It’s been a varied seven days. Last week I co-facilitated a filmmaking programme for young people (10-18 years) with Alun Bollinger. We introduced them to a rigorous and disciplined process and out the other end came 5 minute films, most of which were very good. I would say that the sub text of the films revealed kids living in an anxious, threatening and cynical world – that’s not surprising. But there’s a contradiction: they are also offered entitlement and their comfort is worried over, can even become pampering. As well, the perceived threat arrives via the media so is curiously unreal. I think this contradiction is behind the mental health issues. At the same time they responded well to the rigour and discipline, negotiated their group culture (with often a range of ages) with skill and found their way around digital systems with ease. The programme also gave them time and space to hang out together and we didn’t have to worry about RAMS (risk assessment management strategies) and high viz jackets- all that stuff that bedevils schools. It was then, a rewarding role to play, that of elder handing on knowledge of process.
From there I went to the Waihopai spy-base protest in Blenheim and afterward to a gathering to possibly launch a movement for an independent Aotearoa. This was one of those predominantly grey-haired events with a small leavening of younger people. Despite Corbyn and Sanders, it was hardly the stuff of movement building. As well, sovereignty is a contested concept, so it was sensible to put the project to one side. Yet there were fine presentations from Keith Locke and Bill Rosenberg, which surely belong on the website of the left wing think tank which Sue Bradford set up. Alas, this has somehow disappeared into an Auckland University Department and Sue is no longer involved.
In Blenheim that 1960s determined critique was present in aged form, but the best idea came from a young woman who felt that the gathering had the potential to become a forum for activists from many quarters. The spy station is a resonant symbol of the system and the fact that the protest has taken place for thirty years is really something. Tell the story to the younger generation and let them get on with it, was her message. But the baby boomers find it hard to step aside, are fearful the critique will get lost, as oppositional movements continue to fragment into fervent struggles for an ever more complex diversity, leading to a sort of speaking in tongues.
The US philosopher, Fredrik Jameson, wrote a seminal essay on post modernism as the culture of late capitalism. In the essay he describes a hotel in LA. The exterior is made of that mirror glass which reflects back anything from outside, for it is only concerned with its own interior self. If you make it inside the building the foyer is lavish and striking, soaring through each floor. But the shops and service centres are confused in terms of layout and there are few points of reference to enable the visitor to find her way around. And when it comes to the bedrooms where people stay and which are the functional reason for being there, they are mean of scale, mediocre of design and generally crap. A precise model of the culture we live in.
From Blenheim I drove to Nelson to visit my writing friend, Eva Brown (known also by her Hungarian name, Panni Palasti). Eva, who is in her eighties and fled Hungary in 1956, received an invitation to publish a Hungarian translation of her poems. It was a taxing project, poetry being the most difficult of translation tasks, but last November she flew to Hungary for the launch of her book, A tongue is not for lashing – Nyelvunk nem ostor, each poem printed in English and Hungarian. To have her fine work thus recognized in her native land was a healing experience. An honouring took place and the old deserve to be honoured. Yet must honour in turn the new generation.
Finally, on the way home I stopped in Murchison for a swim in the Buller. A top of the south country and western festival was being held in the adjoining camping ground and I floated blissfully in the cooling water listening to a sentimental love song sung slightly out of tune.
A moment out of time.