The Spike Victoria University College Review 1944
The answer to your last letter should not be a short note as you request, but a bible. First of all murder and fire are not considered by you to be essential elements of New Zealand culture because the students of V.U.C. do not think of them. You would be all right, if these students had other pressing intellectual problems, because then you could say' Look, it is not murder and fire,—it is public oratory,' or' it is Communism,' that has their fancy.
But you can't say that, and whatever is in the mind of the present generation of New Zealand students has not yet been expressed. One can only make a more or less correct estimate of potentialities, based upon the more obvious sources of student thought and upon the attitude towards life one observes amongst students. One can only ask:' What would these people write about if they wrote?'
It is doubtful whether one can even do that. The only way of forecasting the culture of the future is really to create it. But in my projected editorial, guesswork and nothing else has been my purpose and I will boldly persevere, right or wrong.
'We wore out our passports quicker than our shoes,' and' We used to make love offhand' are two lines from a poem on this generation by the German refugee poet, Bert Brecht. Love indeed was a thing one met the day before the train left, the week before the military unit was transferred.page 9
Dreams became things met during only a moment,' May I introduce you to a dream,' said fate, and a minute later a policeman came to move you on. Admirations were no longer centred on one per son; symbols were no longer derived from one mythology. Life became a cinema of impressions! art of images.
If to our generation in New Zealand, as elsewhere, love is casual, there is murder and fire behind the stage. Fibs among young girls especially about a picturesque sex-life, are at an all-time they are yearning for the perfect performance. Young girls struggle to suppress their humanity for a constant pattern, to dance their faultlessly-proportioned ballet smoothly and gracefully, so that they may be best adapted to their calling.
There are two conflicting lines of thought about women. Some people say that they are becoming emancipated and others contend with Nietzsche, that their task is' only' the recreation of the warrior, the warrior' meaning 'man.' The first point of view is democratic and the second one is considered to be unutterably wicked. Yet: when have women been so completely the recreation of the warrior as in this period? They have sacrificed their humanity and the tenderness of their souls to be that passing dancing-figure the hunted' warrior' of today requires for his short pastime.
And the students of Victoria College? They too, in as far as they are women, suppress their humanity in order to be desirable. They fight against their tenderness and against their cruelty. They know that tenderness is not what men are looking for and that for cruelty they would not have time. Behind this is the murder and fire of to-day's battlefields.
The murder and fire of to-day's battlefields stand just as much behind a hundred other manifestations of modern life. I have no space to mention them. But what would these women write if they became articulate? Or what would any of those write who are left behind? Their work would reflect the great change: how the domesticated minions they knew have absorbed the elemental miseries and the fury of adventure in their bodies and become generous casual companions. In fact some quite talented poets in Australia have already done so.
A new, more impulsive life would glimmer through, as it also glimmers through even in news-papers, films and radio.
Furthermore, I do not agree that the proportion of soldiers who are in the actual battle, or the conscious thoughts of the inarticulate majority of them has any bearing on my little theory. As long as hundreds of millions of newspapers spread the story of the defence of Stalingrad, the invasion of
Europe, or the Wingate expedition, as long as there is an airforce fighting in this war,' passion' and death dominate the scene.
'Common sense' has been haunting you, dear Charybdis. You would like to explain the easiness of women by the dearth of men, and the degradation of Varsity by the fact that Communists have become respectable.'
Too much stupidity is taken for materialism these days. "More women than men—there you have a hard solid fact—what are you going to do about it,' you seem to say.
But in the realm of the spirit it is the difference in women's conceptions that matters. The fact of their numbers is just an accompanying detail.
The decline of spiritual pugnacity behind the battle-line, the slumber of the striving instinct was the tendency I wished to indicate in the' editorial.' The' solid' fact that the pugnacious element of V.U.C. (the Communists) have become respectable is just a corroborating detail.
So I hold my thesis that the battlefield has influenced Victoria College, both from the written sources, papers and magazines, as from the unwritten force that seems to open our spirits for the reception of a sense of space, which was unknown to most of the pre-war grocer world.