused Curnow of hav-

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless / 353

ing too limited a sense of realism and being ‘afflicted with a disease of formalism.’13 Davis saw this obsession with realism as limiting since modernism had brought ‘a distinctive shift in the nature of representation that … progressively emphasized the constitutive work of language’ (as he put it in ‘Yes and No’).14 Today New Zealand poetry may not use the old ‘realist’ rhetoric but in most cases it still ‘asked to be read’ according to the same basic ‘habits of mind.’ Davis ended his essay: ‘Prevailing mediation still manages expectations down. Pleasure seeking stalls. We tongue-tie …. When this habitual [model] is absent or unusually inflected, fear grips and we hasten to say, “I didn’t understand a thing.” And we do not recognize that in the making of this statement we are actually on a threshold of wonder.’ (Nevertheless Davis always respected Baxter and Curnow, particularly Curnow’s later poetry which he saw as gaining ‘a new excitement’ from its increased ‘concern with representation’s problem.’15) Another aspect of modernism that Davis championed was the ambitious long poem. ‘The great bridge text of the twentieth century’ was Ezra Pound’s Cantos, its ‘representational diversity’ or ‘plastic wealth’ made possible by Pound’s expanded use of juxtaposition.16 Among other examples Davis admired were T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Four Quartets, Louis Zukofsky’s A, William Carlos Williams’ Paterson, Charles Olson’s Maximus, and John Berryman’s Dream Songs. There were also French precedents such as the ‘flaneur’ poetry of Blaise Cendrars. Davis saw these as ‘heroic forms of verbal art,’ each a world in which readers could lose themselves. They reflected the variety of the poet’s life and interests, and their form was open enough to accommodate letters, diaries, quotations, visual images, musical scores, etc. Such omnibus works tended to be ‘autobiographical without leading the reader into the domain of general human interest.’17 Davis’s own books would aspire to this modernist ‘big idea.’

After modernism Davis wanted writers not merely to imitate the great modernist poets but to see them as setting standards. They showed up the lack of ambition in the short, personal lyrics or ‘small packages of personal emo-

354 / Re-inventing NZ

tion’ that dominated contemporary poetry.18 Still, quite a lot had happened since the heroic days of modernism. A key development for Davis was the upsurge in French theory. He could be described as the New Zealand poet whose work was most profoundly influenced by post-structuralism. In his words: ‘Willy’s Gazette is the thoroughgoing working through of Saussure’s notion of the arbitrary signifier.’19 He saw post-structuralism not as a rejection but as a renewal and expansion of the experimental spirit of modernism. Saussure had died in 1913, the same year as the Armory Show and The Rite of Spring, but the ‘working through’ of his ideas was still expanding. Davis was not a disciple of any single theorist – he read widely and developed his own ways of applying ideas to poetry. His work is a demonstration of how reading and writing informed by language theory does not drain the colour out of texts (as is often the case when practiced by less imaginative camp-followers) but reveals new intensities. As he explained in 1985 in a Landfall interview: ‘my interest is in language’s capacity to become opaque, to foreground itself, to take over the stage.’ And: ‘If I find a text which has no resistance, it’s like pushing on an open door, and I don’t find it rich and significant.’20 Words had an iceberg depth for Davis, and he sought poetry that extended connotation. He constantly drew attention to the slipperiness of language which he saw as basic material for poetry – ‘signs mutate, acquire, on / and on of new meanings.’21 In his essay ‘Incongruity’ he wrote: ‘Even if it is a calm-looking text at first, some poetry, like a horse in a rodeo, can use every possible strategy to throw the reader off normality. But if poetry is successful you enjoy this kind of reading and this use of language, particularly if the reading doesn’t come naturally and takes a lot of re-reading. You get to like the evolution of understanding that the hardness produces: the fast-twitching muscle fibre of association, the confusion of images and changing rhythms and, after a turmoil of reading, the precarious calmness of cohesion when it comes.’22 And from another essay: ‘What is reading when it behaves greedily, when it moves over the face of the page in an uncommonly eager and desirous way? …. It is as though the texts … display themselves as layers, over-read texts, hypertexts, such that the reader’s gaze is filled with re- and de-contextualised words and phrases that clamour.’23

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless / 355

Each of Davis’s favourite theorists such as Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault had their own methods of opening up the expanded potential of language. A particular favourite was Roland Barthes whose 1957 book Mythologies helped to shape Davis’s powerful sense of the iconic.24 I use the term ‘iconic’ here not in a strict semiological sense but to point to any name that has become a rich centre of meanings, associations, or ‘myths’ (in Barthes’s term). Davis was aware of Erwin Panofsky’s ‘iconographical’ approach but saw it as an old-fashioned attempt to pin down meaning rather than to celebrate abundance.25 In ‘Incongruity,’ he spoke of iconic figures as ‘historical personalities who never were completely real, but in their lifetimes and since have become larger than life … constructed and re-constructed, recycled, translated …. [They] are becoming, therefore, haunting.’26 Davis’s poetry is crowded with historical figures whom he saw in these mythical terms, from Te Kooti to Mao, Einstein to Princess Diana. Davis was drawn to pop art but Barthes taught him to understand its iconic richness, in contrast to critics such as Jameson who interpreted it as a cancelling out of depth. A museum poster of one of Warhol’s portraits of Mao, on a wall of the Davis’s home, was the catalyst for his 1991 prose poem ‘Saying Mass,’ which begins: Mao remembered in TV is the shine on your show room. Those are the wet years, the convergence of big fish, jubilation, once in a blue moon. Caravan pasts wave and once more fold away, parachutes tumble all day, under the technology of arms ….27 This 17-line text is meant to be repeated many times, along the lines of Erik Satie’s ‘Vexations,’ or the regular ritual of Mass, or the endless proliferation of Mao images. The verbal texture of poems such as this, with its mélange of fragments of found language, is reminiscent of Language Poetry, which Davis often read, but his work is distinguished by the fact that he still remained aware of subject, of common-sense denotation, at the same time as he played extensively with connotation. 28 He would take off from a powerful icon such as Mao and juxtapose it with other myths or metaphors, but the reader remained aware of the starting point – which was, however, not the real Mao but the iconic figure. This ‘seeing double’ contributed to a sense of depth or

356 / Re-inventing NZ

layering that seems to me better understood as a modern form of Symbolist poetry than as Language Poetry.29 (I shall offer examples later.) An early iconic poem is ‘Einstein Taught me Physics’ (1983) which appears at first to be an earnest tribute but becomes playful and dreamlike through its odd accumulation of details – airwaves, light, ‘zero and e,’ time, ‘tree’ diagrams, and relative size, which are references to Einstein’s physics. Typically, Davis draws attention to the verbal texture by his wayward sentences, use of repetition, and characteristic way of juggling personal pronouns and verb tenses (the ‘time’ theme again). Mentor waves familiarly. And white hair. Physics. ‘sight of a snow light across the face.’ The blackboard. He would teach me, talking. The moments of walking. And can you. When Einstein taught me physics, numbers of times, and light. The tree spaces of board …. no time like the present for physics. Use of the perfect. The thin light of the cold afternoon on the panes. I chair on the linoleum.30 In his poetry Davis also welcomes the mixture of pop culture and high culture initiated by Marcel Duchamp, which is one aspect of modernism that contemporary New Zealand poets have enthusiastically embraced. Willy’s Gazette refers one moment to Igor Stravinsky and ‘Steichen’s Garbo’ and the next to Biggles books and the comic strip character Hawkman.31 There are many sympathetic references to the great New Wave music of the late 1970s and early ’80s. Talking Heads was a special favourite, but Davis also mentions David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, Rip Rig and Panic, Graham Parker, XTC, etc. Some may interpret French theory and pop art as aspects of the post-modern, but this is a concept that can take many forms. Such art can be anti- or simply post- modernist. Davis was definitely not ‘anti’ and the most useful way to approach his work is as a mixture of

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless / 357

both terms. Davis was hugely influenced by the philosophers Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein who belonged to the modernist generation. And his approving comment that ‘Eliot, Stein, and Pound at least got poetry to Europe last century’ – and his quotes from Paul Valéry – reflect his deep respect for French modernist poetry. Stephen Bambury offers an interesting formulation in Redux: ‘[Leigh was] a sort of pakeha T. S. Eliot who had cut his teeth on the supposedly dead carcass of modernism only to discover that postmodernism was after all only another and much loved little cousin’ (p.124).

Willy’s Gazette Davis’s first ‘big poem’ was Willy’s Gazette (1983) which recalls other loosely autobiographical sequences composed of 14 to 18 line poems such as those of Lowell, Berryman, or Ted Berrigan. Local precedents include Baxter’s Jersusalem Sonnets (1970) and Murray Edmond’s ‘Night Shift’ poems (1971). Davis’s sequence is very much the work of a young man setting out, having recently married, graduated, started a new career, and moved to a new city.

This is a job for you, L, Willy’s new code.. ‘everything helps us, as when we come to a new city: weather patterns, architecture, trade practices..’ written as a matrix, like the book of common prayer.32

The references to religion, codes, and weather are favourite sources of metaphor, drawing constant attention to the process of reading (‘code’) and to the fluid, transient environment (‘weather’). Davis takes on the persona of ‘Willy’ or ‘Willis,’ in much the same way Berryman adopted the alter-ego ‘Henry.’ As usual the name has many associations, including Welly (Wellington) and Willis Street. The name ‘Leigh’ is hidden in ‘Willy,’ and at times the character is a bloke with a willy, or a wily trickster. In one poem this ‘composite he’ becomes ‘Wile E. Coyote’ (from Road Runner). The verbal texture is continually rich, with many colourful terms –

358 / Re-inventing NZ

espadrilles, lollop, caravelle, cummerbunds, asdic, invaginating, squarrous, isoglosses, homophones, strawstalks, reprographics, ruched, pica, kenosis – to offer only a tiny sample. Many references in this busy poem are easy to identify, such as the Wellington locations, or comments about ‘S’ (Susan, Leigh’s wife). The poem ‘...intense Willy ha!’ clearly refers to the 1981 Springbok tour protest (‘all those jog trotter policemen and you jammed / up crowded there and the bloodiness and shame SHAME!’). The poet also drew on his interest in magazines, clothing, and cars, objects for which Barthes had given him an iconic feel. (Leigh and Susan chose an old Peugeot as their car.) Boats were important icons for him, and he loved many aspects of the sea from yachting to surfing. Willy’s Gazette also includes several tribute poems reminiscent of Frank O’Hara, such as:

Good-bye Matisse your papier collés are OK it’s your occupation art’s such a nice place to bring up your heroes wearing say pushed up at the elbows a dark blue sweatshirt in the wide chalky world of exemplars ….

And there is a poem about the day Roland Barthes was killed by a laundry van (‘December 1980 in Paris was a bad time / to step before a Renault ….’). Davis imagined Barthes stepping off the pavement distracted by thoughts about a drawing Leonado da Vinci had made 500 years earlier which was the very first plan for a motor vehicle. For some readers the most attractive aspect of Davis’s poetry will be the vivid bursts of imagist or haiku-like writing – for example, these sample lines from various poems: Willis looks up and his rose shirt balloons the lines of condensation or wisteria patterns on windows vaguely looked at a second sleepless night

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless / 359

the net’s soft sea hiss and careful indrawing lean dark men judging it as the beam sweeps bluff’s left dark (peer of a car’s mains off a cliff bend) Davis had a sharp eye and ear and brief scenes like this crop up continually in all his books; but he always refused the temptation to extend them into longer descriptive passages. As he explained in essays such as ‘Time, Text and Echoes,’ imagist writing is in danger of lapsing into ‘realism’ when the words are like clear glass that readers can instantly look through. For him, the ‘language’ – the texture of the glass – should never be merely the servant of vision. A text can evoke ‘the peer of a car’s mains’ but ‘Poetry is there where it has always been, in the shapes at the edge of the headlights.’33 Willy’s Gazette is enigmatic at times with its private references to friends and events. When we encounter opacity, the rule is simply to keep reading and to enjoy the flashes of meaning as they occur. In this sense Davis is a poet’s poet, attracting ‘greedy’ readers who feel compensated for the obscurity by the unique aspects of the writing – the verbal energy, original phrasing, rhythmic vitality, and experimental spirit. Despite the obscure aspects of the book, it is hard to imagine how its wry, playful, cartoony, and generally excited style could have been interpreted by critics as a smokescreen for sinister neo-liberal ideology.

Te Tangi a te Matuhi Sixteen years elapsed before Davis’s next book was published. Te Tangi a te Matuhi (1999), grew out of Station of Earth-bound Ghosts, his monumental art exhibition of the previous year. He had been contributing essays to art exhibition catalogues since 1995, but this exhibition and book were the first large-scale examples of what was to become an extended dialogue with visual artists. Davis was uneasy with the

360 / Re-inventing NZ

term ‘collaboration’ since he felt it did not do justice to the creative process, especially when major artists such as Stephen Bambury were involved.34 He described this and his subsequent projects as ‘book length contemporary poems which engage their physical media (books, textiles, web) as ideas in the work.’35 It is characteristic of all of Davis’s books that each embodies a great deal of conceptual energy. The poetry is sensuous, lyrical and emotional, but he was also a genuinely intellectual writer. A favourite precedent was Wallace Stevens’ idea poem ‘Anecdote of the Jar,’ written in 1918, just a year after Marcel Duchamp had tried unsuccessfully to exhibit ‘Fountain,’ subsequently described as the first example of conceptual art. The 25 flags which form the centre of Davis’s project make up an omnibus poem reminiscent of the Cantos. In the exhibition the words floated on large, exquisitely-made flags, while the book reproduces them on paper. The poem is a ‘tangi’ that commemorates a number of iconic figures – Ishmael (from Moby Dick), the recent death of a family pet with the evocative name of ‘Grace’ buried under a kauri tree, Matiu Rata and Princess Diana (who had both died in 1997), and above all Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki. Two flags (or pages) convey the sensuous story of Heloise and Abelard transferred to a New Zealand setting where they gather mulberries. Another flag is devoted to the Ringatu concept of ‘hau’ (breath or spirit), matched by the flutter of its fabric. The juxtapositions are startling but there is a thematic coherence, which has been usefully traced by Wystan Curnow in an essay, ‘Station of Earth-Bound Ghosts,’ that was part of the book version.36 Influential American poet and critic Charles Bernstein was very struck by the project: ‘Leigh Davis’s flags mark an important intervention in the unfurling story of poetry. These context-infused, resonant works, bring the practice of site-specific and visual poetry around several corners and into another, “new-old” dimension. The catalog, with its processual design and informative, thought-filled, essays, provides geographic, conceptual, political, ethical, and historical extensions to the work that flutters at the heart of this breathtaking, and breathrestoring, project.’37 Although Davis had always been interested in Te Kooti, the imme-

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless / 361

diate catalyst for Te Tangi was Judith Binney’s 1995 book Redemption Songs. Many writers, film-makers, painters and composers have been drawn to the figure of Te Kooti, but Davis had his own slant – admiration for his creative power as bricoleur, his attempt to re-write Christianity from a Māori perspective, and his genius as a transmedia artist (creating powerful symbols in the form of flags, waita, and meeting-houses, as well as writings). Another important influence on Davis here and in later books was Colin McCahon, through his combination of word and image, his large, ambitious projects, and his engagement with biblical themes and Māori culture (including Te Kooti). Te Tangi also included another poem by Davis, ‘Throw,’ which took off from the Rongopai meeting house with its amazing murals and weather-worn exteriors. Writer Witi Ihimaera, for whom this is a family marae, has described its interior panels as ‘tall trees, elaborately painted in greens, blues and reds … fantastic birds flit through the forest. People climb about the branches, and the glittering creatures of Māori mythology twine among the rafters.’38 ‘Throw’ is a very different kind of poem from the flags – a strange montage of phrases and images dissolving one into another: Speechless at the switch from housepaint blue to housepaint white, rafters snowblinded among snow garlands, each shocked as speed occurs to each, the disappearance and return of demolition. Or rafters’ peaceful mid-air rise and fall, silent and impetuous as birds. They were as circles’ fragments, these many rafters, as silent and impetuous as birds. Each new arrival hunting instances about them. The rainstorm on the rafters took all light and structure from their faces, who were as runners bending down. The loose-hipped balance of their catastrophe, shudder of blind grace rafting, gravity’s bursting housepaint and demolition, jiggering transit and repercussion releasing white ….39 The ‘rafters’ of the Rongopai meeting house are evoked like a semiabstract painting in terms of colour and texture (re-painted, weath-

362 / Re-inventing NZ

ered, white or blue) with their lines rising through space (like birds perched up high) under changing light. But at the same time we are invited to imagine ‘rafters’ on a river in the movement of the current, like birds negotiating gravity, with white foam on the blue water. The two strands of association are woven together. The sense of rhythm is strong but constantly changing. The poem uses repetition for ritualistic or incantatory musical effect. This 23-page poem has such a strong sense of flow that Davis wanted to unwind it in scroll fashion but could not find a suitable method. He described this style of poetry in terms of ‘depth,’ ‘erotics,’ ‘a trance of language,’ and ‘the shimmer of art.’40 As I have suggested, the style seems less akin to Language Poetry than to the modern European poetry that grew out of the Symbolist tradition.41 Its characteristics are lyrical urgency, musical rhythm, heightened verbal texture, curious images, and much juxtaposition. There is still a sense of subject-matter but it is developed very freely. Stéphane Mallarmé defined Symbolism as the art of ‘evoking an object little by little so as to reveal a mood or, conversely, the art of choosing an object and extracting from it an “état d’âme.”’ The object should merely be suggested for ‘That is the perfect use of this mystery, which is the symbol’.42 Davis was interested in the work of Mallarmé, Valéry, Rainer Maria Rilke and Paul Celan. In Te Tangi he devoted two pages to quoting a 1919 prose poem by Hélène Oettingen which was originally illustrated by the Cubist painter Léopold Survage (‘Accordez-moi une audience et je vous réciterai les vers d’un poète inconnu ….’).43 Many New Zealand poets have been aware of this kind of European poetry but it is hard to think of anyone who has engaged with it so fully. Davis saw continuities between French Symbolist poetry and postSaussurean French theory. For example, he quoted a passage in which Foucault spoke of literature in terms of ‘metamorphosis,’ ‘strange affinities’ and ‘symbolic replacements.’44 It should be added, however, that Davis probably acquired much of the Symbolist influence from Eliot, Pound and Stevens who were themselves deeply involved with it, rather than directly from the French.

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless / 363

The Book of Hours The two books that followed in 2001 – The Book of Hours and General Motors – were again highly visual. Both reflected Davis’s growing fascination with Medieval and early Renaissance art, whose use of scrolls, illuminated manuscripts, and altars with narrative paintings stimulated his interest in combining word and image and experimenting with the form of the book. He had been doing a great deal of thinking about layout, typography and format. As he wrote in ‘The Bicycle’: ‘The experience of the conceptual and material object and its action must be taken in to the peripheral vision of the text, and the other way round …. A book is many things besides a bland codex. It is a household object. It is a meter of sequence and therefore time …. It has weight and measure …. It is an environment and a metaphor for culture. It is a compositional unit. And so on.’ The Book of Hours is an orange-and-gold box containing 16 separate booklets, including one booklet purely of colours and another of wave forms. Davis signed up his friend John Reynolds to collaborate on the design. Central to the project is a long poem in twelve sections, based on the ‘Coastal Classic,’ an annual yacht race from Auckland to Russell, which Davis observed on the Waitemata Harbour. A spinoff was an installation by Reynolds which filled a wall at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with a great scattering of stylized yachts. The poem reflected Davis’s intense interest in boats, waves, clouds, and weather patterns. It was characteristic of him to add a surprising framework to enrich the texture – in this case, the religious traditions implied by Book of Hours and the section title ‘Office of the Dead.’45 There are eight canonical hours, listed in the eleventh booklet, which match the fact that the yacht race runs all day (although the fastest boat may reach Russell in less than six hours). The title also refers to an ancient genre of books, often beautifully illustrated, providing a record of everyday Medieval life as a human background to the hours of religious worship. Religion was an important source for all of Davis’s books after Willy’s Gazette. He had grown up in a rural town with parents who converted to Christianity when he was very young and later spent five years as missionaries in Papua New Guinea. His sense of religion

364 / Re-inventing NZ

diverged increasingly from that of his parents, particularly after he went to university.46 Since this was a debate about how literally one should read the Bible, there is an interesting parallel between it and Davis’s subsequent literary campaign to release reading and writing from what he saw as narrow literalism. In his eyes, ‘realism’ was a kind of fundamentalist attitude to language that continued to hold back our local tradition. As an adult, Davis retained his interest in religion but adopted an expansive, Gnostic view, an open-minded approach that conceived of spirituality as a life-long process of discovery. It was in those terms that he pursued his fascination with religious thinkers such as Dante, Saint Augustine, Te Kooti, Rua Kenana, and Colin McCahon, or studied Mahāyāna Buddhist texts.47 ‘The Office of the Dead’ is not interested in who is going to win the race but concentrates on the visual spectacle. The yachts are mostly seen from a distance, from the coastline near Davis’s holiday home at Whale Bay. The poem is a striking visual inquiry that focuses not only on the boats but on ‘the movement of spaces between them.’ A precedent for this kind of poem is William Carlos Williams’s ‘The Yachts’ (published circa 1935), whose boats are ‘live with the grace / of all that in the mind is feckless, free and / naturally to be desired.’48 Visually Davis’s approach reminds me of Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956) who painted yachts in a Cubist style composed of intersecting lines and vivid colours (such as gold, white and blue). In sections 2, 4 and 6, Davis creates extraordinary visual descriptions of space, colour, and speed in his own semi-abstract Cubist style, evoking the planes and shapes of the boats and the tension and energy of their movements. There is a profusion of vivid phrases such as ‘tracery of masts in methodical tight arcs,’ the ‘phosphor of force forward,’ ‘broad affliction of the angles,’ ‘horizon intensified among them,’ ‘the roll of faltering impulsion and whitewater,’ the sea ‘bursting with unaccountable peaks,’ and ‘Cape Brett brushing the sea’s grain backwards.’ Davis refers directly to Curnow’s ‘trees effigies moving objects.’ In its metaphorical energy the poem offers numerous ways to visualize the yachts, depicting them as skaters on a blue rink, white moths, moons in various phases, flapping white shirts, bones, birds, planets, leaves, strings of beads, distant figures walking or dancing, ‘riding lights,’ and above all as words on the page (‘language-boats’ with ‘italic indentation

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless / 365

of sails’). Davis’s own words are spaced out like the boats, reminiscent of Mallarmé’s famous visual poem Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hazard. The mode of description is generally more akin to Mallarmé’s Symbolist evocation than to Imagist sharp focus. The other sections incorporate a diversity of material related to the sea or sailing. For example, the fifth lists yacht names and discusses whether movement can be represented by arrows. The seventh is about ‘Genoa,’ playing with its double meaning – both a type of sail and an ancient Italian city known for its domes. The eighth combines a canoe trip down the Whanganui River with a ‘chorus of artists’ (Davis included his favourite local writers, artists and musicians).

General Motors General Motors was another example of Davis’s fascination with Medieval and early Renaissance religious paintings. Studying the work of Giotto, Fra Angelico, and Duccio, he was particularly interested in the sense of otherness – the very different way their work had been read in their own period in terms of a Christian ‘metaphysics.’49 He also focused on the techniques used by those painters when they sought to depict the supernatural and the mystery of incarnation within naturalistic scenes. An additional catalyst for General Motors was Georges Didi-Huberman’s book Fra Angelico: Dissemblance and Figuration, recommended to Davis by Stephen Bambury.50 Didi-Huberman is a French theorist who seeks to transform the reading of paintings by revealing their strangeness and complexity. He proposes that we ‘relinquish our grasp of the image in order to allow the image to lead us, let ourselves be released from our knowledge of it … [and] give ourselves up to the unpredictable course of a phenomenology of the look.’51 Didi-Huberman’s de-centering of paintings in order to complicate meaning fitted well with Davis’s quest to re-shape our approach to language. In General Motors Davis chose to focus on a 16th century painting by Garofalo (Benvenuto Tisi) of ‘Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Reviving the Birds.’ The ‘general motor’ is Renaissance Christianity, displaying its power here by restoring movement to a dead bird. Spread

366 / Re-inventing NZ

over 25 pages, Davis’s verbal text functions as a series of ever-changing responses to Garofalo’s portrayal of the saint’s miracle. A refrain is constantly re-echoed: A state of excitement takes over the chamber A state of excitement takes over the rectangles …. The way of the world is more angelic than the world …. The poet keeps discovering more strangeness in the details of the painting, which returns seven times with subtle changes of framing, paper, and colour (the work of book designer Christine Hansen). The aim is not simply a juxtaposition of words and picture but ‘a live interaction.’ As Davis said in his essay ‘Ricochet’: ‘Image and text … is a very complicated area of thought involving unstable and overlapping categories and their combination effects.’ As another re-thinking of the codex, General Motors was produced both as a sumptuous limited-edition book (a hand-made edition of five copies, each copy with unique features), and as an on-line, partly animated text, freely available on Davis’s new website Jack Books.52 Both the physical version and the digital were experiments in bringing new energy to the form of the poetry book. Bambury also created an extraordinary copper sleeve which may be attached to a wall as a holder for the physical book. The influential American critic Marjorie Perloff wrote a detailed review of General Motors which concluded: ‘Davis has produced an important verbal-visual text – a text in which word defies image and image word, in which what we know questions what we see and the familiar is made genuinely strange. The next time you enter the Renaissance picture galleries in a given museum, the narrative paintings of saints’ lives will appear in quite a new light.’53

The repairing of a life On 9th July 2008, Davis experienced an episode of aphasia. He assumed this was merely a migraine, but his wife persuaded him to seek medical advice. Scans revealed that a large tumour had developed in his brain.

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless / 367

He had a major operation on 15th August, followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Unfortunately the seriousness of the tumour limited what could be achieved. Though battered by his treatment, he chose to devote as much as possible of his last months to creative activity. Rather than agonise over the reduction in his abilities, he was curious to discover what he could still do. In his words: ‘Leigh Davis is fucked, he’s gone, but there’s a new one.’ With the help of his family (including his wife Susan and her sister Loran Reid) and friends (in particular Stephen Bambury), he managed before his death on 3rd October 2009 to write two books to be published posthumously. The two were very different in form but shared many of the same ingredients. The project that came to be known as Stunning Debut of the Repairing of a Life began after brain surgery when he was struggling to regain his ability to write. It began as therapy but as his fluency returned it grew into a long poem. In its published form the book has a powerful conceptual aspect since it records his struggle very directly, starting with incoherent pages from his notebook when he is not yet able to spell words or organise sentences. We share his journey as his skills return and the project moves to a new level. There are strange, intense perceptions: I have fear, and change, and fear, and change and love and change. I would wish to see nothing. I want A sound. I can’t tell what I want.54 The sequence is reminiscent of Willy’s Gazette in its format – the 14-line poem – and in its return to autobiography. A few passages suggest the rhythm and tone of that earlier book. For example: ‘He is one thousand pp rising. / He is among the ruins ….’ (p.145); ‘Penelope is very frank today’ (p.167); and Odysseus’ journey in a ‘Subaru Legacy GTI’ down the Desert Road (pp.183-84). Generally, however, the wry, excited tone of Willy’s Gazette is replaced by a slower, more contemplative approach, coloured by a strong awareness of time and loss. Stunning Debut echoes many of the scenes and interests of earlier work because re-reading it was one of the methods he used to recover his fluency. He looked up favourite passages in his notebooks and re-

368 / Re-inventing NZ

fashioned them. They included his journal of a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon (p.188 which refers to the rapids as ‘flowers’), his trip to Sicily with his son Henry (‘bells’ p.131, ‘time marked by a wall pin’ p.133, and tuna fishing p.157), his Beijing journals (‘Unpronounceable Beijing streets’ p.194) and New York journals (‘the measure of Park Avenue’ p.150). He also looked back to trips to the far north (‘Whangape’ p.104 and p.205) and to the area round Gisborne (‘Waikaremoana’ p.179 and ‘Tiki tiki’ p.147 where Saint Mary’s Church has its remarkable mother-of-pearl décor). Stunning Debut also re-visited favourite texts such as Homer’s Odyssey, St Augustine’s Confessions (‘Ambrose’ p.91), Buddhist writings (pp.102-03) , Kakuzo Okakura’s Book of Tea (‘24 items of tea equipage’ pp.138-39), T S Eliot’s The Waste Land (‘Always another, one, walking beside …’ p.174), Wallace Stevens (‘The philosophers swim’ p.191), Ezra Pound’s Cantos (‘periplum’ p.176), and the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein (‘How is the word game used here?’ p.178). There are passages about familiar subjects such as marriage, children, rivers and the sea, and the sycamore trees of Victoria Park. Like Willy’s Gazette, the book often feels very personal yet the window of language through which we view the writer’s life has a very distinctive texture. As Davis wrote in his poetic introduction: I want to reflect what I live with, to extract representation’s subtle body in even the most intimate moments …. We are so used to text being straightforward but I am so used to seeing this as profoundly bent, a much greater gap between what is obvious and what is mysterious. A place you can love and in which you are welcome, and where you have never been before.55 This ‘profoundly bent’ or ‘mysterious’ quality is what I have described as ‘Symbolist.’ The interest in ‘bent’ text had nothing to do with his medical condition, since it had characterized all of Davis’s previous poetry (though less pronounced in his first book). There were certainly signs of medical difficulty in Stunning Debut – especially in the

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless / 369

opening pages – but soon the old eloquence triumphed over it. Davis turned this struggle into an explicit theme, using the efforts of Odysseus to return home as a loose mythic analogue for the ‘repairing’ of his life. For example: ‘The good I have to say is your return? / I am a hollow thing’ (p.94), ‘I am repairing / at cross-roads’ (p.108), ‘Came this body that I bear a kind of deep abyss’ (p.111), etc. The Ulysses story also enabled him to explore other themes such as marriage. Celebrating the nearly 30 years he had shared with Susan, Davis wrote a sensuous and tender account of Odysseus and Penelope making love in a shower as a couple intimately familiar with each other’s bodies: Let me also backcomb the bush these fold away. I have places for my fingers and my hands, Braille places, lines years have not rubbed out, goosebumps starting at the touch high on the inside of your legs … and on tip-toes hold the forward arching musculature of your back (p.158) Other passages of this kind include Odysseus’s description on p.167 (‘Penelope is very frank today’), and Odysseus’s homecoming (pp.20910) which ends with a sexy image of Penelope (‘So that she once took off her clothes ….’). Not all of the poem is as accessible as these sections. It slips from theme to theme in a rapid montage of phrases and images that seems to dissolve one into another – sometimes in a blurred and ambiguous way, but sometimes slowing down to allow a particular scene to come sharply into focus. It is intensely musical. Davis wrote that he wanted ‘warmth, / speed, trances, voices, celebration, mystery, consolation. / I want expansive, everlasting, continuous vehicles / that are elusive and that command a lifetime of love.’56

370 / Re-inventing NZ

The influence of Eliot seems particularly strong in Stunning Debut, although there are still some Pound-like phrases (for example, ‘lace, lace on lace, off wet oars’ p.121, or ‘hidden from view ….’ p.205) and juxtapositions (such as ‘Tang dynasty tea’ p.138, and the sudden appearance of Lenin p.203). The poem includes some wonderful lyric explosions, especially in the second section, passages which seem particularly close in style to French Symbolism. For example: ‘It scratches the surface ….’ to ‘… falling and rising’ pp.185-86, ‘The full-length wet kiss in his old building contains our abyss’ p.197, or ‘My angelic rafts that flew above me / blocked the sun in part, as stingrays on the sea’ p.207. Indeed, many of the last 50 pages follow this style. Of course there are rough edges that Davis would have smoothed out if he had had more time. But readers who are not fazed by his experiments in ‘bent’ syntax can have a unique poetic experience. As he had written in an earlier essay: ‘[This kind of ] poem works by a process of murmuring, the liberation of overtones, humming and buzzing as slowly evolving states of sound and sense in the reader.’57 Considering that the project had started out as therapy with no guarantee that anything coherent would emerge from it, the end results are truly amazing.

The final work Depending on one’s perspective, Nameless is either the strangest or the most original of Davis’s projects. A shorter, earlier version had been presented in 2006 as a multi-media installation at the Starkwhite Gallery in Auckland under the title of Anarchy.58 By ‘anarchy’ Davis meant ‘open, free and subtle bodies … just like the weather, just like daily life and meaning, just like the medium of poetry.’59 In Stunning Debut he wrote: Anarchy is the smile on the Mona Lisa, and the fountain of youth. Another name for it is poetry.60 Davis felt that Anarchy needed further development and this was a

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless / 371

project he was determined to complete. He enlisted the help of Susan Davis and Stephen Bambury as the key members of his team. Nameless (as the project came to be known) was his most ambitious attempt to transform the book of poetry into a complete environment (‘like the weather’). He also described it as ‘theatre,’ with emphasis on the double meaning of the word ‘play.’ Published posthumously, the book version was a beautiful object (with Bambury and Hansen contributing to its design). The text was spaced out across 215 large pages so that the reader had plenty of time to read between the lines. Its box contained two important additions – a DVD and Redux, a companion volume which took us behind the scenes of the project (besides being an artistic book in its own right). At the same time there are many familiar aspects to Nameless. Like Station of Earth-bound Ghosts, this is an omnibus work based on juxtaposition. Some of the quotations are longer than usual but they have been strategically edited. Davis created Nameless from favourite scenes and texts which had an iconic feel and emotional charge for him. The first of five ‘Acts’ is devoted to Ludwig Wittgenstein, imagined to be visiting Whangape (the location of Davis’s favourite old Anglican church). The philosopher pursues his characteristic questioning of the nature of language, representation and thinking, with quotes from his book Zettel (starting at section 122). The second Act, ‘Wedding,’ is perhaps the most continuously lyrical sequence. A couple share a shower and make love in a sexy and loving passage that expands into a meditation on marriage. On the accompanying DVD it is memorably read by Michael Hurst and Jennifer Ward-Lealand (themselves a married couple), with their voices interwoven or in unison. Quotations from Dante are added to the mix. The third Act, ‘Heat,’ evokes a visit by the Davis family at Christmas to the streets of New York, in particular the subway at Union Square. This is juxtaposed with Duccio’s ‘Madonna and Child’ (painted circa 1300) which Davis had visited at the Metropolitan Museum. Also briefly invoked is a political icon, former Prime Minister David Lange, who died in 2005, the year before Davis wrote the Anarchy version of this section. The fourth Act juxtaposes the names of famous rivers, from ‘Taramakau’ to ‘Tigris.’ This section is given a dark framing by the title

372 / Re-inventing NZ

‘Blind,’ a reference to ‘river of doubt’ and the double mention of the river ‘Lethe.’61 The next Act is interrupted by a series of short texts described as ‘Weather Plays,’ a term that presumably echoes the ‘Knee Plays’ that Philip Glass inserted into his opera Einstein on the Beach. (‘Knee’ referred to the way each interlude functioned as a kind of joint.) Davis’s ‘Plays’ offer a taste of other forms of experience or ‘weather’: his favourite walk through Victoria Park past the London Plane Sycamore trees; the flight of a ball thrown in the park; the sound of a morepork at night; the dressing room at the Municipal Pool; young Colin McCahon’s excitement at watching a professional sign-writer decorating a hairdresser’s window; the Māori prophet Rua Kenana, seen by some as the successor of Te Kooti; and so on. These topics are all familiar except for the curious seventh Weather Play set in a boat (which may allude to The Tempest), and the third Play in which the legendary criminal and folk hero George Wilder reflects on his life (as a kind of confession). The fifth and longest Act is composed of details selected from St Augustine’s Confessions in the Penguin translation by R. S. Pine-Coffin.62 Davis was fascinated by this account of a man reflecting on his life, his pleasures and his errors. His religious conversion took place in a garden when he heard the sound of a child’s voice chanting ‘Take and read.’ Augustine then picked up a Bible and began to read. He said: ‘I fixed my heart on heaven: / I felt overwhelmed.’63 Davis spoke of Augustine’s ‘confession to a grammarless Creator’ (p.203), but he did not explain the nature of this ‘Creator.’ Presumably the mystery of God is one meaning of the title Nameless. One of the things that had probably drawn Davis to Wittgenstein, besides his analysis of language, was his surprising interest in God. The philosopher wrote in a notebook in the midst of the First World War: ‘The meaning of life, i.e. the meaning of the world, we can call God.’ And: ‘To pray is to think about the meaning of life.’64 Also: ‘To believe in a God means to understand the question about the meaning of life. To believe in a God means to see that the facts of the world are not the end of the matter.’65 One way to understand Davis’s talk of God, and the curious mixture of subject matter in Nameless, would be to see the project as a final gathering of elements that the poet had found most meaningful in life – his work on language, his marriage and family, his

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless / 373

favourite places, the Renaissance art that interested him, Colin McCahon, the Māori prophets, clouds and rivers, and the search for God.66 Granted, talking about ‘the meaning of life’ risks over-simplifying Nameless since it is not merely a collection of subject matter – it also provides a series of models of how to read the world, like McCahon‘s ‘Teaching Aids’(to which the blackboards on the front and back covers of Redux allude). The coda of the poem – ‘A Rehearsal’ – emphasizes the ‘weather’ analogy by turning to The Raft Book, written in 1943 by the Australian aviation pioneer Harold Gatty as a survival guide for airmen downed at sea.67 Davis was fascinated by Gatty’s close reading of the weather: ‘Describing the motion of ocean birds and clouds to guide aviators / and draw them to landfall.’ The final words of Nameless focus on perceiving the most subtle differences: ‘Clouds made motionless by the coming and going of clouds and their being tinged with the colours of landfall, so that there are clouds within clouds, the loom of land, pale columns shot into the air, for which patient practice is needed to detect them’68 Nameless has incorporated various cloud-like shapes. The situation of the downed airman suggests the desperate situation that Davis found himself in at this time. The ending also reinforces the poem’s emphasis on the process of reading since the Gatty book is an instruction manual, a guide to navigation. Bambury had extensive discussions with Davis about both Nameless and Redux but unfortunately the poet died before the two books could be published. Redux, designed by Bambury with input from Christine Hansen and Susan Davis, allows the reader to see Duccio’s ‘Madonna,’ the plane trees in Victoria Park, images by Barnett Newman and Henri Matisse, satellite weather maps, and set designs. An attached DVD offers one version of what Nameless would look like if the ‘play’ were performed (or installed). This is Bambury’s ‘director’s vision’ with the help of digital animator Bruce Ferguson. The DVD creates a virtual environment like a huge gallery or museum with a

374 / Re-inventing NZ

room imagined for each Act. It allows the viewer to fly through these locations in a continuous movement. There are surprises such as the words of the first Act leading to medical scans of Leigh’s brain. In the second Act, ‘Wedding,’ the spectator enters a room with images round the walls and a transparent shower-like structure in the centre. Those who enter this structure can hear a complex, lyrical flow of words recorded by Hurst and Ward-Lealand. In the fourth Act, the rivers are represented by boxed installations of water on which their names are projected. Then the viewer flies down a long dark tunnel into bright light, a movement that suggests both birth and death. The final room appears to open onto the park, but its ‘EXIT’ leads to darkness. The music lingers for a short time then fades out. (This is ‘Endless Black,’ a commissioned piece by Alistair Galbraith, an unusual ambient or drone-like composition.)

The legacy Leigh Davis left a body of work we have been slow to come to terms with. It is exceptional in its scale and commitment to breaking new ground. Each of the six books is a unique experiment. In his words: ‘A bad poetry book is one that is instantly recognizable as a poetry book.’69 His work should continue to challenge writers to tackle ambitious projects and be more adventurous in their approach to concept, form, language and representation, if they hope to be worthy of their modernist ancestors. Popular models of poetry place emphasis on clear, naturalistic description and easy accessibility. As Davis pointed out, when William Carlos Williams is used as a model, his poetry tends to be underread – emphasizing the ‘red wheelbarrow’ and overlooking all that ‘depends’ upon it.70 Davis’s work constantly reminds us that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our local philosophy of literature. His poetry enlarges the range of New Zealand writing in the intensity of its engagement with what I have called the modern Symbolist tradition. He embraces those values in a passionate, uncompromising way. His work is also unusually skilful in the way it draws energy from

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless / 375

modern French theory. Davis’s powerful intellect and wide reading gave a special strength to his writing. His work also demonstrates the value of a thoughtful dialogue with cutting-edge activity in the visual arts. Davis was drawn to that area because he saw it as more supportive of experimental and conceptual art than our literary scene. When he died at the age of 53, he had the potential for much more innovative work. If there had been subsequent projects, they would no doubt have been as unpredictable and surprising as all his earlier ones. Still, he has left a rich and provocative legacy of six books, enough uncollected poems for a further book, and the manuscript for a large collection of essays on poetry and art which he entitled ‘Art Knowledge.’

376 / Re-inventing NZ

Endnotes 1 From ‘Scratch the Surface’ (the text of a 2005 lecture at Auckland University), available at, www.jackbooks.com/Leigh/artknowledge/Scratch.pdf 2

Edited by Jane Stafford and Mark Williams, Auckland, AUP, 2012.

3 Iain Sharp, ‘New Zealand,’ in The Oxford Guide to Contemporary Writing, ed. John Sturrock, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1996, pp.294-95. Sharp has written thoughtful and sympathetic commentaries on the poet and his work on other occasions. 4 Fredric Jameson, The Anti-Aesthetic, Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster, Port Townsend (Wash.), Bay Press, 1983. 5 This 2001 Artspace lecture is available on line (without page numbers) at Jackbooks (www.jackbooks.com/Leigh/artknowledge/timetextechoes.htm). 6 Ibid. 7

‘Interview with Len Lye,’ Film Culture, no.29, 1963 (Summer), p.43.

8 In the Glass Case: Essays on New Zealand Literature, Auckland, AUP/OUP, 1981, p.154. Stead continues to be an ‘impatient realist’ today, as he made clear in his review of The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton in The Financial Times (6 September 2013). 9 From ‘Ricochet’ (the text of a 2008 talk for the Wellington Readers and Writers Festival) available at www.jackbooks.com/Leigh/artknowledge/ricochet. pdf 10 From ‘Back Operation in Mr Cotton’s Pictures,’ the text of a 2004 lecture for the Auckland City Art Gallery, at: www.jackbooks.com/Leigh/artknowledge/ BackOperation.pdf 11 Davis’s MA thesis was about Curnow. Such early poetry as I have seen confirms the influence of Baxter, and shares his religious concerns. In particular, ‘Brother Jan’ in Rapport vol.4 no.2, April 1979, pp.5-7, is an extended freeverse poem in a realist style which mentions Baxter. It offers a detailed account of growing up with a troubled younger brother who is ‘bitter’ and ‘rebellious’. Among the early Davis poems in Rapport the only one that looks forward, even in part, to his later style is ‘Working’ (in the same issue of Rapport, p.18). 12 ‘Introduction,’ The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, ed. Allen Curnow,

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless / 377 Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1960, p. 62. 13 See Peter Simpson’s essay ‘‘The trick of standing upright,’ Allen Curnow and James K. Baxter’ in World Literature Written in English, vol.26 no.2, 1986, 369-378. The ‘formalism’ comment comes from Baxter’s ‘Notes Made in Winter,’ New Zealand Poetry Yearbook no.10, 1962, p.13. 14 From ‘Yes and No’ (a 2002 essay published only on the Internet), at www. jackbooks.com/Leigh/artknowledge/YN1.htm 15 Ibid. 16 Ibid. 17

From ‘Ricochet’ (op. cit.)

18

From ‘The Bicycle’ (an unpublished 1999 essay).

19 ‘Leigh Davis interviewed by Hugh Lauder,’ Landfall no.155, September 1985, p.319. 20

Ibid, p.317 and p.313.

21 Leigh Davis, Stunning Debut of the Repairing of a Life, Dunedin, Otago University Press, 2010, p.187. 22

An unpublished 1998 essay.

23 From ‘Back Operation in Mr Cotton’s Pictures’ (the text of a 2004 lecture for the Auckland City Art Gallery) at: www.jackbooks.com/Leigh/artknowledge/ BackOperation.pdf. This passage describes Te Kooti reading the Bible in his creative, imaginative way, but it is the kind of reading Davis generally advocates. 24 Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers, New York, Hill and Wang, 1972. 25 Davis’s critique of Panofsky was similar to that of Georges Didi-Huberman, a theorist he admired. See Confronting Images: Questioning the Ends of a Certain History of Art, trans. John Goodman, University Park (Penn.), Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005. 26

From his unpublished 1998 essay ‘Incongruity’.

27 ‘Saying Mass,’ published on line at: www.jackbooks.com/Leigh/online/ mass.htm 28 Davis knew the work of Georges Didi-Huberman who also talked of a double response to images. For example, ‘we must always keep our childlike eyes wide open before the image… [while] as adults we must always keep constructing the ‘knowability’ of the image (involving knowledge, point of view, the act of writing and ethical reflection).’ Quoted in Modern French Visual Theory: A Critical Reader, ed. Nigel Saint and Andy Stafford, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2013, p.234. 29

The phrase ‘seeing double’ is taken from the essay ‘Back Operation in Mr

378 / Re-inventing NZ Cotton’s Pictures.’ 30

Parallax, vol.1 no.3, 1983 (Winter), p.310.

31 Susan Davis reports that Leigh shared a whimsical interest in Biggles with his friend David Newton. She adds, ‘David, Algie, Reggie and the Dakotas make it into Willy’s Gazette.’ 32 Wellington, Jack Books, 1983. (There are no page numbers.) Davis’s choice of the name ‘Jack Books’ for his publishing, and later his website, refers to the hydraulic jack as an efficient little piece of technology that provides leverage and gets things off the ground. 33

From ‘The Bicycle’ (an unpublished 1999 essay).

34 Others involved in the Te Tangi a te Matuhi project included Christine Hansen, Stephen Canning, Wystan Curnow, Tony Reid, Blue Grass Flags, Haare Williams, Wirangi Pera, and a group of musicians including Toby Curnow. Hansen continued to be an important collaborator on Davis’s later books. 35

www.bookcouncil.org.nz/writers/davisleigh.html.

36

Te Tangi a te Matuhi, pp.29-67.

37 Charles Bernstein, 1998, quoted at nzepc: www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/ authors/davis/index.asp 38 Witi Ihimaera, Whanau, Auckland, Heinemann, 1974, p. 123. See also Margaret Orbell’s essay ‘The Painted House at Patutahi’ in Te Ao Hou No. 46, March 1964, on line at: teaohou.natlib.govt.nz/journals/teaohou/issue/ Mao46TeA/c12.html 39

Te Tangi a te Matuhi, pp.165-67.

40

From ‘Back Operation in Mr Cotton’s Pictures.’

41 I also discuss this comparison in my review of Stunning Debut of the Repairing of a Life in Brief Description of the Whole World, no. 41, 2010, pp.94-102. 42 Quoted by Charles Chadwick in Symbolism, London, Methuen, 1971, pp.2-3. Chadwick quotes the last sentence in French (‘c’est le parfait usage de ce mystère qui constitue le symbole’). 43 Te Tangi, pp.98-99. The Oettingen/Survage work may be seen on the Internet when a copy is being sold at auction. 44 From ‘Ricochet.’ The quotation comes from Michel Foucault, Death and the Labyrinth, London, Continuum, 2004, p.82. 45 Davis’s habit of adding mythical frameworks recalls Barthes’ Mythologies but also T S Eliot’s ‘mythic method,’ a concept Eliot introduced in his 1923 essay ‘Ulysses, Order and Myth’ on James Joyce’s Ulysses. Davis would use the Ulysses story as a framework for the second part of his book Stunning Debut of the Repairing of a Life.

Leigh Davis: from Willy’s Gazette to Nameless / 379 46 The 1979 poem, ‘Brother Jan,’ described a troubled family of ‘pentecostalism’ and ‘nouveau-riche Christianity’ (see endnote 11). 47

See, for example, Stunning Debut of the Repairing of a Life, pp.102-03.

48 The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Vol. 1, 1909-1939, ed. A. Walton Litz and Christopher MacGowan, New York, New Directions, 1991, p. 389.  49 Davis discusses a Giotto painting in these terms in his essay ‘Back Operation in Mr Cotton’s Pictures’. 50 Charles Didi-Huberman, Fra Angelico: Dissemblance and Figuration, trans. J.M. Todd, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1995. 51 From Devant l’image (1990), quoted and translated by Nigel Saint in his essay ‘Georges Didi-Huberman, images, critique and time,’ Modern French Visual Theory: A Critical Reader, op. cit., p.226. 52

www.jackbooks.com.

53 Marjorie Perloff, ‘When the saints go marching by,’ Landfall no.202, November 2001, pp.186-191. Also on-line at: epc.buffalo.edu/authors/perloff/ articles/davis.html. 54

Stunning Debut, p.107.

55

Stunning Debut, p.5.

56

Stunning Debut, pp.4-5.

57

From ‘Text, Time, and Echoes’.

58 Part of the text of Anarchy is available on the Jackbooks site: www.jackbooks.com/Leigh/online/anarchy2.html 59

From an unpublished 2006 essay, ‘What Do I Think I’m Doing Here?’

60

Stunning Debut, p.4.

61 Literary precedents include the list of river names in the ‘Anna Livia Plurabelle’ section of Finnegans Wake. 62

Saint Augustine, Confessions, London, Penguin, 1961.

63 Nameless: A Play, Auckland, Jack Books, 2009, p.193. (The book bears the date ‘2009’ but was not launched until 2013 when Redux was ready.) 64 Journal entry, 11 June 1916, in Notebooks 1914-1916, trans.  Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1984, p.73e. 65

Journal entry, 8 July 1916, in Notebooks, op. cit., p. 74e.

66

It is interesting that he did not include his business career in that survey.

67

New York, George Grady Press, 1943.

380 / Re-inventing NZ 68

Nameless, p.215.

69

From ‘The Bicycle.’

70 ‘The Red Wheelbarrow,’ The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Vol. 1, p.224. Davis discusses this poem in his essay ‘Back Operation in Mr Cotton’s Pictures.’

‘My Word My World’: Len Lye’s Poetry I have written two books about the New Zealand-born artist Len Lye, edited or co-edited four collections of his writings, and produced a range of essays about various aspects of his life and art. One of the remarkable things about him was the fact that he did innovative work in so many areas – including film, kinetic sculpture, painting, photography, and literature. As a sample I have chosen this 2003 essay about Lye’s poetry because this is the aspect of his work that remains least well known. It appeared in Landfall 205 as a contribution to the magazine’s ‘Lost and Found’ column (devoted to the rediscovery of New Zealand writers).

‘My Word My World’: Len Lye’s Poetry

(i) Contexts

T

here has not yet been a full-scale anthology of New Zealand experimental poetry comparable to overseas anthologies such as Jerome Rothenberg and George Quasha’s America a Prophecy: A New Reading of American Poetry from Pre-Columbian Times to the Present or Rothenberg’s Revolution of the Word: A New Gathering of American Avant-Garde Poetry 1914-1945. Such an anthology would subject our tradition to ‘a new reading,’ giving a new centrality to some previously peripheral writers and offering a surprising new slant on familiar writers by focusing on their most experimental work. The early section would surely centre round Len Lye as major ancestor and role model, a position currently occupied in the canon by R.A.K. Mason and A.R.D. Fairburn – though their own experimental work would give them an honoured place in this anthology also. These poets were not much younger (3 and 4 years respectively), but they were the first of a new wave of writers that chose to stay in New Zealand, in contrast to Lye (1901-1980) and earlier expatriates such as Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923), D’Arcy Cresswell (1896-1960), and Rewi Alley (1897-1987). Lye had first learned about modernism around 1920 when he discovered Ezra Pound’s book Gaudier-Brzeska in a New Zealand public library – it became his bible and made him impatient to get overseas. Moving to England (in 1926) Lye estab-

384 / Re-inventing NZ

lished many direct links with the avant-gardists who would feature half a century later in Rothenberg’s anthologies – for example, he knew Gertrude Stein and did a koru-like symbol for one of her books, he collaborated with Laura Riding, he contributed to transition, and he designed covers for the Hours Press (which published writers such as Pound).1 About half of Lye’s poetry still remains unpublished.2 In addition, only a tiny fraction of his (mostly theoretical) prose writing has reached print, but that’s another story. Lye was never greatly concerned about publication – the pleasure of writing was the main thing. Robert Graves and Laura Riding did publish No Trouble, a beautifully hand-printed collection of experimental prose pieces by Lye, in 1930, alongside books by themselves and Stein. No Trouble made quite a few references to New Zealand, including some swipes at its conservatism (‘I was dragged up among the tombstones’). Robert Herring’s Londonbased Life and Letters Today published various pieces by Lye in the late 1930s (such as ‘Song Time Stuff,’ a series of prose poems). More of Lye’s prose poetry appeared in 1940 in the London Bulletin, the magazine of the British Surrealist movement. Five years after moving to New York in 1944, Lye published a poem in The Tiger’s Eye, an important literary magazine of the period and a jumping-off place for the artists later known as the Abstract Expressionists. The magazine accepted two more items from Lye but then ceased publication. After that, publication of his experimental writing was confined to short samples included in essays about his film or sculpture work. Lye is an outstanding example of a multi-media artist, as were many of the Futurists and Surrealists that he admired. If he talked about poetry it was natural for him to link it to music or the visual arts. He is best known, and probably did his best work, as a film-maker and kinetic sculptor, and he also did innovative work in painting and photography. But even if we did not know this work, his poetry would still be of interest because it has a distinctive, original voice and in its areas of interest it achieves remarkable effects. Lye was determined to find new ways to articulate sense experience and the life of the body. His free-wheeling approach to syntax and phrasing matched his maverick approach to the basic codes and conventions of film-making. In all the media he used, he focused on movement (‘kinetics,’ he called it),

‘My Word My World’: Len Lye’s Poetry / 385

physical sensation (‘Body English’), and non-rational experience (‘the Old Brain’). These interests and the way they impelled him to take risks with form as well as content are what I mean in Lye’s case by the term ‘experimental.’ For him this approach to art was deadly serious, the only way not to sell short ‘the vastness of individuality.’ Poetry would seem an ideal site for experiments with language. Yet the only examples he had encountered in New Zealand represented Victorian taste – ‘a lot of romanticised junk.’ He did not take poetry seriously until friends in London introduced him to the right stuff. The poetry that excited him had an extreme or ecstatic energy – he acknowledged but could not share the dark, ironic tone of reigning modernist T.S. Eliot. Lye’s free-wheeling prose work ‘Grass Clippings’ contains vivid responses to the poets and prose writers he personally admired. First, he enthused about the style of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake for being ‘beautifully intactly lifted right from spontaneous mind-level first thought,’ with ‘no straight-jacketing into everyday workshop grammar.’ Gertrude Stein’s writing was an ‘oak word bank scrubbed clean and strata built pure Bach fugue stitched with buttons sewn in a big Dutch of a room full of daylight.’ (Lye was fascinated by the precise detail of 17th century Dutch interior paintings such as Vermeer’s ‘The Lace Maker.’) He had a great respect for Gerard Manley Hopkins whom he described slipping away from his monastery to study alphabet-like stones in a river, imagined as ‘sharp crystal clear words smoothed by spring water, some put in place by trout’s nosings.’ Arthur Rimbaud’s writing achieved an ‘intense tang of feelings’ as it evoked ‘the haze of a hill’s base, the stark of a gallow’s arm, the dank of a woods in the mystery of wandering alone.’ A collection of Rimbaud’s poetry translated by Norman Cameron was one of Lye’s favourite books; he painted the cover of his copy and carried it with him on his missions as a wartime documentary film-maker so it could provide him with ‘an anchor to reality’ while ‘overnighting in bleakness.’ Lye also collected the writings of many indigenous cultures. He cited the sentence ‘What is it road for me here they are standing up hills’ as an example of the power of ‘Aboriginal word-imagery’ – in this case, ‘mentally necklacing the mind’s ideas of walking.’ (Rothenberg would later collect many similar texts in his anthologies Technicians of the Sacred and Shaking the Pumpkin.)

386 / Re-inventing NZ

Such were Lye’s models for poetry, along with the work of William Blake. He also liked writing to have a strain of down-to-earth humour, one of the qualities he shared with his close friend Robert Graves. Other friends included Dylan Thomas, Norman Cameron and Surrealist poet David Gascoyne. What it was like to hang out with this group was memorably described by William Samson: ‘I met a number of Norman’s friends – an astounded cherub called Thomas, a clerkylooking fellow called Gascoyne, egg-domed Len Lye like an ascetic coster in his raffish cap …. What impressed me most was that, unlike certain other writers manqués, they did not discuss literary theory or whine about their souls and sensitivities – they made up things there and then, grabbed down extraordinary stories and myths from the air, wrote down doggerel and verse.’3

(ii) Texts In the 1940s Lye developed what he called ‘myth’ poetry based on his intense, almost animistic response to nature. One cloudy night on the Atlantic seabord he wrote ‘What Strata’ (originally ‘In a Crab’s Eye’), linking the sea with the Zodiac constellation Cancer the Crab. The poem ends: Who can stare out the stare of a crab would swear By rock sand and seaweed salt sea and sky Coastbound white flesh held within shell In mime of the Great White Crab on high Edging herself behind luminous cloud-slabs incessantly Performing her crabwalk rites of alchemy Turning light into silver to hold crabs in thrall While their feet count … Pearls of the sea Prayer beads Seeds of the seaweed tree We know from the sharp descriptions in Happy Moments that Lye could write about land and sea realistically. Consider, for example, his

‘My Word My World’: Len Lye’s Poetry / 387

childhood fishing at Cape Campbell: These pools were homes for flounder and sole …. Wavy movements of the fins around the edges would raise some sand to identify them. You’d creep up, stand on one, put a barbed spear between your toes, and that was supper. Both his prose and poetry were rich in references to seascapes; but in the case of the myth poems this geography became sensuous and surreal in the light of the Old Brain. In 1947 Lye developed the habit of writing a prose-poem on the back of each new painting before giving it to a friend. Though triggered off by a specific image, the poem was always surprising, seeming to reveal a strange tribal mythology concealed within the patterns of an abstract painting. He described the earth responding to the touch of sunlight, lightning, snow and hot lava. Marine creatures led a vivid sex life: It is night-time 60 feet deep by a coral reef. A coral king leaves his skin of rock. A queen of starfish leaves her shell. They meet as they really are and make ideas of the sea. He puts red and she puts yellow. That makes phosphorus and they see. Some finished phosphorus by that stem of seaweed will float to the top and be their memories. They make a lot of memories and go back to their shells. They always are new to each other out of their shells. The poems brought all the senses into play, evoking an intensely active and physical world in which darkness, thunder, and fire were as much living beings as seeds or fish. The most common theme was evolution or metamorphosis – a snake began standing on its tail, plants learned to walk, branches became birds. Human beings turned up occasionally but were still very much part of nature. ‘The Seer’ described the discovery of eyesight by the first man who had previously explored the world in darkness: [He] wanted to know more of the log than he could feel with his feet. He thought of what he felt so long and hard that he made a waterfall of seeing come out of his head and fall on the log.

388 / Re-inventing NZ



So he saw with his head what he felt with his feet and it was the earth in the shape of a black log. With his seeing he watered it and it grew green branches …. Today when people stand up straight and still on hills and feel the earth with their feet they are most like a tree because a tree has its heart in its roots.

Such myth poems were informed by Lye’s memories of New Zealand landscapes, by his lifetime interest in indigenous mythologies, and by his own paintings and films (such as Tusalava). It is a pity that Lye made no attempt to publish this large body of work, even after the l960s when the growth of interest in ‘deep image’ and ‘ethnopoetics’ (stimulated by magazines such as Alcheringa) enlarged the audience for work of this kind. Some of his 1940s poems were more extreme in their self-conscious questioning of language. The work of the poets Laura Riding and e.e.cummings may have provided a model for the intricate wordplay of poems such as ‘t w i’ which is about the strangeness of writing as it expresses an individual’s subjectivity yet also objectivises it (as signs, as ink, as lines of type):

why should writ (y) ing should i we when word say sign not it its is me world its my split world me the things: nor fuss of pen froth alphabet pen tin type bit but bone soil twang fibre …. my word my world Lye

There were often links between Lye’s poetry and his theoretical essays, and his most extreme experiments with syntax tend also to be his most didactic, a tendency also apparent in cummings and Riding. The results are mixed, but in the best poems of this kind Lye’s thinking is so lateral that the poem or prose-poem takes off into a lively dance of its own. In Song Time Stuff, a largely didactic sequence of prose poems,

‘My Word My World’: Len Lye’s Poetry / 389

there are quirky surprises such as ‘Chair in Your Hair,’ a tribute to Cézanne as the father of modern painting: Painting painting where is thy mind sting: there there under the chair: not under the chair says poppa Cézanne in the legs of the chair says poppa Cézanne: that old chair? Chair in your hair Cézanne Cézanne. A chair in the mind is worth none in the bush. A chair is a chair so leave it there. Lye’s interest in ‘subjective versus objective’ links the reality effect of Cézanne’s portrait of a man in a chair with Gertrude Stein’s sense of language – her ‘oak word bank scrubbed clean’ – as in her famous phrase ‘A rose is a rose is a rose.’ An unpublished poem written at the end of the war carries the heavy title ‘Subjectivity of Objectivity’ but succeeds in turning philosophical speculation into a surreal game: Octipi eye Submarine Nose Sea squirts squids Words blow trees Straight at the objective perspective And the decks meet What the fishing nets mesh Garnering the subjective Torpedo …. See that periscope Crawling up columns of arithmetic See that eyebrow Crawling up that spire One looks at a whale The other at an engineer The political world has little time for philosophy and such a debate is

390 / Re-inventing NZ

doomed to end in a burst of objective violence: Pistols are pulled (click) subject (bang) object Objection overruled Next question please In the best of his poems Lye stands back from his ideas and concentrates on thinking mythically or creating vivid accounts of art-making and art experience. ‘Knife Apple Sheer Brush’ is a sensuous tribute to his artist friend Stanley William Hayter, written for The Tiger’s Eye after seeing an exhibition of his work in January l948. It begins: Take a To an The pith lies With the mind take a Peel the skin of your own See the sinews of Traced in the glow of vegetable Pinioned by the black Of the cadmium

knife apple sheer brush pith feeling dyes action sun HAYTER

Lye goes on to celebrate Hayter’s pictures as ‘hypnotic mind juice,’ as ‘living candescent signs,’ and as ‘priceless scarecrows / Guarding the seeds of experience.’ ‘An Adolescent Jump’ ends with an epiphany for Joe, a flash of insight experienced at the end of a wet and frustrating night. It transforms a drab New York street: An incandescent jump took place across A stream of trout on a sidewalk of fish in leap-time

‘My Word My World’: Len Lye’s Poetry / 391

Faces splashed with freeedom Windows rinsed with rain Joe lay immersed Feeling no pain Of prosaic Some of Lye’s most striking prose writing takes the form of a stream of consciousness, but to an unusual degree these are thoughts in which the body features as prominently as the mind. He said of his long phenomenological work ‘Chair’: ‘It is in honour of the wandering sitting resting unlimbering body’s body.’ Though his starting-point was often something commonplace, a small event of the day, he would bring it to life by elaborating on all the mental and physical processes involved. For example, ‘Brown Paper Bag’ described walking along a busy New York street and crossing to the other side: I paddle along back to my shaded cove of a room while the objective imagery of me and the street is being transmitted to me by senses of weight and muscle and nerve action helped out by senses of light and sound … [with] kerb and street and sidewalk and traffic lights and people as interesting craft with laws of tides and navigation all sychronised in my spatial relationship with them …. I am now completely myself, a canoe on the sidewalk, a swimmer in a sea of crocodiles to traverse the road of a river …. And this organism that possesses my name got me out into the sunshine to experience being alive … a body with a name on its prow. In both his myth poems and his stream of consciousness prose Lye was fascinated by the act of walking, the ‘I’ moving through space with a heightened sense of feet feeling the ground as eyes weighed up passing objects. He also liked to describe the partnership of mind and body in the activity of writing itself: To think words ‘individual happiness now’ means an experience

392 / Re-inventing NZ

of immediacy … feeling alive with wattage from the senses. I have to stop writing to feel it in me as the enjoyment of sitting and feeling the pressure of a good weighted leg across the thigh near the knee on top of the other and the bread-board on the slope of the crossed leg’s thigh with the left hand’s fingers holding the plain yellow note-paper, and the pen-nib ink flowing on it as the nib makes a pleasant rubbing sound on the sounding board of the bread-board and I can feel its vibrations transmitted to my thigh bone and I’m dealing with sensation and …. In his manuscript this deliberately unfinished sentence became a drawing of his own hand writing the word ‘bone’ on a piece of paper on his thigh, a Lye’s eye view of ‘my word my world.’ Throughout a long life spent exploring such themes as movement, energy, process – and the dialogue between mind and body (and their meeeting-ground, the Old Brain) – Lye would switch constantly back and forth between words and images.

‘My Word My World’: Len Lye’s Poetry / 393

Endnotes 1 For details of these and other aspects of Lye’s work, see my biography, Len Lye Auckland, AUP, 2001 (second edition 2015). 2 My thanks to the Len Lye Foundation for permission to quote from four Lye texts that are appearing here in print for the first time. Landfall’s ‘Lost and Found’ section provides an opportunity to acknowledge the New Zealand editors involved in recovering Lye’s work. Alan Loney (who is our closest equivalent to a Rothenberg in his championing of alternative traditions) gave a number of Lye’s poems their first publication in Parallax and A Brief Description of the Whole World. Wystan Curnow co-edited Figures of Motion: Len Lye Selected Writings. Michele Leggott and her team put a selection of Lye’s unpublished poems on the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre website (www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz). And, as a publisher, Peter Simpson and the Holloway Press produced Happy Moments, the book of prose pieces about growing up in New Zealand that Lye wrote in 1960, and Body English: Texts and Images by Len Lye. These books are no longer in print, but I recently edited a new collection of Lye’s writings: Zizz!: The Life and Art of Len Lye, Wellington, Awa Press, 2015. 3 ‘Coming to London (XI),’ London Magazine vol.3 no.12, December 1956, p.33. (The location may have been Hennessy’s in the Strand.)

Frederick Page: A Musician’s Journal The last two essays in this book take music as their starting-point. Frederick Page was one of the innovative ‘middlemen’ (or women) who helped to give New Zealand a high culture but who was never properly championed in return. I used the opportunity of this 1987 review in Landfall of a book published after Page’s death to talk about the role of cultural intermediaries. Afterwards I had the pleasant surprise of receiving a generous letter from John Mansfield Thomson, one of the editors of Page’s book, and himself a remarkable ‘middleman’ as an historian of New Zealand music and editor of the marvelous British journal Early Music. He said it had been surprisingly difficult to attract attention to Page’s book and he was delighted to see a sympathetic review at last.

Frederick Page: A Musician’s Journal

A

s a memorial tribute, this wonderful book – Frederick Page: A Musician’s Journal, edited and arranged by J.M. Thomson and Janet Paul – combines seven chapters of Page’s autobiography with ‘Impressions’ of the man by musicians, poets, and other friends.1 Born in Lyttelton in 1905, he belongs to the remarkable generation of Rita Angus, Charles Brasch, Allen Curnow, A. R. D. Fairburn, M. H. Holcroft, Robin Hyde, Len Lye, R. A. K. Mason, Frank Sargeson and Toss Woollaston. Three of them – Angus, Hyde and Lye – have only recently begun to gain their fair share of attention, but it’s Page who has received the worst deal of all. Look through the New Zealand Encyclopedia and other books of its type and you won’t find a single reference to him. The publication of A Musician’s Journal is important not only because it provides a major piece of his writing but also because it raises questions about this blind spot – why doesn’t the culture quite know what to make of someone like Page? The main reason why his work has been under-rated is the fact that he ‘was not an officially recognised creative personality – as one calls a composer or a poet’ (Peter Crowe). Page was seen as ‘a mere middleman.’ It’s true that he was not a composer – he was a critic, teacher, pianist, impresario and champion of new music. Through these roles he had more effect than many ‘officially recognised creative personalities.’ His medium was the culture itself. As Roger Woodward puts it, ‘he was the father of musical growth in New Zealand’s twentiethcentury musical life, because he attended, very lovingly, to all those

398 / Re-inventing NZ

varied aspects of its development.’ It is harder to measure this sort of influence, this cultural fine-tuning, than it is to assess a single piece of music or a single performance. Composers, conductors and singers can all ascend to star-status, but ‘critics’ and ‘academics’ are barely tolerated. Admittedly there are more stuffed owls than nightingales in these categories, but we should not allow an old Romantic mystique to blind us to the value of an exceptional critic/academic such as Page. One contributor to this book says of Page: ‘As far as I know, he did not have the true creative fire in his own belly [despite his] closeness to the genuine flame in someone else …. It would have seemed grotesque to Fred for a mere middleman to affect gravity.’ This kind of rhetoric is passing out of favour overseas. The word ‘text’ is now used to describe writing of all kinds, and the making of texts – whether by ‘critics’ or ‘creative personalities’ – is understood as a process of bricolage. We are all inside the culture, we are all busy rearranging the pieces (words, sounds, repertoires, etc.) This approach should help us to clear away the clichés about ‘fire’ and ‘gravity.’ Page is certainly not the only innovative ‘middleman’ (or woman) who has worked hard to champion others without being properly championed in return by the culture. Wystan Curnow, to mention an outstanding example, has helped and influenced local artists as well as fellow critics.2 Within the present culture a ‘middle’ person has two main roles to play. First, there are ‘creators’ to be helped and new work to be promoted; and second, there is the task of drawing critical distinctions. Many artists consider it arrogance that critics and teachers don’t confine themselves humbly to the first role. Artists deserve plenty of encouragement, but at some stage they also need tough-minded criticism. Today in particular, there is a shortage of critics like Page who ‘wrote exactly what he thought and felt.’ (‘In a small society,’ adds J.M.Thomson, ‘this could create mayhem.’) In the 1980s New Zealand seems to have more ‘creators’ than ever before – more poets, painters, film-makers, composers – and this quantity is certainly a sign of health. But in terms of quality there are not many peaks. How many artists today match the standards set by Page’s generation? In periods such as this, a good critic can prove more useful to the culture than another artist.

Frederick Page: A Musician’s Journal / 399

Not that Page didn’t help newcomers. He saw grass-roots work as complementary to criticism. He was always ready to roll up his sleeves and get involved. He insisted that the University should concern itself with contemporary forms of art. In his writings he never complained about his own work being under-rated but instead drew attention to the difficulties of others, such as neighbourhood music teachers whom he described as ‘the most economically depressed class in the country.’ Page’s critical candour wasn’t the only reason he ruffled feathers – he also had a complex attitude to New Zealand nationalism. The best known of his contemporaries were nationalists – Fairburn, for example. Then there was a second category of internationalists such as Lye. Page was more difficult to categorise because he had a foot in both camps. While devoting his working life to the development of music in New Zealand, he insisted upon a state-of-the-art knowledge of music overseas. He wrote: ‘We New Zealanders are over self-conscious about our country, as well as … over-zealous in looking for possible New Zealand elements in our music.’3 As Roger Savage put it: ‘Fred … seemed quite admirably concerned with the nation’s musical health – a health dependent … on a proper marriage of the national and international – and [he was] particularly well qualified to be an effective marriage-guidance counsellor.’ This approach – sometimes considered ‘scandalous’ (as Peter Crowe records) because it was not sufficiently patriotic – seems a useful model, particularly for someone involved as Page was in mediating between cultures. A good critic is not necessarily someone you agree with, but someone with an interesting taste and the ability to develop it verbally. Reading Page, I am reminded of other ‘modernist’ critics such as Ezra Pound who campaigned in the 1910s and 1920s for ‘hard, clear light’ to replace the muzzy aesthetics left over from the Victorians, or Igor Stravinsky whose crisp, decisive comments (to which Robert Craft gave an additional sharpening in the Conversations) made a big impact on musical thinking in the 1960s. Like them, Page saw his job as ‘sorting out the real from the sham.’ The sham consisted of the ‘Romantic twaddle’ and the gutless ‘modern’ music that New Zealanders loved to import from England. Page created scandals when he carved up Official Masterpieces by composers such as Brahms and Elgar. It was precisely the sharp edge of his taste that made him a useful critic.

400 / Re-inventing NZ

Because of his modernism he was accused of aping overseas fashions, an accusation that is a familiar defence against new ideas. In fact Page had worked for many years to develop an insider’s rather than a tourist’s view of modern music. He was grateful to Vaughan Williams, with whom he studied in London in 1935, for training him to work things out for himself by forcing him to assess concerts of new music. (‘In New Zealand I had read and read about music and had accepted second-hand opinions of others.’) Any taste has its limits. In his later years Page continued to champion the European avant-garde of the 1950s and had little to say about later trends – the work of American composers such as Steve Reich, for example, or developments in rock music. His Listener columns were still valuable, however, since many local musicians and audiences had yet to come to terms with modern music. It is interesting to imagine what Page would have written if he had had the opportunity to attend regular concerts of contemporary music, instead of going along in his dedicated way to countless local performances of the 19th century ‘classics.’ As he wryly remarked: ‘One pays a price for being brought up in New Zealand.’ He personally played in or helped to organise hundreds of concerts. One of the most exciting (and influential) periods was when he returned from his 1958 trip to Darmstadt full of enthusiasm for composers such as Boulez, Nono, and Stockhausen and threw himself into the task of organizing concerts. Page’s 130-page ‘Musician’s Journal’ is an entertaining and succinct commentary on the New Zealand musical scene from the 1900s to the 1960s. It should prove extremely valuable as an historical record. For those of us who play records rather than instruments it serves as a healthy reminder of the effort involved in performing new music. New Zealand musicians were aware of composers such as Schoenberg in the 1920s, but as performers they were still struggling to come to terms with Debussy or Delius. This sort of time lag is hard to avoid. There were New Zealanders (including Page) who read Blast in the 1920s, but their basic thinking and writing habits still belonged to the previous century. The ‘Musician’s Journal’ reminds us that even Mozart, Bach, Haydn and Schubert had to be rediscovered when Victorian taste lost its dominance. (Today we are still relearning the 18th and early 19th centuries, as shown by the continuing surprises generated

Frederick Page: A Musician’s Journal / 401

by the ‘early music’ movement.) Page’s writing is rich in references to literature and painting. His knowledge of many arts is another sign of his modernism. Also striking is his interest in the social contexts of art. As a culture-builder he casts a professional eye over the composition of various musical scenes, including Wellington, London, and the cities of China (which he visited in 1961 and again in 1982). The ‘Impressions’ of Page by his friends describe other abilities such as his flair for creating a distinctive lifestyle. Several writers speak of his long and happy marriage to Evelyn Polson who is represented in the book by a selection of her paintings and drawings. A more detailed account of her work has recently been published by Allen and Unwin/Port Nicholson Press, entitled Evelyn Page: Seven Decades by Janet Paul and Neil Roberts. A selection of Frederick Page’s reviews and letters would make a valuable sequel to the present book. For now there is the pleasure of exploring his ‘Musician’s Journal.’ Composer Jenny McLeod sums up the special seriousness that makes Page an exemplary figure: ‘He was very open and receptive to criticism …. It was as though he constantly pursued something, and this something I can only call “quality” …. To him, we all had to try harder.’

402 / Re-inventing NZ

Endnotes 1

Dunedin, John Mclndoe, 1986. My review appeared in Landfall No.162.

2 Many of his ideas now have wide acceptance but their users tend to be unaware of the source or are careless about acknowledging it. Although he is a major influence he remains less visible than young painters and sculptors who are automatically lit up by their ‘genuine flame.’ 3 Thirteen facets : essays to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth the second, 1952-1977, ed. Ian McLean Wards, Wellington, E. C. Keating (Government Printer), 1978.

Douglas Lilburn: Nationalism Now In the 31 years since I wrote the first essay in this collection, the situation in New Zealand has greatly changed. The ‘nationalist’ writers and composers no longer dominate serious culture – indeed, some of the younger generation have little awareness of them. And now the Internet has greatly transformed the situation for the arts – in some respects for the better, in some respects for the worse. In 2011 The Journal of New Zealand Literature invited me to review A search for tradition & a search for a language, a reprint of two of the composer’s essays by the Lilburn Residence Trust. Moving out from the essays, I argued the need for a broad re-consideration of our cultural history. What is the relevance of Douglas Lilburn’s ideas today? My answer returns over some of the same ground as earlier essays, but also serves to bring together some of the main ideas of this book.



Douglas Lilburn: Nationalism Now

A

nyone with an interest in the history of music, or any of the other arts in New Zealand, should own a copy of  this new book which brings together two important talks by Douglas Lilburn, ‘A Search for Tradition’ (1946) and ‘A Search for a Language’ (1969).1 Even if you have the earlier published versions of the two talks, this lovingly produced new collection adds footnotes, more illustrations (including seven images by Rita Angus), an updated bibliography, a timeline of Lilburn’s life and an essay by Jack Body.2 As an additional selling-point, all proceeds go to the Lilburn Residence Trust which maintains Lilburn’s former home as New Zealand’s only residence for composers. These are important texts for a number of reasons. First, they are thoughtful discussions by a major composer who puts words together as carefully as chords. Second, they are a revealing record of two historical periods and the strategic thinking of artists during those times. And third, they provide us with an opportunity to re-consider what the original ‘nationalist’ group means to us today. For these reasons, I want to turn this review into a wide-ranging essay which looks not only at the original ‘movement’ but at what has happened subsequently to its art and ideas. I will argue that some of its ideas have a renewed relevance for us today – as a catalyst or provocation – as we become increasingly immersed in the on-line world. The digital revolution, for all its exciting possibilities, creates an unpredictable future for New Zealand’s current art and media communities.

406 / Re-inventing NZ

Movement and manifesto Lilburn explicitly uses the word ‘movement’ to describe ‘the ferment of poetry and painting and politics’ in ‘Christchurch of the thirties’ (page 74). Full-scale movements are a fascinating phenomenon in the arts, and this was a particularly impressive example. It is one of the reasons why Lilburn’s essays and the best of the other texts of the 1930s and ’40s will always deserve a return visit. It was a classic version of a movement, involving many of the arts (with Lilburn as its composer) and being based on a ‘belief in common’ that was ‘positive, stimulating, energising’ (74). A combined head of steam can propel artists beyond their individual limits. Movements need manifestoes. Lilburn describes his first talk – given at the inaugural Cambridge Summer School of Music in January 1946 – as ‘a heartfelt sort of manifesto’ (55). Unlike the style of European manifestoes, his approach was characteristically cagey and qualified. In a country where art of any kind was barely tolerated, readers would not respond to over-the-top advocacy. In terms of personality Lilburn was no guru or demon promoter along the lines of Filippo Marinetti or André Breton, and he and other members of the movement had a genuine desire to connect with their community. Nevertheless Lilburn’s ‘belief ’ was passionate. I enjoy the way his writing, like the anthology introductions of his friend Allen Curnow, reflects the pressures of the period so the interest resides not only in the words but in what lies between and behind them. As Curnow put it in 1960, it was still necessary for serious writers ‘to make their “raids on the inarticulate” across very open territory indeed, in full view of the enemy.’3 This sense of struggle gave his and Lilburn’s writing a sharpness that we seldom see in prose today. Of course plenty of art had been made in New Zealand before the 1930s, but the art of the movement was distinguished by a shared vision of the country’s culture – what it was and how it needed to change. In terms of idiom, it called for engagement with certain strands of modernism in the arts, such as the poetry of W. H. Auden, Louis MacNeice and Stephen Spender and the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Jean Sibelius. An artistic movement concentrates its energies by carefully selecting its precedents and strictly defending its chosen

Douglas Lilburn: Nationialism Now / 407

boundaries. Its manifestoes explain who is in and who is out – choices certain to become a later source of controversy. We may disagree with Lilburn’s critique of Alfred Hill’s music (40) since there is a lot of interest today in re-discovering this composer, but it made sense at the time because Hill never ventured far into modernism. Lilburn spoke of this musical pioneer with respect, but spending time with him in 1940 confirmed his judgement that ‘Patently, he [Hill] was in no sense the musical ancestor that I’d been seeking.’4 Curnow’s introduction to A Book of New Zealand Verse 1923-45 was similarly an extended process of drawing distinctions. Lilburn praises this anthology in his 1946 talk (28), and the two texts can be linked as important manifestoes of the movement.5 Curnow’s text was the more influential of the two since Lilburn’s talk – though ‘memorable’ for those who heard it (as J M Thomson notes in his introduction on p.14) – was unfortunately not published until 1984. Lilburn did begin teaching at Victoria University in 1947, however, and he continued to be composer-in-residence at the annual Cambridge Summer Schools, so his influence was felt in music circles in other ways. Over the past 80 years since the ‘movement’ emerged, a series of new waves (or generations) in our vicinity has rebelled against its ideas, particularly what they characterise as its ‘nationalism.’ In terms of idiom they have championed different versions of modernism. I will briefly review this history as background to the situation of the movement today. Its approach first came under fire in the area of literature as Lilburn explains in his 1969 essay: ‘By the early fifties the main force of it had gone, and I remember at the time being desperate for belief of some equivalent kind.’ (74). Landfall, which had begun publication in 1947 as a kind of headquarters of the movement, was challenged by new periodicals such as Arachne (from 1950) and Numbers (from 1954). The late 1960s and 1970s brought a new generation which embraced other and arguably more radical traditions of modern or contemporary art. Composers took their bearings in particular from the Darmstadt school of serial music, and poets turned to recent American poetry. Meanwhile visual artists were influenced by recent American painting and post-object art. Their emphasis on abstraction or body-based performance involved a clear break with the former

408 / Re-inventing NZ

emphasis on landscape. With its manifestoes and links between the arts, this 1960s/1970s upsurge was the closest thing to a full-scale movement since the 1930s.6 The 1970s and 1980s saw an upsurge in Māori and feminist activism. These political movements had a number of targets, but in relation to the arts they accused the ‘nationalist’ tradition of a failure to do justice to creative activity by women or by Māori. The 1980s also saw the arrival of a ‘theory’ movement which used French post-structuralist approaches to subvert nationalist assumptions and ‘under-theorised’ forms of realism. Each of the above waves of activity could be described as an alternative movement, associated with at least some new work in the arts. Each had its manifestoes, though arguably few were as memorable as Lilburn’s 1946 talk or Curnow’s 1945 anthology introduction. Today, then, we have the choice of a number of positions outside Lilburn’s movement, so that when we come to view it, it is almost always from a distance and from a different angle. The problem is that sixty years of criticism have simplified the details of the original movement, reducing it to a cartoon version. To read Lilburn’s essays is to be surprised by the care and complexity with which national issues were originally discussed. Like Curnow, Lilburn knew theory was urgently needed but he was nervous of it. He saw that composition ‘follows its own laws’ regardless of any programme or rationalisation (56). In his teaching, ‘the last thing I would do now, would be to teach [students] a “method of composition”’ (67-68). He denied that the New Zealand writers he identified with were ‘setting out self-consciously to produce a national literature’ (28). We may disagree with Lilburn’s ideas but still be fascinated by the grace under pressure of his thinking and writing. His friend Curnow spoke in similar terms in a later interview: ‘It always puzzled me, always has bothered me, the use of the word ‘national’ or ‘nationalist’ attached to some of these early poems of mine. Of course it’s true in a way, because I was worried to the point of being obsessed by the question, by this business of being a nation …. [But] being a nation was not a kind of triumphant cry of success and arrival, it was a difficult and tricky and dangerous thing, about which I was full of reservations and pessimism.’7

Douglas Lilburn: Nationialism Now / 409

The situation today Recent years have brought a stream of well-researched biographies, documenting the lives of (for example) Rita Angus, Bill Pearson, Leo Bensemann, Colin McCahon, Ngaio Marsh, Edith Collier, Rhona Haszard, and Frances Hodgkins. Philip Norman’s biography of Douglas Lilburn is a particularly thorough account.8 Biographies of Charles Brasch and Allen Curnow are now in progress. These books have added rich detail to our knowledge of history and provide evidence of the continuing interest among serious readers. Mostly published in modest print-runs, however, they can not dispel all the clichés and confusions that have accumulated in mainstream culture. The biographers are notably sympathetic, but it is also clear that angles of observation have changed since the periods described. Some writers are informed by feminism, gay issues (or queer theory), or Māori concerns. Recent general books about the period by Francis Pound and Alex Calder have been influenced by post-structuralism or settlement studies.9 The most obvious gain in today’s biographies is the intimate look at personal lives, an international trend that reflects feminist politics and the greater acceptance of alternative sexualities. It is interesting to compare how circumspect commentators were in the 1930s and ’40s. The sexual lives and eccentricities of individuals were seldom discussed in print. (Personal gossip was a different matter.) Confessionalism in poetry in the 1950s and ’60s helped to change attitudes, as did the hippie 1960s and ’70s. Censorship had been an important enemy of earlier writers but by the mid-’70s it was in retreat. The mainstream (or populist) media and advertising then took over the pushing of boundaries. Today we expect any biography to be frank and intimate, though older readers often feel that this trend has gone from one extreme to the other and is in danger of becoming another form of celebrity gossip. Some historical writing on the arts has become so personality-focused that intellectual history gets pushed into the background. The ideas of the Landfall movement no longer – with rare exceptions – shape cutting-edge work in any of the arts, but in diluted form they have trickled down to middle-brow culture. On the positive side, the efforts of Lilburn’s generation have helped to expand the audience

410 / Re-inventing NZ

for New Zealand forms of popular as well as serious culture, such as the success of our new feature-film industry.10 Within what we might call the official canon, the work of the movement continues to hold an honoured place. There is, however, the danger that its products are now seen as icons, period pieces, so heavily freighted with historic or national significance that they can no longer be experienced as high-energy works of art. Still, it can be argued that Lilburn’s iconic status has at least one advantage. Local composers tell me that many classical music listeners both here and overseas remain blissfully unaware that good music in the classical tradition has ever been written by a New Zealander. The best chance that such listeners will encounter a New Zealand composer is still Lilburn (whose Aotearoa Overture was performed, for example, by the NZSO on their 2010 international tour). By the 1960s both Lilburn and Curnow, among others, were troubled by this process of icon or canon making. The movement saw its ideas being distorted, reduced to platitudes for politicians and funding bureaucrats and the pages of coffee-table books. Simplified nationalism was no better than the Victorian culture that had been their original target. By 1969 Lilburn was worrying about ‘too much security’ and ‘a creeping paralysis of academicism’ (57). As early as 1960 Curnow wrote: ‘there is [now] something frighteningly monolithic about the country’s – “culture” seems, ominously, the only word.’11 At worst, this diluted nationalism can become prescriptive when public controversy is involved. Consider the poorly informed objections to the selection of the artist ‘et al’ to represent New Zealand at the Venice Biennale in 2005. The subsequent selection of Bill Culbert as the New Zealand artist for the 2013 Biennale was similarly challenged by Hamish Keith on the basis that Culbert is now ‘an expatriate’ and no longer ‘one of ours.’12 Today we need to formulate new versions of the ‘national’ which take account of the fact that our country is now more intricately connected with the rest of the world. Debates in the arts – such as those associated with the various ‘waves’ and ‘generations’ listed above – have often been interpreted as an argument between ‘nationalists’ and ‘internationalists,’ but this simplifies the debate. Lilburn and Curnow were far better informed than the average New Zealander about inter-

Douglas Lilburn: Nationialism Now / 411

national work in the arts. Today there is a type of contemporary artist who has a deep knowledge of international developments but still maintains a base in New Zealand and has a shrewd perspective on local tradition. Such an artist will certainly not be a nationalist in the old sense but may engage with local contexts in subtle ways. When the older generation is inclined to notice only their ‘internationalism,’ we need better ways to discuss the complex interaction that these artists and critics have with New Zealand. I suspect that many young artists and academics will see my comments as a kind of desperate, last-ditch attempt to salvage a few remnants of nationalism. If academics have come from large countries such as the USA or the UK, they associate the term with power politics and militarism. They believe that an artist or intellectual has a duty not to be nationalist. Even among those who have grown up in New Zealand in the last 40 years, many regard nationalism in the arts as a set of ideas left over from an earlier period. They feel that problems such as those written about in Lilburn’s essays have been resolved long ago. I remember a young film-maker, exasperated to hear a group of older film-makers discussing the hard life of one of their colleagues who had recently died, exclaiming: ‘Please, no more war stories!’ Talk about local problems is often regarded as whining, a plea for special treatment or double standards. This seems not unrelated to the neo-liberal attitude that instead of grumbling about the super-rich we should simply start up our own business – ‘Just do it!’ as Nike, or Richard Branson, would say. The reference to ‘war stories’ is understandable since Lilburn’s generation often used words like ‘battle’ or ‘struggle.’ For example, he told composers not to flee overseas because local ‘problems can be solved only by battling with them on our own ground’ (24). Curnow used similar metaphors, as in his comment about ‘full view of the enemy’ quoted earlier. But this was neither jingoism nor self-pity, it was a call to action. If ever there were artists who ‘just did it’ without waiting for funding, it was this group. Of course there were problematic aspects of the movement such as the sexist and anti-semitic comments by A R D Fairburn, but these have been frequently ridiculed. The greater problem today is the tendency for young people to know only a two-dimensional cartoon version of the movement’s ideas. I have no wish to resurrect nationalism

412 / Re-inventing NZ

in its original form but I would like to see justice done to it as history. What’s needed is an exercise in definition. To break down the theory of the movement (as expressed, for example, in Lilburn’s talks) into its basic elements will help to sharpen up blurred distinctions.

The ecology of culture The meanings of nationalism that I want to separate out are: (a) local support for production; (b) local support for high culture; and (c) the idea of art as an attempt (in Lilburn’s words) ‘to discover the circumstance and meaning of our human experience here and now’ (80), where ‘here and now’ refers to our ‘unique environment in New Zealand, and the change of outlook it is producing in us’ (46). The first two meanings are not as obvious as they may appear to be, and I believe they can still help to illuminate problems in our situation today. Personally I do not share the third meaning but I feel it deserves to be understood in its original context and complexity. The first reason for cultural nationalism is the desire for local production, for art not merely to be consumed. Lilburn quotes Vaughan Williams’s call for a community that is ‘actively and creatively, not passively and receptively’ engaged with music (31). The particular kind of music (or literature, or art) is not an issue – what counts is the creative energy of the culture. Today few would disagree with this idea, and some would see it as so obvious there is no need to discuss it. But Lilburn’s understanding of this notion has some interesting implications. We need to start by returning it to its original context. If we go back to the 1930s – or as recent as the 1960s – we discover what it was like to live in a country that did not meet the minimum requirements. New Zealand had no film industry, few book publishers, almost no local plays or dance groups or dealer galleries or record companies or music publishers. In these and other fields it was not until the 1970s that critical mass was reached and a broad cultural infrastructure established. After that, New Zealand material still remained a minority but it became a much more significant minority. Many of those old enough to remember the earlier situation continue to feel a sense of vulnerability, aware that ours is still a small

Douglas Lilburn: Nationialism Now / 413

and relatively isolated country with a continued ‘brain drain.’ From this viewpoint, local production is a fragile ecology that needs active protection, an idea that politicians obsessed with the ‘free market’ can not understand. Lilburn’s 1946 talk was occasioned by the establishment of the Cambridge Summer School of Music, a major development at a time when there was little musical infrastructure. In his words: ‘we’ve got together, not to admire what the big shots overseas can do, but to see what we’re capable of doing for ourselves’ (18). This was still a novelty at a time when most schools and universities taught no New Zealand literature and almost no New Zealand history – everything worth learning was assumed to be British. The movement developed a thoughtful analysis of the local culture. The task was to grow it. Culture was like agriculture, which suggested the ecological approach. It is not irrelevant that Lilburn was a keen gardener. As he put it: ‘this concept of environment was a springboard for most of our arts in the thirties and forties’ (64), and ‘I’ve talked nearly all the time about environment’ (46). He also emphasized the fact that the term should not be understood narrowly – it was not merely ‘enthusing about nature’ (81) but also about creating ‘a living tradition’ (23) as the local ‘environment’ comprised both nature and culture. Developing it was a group project and Lilburn was happy to join the small ‘community’ or ‘movement’ of writers and painters involved. This shared goal reinforced their decision to stay and work in a society that was unsupportive. Lilburn reminds us that D’Arcy Cresswell described ‘God’s own country’ in those days as ‘that Antipodean Hades of darkness’ (20)! In comparison with earlier artists such as Cresswell, Katherine Mansfield, Frances Hodgkins, Len Lye and Rhona Haszard who felt that it was essential to move to Europe, this was the first generation of talented artists to remain based in New Zealand, turning the problem of their birthplace into a collective project. Thomas L Friedman, the influential American advocate of globalization, has suggested that ‘the world is now hyperconnected, and there is no such thing as ‘local’ anymore.’13 In terms of the first sense of nationalism, this is a dangerous claim to make. Lilburn and his associates argued for the importance of taking a careful look at one’s local culture as an ecology, assessing its weaknesses and contributing to

414 / Re-inventing NZ

its growth – the kind of cooperative, locally-focused approach that is discouraged by today’s competitive, globalized environment. There are political aspects to environmental activism, as there are to globalization. To promote an active culture in the 1930s and ’40s was to struggle against colonialism. The term used by commentators such as Lilburn and Curnow was ‘Empire.’ Their reading had a political dimension because they knew that some imported culture had designs on its readers or users. For example, the music scene was dominated (in Lilburn’s words) by ‘a pseudo-tradition transplanted from Victorian England’ (55). For New Zealanders to focus on consuming – to live ‘on the spiritual capital of an older world’ (28) – was to remain derivative and immature. A favourite metaphor for Lilburn, as for other artists of the group, was rebellion against ‘dependence,’ like children who knew the time had come to leave home. In those days New Zealanders referred to England as ‘Home.’ Lilburn (who had a somewhat troubled relationship with his own parents, and with subsequent authority figures) wrote: ‘we can cut some of the apron-strings that bind us to an older world and begin to live that richer life of an adult nation’ (29). The metaphors and anti-colonial politics may seem dated now, but to re-read Lilburn is to be reminded of the energy with which he and his colleagues engaged with their local environment and the sharp edge that this gave to their reading or listening. Since then we have come to take the existence of an active local situation for granted, but today there are huge changes in the global environment. The growth of the internet is shaking up all the media, and noone knows what our society will be like at the end of the process. All aspects of the existing local infrastructure – all the professional industries and careers built up since the 1960s in publishing, journalism, the music industry, the film industry, television, and so on – are now at risk. Some of the people I know in these areas are now out of work or have precarious jobs. Young people tend to be hugely optimistic that the digital world will be good for them, and certainly there were some serious problems with the old infrastructure. The internet opens up opportunities for self-publishing. Nevertheless, as existing careers are destroyed, there is a danger in some areas that we will return to pre-nationalist days when no serious artist could hope to make a living, and when overseas material dominated all genres so that New Zealanders were (as Lilburn

Douglas Lilburn: Nationialism Now / 415

put it) reduced to being ‘sponges’ (30). This is rapidly becoming the fate of our television system, for example. Commissions for serious local documentaries have almost entirely dried up as local channels become ever more populist in their struggle to ward off bankruptcy. It is horrifying to watch the digital future of New Zealand television passing into the hands of overseas-owned ‘pay television’ companies which currently fund almost no local production outside of sport. This destruction of local ecology is happening with the full support of our government. What we lack is a clear vision of the future, a healthy place for our culture in the digital world. This is urgently needed because the on-line realm is not as pure, flat and democratic as utopians claim. A second aspect of Lilburn’s nationalism also remains strongly relevant and it is a necessary addition to the first. This is the need for some local production to aspire to the level of high culture (though Lilburn was uneasy about that term and preferred the word ‘deep’). There was certainly a good deal of art around in 1946 but it was largely middlebrow stuff. Wystan Curnow’s classic essay ‘High Culture in a Small Province’ documents the shortage of high culture as a perennial New Zealand problem.14 Whereas Curnow defines high culture in terms of intense problem exposure, Lilburn’s approach was rather to speak of it in nationalist terms as work that escaped from the ‘dependent’ or the ‘derivative.’ He urged local composers to produce music that was deeper, more ambitious, more original. Overseas great music provided ‘a symbol of perfection against which we can measure our own strivings’ (30-31). While Lilburn set the highest standards for himself, he was afraid of sounding pretentious and he wanted his music to be accessible. He therefore developed an approach that combined levels: ‘I’ve always felt … that I’d like my music to be a bit like a parable – both very simple and to have many degrees of meaning, according to how far one wants to move into it. I think that might be true for something like the Nine Short Pieces for Piano – they can be listened to very simply on the surface; [but] if you go looking for structure then there are quite adequate structures.’15 Whether or not we share Lilburn’s musical taste, we can value his constant reminders of how composers must aim higher or ‘deeper.’ In 1946 he said: ‘what I’m suggesting to you is that we’ve produced no cream as yet, but only a dribble of milk and … it’s going to take plenty

416 / Re-inventing NZ

of milk’ (22). In 1969 he wrote: ‘I’m conscious that too little music of real character has been written here in the past ten years …. I’m aware of young talents that don’t realise enough of the first promise they show’ (68). This kind of tough love seems highly relevant to a period such as ours when commercial values have penetrated every corner of the culture and success in the arts is constantly confused with celebrity, hype, or box-office success. Audiences are happy to be morally shocked but not artistically challenged.

Nationalism – the third meaning The first two meanings of nationalism call for an active and ambitious local culture but do not specify the type of content. For Lilburn, the question of content was vital. Whereas the first two meanings retain widespread relevance, I think there are few artists today who share the third except in a diluted form – a general pleasure in local relevance, which is a notion with less urgency. Still, it is not difficult to understand why Lilburn’s generation turned to a stronger meaning as the context of the 1930s and ’40s was still colonial. It is also clear from Lilburn’s essays that a fully thought-out aesthetic lay behind his approach. I would like to explore these essays to indicate the depth and coherence of his thinking. He himself saw the ‘achievement’ of the movement as based on a ‘concept’ or ‘theory,’ which was ‘at least positive and valid enough to give [later artists] something to react against’ (64). Not that art was ever just an intellectual matter for him – it also involved feelings and instincts. The concept of nationalism provided an exciting rationale for making art, and in the case of music it had worked well for Bela Bartok, Zoltan Kodaly, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Aaron Copland, Jean Sibelius, and various Spanish composers. Nationalism in music might be an international idea, but each country had responded to the concept in a way that was specific to itself. This called for a process of discovery, and not surprisingly the titles of both of Lilburn’s essays began with the phrase ‘A search for ….’ Lilburn was very interested in overseas nationalist composers, but he knew that the concept required him to come up with something original. His painter and writer friends had

Douglas Lilburn: Nationialism Now / 417

accepted the same challenge. Lilburn’s essays and Allen Curnow’s introductions show how intensely this scrutiny was practised, this search for what might be distinctive to New Zealand. For the composer it involved intensely listening to the sounds and rhythms of the environment (in the broadest sense of that word), for ‘this environment of ours is shaping us into characteristic rhythms of living’ (43). In this context, a musical idiom would turn out to be either ‘related’ or ‘unrelated,’ producing an experience of ‘harmony’ or ‘disjunction.’ Lilburn gives a vivid example of ‘disjunction’ in his 1946 essay when he imagines the music of Mozart accompanying a train ride at night through National Park (20). Every composer is an expert listener but it is clear that Lilburn took special pains to develop this particular approach. He also practised it in his reading, discovering that good New Zealand literature could ‘satisfy the small part of me that I cannot discover in reading Shakespeare or Tolstoi …’ (28). The challenge was to identify what exactly that ‘small part’ was. Curnow had similar habits as a reader and writer, to judge from his 1960 comment: ‘When [the New Zealand poet] recites his pieces they do not come, like Alice’s, wrong from beginning to end, but with ever so slight differences. He wants to know what these differences are, for in them the crux of his art may lie.’16 Both Lilburn and Curnow had a great suspicion of the term ‘universal.’ Other favourite terms for Lilburn included ‘experience,’ ‘environment,’ ‘identity’ and ‘depth,’ also key terms for the poets of the day. ‘Immediate experience’ (60) carried a wealth of meaning – such as empiricism and openness – and its task was to combat imported assumptions and to ‘rectify our theory in the presence of nature’ (64). Music was a kind of ‘language’ or ‘medium’ for ‘expressing human experience’ (57). This insistence that music was ‘about’ something challenged an alternative tradition associated with Igor Stravinsky who said: ‘I consider that music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all …. [Expression] has never been an inherent property of music. That is by no means the purpose of its existence.’17 The argument between these two ways of thinking was similar to the debate between abstract and representational art. For Lilburn, music should never be an escape from life but rather an expression of ‘the meaning of our human experience here and now’ (80). Otherwise it

418 / Re-inventing NZ

was in danger of becoming merely a game of language or ‘dazzling empty rhetoric’ (71). This was an aesthetic ultimately derived from the Romantic tradition (at its most serious) where music was the deep expression of individual sensibility. Lilburn acknowledged his Romanticism: ‘I have what may be a romantic hankering for works of art which come from inward necessity ….’ (72). Retaining a link to the 19th century Romantic aesthetic is a way of understanding why the work of certain modern composers (Gustav Mahler, Dimitri Shostakovich, Richard Strauss, etc) can be heard in New Zealand concert halls, whereas other (modernist) traditions are almost never heard except in university music schools. Stravinsky’s early work is accepted but not his later (serial) music. But how did Lilburn get from ‘experience’ to music – ‘that synthesis I’ve talked about – a closer fusion of experience and musical language’ (77)? It was not a simple matter of finding an auditory equivalent for landscape. Rather, he saw the ‘environment’ (in a broad sense) as shaping the composer at a ‘deep’ level, the level at which landscapes ‘impress themselves on our minds’ (44). This was a slow, complex process which called for ‘emotive brooding on facts of our experience’ (63). He spoke constantly of depth – ‘the deepest reaches of spirit we know in ourselves’ which can be ‘discovered in and through … music’ (20). He sometimes referred to this level as ‘spirit,’ ‘heart’ or ‘soul,’ partly for want of a better term. Phenomenological issues were as important as musical ones, and the apparent absence of this kind of ‘depth’ was partly what troubled Lilburn about later New Zealand music. This was a way of talking about music that a composer in the Stravinskian tradition would find frustratingly non-musical. It can be argued, however, that where a composer gets inspiration from need not be our concern – whatever gets you through the night (or the note) is all right, as another composer once put it.

The 1969 talk Lilburn gave his second major talk a generation later. (He had been 31 in 1946 and was now 54.) The later talk helps us to understand what

Douglas Lilburn: Nationialism Now / 419

happened to – or went wrong with – nationalism. By 1969, living in New Zealand was ‘no longer … a great disadvantage’ but merely an ‘inconvenience’ (75). The infrastructure had grown – a national orchestra, new chamber music groups, an Arts Council, and most importantly radio commissions for composers and jobs in university music departments. But Lilburn does not sound the triumphant note we might expect because the result was ‘something different, / Something nobody counted on’ (Curnow’s lines which Lilburn quoted on p.68). Not enough ‘cream’ had risen to the top. And there had been a major paradigm shift away from nationalism. (Frederick Page, Lilburn’s Head of Department at Victoria University, had played a major role in championing that change.) Evidence of the problem was the fact that local composition had diverged in so many directions. Lilburn’s aesthetic had implied that if local composers were able to dig deep enough, the common environment would produce a tradition. Composers would ‘begin to discover the needs and beliefs we have in common, and would see the emergence of a characteristic style’ (43). One can understand his desire to ‘search for tradition’ in view of his musical isolation in the early years.18 And it is clear that most older countries have developed distinctive traditions over the centuries. Even in the case of avantgarde composers, one can sometimes distinguish French influences, say, from Italian or German ones. (Compare, for example, the music of Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio, and Karlheinz Stockhausen.) It can be argued, however, that these national patterns are purely statistical trends shaped by local musical history and not by local landscapes, a product of nationalism in its first or second meaning. Nevertheless, local traditions do provide useful resources for music making. In 1969 Lilburn announced with regret: ‘I no longer feel that I’m justified in looking for common ground’ (68). He said in a later interview: ‘The main characteristic of music here I think is its eclecticism, and this seems to be very natural for a remote, small country, that we have to keep our antennae tuned to whatever is going on in the larger world, and until we have a tradition of our own, a strong one, we necessarily listen to everything, select what seems appropriate and reject other things.’19 In the second half of this sentence he appeared to be still hoping that a tradition would eventually appear.

420 / Re-inventing NZ

But there was now a major obstacle, enthusiasm for the new Darmstadt paradigm which focused on pure music – the musical equivalent of abstract art or language poetry. Hence the title of his 1969 talk became ‘A search for a language’ – for a local alternative to what he saw as a trendy, superficial, international language. By up-dating the modernism of the Second Viennese School, the Darmstadt movement had fired the imagination of younger composers in many countries, including New Zealand. Schönberg’s early music had continued the Romantic aesthetic but his discovery of the tone-row shifted attention to the language of music, and a wave of experiment in the 1950s and ’60s had further intensified that interest. Lilburn commented: ‘I heard Schoenberg Gurrelieder before I went off to England, played on the radio …. I was bowled over by this piece …. But it took me a long time to come to terms with the later Schoenberg; in fact I’ve never really come to terms with it.’20 Lilburn expressed comfort in seeing that writers and painters still followed the original aims of the 1930s movement. He wondered if this was because writers wrote more directly about ‘experience’ and painters were directly concerned with the ‘visual stimulus’ of nature (60). While he was correct in suggesting that these branches of art had successfully created a local ‘tradition,’ there was irony in the fact that by 1969 they too were in the midst of a paradigm shift. Poets, artists and composers were getting together for avant-garde events such as ‘Young Aucklanders in the Arts’(1968), and Freed appeared in 1969. Visual artists were embracing abstract art and poets were looking to new American models. When Allen Curnow noticed this shift, he too was troubled by it, as shown by his unfortunate 1982 attack on the influence of Charles Olson in the Turnbull Library Record.21 This usually astute critic saw Olson as representing a superficial, trendy internationalism, strangely overlooking the fact that this poet was a passionate champion of localism. New Zealand music might have followed a different path if Lilburn had embraced a different form of modernism during his three years of study in England. Schönberg’s influence was certainly not strong in England at the time, but Humphrey Searle had studied with Anton Webern, and Egon Wellesz with Schönberg. Composers from a number of countries became involved with serial music, often

Douglas Lilburn: Nationialism Now / 421

integrating it with national traditions (for example Nikos Skalkottas in Greece and Robert Gerhard in Spain). The New Zealand-born composer Richard Hoffmann worked as Schönberg’s secretary between 1947 and 1951, wrote about the composer and edited some of his scores; he lived mostly in the USA but maintained links with New Zealand and did some teaching here. It is also conceivable that Lilburn might have encountered other avant-garde schools (such as the music of Edgard Varèse), or his path might have crossed with English experimenters such as John Foulds or Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji. However, it is not surprising that this did not happen since Lilburn was drawn to modern Romanticism rather than to any of the avant-gardes. He certainly received an interesting training from studying with a major composer such as Vaughan Williams. And by 1955 he was making a huge effort to incorporate other techniques in his music, including serial music. He was excited to encounter the work of composers such as the Polish Krzysztof  Penderecki who used contemporary idioms to reflect the experience of his time and place (69-70). In the early 1960s Lilburn took the extraordinary step of venturing into electronic (or what is sometimes called electro-acoustic) music. This represents an interesting parallel with Allen Curnow who made a major shift to modernize his poetry in 1972 in the collection Trees, Effigies, Moving Objects. Lilburn lost some of his traditional audience by his change of medium, and his efforts also failed to impress younger composers such as Robin Maconie who compared them unfavourably with the electronic work of Stockhausen. Nevertheless, the electronic music Lilburn created over the next 20 or so years was an original contribution to nationalist aesthetics, using the new medium to extend his old interests in new directions. With electronic music he also found a way to incorporate Māori elements, whose absence in his music had represented a problem for him (and for some of his audience). He viewed the lack of folk music as a disadvantage for New Zealand composers, in comparison with overseas nationalists who had used the unconventional rhythms and harmonies of local folk traditions as a starting point for modern music. (Consider the Hungarians Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly, the Romanian George Enescu, or the Polish Karol Szymanowski, to men-

422 / Re-inventing NZ

tion only a few.) In New Zealand the closest thing to ‘folk music’ was Māori, but Lilburn admitted frankly that he lacked knowledge or deep affinity, and he felt bound by his principle that music should come from a deep place in the composer’s life. In his first talk he cited Alfred Hill as an example of a composer who used Māori music merely as surface texture or colouring. But Lilburn’s ecological attitude to landscape had always had affinities with the Māori sense of turangawaewae, and he ‘found it exhilarating and liberating to work in this new electronic medium and … produce sound tracks for several plays based on Māori legends’ for which ‘conventional European instruments’ would not have been appropriate (77).

Is nationalism still relevant? In terms of the third meaning, the nationalist impulse seems to have run out of steam. Today’s situation is epitomised by the success of Peter Jackson. Here is a major New Zealand artist who receives heavy support from the government to ensure that he remains in the country, yet he appears to take no interest in the Landfall tradition. His sensibility has been shaped by Anglo-American popular culture. Yet ironically Jackson’s Tolkein trilogy has become synonymous with New Zealand culture in the eyes of many people in this country (and fans overseas). How should we assess Jackson as an artist, or the Hollywood-style music that accompanies his films? In the old days we might have described them as ‘middle-brow,’ but distinctions between high, middle and popular culture have become blurred, along with the boundary between New Zealand and overseas art. While nationalism in the strong sense may have little to do with serious art today, New Zealand remains a very specific environment for an artist. It has certain natural and social advantages but it is also a small, marginal country with little of the respect for art and artists that one finds in Europe. To some extent this local context will be implicated for better or worse in our careers and artistic activities. I have argued that we need to re-define nationalism in the arts to encompass the more complex mix of national and international in today’s artists. Can we formulate a new sense of the local? I have also suggested that

Douglas Lilburn: Nationialism Now / 423

the first two meanings of what was nationalism are still important for us if we are going to develop an adequate strategy for the media revolution sweeping through our society which is destroying much of the existing cultural infrastructure. The new digital environment creates rich opportunities for newcomers, but does it also mean the end of long-term, professional careers in literature, journalism, music, film and television production, in our vicinity? A small country like New Zealand needs to think hard about how a sophisticated, active culture can continue to flourish locally. Lilburn also remains personally valuable to us as a role model of communal involvement and generosity. Of course he could be an eccentric and difficult person, but he was an exceptionally generous patron of worthy causes and never doubted that art was something bigger than the individual – a useful alternative to today’s mania for career-building, self-promotion, and celebrity in the arts. Lilburn also offers a role model in his commitment to high (or ‘deep’) culture. He wanted his work to be accessible but he also wanted to push audiences. He and other members of his movement displayed a great intensity and commitment to art. Of course those qualities can still be found in today’s artists, but they are often mocked as earnest, elitist, or uncommercial. Lilburn’s first talk ended with the words: ‘with faith and hard work we can make something of value … [and] the effort involved in doing this is infinitely worthwhile’ (46). He took an austere view of the artist and in both talks he quoted T S Eliot’s phrase ‘earning our spiritual income daily’ (27, 70). He used such phrases to promote not religion but artistic dedication – the inherent value of art, despite the lack of worldly earnings! His sense of a tradition slowly taking shape, and a ‘truth larger than the act itself,’ can sound rather mystical at times (79), but his seriousness in these two talks provides a valuable antidote to what Lilburn’s friend Charles Brasch described many years ago as ‘our quickness, our shallow occupation of the easier / Landscape.’22

424 / Re-inventing NZ

Endnotes 1 Douglas Lilburn, A search for tradition & a search for a language, Wellington, Lilburn Residence Trust, 2011. 2 The talks were originally published as: Douglas Lilburn, A search for tradition: a talk given at the first Cambridge Summer School of Music, January 1946 Alexander Turnbull Library Endowment Trust assisted by the New Zealand Composers Foundation, Wellington, 1984; and Douglas Lilburn, A search for a language: University of Otago Open Lecture 12 March 1969. Alexander Turnbull Library Endowment Trust assisted by the New Zealand Composers Foundation, Wellington, 1985. They had introductions by J M Thomson which are re-printed in the new collection. 3 ‘Introduction,’ The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, ed. Allen Curnow, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1960, p.64. 4 Quoted by Philip Norman in Douglas Lilburn: His life and music, Christchurch, Canterbury University Press, 2006, p.90. 5 A book of New Zealand verse, 1923-45 ed. Allen Curnow, Christchurch, Caxton Press, 1945. 6 My attempt at the time to cast light on the phenomenon of movements and ‘group discovery’ was the essay I contributed to Freed No.4, June 1971, pp.10-16, entitled ‘Three versions of avant-garde.’ 7 From Shirley Horrocks’s documentary Early Days Yet, Point of View Productions, 2001. (This documentary was dedicated to Douglas Lilburn who had recently died.) 8 Philip Norman ‘s Douglas Lilburn: his life and music (op. cit.); Jill Trevelyan’s Rita Angus: an artist’s life, Wellington, Te Papa Press, 2008; Paul Millar’s No fretful sleeper: a life of Bill Pearson, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2011; Peter Simpson’s Fantastica: the world of Leo Bensemann, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2011); Gordon H. Brown’s Towards a promised land : on the life and art of Colin McCahon, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2010; and four books by Joanna Drayton: Ngaio Marsh: her life in crime, Auckland, HarperCollins, 2008; Frances Hodgkins : a private viewing, Auckland, Godwit, 2005; Rhona Haszard : an experimental expatriate New Zealand artist, Christchurch, Canterbury University Press in association with UNITEC, 2002; and Edith Collier: her life and work 1885-1964, Christchurch, Canterbury University Press, 1999.

Douglas Lilburn: Nationialism Now / 425 9 Francis Pound, The Invention of New Zealand: Art and National Identity, 1930-1970 (Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2009); and Alex Calder’s The Settler’s Plot: how stories take place in New Zealand, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2011). 10 In The Settler’s Plot (p.173), Alex Calder makes the sceptical suggestion that the growth of interest in Pakeha ‘New Zealand culture’ may have been a subconscious reaction to Māori land claims. I would still like to see it as also a case of cultural trickledown. 11 ‘Introduction,’ The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, p..62. 12 See ‘A great leap backwards,’ Hamish Keith’s Cultural Curmudgeon column in the Listener 5 November 2011, p.47. 13 Thomas L Friedman, ‘Advice for China,’ New York Times,4 June 2011. For a more detailed account, see Friedman’s The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. 14 Essays on New Zealand Literature, ed. Wystan Curnow, Auckland: Heinemann, 1973, pp. 155–171. 15

Quoted in ‘Lilburn Remembered,’ Listener, 1 June 2002, p.66.

16 ‘Introduction,’ The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, p.59. 17

Igor Stravinsky, An Autobiography, 1935, Calder and Boyars, 1975, p.163.

18

Granted, the title was not added until publication.

19 From an interview with Jack Body on disc 6 (‘Canvases’) of Douglas Lilburn: The landscape of a New Zealand composer, Radio NZ, 2002. (Original source: SA/ NTK 14560) 20 Interview with Chris Bourke (1985), www.douglaslilburn.org/chris_ bourke_interview_page_7.html  21 ‘Olson as Oracle: “Projective Verse” Thirty Years On.’  Turnbull Library Record vol.15 no.1, May 1982, 31-44. 22

From ‘Forerunners,’ The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, p.181.

Essays / 427

Original Publication of the Essays in this Collection ‘The Invention of New Zealand,’ And, No.1, 1983, 9-30. ‘Off the Map,’ Parallax, No.3, 1983, 247-255. ‘“Natural as Only You Can Be”: Some Readings of Contemporary NZ Poetry,’ And No.4, 1985, 101-23 (published here only in part). ‘Relocating New Zealand,’ Antic No.4, 1988, 4-14. ‘Reading and Gender,’ Antic No.1, 1986, 114-128. ‘When Fringe Writers are “Warmly Invited”,’ Landfall No.182, 1992, 198-99. ‘A Short History of “the New Zealand Intellectual”.’ In: Speaking Truth to Power: Public Intellectuals Rethink New Zealand, ed. Laurence Simmons, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2007, 25-67. ‘New Zealand Cinema: Cultures, Policies, Films.’ In: Twin Peeks: Australian and New Zealand Feature Films, ed. Deb Verhoeven, Melbourne, Damned Publishing, 1999, 129-137. ‘Turbulent Television: The New Zealand Experiment,’ Television and New Media Vol.5 No.1, 2004, 55-68. ‘The Late Show: The Production of Film and Television Studies.’ In: After the Disciplines: The Emergence of Cultural Studies, ed. Michael Peters, Westport, Connecticut, Bergin and Garvey (Critical Studies in Education and Culture Series), 1999, 175-186. ‘John Reynolds: Painting, Planting and Performance,’ Art New Zealand No.122, 2007, 54-59 and 83. ‘Popular Productions.’ In: Pleasures and Dangers: Artists for the `90s, ed. Trish Clark and Wystan Curnow, Auckland, Moët & Chandon New Zealand Art Foundation /Longman Paul, 1991, 158-163. ‘Leigh Davis: From Willy’s Gazette to Nameless,’ Journal of New Zealand Literature no.32, 2014, 69-118. ‘“My word my world”: Len Lye’s poetry,’ Landfall No.205, 2003, 179-185. ‘Frederick Page: A Musician’s Journal,’ Landfall, No.162, 1987, 228-232. ‘Douglas Lilburn: Nationalism Now,’ Journal of New Zealand Literature No.29, 2011, 86-112. Related Essays ‘A Small Room with Large Windows: Film Making in New Zealand.’ In: New Zealand Film, ed. Diane Pivac, Frank Stark and Lawrence McDonald, Wellington, Te Papa Press, 2011, 1-27. ‘Dashper Time.’ In: Four Times Painting, ed. Christina Barton, Wellington, Adam Art Gallery, 2007, 14-16.

428 / Re-inventing NZ

A Selection of Other Writings by Roger Horrocks Books Song of the Ghost in the Machine (poetry collection), Wellington, Victoria University Press, 2015. Art that Moves: The Work of Len Lye, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2009; 2nd printing 2015. Len Lye: A Biography, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2001; 2nd edition 2015. The Auckland Regional Transit Poetry Line (poetry collection), Wellington, Hawk Press/Brick Row, 1982. On Film (assisted by Philip Tremewan), Auckland, Heinemann, 1980; expanded as On Film II, 1986. Books Edited and Introduced Zizz!: The Life and Art of Len Lye, Wellington, Awa Press, 2015. Body English: Text and Images by Len Lye, Auckland, Holloway Press, 2009. Television in New Zealand: Programming the Nation (with Nick Perry), Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 2004. Happy Moments: Texts and Images by Len Lye, Auckland, Holloway Press, 2002. Video Art: Darcy Lange, Auckland, Department of Film, Television and Media Studies, University of Auckland, 2001. Len Lye (with Jean-Michel Bouhours), Paris, Centre Pompidou (Cinéma Quinze Vingt et Un series), 2000. Figures of Motion: Selected Writings of Len Lye (with Wystan Curnow), Auckland, Auckland University Press/Oxford University Press, 1984. Opera Libretto Len Lye: the Opera, music by Eve de Castro-Robinson, performed at the Maidment Art Centre, University of Auckland, 5-8 September 2012. Sections of Books ‘Black Box and White Cube.’ In: Cinema and Painting, ed. Michelle Menzies, Wellington, Adam Art Gallery, 2015, 6-11. ‘Foreword.’ In: Simon Sigley, Transnational Film Culture in New Zealand, Bristol, Intellect, 2013, vii-xi.

Selected Writings by Roger Horrocks / 429 ‘Backstory.’ In: Redux, ed. Stephen Bambury. Auckland, Jack Books, 2013, 108119. ‘Drowning or Dancing.’ In: Inhale / Exhale, ed. Vincent Ward, Auckland, Ron Sang, 2012, 133-136. ‘Beyond the Frame: Sistiaga and the Energies of Film.’ In: Jose Antonio Sistiaga, ed. Jean-Michel Bouhours, Donostia / San Sebastien (Spain), Koldo Mitxelana Kulturunea, 2011, 56-73 and 204-213. ‘Swinging the Lambeth Walk: The Hand of the Filmmaker.’ In: Len Lye, ed. Tyler Cann and Wystan Curnow, Melbourne, Australian Centre for the Moving Image/Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, 2009, 17-32. ‘Genre.’ In: The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, Vol.IV, ed. George Ritzer, Malden (Massachusetts), Blackwell Publishing, 2007, 1913-17; revised and expanded for new edition, 2016. ‘Free Radical: The Life and Work of Len Lye.’ In: New Zealand Filmmakers, ed Ian Conrich and Stuart Murray, Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 2007, 18-34. ‘Free Radicals.’ In: The Cinema of Australia and New Zealand, ed. Geoff Mayer and Keith Beattie, London, Wallflower Press, 2007, 73-82. ‘Why Study Media Production?’ In: Media Studies in Aotearoa/New Zealand, ed. Luke Goode and Nabeel Zuberi, Auckland, Pearson Education, 2004, 18-31. ‘Len Lye: Reading with the Body’. In: Authorship and Film, ed. D.A. Gerstner and J. Staiger, New York, Routledge (American Film Institute Film Readers Series), 2003, 175-192. ‘Alternatives’ (history of experimental film-making). In: Film in Aotearoa New Zealand, ed. Jan Bieringa and Jonathan Dennis, Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1992, 55-88; second edition, 1996. ‘Moving Images in New Zealand.’ In Headlands: Thinking Through New Zealand Art, ed. Mary Barr, Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art, 135-146, 1992. ‘Alison Maclean’ (essay on her films). In: Pleasures and Dangers: Artists for the `90s, ed. Trish Clark and Wystan Curnow, Auckland, Longman Paul, 1992, 50-57. ‘Hollywood.’ In: The American Connection, ed. Malcolm McKinnon, Wellington, Allen and Unwin/Port Nicholson Press, l988, 66-78. ‘A History of Competing Meanings.’ In: Te Whenua Te Iwi: The Land and the People, ed. Jock Phillips, Allen and Unwin/Port Nicholson Press/Stout Research Centre, l987, 73-77.

430 / Re-inventing NZ Other Essays (in Magazines and Journals) ‘Jeremiah Horrocks, Astronomer and Poet,’ Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand vol.42 no.2, 2012, 113-120. ‘The Last Picture Show,’ Enjoy Public Art Gallery: Second Occasional Journal, 2011 (November), 7-11. ‘Harvey Benge: The World of the Photobook,’ Art New Zealand No.136, 201011 (Summer), 82-84. ‘Media Teaching in New Zealand: Sketching out a History,’ Script No.66, 2007 (May), 4-18, published in expanded form as a booklet by the Department of Film, Television and Media Studies, University of Auckland, 2007. Also at: www. pointofview.co.nz/Point_of_View_Education.htm ‘Media Studies and English in the New Zealand Curriculum’ (with Ngaire Hoben). Report for the Ministry of Education, 2005 (www.pointofview.co.nz/ Point_of_View_Education.htm) ‘In and out of history: a century of Len Lye,’ Art New Zealand No.101, 2001-2 (Summer), 52-61. ‘Jack Ellitt: Pioneer Australian Sound Artist,’ Cantrills Filmnotes (Melbourne), Dec. 1999-Jan. 2000, Nos. 93-100, 20-26. ‘Sidetracks’ (review), Landfall No.197, 1999, 158-161. ‘Progress and Media Studies,’ English in Aotearoa No.37, 1999 (May), 26-29. ‘Takeaways’ (poetry), A Brief Description of the Whole World No.4, 1996, 7-13. ‘Conflicts and Surprises in New Zealand Television’, Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media and Culture Vol.10 No.1, 1996, 50-63. ‘Strategic Nationalisms: Television Production in New Zealand,’ Sites No.30, 1995 (Autumn), 85-107. ‘Dominion of Signs and The Arts in New Zealand’ (review), Landfall No.188, 1994, 316-319. ‘Valuing the Culture: Serious Business’, MidWest No.4, 1994, 9-10. Composing Motion: Len Lye and Experimental Film-making (catalogue), National Art Gallery, Wellington, 1992. ‘Interview with Wystan Curnow,’ Landfall No.177, 1991, 7-16. ‘From 1984’ (poetry), Landfall No.162, 1987, 127-29. ‘In Whose Image? Youth and the Media,’ in In Search of Identity: Winter Lectures, University of Auckland Centre for Continuing Education, 1986, 64-76. ‘Creating a Feature-Film Industry,’ Journal of Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio) Vol.19 No.2, l985 (Fall), 149-158. The New Zealand Film Makers, Auckland City Art Gallery, 1985. (14 essays

Selected Writings by Roger Horrocks / 431 and filmographies of film-makers, published to coincide with a survey of New Zealand film-making curated for the Gallery) ‘Andrew Bogle’s Rubbed Works on Paper,’ Art New Zealand No.34, 1985, 22-24. ‘“Natural as Only You Can Be”: Some Readings of Contemporary NZ Poetry,’ And No.4, 1985, 101-23 (complete version). ‘Reading/Music,’ Splash No.3, 1985, 72-83. ‘To Postulate a Ready and an Understanding Reader,’ And No.3, 1985, 120-130. ‘Readings of A State of Siege,’ And No.3, 1985, 131-45. ‘No Theory Permitted on these Premises,’ And No.2, 1984, 119-137. ‘Film: Developing a Scene,’ Splash No.1, 1984, 54-61. ‘The Oblivion Express,’ Landfall Vol.37 No.4, 1983, 472-75. ‘Interview with Merata Mita,’ Alternative Cinema Magazine Vol.11 Nos.2-3, 1983, 11-21. ‘Twenty Years of Experimental Films,’ Art New Zealand No.24, 1982, 40-45. ‘An Essay about Experimental Films that Ended Up as an Essay about New Zealand,’ Parallax No.1, 1982, 78-87. ‘Len Lye: The Career of an Independent Film-maker,’ Film Library Quarterly (New York) Vol.14 Nos.3-4, 1981, 4-16. ‘The Homecoming,’ Art New Zealand No.17, 1980, 42-45. ‘Directed by Tony Williams,’ Islands Vol.6 No.4, 1978, 458-472. ‘The Career of a New Zealand Film-maker,’ Islands Vol.6 No.2, 1977, 136-160. ‘Robert Lowell 1916-1977,’ Islands Vol.6 No.2, 1977, 206-08. ‘Network and the New Hollywood,’ Landfall Vol.31 No.4, 1977, 316-24. ‘Looking for Alternative Cinema,’ Alternative Cinema Magazine Vol.1 No.1, 1972, 14-16. ‘Three Versions of Avant-Garde,’ The Word is Freed No.4, 1971, 10-16. ‘Film as Art: Film as Business,’ New Zealand Listener 24 May 1971, 14-17.

432 / Re-inventing NZ

Index [NB: The titles of books, films, and television programmes are included in this index only when such a work has received detailed discussion.]

Abelard, Peter, 360 Adams, Arthur H., 61 Adcock, Fleur, 72 Adderley, Cannonball, 17 Allen, Donald, 18, 77 Allen, Jim, 26 Alley, Rewi, 383 Alternative Cinema, 20, 193, 204 And, 20, 37, 83, 88-89, 131 Anderson, Laurie, 356 Anderson, Sherwood, 200 Andrews, George, 260 Angus, Rita, 51-52, 56, 63-64, 308, 316-17, 397, 405, 409 Annan, Kofi, 164 Antic, 91, 107 Anti-intellectualism, 131-72 Antin, David, 76-77 Antonioni, Michelangelo, 188 Apple, Billy, 26 Art New Zealand, 29, 55, 291, 301 Artforum, 314, 315-16 Artspace (Auckland), 20, 26 Ashbery, John, 77 Ashton-Warner, Sylvia, 115 Association of Film and Television Teachers, 20, 278 Auckland International Film Festival, 20 Auckland University Press, 21 Auden, W.H., 16, 406 Augustine of Hippo (Saint Augustine), 364, 368, 372 Awatere, Donna, 153

Bach, Johann Sebastian, 400 Bailey, Chip, 135 Ballantyne, Armagan, 206 Bambury, Stephen, 357, 360, 365, 366, 367, 371, 373 Banks, John, 148 Barclay, Barry, 205, 215, 256, 258, 261 Barnett, John, 125, 127 Barr, Jim, 25, 154 Barr, Mary, 25, 154 Barry, Alister, 222, 255 Barthes, Roland, 53, 110, 162, 317, 355, 358 Bartlett, Patricia, 190 Bartok, Bela, 416, 421 Basquiat, Jean-Michel, 338 Baxter, James K., 11, 43, 45, 56-57, 62, 74, 152, 199, 202, 352-53, 357 Baysting, Arthur, 41, 60 Beaglehole, J.C., 9, 11, 161, 171 Beat poets, 16, 17 Beckett, Samuel, 298, 300, 326 Belich, James, 171 Benjamin, Walter, 232 Bensemann, Leo. 409 Bergman, Ingmar, 188, 214 Berio, Luciano, 419 Bernstein, Charles, 19, 88, 337, 339, 360 Berrigan, Ted, 357 Berryman, John, 16, 351, 353, 357 Bethell, Ursula, 47-48 Big Smoke, 28 Biggles (James Bigglesworth), 356 Biggs, Peter, 159 Binney, Judy, 143, 171, 361 Bishop, Morris, 61 Black, Michael, 219 Blackley, Roger, 52-53 Blake, William, 386 Blank, Les, 258

Index / 433 Blerta, 192-93 Bloom, Harold, 312-13 Bly, Robert, 46, 77 Blyth, David, 205 Body, Jack, 405 Book of Hours, The, 363-65 Bosworth, Rhondda, 323 Botes, Costa, 205 Boulez, Pierre, 15, 312, 400, 419 Bourdieu, Pierre, 29 Bowie, David, 356 Boyens, Philippa, 207 Bracken, Thomas, 47 Brahms, Johannes, 399 Brake, Brian, 202 Branson, Richard, 411 Brasch, Charles, 43, 47, 48, 52, 56, 60-61, 63, 128, 152, 197, 199, 203, 397, 409, 423 Breton, André, 406 Broadsheet, 55, 113, 117, 118 Brown, Gordon H., 50, 52, 317 Brown, Nigel, 145 Brown, Peter, 159 Brownson, Ron, 51-53, 58, 80 Brunton, Alan, 18, 28, 75 Buddhism, 364, 368 Bush, George W., 135, 141 Byrne, David, 351 Cage, John, 16, 77 Calder, Alex, 19, 37, 409 Calder, Peter, 214, 251 Cameron, Norman, 385, 386 Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, 14 Campion, Jane, 205, 218, 221 Caro, Niki, 205, 206, 224, 258 Caughey, Elizabeth, 333 Cave, Nick, 298 Caxton Press, 129 Celan, Paul, 362 Cendrars, Blaise, 353

Censorship, 190 Cézanne, Paul, 389 Chapman, Robert, 113, 171, 280 Chilcott, Gavin, 295 Cinema of Unease, 213-26 Citron, Michelle, 111 Cixous, Hélène, 110 Clairmont, Philip, 295 Clark, Fiona, 336. 340 Clark, Helen, 149-50, 159, 170, 243-44 Clarke, John, 205 Cleary, Stephen, 260 Clemente, Francesco, 338 Coddington, Deborah, 148, 157, 159 Cognitivism, 98-99 Coleman, Ornette, 17 Coleman, Yvonne, 336 Collier, Edith, 409 Coltrane, John, 17 Coney, Sandra, 118, 153 Cook, Pam, 111 Copland, Aaron, 416 Cornaga, Tone, 324 Craft, Robert, 399 Creative New Zealand, 21 Creeley, Robert, 19, 52, 77, 87-88, 339 Cresswell, D’Arcy, 383, 413 Crockford, Sue, 293 Crocodile Dundee, 93, 100 Crowe, Peter, 397, 399 Culbert, Bill, 410 Culture, definition, 7, 23 cummings, e.e., 388 Cunningham, Merce, 16 Curnow, Allen, 10, 14, 20, 28, 3967, 73-75, 79, 105, 152, 187, 198, 199, 202, 203, 352-53, 364, 397, 406-07, 408-11, 414, 417, 419, 420, 421 Curnow, Betty, 28

434 / Re-inventing NZ Curnow, Wystan, 9, 15, 16, 19, 25, 26-29, 54, 55-56, 145-46, 193, 338, 340, 341, 342, 352-53, 360, 398, 415 Daly-Peoples, John, 156, 159 Danby, Dawn, 116 Dann, Christine, 112 Dante Alighieri, 364 Darragh, Judy, 326 Dashper, Julian, 25, 294, 308-18, 329 Davis, Henry, 368 Davis, Leigh, 9, 37, 58-59, 80, 100, 143, 294, 298, 300, 347-375 Davis, Miles, 17 Davis, Susan (married to Leigh Davis), 358, 366, 369, 371. 373 Davis, Susan (writer), 116 Dawson, Neil, 341 Day-Lewis, C., 86 de Montalk, Geoffrey Wladislas Vaile Potocki, 55 Debussy, Claude, 400 DeFleur, M., 325 Delius, Frederick, 400 Denny, Simon, 309 Derrida, Jacques, 162-64, 355 Diana, Princess of Wales, 355, 360 Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, 134 Didi-Huberman, Georges, 365 Doane, Mary Ann, 324 Docking, Gil, 333 Documentary film-making, 189-91, 202, 213-16, 223, 249-270 Donaldson, Roger, 189, 200, 205, 219, 261 Donne, John, 66 Donnelley, Brian, 159 Dotcom, Kim, 309 Douglas, Roger – see ‘Rogernomics’ Dowling, Basil, 78-79

Driver, Don, 316, 336 Duccio (Duccio di Buoninsegna), 365, 371, 373 Duchamp, Marcel, 49, 156, 356, 350 Duff, Alan, 220 Dunn, Michael, 43, 294, 333 During, Simon, 110, 129 Dutton, Denis, 163 Dylan, Bob, 17, 293, 298 Dyson, Linda, 221 Eastmond, Elizabeth, 54-55, 116 Easton, Brian, 128, 138, 142-43, 146, 168, 169 Easy Rider, 13 Edmond, Murray, 9, 18, 26-29, 73, 357 Edson, Russell, 77 Einstein, Albert, 355, 356 Eldred-Grigg, Stevan, 97 Elgar, Edward, 399 Eliot, T.S., 64, 73, 76, 77, 300, 350, 351, 353, 357, 362, 368, 370, 385, 423 Elley, Derek, 214 Ellis, Gavin, 165 Else, Anne, 153 Empson, William, 64 Enescu, George, 421 Escobedo, Helen, 335 et al, 26, 155-60, 294, 321-27, 410 Evergreen Review, 16 Fahey, Jacqueline, 54-55, 145 Fairburn, A.R.D., 24, 44-45, 55, 61, 62, 64, 152, 383, 397, 411 Feeney, John, 260 Feininger, Lyonel, 364 Fellini, Federico, 188 Feminism, 16, 19, 54-55, 96, 107124, 189 Ferguson, Bruce, 373

Index / 435 Fergusson, Emma J., 350-51 Fetterley, Judith, 85, 118 Film teaching, 19, 271-286 Firth, Michael, 223 Fish, Stanley, 9 Fomison, Tony, 57, 145, 295 Foucault, Michel, 85, 141, 162, 164, 355, 362 Foulds, John, 421 Fox, Alistair, 198 Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro), 365 Frame, Janet, 29, 111, 200, 218 Frank, Thomas, 149 Franks, Stephen, 158 Fraser, Ian, 251-52 Fraser, Toa, 206 Freed (The Word is Freed), 18, 73, 75, 420 Freud, Sigmund, 115-16 Friedlander, Marti, 20 Friedman, Thomas L., 413 Frizzell, Dick, 295, 332-33, 336, 338 Furedi, Frank, 141 Fyfe, Peter, 190 Galbraith, Alistair, 374 Garbo, Greta, 356 Gardner, Howard, 98-99 Gardner, Rob, 342 Garofalo (Benvenuto Tisi), 365 Gascoigne, Rosalie, 334 Gascoyne, David, 386 Gatty, Harold, 373 General Motors, 365-66 George, Garth, 138, 148, 165 Geraets, John, 129 Gerhard, Robert, 421 Gibbs, Alan, 300 Gillett, John, 121 Gimblett, Max, 25, 334 Ginsberg, Allen, 41, 77 Giotto (Giotto di Bondone), 365

Glass, Philip, 372 Glover, Denis, 44-45, 56, 152, 202 Godard, Jean-Luc, 188 Goodbye Pork Pie, 13, 192, 222 Gordon, Caroline, 16 Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, 33536, 340-41, 363 Gow, John, 157-58, 333 Graham, John, 12-13 Gramsci, Antonio, 135, 162, 235 Grattan, Kathleen, 349 Graves, Robert, 384, 386 Green, Tony, 54, 56, 336, 342 Greenberg, Clement, 312, 317 Greer, Germaine, 116 Grierson, John, 191, 202, 258 Gunn, Thom, 17 Guston, Philip, 295 Habermas, Jürgen, 22, 147 Haden, Frank, 131, 148, 163-64, 166, 167 Haley, Russell, 57, 79 Hall, Donald, 78 Hall, Malcolm, 260 Hanfling, Edward, 29, 333 Hanly, Pat, 145 Hansen, Christine, 366, 371, 373 Hardy, Linda, 116 Haring, Keith, 338 Harley, Ruth, 226 Harlow, Michael, 57, 79 Harris, Jeffrey, 295 Harryman, Carla, 19 Hartigan, Paul, 295, 309, 333, 336, 342 Hart-Smith, William, 47 Harvey, P.J., 298 Haskell, Molly, 111 Haszard, Rhona, 185, 409, 413 Hawkman, 356 Haydn, Joseph, 400 Hayter, Stanley William, 390

436 / Re-inventing NZ Hayward, Rudall, 194, 198, 202 Heaphy, Chris, 336 Heidegger, Martin, 357 Heim, Shirley, 20 Heim, Steve, 20 Heim, Tony, 20 Hejinian, Lyn, 19 Hellyar, Christine, 336 Héloïse, 360 Henry, Paul, 131 Hergé, 207 Herrick, Linda, 159 Herring, Robert, 384 Herzog, Werner, 199 High culture, 28-29, 145-46, 218 Highet, Alan, 13 Hill, Alfred, 407, 412 Hill, Kim, 159 Hingley, Bert, 75 Hockney, David, 295 Hodgkins, Frances, 185, 409, 413 Hoffmann, Richard, 421 Hofstadter, Richard, 141 Holcroft, M.H., 63, 397 Holmes, Cecil, 260 Holmes, Paul, 131, 148, 157-58, 160, 164-67 Homer, 368 Hopkins, Gerard Manley, 385 Hopkins, Jim, 159 Horrocks, Dylan, 17, 20 Horrocks, Shirley, 20, 291, 321, 329 Horrocks, Simone, 16, 20, 206 Hotere, Ralph, 145, 166, 268, 316 Hoyte, J.C., 49, 55 Hubbard, George, 324 Hughes, Robert, 93 Hume, Gary, 298 Hunter, Alexis, 321 Hurrell, John, 25, 340-41, 342 Hurst, Michael, 371, 374 Hutchins, Tom, 280-81 Hyde, Robin, 397

Ihimaera, Witi, 41, 57, 166, 361 Immendorff, Jörg, 338 Ip, Manying, 153 Isaac, Tony, 223 Jack Books, 366 Jackson, Peter, 186, 207-08, 215, 218-19, 422 Jacobs, Ken, 120 Jacobus, Mary, 115 Jameson, Fredric, 350-51, 352, 355 Jeffs, Christine, 205, 206 Jesson, Bruce, 16, 104, 135, 146, 169, 171 Jesson, Jocelyn, 153 Johnson, Louis, 11, 112 Johnston, Alexa, 295 Johnston, Claire, 111 Jones, Lawrence, 200-01, 206 Jong, Erica, 116 Joseph, M.K., 11 Journal of New Zealand Literature, 347, 403 Joyce, James, 151, 385 Judge, Paul, 336 Jung, Carl Gustav, 57 Kael, Pauline, 220 Kahukiwa, Robyn, 145 Kaiser, Lesley, 125, 127 Keats, John, 59 Kedgley, Sue, 153 Keith, Hamish, 50, 52, 157-58, 333, 410 Kelsey, Jane, 146, 169 Kennedy, Anne, 125 Killeen, Rick, 25, 53, 65, 295, 309 King, Michael, 171, 256 Kitses, Jim, 63 Klein (née Kreisler), Monica, 332, 336 Klein, Melanie, 340 Kodaly, Zoltan, 416, 421

Index / 437 Koerner, Spider John, 17 Kreisler, Annie, 332 Kreisler, Ernesto, 332 Kreisler, Lesley, 239 Kreisler, Tom, 9, 20, 306-07, 329-43 Kristeva, Julia, 115-16 Lacan, Jacques, 115-16, 355 Laing, John, 188, 205 Laird, Tessa, 342 Lamb, Jonathan, 19 Landfall, 125-130, 197-98, 381, 395, 407, 409, 412 Lange, David, 93, 167, 371 Langford, Joanna, 336 Language poetry, 19, 20, 79-80, 355-56, 362 Lattin, Mike, 265 Lauder, Hugh, 88 Lauper, Cindy, 323 Lawrence, Bruno, 205 Laws, Michael, 148, 154-55, 158, 166, 171 Led Zeppelin, 18, 298 Leggott, Michele, 28, 125 Len Lye Centre, 21, 131 Len Lye Foundation, 21 Leonard, Robert, 25, 26, 317 Leuthart, John, 336 Lilburn, Douglas, 15, 152, 198, 202, 403-23 Localism, 24-26, 95, 151, 200, 205, 343 Loney, Alan, 26, 52, 54, 76, 339 Long, D.S., 41 Lorca, Federico Garcia, 339 Lowell, Robert, 95, 351, 357 Lowry, Bob, 15 Lowry, Irene, 15 Lowry, Vanya, 15 Lusk, Doris, 56 Lye, Len, 9, 18, 20, 26, 78, 185, 203, 334, 351-52, 381-92, 397, 413

Maclean, Alison, 116, 205, 219, 321 MacLow, Jackson, 19 MacNeice, Louis, 406 Maconie, Robin, 421 Maddock, Shirley, 260 Magritte, René, 49 Maharey, Steve, 161 Mahler, Gustav, 418 Main, Stewart, 153, 205, 222, 224 Male gaze, 122-23 Mallarmé, Stéphane, 362, 365 Malone, Daniel, 156 Maloney, Shereen, 116, 205, 206 Manhire, Bill, 83, 224 Mansfield, Katherine, 55, 129, 185, 200, 383, 413 Mao Zedong, 355 Marinetti, Filippo, 406 Marsh, Ngaio, 58, 409 Martin, Helen, 215 Marx, Karl, 134 Maslin, Janet, 214 Mason, Bruce, 187 Mason, R.A.K., 152, 383, 397 Matheson, Richard, 336 Matisse, Henri, 338, 373 Maunder, Denise, 113 Maunder, Paul, 191, 194, 205, 261 Maxwell, Anne, 116 Maynard, John, 333, 342 McAloon, William, 160 McCahon, Colin, 29, 47, 53, 57, 145, 152, 160, 297, 309, 313, 316, 336, 341, 361, 364, 372, 373, 409 McCarthy, Paul, 298 McCormack, John, 293 McCormick, Eric, 50 McCully, Murray, 150 McGann, Brad, 206 McGlashan, Don, 298 McIntyre, Peter, 105

438 / Re-inventing NZ McKay, Frank, 72 McLauchlan, Gordon, 135-38, 159, 165 McLeod, Aorewa, 19, 117 McLeod, Jenny, 401 McLeod, Rosemary, 159, 166 McNamara, T.J., 294, 315 McQuail, Denis, 325 McQueen, Cilla, 83 McQueen, Harvey, 41 Melbourne, Hirini, 268 Melhop, Suzy, 342 Messerli, Douglas, 95 Millett, Kate, 113 Mingus, Charlie, 17 Mirams, Gordon, 275-76 Mita, Merata, 205, 206, 215, 255, 261 Mitchell, Dane, 318 Mondrian, Piet, 299 Monk, Thelonious, 17 Morgan, Robin, 115 Morison, Julia, 20, 25, 321 Morris, Errol, 258 Morris, Harry, 60 Morris, Simon, 336 Morrison, Bruce, 205, 219 Mosler, David, 141 Mounter, Julian, 262 Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, 400 Muldoon, Rob, 22, 136, 167, 192, 194 Mulgan, John, 202, 204 Mulvey, Laura, 111, 122 Mune, Ian, 205, 218 Munz, Peter, 274-75 Murdoch, Rupert, 233 Murphy, Geoff, 192, 205, 218, 224 Muru, Selwyn, 145 Nameless, 370-74 Narbey, Leon, 205, 217, 224, 336 National Film Unit, 113-14, 190-

91, 202, 216, 258, 260, 261, 263 Nauman, Bruce, 297, 300 Neill, Michael, 165 Neill, Sam, 189, 191, 213-16, 221, 226 Nelson, Ralph, 219 New Criticism, 15, 17 New Zealand cultural nationalism, 8, 25, 39-67, 96-97, 151-53, 197208, 403-23 New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre, 20, 27 New Zealand Film Commission, 21, 194, 207-08, 222, 225-26 New Zealand On Air, 20, 30-31, 222, 231-45, 251-53 New Zealand On Screen, 20 New Zealand Tourist and Publicity Department, 102-03 Newman, Barnett, 373 Nga Tamatoa, 18 Nicholas, Gregor, 205 Nirvana, 298 Nixon, John, 314 Nola, Robert, 15 Nono, Luigi, 400 Norman, Philip, 409 O’Hara, Frank, 351, 358 O’Shea, John, 12-13, 187, 188-89, 191, 194, 201, 202 Oettingen, Hélène, 362 Okakura, Kakuzo, 368 Olitski, Jules, 295 Olson, Charles, 48, 50-51, 75, 77, 353, 420 Olssen, Erik, 189 Once Were Warriors, 220-21, 222, 223, 281 Opie, Lesley, 166 Orange, Claudia, 171 Orsman, Harry, 298, 305

Index / 439 Page (née Polson), Evelyn, 401 Page, Frederick, 395-401, 419 Palgrave, Francis Turner, 12, 42 Panofsky, Erwin, 355 Parekowhai, Michael, 25, 131 Parker, Graham, 356 Paterson, Alistair, 71 Paton, Justin, 342 Paul, Janet, 397, 401 Pearson, Bill, 11, 14, 97, 139-41, 144, 147, 151, 155, 170, 409 Penderecki, Krzysztof, 421 Penfold, Merimeri, 20 Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, 14-15, 39-67 Penn, Arthur, 220 Perloff, Marjorie, 366 Perry, Nick, 128, 224 Pharazyn, William Noel, 134 Phillips, Jock, 171, 185 Piano, The, 221, 223 Picasso, Pablo, 332 Pick, Seraphine, 336 Pillsbury, Sam, 191, 205, 261 Pine-Coffin, R.S., 372 Plath, Sylvia, 95, 96, 111 Pointon, Susan, 186, 193 Polke, Sigmar, 298, 338 Pollock, Jackson, 313 Popper, Karl, 332 Potter, Sally, 111 Pound, Ezra, 9, 73, 76, 77, 79, 8687, 351, 353, 357, 362, 368, 370, 383, 399 Pound, Francis, 53-54, 58, 80, 198, 409 Preston, Gaylene, 205, 206, 215, 219, 225, 261 Quasha, George, 383 Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council, 21, 193

Radio New Zealand, 147 Rata, Matiu, 360 Rauschenberg, Robert, 16 Read, Melanie, 205, 215 Redux, 373-74 Reed, Lou, 298 Reeves, William Pember, 134 Reich, Steve, 400 Reid, J.C., 15 Reid, John, 219 Reid, Loran, 367 Reihana, Lisa, 20, 321 Rennie, Hugh, 236 Resnais, Alain, 188 Reynolds, John (artist), 20, 25, 291302, 305, 309, 313, 329, 338, 363 Reynolds, John (writer), 13 Reynolds, Patrick, 301 Ribner, Irving, 60 Rich, Adrienne, 110-11 Rich, Katherine, 150 Richardson, Ruth, 168 Richmond, Dorothy Kate, 134 Richter, Gerhard, 298 Riddiford, Richard, 225 Riding, Laura, 384, 388 Rilke, Rainer Maria, 362 Rimbaud, Arthur, 385 Rip Rig and Panic, 356 Ritchie, Ross, 311 Roberts, Neil (art curator), 401 Roberts, Neil (television journalist), 262 Robertson, Philip, 134 Robinson, Peter, 145 Rodger, Tania, 207 Rodwell, Sally, 18 Rogernomics (and neo-liberalism) 22-23, 93-94, 100-105, 125, 128, 144, 147-50, 167-70, 211, 216, 225, 234-45, 274-75, 350-51 Ropars-Wuilleumier, Marie-Claire, 324

440 / Re-inventing NZ Rosen, Marjorie, 111 Rosier, Pat, 153 Roth, Edith, 332 Roth, George, 332 Rothenberg, Jerome, 57, 383, 384, 385 Roughan, John, 165 Roy, Heather, 159 Rua (Rua Tapunui Kenana), 364, 372 Runaway, 12-13 Rymer, Judy, 213, 221, 226 Salmond, William, 134 Sanderson, Martyn, 205, 217 Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, 99 Sargeson, Frank, 110, 152, 200, 298, 397 Sarkies, Robert, 206 Satie, Erik, 324 Saunders, Bill, 260 Saussure, Ferdinand de, 354, 362 Sauvage, Léopold, 362 Savage, Roger, 399 Schechter, Beatriz, 332 Schoenberg, Arnold, 205, 400, 420 Scholes, Robin, 281 Schubert, Franz, 400 Scott-Smith, Michael, 190, 260 Script to Screen, 20 Search for Tradition, A, 403-23 Search for a Language, A, �418-23 Searle, Humphrey, 420-21 Sebold, Alice, 207 Seguin, Eleanor, 16-17, 20 Sexton, Anne, 16, 95, 111, 116 Shadbolt, Maurice, 202, 260 Shakespeare, William, 66, 417 Sharp, Iain, 349-50 Sharpe, Alfred, 52-53 Shepheard, Carole, 54, 145 Shipley, Jenny, 168 Shirley, Ken, 159

Shortland Street, 30, 218, 223, 225, 240, 262, 266-67 Shostakovich, Dimitri, 418 Sibelius, Jean, 406, 416 Silliman, Ron, 88, 95, 299 Simmons, Laurence, 131 Simpson, Tony, 128 Sinclair, Harry, 205, 206 Sinclair, Keith, 62, 63, 97, 171 Singleton, John, 220 Skalkottas, Nikos, 421 Slater, Cameron, 131 Sleeping Dogs, 189, 192, 200, 203, 204, 219 Smart, Jonathan, 88 Smith, Frances Hagell, 134 Smith, Linda Tuhiwai, 143 Smith, Robin, 106 Smithyman, Kendrick, 43-44, 74, 75, 199 Snow, Michael, 49-50 Sorabji, Kaikosru Shapurji, 421 Sotheran, Cheryl, 333, 335, 342 Spender, Stephen, 406 Spirit of the Beehive, The, 118-124 Stanfill, Denis, 13 State of Siege, A (film), 115 Stead, C.K., 15, 48, 69-80, 204, 352 Steichen, Edward, 356 Stein, Gertrude, 77, 351, 357, 384, 385 Steven, Geoff, 205, 215, 259, 262, 265, 269 Stevens, Wallace, 350, 360, 362, 368 Stewart, Carole, 113 Stirling, Pamela, 166 Stitt, Greg, 205 Stockhausen, Karlheinz, 15, 400, 419, 421 Storr, Robert, 160 Strauss, Richard, 418

Index / 441 Stravinsky, Igor, 311-12, 317, 356, 399, 417-18 Street, The, 113-14 Stunning Debut of the Repairing of a Life, 349, 366-70 Surrealism, 77-78, 384 Symbolist poetry, 362, 365, 368, 370, 374 Szymanowski, Karol, 421 Talking Heads, 356 Tamahori, Lee, 205, 220-21 Tate, Allen, 16, 17 Taylor, Brian, 151 Taylor, Richard, 207 Taylor, Rod, 341-42 Te Ara, 21 Te Heuheu, Georgina, 158 Te Kooti (Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki), 143, 355, 360-61, 364, 372 Te Māngai Pāho, 242 Te Tangi a te Matuhi, 359-62 Television in New Zealand, 147-50, 157-58, 190-91, 214, 218, 22970, 276, 279-80 Then It Was Now Again, 27-28 Thomas, Arthur Allen, 192 Thomas, Dylan, 18, 386 Thomson, John Mansfield, 395, 398, 407 Thomson, Margaret, 260 Tizard, Judith, 157 Tolkein, J.R.R., 207, 422 Tolstoi, Leo, 417 Tomlinson, Sophie, 116 Tomory, Peter, 50, 51 Tovey, Gordon, 280 Tsoulis, Athina, 117, 205, 206 Tudor, David, 16 Tuwhare, Hone, 268 Tweedie, Merylyn, 9, 156, 321-27, 329

University of Auckland, 14-16, 1720, 21 Urale, Sima, 217 Urban, Terry, 336 Utu, 219-20 Valéry, Paul, 357, 362 Van Gogh, Vincent, 311 Vance, Carole S., 321 Varda, Agnes, 258 Varèse, Edgard, 421 Vaughan Williams, Ralph, 400, 406, 412, 416 Vermeer, Johannes, 385 Viscoe, Warren, 336 Waititi, Taika, 206 Walker, Karen, 294 Walker, Ranginui, 153, 171 Walsh, Fran, 207 Walters, Gordon, 26, 314 Ward, Vincent, 186, 205, 215, 223, 258, 261 Ward-Lealand, Jennifer, 371, 374 Warhol, Andy, 355 Waring, Marilyn, 167 Watkins, Denys, 295 Watkins, Peter, 258 Watson, Ruth, 125, 336, 341 Watten, Barrett, 19, 88 Webern, Anton, 312, 420-21 Webster, Christine, 321 Wedde, Ian, 18, 41, 74, 83, 86 Wellesz, Egon, 421 Wells, Peter, 12, 153, 205, 206, 218, 222, 224, 258 Wendt, Albert, 20, 153, 165, 166 Weta Workshop, 207 Wevers, Lydia, 145-46, 170 Wichtel, Diana, 165, 166-67 Wilder, George, 372 Williams, Doc, 260 Williams, Raymond, 98

442 / Re-inventing NZ Williams, Tony, 190, 199, 205, 261 Williams, William Carlos, 73, 77, 78, 353, 364, 374 Willy’s Gazette, 349, 354, 356-59, 367 Windahl, Sven, 325 Wiseman, Frederick, 258 Witherford, Hubert, 61 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 357, 368, 371, 372 Wittig, Monique, 111 Wolfskehl, Karl, 331 Wong Sing Tai, 295 Woodward, Roger, 397 Woollaston, Toss, 313, 336, 397 XTC, 356 Yeats, W.B., 73, 77 Zukofsky, Louis, 353

RE-INVENTING NEW ZEALAND With its unusual breadth and depth, this book is the harvest of a lifetime of thinking about the arts and media in New Zealand by someone with ‘a knowledge’ (says Murray Edmond) ‘that combines industry practice with academic insight in a way that is unrivalled in New Zealand.’ The book reflects on the huge changes to our culture produced by the hippie upheaval of the 1960s, new forms of feminism, the Māori renaissance, radical styles of philosophy, economic extremism, and the digital age. Such changes have transformed our literature, visual arts, music, film, and television, and re-invented our sense of place. The book offers insights into each of those arts and each of those themes. A personal memoir by the author sets the scene for this richly varied selection of 21 essays, from 1983 to 2016.

‘He wears his knowledge lightly, with a great ability to make complex issues clear. These essays are seminal contributions, central to the major intellectual and cultural changes that define the New Zealand we live in today.’ —Wystan Curnow

‘The book captures Horrocks’s enthusiasm and advocacy. The essays are always original and fresh, written with lively wit and from a personal viewpoint.’ —Helen Martin ‘A profound contribution to our intellectual life, to the “invention of ourselves”’ —Murray Edmond

ATUANUI PRESS

Cover by Dylan Horrocks

One of ‘New Zealand’s most alert and inventive critics’ —Mark Williams in The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature