Friday, September 30, 2011

Thompson in Oceania

I had lunch yesterday with Skyler, Paul Janman, and 'Okusitino Mahina, the distinguished Tongan scholar and creator of the 'ta va' theory of space and time. During the course of the meal I gave 'Okusi a copy of my book on EP Thompson and tried gamely to convince him that the tome, with its protracted discussions of internecine feuding in the British New Left, had something to do with the situation of twenty-first century Oceania.

I have a go at making the same argument over at the Reviews in History website, in a response to the long and generous reception Penelope Corfield has given my book there. Is Thompson a musty old Pom, of interest only to left-wing trainspotters and scholars of the English Industrial Revolution, or a man who can contribute something important to twenty-first century thought and politics? I'm probably not the most objective judge of this question, of course...

[Posted by Maps]


Anonymous Cholera for breakfast said...

'All those seeking an introduction to this turbulent figure need look no further than Scott Hamilton’s Crisis of Theory. The account is even-handed, detailed, and sober.'

As if. Atheistic leftoidhasbeen propaganda more like!

9:46 am  
Blogger Richard said...

'Crisis of Theory' is good indeed.

I put my copy back into the library system so it is possibly now available for borrowing.
But if you order it the (Auckland and possibly others)Library will put it on hold for you.

I think Thompson in his "Marxists debates (e.g. in his complex "dispute" with Althusser) and your refs. to Marx's later thinking etc was looking toward a more subtle approach to "progress" and from my memory of reading "The Making of the English Working Class" there are a lot of parallels. Poverty of Theory also sounds like at at least one important work.

Clearly he is English but 'Okusitino Mahina is highly educated and appears to have wide interests (as is seen via the 'ta va' link.)

11:26 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks very much for reading the book Richard: I apologise for the somewhat academic tone it takes in places!

It was great fun to be able to write about poetry in a couple of the chapters, and I think Thompson would have approved of mixing up poetry and politics, because he liked to quote Blake and Wordsworth in speeches and political polemics.

I think Thompson gets Auden pretty well right when he says that the early work is the vital stuff. But Thompson doesn't perhaps recognise that 'Spain' is such a great poem precisely because it is a fractured, strange text, which is going off in all sorts of directions at once. It's a poem which contains all of the contradictions of the European intelligentsia of the '30s. Perhaps it even contains all of the contradictions of European history. Thompson finds too much harmony in it - and he does have a tendency, I think, to discount or ignore poetry which becomes fragmented and 'difficult'.

One of the things we discussed with Okusi Mahina last week was organising a coming-together of Tongan and palangi intellectuals. The idea is to show Paul's film about 'Atenisi, and then to have a discussion which involves not only veterans of 'Atenisi but also Heraclitean palangi like Ted Jenner and Odyssean palangi like the august Jack's an exciting idea which will hopefully come off later this year...I'll keep you posted...

10:14 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


'Sooner or later, almost everyone within the left-wing intelligentsia received either a private or a public admonition for his or her failure to interpret justly and, consequently, to act justly in the cause. Nothing personal. But Edward Thompson often needed opposition to an erring fellow-thinker in order to galvanise himself to write. It was like grit in the oyster. As a result of these outbursts, he did often secrete pearls, in the form of theoretical and historical output of great salience and immense long-term influence. He also produced, however, some colossal misjudgements, lots of bruised feelings, many complaining memoranda, sundry harmed working relationships on the intellectual left, and eventually, by the mid-1970s, a degree of political and intellectual isolation on his own part.'

11:50 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2:47 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Scott: yes, the "we will see in Chapter 5..." and so on but it is an excellent first book (I mean on fiction and on sociology-politics etc)...

Perhaps more of his actual books he wrote could have been examined and I like (more!) interesting personal details.

I agree in principle with your view of Thompson's response to Auden. I see Auden as major poet but he is multifaceted. I also am big on Wordsworth. Hazlitt by the way stayed revolutionary despite the Terror etc! Blake of Songs of Innocence (and Heaven and Hell and Milton) is a fascinating aspect. Also the scientist-thinker Jacob Bronowski wrote about Blake (dialecticism in Blake's "Milton" etc? Could well be...))

In the 70s Frank Lane urged some of us to set up "in the local areas" more or less according to Mao tse Tung's (and possibly Lenin's) ideas of cadres being fish in the waters of the people...and some good work was done and also Roger Fowler and others got various peoples' movements going. The idea was to keep theory in our politics which (to some extent) Bill Lee (leader of the PYM the need to downplay in favour of action ... which we all did plenty of!!). But as I say a lot of good work was undertaken at the local level as well as keeping international protests going. Also we met with Maori and other groups (Gangs once in South Auckland) then in Ponsonby (which was then a working class area)... young Polynesians or Maori as well as Pakeha were interested in posters Franks sold (Hendrix, Marx and so on!!) at 123 Ponsonby Road (which he started as a s\h book shop). We also showed films (political or “thoughtful”) of various kinds and genres and fought the "Mrs. Martinac case". Also at one stage I started to learn Samoan and some Maori as we agreed that those on the left should try to engage in that (this is well before it became politically correct for Palagi and Pakeha like me to be interested (Ted told me the other night he had a go at learning Maori himself))... so perhaps our "militant protests" corresponds with Thompson's "heroic" period...and then we had many discussions on theory and so on at 123 and PYM meetings etc

Many of the issues are parallel if not absolutely ideologically aligned...we also were interested in the terrible depredations (politically and psychologically and also ecologically) done by Imperialism to the Pacific (nations etc)...and that means the whole Pacific.

Such as Brunton and others were not really au fait with these things. They lacked theory and actual working class experience with actual working people (possibly a problem with Thompson?) I worked at the railways or the freezing works or wherever I could...Bill Lee and Frank were working all that time. We were not "hippies" but certainly many PYM members boozed as much as others but in theory we were opposed to drugs, and I avoided (non-proscribed) drugs and drink myself although I was also amongst people using drugs of all kinds)). Drug use (think of Fear and Loathing) and the culture of it, is ultimately reactionary). There many differences and disputes but a lot of unity also.

4:55 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

It is a pity Thompson become so sad in the 70s* when so much was starting to happen. I feel it is partly that he may have felt isolated himself. Theory must take account of personal issues (and the psyche as much as economics which Thomson seemed to recognise), which might seem strange to “hard Theorists”, but I feel true (this can even veer into Postmodernism, interesting e.g. how Jen Crawford worked in factories, and took part in "demos" etc, and so on while continuing to be an academic writing quite abstruse poetry.)

Scott, you have way of inspiring others and these meetings re Atenisi (my Tongan neighbour knew of the place immediately I mentioned it)...etc are exciting.

I have tendency, and I may not be alone in this, to look to US or European writers (and there are many great ones) more than Polynesian (although I admire e.g. Albert Wendt's novels, and many others and indeed Keri Hulme's "The Bone People"))... it is natural to "default" to one's own culture. So to look strongly at say Maoritanga and Tongan culture etc is certainly a good step.

There is no necessity that Capitalism must precede Communism (although in a complex sense it already has...Thompson and such as he could well be as important as Marx or indeed the founder(s?) of Atenisi etc

And from Maori and Polynesian (distinguishable?) and other cultures communalism is certainly a vital potential force. We Palagi are often quite alienated. (This phenomenon does indeed follow from Marxist theory).

Food for thought!

I think you are proceeding in the spirit of Thompson.

*(About the possibility of any positive change for the better...this may apply overall but one must still keep struggling is my view).

4:56 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

How widely known or "revered" is Thompson in the Left these days?

He certainly has quite few 'admirers' in Britain and even the US...? For different reasons?

4:59 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

The spirit of Derrida, Odysseus and Heraclitus feeds the historic Atensi flames in Tonga!

Will The King be involved?

5:02 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

That's a good review of your book Maps. I agree pro and con...but I (of course) found the section on Orwell and Auden most fascinating. Also his father and his brother. be interesting to know more of his wife.

A second, enlarged edition some time? Or had enough or Thompson? More of Saville and that fellow Hill and a lot more about his book of history?

But overall it is very good.

10:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was at Ara-titaha, a Ngati-Raukawa settlement on the southern spur of Maunga-tautari, that the last shots of the Waikato War were fired, in a slight skirmish. This was a reconnaissance affair, about three months after Orakau. A Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Father Garavel, arrived at Te page 409 Awamutu one day from Taupo via Orakau, and mentioned that he had seen an armed party of Maoris at Ara-titaha, where the track ascended from the plain near Waotu. Lieutenant Rait, commanding the mounted artillery, on patrol around the advanced posts organized a secret expedition, which was joined by detachments of the 65th and other corps from Kihikihi and Rangiaowhia, under Captain Blewitt and other officers. The mounted men were engaged at long range by some Maori skirmishers near the Village of Ara-titaha, but the artillery troopers, having only revolvers, could not reply to the fire, and the infantry were some distance in the rear. Ensign Mair, the interpreter, however, was armed with a carbine, and he returned the Maoris' fire, and fired the last shot in the campaign. The force withdrew to the camps without carrying hostilities further.

3:51 pm  

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