The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1948
The editor of Spike (or, indeed, of any university magazine in the country) is browbeaten by tradition into following a policy which may be distasteful to his own feelings of how a magazine should be run. Official photographs and club-notes must appear, and a fairly even distribution of thoughtful and imaginative prose and verse. So that every year this recipe must be observed in due proportion and, even though not one intelligent article comes to hand, instead of redeeming that failure with a few extra poems or a short story. the best of the bad crop of articles must be printed. And this routine applies to imaginative prose and verse which when completely bad is nevertheless printed in conformity with tradition. An editor can only do his best with the material that comes to hand, and his policy is largely determined by the disposition of that material. For if he determined on a fixed policy beforehand, he would find himself rejecting all the material not conforming to this policy (probably more than half of the magazine's normal composition), and be reduced to both writing and editing the magazine himself.
But here is the grievance. What is real in Spike's tradition (that is, the few convincing poems and honest articles) has often been buried under the great dust-heap of muddleheadedness and unseemly aping of overseas fashions in prose and verse. Rarely has there been assimilation or careful consideration and reassessing, but rather blatant imitations which tell their story of the dearth of imagination, and of intellectual dishonesty: cheap, second-rate feelings and ideas being masqueraded about as the real thing. When Eliot and disillusion was fashionable, the penny poets blew their weak disillusioned trumpets; and when Auden and his school asseverated some vague form of Communism as the Saviour of Man, it must needs be reverberated, somewhat shabbily it is true, between the covers of Spike. And as in literature, so in philosophy and political philosophy.
Why was this? Is it because students are but High School mentalities still (and many never do mature beyond that) that they are confounded by what smacks of intellectuality, and, being incapable of serious or original cogitation, cannot distinguish the grain from the chaff or at least arrive at some personal conclusion? Let it pass. It would seem that what was once promising and sensitive can become an impalpable mass, hardened by custom and routine and mechanical absorption reacting to floating political or cultural opinions as, in the experiment, the frog's leg reacts to electrical impulses with a vague and nervous kick.
And if the student's opinion is lamentable in Spike (itself the result of careful selection from the best available minds), how much more so does it appear in the unguarded pages of Salient. But let a minute irritation, an unforeseen particle of sand enter the oyster-like calm of our student's mind, and with what ungoverned and unreasoning folly does he kick out right and left in his blind confusion. And Salient like the faithful mirror that it is, reflects it all.
To him literature means very little. For as long as Criticism with its wonted sterility isolates for his appreciation the technical and the obvious, how much chance has the man of genius to emerge from all this verbiage, and reveal his true personality? Our student expects very much the same enjoyment from every author, whereas the genius of each is distinct, and capable of giving its own peculiar pleasure. But if an author's claim prove stubborn, how often in his arrogance does our student find him wanting, when the deficiency lay in himself and his method of approach! At best he knows a handful of lyrics and a few novels (read for ulterior reasons) from which he forms an unshakeable opinion of the whole body of English literature. So that Auden is discredited because he is not Keats, or because he falls outside the familiar handful. For some, literature died a natural death with Tennyson; for others it only 'arrived' with Eliot. Where is the golden mean? And above all where is that intellectual magnanimity which gives every author a fair hearing?page 5
Let us now explain some points in this year's magazine. It will be noticed that it falls into definite divisions. We felt that a semblance of order was preferable to the apparently temperamental system of arrangement in past magazines. We disposed of verse and prose judgments as being on the whole unsatisfactory. Past judges were normally busy men or not really interested and, being so, judged cursorily and often stupidly. Finally were it not for fear of bringing down on our heads the whole crumbling structure of tradition, we would have refused club-notes and official photographs. However the smirks of those in the latter may be interesting to the individuals concerned, whereas the former can be seen scattered at the back among the advertisements, with their not-unexpected evidence of how low English usage may descend.