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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Brown's land of the light weight crowd

--------UPDATE---------
Tze Ming replies:
"Tim may be mad, but I've never questioned his aesthetic taste. 
I've also never pretended that essay was anything other than populist, political polemic... as writing, I think my review of Tarzan Presley in the same issue of Landfall was a lot better."
--------UPDATE---------
7:24pm Friday, 15 July
TV3's Campbell Live just had a tortuous self-promotion by Brown and a derisory once-over by Campbell. "Great writing" and Tze Ming Mok don't belong in the same sentence. Brown pretending the book represents self-criticism! All the typical fucking tripe of invalids feeding themselves their own fetid pap to each other. The hypocrisy and delusion is a sickness.
-----------//-----------

BOOK REVIEW

Great New Zealand Argument: Ideas about ourselves
Editor, Russell Brown


RRP: $29.99, Publisher: Activity Press

Dedicated to "the bloggers," media personality and Labour Party apologist, Russell Brown has had his smirk come to life in a shambolically uneven historical homage that would sit smugly with his complacent white middle class acolytes whose ignorance of it's failure on almost every level is, inevitably, a prerequisite of their membership.

The most obvious observation is the paucity of contributors to an anthology claiming to tackle "our great national questions." Margaret Pope's four and a half pages of timeline clarifications tacked onto the end of Lange's speech hardly counts, nor does Gormack's frivilous, throw-away satirical poem where the student in-joke humour of his notes is longer than the piece itself, and nor does the utterly sickening six page white racial triumphalism of Traue. So we are left with only five serious "arguments;" and if they are to stand as the editor's yardstick of our nation's internal thoughts what a sad, risible measure they make.

Brown's presumption that ideas are exclusively the realm of academics frames the entire exercise as a theatre of conceit. A typical badwagon where the hack actors recite their myths in plodding, tepid banalities to an audience of witless drones whose price of admission was to check their brains in at the door and then after the performance both groups not only proclaim a masterpiece but have the gall to claim they are also the critics.

There is no internal challenge. No rejoinders, no debate as such. There are no working class voices here. No James K Baxter, no John A Lee, no Bruce Jesson or Tim Shadbolt or Warwick Roger let alone Bob Jones or Roger Douglas - and certainly no Maori "militants" who Brown evidently thinks unworthy or perhaps incapable of ideas or "great writing."

To anyone genuinely seeking to fulfill the editor's own stated objectives that would make for ideal argument material; but in Brown's cultural totalitarianism of homogeneity these critics, as reported in a puff piece, are just "offensive" and "annoying." Because they might criticise people like him? The fact Brown admits what he thought was his designated token Maori content (in the time-honoured Pakeha tradition) was in fact a corny, satirical poem by a Pakeha bespeaks not just of his own gullibility but an ugly truth of Pakeha stereotyping. The fact he kept in this literary gollywog is not just unfortunate, or appalling, in context of not substituting it for an authentic Maori text, it is simply insulting.

Then there is Traue, a librarian at the National Library who has "lived most of my life in Wellington," explaining what he would say if asked to introduce himself on a marae again - as he had felt akward. What follows is a reactive polemic about "Western European... Christendom" entitled "Whakapapa of the mind." It is a grotesque and squalidly patronising lecture where he instructs his Maori audience, amongst other things, that "those of us who belong to the western tradition believe that reason and natural justice are the right tools to deal with the world," - forgetting the crusades, two world wars or Srebrenica in asserting his superior tones of exclusivity. (He leaves out Mein Kampf and other classics in his cannon of cudgels).

"What I really wanted to say to that group, especially to the Maori members..." he says by way of introduction. Yes, those Maori certainly need to be told what a great thing Western culture is and who better to lecture them than a librarian, and what better time to do it than when everyone is introducing themselves on a marae, and what better place to recite that incantation of belligerence than in a book whose editor has the nerve to blithely introduce it as "The Maori cultural renaissance that began in the 1970s continues to shape the destiny of all New Zealanders." Utterly breathtaking.

If a book claiming to be about New Zealand only had Maori authors and Maori perspectives about Maori and then the token 5% of pages allocated to Pakeha was a picture of a Honky doll and a diatribe by a Maori about Maori cultural superiority designed to be delivered in person by a Maori in a consecrated Pakeha place - would that not seem just a tiny, wee bit, racist? And yet here we have that very scenario played out in reverse. And this pompous disgrace will doubtlessly be lapped up, every last sanctimonious, self-serving, mastubatory word of it by that deeply delusional, insular clique to whom it is directed.

If this anthology represents the whakapapa of Brown's mind it is a 168 page indictment for incest.

There are, mercifully, two worthy essays.

Robin Hyde may be one of New Zealand's more well known suicidal, self-absorbed female poets; but her somewhat dry 1938 recollection of pioneering NZ letters does actually mention non-white contributions.

Bill Pearson's 1952 Landfall essay "Fretful Sleepers" must be one of the most timeless, devastating, lucid, brutally incisive and comprehensive maulings ever conducted by a New Zealand author.

Comments such as "Other nations have lost their sense of purpose; we, a colony, never found one - we had been living on their capital," are masterfully transcendent of the subject matter. It is an outstanding achievement and it would be churlish not to commend Brown for having the sense to select it - even if he may remain unaware that when Pearson says of local academics, that they tend to show "interest in the people they know rather than ideas... His intellectual coterie is a closed shop and he resents intruders." - it could be directed squarely at Brown himself.

Historian Keith Sinclair peers into the future from 1963 with some tame predictions on Asian immigration amongst others and unexciting, journeyman observations like "we export brains and import brawn."

David Lange's anti-nuclear speech at the Oxford Union debate in 1985 when Prime Minister was brilliant, even if arguing an easy moot that he chose himself. But this was more about an individual character at the height of his powers dazzling us on TV than an analysis of New Zealanders. Those not familiar with that historic spectacle will probably find the text quaint.

Lastly Brown exposes us to 2004 Landfall essay prize winner Tze Ming Mok as the newly ordained Pakeha-approved tokenism.

"Race you there" is possibly the most ghastly Reader's Digest sub-editor's-day-off title imaginable. Politically packaged for Landfall's university arts élite the strikingly unintellectual writing is at least a change of pace. The gratingly personalised, ranting teenage diatribe, ending - as it begins - with a nauseatingly strident tone of a Head Girl's assembly speech is thickly laden with all the clichés one would expect and most preposterously of all it concludes with all the nuance of a greeting card.

Amongst the facile and demeaning notions that Asians will "grow this country up" and openly resentful of being supposedly "hidden amid the ranks of white society," (which is exactly what has happened courtesy of this book) the boorish crassness becomes a sort of boasting, childish, grandstanding as her tales of bravado take flight. Using pathetic non-battles with half a dozen National Fronters as a perpetual straw man for her to take down and claim victory she swings from paranoia to shamelessly self-congratulatory - in the extreme. How enchanting.

Mok's tale of Christchurch's public racism upon which so many assertions and crude emotion hangs is not only lacking in credibility but is roughly shoe-horned in. The situation: "Punched... in the chest and ran" and she was "crumpled and crying" on a footpath, remarkably "for 20 minutes." Then later it turns into "was beaten to the ground." What a slippery anecdote. And to utilise her sarcastic method: if the essay was any longer she could have been run over or even decapitated - several times.

How could this vulgar tailor's apprentice make the Pakeha Emperor his new clothes if not without the fawning indulgence of a limp, geriatric and bankrupt court of jesters masquerading as cultural gatekeepers?

To render such sublime annihilation complete, verse and prose fuse in the critique. Pearson: "a community of convenience... like the sheep's carcass that looked alive from a distance but only because it was a mass of maggots busy battening on the corpse."

6 Comments:

At 14/7/05 2:19 am, Blogger Cathy Odgers said...

Good heavens I can't wait to get a copy of that book....NOT.

Sounds a self indulgent wank to me.

The sort of thing that would be purchased as a cure for insomnia or as an alternative to coasters to ensure the Kauri coffee table does not get stained.

 
At 17/7/05 1:52 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He calls it his book but it is a collection of other people's writing. How can anyone take Brown seriously anymore since his ego grew so big he talks about "I" all the time as if we care what he is having for dinner and he uses a PR company to rally his loyal followers for a monthly Destiny Church-style Hail Bishop Brown meeting.

 
At 17/7/05 2:08 pm, Blogger t selwyn said...

Anon:
Brown has also turned his blog into a blogfomercial in the process of pushing this product.

I see the anthology as much as a squandering of a good idea than just an exercise in egotism. It is telling what he leaves out every bit as what he puts in. It is a book very much for his audience.

 
At 18/7/05 5:52 pm, Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

I'll avoid the book then. Must do that research on democracy in Maori organisations, but other scandals... beg ... for ...attention...

anon: -I- did a post on Browns over-references to himself, but got criticised for it. Heavens, NZers are sensitive wee fellas. Will do a re-run in the near future ;-)

 
At 18/7/05 11:04 pm, Blogger t selwyn said...

AL: Re: democracy and Maori organisations: You must note whether Maori themselves have chosen that form of governance or whether it has been imposed and whether reform of the system by Maori has been opposed. Then you must compare those systems with similar Pakeha systems to assess their comparative differences. - I'll complain if you don't and say your conclusions are invalid! Perhaps a set of quality and quabtitative measures like: transparency, accountability, stability/durabilty, quality of decisions, etc. eg. voter turnout, financial reporting, access to information, accessibility of representatives, ability of system to withstand leadership shock/change, ability to reform itself, competency of representatives etc.

 
At 1/5/06 1:14 am, Blogger sagenz said...

Damn right that is a fine review tim. I just read it now, 1 year almost later. still bang on.

 

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