Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25. No. 13. 1962
Sir,—The unfortunate ease with which Mr Laking spits and storms has perhaps prevented him from understanding a piece of condensed, constructive, critical writing when he sees it. In his letter about the magazine Argot lie Doctor Beaglehole for all sorts of crimes he didn't commit.
For a moment I found it hard to believe that Mr Laking went to the Contemporary Arts concert. 1 would have thought he would understand why Doctor Beaglehole thought McGonigal out of place, and hence why Doctor Beaglehole suggests some thought on the meaning of word "contemporary".
Mr Laking is reduced to a trembling mass of sulphurous invective because Doctor Beaglehole has doubts about jazz Mr Laking then goes on to have doubts about Boulez.
Mr Laking I fear, has not lived long to realise that often the most valuable works of art are the most difficult to understand. It he is confronted, as he seems to prefer at every Contemporary Arts Concert by pleasant entertainment The Contemporary Group would be wasting their time and his. If, when he is confronted by a work ol art that he cannot understand, he calls it "a slap in the lace," he runs the risk of missing altogether something that "contemporary," and for all he knows, a great work of art.
I find Boulez practically impossible to follow. The reason I don't giggle and call if mad is that that is not the way for to learn to follow music, I am, etc.,Robert Oliver.
Sir,—I doubt if my original referred to Dr B and he had my sympathy for being unable to reply in the same issue. But I have no hesitation m exploiting my unfair advantage Mr Oliver, Dr apparently self-appointed champion.
I have practised in front of my mirror looking like a trembling mass of sulphurous invective but I find it difficult to conjure up the necessary appearance the phrase has a certain polysyllabic grandeur which makes it quite flattering, in a way, to have it applied to oneself.
However: I was "reduced" etc, because Dr Beaglehole (and here I must interpret his motives much as Mr Oliver has) was condensed at the expense of constructiveness. Agreed McGonigal himself can hardly be called contemporary" (O.E.D. "contemporary: belonging to the same time"—presumably the present age) but I was amused of the juxtaposition of that poet with a number of others on programme. McGonigal is not the only 19th century poetry laugh a t now. It seemed quite appropriate to me that "contemporary" and deadly serious poets should be of possible fates.
I do not expect just "pleasant entertainment' 'at every Con Arts concert and did not say that. I recommend to Mr Oliver a very simple little book called "Straight and Crooked Thinking" for the definition of this particular intellectual dishonesty, which is not in the least modified favourite pseudo gimmick different qualifier: phrases such as ar." haps" and "as he seems to prefer.
About "living long enough" etc.: has Mr Oliver understanding? I'm still a teenager—unwise to concede this among those who have achieved wisdom and their 21st birthday. But I can't suppress somewhat adolescent giggle at the picture of Mr Oliver fully aware (having lived long enough) that art must n be difficult (dare I say "obscure?") to be valuable, waiting to follow Boulez and not having foggiest follow him. Perhaps Mr Maconie might have realised that most of his audience would be totally unfamiliar with music which dissects and fragments harmonic and rhythmic structure and tried to explain at least a little of what he felt Boulez was attempting. But it was most definitely a "slap in the face" to expect a large audience to listen without irritation. Compare it to a Stage I Physics Class being given a lecture on an obscure facet of Honours Physics — for which they have had no preparation at all.
But I am enlarging upon an irrelevant portion of Mr Oliver's letter. To get back to my reduction to a trembling mass: I suggest that Dr Beaglehole's "condensed, constructive critical writing," may have been condensed but that he made little attempt to be constructive, insofar as he did not actually evaluate the relative contributions of McGonigal, Boulez and jazz. The first, in his opinion, wasted time. The second was boorishly received. And the third he dismissed somewhat disparagingly. If I object to this criticism of some facets of performance and audience on the basis of some arcane criterion of artistic merit which only Dr Beaglehole could consider axiomatic, I object also and just as strongly to his omitting to attempt to say why Boulez should have had a quieter reception. No-one has yet tried ("dared"—perhaps?) to evaluate Mr Maconie's not inconsiderable performance in any specific terms—let's hear from Mr Oliver what it meant to him. I remain, Sir,
R. G. Laking.