Rethinking the past, Melissa Laing

Re-inventing New Zealand: Essays on the Arts and the Media 
Roger Horrocks
Atuanui Press, $45.00,
ISBN 9780992245382

As I opened a blank document to begin this review, a tweet popped up in my feed from Morgan Godfery: “Sure,” Godfery writes in response to The Spinoff’s Monday excerpt from Roger Horrocks’s essay “A Short History of the New Zealand Intellectual” on the climate for public intellectualism in New Zealand, “this country doesn’t take ideas as seriously as it might, but I also think intellectuals overcook the problem.” Ironically, Godfery is a “public intellectual” in the sense Horrocks uses, someone who “engages in hard thinking … works comfortably with ideas … thinks independently … and is dedicated to serving something larger than ego or career.” However, in this dismissive tweet, Godfery performs the very yeah-nah move which Horrocks argues is required to survive as a public intellectual in New Zealand: a conscious balancing of the speaker’s credentials as an “ordinary” person, down-to-earth and pragmatic, against the intellectual credentials that authorise them to speak on a subject. According to Horrocks, we in New Zealand have internalised a “scornful listener at our back (or in our own heads)”, accepting as true and immutable “a pattern of associations or stereotypes” that fuel the general prejudice against intellectualism. In response, we developed strategies to downplay our intellectualism when speaking in a public forum. He confesses that he is not free of this scornful listener, responding to it by making “sure I avoid big words and never associating myself with the problematic term ‘intellectual’ ” outside of the environs of academia.

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