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Hilltop: A Literary Paper. Volume 1 Number 2

To the Editor

page 38

To the Editor

Sir, The article on Holcroft in your last issue displays a degree of mental crudity and insensitivity that does not often find its way into print. Beyond that it has no special distinction. As criticism it is often distorted and valueless; it results not from a careful consideration of material, but from what seems to have been an increasing resentment harboured by Mr. Winchester against an author whom he suspected of being unduly praised. Mr. Winchester is here the Average Mind outraged because he feels he has been taken in. The strength of his argument rests on that conviction. But he rarely argues his case. He merely quotes or puts to the reader a succession of questions. When he quotes (and any statement wrenched thus out of its context can be made to look a trifle foolish) he rarely comments on it, but relies on sarcasm to bring home to the reader the preposterousness of what he is attacking. With the same end in view, his rhetorical questions are often made to carry an injured or indignant tone. (It is pretty close to a public harangue. It is not literary criticism.) He considers it preposterous for anyone to assert that "we have no real depth of spiritual life." He scorns the suggestion that New Zealand is young spiritually. He snorts, disapproves, protests; he obviously sees white where Holcroft sees black. But why? He offers no reason, no hint of how he arrived at his conclusions. If criticism is to convince, it must be reasonable and just. Mr. Winchester is neither.

Because Holcroft's aims escaped him. Mr. Winchester was never quite sure what it was he was attacking, but he hoped that by swinging wildly he might land the knock-out blow. To criticize fairly one must consider the degree of success achieved by an author in relation to those aims of which Mr. Winchester professes ignorance. Otherwise different critical criteria may be brought to bear on each new chapter, or each new sub-division. Holcroft is reproved because he has not written a history of the Labour Movement, and in the next breath, he is under fire for not writing a treatise on New Zealand art. Mr. Winchester is irritated by this inconsistency that he vaguely feels in Holcroft. Holcroft is a fool, because Mr.Winchester cannot connect.

Holcroft's aims seem clear enough. He was to heighten our national awareness to receive and nourish ideas, to convince us of the existence of a New Zealand type of consciousness by elucidating various causes and phases in its development. But first we must be taught a few home-truths about ourselves. If these hurt, then anyone is permitted, like Mr. Winchester, to squeal—preferably out of print. Holcroft is more concerned with people than with ideas as such. If he can write of real people in reference to a definite geographical and social background (a background. incidentally, wider but embracing by implication these political and economic considerations which Mr. Winchester was at a loss to discover); if he can trace the evolution of the New Zealand mind, and from that show why it is we approach the problems of life in a way that distinguishes us from, say, the English, the chances are that he will arrive at the historical truth. Above all he is concerned with truth, and the search for truth. Even Mr. Winchester might profit from a close reading of Holcroft.

To Mr. Winchester the question of mental isolation can be considered in terms of space only. How is isolation possible when we have the aeroplane, and the wireless? Are not new inventions and ideas pouring into the country within a few days or weeks of their discovery? These are points to be considered by Mr. Winchester when he writes his history of ideas in New Zealand. The Problems that beset Holcroft are more profound. It is the isolation from beliefs, from traditions once ours, that troubles him;. The loneliness, which is the isolation of the individual in the community from his fellows, and from God.

Alastair Campbell.

Sir.—It is strange how some critics can be impressed by something of the spirit and form of an event or work of art and yet fail to comprehend the real nature of its content.

I refer to Mr. A. A. Murray-Oliver's review of "Soviet Youth Parade, 1945." Mr. Murray-Oliver's tries to appeal on the basis of not taking sides. One recall the old "art for art's sake" and "art is neutral" fallacies. He rather self-righteously claims an enthusiasm "completely unbiased politically" and therefore an honest judgment despite his admitted die-hard conservative views.

Yet his review is permeated with political bias. For the praise physique and health and joyful enthusiasm is overridden by the comparison with Nuremburg, by the reference to "scarcely-disguised military training," by the lie that the U.S.S.R. is "fanatically trying to destroy hopes of a lasting world peace." Mr. Murray-Oliver hints that the Soviet Union is not a democracy, that the results he describes should be attained by "rather different methods." If Mr. Murray-Oliver had studied even a little of the actual method he might have understood the real lesson of the parade.

For here was no parade of militarized automatons, no blind discipline imposed from above, no depersonalized "units" Here, a few months after the most devastating war in history, tens of thousands of men and women, individuals with personality, demonstrated in a vast sports and physical culture parade. Mothers carried their children. Here was the real meaning of the film your reviewer missed. For each person seemed to say: "You can keep your militarism and war and death. Here is socialism and life!"

Ron Smith