Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 12 June 11, 1968
Genet novel submitted to Tribunal
It is painfully embarrassing to witness the ease with which New Zealand officialdom exposes its crass stupidity. It makes one wonder whether this country will ever reconcile itself to reality.
The latest action which prompts this though is, of course, concerned with the good of dirty books Tribunal. This time someone has put it up to the Secretary of Justice (a Dr. Robson, undoubted honourable and just doing his job) to submit Jean Genet's Querelle of Brest to the Tribunal for classification as to its decency etc.
As any literate person will tell you this book has been available for nearly a year (at $3.10), and was even featured as a "pick of the month" in Witcombe and Tombs' "Book News".
Genet's two early prose works are available— The Thief's Journal in Penguin, Our Lady of the Flowers in Panther (though very scarce). Miracle of the Rose is in hardback from Anthony Blond, publishers of the Collected Prose Works, It escaped from the Tribunal's clutches some time ago.
Genet, as any literate person will further inform you, is mainly concerned with homoeroticism—-his prose and drama are those of a devoted homosexual. He is also a major artist of his time. He cannot be ignored, and for many people he is not ignored.
His writing is powerfully emotionally, obsessively fantastic, and, above all, aesthetic. All his writings hammer home his own vision, his disgust, his repulsion—and in turn we may be disgusted or repelled. On the other hand he is also compulsive. His vision is totally anti-social, yet he is irresistible. He writes about people's least attractive habits and finds them beautiful. He despises all that is central to bourgeois society. He lauds theft, approves murder, is fascinated by human excretement and sexual organs. He sees no value in morality, decency, orthodoxy. He fulfils fantasies we dare not desire; he rejects all that we have been taught to respect. His anarchism is destructive, nihilistic, yet the superiority he claims for his immonde (anti-world) of indecency is stated with such artistry and skill that the most profound problems of art and morality are raised. He is not pornographic as is most homoerotic literature (not found in book shops by the way); he is unlike any other writer.
As one writer recently put it; Genet's "art is the ultimate revenge of homosexuality on the world from which homosexuals are excluded". If the Justice Department is as "liberal" as some have alleged, let it put a stop to this nonsense and let Genet speak to the world and not to the cellar.
New writers who suddenly achieve critical success several years (often more) after the first publication of the work are always fascinating. The excitement of reading an unknown author and then finding that your enjoyment has been shared by others, is a welcome antidote to the high-pressure tactics of much modern literary practices.
Three such writers, two of them British, have just become celebrated on the American East Coast scene. Richard Jones' Age of Wonder was published in London last year—unheralded. Today, under the title The Three Suitors, it is a sensation in New York. I haven't yet been able to track it down out here—but I'm still looking.
We have on authority of James Dickey, presently Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress, recently in New Zealand (he was interviewed on the YG programme "Poetry") that Richard Tillinghast is "the best of the younger poets in America today". Watch out for him.
The third writer in this gossip piece is Peter Dale, whose poetry, one critic claims, puts to shame that of most modern English poets—"more good lines than Larkin or Hughes or Gunn ever put together." Read these three, then, and don't say you haven't been warned or have been caught with your pants down.
To get away from literary name-dropping. Last week a new fortnightly entitled The New Zealander appeared, and like Frontiers, hails from Christchurch. Eaited by a working journalist recently returned to New Zealand, it is, of course, independent. It will be refreshing to read some journalism that is neither the output of the commercial press, nor the mumblings of academics in learned and not so learned magazines.
Comment, wit and intelligence has generally been restricted to student-based magazines—it's high time journalists broke the fetters of their vocation and published stuff they have always wanted to, but couldn't. The New Zealander, if not exactly attractive in form—which could mean financial failure—does promise to have topicality.
Let's hope that it can combine the qualities of professional journalism—such as they are in New Zealand— with independent (read radical) thinking. The first issue is not over-promising. Not enough short items and too many articles whose appeal is too serious for a journal which must have popular appeal. Biting and scintillating prose about the New Zealand of today and tomorrow is a scarce commodity—but at least it is not under import restriction. C'mon you budding journalists—let the stops out.