Your review of my book, Rebuilding New Zealand, was at best a Clayton’s review, by a member of the financial establishment (the head of investment strategy for AMP Investments) who has an evident stake in the social and economic ideology which the book opposes. He himself recognised as much when he wrote of “a large philosophical hurdle”. The review was so cursory and biased as to give a potential reader no idea of the contents of the book.
The reviewer showed an incapacity to consider and report on any viewpoint which differs from his own. He also displayed a remarkable ignorance, as, for example, in his comment regarding the negative consequences of restructuring. He noted that high unemployment, stagnant real wages and growing inequalities have been observed overseas, and then continues with the following extraordinary comment:
“Have these trends been any different in New Zealand? It is difficult to judge, given the paucity of local statistics and the difficulty of international comparison.”
The answer is that these trends have been severe in New Zealand, as is shown by the comprehensive and readily available national and local statistics. The reviewer is knocking the New Zealand statistics services from a position of complete ignorance.
Indeed there is no need to go further for information than the front page of that same copy of New Zealand Books. A review of an Alan Duff book refers to “the underclass — the disenfranchised, alienated, urban Maori in the packed suburbs on the fringes of the main towns” and to “an indigenous people — and what they have become — a powerless demographic at the mercy of market forces to which they react by forming their own structures, scavenged from the junked obsolescent commodities of the dominant culture”. Believe you me, the reality described by the plentiful New Zealand statistics is horrific.
The claim that my own book is considered to be “rich in conspiracy concerns” displays an ignorance of social sciences which is all too common in New Zealand. I do not describe a “conspiracy” but rather the working of a systems behaviour whereby a class has seized power to advance its own sectional interests. The reference to conspiracy is an intentional putdown which categorises a serious work as belonging to the harmless nutter variety. This is currently the fate of many excellent books which dare to question the fundamental premises of the far right.
This brings me to the opening comments by the reviewer that persistent critics of economic liberalisation are unhappy that the reforms were poorly coordinated, that the limits were ignored and that the social consequences should have been weighed heavier. He does not mention critics like myself who have been opposed to the entire programme and willing to suggest alternatives. His refusal to consider such critiques is expressed explicitly.
“By the mid-1980s … any incoming administration would almost certainly have moved towards greater liberalisation. Even the detractors of the subsequent reforms agree on this point.” Well, sir, here is one detractor who could not disagree more. And I am not alone.
I am unwilling to accept that my books are so poorly written that my deep and fundamental opposition to the seizure of power by the financial establishment is not crystal clear.
That review forms part of the pattern which I have described in a 1996 publication, Destroying New Zealand. This is the third book which I have published, the others being: Excess capital (1989) and Rebuilding New Zealand (1994).
I enclose a copy of Destroying New Zealand and ask that it be reviewed by an open-minded reviewer who does not have a deep commitment to the opposite viewpoint.
On my mother’s behalf I feel I should argue with Ruth Butterworth’s phrase (in her review of Cherries on a Plate), “the sheer awfulness of multiple parental abandonments experienced by Duckworth and Adcock in wartime England”. Does she not know that the evacuation of children to areas of safety was official policy during the Blitz? Our parents never abandoned us. If anything they were over-protective and terrified that we might be killed by bombs. It was to ensure our survival that they arranged for us to be cared for in the country while their war work kept them near London.
As for “sheer awfulness”, I quote from my piece: “For nine months we were … perfectly happy”; “ … to Leicestershire again for a few blissful weeks”. Only the third period, of a couple of months in Wiltshire, was not always comfortable (although in retrospect we revelled in our taste of unaccustomed squalor). Marilyn’s piece reveals that she found some of the farm holidays also less than fun; she was younger and more vulnerable. But no blame can be attached to our mother and nowhere in the book do we suggest that she neglected us.
Where has he been?
After reading David Eggleton’s review of What Becomes of the Broken Hearted, (New Zealand Books December 1996) I am left wondering where he has been over the last quarter century. His comparison of Alan Duff as a writer with Apirana Taylor, Bruce Stewart and Witi Ihimaera rings pretty true. Duff has risen to fame on the shirt tale of the philistines. However that rise, as evidenced by the latest book was well justified.
The review invites more comparisons with Bruce Stewart in particular. Duff may now be on a par with Stewart as a writer, but as an artist, no. Stewart’s structure, Tapu Te Ranga Marae, could be classed, for want of a better word as a sculpture. Within it has been housed a diversity of people, including those whom Duff so succinctly portrays. This, I believe, places Duff in the short pants arena. (Please forgive the horrible pun.)
Well, there is some sort of debate going on in New Zealand Books. But it is more of a charade than a debate. The real debate is going on somewhere else. People must want to enter debate and make the effort to do so. Enzensberger said something like this about criticism in general in his interview on radio with Elizabeth Alley on 11 January.
Lately New Zealand Books has been running a get Manhire campaign. My own contribution is my book The School of Mannerism in Aotearoa (also available in Of Critics and Teachers of Poetry in Aotearoa). There is no harm in having Manhire cut down to size. I suspect, however, a conspiracy to give postmodernism the heave-ho.
The putdown of Manhire is one thing. The putdown of a theoretical view is something quite different and the two should not be run together. What is needed is not to get postmodernism out but to get Aotearoa poetry back on track.
Editors note: There is no conspiracy or campaign against Bill Manhire or post-modernism. Mr Wright’s letter also raised the issue of a backlog in the National Library’s cataloguing of self-published books.