Saturday, June 30, 2007

In grainy colour

These pictures were taken on a cellphone in the dim interior regions of K Rd's Wine Cellar last night, during a Bill Direen gig that lasted two hours and featured scores of songs in English, French, and German.

For me at least, the blurry, slightly mysterious look of the photos reflects a performance which moved suddenly yet carefully between songs that were written decades, and in some cases perhaps even centuries, apart. Whether he was reprising one of his Flying Nun classics from the early '80s, whispering his way through a chilly, brutally truncated version of Neil Young's 'Needle and the Damage Done', belting out an ancient Irish folk tune, showing off his impeccable French with a protest song written by a deserter during the Algerian war of independence, or setting the poetry of WH Auden to music, Bill was always in complete control of his material. The man is like a human jukebox, but where a jukebox plays by rote and moves from one track to another abruptly, at the whims of customers, Bill's digressions are organised by recurring themes and subtle melodic echoes, and his intepretations of old material manage to be both idiosyncratic and respectful.

If you didn't make it to the Cellar, don't despair - Bill's playing again on Monday, at the end of the Titus-Powertools Records bash. If you're living on the Chatham Islands and can't possibly make that event either, then visit Powertool and buy New York Sack, an album on which Bill plays an unplugged live set with a gang of exiled Kiwi musicians.
An honourable mention to the artist responsible for the Duchampian readymade in the Wine Cellar toilets, and to Muzzlehatch, who accompanied Bill on two songs with such fervour that he succumbed to sleep soon afterwards:

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Keith's autocritique

This blog used to feature regular criticism of the Greens. About a year ago, howls of outrage greeted a piece I wrote prophesying a turn to the right by the party and a possible Blue-Green government in 2008.

One of the reasons I haven't posted anything about the Greens lately is that they've been doing such a good job of discrediting themselves. Here's Keith Locke's latest effort. If you want to know where Keith and the crew are headed, look to Ireland.

Radiator art

As well as appearing at the Titus-Powertools Records bash next Monday, Bill Direen is gigging tomorrow night at the labyrinthine Wine Cellar on Karangahape Road. I snapped a poster for Bill's gig today on a radiator in Alfred Street (where would the art of the poster be without radiators?)

Over at youtube, you can watch some footage of Bill alongside other Flying Nun legends back in the hazy early '80s, and sample his 2006 single 'Always Be Round' .

Monday, June 25, 2007

Will she work out?

Claudia Westmoreland's review of the three latest titles from Titus Books included the controversial claim that Will Christie's poetry readings involve 'bizarre Goth-inspired aeorobic routines'.

There'll be an opportunity to test Claudia's claims next Monday, because Will, who is making a convenient visit to Auckland, has been added to the list of acts to appear at What's in Your Backyard? Will's followers turned up in force to the book launch she shared with Richard Taylor and me in April, and her Luce Canon has been selling strongly ever since. Come along next Monday and see what all the fuss is about.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The works of Alvin Smith

Like traffic jams on the southern motorway, roller bladers on Tamaki Drive, and pot parties in the Domain, the Red Cross Book Sale is an Auckland institution. Every year, on a weekend in the depths of mid-winter, the Delightful Lady Lounge under the grandstand at the Alexandra Racecourse is filled by book dealers pushing wheelbarrows, undergraduate arts students with milo stain beards and drycleaned duffel coats, first editions collectors from the Eastern suburbs in sky-blue suits, and old men with yellow ticket stubs looking for somewhere warm to linger before the betting and drinking begins.

The bookdealers queue at the door on Friday evening and then again on Saturday morning, when volunteers replenish the Lounge's makeshift shelves from the enormous stock donated by Aucklanders over the last twelve months. When the doors are flung open the grim wheelbarrow bearers push forward, aim elbows at each other, and exchange unpleasantries, without taking their eyes off the stack at the back of the Lounge labelled RARE AND COLLECTABLE. This is what I've heard, anyway, from somebody who is foolish enough to turn up on Friday and Saturday.

I'm not a queuer. I always wait until 3.30 on Sunday afternoon - half an hour before the advertised end of the sale - before stepping into the ruins of the Delightful Lady Lounge, and joining the small bands of exhausted gleaners picking at piles of rubble labelled TWO DOLLARS A BAG - EVERYTHING MUST GO and HEAVY INTELLECTUAL STUFF - FREE TO A GOOD HOME!

By about half past four last Sunday an owl-faced volunteer had finally coaxed the last of the gleaners out of the lounge. Skyler and I were dragging eleven bags - we got them at a dollar a pop, on the condition we leave the premises with them - towards the lifts, when I spotted a large black box abandoned beside the entrance to the disabled toilets. A quick examination revealed scores of old issues of the classic Kiwi literary journals Landfall and Islands, topped up with some copies of Broadsheet, the pioneering feminist magazine, a volume of papers from the Aotearoa Women's Studies Conference 1980, and half a dozen newsletters from the New Zealand branch of the International and Intergalactic Dr Who Fan Club.
When we got home, I trawled through the Landfalls, checking dates and contents pages. I noticed the same name scrawled on the inside cover of many of the copies: Alvin Smith. After further research, I discovered that Smith's signature coincided with the appearance of a poem by Kendrick Smithyman in Landfall. A man by taste, obviously.

There were a few fine scores in the Lounge itself, including a couple of rare EP Thompsons from the first half of the 1980s, when the great man was consumed with anti-nuclear activism.
I checked the inside cover, wondering if they were ex-libris, and saw the same name in both. Alvin Smith. Near the Thompsons a couple of out of print classics from the revolutionary '70s lurked:
Dave Bedggood's Rich and Poor in New Zealand was a pioneering Marxist study of Kiwi society and history which drove Keith Sinclair to apoplexy in the academic press. Nearly thirty years on, it is still mined for lessons in several of this country's sociology departments. (Bryan Roper's recent volume Prosperity for All? can be considered a sort of sequel.) I checked the inside cover of Dave's opus, wondering whether I'd recognise the name of one of the big fish who patrol the small, rather stagnant pool called Marxist politics in Auckland. Alvin Smith, 1981.

One of my pet post-PhD projects is a comparative study of two Kiwi dystopias from the ’70s - CK Stead’s slender Smith’s Dream, which spawned the movie Sleeping Dogs and is today regarded as a national treasure, and Craig Harrison’s Broken October, a book which is largely forgotten.

Smith's Dream is bleak, as dystopias tend to be, but it is also abstract, ahistorical, and somewhat mysterious - more like Kafka's The Castle than Nineteen Eighty-Four. The dictator’s politics are hardly fleshed out; nor are those of the resistance that Stead's anti-hero unhappily joins. Stead is interested in telling a parable about the imperfection of humanity and the near-inevitability of the abuse of political power, not in comprehending the specifics of Kiwi society.

Broken October, on the other hand, comes with an extended pre-history and a densely sociological present; it is a biggish novel stuffed with faux-newspaper reports and sardonic analyses of the policies of a US-backed military dictator and his trade unionist and Maori nationalist opponents. Stead's book could have been set anywhere, and written anytime in the twentieth century; Harrison's book could only have been written in New Zealand in the 1970s, a time when a strike wave, paranoia about communism, rising racial tension, and a nosediving economy were playing havoc with cosy myths about 'God's own country'.

Warren Montag has argued that, in treating Heart of Darkness as an allegory for the human condition - that is, an abstract, ahistorical novel - literary canon-builders effectively diverted attention from Conrad’s expose of the horrors of colonialism in nineteenth century Africa. I think that some of the same tendency is at work when literary critics and historians choose Smith’s Dream over Broken October. Harrison is asking us to examine truths about Kiwi society which are concrete and uncomfortable. Stead lets us cop out by sermonising about a universal will to dictatorship. ('Nothing to do with the Maoris, mate, see.')

I'd never actually owned a copy of the long out of print Broken October, and the copy I located in the Delightful Lady Lounge looked brand new. Perhaps a bookstore had tipped it off a dusty storage shelf and into a charity crate for Red Cross to pick up? I opened the book, but somebody had been there before me. Alvin Smith, 1978.

I wasn't worried, then. There's nothing inherently strange about good taste in books, even if it's sparingly distributed. Why shouldn't a sentient creature share my enthusiasm for EP Thompson and Kendrick Smithyman, oddball poetics and loony left politics?

I am a little worried now, though. A couple of days ago Michael Steven dropped around with a copy of a large book of short prose pieces by American poets, assuring me that 'it's just the sort of thing a person like you will like'. Last night I kicked the cat off the sofa, poured myself a coffee, and sat down, determined to read for at least twenty pages, or one side of DD Smash's Cool Bananas. I opened the cover of the gift, and saw two names: Michael Stevens and - faintly, but unmistakably - Alvin Smith, April 28, 1978.

Who is this man? If you can find out, I'll shout you a burger at Whare Kai.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Auden sense for beauty

Mike Beggs has discovered a beautiful ruin.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The best burger in town

Every few weeks Maps drags me across a few suburbs so that he can once more taste "the best burger I've ever eaten!" Being a vegetarian I can't comment, but it sure puts a smile on his face - it does look packed full of ingredients including a big slab of meat, avo, egg, salad and cheese. He can extol its virtues in the comments box.
The above photos were taken with my mobile last week. The cafe is called Whare Kai and is located on the round about in Avondale. The chef is only there until about 2pm each day. There isn't much for vegetarians but the owners are friendly and can make a pretty good vege omelette and nachos too.

The menu is mostly meat and specialises in boil up and Maori bread. Try the smoothies - they are yummy too. If you are in Avondale, check out Whare Kai.

Monday, June 18, 2007

July the 2nd, 7 pm, Kings Arms Tavern

Titus Books meets Powertool Records: what more could you ask for? Here's the poster that'll be heading around town this week: click to enlarge it.

Richard Taylor and Bill Direen promise not to get drunk.

Sharp on the Harp

The Sunday Star-Times has the best books pages of all New Zealand's mass circulation papers, and Titus Books has managed to get Mike Johnson's The Vertical Harp: Selected Poems of Li He reviewed there today. Here's Iain Sharp's take on the book, which was launched in February on the hippy bastion of Waiheke Island:

Mike Johnson is the most underrated of all living New Zealand authors. Sometimes gothic, sometimes lyrical, sometimes both at once, his output over the past three decades has been extraordinary. Yet much of his fiction and most of his poetry has slipped by, barely reviewed. His latest books consists of not so much translations as creative interpretations of the writings of the Chinese poet Li He (790-816).

For most New Zealanders, China during the Tang dynasty is an entirely alien world. Helpful notes at the back of the book explain some of the trickier allusions. Don't be put off by the apparent foreigness. Li He is a poet of universal themes: sensual pleasures, delight in nature, the miseries of warfare, satirical protest against the ruling authorities. Even on a first reading, individual lines stand out, such as these:

Come moonlight, the armour of the approaching barbarian army
meshes like the scales of a snake
snickering horses denude the green of a sacred grave.

Still, this is a book to be savoured, not bolted through. I spent a rewarding evening comparing Johnson's subtly evocative additions to such poems as 'Found Arrowhead' and 'Great Master Li Ping Plays the Vertical Harp' to the starker versions in Robert Payne's famous mid-1940s anthology of Chinese verse, The White Pony (one of my favourite books). A patient following in his tracks confirms just what a skilful craftsman Johnson is.

You can order The Vertical Harp from the Titus Books website.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Enclosing the Pacific

The industrious Omar Hamed has incorporated parts of my recent post on East Timor into a survey of 'Occupation, neo-colonialism, and enclosure in the Pacific'. Ye olde Marx-Bakunin dispute rumbles on in the comments box. Omar has done a fine job of keeping us up to date with important but under-reported events in the Pacific in the past.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

To Terezin and back

Here's the text of a talk I gave at the launch of Jack Ross's latest book last night in the pristine surroundings of Massey University's Albany campus. I'm hoping Brett Cross will run it as a review in the upcoming 35th issue of brief. Get your own submissions in soon.

To Terezin is the first book Jack Ross has published with Massey University Press, and the first book he has published this year. We're halfway through 2007, so the poet laurete of Mairangi Bay has got his work cut out if he's going to match the heroic feats of 2006, when not two, not three, but four volumes with his name on the spine hit bookshelves around New Zealand. Jack's one of those writers who could never be happy leaving behind one or two slender books on the shelf of a library - he wants a whole shelf, or perhaps a whole wing of the library, all to himself. He's been turning out poems, short stories, novellas, novels, anthologies, reviews, essays and the odd piece of soft porn for more than a decade now, and his scribblings are beginning to get some of the critical acclaim they have long deserved.

Compared to some of Jack's earlier books, like the wonderfully messy first novel Nights with Giordano Bruno, To Terezin has relatively modest proportions. It runs to ninety pages, and brings together a sequence of taut, almost haiku-like poems, some stark but somehow lyrical photos, and a cycle of prose meditations called 'The Golem'. Despite its relatively small size, I think To Terezin is perhaps the most ambitious book Jack has produced. It is ambitious because it dares to deal with a subject - the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazism in Europe - that most of us tend to avoid thinking, let alone writing about.

Jack's book was written at the beginning of 2005, afer he returned from a sojourn in the Czech Republic that included a visit to the park and museum that have been established at Terezin. In the eighteenth century a large fort was built on the site,
and during World War Two the Nazis turned it into a ghetto cum transit camp that housed Jews who were on their way to death camps like Auschwitz and Dachau. Thirty-three thousand Jews died in the camp itself, from hunger and disease.

The short, carefully controlled poems in the first half of To Terezin deal directly with Jack's trip through the Czech Republic and Terezin. The little essays that make up the second half of the volume are much more relaxed and discursive; they spend time discussing subjects with no obvious relation to Terezin, like Oprah Winfrey's book club or the perils of pseudonyms. Eventually, though, Jack's thought refocuses on Terezin, and we realise that the terrible events there have clouded all of his digressions.

This isn't the first time that Jack has written about fascism and its victims. Jack's first book was a translation of the Fascist Cantos written in Italian by the demented American poet Ezra Pound while he was working for the doomed regime of Benito Mussollini. Jack has also translated some of the poems of Paul Celan, the German-speaking Romanian Jew who survived the Holocaust until 1970, when he drowned himself in the Seine.

Jack's writing about fascism and the Holocaust flies in the face of a certain reticence which many New Zealanders tend to show about these subjects. We don't like to dwell on the things that went on in faraway places with ugly, alien names like Auschwitz, Dacahau, and Belsen. If we talk about such things, then we like to make it clear that they happened a long time in the past, on the other side of the world. We'll go to see a film like Schindler's List, but many of us don't like it when the word Holocaust is moved about in time or space. When Tariana Turia argued that Maori had suffered a Holocaust at the hands of Pakeha in the nineteenth century, phones at talkback stations across the country rang off the hook. Human rights camaigners who use the 'H' word to describe the situation in Darfur right now are criticised for hyperbole.

Jack comments on our reluctance to discuss the Holocaust in one of the essays in To Terezin:

as I writer...I have to poke my nose. If one could feel sure that it really was all in the past, that such things could never recur, then it would be easier to leave it alone. It's not all in the past, though. It's now...children starve in the Congo and the bodies pile up in Iraq.

Of course, talking about fascism and its victims is not in itself a virtue. It's a strange fact that, despite the reticence Ive been describing, few words have been more abused, more reduced in meaning than 'fascist' and 'Nazi'. The worst regime and greatest crime of the twentieth century have been turned into a rhetorical football by opportunistc politicians and lazy journalists. This week, wasting time on the internet, I saw Hugo Chavez described as 'a new Hitler', and Education Ministry officials in New Zealand called 'food Nazis', because they've announced plans to substitute cauliflower for minced pie in our school canteens.

Ultimately, the misuse of Nazism and the Holocaust for cheap rhetorical purposes parrallels the reticence about both subjects which is also a feature of our culture. Those who avoid the subjects and those who trivialise them share a contempt for the real history of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Both, in their own way, contribute to the climate of forgetfulness that To Terezin attacks:

One German
photographs another
under the sign

They chatter
and laugh

Five Gestapo officers

a cringing dog

Jack himself is well aware of the danger of misusing his subject matter. At one point in To Terezin he calls himself a voyeur, and wonders whether he should ever have visited the site of so much irredeemable misery. Throughout the book Jack is aware of his own status as an outsider, a man separated from the Jews of Terezin by language and culture as well as history. The poems in To Terezin refuse to generalise, to say more than Jack sees. Their crisp, carefully truncated lines flash images in front of our eyes - we see the inscription on the grave of Robert Desnos, the drawings of dead children, Czechs wandering like ghosts through the old fortress - but he refuses to diminish the power of these images by making them into symbols or examples in some general argument or explanation. It is up to the reader to work on connecting the images and impressions, and developing his or her own response to Terezin.

When he does reflect on what he sees, near the end of To Terezin, Jack eschews the temptation to empathise too easily with the victims of the Holocaust. He does not pretend to comprehend the enormity of their suffering, or to have access to all their thoughts and feelings. He recognises that we can only a grasp a part of the truth of Terezin by accepting that the whole is beyond us.

In To Terezin, then, Jack Ross is able to challenge the reticence many of us feel about the Holocaust, without trivialising or otherwise debasing the subject. His book is distinguished by humility as well as ambition.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

World culture in Paeroa

'Acmeism is a homesickness for world culture'
- Osip Mandelstam, in the late 1920s

(click to see the labels)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A different tradition

A couple of weeks ago a bloke named Frederick made some interesting points (click on the comments box) about the political situation in East Timor and the policies of the Socialist Party of Timor, an organisation which has a small presence in parliament and won aound 3% of the vote in the recent Presidential elections. Here are some of Frederick's remarks, interspersed with my responses:

According to the Green Left Weekly "the only socialist party to contest the June 30 ballot is the Socialist Party of Timor (PST)...the PST will run five candidates, including its current MP Pedro da Costa, on the CNRT’s party list."

So after backing the right-wing, pro-Australian occupation, Washington - and Canberra-endorsed Ramos-Horta, the Socialist Party is now standing its candidates under the slate of Xanana Gusmao's new party, the CNRT. This the same Gusmao, of course, who played a leading role in the anti-Alkatiri coup orchestrated last year. This is a scandalous situation...

I think there is a massive contradiction between the Socialist Party's principles and the politics of Gusmao and his sidekick in the new party, Jose Ramos Horta, the man who calls John Howard a close friend, promises to turn East Timor into Hong Kong with a low flat tax, and published a defence of the invasion of Iraq in the Wall Street Journal.

If the Democatic Socialist Perspective, the publishers of Green Left Weekly, are to be believed, the Socialist Party represents a genuine socialist movement in East Timor and deserves the support and solidarity of all leftists in the region. But the scandalous role played by the Socialist Party in the presidential and parliamentary elections raises serious questions.

In the second round of the presidential vote, the party backed the pro-imperialist candidate of choice, Jose Ramos-Horta. Now comes the pay-off — the party has been allocated five spots on the parliamentary slate of Xanana Gusmao’s new party, the CNRT. And all this without a word of criticism or explanation in the Green Left Weekly or from the Democratic Socialist Perspective leadership.

During the Presidential campaign I was critical of the way that the Green Left Weekly, which is by some distance Australasia's most-read radical left paper, used interviews with figures in the Socialist Party of Timor as de facto reports on events in the country. These interviews often produced dubious statements, like the claim that Australian troops were playing a neutral role in the election campaign, and the claim that the campaign had been free of violence. Statements from Fretilin, the party facing off against Horta, suggested otherwise.

After the Socialist Party announced it was backing Horta in the second round of the election, the Democratic Socialist Perspective issued a statement distancing itself from this decision. Although this statement was not carried in the Green Left Weekly, the paper did bring some balance to its coverage of the results of the second round of the Presidential election. The paper carried an interview with a Socialist Party leader who attempted to justify his party's support for Horta, but this was juxtaposed with a very negative account of Horta's win which drew extensively on an interview with a Fretilin activist.

An investigation into the Socialist Party is long overdue. The following notes are intended as an initial contribution.

It certainly would be useful to know a lot more about the party, and about East Timor in general. We in the Australasian left are hamstrung, though, by linguistic barriers, the lack of a good communications infrastucture in many parts of East Timor, and our own lack of time and resources (many of us have to pay attention to issues closer to home, or other, more strategically important international issues, like the war in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, or the ongoing revolution in Venezuela).

As the quote from the GLW article above makes clear, the party stresses the “agricultural sector” in its campaign work, and its development of agricultural cooperatives, including coffee and other cash crops, appears to play a central role in its activities. This would indicate that the party’s base is not among the working class or urban youth but in a section of the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie. This is not accidental and reflects the party’s entire reformist and nationalist political orientation.

It seems to me that this is a very large inference to make from a passing reference in a short article. I think that there is a danger of trying to deal with the sketchy and unsatisfactory information we have about East Timor by wheeling out pre-existing theoretical frameworks and using them in a dogmatic fashion. Before you charge the Socialist Party's programme with ignoring the urban working class, you need to remember that East Timor is hardly an industrial powerhouse. Horta may dream of turning it into Hong Kong, but at the moment the country is, economically and socially speaking, more like New Zealand in the 1860s.

To put it another way: East Timor is not an unambiguously capitalist country. Islands of capitalist social relations like Dili and Bacau are surrounded by a sea of subsistence agriculture. The pre-capitalist and capitalist modes of production interpenetrate in various ways – for instance, subsistence farming acts as a ‘backup’ for some Timorese who also work casually for capitalist farms and in the service sector, meaning that their bosses can pay less than starvation wages and keep the labour market depressed and organised labour extremely weak.

In East Timor as in the Solomons, the Howard government is using military occupation and economic bullying to try to open up the economy for exploitation. The Australians want the removal of all laws that recognise the communal ownership of land, and restrict the right of individuals to buy and sell land. The communal ownership of land makes it difficult for Aussie companies to operate effectively, and also inhibits the development of local business, because it makes it difficult for capitalist banks to finance loans (how can 1,200 people take out a mortgage with ANZ to buy the stock they need to set up a hostel for tourists, for instance?).

Last year an Aussie comrade told me that socialism is off the agenda for a country like East Timor until a good deal of capitalist development has taken place. The way forward, he said, is greater national independence from imperialism and the building of a strong ‘national capitalism’. This would have to involve the movement of the majority of the population from small-scale farming to jobs in an urban, capitalist economy. I don’t think that Timorese who still live on collectively-owned land and operate in a pre-capitalist economy should have to taste enclosures, atomisation, urbanisation, and starvation wages in factory towns in the name of ‘economic development’. A ‘socialism’ that has that sort of experience as a prerequisite for its accomplishment is not worth the candle.

When we discuss societies like East Timor, we would be better off drawing on Marx’s late thinking about Russia and about certain pre-capitalist societies like the Iroquois Federation. In his late writing on Russia, Marx argues against those who see the encroachment of capitalist social relations into the countryside and the destruction of the peasant commune as preprequisites for socialism. He argues that the commune can in fact be the basis for the construction of a new, socialist society, and that Russia can skip the ‘stage’ of capitalist development altogether.

East Timor has its own tradition which gives socialist answers to problems of development. In his fine book East Timor: the Price of Freedom, Aussie historian John G Taylor documents the way that, in the period immediately after its formation in 1974, Fretilin fused traditional Timorese forms of organisation and cultural practices with carefully selected innovations based on the most suitable parts of socialist tradition.

Fretilin tried to hard to develop East Timor's economy - not by driving small farmers off their land and industrialising agriculture, or building steel mills with borrowed money, but by building up agricultural cooperatives that made use of what the great Maori socialist Te Whiti called 'the miracle of collective labour'. Strenuous efforts were made to develop health and education, but these services were dispersed, rather than centrally located, and made use of local organisational networks, rather than relying on big bureaucracies. Local languages and cultures were used rather than replaced with some artificial 'national culture' and lingua franca.

Here is how Taylor sums up his account of the remarkable society Fretilin was building when Indonesia invaded:

A society which had retained the cohesion of its own institutions, but whose development had been retarded for centuries by colonial rule, had finally created a national basis for this development, but on its own terms. The framework in which an independent nation was being built had taken indigenous society and culture as reference points, and located the development of spheres such as education, health and politics within them...Fretilin had devised development strategies whose full implementation could have created the infrastructure for a successfully planned economy, based on the indigenous needs of the population. (pgs 64-65)

The Socialist Party of Timor is one of the heirs to the early, revolutionary Fretilin, and this is shown in its approach to agriculture. Besides calling for the cooperative, locally controlled development of farming, the party has actually established a number of communal farms in different parts of the country. The party argues that these farms can be the basis for the transformation of East Timorese society, because they can fuse the collective ownership and labour typical of pre-capitalist society with socialist principles and economics. (These fledgling farms find large-scale parrallels, of course, in today’s Venezuela, where vast areas of land have been taken over by peasant co-ops, with the active assistance of the state.)

'Smokestack socialists' who can only imagine East Timor advancing to socialism via enclosures, forced migrations to the towns, and sweatshops are unwittingly echoing Horta's rhetoric about a new Hong Kong. There is a different tradition that offers a better way forward, and the fact that the Socialist Party still partly adheres to that tradition is what makes its support for Horta and Anzac troops so sad.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Pure Delight!

Keira and Smudge

Friday, June 08, 2007

To Terezin

I'll be speaking at the launch of Jack Ross's beautiful new book, To Terezin, next Wednesday at Massey University's Albany campus. Jack wrote the mixture of poems and prose meditations that fill the book after visiting Terezin, a ghetto cum transit camp where 33,000 mostly Czechoslovakian Jews died during the Second World War. For details about the launch visit Jack's blog.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Butler, Beggs, and bad comparisons

I think this sentence, which comes from the wikipedia entry for Samuel Butler, contains what Gilbert Ryle called a category mistake:

George Bernard Shaw (who also visited New Zealand) and E.M. Forster (who got only as far as India) were great admirers of Samuel Butler, who brought a new tone into Victorian literature, and also began the long tradition of New Zealand utopian literature that would culminate in the works of Jack Ross, Scott Hamilton and William Direen.

Butler was a very early supporter of Darwin, so it seems particularly unfair that his anonymous biographer has made Erewhon de-evolve into the turgid works of yours truly. What's next - Bob Dylan as a precursor to James Blunt? James Joyce as the first draft of JK Rowling?

Anyone who read through the last few posts on this blog would find Butlerian prose rather thin on the ground. Things have come to a pretty pass, I think, when a photo of me eating fish and chips at Kaiaua is considered blogworthy material. Luckily, the fall of Reading the Maps has coincided with the emergence of Scandalum, the latest blog to belong to Mike Beggs, Timaru's greatest living Marxist. Go and check Scandalum out, if you despair of this place. I think Butler would appreciate this piece of Beggs prose.

Be warned, though, that the photograph at the top of Mike's latest post is even scarier than the specimens Skyler has been pasting up on this site. I'm beginning to understand why Perry Anderson resisted being snapped for decades.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Happy Birthday Maps!

33 years ago today Scott came into this world! Here's some of my favourite recent photos of him :-) Love, Skyler

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Fretilin online

Fretilin, East Timor's oldest extant political party, has started blogging.

Friday, June 01, 2007

On a radiator in Panmure

Tractor Liberation Front? I think the same character turned up in the comments box under this post.