Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 9. 1963.
Essays on NZ Crammed and Skeletal
Essays on NZ Crammed and Skeletal
Distance Looks Our Hay: The effects of remoteness on New Zealand. (Published by Paul's Book Arcade for the University of Auckland. 120 pages, 15/-.)
This is the second printing of the 1961 Auckland University Winter Lectures.
Keith Sinclair, who edited the volume, comments in his preface, "No attempt has been made to disguise their origins as lectures," and this probably accounts for the marked variation in the quality of the essays.
The loose, rambling style of E. J. Godley's "Fauna and Flora" is in marked contrast to the carefully reasoned prose of C. K Stead in "For the Hulk of the World's Between," and his article about New Zealand writing.
In "Last. Loneliest, Most Loyal," E. H. McCormick adopts the view that "since the dawn of our history we have all been chiefs" or "We are all gentle folk together." It is supported with this description of New Zealand values: "a devotion to the institution of monarchy and in particular to the British Sovereign, a corresponding dislike, amounting to hatred of republicanism; an avidity for honours and advancement; a delicate sense of honour, not confined to the individual but embracing the tribe or nation; and in personal conduct a distinctive combination of the aristocratic and the democratic principles."
McCormick takes this attitude to its illogical conclusion and shows that it is our destiny to invite Princess Margaret to our shores and make her Queen of new Zealand.
In contrast to this is Keith Sinclair's "Life in the Provinces," an examination of the history of New Zealand. Sinclair suggests that remoteness was only a minor factor in the growth of this country, that our development was more that expected of an English province than an isolated nation.
Sinclair's outlook is not shared by Stead in "For the Hulk of the World's Between." In his discussion of New Zealand writing Stead makes a most penetrating analysis of New Zealand society: "A tension exists somewhere in the mind of every New Zealander between 'here' and 'there' . . . Where it has been recognised, come to terms with, and exploited, it has on the whole served the literature well."
In the second section of his lecture. Stead examines various phases of New Zealand writings, including what he calls the "national optimism of the late forties." To my mind this does not come under the title of "effects of remoteness on New Zealand." Speaking of Chapman's "Fiction and the Social Pattern." Stead says "it concludes, naively I think, by implying that this deep-seated condition (of New Zealand Society) would find a ready cure in welfare legislation."
Stead is mistaken in depicting this optimism as a national characteristic, when in reality it is an international one. New Zealand was only one of many countries experiencing such a post war attitude.
Otherwise, his ideas are well presented; and capable of further development. Unlike some of the other lectures printed in the book, he manages to come to terms with the relatively small space allotted.
P. A. Tomory is the only lecturer who recognises explicitly that "remoteness is not a constant factor." In "The Visual Arts" he draws a valid distinction between "remoteness of." which is to him a positive state, where the artist can develop topographical instinct, and "remoteness from." a negative one. He sees "remoteness from" culminating in the "disastrous assumption" that "no one could paint in New Zealand until a European visit had been made."
This attitude, he believes, began to decay with the depression and the war. It was helped by the urban development, which created a new national consciousness. However. I do not think he is justified in assuming that "the negative force of remoteness from is now largely dissipated." Europe may not be the cultural magnet it once was, but it is still strong.
Robert Chapman ("No Land Is An Island") advances the view that "our politics do not differ very much from the leaders in our camp." which we must accept, with reservations. The reservations are that our spectrum of political ideas is far more limited than those of Europe and America, a fact which is related to his criticism—"despite the emerging super state ranking of the United States and the Soviet Union, we have argued as we did in 1036." This is true of all Western countries, but I think what Chapman fails to notice is significant: the dissenting minorities are smaller here than elsewhere.
He can thus advance the dangerous idea "The more politics . . . develop into a choice of instruments for putting into effect characteristic values—instead of setting the values themselves—the more we can afford not to look . . . for the origin of values and the demonstration of (national) differences." This is a formula for the very attitudes (including "alternative conservatisms") he decries.
As a whole, the series suffers (with notable exceptions) from an attempt to compress too much into too small a space. As a consequence, it is not as significant a contribution to the subject as it could have been. Each of the essays could probably form the nucleus for a longer work, provided more attention was paid to the relevance of factual material, and the logical treatment of the subject.—D.P.W.