Blog description.

Accentuating the Liberal in Classical Liberal: Advocating Ascendency of the Individual & a Politick & Literature to Fight the Rise & Rise of the Tax Surveillance State. 'Illigitum non carborundum'.

Liberty and freedom are two proud words that have been executed from the political lexicon: they were frog marched and stood before a wall of blank minds, then forcibly blindfolded, and shot, with the whimpering staccato of ‘equality’ and ‘fairness’ resounding over and over. And not only did this atrocity go unreported by journalists in the mainstream media, they were in the firing squad.

The premise of this blog is simple: the Soviets thought they had equality, and welfare from cradle to grave, until the illusory free lunch of redistribution took its inevitable course, and cost them everything they had. First to go was their privacy, after that their freedom, then on being ground down to an equality of poverty only, for many of them their lives as they tried to escape a life behind the Iron Curtain. In the state-enforced common good, was found only slavery to the prison of each other's mind; instead of the caring state, they had imposed the surveillance state to keep them in line. So why are we accumulating a national debt to build the slave state again in the West? Where is the contrarian, uncomfortable literature to put the state experiment finally to rest?

Comments Policy: I'm not moderating comments, so keep it sane and go away with the spam. Government officials please read disclaimer at bottom of page.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Literary Ramble V: Witi Ihimaera | ‘Where is New Zealand Literature Going?’

… yes, in part this post is another advertisement for my Literary Ramble IVStanding Upright Here: do I think I got everything right in that post? No. My bluster aside, even I’m not that conceited. And it troubles me I would have a deal of trouble transferring the central premises of that piece over to the more important discussion of aesthetics. ...

I’m still waiting for the full script of Witi Ihimaera's speech at the Dunedin’s Writers and Readers Festival to be posted, but this regarding ‘Where is New Zealand Literature Going?’ - which ruffled some few literary feathers in my Twitter timeline - is interesting:

Later in his address, Ihimaera also talked about the preponderance of young writers coming out of creative writing courses, the effect of which seems to “melt” the writing into homogeneous prose that “blunted” New Zealand’s edge. “Where are the anarchic books?” he asked. This was a theme he returned to several times, saying that he “missed the sense of risk” in today’s literature. In the later Q&A session, Ihimaera also said that, though today’s writing was beautiful, it was “so pared back” that it doesn’t allow for “elbows jutting out” – while also acknowledging that “today we don’t go for that kind of imperfection”.

Those who have read my disquisition on our contemporary literature (Literary Ramble IV) will know I have – partially at least - spoken to that, and in the below am surprisingly close to Ihimaera’s thoughts in a single theme:

State funding of the arts is leading to the stultification of western literature under the reactionary establishment of Left-Liberalism, also called Progressivism, which has largely captured the means of production via the agents and publishers, and quietly indoctrinates the authors toward a homogenised literature via creative writing courses in progressive saturated tertiary institutions. Ours is no literature that will seed Le Guin's resistance and change, or that can be ‘disturbed by power’, as Solzhenitsyn feared, because it’s a literature which embraces the ethic of that power, the supremacy of the state over the individual, and incredibly for the arts, a collectivism over individualism, with at its base, the tax take which funds a complacent publishing channel, while eviscerating our private lives, our digital innards disemboweled and served up in the offices of government officials. I wrote in a previous post, forget anonymous aggregated metadata, give me your financial transactions for the last four years - as IRD demand daily of New Zealand citizens - and I’ll describe your life down to the details, including what’s happening in the bedroom, and under the newly signed OECD information sharing agreement putatively known as the Global Account Tax Compliance Act, that information is set to be shared, not just at will, but automatically, between every Western government, just as happens now under FATCA for the Americans.

No, no. Big breaths, big breaths. Stay with me, please.

Am I saying New Zealand writers are able to ply their keyboards full-time because of government grants? No, they’re not. Unless successful they still must rely on a paying job, just as it should be. What I’m getting at is more nuanced. We still have a Creative NZ, we still have a funding mechanism for the Arts, and artists, publishers, Book Awards devote some [great deal] of their time to the grants process. And even that’s still oblique to my point, which is the devotion to funding, wholly or in part, being symptomatic of the acceptance by the arts of a state and statist model for itself despite the lessons of history. I suspect the New Zealand writing community believes a more comprehensive state patronage is required over what we have at present. Much more. It’s that continual turning away of our societies from the knowledge that freedom is the only goal, and seeking succour instead in an authoritarian state with a command economy. It’s a literature on its knees with its face always upon politicians and bureaucrats, not the turning away from them to self-reliance and adult private lives.

It’s philosophy and metaphysics. It’s always philosophy and metaphysics.

Even from these two sections, however, it can be seen my differences with Ihimaera would yet be greater than the sum of our similarities. While we’ll agree about the lack of a living, anarchic literature bumbling (un)polished out of our Progressive academic humanities, I suspect Ihimaera would not be troubled with the Progressive tag being there, as well as disagreeing with my attacks on government patronage. For me the a-priori problem is the ethos of government funding: subservience to a big state model with its command economy is the death of a living literature as resistance, or capable of resistance, to the unbridled power of our tax surveillance states. Worse, all the authors I can think of would likely believe the tax state should if anything be bigger and more coercive in destroying the private lives of those ‘rich pricks’ demonised in our parasite societies – even though these same rich pricks already pay the bulk of the income tax take. In my opinion a literature that relies on government for its existence via funding, or even looks to it, via our twenty first century ruthless tax surveillance states that have had to make the state ascendant over an individual life, is anathema, but on 'all that' I suspect Ihimaera would disagree.  Perhaps disagree vehemently.

Similarly from a New Zealand – Pacific (?) - outlook, I don’t see an anarchic writing inspired by any indigenous literature that has prostrated itself, also, at the feet of Nanny State and Marxist mired identity politics, or any value from that in the context of a literature that seeds values supporting free societies sustaining the lives of free individuals and their expression of art. The stereotypes and tropes of the identity politick is the death of individualism, and without individualism there can be no art, only subservience to that emotive cult of redistribution, and inner lives lost trying to save an illusory Other. From Literary Ramble IV:

For a time I harboured a notion that it could be in the pages of indigenous writing that the rebellion against a state-endorsing literature might take hold, (given  classical liberal writing has all but folded its cards on the table): after all, a Maori oral literature had the 'trick of standing upright here' long before Mr Curnow sailed in. A literature working through colonialism surely must see the lie and damage of the state enterprise. Unfortunately, name me a Maori writer whose politick is not Left-Liberal, or advocacy for the future of Maori not tied to dependency on the welfare state? I don’t even think Alan Duff qualifies. So there will be no revolution away from a state literature born of Maori writing, for the same reason I have written there will be no Maori self-determination politically - and despite it appears arguable Maori did not cede sovereignty to the Crown via the Treaty (37) – because a progressive Maoridom is the antithesis of own-rule, individual or tribal. Indeed a progressive Maoridom is a culture happy to remain cowered on the leash of state also, accepting alms.

An assumption here, but I grok an identity politick playing in Ihimaera’s reviling of New Zealand’s enpensioner-terrible CK Stead when the latter put together his Faber Book of Contemporary South Pacific Stories – noting both Ihimaera and Stead have novels in my top ten New Zealand reads – as intimated by reviewer and editor David Eggleton – (despite Eggleton sent my Literary Ramble IV back from Landfall as if it had Ebola). This, as quoted on Stephen Stratford’s  Quote Unquote:

The Faber Book Of Contemporary South Pacific Stories edited by CK Stead … [snip] … comes to us as a loaded weapon, an artefact of the culture wars. Four of its commissioned writers – Keri Hulme, Albert Wendt, Witi Ihimaera and Patricia Grace – chose to withdraw their stories at the last minute, leaving a rather large Polynesia-shaped hole in the centre of the text. In the editor’s introduction Stead says the collective decision was as unexpected as it was unwelcome, and he’s still not sure why it happened. By implication, their studied absence is intended as a vote of no-confidence in someone with a purported track record of cultural insensitivity being given the right to help shape cultural hegemony in the South Pacific. In the battle for intellectual property rights, Polynesia is reclaiming itself and will not accept continuing ghettoisation. (Hone Tuwhare also withdrew, in a dispute over fees, and it is reported that Vincent O’Sullivan refused from the outset to be included.)

Stead acknowledges that he is a cultural engineer engaged in the invention of tradition but does not concede he is an unsuitable person for the job and, as if to disarm his critics, has ended up constructing a multicultural mosaic of fiendish ingenuity with almost every constituency catered for, though the book leans heavily on Wendt’s comprehensive 1980 anthology, Lali.

[Here’s another thing about our literature - (remember a ramble, rambles): the heroic no longer exists – ours is an anti-heroic age. Unless, perhaps and more mundanely, it is in the form of the embattled Mr Stead whom I’ve been noticing a marginalisation of – via denigration - by the identity politick which now rules our literature :) And I say that in full knowledge he is worthily being presented with the Honoured New Zealand Writer Award, 2015, this weekend at the Auckland Writers Festival. I would be fascinated to know of Stead's place in the current tertiary curriculum, compared to that of my degree completed in the 1980s. ]

But I may be ahead of myself – I didn’t hear the full speech. I will be interested to read in that the tension Ihimaera sees between nationalism – not sure of the terms on that - in our writing and individualism. While a valid talking point, the notion of a nationalist literature, proper, fills me with dread. Note I am not saying New Zealand authors shouldn’t write books set in our landscape with characters who are ourselves, because writers very certainly must do just that as the truthful expression of their individualism. Again, as I have stated, this is the problem for a progressive-centric literature:

I ask many of my clients, all businesspeople, contractors, farmers, what they read: the overwhelming reply is they don’t read fiction at all, certainly not literary fiction, with many doing that proud boasting thing Kiwis do, I only read non-fiction, what’s the point of that fiction guff, it’s not real life. And a related point, that personal remonstration I promised. My own second novel (the first awful, strictly bottom drawer) is now 117,000 words in progress, and because my mind seems better suited to long form, I can’t write short stories, and worse, I can’t write a query letter. If I can’t write a query letter, all the time spent on my novel is wasted, as I’ll never get an agent to read a word of it, so I sent a draft query to a site called Query Shark run by an American literary agent. She was great, in that she took the query on, and over about twenty or so iterations rightly destroyed it. I still can’t write a query letter. But one of the by-the-by things she mentioned when finding part of the plot revolves around an income tax audit – write what you know - was a throwaway quip that nobody would be interested in reading about tax; it’s just one of those things, we all have to pay tax, get over it.

The thing is, these businesspeople and farmers who only read non-fiction do have to put their minds and their cash flows to taxes; taxes are precisely where they live. And I wonder if they’re not reading literary fiction because the books we’re writing are not written where they live. They’re in the landscape, they’d recognise that all right, but the lives walking around on fiction pages aren’t their lives, especially if those lives have seriously inculcated this fantastical nonsense in The Bone Clocks.

The point of a literature is to speak to our lives, in this land, this place - (despite wondering if our literature does that vis a vis the silent majority of New Zealand). Indeed, the publishing wisdom that to sell books and be able to live off writing we cannot write our books local because the Americans don’t want to read anything set outside their navels is the truly depressing fact, as Sarah Laing gets to wonderfully in this cartoon strip. (If you follow no other link in this post, follow and read that one.) But literature as nationalism – if that was Ihimaera’s terms of reference - with the state worship engendered in that, or the equally mindless closed pumping fist celebration of an arbitrary geographic border, is repulsive - no, I don't think he can mean that?

Finally, while pushing links, yes, this post is another advertisement for my Literary Ramble IV: do I think I got everything right in that post? No. My bluster aside, even I’m not that conceited. And it troubles me I would have a deal of trouble transferring the central premises of that piece over to the more important discussion of aesthetics. But I do think it contains a lot of truths, regardless, despite I wrote it largely with New Zealand writing in mind yet the still increasing reads are ironically almost solely out of America, with scant interest from New Zealand’s literary participants at all – I write that with not so much sour grapes, but fermented.

Although talking of anarchic books taking risks, I think for my next post I might finally put up a piece from my own novel in progress – first draft completed. Think George Orwell meets Ayn Rand (oh the horror) set in a Clockwork Orange New Zealand that is yet absolutely recognisable, and you still won’t have it, not by any means, especially if you're now thinking dystopia, albeit ... well, you’ll have to read it, the most imperfect novel you're likely to see. Until next time.

1 comment:

  1. advocacy for the future of Maori not tied to dependency on the welfare state?

    Māori Sovereignty, Donna Awatere. Certainly no advocacy for a welfare state there. Armed expulsion of all Pākehā: yes. Welfare state: no.