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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1943

Prose Judgments

page 26

Prose Judgments

Perhaps My judgement has been warped by the peculiarities of the typewriter which produced the versions of the manuscripts I have been reading, and yet typewriters are usually concerned with the conventional letter and not the conventional phrase. Nevertheless I could not help reflecting that most people seem to dislike writing. Either they have something to say (a distinct improvement upon last year's entries) and are impatient to say it, or else they know that something could be said, but are unable to discover what it is, and anyway derive little enjoyment from trying to say it.

I don't think anyone who submitted a manuscript showed any sign of having struggled to conquer the medium of words. No one gave any indication that the art of communication is an art which can be mastered only with infinite pains. But why, you may ask, should anyone concern himself with such a barren subject? And the answer is that we live in an age of propaganda and standardised speech, that we need writers capable of thinking things out, capable of precise and sensitive expression and aware of their responsibilities as writers.

Last year I think I observed that few of the contributors were prepared to notice what was taking place in their own backyards. Apart from a reference to New Zealand produced films and the Confessions of a Demonstrator, the contributors this year might have come from Moscow. I don't think I shall be accused of an anti-Soviet bias if I suggest that this is not a healthy sign. Of course it is excellent that people should be interested in Russia, and perhaps I am behaving like the lecturer who attacks his audience of five because of the ninety-five who are absent, but it is not a healthy sign that of the six manuscripts submitted two should be criticisms of Soviet literature, one a tribute to the development of Soviet science, one an account of the activities of Dutch students, one a slight commentary on the American film with passing reference to Russia and New Zealand, and only one upon something in the backyard, namely a scientific laboratory.

There were no short stories or sketches submitted, but difficult as it may be to reach a high standard in work of this sort, it is difficult also to reach a high standard in critical writing. If there was a little attempt to struggle with the word or the development of theme, there was scarcely any attempt to consider the nature of criticism, or to determine standards of judgment. "Distant Point " and the Soviet Theatre was the most successful and interesting of the articles and therefore receives the highest award. Wandering Scholars gave an honest account of the activities of Dutch students, and, in spite of some unhappy expressions, deserves second place. The description of Mayakovsky was not as good as it might have been because of the failure to think in terms of the English readers of a remarkable Soviet poet. In Theory and Practice the typewriter was overworked on its phrase-keys, and the possibilities of Hollywood and Parnassus were not developed. Finally Confessions of a Demonstrator succeeded in stating what was already known without excitement and with little freshness.

H. Winston Rhodes.