Hobson & co
Dr Moon’s astounding personal attack on me in the Correspondence column of your October issue, following my review in August of his Path to the Treaty book, sadly demands a response. An “extraordinarily laconic” review? Well, there was much more to say, but you know editors and their (already exceeded) word limits.
Concerning Hobson and his “iniquitous officials” (Path, p 162) – I actually mentioned the full group – Moon protests his dispassionate approach, but rather than answer my questions merely declares that I wrote “crude and misleading exaggerations” for “personal titillation”. But Moon ignores, for example, the New Zealand Company’s outrageous behaviour which forced Hobson to proclaim sovereignty in May 1840. Conversely, statements such as Hobson “surreptitiously altered” the Treaty’s purpose, behaved as a “colonial dictator”, acted like Charles I, and conducted “uninspiring experiments” concerning Maori, all sound negative to me. He never explains why the officials are universally “iniquitous”.
As I mentioned none, I am at a loss to know how Moon divined my assumptions concerning Maori sovereignty, or how they are “admittedly dated” (admitted by whom?). I did point out a significant number of historical events which contradict or nuance Moon’s central thesis concerning Colonial Office intentions over the acquisition of sovereignty, but those inconveniences remain unaddressed.
Far from calling the issue “uninteresting”, or asking “So what?” about Path, I did say that I wanted more. What surprised me was that Dr Moon himself failed to ask and answer that “So what?” question. What does it all mean? Specifically: what are the implications if he’s right in his interpretation of the Treaty events? I instanced many groups who, together with myself, would be mightily interested to have a considered exposition of consequent issues, such as whether a modern Treaty partnership exists if no such partnership was ever entered into? Or, as I asked, “Is the question of intention now merely an antiquarian curiosity?” Dr Moon, despite his training in development studies, does not help us take the matter any further, which is a major disappointment.
I have a ’satiable curtiosity, best beloved, regarding these matters and regrettably Dr Moon’s book and his response left it unsatisfied.
Misuse of language
Re your excellent editorial (October 2003) on the misuse of language. I suppose a number of us wish to write more simply – ideally to the stage of drafts being clear to the point of our thinking becoming clearer still, our prose more communicative and perceptive. I don’t often do so, but I try. Perhaps a few others might also.
I recently attended a conference on creative writing organised by the University of Canterbury. A good deal of thought had apparently gone into the papers. A great deal of effort certainly had. Many of the speakers read extremely complex papers in highly convoluted language.
Question time found us out. At this point a number of speakers were kind enough to tell us in plainer language what they meant. For this we were truly grateful. We were merely an audience of humble writers for the most part. What more could one expect?
The clarity and directness with which they eventually spoke, of course, is the language we all think in at our best. Why not write in it also? It entails no lack of precision or perception. Quite the reverse.
I should have written this letter even if Seduced by the Sea had not been my anthology, but since it is, there’s no point in being coy about it.
I thank you, first, for the review (August issue 2003), but your reviewer’s statement that the anthology “would hold little interest for landlubbers” and should perhaps “live on the boat for a story or two to wait for the rising tide”, I read with some incredulity.
So only sailors (by implication of cruising boats) are considered to be interested in books about the sea? This would be news to the publisher who commissioned the book and not least to the many people who read a book on a subject precisely because it opens the door to another, otherwise inaccessible world. Has the phrase “armchair sailor” never crossed Mr Baker’s bows? Would he disqualify those of us (ie most New Zealanders) whose quite recent ancestral memories include long sea passages? His patronising, throwaway suggestion that, as the tide came in, “the Captain could read the more harrowing tales to the crew to keep them on edge” was simply unworthy of your magazine’s usually high standards of reviewing.
Under the same jejune, specious reasoning, there should have been only a small audience for a book about John Harrison’s chronometer, or the one about the extraordinary Victorians behind the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. Does one need a deep interest in the justice system to want to read about a controversial court case involving pre-school children in Christchurch? Or in Maori culture to read Margaret Orbell or Witi Ihimaera? And so on. It gets too silly.
Seduced by the Sea and its predecessor Salt Beneath the Skin were commissioned and compiled for a general audience of “armchair sailors” as much as active seafarers and the excellent sales of both have reflected this.