Design Review: Volume 2, Issue 3 (October-November 1949)
“Here & Now”
“Here & Now”
As we fondle the first issue, perceiving dimly the prodigious effort it embodies and gravely estimating the perils it will meet with, we cannot but speculate on the reasons that have compelled a few noble and disinterested people to found Here & Now. Why has it been published and—a related question—to whom is it addressed?
To the first part of the question the editors have supplied a convincing, if not remarkably original, answer. Free diseussion, we are informed, is an essential part of the demoeratie process; a commercially controlled daily press and a politically controlled broadcasting system do not permit the free circulation of ideas and opinions in this country; the purpose of Here & Now is to fill this gap in our democratic institutions. It is, quoting the editors, to supply ‘a desperate need for fresh air.’ We can merely comment ‘Fine!’ though experience has taught us a certain scepticism when we see democracy and its derivatives linked with the promise of future performance.
Here & Now is to be a kind of ventilating system; it will add a necessary piece of apparatus to the defective machinery of New Zealand demoeraey. We are now in sight of an answer to our second question. If its function is demoeratic, if must be designed for the whole mass of New Zealand's population, certainly for the voting mass. And here we find explicit support in the editors who ‘hope to give, over a period, something like a time picture of the collective state of mind of those people in New Zealand who think about anything at all beyond horse racing, football and the next meal.’
A superficial inspection of the first issue lends some colour to this assumption. In the externals of printing, arrangement and layout, Here & Now introduces something quite new in my experience of New Zealand journalism. The cover is bold and arresting, the paper pleasing to the touch; the type is clear and, for the most part inoffensive; illustrations are numerous and varied (among them a few very old friends); no article exceeds three pages in length, and most of them are carved into easily digestible segments; even the advertisements harmonise so well that one is almost tempted to read them.
Again to the casual glance, the contents even more strikingly than the format, seem designed for a large and heterogeneous public. There is something here for every taste, except perhaps the lowest. Foreign correspondents, with their peeuliar faded jargon, create tableau vivants, where buildings ‘loom majestically’ against the skyline and a horse, ‘its flanks white with foam,’ cavorts in a Madrid square. New Zealand's most fertile novelist, writing from Oxford, chivalrously acclaims New Zealand's ‘best fiving writer.’ The editors matily announce their policy in “Kick-Off” (an editorial), already quoted. Messrs Fairburn and Blake provide us with a full-length portrait of our future prime minister; we can have our choice, it seems, between a calculating humbug or a political cretin. Irony is next briefly invoked by Roderick Finlayson in the cause of traditional Maori customs, and we are swept on to an account of an arena performance. (I envy your power of concentration and your speed in composition, Mr McDougall). Mary Dobbie next writes the best article in the magazine because she has something serious and important to say.
Now half-way in our marathon, we pause before plunging into a further instalment of Mr Middleton's American adventures, oddly labelled ‘fiction,’ and pass on to a solution of the waterfront problem. (Clearly no one is interested in a scheme that would deprive the people of its favourite scapegoat.) The next problem to be solved is that of the small house, but what is the cost? The problem still remains of building a house while remaining solvent. I have my own solution for the problem of the errant husband which seems to bother certain contributers: persuade him in build ‘a house to stay home in,’ leg-rope him with a mertgage, enclose him in the walled patio, then, for added seeurity, inveigle him into cooking meals in the manner suggested by ‘Alouette’ (a pseudonym concealing the identity of an artist in the more refined forms of social torture). The National Sport now elaims our attention, and our Fred Allen, ‘a fine footballer … one of the finest sportsmen page 62 New Zealand has ever turned out,’ is defended against criticism emanating from ‘certain quarters in Wellington’ (Parliament Buildings? Public Service Commissioner's Office? Government House?) We pass rapidly through the dismembered corpses of public and royal dignitaries, politicians and newspaper editors, to reach the last—no the penultimate—section, ‘The Arts,’ where Mr Joseph, somewhat traitorously, discusses the film society film and Mr Jensen writes lucidly and sensibly on music. ‘We have yet to integrate music with our particular way of life,’ states Mr Jensen. Not only music, Mr Jensen. Helen Shaw reviews Dan Davin, displaying insight and an oddly contorted metaphorical style. (We are prepared to allow Mr Davin his symbols, but not Miss Shaw her ‘preluded’ nor her essence of a shape that fails to soar and overflow, etc.) The young New Zealand poet, Keith Sinclair, reviews the young New Zealand poet, Hubert Witheford, illustrating the cannibalistic habits of the species.
Nagging doubts afflict us as we attempt to marshal our impressions. Will New Zealand democracy, in the mass, respond to this appeal? May it even be that we are mistaken in supposing that Here & Now is designed for all the people? Perhaps the definition ‘those people who think about anything at all beyond horse racing, etc., etc.,’ is not meant to be read quite literally; the words may be just an elaborate paraphrase for ‘intellectuals’ or ‘progressive thinkers’ or ‘highbrows’; we begin to suspect that they mean merely the old gang reinforced by new recruits and a sprinkling of conscripts. Possibly the apparatus is designed for the circulation of hot air rather than fresh air. With these uncharitable thoughts we must strangulate a review almost as irresponsible, almost as scrupulously unfair to Here & Now as Mr Fairburn has been to Mr Fraser. May it live to flourish and confound all base detractors and illiterate apes.