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Writing Wellington: Twenty Years of Victoria University Writing Fellows

1982 Witi Ihimaera

page 19

1982 Witi Ihimaera

page 20

A History of New Zealand Literature
Through Selected Texts

(An abstract for a paper to be presented at the LALALAND Conference.)

My paper will explore the various texts of identity, representation and construction as presented in eighteen selected New Zealand novels, films and poetic works. In so doing it will try to engage with the semiotics of contact and the various diasporic, immigrant, exilic and expatriate notions of this country, alternatively known as the Land of the Wrong White Crowd. The alternative realities, asymmetries and linguistic aesthetics of Pakeha New Zealand and their textual collisions with the Maori race will also be explored, much as Shashi Tharoor has done for India in his seminal revisionist, eclectic and postmodernist work, The Ingrate's Indian Novel. My paper is offered in homage from one subversive to another. The selected New Zealand texts are:


This great New Zealand title belongs to an ancestral Pakeha settler society text, elevated to canonical heights by people who have, actually, never read it. The paper will examine the reasons for the deplorable level of English transported to this virgin country from Great Britain, especially the bad spelling.

Sold New Zealand

Another canonical text in New Zealand literature, Sold New Zealand considers the truths about the Pakeha settler society from the perspective of a so-called Pakeha-Maori. Ostensibly a tract defending Maori, Sold New Zealand turns out to provide not the mediation between two binaries but rather the rationale for Pakeha to take over Maori New Zealand. Maori should never have signed the Treaty of Waitangi or in any way trusted the buggers.

The Greenstone Flaw

The paper will offer a critique on this rip-roaring yarn, a prototype of the romantic heroic settler novel of the mid- to late-nineteenth century. It is typical of those constructs of White hegemony, involving such characters as the White hero, friendly Maori sidekick, Maori princess who saves the White hero from the usual volcanic eruption or earthquake presumably so he can go back home to marry the (White) woman who has been waiting for him all along. Freire, Said, Ghandi, Spivak, Marx, Foucault, the Spice Girls and aspects of the film Titanic will be invoked in the paper to provide an utterly useless (con)text to text.

The Pardon Garty

Acknowledgment is made of one of New Zealand's greatest short story writers in the paper and the curious dichotomous ambivalent position she holds in page 21 New Zealand letters. The author disliked New Zealand, left it to its own devices, never came back and wrote all her major stories about New Zealand while living in France. The paper will propose this trailing of skirts through colonial space as being a metaphor for the meta-schizophrenic nature of the New Zealand psyche.

Land Brawl in Unknown Trees

One of the great verse sequences of New Zealand literature, Land Brawl in Unknown Trees lends itself to questions of power, resistance, indigenous essence, Fatal Contact, antipodean vision and the mapping out of Maori and Pakeha dialogical space. If you can understand what all this gobbledegook means please email the author of this paper w.ihimaera@wellington.ac.nz

Children of the Whore and Once Were Worriers

The paper will posit Britannia as prostitute and consider the sorry plight of her children, seeking diasporical haven in the new colonial space of New Zealand. The bifurcated problematics of the two books listed above will be compared and contrasted in one of those stupid and futile intellectual exercises beloved of academics and find contrasts and commonalities that don't exist.

Bowels Do Dry

A Bakhtinian Perspective will explore the Architectonic Self implicit in the main character, Daphne Withers, of this brilliant New Zealand novel. Random and totally inappropriate parallels with Arundhati Roy, Margaret Forster, classical Tamil poetry, Caribbean hybrid literature and Hindu sacred cow beliefs will reveal that when bowels do dry you can always rely on Janet Frame to provide superb discourse.

All Visitors Aboard and Dumb

These two novels from the White, male and realist tradition reveal that the Pakeha male writer is still very much alive and kicking—is he what. The paper will explore how men have been empowered and disempowered and include discussion on the sexual politics implicit in other such seminal male gender texts as Man Can Do It Alone, The Odd Boy, The Good Keen Ram and so on. When the time comes would the last White (straight) male, realist writer still standing in New Zealand please close the door before he leaves?

A Creed for Women

Just when Pakeha male writers thought they were home and scot-free along came the feminist revolution to stop them in their hobnail boot tracks and Swandris. The paper will explore the feminist imperative in New Zealand literature, the whinges and whines of women and why it is that this imperative has resulted in some really awful first person narratives by the New Zealand sisterhood. This part of the paper could otherwise be titled Save The Males/Whales.

page 22

No Ordinary Son and The Clone People

By comparison, really excellent writing of a quality only matched by the Kalyani tribe of the Hindu Kush Mountains, a tribe only slightly lower than the Maori are to Heaven, is to be obtained in the texts written by Maori authors. Descended from the Gods, the poet of No Ordinary Son and the great Wordweaver of the West Coast, really do show that the Empire has indeed Struck Back. The paper will consider the negative aspects of global English on the sacred Sanskrit-Maori language and how the sterling battle has been waged by Xena and her Maori literary warriors to combat further marginalisation, invisibilisation, appropriation of text (cf Season of the Stew and The Sinking Pukkah-Papa) and demonising of the Maori people by the villainous Pakeha. Discussion will also focus on essentialism vs synthesis, post-nativism and indigenous essence, and the upturning of notions of Centre and Rim in other (r)evolutionary Polynesian texts such as Cuzzies and Leave Us the Banyan Trees.

The paper will also disclose the great literary secret, actually known to Maori all along, but only confirmed by the discovery of gold tablets on sacred Hikurangi Mountain, that Shakespeare's mother was a Maori. The implications of post-Shakespearian literature in English being a long lost branch of the Ngati Porou oral tradition (Shakespeare's appropriation is being contested in an action currently before the Waitangi Tribunal which seeks to reclaim him as a taonga) will be particularly highlighted in the paper.

Na reira, kia kaha, kia manawanui, kia toa ki o tatou mahi tuhituhi i te Ao, ka mate ka mate ka ora ka ora etc etc.

(Author's Note: This magical and spiritual ritualistic karakia or prayer must remain untranslated to preserve the very sacred nature of Maori textuality, all praise be to Allah, and to recognise the primacy of the reo.)

Good Fry Pork Pie, The Abrogator and The Piano Finger

These three texts exist in New Zealand film and the filmic intersections with literary equivalents show that postmodernism, postcolonialism and neocolonialism are structures which are perpetuated in film as well as literature. The first film indicates that New Zealanders are able to laugh at themselves—as long as the film involves a Mini—but the other two show that Pakeha unease and dis-ease still intersect with Pakeha New Zealand Lit. Questions of anxiety, uncertainty, evasion, ambiguity, ambivalence, deceptions, disclosures and the slipperiness evident in the Pakeha sense of self indicate that the post-settler identity of the New Zealand Pakeha is still in a whole heap of trouble. This is evidenced in the sidelining of Maori characters to the margins of discourse and, in particular, the metaphoric cutting off of the finger in the award-winning film, Piano. Thus, the paper will also discuss dismemberment as a Pakeha response to having no culture, genital mutilation, pornographic culture, the conflicting discourses of homo-erotic and hetero-erotic narratives in the film concerned—and the crucial question of what happened to the finger? It was not, as far as the author of this paper is aware, thrown out of a plane.

page 23

Faking Peoples and The Fake-triach

Finally, these last two texts, one historical and the other creative, confirm the rhyzomic nature of myth-making (and, incidentally, the continued invisibilising of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people in New Zealand history indicative of the failure in 1997 of the Auckland City Council to recognise the liberating effects of the Hero Parade).

Primarily, the paper will propose that all history is lies and all lies can be made into suspect novels or histories. The paper considers these two texts as both salvation of and destruction of myth-making and that, in New Zealand, it doesn't matter what the myth, demolish it (especially if it's Maori) and you may end up with a knighthood.

The novel under discussion is the last of all the texts to be considered in the paper and should not in fact be included. However, rather than face accusations of being a spoilsport, the author—who is also the presenter of the paper to the LALALAND Conference—includes it as an indication that he can take the piss out of himself. To be frank, why critics have considered The Fake-triach aka Kiss of the Spider Woman Part 2 aka Magic Realism's Last Gasp as an impossible and unbelievable cybertext is beyond his comprehension. Many beautiful Maori grandmothers existed who once lived in Italy, sang arias by Verdi while fighting the Pakeha, and were pursued by vengeful mothers who could swim through the universe.

The paper, as above, will be presented in the Atrium of the Peking Cluck Hotel at 5.30pm on Thursday. Those students wishing to get A+'s in the author's Masters Papers at Victoria University of Wellington, and other members of the public lucky enough to find a seat in the packed hall should attend. Please note that the paper is programmed to deconstruct five minutes after presentation.

The author exerts his moral rights and, to pre-empt those who wish to take out a fatwa against his pure and innocent intentions, asserts that any resemblance to any New Zealand writer or to the proceedings of the 11th Triennial ACLALS Conference, December 1—6, Kuala Lumpur, 1998, is entirely coincidental.

Witi Ihimaera was born in Gisborne, graduated BA from Victoria University of Wellington and now lives in Auckland. His titles include Pounamu, Pounamu, Tangi, The Matriarch, Bulibasha, Nights in the Gardens of Spain and The Dream Swimmer. As librettist, he has worked in opera, song cycle and symphony with narration. As editor, his books include Growing Up Maori, Mataora: Contemporary Maori Art and the five-volume Te Ao Marama series. He has just completed his second play, Woman Far Walking , and a biography of the soprano Virginia Zeani.