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Paul Maunder's blog

Dean

In the midst of the corona virus melodrama, normal life and death processes seem to be suspended or unnoticed. Hospitals are vacant and doctors’ surgeries sparsely attended. But last week, playwright, Dean Parker unexpectedly died and grief must be registered, outside his bubble.

Dean was a prolific writer of the well-crafted three act play (so prolific he has at least 38 titles to his credit). Dean’s career paralleled that other writer of well-crafted plays, Roger Hall. But whereas Roger has written about the foibles of the Kiwi middle and wanna-be middle class  (who tend to be the theatre goers) and as a consequence achieved popularity with that mainstream audience, Dean was a leftie who wrote about political subjects and social contradiction, so had a career-long struggle getting his plays produced. Rather than bums on seats he was interested in ideas in the mind. He required a national theatre like the Royal Court with managers who hold onto the Greek democratic tradition of the theatre playing a vital role in the necessary  debates among citizens, rather than the NZ provincial theatres’ struggle to survive as they compete with beers around the barbie and commercial television..

Dean was never bitter about the struggle to get his plays produced and he kept on writing no matter what. Of late, BATS in Wellington proved a more sympathetic venue, with a small theatre company being keen to put on his work.  But a BATS co-op is not capable of providing a living and Dean never bothered the arts council, so he sensibly made his money though writing for film and television. This led to his work helping to found the NZ Writers Guild which set itself up as a trade union negotiating on behalf of writers with the main employers, National Radio and Television and the NZ Producers Association. Despite some initial success this remains an uphill struggle.

Dean became renowned as a script doctor for film projects – if a script wasn’t working send it to Dean. He had a lovely story. Once the producers of a film about to go into production were tearing their hair out over a script that had gone through umpteen versions and called on him to help. Send me the first draft, he requested. They did so and he retyped the script and sent it back with his invoice. That’s it, they enthused, that’s what we’ve been looking for.

He had a sardonic relationship with the Auckland Theatre Company which was logically his production house. But think of the Remuera crowd, they would plead with him as he presented them with another well-crafted play written from within a working class consciousness. Fuck them, he would reply.

Like any expert craftsman he kept himself out of the work, although for a playwright that is difficult. He admitted the influences of Catholicism and his Napier teachers, his mother, the themes and events of the late sixties, the Irish struggles and his flirtation with the Party. He loved James Joyce and Molly Bloom’s monologue. Of all his plays, Greek Fire, set in Cairo during WW11 and with John Mulgan at its centre, seems most like him. Sadly, I don’t think it has ever been produced. I saw a rehearsed reading and it has stayed with me. There was something of the foreign agent to Dean, the cadre in hiding, the monk in his cell, and he felt a kinship with John Mulgan, the Kiwi who wrote Man Alone, went to Oxford, served with the British Army, worked with the Greek resistance, experienced the dreadful betrayal of that country’s left after the war and committed suicide.

Dean remained stalwart during the post-modern fragmentation, was always generous and always ready to meet for a beer at the Grey Lynn Working Men’s Club when I was in Auckland. We would swap yarns. He was the one who suggested a working class museum in Blackball. I never attempted the mainstream theatre but like Dean kept on working no matter what and he appreciated that.

He will be sadly missed, a man out of his time, out of place in some ways, yet resolutely creative, maintaining a culture which , one day, hopefully soon, the world will return to.

RIP comrade.

Kindness

In the 1990s, as part of a poverty action group, I happened to attend a Grey Power meeting in the Hutt. It was run by a couple of old communists and did they tear into each other when it came to discussing which line to take. But then communism has never been kind; if you want to take over the means of production and then, if successful, defend the new state of affairs from the capitalists who will be attacking you with every weapon in their arsenal, kindness is not on the agenda. Ask the Cubans. Various hui I have attended have also often been volatile as issues were debated, with often a surprising level of vitriol. Except, after the debate, in both cases, camaraderie existed once more.

I suppose I prefer this state of affairs, when issues and ideas rouse strong emotions, to the culture of kindness, which comes from a middle class charity. It was the duty of Victorian ladies to visit the poor and sick in their vicinity and dispense kind words and some physical sustenance. It gave a greater purpose than the round of visits and chat and gossip that characterised the rest of their life – unless they happened to be secret novelists.

In Civilisation and its Discontents  Freud argued that culture is the balancing act between instinctual, pleasure-seeking impulses (eros) and the feeling of shame and remorse for hurting others when following these impulses. And then, when that shame and remorse is anticipated, the internalised super ego has formed, known more generally as conscience, that then guides our actions. The judicial system follows this paradigm:  the court process is geared to promoting shame and remorse and then, in the penitentiary (the place of the penitent), a superego is supposedly acquired, and once that is measurable, the wrongdoer can be released back into society.

Accordingly, with the lockdown (in response to a rampant death threat), we deny our pleasure seeking instincts and follow the strictures of a superego as dictated by the state mother or father figure. And the disobedient, the hunters and gatherers, the surfers, the hikers and bike riders, the pleasure seekers, are shamed into remorse. For the first time in history, a cabinet minister’s career is in tatters because he went a walk with his family on an isolate beach.

Such a situation produces neurotic tensions in instinctual life: the bad boy spitting on others, the cursing of supermarket workers, domestic violence, racism toward Chinese people…but also eruptions in the dominating super ego: spying and dobbing in, a schizoid search for safety behind masks, a paranoia toward the other as threat, the over compliance of the schiz child (judging himself as guilty), an undercurrent of sadism and cynicism not read by the media or the politicians.

Here’s an example. Below our cottage is a track that leads to a field that is a sort of commons. For years it had an absentee owner, allowing for the commons to develop,  but was then bought by the local dairy farmer. Being on the other side of the road, he uses it mainly to grow silage, with once a year, grazing his heifers on it. Our whanau and some others, walk our dogs there. The farmer is happy about that, except he requests that we don’t do so when the heifers are there – and we are happy to comply. Recently the silage has been cut and baled and yesterday the picking up of the last of the bales coincided with my afternoon walk. As I wandered back home a tractor came dashing across the field and a rabid farm worker started shouting at me. ‘This is private property, we are in lockdown, the dog’s not on a lead, if they saw you here they’d shut us down.’ He had the same twisted face that once ordered people to scrub the footpath. I started to explain the customary relationship, that the social distancing was about one kilometre, that this is part of my local, but he would have none of it. ‘If I see you here again I’ll call the police. I’ve spoken to the boss and he agrees.’

Not in the wildest dream did this have anything to do with possible transmission of the virus, but the lockdown had created this unreason. I suspect that this is the end of the customary use of the field. Who knows. Maybe I will need to be secretive and check that he is not present before venturing. But it will no  longer be a free act.

To what extent this is universalised is a matter of interest. The fear of a gathering of people may well linger. What this will mean for marae and tangihanga is anyone’s guess.  We may all start to wear a mask as a matter of habit, the over compliance may continue, as may the violent undercurrent of the thwarted impulse. Meanwhile the data collection will proceed apace, we may compliantly download the app that traces our contacts and our movements. The Universal Basic Income is approaching with strings attached, as is the technological revolution and ArtificiaI Intelligence. Blake’s poems resonate; the kindness of ‘Little lamb who made thee’ balanced by ‘Tyger tiger burning bright…’ and the dread contained in the prophetic works.

Maybe this is paranoia and kindness will solve these issues. It would be nice if this were so but I am sceptical.  At least we need to be discussing these paradigms openly and honestly.

charity1

Further reflections

The science: viruses require a host cell in order to live (in that case are they really alive?) and epidemics arise as a new virus colonizes hosts with great rapidity. With Covid 19 the effects of this colonization range from the barely noticeable to the life threatening for the elderly or immune or respiratory compromised person.

Possible defenses: (a) to host the virus, recover and therefore achieve immunity from further attacks;

(b) to have a vaccination which gives a mild and tolerable dose of the virus through which immunity is achieved (unfortunately, there is no vaccine to date);

(c) to control the spread of the virus by minimizing contact between hosts and potential hosts. There are varying ways to minimize contacts: closing borders so that hosts from outside a geographic area can’t make contact; banning gatherings and isolating hosts, potential hosts (because of contact) and those most in danger; total lockdown in order to deny the possibility of further hosting of the virus.

This trajectory, which we are currently experiencing, is a trajectory from science to regulation, but the science has often been missed out or an understanding supposed and the defences, expressed as regulation, create some interesting contradictions.

Because of the virulence of the coronavirus we are asked to self isolate and fear the other possible carrier, but also to act as if we have the virus, which means that we should fear ourselves in relation to the other. This state of alienation is, at the same time, an act of social solidarity. Usually these states of paranoia have been focused on a common enemy, but, in this case, the enemy is internal.

And the solidarity, expressed as paranoia, is based on supposition, until the illness is actually embodied, when it assumes reality. And the reality is not overwhelming, if, for example, the numbers of dead are compared with road deaths, deaths from influenza, malaria, conflict etc.

But an important element of the reality is the potential to overwhelm and then the actual overwhelming of what are often, stressed health systems by this additional wave of ill people requiring isolation and intensive care.

There are resonances with other moments in sociology and history. The level of paranoia is similar to that of those early bands of people, when anyone outside the band was considered dangerous and would be killed or driven away. This is repeating itself, with isolated communities wishing to put up the barricades and visitors to be driven off.

There are other times of paranoia, for example, the treatment of enemy aliens living within our society during the war years, when they were considered the probable carriers of dangerous sympathies. There was the McCarthy period when the virus of communism was supposedly threatening democratic life.

There is the sad sight of consumerism being the only solver of anxiety for some, leading to panic buying in supermarkets.

There is the absolutely abhorrent continuance of US embargoes on countries like Iran, Cuba and Venezuela and the Israeli/US treatment of Palestine.

There are signs of a resentment among some young people against the boomers who have done so much to make life difficult for them and their future children and this resentment is couched in irresponsible behavior and an attitude of letting a proportion of compromised oldies die rather than destroy the economy.

Some leaders seriously considered the herd immunity approach, where most catch the virus and safely recover and thereby achieve immunity, meanwhile all the energy of the system is focused on protecting the vulnerable and economic and social life is allowed to continue. But this approach is heavily criticized by medical leaders and the potential death toll and the overwhelming of the medical system become unacceptable.

There is the populist regional dweller, suspicious and recalcitrant when faced with being told what to do by the ‘rational state’ and the difficulty of simple regulation faced with on-the-ground complexity: blended families with shared child care make staying at home problematic; why can’t I go to my empty office?; over seventies are as varied in health as any other age group; what are essential services?; who’s policing all this?; the mother helping the daughter down the road with her new born suddenly not being able to do so; why can’t we decide for ourselves our level of risk?; what’s the exit strategy?…and there comes into existence the further ‘dobbing in’ paranoia of  any state command system plus a self righteous ‘being good’ syndrome and a sentimental nationalism.

There is a reasonable certainty that this will provide a further leap into the digital world, with online learning, meetings etc becoming the norm; and the realization that this in turn means a bolstering of the control of the big digital organisations. It is likely that the paranoia about ‘the other’ will continue to some degree and add to the popularity of the digital.

Of course leaders are not averse to this sort of crisis: to be ‘at war’ makes life easier politically. Difficult coalition partners toe the line, the opposition is left somewhat helpless, all eyes are on the governors, and unless you seriously stuff things up, it will bode well come election time.

But above all the crisis has allowed this government to do some seriously good things: the raising of benefit levels, the easing of family support hours, general support for out of work workers which may get us used to Universal Basic Income type systems, banks coming on board with mortgage holidays and hopefully, it heralds the death knell of neo liberal anti-interventionism. In this it is vastly different from the Global Financial Crisis when the investment sector was supported rather than working people.

Finally, it is mana for the media, supplying endless content. Only the cynic would say that when the media is tired of it, the coronavirus will disappear.

Above all, it feels like a rehearsal for the disruption that will arise from climate change.

As we all settle down and stop flying around the world and limit domestic travel and the entertainment scene shrinks, it feels like the fifties again. A neurotic energy dissipates. There will be the irritability, the denial, the panic, the magical thinking of the addict denied the fix, but hopefully some greater semblance of resilience will result, with the knowledge that the extended family practicing subsistence has been the most sustainable form of human society.

Covid 19

‘The human being, conceived as an electronic, cybernetic machine, makes a perfect home for viruses and viral illnesses, just as computers provide an ideal terrain for electronic viruses…

‘He who lives by the same will die by the same. The impossibility of exchange, or reciprocity, of alterity secretes that other invisible, diabolic, elusive alterity, that absolute Other, the virus, itself made up of simple elements and of recurrence to infinity.

‘In a world cleansed of its old infections, in an ‘ideal’ clinical world, an intangible, implacable pathology unfurls, a pathology born of disinfection itself.

‘…viruses are concerns not just for the police, medicine, science and the experts, but for the entire collective imagination.  This is because there is more to them than mere episodic events in an irrational world. They embody the entire logic of our system, and are merely, so to speak, the points at which that logic crystallizes spectacularly. Their power is a power of irradiation and their effect, through the media, within the imagination, is itself a viral one.’

The French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard wrote the above in 2002. He was referring to AIDS, terrorism and computer viruses, but his words prophetically encapsulate Covid 19 and its effects.  Suddenly every human being is potentially Other. And the speed of transmission of Otherness in a globalised, electronic world is extraordinary. This is postmodernism taken to the extremes of alienation. Diversity must self-isolate. Gathering is cancelled.

But it is also another element of the climate crisis world and hopefully the wakeup call, if we can connect the two. Tomatoes, as well as viruses have to stop flying around the world. Cruise ships are ridiculous. Tourism of the selfie sort is a parody. Some borders are necessary. We need to quieten down and work on our back yard.

I was talking to a shuttle passenger my own age and we started with the sensible idea of permaculture and moved on to childhood days when clothes and shoes were locally made and socks and jerseys were darned and shoes resoled and you could buy a new element for the toaster or electric jug. That would bring down the world economy, we realised.

Oh well, so be it.

Jeanette Fitzsimons

I hear of her death while driving into town and feel the shock of grief. We were hardly close but she’d come to Maydays, there’d been the occasional encounter at activist gatherings, some email exchanges, that was all. But grief because she was a woman of great integrity. She knew nothing of opportunism, narcissism, ambition…nor was there any new age performance. She was simply focused on the environment and social justice. There was some memory of the pioneer woman in her bearing. No one could doubt her wisdom, her history, her integrity. She was resolute she was firm, yet she could laugh. She helped create a movement.

In a time of decay and fragmentation, a time when the centre does not hold, there is grief at the loss of these qualities.

She will be missed.

But at a time of mourning, it is good to renew hope. So listen, if you will, to a native American woman who has a similar spirit: https://www.alternativeradio.org/radio-show/podcast/

The movement continues.

Imagery

Delving into Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire I was struck by the intensity of controversy over images in the early church. Used to the ornately decorated European cathedral, we can forget the asceticism of the early church (to be repeated by the early Protestants). Painted or sculptured images of God, Christ, Mary or the saints, or depictions of the dramas of Christianity were forbidden and seen as succumbing to the heathen superstition and idolatry of tribal peoples. The cross was the only image allowed. A similar banning of imagery occurs in Islam. And there is a point to this. Not having a photographic image of Christ or Mary or the disciples or Mohamed, how does one paint a true likeness? It is necessarily made up and subjective.

But there was a counter argument: that such images were necessary to attract the more primitive and the simple minded folk. As well, images of Christ, Mary, saints and martyrs held huge emotional power, for example before battles when life might be lost. The depiction of the dead and the sacred does serve a real human need, with suspension of disbelief easily achieved.

My thoughts turned to the contemporary world and the cacophony of images and their association with the gods of commerce and consumerism. After looking after a couple of children for a month, I was glad to see the end of the endless supply of kids’ films, many of which are over the top in terms of stimulation. I’ve long wanted a ban on tourists taking photos. The emotional power of the commercial image has returned us to the idolising of the fetish. And without the mediation of the natural working world of the peasant.

In turn I wondered whether, in order to tackle the climate crisis, we need to return to a spiritual aesthetic asceticism, this time in order to acknowledge and respect the power and complexity of the natural systems; that a crucifixion has taken place which shouldn’t be imaged, but told as a simple story: we were gifted a planet and we crucified it. A single image could become the visual descriptor, together with testaments and songs.

Perhaps that degree of focus is required?

Milestones

I turned 75 on Saturday. It seems a significant number, like 60, 65 and 70. What used to be a decade becomes 5 year lots. Eventually, I presume, it gets down to 1 year.

The day coincided with the book launch of West Coast Plays, plays I’ve written for the Kiwi/Possum Company over the last ten years and a book for which Carol Dawber has written a splendid introduction, putting the work in the context of other community theatre which has taken place on the Coast since its founding. I also snuck in the launch of a novella I’d recently had published, Peace and Goodness, a story centering on the 1862 wreck of the Lord Worsley on the Taranaki Coast during the land wars.

Wendy Barrow’s second hand bookshop, Red Books provided the venue and as friends and strangers gathered, it was a lovely occasion. I was struck by the vibrancy of the conversation, interspersed with the launching speeches, songs and poems. The bookshop, with its discerning selection of books, has a historical resonance, being the same building that Peter Hooper established Walden Books in the 1960s. A good bookshop, like a good theatre, becomes a salon, a gathering place, a place of dialogue, a rare thing these days; and a launching is mana for the writer as it makes personal the exchange of the book (that considered conversation) between writer and reader.

The evening gave me much needed sustenance. At my age, one’s peers are often dying or, like old cars, seriously crapping out. There are the awful degenerative diseases waiting in the wings or entering centre stage, there is the inevitable feeling of growing irrelevancy, of taking up space and of being a burden to children. Thank God for the pension. There is no sight more painful than the old person begging.

Other than cards, one of them hand made by Caroline, I received a bed of nails from Te Whaea (I’d asked for one). Shakti they’re called and after some pain, the experience provides a feeling of levitation.

Sunday, we had a working bee to put a new roof on the museum and I spent the day in the company of Mike, Lance and Tane. This was a complex task usually performed by the suppliers – at a cost we couldn’t afford – but these blokes are highly skilled. There is no greater pleasure than being a labourer for the highly skilled worker. Dave and a visitor mate came over and watched for a time, like kaumatua. Maori, holding the wisdom of the pre-capitalist society, have a place for the old; on the marae telling and retelling the stories. What better task to perform?

After dinner at Te Whaea’s and a touch of the precious piece of pounamu, Te Kura o Waitaiki, gifted by the marae to the women’s group formed around the art of the karanga, I spent the evening reading a New York Times bestseller. The competent writer had spent much time analyzing the market and structures that sell, hot topics etc. The result was banal. Soon there will be computer written books generated by algorithms. Like watching television, they will pass the time, on cruise ships, aeroplanes and in rest homes.

On Friday, after buying a new exercise book in which to keep notes, I had written a new ‘mission statement’: With the climate crisis, the inequality crisis, the cultural crisis and the dominion of corporate power, new structures are required – people to people, co-operative, sustainable. Meanwhile it is essential to speak truth to power, without compromise.

There’s a feeling of autumn in the air; slightly chilly mornings, with the sun taking a little longer to heat the day. The kereru remain, the wild goats are happy, a few more tourists pass through. It looks like a good blackberry season.

Arts funding for the regions

Just before Xmas I received a phone call from a  Creative NZ worker. She announced in a consoling voice that I would be feeling upset because our application for  funding assistance ($3000) toward the running of the Blackball Readers and Writers Festival had been unsuccessful. I listened as she murmured condolences: ‘Not a good way to end the week …’ etc.; even wondered whether she was reading from a script.

But I hadn’t expected success – in applying I’d simply made a routine gesture. Unlike the city festivals which attract thousands to listen to celebrities legislate grand themes for substantial fees, where the budgets are considerable, where organisers are paid, where excellence and the special vision become consumer items and the spectacle is achieved, our festival involves an encounter between fifty people at the local school. We’re celebrating the local and the regional – we’re telling another story, which can easily go unnoticed. Yet people do enjoy coming and if we’d got our three thousand, it would have been stress free and everyone involved would have self exploited a little less.

I must admit that a few years ago, after I applied for a grant from CNZ to tour a large-cast Brechtian-style play on the transition economy around the West Coast region and  the application was rejected, and I then saw that in that round, twice as much as I had applied for had been awarded for the opening party of the Dunedin Fringe Festival, I did pen a few critical words to CNZ, which brought down the director of funding for a conversation. It seemed that CNZ was embarrassed that none of its budget outside the Creative Communities scheme was going to the regions. She was keen to do something about it and would report back. I am pleased that there is now some progress.

Yet I am skeptical. The email (which was passed on to me) announcing the scheme, went out to some local organisations on the Coast, mainly the venue managers and the schools,  promised to ‘connect you with potential arts organisations who can tour to the West Coast’; and furthermore was keen ‘for you to work collaboratively in presenting work’. What we have here expressed is a desire to open up the regional market to the touring, urban-based professionals. Not a bad thing but not particularly useful for the regional artist.

The official outline is more sophisticated:   ‘In partnership with communities’ – but who’s the other partner? ‘Develop quality arts by and within local and regional communities’? Who will be the protagonist? The scheme? CNZ wants some financial input from Councils or local corporates, but Councils on the Coast are already stretched because of infrastructural demands and corporates of substance are few and far between and usually committed to worthy schemes such as rescue helicopters. And ‘increase engagement (attendance and/or participation)’ is fine, but attendance is easier to measure. Opening up the regional market will tend to dominate.

Surely, what CNZ should be looking to primarily assist is regionally-based professional artists working with their communities in a structured manner, which usually means that the content is suggested by the community, that there is a reciprocal relationship, that the project will have a greater purpose than to be merely entertainment, and that creativity is considered a universal gift.

There are other valid possibilities: for community-based events or exhibitions of merit to travel within the region or across regions or to the urban areas. There could be professional development opportunities regionally and perhaps an opportunity to honour the regional artist, for example, through retrospectives. There could be symposia giving locals the opportunity to work alongside artists from outside the region. Another issue is obtaining informed critique in the regions.

And who has been consulted. I certainly wasn’t.  Nor I suspect, were other artists practising within the regions. And if we are looking at regional arts development, the first step on the Coast would be to bring the local players together in order to develop a regional arts infrastructure and create a body or bodies who might meaningfully apply to such a scheme or become a significant partner. That wouldn’t be an easy task, for the local players are a complex mix of council funded, commercial or community venues, private, co-operative (and one public) galleries, amateur artists and groups, professional and semi-professional artists and groups, co-ops, trusts and so on; but it would be worthwhile. In fact, what we really need is something akin to the old Regional Arts Councils with their funding for regional touring, regional arts development workshops and other opportunities, as well as their ability to build a regional knowledge base. If you really want to tour to small places you have to know that X will put up some posters, that the rural mail deliverer is willing to place a flier in mail boxes if asked by the right person and so on.

Part of the problem here is a loss of institutional memory. The Dunedin group, Talking Heads, for example, did years of exemplary work telling regional stories and touring within the Otago region.  Ditto for us, Kiwi/Possum Productions. And then there is the whole business of arts in education. Footnote used to have a wonderful programme for schools, with a performance followed by a workshop for kids interested. Kahurangi the same. Te Rakau took shows developed by youth at risk around the schools… All disappeared because for some extraordinary reason funding for this sort of work stopped. Finally, there will always be an infrastructural problem with regional arts organisations – even having a hui on the Coast is an expensive proposition because of distance issues.

And the money? 1.12% of the CNZ budget to provide for 2.7 million people, 58% of the population. What would a meaningful budget be, without regions competing one with the other? From a local point of view, $3 a head of population would provide a fund of $98,000 for West Coast arts each year. Amazing things could then happen. I would suspect that a similar $3 a head in other areas (Southland and Taranaki would each get around $300,000) would provide for meaningful arts development. These sums in the city context are trivial, in the regions they are substantial. Cost of such a scheme: $8.3 million, 18% of CNZ’s budget. 58% of the population would get 18% of the funding  – and that would be okay, we realise our limitations when it comes to mounting an exhibition of butter boxes at the Venice biannale.

As far as I know, the arts council has never been reviewed or its work analysed objectively. Rachel Barrowman’s book, A Popular Vision covered the vision of the left for the arts during the pre-Arts Council period of 1930-1950, Michael Volkerling wrote a report for the Arts Council, Cultural Research in NZ in 1976, Jenny Keats wrote another report,  Know Your Audience in 2000 and there has been the occasional Chairperson’s comment of substance, for example, Elizabeth Kerr in the 2005 publication, On Arts 33.

There is good reason for the absence, for any such studies come to the conclusion that, in the words of English writer, Jonathan Lewis, ’Public funding of the arts represents the redistribution of wealth from the working class to subsidise middle class entertainment and middle class aesthetics.’[i]  We can include geography in this paradigm. To put it succinctly, the Invercargill cleaner buying a weekly Lucky Dip is subsidising the Auckland lawyer attending the opening of the latest ATC production. Best to keep this a secret and if it threatens to leak out, mystify it with notions of artistic vision and excellence, nationalism, creative industries, postmodern diversity and so on.

But the scheme has been formulated and announced. Can I suggest that CNZ run hui in each region bringing arts players together, as a first step in what used to be called community cultural development. These could well be run along open agenda lines, the aim being to cut across parochial survival and to begin to plan a regional strategy in line with what the scheme is suggesting.

Ultimately, in this era of climate emergency, there’s a big story to be told in the regions, in order to avoid the split between city and region as has happened in the US, to move past fundamentalist extractive or conservation positions, to foster dialogue and to create new images. And what we’re learning down here is that iwi are central to that story.

 

 

[i] J. Lewis, Art, Culture and Enterprise: The politics of art and the cultural industries, Routledge, London; New York, 1990, p.21

Normality

With towns destroyed, a billion wildlife casualties, a European sized country burnt out and people huddled on beaches as at Dunkirk, the Australian bush fires are maybe the first catastrophic climate event, more dramatic than the slow dying of a coral reef or the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Camping in the countryside south of Motueka, the red afternoon sun seemed like a primitive omen conjured by a witch doctor or pantheistic god.

Faced with this event, the concept of normality disappeared and I was struck by the realisation that despite this disappearance, people will nevertheless, determinedly hold onto the normal.

I was with family at a folk festival, a pleasant and gentle way to see in the new year; people singing around the campfire sort of thing, folk music having been resurrected as part of the sixties’ rebellion against commercialisation, mass production etc. – instead, the pure voice of Joan Baez singing of Mary Hamilton. There was a bush poets session with the recitation of amusing doggerel which sometimes approached the ballad. All very pleasant, but there was an elephant in the room. Could we acknowledge it? Two of us did, feeling like spoil sports.

Kids roll down the bank/ The young man from Rarotonga/Sings of love/The white tent throbs with age/The sky is clear, time is still/The tui is not in danger/White tuft of once was/ Once was/ Dust settles/On modern man.

And that is the issue. To acknowledge a coming apocalyptic age is difficult and everyone, as in a war, seeks normality, even though there is the knowledge that normality is no longer possible.

Except in the ads. The ads become a comfort, for everyone in the ads is happy. All is well. All you need to do is buy this or that and life will be wonderful. Consumption is the answer. We are suddenly at the heart of the matter and at the heart of our inability to make the necessary decisions and make the necessary uncomfortable changes and face up to the realisation that capitalism doesn’t fit the bill. To put it simply, in Aussie, the fire was consuming consumption and the sun was glowing red. Nevertheless, the cruise ship beckons, the new sofa, the new television, the new car, the shampoo, the bathroom cleaner… producing smiling faces and bonny families  All will be well as we hang onto a normality which no longer exists.

The French philosopher, Badiou, believed that a big event can give direction to the complex and diverse evolving multiplicities that make up modern society. I suspect this is not the case for the climate event, which instead, reduces the multiplicities to a singularity: destruction.

The folk music continued: Mary Hamilton went to the tower, we laughed at a funny song about the kiwi bloke and his shed, applauded a skilled performer on the penny whistle, munched a pie in Murchison on the way back. Normality. The Aussie PM pitches to tourists – it’s still okay to visit our natural wonderland, people stitch leg bandages for kangaroos, celebrities donate money, the ads continue…

Normality.

bushfire

Photo: BBC.com

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