Letters – Issue 25

More formal genre

Heather Murray is mistaken in thinking the journals (The Journal Box) are edited from entries resembling diary entries. They were deliberately conceived as journals, a somewhat more formal genre, and not edited at all, apart from the invariable meticulous attentions of AUP. I’m delighted that she found in them “much loose or experimental writing” which I regard as a compliment.

I am amused to be identified as the daughter of an Anglican clergyman. “By what means the daughter of a vicar is converted to Rome” sounds positively Grand Guignol.

Elizabeth Smither
New Plymouth



I read Heather Murray’s review of Elizabeth Smither’s The Journal Box with mounting distaste. Never mind her theory about journal or diary writing (they are not the same, but never mind that either). What really bothered me was her greed for gossip. Her speculation about the author’s private life was mischievous, to say the least.

A for my friend Elizabeth Smither being the daughter of an Anglican vicar, well … well gosh, is about all I can say. Though perhaps I might add, that the reviewer would have been wise to trust her instinctive first reading of the text, rather than resorting to an embarrassingly inaccurate reference source.

Fiona Kidman


A collapsed tent?

A statistical analysis of the life-world inevitably involves inducing cultural practices to jump through one or other of an infinite array of all possible category hoops — a method which perhaps could only ever partially succeed since the phenomenology of it would be more akin to something from quantum physics than ordinary arithmetic inasmuch as each cultural beam, as it were, could for the occasion momentarily split into as many clones of itself as there hoops and pass through all of them simultaneously before flipping back to a state of singularity.

The map of culture, if one could only see it other than formally as presented in columns  of percentages, would probably present a very fluid, ever-changing  chronically balkanised pattern wherein nothing remained the same for long — art collectors turn into property speculators; artworks evacuated of all meaning change hands like bonds and debentures; pop concerts suddenly diverting through the hoop of tribal spectator religiosity push church attendance figures through the roof; heart-stopping moments of rugby tangle with string quartet performances; and by the look of things in the visual arts many of our painters might as well join the fashion industry strutting their stuff on the catwalk with paintings for fig-leaves while critics as comperes spout theory over the public address system and so on — there is no end to this ambiguity which makes a mockery of statistics.

But Keith is absolutely right — the distribution and weighting of the media’s cultural interests presents us with a very distorted image of ourselves. And arguably the tobacco industry, by ransoming sport on behalf of bewildered albeit pliant television audiences has as much to answer for as those who with “New Zealand content” on the brain squander public money on such relentlessly mind-warping trash as Shortland Street.

But then are not the aggressive MBAs of the new right exhorting our sports and arts administrators to create new audiences in order to capitalise on new “products”. In other words’ hasn’t an obsession with “consumerism”, a phoney sense of “accountability” and the current fad of laisser faire economics made us exactly the way we are — culturally and in almost every other sense.

Hamish Keith’s very perceptive review of New Zealand Cultural Statistics 1995 brings to my mind the pre-television, relatively uncommercialised wonderfully matter-of-fact and, dare I say it, natural world that I entered as an immigrant schoolboy in the late 1940s. Within a week of stepping off the plane I had learnt without even trying not only that Fred Allen and Bob Scott were respectively All Black captain and best living long-distance goal-kicker, but also that Vincent Aspey was the leader of the country’s symphony orchestra. Both teams played to packed partially overlapping audiences; one queued for tickets to both and occasionally slept overnight in the street to make sure of getting them.

Best of all was my father’s damascene experience on the then unsealed Napier-Taupo road on which occasion in the back of the NZR bus he fell to discussing with a full-blooded Maori the relative merits of Jasha Heifetz and Fritz Kreisler. If that was not a seamless statistics-proof culture I do not know what is.

And yet some of us in retrospect might feel that that period was something of cultural pantomime-horse with a decent deadly serious, well-coordinated crew going nowhere except perhaps inadvertently into the knackers yard whereas now, to sustain the metaphor of social fabric, perhaps it is more the case of a circus tent having collapsed mid-performance and under which in confused postmodern darkness the Lions of Media have seized the opportunity in the time left to eat up the gentle clowns of art — and the audience.

Tim Garrity

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