Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 14, No. 4. April 26, 1951

'Arachne' — A Critical Review


A Critical Review

The second issue of Wellington s literary magazine "Arachne" appeared last week. This time the editors got quite near (though with delightful vagueness) to explaining their choice of title, and made some useful and clear-minded comments on the magazine's aims and function. "It will allow the unsuspected and remote to be expressed"; its material, they said, is to be diverse, unconventional, and "cathartic." More-over the philosophical aureole given to it by a thought-provoking article "The Background of a Magazine," would indeed make for a laudable policy and profound influence—but let us first glance at the merits and defects of the moment.

The English of an intellectual magazine is prone to become pedantic, awkward or unreadable, and "Arachne," often is no exception. Nor can depth of thought, allegedly its merit, become in turn a lame excuse for such a fault. Fiction here is less important than criticisms, but the present "Arachne's" two short stories are a case in point. "Sunday" is in a New Zealand setting, but unfortunately in a "To the Lighthouse" amosphere. The brilliant intimacy and subtlety of Virginia Woolf's best work is inimitable, but in this "story" the aftermath of maddening pointlessness and monotony is fully apparent The other story, "The Convent" by Marcel Bisiaux, is a reverie full of meaning, but begins to sound "phoney" in an inadequate translation.

Mr. E. Schwimmer's "Valerius Flaccus as a Poet" is less of an introduction to the poet than an entertaining but sketchy retelling of "Argonautica," but his two book reviews, of the poems of Hubert Witheford and Alistair Campbell, are really excellent.

W. H. Oliver's essay deals with Wordsworth's isolation in poetry through his belief in patheism, and conceives in this "Empty Country" as he calls it, a relationship with the New Zealand poets. It is an ingenious and original piece of writing.

The most enjoyable articles, however, if not the most profound, were "The Eclipse of the Market" by George Fraser, full of common sense and quiet irony, a sane and practical discourse on capitalism, and "The Gleaming Lens" by Peter Alcock, avowedly nothing but a plea for a film summer school, but undoubtedly above the other prose in raciness and wit.

The poetry which "Arachne" has brought to light is stylishly the converse of the prose, because it is outstandingly vivid and artistic, though the "conscious virtuosos" have not always something worth saying. Nevertheless, I admired the impressionism of Alistair Campbell's lyrics, the austere pregnancy of W. H. Oliver's sonnet sequence, and Basil Dowling's powers of description and word music. Peter Alcock's first two poems, clever as they were, seemed to resurrect the shades of much-abused Imagism, but "He Rests. He Has Travelled" and "Chorus One" are very moving and show kinship to the poetry of Dylan Thomas.

"Background of a Magazine" is perhaps "Arachne's" most important contribution to date. The style is heavy-handed, but the content clear and profound. Mr. Witheford has, in part, I feel, adopted T. S. Eliot's philosophy of modem society, but his own brilliant criticism has made it relevant to New Zealand and to "Arachne's" alms.

Until now "Arachne" has not failed even by the highest standards. But I think there should not be a continual self-conscious interposition of standards, only a renewal of the challenge of the first Arachne, whose goal was no mere "spinning of yams," but to conquer Pallas Athene, the goddess of wisdom herself.

Peter Dronke.