Aftershocks and insults in Christchurch
I'm not sure if the slide show made perfect sense, but one of the passages it quoted has a new and sad resonance for me, in the light of some recent events in Christchurch. The beginning of the CROSTOPI Manifesto considers, using terms from the celebrated geographer David Harvey, the way that capitalism has to destroy in order to try to create. Objects which are no longer profitable must be obliterated, even if they serve the interests of individuals or communities:
Capitalism builds spaces, and establishes time-flows, suitable to its needs, and then finds that it must destroy these spaces, interrupt these time flows, as its needs change. The modern becomes archaic. Engineers move out, and preservationists move in. A power station becomes an art gallery. Bohemians squat in old workers’ cottages. A wrecker’s ball swings into a room, ignoring the volumes of Dostoyevsky on the rickety homemade shelf.
A couple of weeks ago Mick Elborado, a long-time member of New Zealand's alternative music scene and a former keyboardist for The Terminals, The Axemen and Bill Direen's backing band The Builders, was arrested while trying to salvage objects from his Christchurch home, which had been slated for demolition in the aftermath of February's earthquake. As this blog noted, Mick was listed missing and feared dead for several days after the February quake. Like so many survivors of the disaster, he has been trying to restore some normality to his life in the months since February. For Mick, normality means listening to, writing, and playing music. Flying Nun founder Roger Shepherd has called Mick's thousands of rare records one of the largest and most important music collections in this country. The adventurous, allusive music Mick has contributed to a series of legendary bands shows that he has made good use, over the years, of the audio taonga he kept at his home.
In the weeks after the February the 21st quake Mick was apparently given no proper notification that his home had been deemed unsafe and scheduled for demolition. The house was on the wrong side of one of the 'emergency cordons' thrown up after the quake, and Mick was unable to visit it without breaking the law. After turning up after a tip-off a couple of weeks ago and seeing a digger about to go into action, Mick ran into his house and attempted to salvage his music collection and other important possessions. Instead of turning off the digger and discussing the situation with Mick, the police decided to throw him in prison.
In an appearance at Christchurch District Court last week, Mick, whose legal name is David Theobald, entered a not guilty plea to a charge of breaching an emergency cordon, and told the judge that the demolition of his home has left him with 'no past and no future'. 'I'm very angry, and I'll be angry for the rest of my life' he said, before turning his back on the court. Mick has been remanded in custody.
In the aftermath of the earthquake which hit Christchurch in September I praised the role that both government workers and state-directed volunteers played in cleaning up the city and helping victims. I thought then, and still think now, that natural disasters like earthquakes are times when massive and decisive state action is needed, and when right-wing ideas about individualism and 'freedom' from government are shown up as nonsense. Unfortunately, the superb short-term responses to the September and also the February earthquake by grassroots state employees have been overshadowed, as weeks and months have passed, by the manoeuvres of the National government, which is more interested in making Christchurch profitable again than in helping the city's ordinary residents recover from their tragedy. National gave the job of reconstructing Christchurch to Gerry Brownlee, a man better known for throwing protesters down staircases than for working sensitively with victimised communities. Brownlee has been given nearly dictatorial powers over post-quake Christchurch, and he has exercised these powers with ill-concealed glee, ordering the flattening of home after home, banning archaeologists from doing vital work on the grounds that such work would hold back the pace of economic recovery, and disregarding planning regulations that take into account places sacred to the Kai Tahu tangata whenua of the city. Brownlee has been happy to chat with Christchurch's business elite, but he has shied away from confrontations with ordinary citizens. Mick Elborado is only one of the victims of his authoritarianism.
Back in February I noted how some particularly demented conspiracy theorists were calling Christchurch's earthquake a man-made phenomenon. Claims about a gigantic American-Israeli 'earthquake machine' targeting the city were idiotic and offensive, but we can legitimately talk about a series of artificial, unnecessary aftershocks being inflicted on Christchurch in the weeks and months since the February earthquake, as homes are demolished and their former inhabitants insulted. For Mick Elborado, the recent loss of his home and his treasured possessions was even more devastating than February's quake. I am pleased to hear that Mick has been receiving the support of his many friends within New Zealand's music and arts community.
Footnote: Christchurch's quakes darken the latest issue of Ka Mate Ka Ora, the academic journal dedicated to the study of New Zealand poetry and poetics. Ka Mate Ka Ora #10 opens with Emma Neale's tribute to Rhys Brookbanks, the young poet and journalist who died in the Canterbury Television building on February the 21st. I had the privilege of meeting Brookbanks for an hour, back in 2007; Neale knew him for years, first as his teacher and later as his friend.
Ka Mate Ka Ora #10 also includes my essay 'Earthquake Country', which was written in the aftermath of the September quake and discusses a Hubert Witheford poem about natural disaster and social revolution. (A rough draft of the text appeared on this blog last year, and prompted some interesting comments from Richard Taylor.)
Footnote (2): Mick has been released.