Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Still loathed, after all these years

Over at Kiwblog David Farrar has confessed to attending the ceremony held recently to bestow the Prime Ministers Award for Literary Achievement on James Belich, Fiona Kidman, and Peter Bland. If Farrar's account is any guide, the function at Premier House was full of legal and political bigwigs, and punctuated by cosy Wellington in-jokes.

Unfortunately for Farrar, the fiercely philistine inhabitants of Kiwiblog's comments boxes have taken umbrage at the gifting of sixty thousands dollars each to Belich, Kidman and Bland. A regular commenter with the rather worrying moniker 'Big Bruv' evidently considers the awards an unforgivable interference in the free market:

How the hell can anybody make a “significant contribution” to poetry?, it is only significant if enough people buy the poetry, receiving tax payer money to write crap that nobody wants to read is hardly significant...The market (people who pay for non fiction, fiction and poetry) recognise “excellence”, this is just a bunch of middle class wankers giving away my money to people who do not produce anything that the public wants to buy...This sort of rubbish just has to stop.

Another commenter contrasted the works of Belich and Bland with the mighty oeuvre of Stephen King, and concluded that:

Handouts...encourage, at the margin, all the non-Stephen Kings into the market (result: warehouses of crap, as witnessed in Europe)...Stephen King ain’t short of funds. Stephen King got to be Stephen King without any handouts. His secret is to write books that convince people to buy them in huge numbers.

It's a bit of a worry to hear about distinguished New Zealand writers and scholars hobnobbing with the country's political and legal elite, but reassuring to find a venerable forum of the people like the Kiwiblog comments thread full of hostility towards them.

Where a plumber or electrician relies on popularity, seeking as many customers as possible, the true writer should always be more interested in bewildering and angering his or her contemporaries. Socrates was put to death by his fellow Athenians for telling them home truths; numerous other intellectuals have suffered persecution for being out of tune with their times.

Any good writer should be alarmed by the thought of enjoying the esteem of his or her contemporaries. Writers who are adored by their own generations tend to be forgotten by future generations. Like Enid Blyton and Captain WE Johns before them, Stephen King and Wilbur Smith will fade from popularity in a few decades.

Many of the greatest writers have never been and never will be bestsellers, but remain in print perennially, influencing a minority of each new generation and finding their way into popular consciousness by indirect paths.

James Joyce has never been and never will be a bestselling author, but it is hard to disentangle his crowded and strange books from modern Irish consciousness. Despite or because of the fact that he exiled himself from his native land and saw his books banned there for decades, Joyce has become as much of an Irish icon as Guinness beer.

If we pick up any anthology of English poetry we can find the names of numerous writers who worked and died in disgrace or in obscurity. Blake and Hopkins were virtually unknown to their peers; Byron, Shelley, and Wilde were objects of contempt. Frank Sargeson, who virtually invented modern Pakeha literature, was persecuted by the state for his sexuality, lived for long periods on the dole and on his vegetable garden, and left a couple of dollars in his bank account.

The hostility at Kiwiblog to Belich, Kidman, and Bland suggests that, in spite of a bit of (well-deserved) public money and the odd handshake from unctuous politicians and judges, New Zealand writers remain healthily unpopular with many of their contemporaries.

Don Brash hasn't been leaving comments at Kiwiblog, but he has been thinking about reading and writing lately. After failing to lift Act's poll ratings with assaults on Maori nationalists, Brash appears to have turned his sights on that other favourite bogey of the hard right, schoolteachers. In a speech he gave at Act's Wellington regional Conference last weekend, Brash complained that New Zealand's public and integrated schools are run on 'communist' principles by teachers who are interested not in literacy but in indictrinating their charges with anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, and the the doctrine of anthropogenic global warming.

I argued last month that Act's crack at Maoridom was vitiated by the way it contained contradictory messages aimed at the two contradictory parts of the party's social base. Act wanted to use libertarian arguments to dismiss the notion of a Maori collective identity in the twenty-first century, but these arguments clashed with its attempts to appeal to the ancient redneck fear of 'Maoris' in general.

Brash's speech on education seems as contradictory as his party's anti-Maori ads. He argues that we ought to be able to compare the performances of different schools, in the way we compare the performances of athletes. It is in theory be possible to do this, if all schools use similar curricula, and the same or similar examination systems.

But Brash also wants to abolish the requirement that schools which receive state funding have common curricula and similar exams. He says that parents and teachers ought to be able to set up any type of school offering any type of curriculum and exam system – 'Montessori, Steiner, Muslim, Marxist, Objectivist, or Buddhist' – without being regulated by the state that funds them. A Christian fundamentalist school would be free to teach the Book of Genesis in biology classes; a radical Steiner school would be free to dispense with the troublesome business of examinations. How can the demand for strict comparisons between schools be reconciled with the demand for the abandonment of any sort of state-sanctioned standards?

It seems to me that the contradiction in Brash's new argument stems from his usual desire to appeal to both the libertarian and socially conservative wings of his party.

To the urban, socially liberally, wealthy voters who have traditionally dominated Act, the destruction of all state regulation of education and the prospect of a plethora of educational options is very appealing. For the backward-looking redneck voters Brash is trying to win over, though, a monolithic education system is not objectionable, as long as it offers a return to the rote learning and strict discipline of 1950s and '60s schools. For these latter voters, the notion of subjecting students to identical exams and comparing schools as if they were rugby teams is very appealing.

By trying to appeal to two socially and politically contradictory groups of voters Brash has once again fashioned an incoherent and eccentric argument.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

NZ would be better off with NO writers or other intellectual TROUBLEMAKERS!!!1

FUCK YOU ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!1

9:02 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Big bruv, having been banned from every blog except Kiwiblog, has nowhere else to go

9:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But Socrates wrote nothing

9:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Big Bruv: wasn't he in some kinda novel?

9:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris Trotter on the stupidity of Kiwis
What a nation of fucking tools you are

9:13 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

'But Socrates wrote nothing'

True, though arguably he composed texts orally. In any case I was talking about intellectuals in general, as well as 'literary' writers in particular. I think Socrates, along perhaps with Thales, who fell down a well because he had his eyes on the stars, and Heraclitus, who refused to let the ignorant see his masterpiece On Nature, were prototypical intellectuals whose intransigence has inspired generation after generation of writers.

9:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Handouts...encourage, at the margin, all the non-Stephen Kings into the market (result: warehouses of crap, as witnessed in Europe)'


10:14 pm  
Anonymous URL 32 said...

Joyce was a scrounger. He scrounged grog. This is well known.

11:57 pm  
Anonymous Redbaiter said...

You communists are always so unendingly thick. Why why why can't you get such a simple point as is the main complaint with this matter????

ie- that people object to having tax forcibly taken from them by scum socialist politicians, who then dole that money out to the like scum who elected them. It is corrupt.

ie- that if you dumb commies think these people should be given money then fine, collect it among yourselves by means of a charity for that purpose and give it to whom you choose.

That this simple solution is not embraced by you dumb thick jackbooted communist thugs abusing and corrupting democracy by voting for handouts, is because you have no morality.

It really does not bother you one iota that you are legislatively stealing, and you'd rather use your vote to casually steal from your fellow citizens than go to all of the messy troublesome business of forming a charity.

Exactly the same mentality embraced by the UK rioters. The entitlement mentality that is the result of decades of perversion of our democratic system by scum politicians in Labour and National and those who support them. Like the communist losers who own this blog.

Uneducated uncivilized amoral socialist dumbfucks, all of you, and blindly bringing our society to the lowest point in its history.

12:53 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

You sound like one of the philistines who convicted Socrates, Redbaiter.

Do you remember that in the Apology, the address he gave in his trial before the citizens of Athens, Socrates suggested that, instead of executing him for his annoying habit of thinking, the Athenian state should award him a regular income? Bloody commie, eh?

As an inveterate defender of 'Western civilisation', you should be honoured to have taxes go towards the maintenance of the Western intellectual tradition Socrates founded.

And don't think that the guardians of civilisations are ungrateful. A publisher and a film maker have applications for state funding for projects involving me in the works at the moment: if the projects are approved I'll dedicate the book and the film to you...

6:38 am  
Anonymous AHD said...

I don't think ideological coherence is Brash's strongest suit.

The thing that scares me is that he was once the leader of what is supposed to be a moderate conservative party.

Oh, and the thing that *must* be remembered: market forces are obviously value independent, therefore we should not intrude upon their operation. Literature has no other function, after all, than selling books.

Quick question: do you think that the people on Kiwiblog actually bother to read? I'm serious about this. Do they read fiction? You know, are they capable of extending sympathetic identification to someone else?

7:01 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Books are for losers. Real life interests some of us AHD.

8:05 am  
Anonymous AHD said...

Books *are* for losers. Unfiltered, unmediated reality is much better.

That's why never tell stories, jokes, watch TV or films, or otherwise do anything that is not anchored in strict reality.

8:33 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Books are alright - for GIRLS.

Are you a girl by any chance AHD?

8:57 am  
Anonymous Redbaiter said...

How convenient that some anonymous fuckwit turns up here expressing all of the prejudices that the blogger claims exist on "the right".

I say its a sock puppet of the blog authors.

9:29 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Fear not, Comrade Redbaiter - philistinism is not confined to the right. There's plenty of it to go around, I'm afraid, and some of the most heated debates about art on this blog been with left-wingers:

10:03 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Btw, Red, who's your favourite writer?

10:05 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NZ schools are communist brainwashing centres?
What planet is Brash living on?

10:43 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Quick question: do you think that the people on Kiwiblog actually bother to read?'

Hard to imagine the likes of Big Bruv and Redbaiter reading poetry or the great novelists (Dostoevksy Joyce etc)

Too much moral ambiguity.

10:46 am  
Anonymous Redbaiter said...

"NZ schools are communist brainwashing centres?"

Easily observed educational outcomes prove the truth of that. You are all blinkered left wing morons and half educated knuckle draggers. Exactly the kind of citizens that tyrants need to give them power. If you knew anything of history you would see it being repeated.

You are today's embryonic version of the jack booted thugs who were happy to force Jews into cattle trucks at bayonet point. Surrounded by citizens of the same mind set, and having no other moral or political reference point, they knew not who they really were.

Just as you, due to a politically corrupt education system, do not know today who you really are.

11:12 am  
Anonymous on the other hand... said...

Umm Redbaiter...you aware that Scott has been one of the country's high profile opponents of neo-Nazis and Holocaust denial in recent years and was in a long legal battle with Holocaust deniers...and that many of the people who comment here are either Jewish or involved in anti-anti-semitism one or the other...to accuse them of being Jewhaters is crazy...you're a shameless little man, you really are...have you ever done one thing to oppose fascism and anti-semitism?

11:45 am  
Anonymous on the other hand... said...

'Btw, Red, who's your favourite writer?'

Answer: silence.


11:48 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Redbaiter is infamous in the Kiwi blogosphere for his vituperative attacks on not only the left but large parts of the right (even National Ministers like Judith 'Crusher' Collins are 'cultural Marxists' in his book).

I think Redbaiter's so pre-emtively rude because the idea that most lefties might actually be more or less rational human beings who are more or less well-intentioned and live more or less ordinary lives is profoundly unsettling to him.

Redbaiter wants to preclude polite discussion - even polite discussion about literature - with the rhetorial equivalent of a thermonuclear strike and get the sort of verbal abuse which fortifies him in his belief that everyone to the left of Enoch Powell is a grimly conspiratorial minion of darkness, rather than a human being who disagrees with him about certain political issues.

Redbaiter's curious online behaviour reminds me a little of some of the stories about Jackson Pollock's attempts to woo women in New York bars back in the '40s. Apparently Pollock would, after making a mess of himself by consuming copious amounts of liquor, sidle over to a woman in the corner of a bar and say something along the lines of 'You got nice tits - wanna screw?" You can guess the response this invitation got.

Pollock's mates got sick of his drunken mock-macho nonsense, and secretly hired an escort to hang about the bar he frequented. After Pollock had gotten drunk enough to confront her with his usual crude come-on, she answered "Sure - let's go screw" and grabbed her coat. Pollock fainted.

The point is that, for folks like Pollock and Redbaiter, acceptance is somehow more terrifying than angry or annoyed rejection.

12:28 pm  
Anonymous Redbaiter said...

"to accuse them of being Jewhaters is crazy."

See what I mean? A complete fuckwit without even the most basic comprehension skills. A good example of the deficiencies in the education system Don Brash is complaining of.

This damn fool probably has a degree, but cannot read and write much above the level of third form. However, you can bet that there will be none so assured as he in matters political (or environmental).

Just a brainwashed drooling idiot, and like most on the left, far too knuckle draggingly stupid to ever know what is happening in the real world.

12:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Redbaiter is Russell Fletcher of Tauranga. For a decade and a half he has been posting messages on every internet forum he can find predicting apocalypse and/or a war to the death for civilisation against commies/Muslims.

The apocalypse never comes.
'Redbaiter' rants on, and on, and on...draw your own conclusions.

1:47 pm  
Anonymous RK Zeroes said...

Reminds me of this Onion clip:


2:39 pm  
Anonymous Mr civilised said...

Haven't you heard? Socrates was a secret Muslim. Greek philosophy is just stealth jihad. And of course those Greeks philosophers and poets all slept with boys!
Decent defenders of civilisation can have no truck with such degenerates! Texas not Greece represents civilisation. Stuff Plato and the rest of the pagans, Rick Perry rocks!

2:57 pm  
Anonymous Redbaiter said...

You pathetic shallow clod hopping socialist buffoons should watch the video at this link.

You will witness an excellent example of the standard leftist response to anything that challenges their dogma ie a response that is just the same old same old bluster and attempted ridicule.

I think this example occurs around 3 min 30 secs in. Watch it and see how clearly your strategy is exposed.

Doug Cameron, a demonstration of just how bad it really is.

Your whole argument depends upon bluffing or cowing or intimidating your opponents into silence, and when they will not be silenced. You are all the same, and you have nothing.

3:24 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

You have a well-demonstrated psychological need to provoke a hostile response from people you consider your enemies, Redbaiter. I'm not playing that game. In fact, I'll buy you a beer if you're ever in West Auckland!

And I'm still wondering who your favourite writer is. A hard man like Cormac McCarthy or Hemingway, perhaps?

3:51 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

On a different but tangentially related note: I think it'd be interesting to get left-wing bloggers and blog readers to make lists of their favourite writers with right-wing politics.

Here's my off the cuff list, which lumps together moderate and extreme right-wingers (apologies to CK, who finds himself rubbing shoulders with old Ez):

Martin Heidegger
TS Eliot
Ezra Pound
David Jones
Donald Davie
Jorge Luis Borges
John Updike
CK Stead
VS Naipaul

Hmm. Why are my right-wingers all males?

3:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of you left-wing tossfucks need your skinny arses kicked down the fucking street. cunts.

6:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Real white men are taking back this nation...get used to it...or get fucked...cunt.

6:44 pm  
Anonymous lefty left left left said...

does Nabakov count?
what about Stephen King?

I hope these real white men taking back the nation have Fabulous Muscles. i'd like to see them prancing down Queens. sexy boyz

10:54 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

I almost chose Nabokov! I really enjoyed his early short stories when I was at school, but there's a sort of prissiness to his prose style which gets on my wick these days. Maybe that's my fault, though?

Is Stephen King right-wing? Jack Ross is a bit of a fan of 'big Steve', but he's never mentioned the man's politics...

12:19 am  
Blogger Jake said...

Stephen King isn't right wing. He's a working class hero in Maine, although he does have a fairly strong moral core, but that's rooted in New England puritanism and is more or less unavoidable.

7:11 am  
Anonymous lefty left left left said...

correct, Scott, it is your fault to see prissiness in Nabokov. and spelling his name wrong the first time was my fault.

Oh how about this one then: Georges Simenon.

7:18 am  
Anonymous hyper said...

Richard Taylor: right-wing?

2:37 pm  
Anonymous hyper said...

PS Funny fact: Redbaiter has a quote by that terrible SOCIALIST Orwell at the top of his site! Irony on irony...

2:38 pm  

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