Other formats

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


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Spike or Victoria College Review 1942

College Culture In Memoriam

page 33

College Culture In Memoriam



I was requested by the Editor to compose an epitaph for the clubs with intellectual tendencies, or rather the non sports clubs of Victoria College. As I received replies from some of the secretaries to whom I wrote for specific information, it appears that the secretaries (in as far as they are not flowering in secret like the violet) still are all aloof—the lonely barren remnants of a once blooming garden.

I fulfil with reluctance the clause in my commission that my article should be "critical rather than straight reporting of event". I lack the right wavelength, I fear, to rebuke my comrades for their apathy (one needs some special wavelength for that), and it also seems that those remaining at college in wartime should not emphasize that it is so dull. However, intellectual activity such as there was has not been healthy.

The Manifesto was published in pamphlet form and successfully attacked imported prejudice; it gave a kind of centre to the student world. The large group of neutrals filling every society shifted from a superficial dislike of socialism to an even more superficial support. A great change took place; the Red point of view was no more that of the attacking adventurer, it became a recognised view in words if not in implications. This difference calls for a difference in policy such as is necessary whenever a revolutionary movement begins to become accepted. The public is getting near to the doctrine and the sincere academic approach is again desirable. The crude heralds who had eliminated their individuality lose their influence.

Victoria did not change: instead of the confidential tone of people saying the things they mean to people who are their friends, we have still, as in the earliest period of socialism, the oratical hollowness of people shouting their borrowed ideas to what they simply consider a mob to be converted.

"This is not a good society" I heard at one debate. "This is a bourgeois society," and "We can go safely to bed to-night for Stalin is watching over us." Such remarks are out of place. I even feel some bluff, some insincerity in them. So I do with the passionate outcry in Salient against Fascist suppression of liberties when the Council decided to have Capping in C3, and even with the pugnacious promise in the same periodical to raise a glass (the Editor's) for Victory.


General Clubs

The sickness of the University Red has caused the death of the Society for the Discussion of Peace, War, and Civil Liberties, and the coma of the International Relations Club. When asking for the reasons of the inactivity of the latter I was referred to the president, Mr J. Winchester. The secretary, Mr J. Winchester, received me unkindly and explained the inactivity of the club was due to the committee members, especially to Mr J. Winchester. He also mentioned the lack of interest in the club of most of the members; there were few, only one in fact, and of these particularly Mr J. Winchester appeared very uninterested. Mr J. Winchester refused to send in a report.

The Phoenix Club enjoyed two functions. On the first one a short story of Mr Turner's was read three times, in different intonations. It has a social tendency, as it gave an instance of the demoralising effect of riches. Some people approved. The second feature of the night was a talk by Mr E. Schwimmer on T. S. Eliot. He was stopped soon by Mr Brook. There were six people present, if you also include a person who was present secretary, Mr Schwimmer, but there were seven if you also include Mr McL., who was present during a small part of the meeting lying prostrate on the table with his feet in the air, but who left five minutes after Eliot started. Mr Turner did not appear. The second function was an address by Dr. J. C. Beaglehole on "The War and the Artist." There were then fifteen people present.

The other clubs of a general nature are the Dramatic Club, the Debating Society, and the Glee Club.

Nobody can relate the achievements of the Drama Club, without the pious reflection upon the irony of fate. The irony of fate caused the staging of "Where's that Bomb?" to be interrupted by an air-raid warning. It caused the lack of male cast for the major production to be aggravated by an extremely virile modern spirit in the Drama Club committee which caused the choice to be evolutionary and pugnacious. It effected finally that when a play both female and pugnacious (Love on the Dole) had been discovered, copies mysteriously vanished from all libraries, and the one script, unable to flee in time, had been sent to the binder, and it is still there. Fate could not prevent, however, a performance of "Machine Song" (Coppard) and "Villa for Sale" (Guitry). Thus the sad story of the Dramatic Club is told, at the moment still unbowed by the bludgeonings of chance, but soon we fear—in the eloquent words of one of our ablest anti-capitalist debaters—tottering to its dismal grave.

The debating club has been a little more lively. There were debates on the confidence in the Churchill Government, on Irish neutrality, the place of religion in post-war reconstruction, whether New Zealand was civilised, and liveliest of all, whether the Chamber of Commerce was more or less likely to save the world than the Communist party. That was the one day of my life I would have disliked to be a commercial man. The subject discussed seems to me to raise an exactly as irrational comparison as for instance the question which laws were the most important, the laws of Plato or of Maxwell— or whether Radio-activity is more useful than the co-operative movement. I suggest these subjects for next years' programme.

The right subjects for discussion were chosen, social and political, but students did not show a real interest in them and little knowledge. The way of discussing was often paradox, in some cases deliberately paradox. The worst common logical error was a very general, primitive one: drawing conclusions from examples and atrocity stories. Worse—I don't know whether the speakers cared page 35 overmuch for the opinions they voiced. It is a pity that such a healthy element in student life should be eliminated in this way: What is the use of "free speech" if people have nothing they really wish to say?

The Glee Club however is a happy place: it is all alive again. We hear every week its unmarred felicity resounding from twenty-five carefree chests in the shape of "old choral numbers, more ambitious songs and modern jazz." The Glee Club's main activity is the annual concert and dance, and this seems socially to have been a success.


Scientific Societies

As New Zealanders are more interested in facts than in theories they tend to frequent their science clubs more than the generally cultural ones. The war healthily stopped the superficial interest in the latter. It is interesting to note however that the chemical society asked for original addresses and was extremely successful. This practice should become more general and seems to me at the present stage even more instructive than asking outside speakers.

The Mathematics and Physics Society has not submitted a report. This is a pity for I looked forward to it to solve the mystery what it has done during the two years I have been searching for it in vain. I am quite sure that many are as eager as I to join these Eleusian sages.

The Biological Society sent me an impressive list of activities. There were six lectures of outside speakers on topics chosen to have a general interest: Dr. Li on plant introduction and exchange, Count Wedzicki on Polish universities, talks on blood transfusion and insect ecology, and other matters also suitable for non specialists.

Excursions are an integral part of club life; there was this year a week end trip to study the vegetation above Fields hut. This is also the second year that the society publishes its annual magazine, a record of information gained in field work and an attempt at spreading general knowlege of biology.

The Chemical Society had a most satisfactory year. I mentioned the success of the talks by junior students on topics like Vitamins, Explosives, and even on Carcinogenic Compounds, which is a deep organic subject, I hear. The lectures of outside speakers were also popular (leather tanning, glass blowing, and soil chemistry) and they were well attended. A further innovation this year were screenings bearing on theoretical Chemistry. In addition the society visited the gas works.

The Law Faculty was less active. It organized an amusing and instructive lecture by Mr Justice Blair on "How to conduct a case in Court," and participated in inter-society debates on legal subjects. As usual it supplied its "Supplement of the N.Z. Law Journal" prepared by students. There was also a farewell tea party to the president, Professor James Williams, who departed to Sydney.


Religious Clubs

It is a pity that the modern world is no more able to discuss, or as Ramsey put it more precisely, "there is no discussable subject of the first order."

"I do not wish to maintain that there never has been anything to discuss, but only that there is no longer; that we have really settled everything by realising that there is nothing to know except science. And that we are most of us ignorant of most sciences so that while we can exchange information we cannot usefully discuss them as we are just learners."

We unhappy free thinkers cannot sit up and discuss abstractions till three o'clock at night so easily, not from lack of interest but from a notion of ignorance subconsciously undermining our enthusiasm.

But those who are religious have their foundations, their satisfactory assumptions. They can discuss and they like to discuss. And so, now in this time of crisis the freethinkers have given up public discussions almost entirely, because when all was told they were to them not essential—the religious clubs still function and from their biassed stand-point find matters for dispute.

One new religious club has arisen this year to scatter the bones of the disillusioned, the V.U.C. Catholic Students' Guild, a university section of a larger club of that name already existing. It has had fortnightly discussions on Communism and Religion, Evolution, Medieval Society, and suchlike subjects. I very much enjoyed a lecture by Maria Dronke entitled "An Approach to Poetry" that was organised by the club.

The S.C.M.'s main functions were a study circle on God and the World, and lectures on the Apostles Creed and Evolution and Christianity; also the Easter Congress and a tramp over Johnson's hill. The absence of some of the most energetic of its members restricted the club's activity, but did not, however, cause any lack of enthusiasm.

The S.C.M and, even more, the E.U., has—paradoxically—exhibited a definite tendency towards the terrestrial this year. The E.U. advertised its House Party "Enjoy our fellowship." Its secretary wrote rebukingly "We consider our fellowship useful rather than ornamental," when I had told him to think of his club as in relation to the universe (no more than a small ornament). The modern world sacred and secular, seems to consider community a way to grace, at least partly, agape's terrestrial projection. I doubt whether it could not be to a large extent agape's substitute, a superior narcotic, a distraction nobler but of the same order as the picture theatre. Fellowship prospers, more now than ever, in the same way as narcotics do.

However, the E.U. concentrated on more perennial facets of religion as well, discussed "Man and Sin" and other things at its weekly meetings, went to collective church services, and organised an annual May conference, a joint effort of all colleges with lectures from outside speakers, layman and clerical.



The general doubtfulness of the use of fellowship is a matter that does not need settling if we wish to state that fellowship was surely of no significance at our college this year. The causes are:
a.Most people here belong more intrinsically to some outside unit than to the university—units, I suppose, with a greater weight of tradition than university life, which is still an exotic in New Zealand social existence.
b.There were no discussion and debates sufficiently sincere to be at all cordial, so that there was no incentive at all to leave the units in which students were originally divided. It would have been the exchange of something real for something uncertain.

The clubs could try to remove these causes by arranging their activities to be more personal. The Chemical Society gave a good example of that. Our first end, to create some college culture, can only be reached by making our discussions a kind of emotional centre.