Tuesday, August 02, 2016

A very lost Hamilton

Last week a copy of the first ever trilingual anthology of Maori poetry turned up in my letterbox. Twelve Heavens/Nga Rangi Tekau-Ma-Rua/Doce Cielos runs to 136 pages, and presents the work of eight contemporary Maori. A stickynote directed me to pages 64-66, where three different versions of a poem about myself waited. Unfortunately, the poem, which was written by my old mate Vaughan Rapatahana, isn't entirely complimentary. Here are its Maori and English incarnations:

ha! haumata
For Scott Hamilton

ha! hamutana
kei whea koe e hoa?

e titiro ana ahau mo
                               he hamutana
te taima katoa,
egari ko tahi hamutana anake kei konei -
he taone nui
i roto te rohe of Waikato.

ko kaore he tane ki tenei ingoa,
kaore he tane o nga whakataurangi nui
me he waha e taurite!

kei whea koe e hoa?

ko te kirikiroa tino ngaro koe
e kautahoe
ki tau moana o nga kupu nui.

hey! hamilton
For Scott Hamilton

where are you, friend?

I look for a hamilton
all the time
but there is only one here
a big town in the waikato district.

there is no man with this name
no man with many promises
and a mouth to match!

where are you friend?

you are a very lost Hamilton
in your ocean of big words

Vaughan might be referring to my repeated failure to visit him in Morrinsville since he returned from Southeast Asia and settled in that charming town a couple of years ago. When we walked the length of the Great South Road last December, Paul Janman and I hoped that Vaughan would drive down, ditch his car, and join us for a few kilometres. But Vaughan is teaching in Morrinsville, and he was too busy for psychogeography. He told us he'd shout us a coffee if we made a detour to his new hometown, but that would have added a couple of days and a dozen or so blisters to our journey.

Not only have I failed to visit Vaughan - I've failed to publish him. He sent me a long and interesting essay about Manila, the city where he spent years in exile, a couple of years ago, and asked if I wanted to post in on this blog. I told him I would, and promptly misplaced the text. I've relocated it today, and will stick it up tomorrow.

But I haven't neglected Vaughan Rapatahana entirely. I posted this essay about his poetry in 2012, ran a short interview with him in 2011, and in the same year republished his fascinating article about teaching on the hollowed-out island of Nauru.

Nor have I neglected Morrinsville completely. I published this essay about the Maungakawa ranges, which rise south of the town and are an old stronghold of the Maori King Movement, in 2011. I'm revising the essay for inclusion in my forthcoming book about the Great South Road.

Vaughan has a habit of sending me e mails written entirely in te reo Maori; I tend to feel embarrassed by my inability to decipher them. This year, though, I've been studying Tongan, a language Vaughan claims to understand very imperfectly. I've been looking forward to being able to reply to one of his Maori missives with a long and incomprehensible epistle in Tongan!

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Blogger Richard said...

That's an interesting post! The languages are Maori, Spanish and English? Interesting mix. I was reading Penelope Deutscher's book about Derrida (I have to say I have yet read any of Derrida's primary texts) and his complex (or nuanced) way of talking about colonialism and the way language affects the situation reminded me of Vaughan's concern for the 'appropriation' of languages etc. Although I don't think that it is only the language that dominates on it's own as the total culture: that said the 'Other' culture also is not so 'pure' or 'original' and so on.

However his language is dense and difficult, nor does he 'condemn' colonialism as such as the colonizer is as much "victim" of his own language (Deutscher points out for example, that no one one of us, ever "masters" his or her language or culture). Here is Derrida:

I would even say that it is the only way one can account for the determinable possibility of a subservience and a hegemony. And even account for a terror inside languages (inside languages there is a terror, soft discrete, or glaring;that is our subject.). For contrary to what one is most often tempted to believe, the master is nothing. And he does not have exclusive possession of anything. Because the master does not possess exclusively, and naturally, what he calls his language, because whatever he wants or does, he cannot maintain any relations of property or identity that are natural, national, congenital, or ontological with it, because he can give substance to and articulate [dire]
this appropriation only in the course of an unnatural process of politico-phantasmatic constructions, because language is not his natural possession he can, thanks to that very fact, pretend historically, through the rape of a cultural usurpation, which means always essentially colonial, to appropriate it in order to impose it as 'his own'. That is his belief:
he wishes to make others share it through the use of force or cunning.

As a poet appropriator I liked this: (inside languages there is a terror, soft discrete, or glaring;that is our subject.)...

As you know, Vaughan is also has a philosophy degree or at least has studied the subject deeply and I reviewed his book TOA which I think was almost the best book or novel I have reviewed yet.

So rip down to Morrinsville and call in to see Vaughan, Hamutana, you slacker!

1:08 pm  
Anonymous Scott Hamilton said...

Interesting thoughts on Derrida Richard. I find him unreadable, even after all these years and the cooling of the old London Bar arguments between Marxism and postmodernism!

Sio Siasau reads your comments to this blog with interest. He sent me some pics recently of the books he's been reading in NYC: there were Marxist an Frankfurt school volumes, so I think he's being adventurous over there and soaking up new influences.

Vaughan is an intense dude: but the world needs a certain number of intense dudes!

1:22 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I used to find him very difficult. I still do, but in fact, I think his approach and significance has been much misunderstood. I think he is no less 'meaningless' than Marx whose philosophy, while it appealed to me at one period of my life, I find now wooden and while still relevant, I cant buy into his atheistic approach. I actually think Marxism became as bad as a religion and the direction taken following Marx and Lenin was fatal to the working people. Also a big mistake was to proscribe religion art and alternative thinking. It seems to accompany any revolutionary action.

But Penelope Deutscher, who is actually an Australian philosopher, is very clear in her commentary on Derrida. I haven't read much of Derrida's work. I am reading some Nietzsche. I like his writing...also more relevant to Marx (who influenced Derrida to some extent) ....I blanked. I think I was going to talk about the way the Language poets were influenced both by Marx and Postmodernism going back to the Formalism of the early Russian avant garde although as you showed in that dialogue between Silliman and Watten (Watten won for us) there is tendency with any of this stuff to shift out of reality. We live not perhaps exactly by our philosophies and I can understand the impact of 9/11 on those poets at the time...But I think at least that Derrida's method or idea of deconstruction as far as I understand it: of not destroying but opening (usually literature but it could be a social topic) up and critiquing etc offers an alternative to "heavy" white supremacist views.

But I just use ideas from wherever I find ideas as you know...

It is good that Sio is (liking my comments and some of my poems etc!!) but it might lead him astray! That said, I hope he is reading more than Marx et al...I see he has an interest in the mathematical forms and ideas as well as some cosmology. In that sense, by taking an interest in philosophy, poetics, ideas, cosmology and perhaps the pre-Socratics as well as all the others, a great mix will emerge as he follows in the wake of Futa Helu. I think your discovery via Paul Janman of him and Atienisi was almost worth the Nobel Prize for the (three of you?) on it's own...but there are those who are over there, and the Club etc in Tonga. I think even the more 'enlightened' of us were resistant to looking at other cultures. I think this is what people do, they tend to think there is one culture, theirs say, but Derrida shows it isn't so, ever...and you have done so in practice. Vaughan is intense (he accused Ted of being so), but you should read his novel, it is more open and is amusing but also important for NZ in the way that say Catch 22 and perhaps Slaughterhouse 5 were important (and indeed some of Stead's novels and 'Once Were Warriors' although Vaughan's method seemed to me closer to that of Delillo or maybe even...not sure, I know he is very interested in Colin Wilson (the British writer who started with 'The Outsider').

Oh well, good that you got that book of poetry.

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