Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dirty Politics



Nicky Hager: Dirty Politics (2014)


Well, I've read the book. Finally. It only came out last week, but it had already sold out from the local bookshop, so I was forced to make my way to the heart of the mall in Albany, where there were still quite a few copies left in the local Whitcoulls.

I'm no stranger to Hager's writing. I read The Hollow Men (2006) back when it first appeared (and was struck by how few of my colleagues who professed an interest in politics bothered to do as much - as if they somehow thought a few reviews from our wonderfully objective New Zealand media could give them the nub of the matter ...) I also read his genuinely shocking book about New Zealand's (so-called) "humanitarian" involvement in Afghanistan: Other People's Wars (2011).

At first I was a little disappointed to see how comparatively thin this one was: the others were thick, meaty tomes, with hundreds of pages of text and almost equally fascinating footnotes. In this case, though, I think one would have to say that size really doesn't matter. And I could also see the point that there's really no excuse for not reading less than 200 pages of material which could vitally affect your view of New Zealand's democracy.

I could recite a few of the shocking things in there: John Key's "sympathy" call to Cameron Slater of the Whale Oil blog (I won't provide a link) when the latter was being criticised for gloating over the death in a car crash of a youth from the West Coast ("One More Feral Down"); Judith Collin's fawning text messages and systematic leaking of material to Slater (for which she's now received a "final final warning" from our Prime Minister - preliminary to a final final final warning, no doubt); the gullible way in which our News Media have permitted Slater and his loathsome buddies to dictate the terms of each new political "scandal" ... It's all in there - all clearly documented, with chapter and verse.

But that isn't really the story, for me. At the time of Watergate, the real shock for Americans was not that their President had authorised a systematic campaign of dirty tricks against his opponents (including burglary, theft and a range of other foolish and counterproductive crimes), but the way he spoke to his White House intimates day to day.

Those endless, heavily edited transcripts of the tapes he released, with all their thousands of "expletive deleted"s, were the thing which really sealed his doom in the eyes of the American public. He'd always been sold to them as a Sunday School teacher, a bit of an old-fashioned, aw-shucks, fuddy-duddy puritan. To discover, now, that Nixon was in the habit of joking about sch loveable topics as how much he hated sitting next to Japanese dignitaries (because they stank of fish), the sheer number of curse words he used in every single sentence, made him sound more like a racist taxi driver than a responsible statesman.

The same is true of this book. Simply being allowed to overhear the kinds of filthy, sexist, abusive, mindless drivel Slater and his intimates - including, it seems, Cabinet Ministers and senior advisers to the Prime Minister (if not actually Gentleman John himself) - trade on a daily basis on their facebook and twitter accounts is like crawling through a tunnel of ordure.

Don't get me wrong. I was never a subscriber to the John Key myth. The mask, after all, is pretty thin whenever the slightest hint of opposition or dissent is heard. But I honestly had no idea that he and his minions actually enjoyed dealing with the likes of Slater. That his rants really and truly represent their view of the world. That came as a genuine surprise, I must say.

The final icing on the cake is the discovery of how much of this activity is motivated by a taste for easy money rather than genuine ideological involvement. It turns out that Slater prints posts from Big Tobacco and various other "responsible" lobby groups under his own name as if they were sincere expressions of opinion - for a substantial monthly sum. Hence, according to Hager, the constant shifts and contradictions on his famous blog. What is it being paid to print this month is more the question than what does it actually stand for?

Read the book. There's far more in there than you've been told. Make up your own mind. Don't be "spun" on this one - it matters too much. If the Slaters of this world continue to flourish, then there really is no hope for our electoral system. If that's of no interest to you, then perhaps the likes of Paul Henry and Cameron Slater really do speak for you. Congratulations!

I don't really believe that, though. Nixon may have his apologists still, but when it came down to it, the citizens of his country were simply not prepared to endorse his doctrine that he never broke the law because "it can't be illegal, if the president did it." Politicians must be subject to the law of the land, and it's about time that we all started to hold them accountable again. Thanks, Nicky Hager.



Monday, August 18, 2014

Massey Albany Open Day (16/8)



School of English and Media Studies Notice Board


I just thought I'd post a few of the pictures that Leola Abraham, our College communications advisor, took of us all on Saturday 22nd August:



Jack & Bronwyn proffering advice


You can find more of these online:



Our part of the Round Room




l-to-r: Pansy Duncan, Bronwyn Lloyd, JR, Raquel Harper, Joe Grixti


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why W. H. Auden?



Aiden Hatley: "MAD poster"

With Massey's own
Jack Ross
as the guest speaker
Wednesday 6th August, 1-2 pm
SC4 Massey Albany main campus


Next week I'm supposed to be leading a discussion with a group of students on this rather uncomfortably weighty topic. I find that what thoughts I do have on the subject all seem to have been expressed already - rather better - by W. H. Auden, possibly my favourite English-language poet of all time (invidious though it would be to have to make such a choice).

There is, for a start, his early poem "Missing" [From scars where kestrels hover] (1929), about those "Fighters for no-one's sake / Who died beyond the border":
Heroes are buried who
Did not believe in death,
And bravery is now
Not in the dying breath
But resisting the temptations
To skyline operations.
The poem concludes with the magnificent lines:
"Leave for Cape Wrath to-night,"
And the host after waiting
Must quench the lamps and pass
Alive into the house.
That image of the "host" passing "alive into the house" is very much Auden's idea of the thirties hero: someone who can resist all the "temptations" to the prestige of "skyline operations" but instead be content to remain alive as a witness.

It's a vision of the artist as ordinary citizen ("The poet is Mr. Everyman. He goes to work every day on the tram," as he told the young Stephen Spender at much the same time (as recorded in the latter's 1953 autobiography World Within World).

It recalls Milton's sonnet "On His Blindness" - "They also serve who only stand and wait" - but goes beyond that to reject the whole idea of the "test": the supreme ordeal (like the trenches of 1914-18, missed by a whisker by his whole generation) which proves you to be a man.



Cecil Beaton: W. H. Auden (1930)


But can the artist go beyond this role of witness and observer? Auden's poem "Spain 1937" would seem to imply as much:
The stars are dead. The animals will not look.
We are left alone with our day, and the time is short, and
History to the defeated
May say Alas but cannot help nor pardon.
Here what is stressed is the need for action:
"What's your proposal? To build the just city? I will.
I agree. Or is it the suicide pact, the romantic
Death? Very well, I accept, for
I am your choice, your decision. Yes, I am Spain."

Many have heard it on remote peninsulas,
On sleepy plains, in the aberrant fishermen's islands
Or the corrupt heart of the city.
Have heard and migrated like gulls or the seeds of a flower.

They clung like burrs to the long expresses that lurch
Through the unjust lands, through the night, through the alpine tunnel;
They floated over the oceans;
They walked the passes. All presented their lives.
Spain is now symbolic of the choice, an invitation to the young of international brigades, who "clung like burrs to the long expresses that lurch / Through the unjust lands."

Auden subsequently chose to repudiate this poem. He said of it, in fact, in the preface to Collected Shorter Poems (1966), of the lines "History to the defeated / May say alas but cannot help nor pardon", that "to say this is to equate goodness with success":
It would have been bad enough if I had ever held this wicked doctrine, but that I should have stated it simply because it sounded to me rhetorically effective is quite inexcusable.
I don't know if he quite understood his own poem, though - or perhaps he feigned to misunderstand it in order to make a point. As I read it, at any rate, the poem is simply stating a fact about history: "Acts of injustice done / Between the rising and the setting sun / In history lie like bones, each one", as he remarked on another occasion. It isn't arguing that it is necessary to win in order to be right, but simply that those who die defeated (as the Spanish loyalists did, so many of them) cannot be helped by subsequent apologists or revisionists.

I can see that this is indeed an unpalatable "doctrine" for the later, Christian, Auden, but for the earlier Leftist, to whom History was itself a kind of deity, it added a necessary dose of cold reason.

This period culminates in Auden's "September 1, 1939," another of the poems excluded - much to his admirers' surprise - from Collected Shorter Poems:
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
As he said much later, "All the attitudes I struck in the 1930s didn't save a single Jew." That, presumably, is one of the "clever hopes" expiring with the coming of war - along, perhaps, with the rest of the rabble-rousing rhetoric of "Spain 1937"?

The poem goes on with a kind of inexorable, nursery rhyme logic, to remind us that:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
Because, in the final analysis:
The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.
The poem ends with an impassioned cri de coeur:
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
It's that last line that caused all the trouble. It was much praised and much quoted at the time, as it seemed to sum up the whole business - why we had to keep going, keep struggling, keep trying to "love one another." Auden complained later (somewhat pedantically, one might say) that we would die whether we loved one another or not, and he therefore revised the line to read "We must love one another and die" in subsequent collections. Even this was not enough, though, so later still the whole poem was excised.

I suppose he had a point. It is a nice, resonant line, but it doesn't really make sense when you think about it. It seems a shame to scrap the whole poem for that, though. There's an earlier stanza which runs through my head every time I think about the "compassion fatigue" so endemic to our times:
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.
"Lost in a haunted wood / Children afraid of the night / Who have never been happy or good" - that's us all right.

I'll conclude with some lines from another one of those magisterial poems from the end of the 1930s, elegies for a dying age, poems that speak to us now with an ever more urgent voice - "In Memory of W. B. Yeats":
You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.
It's interesting how often this poem is - not so much misquoted, as misunderstood. People recall that half-line "poetry makes nothing happen," and see that as an expression of quietism or defeatism in the face of the (so-called) "real world" of executives and their ilk. But if you read on, that's not at all the end of the matter. On the contrary, the "poetry" that Auden imagines so triumphantly in this poem "survives, / A way of happening, a mouth." Poetry may make nothing happen, but that's because it is, in itself, a way of happening - in the valley of its making, those "Raw towns that we believe and die in," it has its own healing power to offer.

The poem's splendidly resonant conclusion therefore expands on these earlier lines, rather than contradicting them:
Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice.

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress.

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.
Auden won't let us get away with the excuse that poetry is impotent to affect our lives: "With your unconstraining voice / Still persuade us to rejoice" is the task of every poet, in his view.

It's not that he's naive about the difficulty of the task: "In the prison of his days / Teach the free man how to praise" was written by one who foresaw the perils of consumerist vacuity and the "airtight cages" of poverty which could be established so easily alongside the palatial dwellings of those of us who call ourselves "free."



W. H. Auden (Christmas, 2011)


Did Auden ever resolve these balances? No, of course not. But the various positions he occupied at different times are well worth reconsidering now, when we face a world which more and more resembles that of the 1930s. I think he knew we would, and that's why he outlined the task of poetry (and art in general) with such precision and care:
I, decent with the seasons, move
Different or with a different love
as he said in "The Letter," the first poem preserved in his final collected edition. "Let your last thinks be thanks," says one of the last.



W. H. Auden: Spain (1937)

Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973)


    Poetry:

  1. Auden, W. H. Poems. 1930. London: Faber, 1948.

  2. Auden, W. H. The Orators: An English Study. 1932. London: Faber, 1966.

  3. Auden, W. H. Look, Stranger! 1936. London: Faber, 1946.

  4. Auden, W. H. Look, Stranger! 1936. London: Faber, 2001.

  5. Auden, W. H. Another Time. London: Faber, 1940.

  6. Auden, W. H. Some Poems. 1940. London: Faber, 1941.

  7. Auden, W. H. New Year Letter. 1941. London: Faber, 1965.

  8. Auden, W. H. For the Time Being. 1945. London: Faber, 1953.

  9. Auden, W. H. The Collected Poetry. New York: Random House, 1945.

  10. Auden, W. H. The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue. 1948. London: Faber, 1956.

  11. Auden, W. H. Collected Shorter Poems, 1930-1944. 1950. London: Faber, 1959.

  12. Auden, W. H. Nones. 1952. London: Faber, 1953.

  13. Auden, W. H. The Shield of Achilles. London: Faber, 1955.

  14. Auden, W. H. A Selection by the Author. 1958. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964.

  15. Auden, W. H. Homage to Clio. London: Faber, 1960.

  16. Auden, W. H. About the House. London: Faber, 1966.

  17. Auden, W. H. Collected Shorter Poems: 1927-1957. 1966. London: Faber, 1975.

  18. Auden, W. H. Collected Longer Poems. 1968. London: Faber, 1977.

  19. Auden, W. H. Selected Poems. 1968. London: Faber, 1972.

  20. Auden, W. H. City without Walls and Other Poems. 1969. London: Faber, 1970.

  21. Auden, W. H. Academic Graffiti. Illustrated by Fillipo Sanjust. London: Faber, 1971.

  22. Auden, W. H. Epistle to a Godson & Other Poems. 1972. London: Faber, 1973.

  23. Auden, W. H. Thank You, Fog: Last Poems. London: Faber, 1974.

  24. Auden, W. H. Collected Poems. Ed. Edward Mendelson. London: Faber, 1976.

  25. Auden, W. H. Collected Poems. Ed. Edward Mendelson. 1976. London: Faber, 1991.

  26. Auden, W. H. Collected Poems. Ed. Edward Mendelson. 1976. Rev. ed. 1991. London: Faber, 1994.

  27. Auden, W. H. The English Auden: Poems, Essays and Dramatic Writings 1927-1939. Ed. Edward Mendelson. 1977. London: Faber, 1986.

  28. Auden, W. H. The English Auden: Poems, Essays and Dramatic Writings 1927-1939. Ed. Edward Mendelson. London: Faber, 1977.

  29. [McDiarmid, Lucy S. “W. H. Auden’s ‘In the Year of My Youth …’” Review of English Studies, 29 (115) (1978): 267-312.]

  30. Auden, W. H. Selected Poems. Ed. Edward Mendelson. London: Faber, 1979.

  31. Auden, W. H. Selected Poems. Ed. Edward Mendelson. 1979. London: Faber, 1982.

  32. Auden, W. H. Selected Poems: Expanded Edition. Ed. Edward Mendelson. 1979. New York: Vintage Books, 2007.

  33. Auden, W. H. The Platonic Blow and My Epitaph. Washington, D.C.: Orchises Press, 1985.

  34. Auden, W. H. Juvenilia: Poems 1922-1928. Ed. Katherine Bucknell. London: Faber, 1994.

  35. Auden, W. H. Juvenilia: Poems 1922-1928. Expanded Paperback Edition. Ed. Katherine Bucknell. 1994. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2003.

  36. Auden, W. H. As I Walked Out One Evening: Songs, Ballads, Lullabies, Limericks, and Other Light Verse. Ed. Edward Mendelson. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

  37. Plays:

  38. Auden, W. H. The Dance of Death. 1933. London: Faber, 1941.

  39. Auden, W. H. & Christopher Isherwood. The Dog Beneath the Skin, or Where is Francis? 1935. London: Faber, 1968.

  40. Auden, W. H. & Christopher Isherwood. The Ascent of F6 & On the Frontier. 1958. London: Faber, 1972.

  41. Auden, W. H. Paul Bunyan: The Libretto of the Operetta by Benjamin Britten. 1976. Essay by Donald Mitchell. London: Faber, 1988.

  42. Auden, W. H., & Christopher Isherwood. Plays and Other Dramatic Writings: 1928-1938. Ed. Edward Mendelson. The Complete Works of W. H. Auden. London: Faber, 1988.

  43. Auden, W. H., & Chester Kallman. Libretti and Other Dramatic Writings: 1939-1973. Ed. Edward Mendelson. The Complete Works of W. H. Auden. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 1993.

  44. Prose:

  45. Auden, W. H., & Louis MacNeice. Letters from Iceland. London: Faber, 1937.

  46. Auden, W. H. & Christopher Isherwood. Journey to a War. 1939. Rev. ed. 1973. London: Faber, 1986.

  47. Auden, W. H. The Enchaféd Flood, or The Romantic Iconography of the Sea. London: Faber, 1951.

  48. Auden, W. H. The Enchaféd Flood, or The Romantic Iconography of the Sea. 1951. London: Faber, 1985.

  49. Auden, W. H. The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays. 1963. London: Faber, 1964.

  50. Auden, W. H. The Dyer’s Hand & Other Essays. 1963. London: Faber, 1975.

  51. Auden, W. H. Secondary Worlds: The T. S. Eliot Memorial Lectures, Delivered at Eliot College in the University of Kent at Canterbury, October, 1967. London: Faber, 1968.

  52. Auden, W. H. Secondary Worlds: The T. S. Eliot Memorial Lectures. 1968. London: Faber, 1984.

  53. Auden, W. H. Forewords and Afterwords. Ed. Edward Mendelson. London: Faber, 1973.

  54. Auden, W. H. Forewords & Afterwords. Ed. Edward Mendelson. 1973. London: Faber, 1979.

  55. Auden, W. H. Prose and Travel Books in Verse and Prose. Volume 1: 1926-1938. The Complete Works of W. H. Auden. Ed. Edward Mendelson. London: Faber, 1996.

  56. Auden, W. H. Prose. Volume 2: 1939-1948. The Complete Works of W. H. Auden. Ed. Edward Mendelson. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002.

  57. Auden, W. H. Prose. Volume 3: 1949-1955. The Complete Works of W. H. Auden. Ed. Edward Mendelson. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2008.

  58. Auden, W. H. Prose. Volume 4: 1956-1962. The Complete Works of W. H. Auden. Ed. Edward Mendelson. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2010.

  59. Edited & Translated:

  60. Auden, W. H. & John Garrett, ed. The Poet’s Tongue: An Anthology. 1935. London: Bell, 1952.

  61. Auden, W. H., ed. The Oxford Book of Light Verse. 1938. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.

  62. Auden, W. H. & Norman Holmes Pearson, ed. The Portable Romantic Poets. 1950. New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1978.

  63. Auden, W. H. & Norman Holmes Pearson, ed. Poets of the English Language. 5 vols. 1952. London: Heron Books, n.d.

  64. Auden, W. H., Chester Kallman & Noah Greenberg, ed. An Elizabethan Song Book: Lute Songs, Madrigals and Rounds. 1957. London: Faber, 1972.

  65. Auden, W. H., ed. The Faber Book of Modern American Verse. London: Faber, 1961.

  66. Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Italian Journey: 1786-1788. Trans. W. H. Auden & Elizabeth Mayer. London: Wm Collins, Sons and Co., Ltd., 1962.

  67. Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Italian Journey. Trans. W. H. Auden & Elizabeth Mayer. 1962. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970.

  68. Auden, W. H., ed. A Choice of de la Mare’s Verse. London: Faber, 1963.

  69. Auden, W. H. & Louis Kronenberger, ed. The Faber Book of Aphorisms: A Personal Selection. 1964. London: Faber, 1965.

  70. Auden, W. H. & Louis Kronenberger, ed. The Faber Book of Aphorisms: A Personal Selection. 1964. London: Faber, 1974.

  71. Hammarskjöld, Dag. Markings. 1963. Trans. W. H. Auden & Leif Sjöberg. 1964. London: Faber, 1975.

  72. Auden, W. H., ed. Nineteenth-Century Minor Poets. Notes by George R. Creeger. London: Faber, 1967.

  73. Auden, W. H. & Paul B. Taylor, trans. The Elder Edda: a Selection. Introduction by Peter H. Salus. 1969. London: Faber, 1973.

  74. Auden, W. H. A Certain World: A Commonplace Book. 1970. London: Faber, 1971.

  75. Auden, W. H., ed. A Choice of Dryden’s Verse. London: Faber, 1973.

  76. Auden, W. H., ed. George Herbert. Poet to Poet. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.

  77. Lagerkvist, Pär. Evening Land / Aftonland: bi-lingual edition. 1953. Trans. W. H. Auden & Leif Sjöberg. 1975. London: Souvenir Press, 1977.

  78. Auden, W. H. & Paul B. Taylor, trans. Norse Poems. 1981. London: Faber, 1983.

  79. Secondary:

  80. Ansen, Alan. The Table Talk of W. H. Auden. Ed. Nicholas Jenkins. 1990. London: Faber, 1991.

  81. Auden, W. H. ‘The Map of all My Youth:’ Early Works, Friends & Influences. Auden Studies 1. Ed. Katherine Bucknell & Nicholas Jenkins. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990.

  82. Auden, W. H. ‘The Language of Learning and the Language of Love:’ Uncollected Writings, New Interpretations. Auden Studies 2. Ed. Katherine Bucknell & Nicholas Jenkins. London: Oxford, 1994.

  83. Carpenter, Humphrey. W. H. Auden: A Biography. 1981. London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1983.

  84. Everett, Barbara. Auden. 1964. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1969.

  85. Farnan, Dorothy J. Auden in Love. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.

  86. Haffenden, John, ed. W. H. Auden: The Critical Heritage. The Critical Heritage Series. Ed. B. C. Southam. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.

  87. I Believe: Nineteen Personal Philosophies. By W. H. Auden, Pearl Buck, Albert Einstein, Havelock Ellis, E. M. Forster, J. B. S. Haldane, Julian Huxley, Harold J. Laski, Lin Yutang, Thomas Mann, Jacques Maritain, Jules Romains, Bertrand Russell, John Strachey, James Thurber, H. W. Van loon, Beatrice Webb, H. G. Wells & Rebecca West. 1940. London: Unwin Books, 1962.

  88. Mendelson, Edward. Early Auden. 1981. London: Faber, 1999.

  89. Mendelson, Edward. Later Auden. 1999. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.

  90. Mortimer, Raymond, ed. The Seven Deadly Sins. By Angus Wilson, Edith Sitwell, Cyril Connolly, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Sykes & W. H. Auden. London: Sunday Times Publications, Inc. 1962.

  91. Osborne, Charles. W. H. Auden: The Life of a Poet. 1979. London: Papermac, 1982.

  92. Rowse, A. L. The Poet Auden: A Personal Memoir. London: Methuen, 1987.

  93. Smith, Stan. W. H. Auden. Rereading Literature. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985.

  94. Spears, Monroe, K. ed. Auden: A Collection of Critical Essays. Twentieth Century Views. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964.

  95. Spender, Stephen, ed. W. H. Auden: A Tribute. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1975.






W. H. Auden: Collected Shorter Poems (1966)