Thursday, April 27, 2017
Sunday, April 23, 2017
But enough about my book. The New York Review of Tomes has an article about the Voynich manuscript, one of the strangest texts ever to fall into the hands of scholars. My feeling is that it ought to be shelved next to the poems of Ern Malley.
Monday, April 17, 2017
Little Rock in South Auckland
When I was researching my review for EyeContact I benefited from Linda Johnson's thesis Maori Activism Across Borders 1950s - 1980s. As its title suggests, Johnson's text ranges widely through space and time, but it includes half a dozen acute and carefully researched pages about Maori resistance to racial segregation in Papakura and Pukekohe in the decades after World War Two.
Johnson reveals that the 'No Maoris' policy of Papakura's hotel made headlines in Sydney and Singapore, after it was challenged by Henry Rongomau Bennett in 1959, and she shows that Pukekohe's segregated shops, pubs, and movie theatres earned it the nickname 'the Little Rock of New Zealand' from the New York Times in 1961. Massey University has done New Zealand a service by putting Johnson's thesis online.
Thursday, April 13, 2017
Papua's publishing revolution
All of these complaints are justified. The life of a Kiwi book publisher can be a difficult one. But if our publishers need some perspective on their plight, and some inspiration, then they ought to read Phil Fitzpatrick's remarkable article 'The Lost Creative Writing Generation of Papua New Guinea', which was published late last year on the popular PNG Attitude blog.
Fitzpatrick begins his article by recalling the beginnings of written Papuan literature in the 1960s and '70s. As agitation for independence from Australia grew, the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby became a base for a generation of young writers. They worked in English and Tok Pisin, rather than one of their nation's eight hundred or so indigenous languages, and adapted traditional oral storytelling techniques to the page. Ulli Beier, a German Jewish scholar who had taught in Nigeria before fleeing the Biafran conflict, got a job teaching Creative Writing at the University of Papua New Guinea, and began to edit and publish anthologies of the nation's emerging literature. A Papua Pocket Poets series was successful, and the journals Kovave and Papua New Guinea Writing were established.
In the 1980s, though, Papuan writers struggled for support. Papua New Guinea had won independence, but successive governments struggled to find funds for roads and schools, let alone literary grants and Creative Writing courses. Libraries decayed and closed, local publishers folded, and the Australian and New Zealand literary worlds remained steadfastly uninterested in Papuan texts.
Over the last decade the internet and cheaper publishing have revived Papuan literature. After Digicel raised its towers across Papua New Guinea, bringing the worldwide web to the territory beyond Port Moresby, writers began to self-publish on blogs and social media. When Phil Fitzpatrick and his friend Keith Jackson established an annual Crocodile Prize for Papuan creative writing in 2011, they were deluged with material. Fitzpatrick pays tribute to Martyn Namorong, the 'educated savage' in the photograph above this post. Namorong 'bombarded' Fitzpatrick and Jackson with 'short and incendiary essays' on Papuan society and politics. Namorong grew up in a logging camp in Papua New Guinea's western province, and learned English by listening to shortwave broadcasts from Radio Australia.
opened fire on students of the Papua New Guinea University, after they marched to demand that O'Neil address the charges against him. Seventeen students were wounded.
Taking advantage of cheap Chinese publishers, Fitzpatrick and Jackson began to produce anthologies of new Papuan writing, and then to issue books by individual authors.
By the time Fitzpatrick and Jackson had established Pukpuk Publications, some Papuan writers had begun to bring out their own books. Baka Bina, for instance, used Amazon's CreateSapce to self-publish a novel called A Man of Calibre, which describes 'two torrid days during a family dispute in an Eastern Highlands village'.
Apart from Rapa Nui and the Philippines, no Pacific society developed its own script and written literature before contact with Europe. There has been a tendency for scholars to contrast the oral traditions of the Pacific with the written traditions of the West, and to suggest that the two are profoundly different, and perhaps incompatible. But the alacrity with which Papuan writers have adapted an indigenous storytelling tradition to new technology and new publishing opportunities shows that there need be no dichotomy between oral and written literatures.
The Papuan literary movement of the 1970s stalled partly because of a lack of support from the country's wealthy southern neighbours. We shouldn't let a new Papuan generation suffer the same neglect. I'm ordering some books from Pukpuk Publications.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Max Harris style
Harris put Sidney Nolan on the cover of Angry Penguins, and poems by Dylan Thomas and a very young Kendrick Smithyman inside, but he is remembered today for publishing the cryptic verses of Ern Malley, a poet maudit who never existed. Malley was the invention of two conservative enemies of modern art and literature, James McAuley and Harold Stewart, who had decided to parody the sort of stuff that appeared in Angry Penguins. They sent Harris a cache of their poems and a biographical note about Malley, who had supposedly died young and unpublished in working class Melbourne. Harris took the bait and dedicated the next issue of his journal to the tragic prodigy.
When Stewart and McAuley revealed their hoax Harris was mocked on the front pages of Australia's newspapers, but he was unbowed, insisting that the Malley poems were masterpieces, even if they had been knocked together as a joke by a couple of mates over a few beers. Today most critics and literary historians agree with Max Harris, and the poems of Ern Malley have a place in many anthologies of Australian literature.
Max Harris is also the name of a young New Zealand intellectual who has won a Rhodes Scholarship and a fellowship at the lonely Oxford college known as All Souls, and who is tonight launching a book with the ambitious title The New Zealand Project. In an excerpt from his book published in The Listener, Harris insisted on the intellectual potential of young New Zealanders, and quoted my argument that, despite what Roger Horrocks says, this country has not, historically, been an anti-intellectual wasteland.
I could use the publication of The New Zealand Project as an opportunity to talk about New Zealand history and intellectual movements and other highfalutin' matters, but what really intrigued me, when I saw the promotional material for the book, was the similarity between the hairstyles of the Aussie Max Harris of the '40s and the Kiwi Max Harris of today. Aussie Max's levitating hair was, like his flamboyantly bohemian wardrobe, a challenge to the conservatism of 1940s Australia. And the challenge was taken up: on one occasion the young publisher was thrown into a lake by a group of student 'hearties' appalled by his appearance. Michael Heyward includes a photograph of the dunking in his marvellous book The Ern Malley Affair.
Is Kiwi Max's hairdo a homage to the prophet of Australian modernism?
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]
Thursday, April 06, 2017
I've discussed Noble's show with Judy Darragh and Mark Amery in the latest podcast for the Circuit website. Darragh and Amery were no more impressed by Dream Dialects than me, but we put the exhibition aside and discussed the book and the movie that inspired it. I talked about my first encounter with Sleeping Dogs in 1991, a year of mass protests against austerity and the Employment Contracts Act.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]
Wednesday, April 05, 2017
Richard's publisher asked me to write a blurb for This Explains Everything a month or so before the launch at November. My summary of the book didn't get used, perhaps because it was typically wordy, and wordy blurbs are bad blurbs. Here it is, anyway: