In Present Company (1966), Charles Brasch wrote:
A new society like our own, still undefined, un‑characterised, unidentified, with no values quite settled and no common ends generally acknowledged, will cast about vainly to know what it thinks and believes until it can see what it unequivocally says or what is said for it; that is, until it is revealed to itself in works of art of its own begetting; works that will at length shape for it in its own terms the cloudy architecture of reality whose defining confirms man in his home on earth (pp37‑38).
In paragraph after paragraph like this Brasch defined New Zealand as a land lacking in culture, a land in need of the redemptive power of art, and he clearly believed that Landfall‘s role was to help to bring that missing culture into being. In the light of today’s more inclusive definitions of culture, one might now want to dispute both Brasch’s assessment of his country’s lack of it and his notion of a defining reality but, such quibbles aside, there seems little doubt that Landfall did play a major role as a focus for the activities of a culture where at least a few souls were beginning to make a home, or to “stand upright here”.
Brasch was in this sense a perfect colleague for Allen Curnow, with his proselytising for language that is “local and special at the point where we pick up the traces” (Introduction to the Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, 1960).
This seems a natural impulse for those who found themselves without the kind of nurturing compost to feed on that Blackwood Paul believed he was creating with his early publishing ventures, the kind of shit that helped the dunny roses bloom in the work of writers like Janet Frame, who describes her response to the two Caxton anthologies that appeared just before Landfall’s inception, Curnow’s Book of New Zealand Verse, 1923‑1945 and Frank Sargeson’s Speaking for Ourselves (1945):
But here, in the anthology of New Zealand verse (they were still not brave enough to call it poetry) I could read in Curnow’s poems about Canterbury and the plains, about “dust and distance”, about our land having its share of time and not having to borrow from a northern Shakespearean wallet. I could read, too, about the past and absences and objects which only we could experience and substances haunting in their unique influence on our lives … The stories, too, overwhelmed me by the fact of their belonging. it was almost the feeling of having been an orphan who discovers that her parents are alive and well and living in the most desirable home ‑ pages of prose and poetry (An Angel at My Table, Century Hutchinson, 1984, pp70‑71).
By the late 1960s the Freed generation of writers were proclaiming the desire to “stop nam[ing] them hills” and to set about “construct[ing] a poetic” (Murray Edmond, editorial, Freed 3). By the 1980s Leigh Davis was re‑staging this attack with greater vehemence, panache and determination through the pages of AND:
A first characteristic [of the discourse of New Zealand literature hitherto] centres upon the abstraction “New Zealand literature” … The abstraction is less elusive if it is employed as a term that isolates the process of reading, writing and publishing in New Zealand, providing industry contours and not solely as a term that attempts to describe the (idealised) quality of some literary product. Here this shift in emphasis has never been promoted … Ignoring the age of this theory, and its crucial dependence on the insistencies of Allen Curnow, we assume that the extant metaphor of connection between “New Zealand” and “literature” is still the mould or the hook‑and‑eye model of writing as it is informed by, or connects with, New Zealand reality.
The pressures of actual, socially sourced practices and institutions seem of more explanatory value, and are perhaps more defensible, than a sense of literature that relies on the apparent persuasion of terms like reality or experience.
(Leigh Davis, “Set Up: August 1983”, AND /1)
But what has become of the writers of the AND generation? The magazine was always intended to have a finite life, but was the impact of their enterprise also necessarily shortlived, a kind of Mission Impossible, the magazine announcing, like those tapes at the commencement of the programme, that it would self‑destruct in five (was it?) seconds? Would they argue that there was nowhere for them to publish, given the conservatism of the major journals? If so, why not continue to publish themselves?
The fact is that after that brief blast of rhetoric they have been fairly quiet. Davis is a merchant banker and has published almost nothing in years (although someone has spread the rumour that he is writing a country and western novel). Roger Horrocks and Wystan Curnow are still opening the minds of Auckland University students to their particular take on American poetry and (in the case of Horrocks) on film and television. Horrocks is intervening in the production of culture in a more direct and widely effective way through his involvement with New Zealand on Air.
Alex Calder has also continued to examine the historical production of New Zealand culture through projects such as his anthology, The Writing of New Zealand. Far from being in any way subversive, however, that anthology was designed to pass through the filters of a commercial publishing house and to be used as a course text in universities. The AND generation in turn has become the mainstream ‑ or at the very least, part of that plurality of legitimate voices Leigh Davis hoped for. Evidence that there is still life in the AND impulse has recently appeared in the form of paired articles by Davis and Horrocks on the subject of art and market forces in Midwest 4.
So why is the AND phenomenon, brief as it was, still interesting? It seems to me that it was the last focused burst of critical energy on the New Zealand literary scene. Despite its deconstructionist tendencies, it was more like a “movement” than anything that has been seen in New Zealand letters since. It interests me for its sheer vitality and feistiness, its sense that literature and criticism matter (although AND also contained its share of bad writing). And I wonder if Landfall could be a locus of similarly energetic forces in the 90s?
Looking back in this way, I find myself trying to step outside the present moment and see Landfall as it currently exists in literary and socio‑historical terms. What should its role in the literary economy of the 90s be, and how will critics 10 years from now describe it? This is not a particularly healthy thing for a writer or editor to do ‑ it makes the head spin and requires a dangerous degree of distance from the temporal impulses and energies that give literary productions, whether individual or collective, their unique spirit.
The impulse to start a literary magazine in this country usually centres around the need to fill a perceived gap, to rectify a lack, to give voice to something that has hitherto been expressed in more ephemeral ways, whether that something be a new poetry, theory or simply a group of possibly diverse writers who have something new and different to say. This impulse may be openly aggressive or iconoclastic in relation to literary predecessors or even contemporaries. AND is the last example of this kind of publication I can think of.
I don’t believe that Sport, for example, emerged out of any iconoclastic impulse. Rather, it filled the gap left by the demise of Islands, with a great deal of self‑confidence and panache. Other literary magazines have emerged in recent years, but they seem to exist more as an outlet for the work of small groups of enthusiasts who have no particular ideology to push, work that journals such as Landfall and Sport are unable (or unwilling) to find room for.
It seems to me that one of the legacies of the theoretical wave that washed over New Zealand universities in the 80s, spearheaded by publications such as AND, is the more pluralistic literary economy that Leigh Davis anticipated ‑ the acceptance that there is more than one way to analyse literary history, that “the tradition” has always been “the traditions”. Some of the things Davis proposes in his “set‑up” ‑ that “presently acceptable discourses about … literature should be subverted and rearranged, or made increasingly partial and unstable”, for example ‑ have certainly happened. A recent example of a way of talking that has become possible post‑AND (although it does not have its sources there) is Nick Perry’s book The Dominion of Signs, although it appeared only this year, a full 10 years later.
It is this legacy of pluralism and the slippery but currently inescapable strictures of postmodernism, which makes Brasch’s notion of “some greater order” to which art gives access, and gives human existence meaning seem very alien to the 90s sensibility. In response to Brasch’s “single scale of values to which all can be referred” (Landfall Notes, quoted by John Geraets, “An interior landscape”, Islands 33, p77), the 1990s editor might say, borrowing the words of American writer Ron Silliman, that “each audience is a distinct social grouping, a community whether latent or manifest. It is now plain that any debate over who is or is not a better writer or what is or is not a more legitimate writing is for the most part a surrogate social struggle. The more pertinent questions are: what is the community being addressed in the writing, how does the writing participate in the constitution of this audience; and is it effective in doing so.” (Preface, In the American Tree: Language, Realism, Poetry, ed Ron Silliman, National Poetry Foundation Inc, University of Maine at Orono, 1986 pxiii).
Such a point of view would still be hotly contested by some formidable local critics, who might see it as an example of creeping political correctness, or an abandonment of standards. Nonetheless, it has become sufficiently acceptable enough that it informs as mainstream a production as Patrick Evans’s Penguin History of New Zealand Literature (1990).
The self‑consciousness of this approach to literature, with its constant awareness of the limitations of any single point of view, can only go so far, however, without making clumsy and doomed attempts at turning itself inside out. The gatekeepers of culture cannot escape their subjectivity merely by acknowledging and attempting to compensate for its existence. As an editor, I cannot escape my cultural inheritance, whatever that may be. While I can acknowledge the existence and value of traditions other than the one I was brought up in, and even become appreciative and inclusive of them as an editor, I remain drawn to what I know best, the products of my own cultural milieu.
“Beware of pakeha baring guilts,” Jonathan Lamb wrote in the 1980s and it is a warning that has, if anything, increased in relevance. The gradual diversification of “New Zealand literature” into New Zealand literatures has also highlighted the matter of who gets to create the myths, or how “the tradition” is generated and defined from moment to moment ‑ in other words, the question of authority, or the authoritative voice. Paradoxically, one of the reasons why Leigh Davis grabbed attention was that he assumed the same tone of authority that we had been accustomed to only from critics such as Curnow and Stead. And it is partly the same tone of authority that makes Mark Williams an interesting critic and perhaps the natural successor to Stead, if we are still following the patriarchal lineage (although lacking the additional authority of experience that being a practising writer lends to Stead’s commentary). The reader is seduced by that tone; at its strongest it is capable of redirecting the whole discussion. I should add that the tone alone is not sufficient: the reader must also sense the workings of a strong, agile perception if tone is not to be mere “sound and fury”.
The authoritative tone is also a good marketing strategy, as Davis knew very well. It is a strategy ‑ and this remark will probably irritate male readers ‑ that women are less often inclined to make use of, at the cost of their own visibility. But it is a strategy of which Davis himself predicted the demise in terms strongly reminiscent of Ron Silliman’s thoughts on pluralism quoted earlier (although in fact predating them):
… it is not now realistic to expect the emergence of new pivotal commentators on the literature. The development of a pluralist readership probably removes this possibility, as it does something else: like Eliot, Stead and Curnow as critics are irreplaceable, not because of a lack of talent in the pool, but because of a lack of inclination to perform in their manner. Literary scenes would seem increasingly to have their best work in smaller, more rapid figures, provisional theories, magazines, and debates, or at least in ad hoc ventures … The pyramidal or hierarchical model of the literature may still be distantly useful. It is not clear, but what is clear is that the base of any such pyramid is becoming increasingly dispersed. (“Set‑up”, AND 1)
The apparent embodiment of Davis’s prediction and (perhaps) his only likely successor may well be Auckland PhD student Matthew Hyland, who produced his own “ad hoc venture”, a xeroxed Landfall, a year or two back and appears to support the practice of poetry as a kind of guerrilla warfare, attacking swiftly and retreating into invisibility. It seems possible that his enterprise may self‑destruct even more rapidly than Davis’s, but it is amusing to hear that paradoxical tone of authority coming through again in Hyland’s voice.
To return to that “increasingly dispersed” base of the pyramid: there is a purely practical difficulty with this notion of a pluralist readership in a country like New Zealand ‑ its small population base. When even the readers of mainstream New Zealand writing constitute a small minority of the population the readership of sub‑categories of New Zealand writing ‑ experimental fiction, say, or language poetry ‑ is very often too small to sustain a publication produced to professional standards. The editors of AND recognised this and kept production costs to an absolute minimum by photocopying and stapling their issues together. But this is where Landfall in the 80s began to accelerate its decline, I think. Following Davis’s prescription about the pluralist nature of the readership, Landfall set about trying to appeal to a different audience with each issue. As Mark Williams, who was one of the editorial board at the time, put it in a 1987 essay:
Landfall itself has responded to a gradually changing marketplace by questioning its longstanding presumption that it addresses and holds the loyalty of a general, national audience of literary readers. Having accepted that the political climate does not favour homogeneity, Landfall from about No 154 set itself to juggle among a number of fairly narrowly defined audiences rather than try any longer to speak to and for a fictional all‑embracing one. As the editorial to Landfall 160 put it, the days of the editor as man of taste with sufficient wit and authority to speak for the plethora of emerging, clamorous (and often rancorous) audiences are over … (“On the margins”, JNZL 5, p87)
Well, the days of the editor as man of taste, wit and authority are clearly over. And I agree that the readership ‑ or at least the potential readership ‑ for Landfall ceased to be homogeneous long ago. But the flaw in this strategy is revealed in the concluding paragraph of the essay:
Landfall will no doubt survive by allowing itself to become a place where the various competing literary interests can do battle, where sparks can fly. [So far, so good.] So long as it retains support from the Caxton Press and the literary funding system it will be able to afford the luxury of its quality production. [Italics mine.] After all, there is some advantage in having a magazine that doesn’t rapidly fall to pieces on one’s shelves. The small magazines will come and go, but there will be more of them and it will become more and more difficult to write off their importance on the grounds that they are “marginal”.
The problem with this analysis is that it fails to take account of the fact that subscribers to a magazine are likely to become rapidly disenchanted if they are confronted with a succession of issues appealing to chunks of the literary market other than their own. Issues on particular themes may pick up more casual buyers and there were some relatively successful examples of this in the late Caxton Landfalls ‑ the “Hamilton Hometown” issue, for example. However, they are likely to alienate the subscribers, who remain the lifeblood of the magazine, if there are too many of them, or if the themes are too specialised.
This analysis also fails to recognise the consequences of the proliferation of significant small magazines for the security of the more mainstream journals’ state funding. If there are more and more “legitimate” (as opposed to marginal) demands by small magazines on the public purse, how is the total amount of money, which either decreases in real terms, remains static or ‑ in unusual circumstances ‑ is increased by a small amount, to be divided up? Surely Landfall could end up with a smaller and smaller subsidy with which to maintain the “luxury of its quality production” and a smaller and smaller list of subscribers, unless it appeals to a broader audience than that of the little magazines that are its competitors for funding?
I’m not arguing for the continued existence of the kind of readership Landfall had during its so‑called “classic” period. This is less a conservative than a pragmatic viewpoint. I don’t think that the kind of readership ‑ whoever they/you are ‑ that keeps Landfall and its quality production precariously afloat will tolerate too much decentering. Situated as it is in a small culture attempting to struggle out of a recession, Landfall cannot yet afford to abandon the myth of the “general reader” if it is to survive in its current form. I think I’m making a very simple equation, one that most non‑literary magazines take for granted: mainstream production values = mainstream content.
In its current form, Landfall has to continue to behave ‑ for the most part ‑ like the establishment or ‑ die. Or, rather, while it can offer material appealing to a range of audiences, it cannot allow itself to be captured by a single, narrowly focused literary group without sacrificing its production standards and reducing its print-run.
I wonder if Caxton’s decision to jettison Landfall may be seen as leading almost inevitably to its demise, or at least to a radical rethinking of its direction. Caxton had a long tradition of subsidising Landfall, but the imperatives of the 1990s economy are very different from those of the Brasch days; and even Caxton’s long, sentimental attachment to its ailing ward had to be tempered with pragmatism in the end. In fact, the magazine suffered a fate similar to that of many of our local publishers when the icy winds of the multinationals swept through them. Caxton was bought by an Australian company that didn’t share its sentiments towards Landfall. In its turn, Oxford University Press has ‑ although it retains a commitment to local publishing ‑ become an outpost of OUP Melbourne, a company that has no reason to be sentimental about a New Zealand journal when it has just wound up its own literary journal, Scripsi.
Literary journals, even when their staff are paid some small amount, rely more on enthusiasm and commitment to keep them going than on profit. A rigorous application of the user‑pays economy, eliminating Arts Council funding, would see most if not all of them die out. Landfall itself has faced extinction twice in the last two years, but has been fortunate enough to find another publisher ‑ Wendy Harrex at the University of Otago Press ‑ with the enthusiasm to pull it back from the brink again. It is an irony that the latest issue, because of its theme of “Auto/Biographies”, looks mostly to the past, but I hope that, despite Landfall‘s venerable age, it can still remain alert enough to the present and future to survive well beyond its approaching fiftieth anniversary in 1997.
Chris Price is editor of Landfall. This article is a slightly edited and revised version of a speech originally delivered at a seminar at the Stout Research Centre in May 1994, It was written with the assistance of a PEN‑Reader’s Digest fellowship.