Thursday, November 9, 2017

Real thing

I am a hopeless political prophet, and you can just about bet that with any prediction I make, the opposite will come true; nor am I familiar with all the new faces in Parliament. But having just watched Kiritapu Allen's maiden speech in the House, I would venture to say that one day she will be a great leader, probably of the Labour Party, perhaps of Aotearoa.
You know the real thing when you see it.

Monday, July 10, 2017

In the street where you live

In her ‘erotic thriller’ In the Cut, published in 1995, Susanna Moore has her heroine (a New York creative writing teacher fascinated by shifts in language) observe that people used to say (for example) ‘I live in Smith St’ and now they say ‘I live on Smith St’; and that a friend from the Midwest pronounces route as rout, which suggests that route pronounced root was still commonplace even in New York as late as the 1990s. Now all one hears out of America is route rhyming with out; and the usage has begun to take hold in New Zealand too, influenced no doubt by the use of router in the wireless sense. No one, even in New Zealand, would pronounce it rooter. And I can’t help but notice that the on usage regarding streets is taking over here too.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Hold the ladder steady

Who creates? Who decides? For convenience’s sake we attribute work to individuals (‘It needs but a man and and a candle to make a play,’ said Arthur Miller) but no one ever acts completely alone. ‘Writing about the Giotto frescoes in the Scrovegni chapel just outside Padua,' says Richard Hoggart with patent scorn in The Way We Live Now, 'one author suggests that the credit for these masterpieces…should be shared between the artist, his assistants and the man who held the ladder.’ 

On the other hand, here's William McCahon, looking back in 2002 on the years since his father’s death in 1987: ‘We were never expected to have a voice or even to be seen as having a valid claim to McCahon as intellectual property. But increasingly, I think we, the family, have the pre-emptive claim because we in a sense were sacrificed to this work and are part-authors of it.’

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Too late

Harold Bloom speaks of ‘aftering’—the gnawing thought that we have always, somehow, arrived after the event. The artist is there for the event all right; but the memory of it flies even as he writes it down or tries to make art out of it. In that sense, as T S Eliot says, every poem is an epitaph; not the living message but the words etched on the gravestone of whatever passed, and passed on. 

Some of our gravestones are very beautiful.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Even I

Genesis, chapter 6, verse 17: having given Noah extraordinarily explicit instructions about how to build an ark, God (in the King James version) says ‘behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth.’  

Even I? With this burst of false modesty, is God implying that the human beings he created might have doubted his powers? It sounds like a sort of ‘So you thought I couldn’t do it, eh? Well, I’ll show you what I’m capable of’ remark. Or is he suggesting that there is some greater power whom he, though junior, can easily match? Did he, in fact, have someone above him whom he worshipped and longed to emulate? Someone who’d created him, as he created us? 

Who, in short, was God’s God?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Growing up in the 1950s, I remember how my mother, coming home from somewhere where she’d been out, would go into the bedroom and get unchanged. That phrase has fallen out of use now but if you’d changed to go out, then it made sense to say that, when you came in again, you got unchanged. It seems to me now a metaphor for the times. The default was ‘unchanged.’ That was the norm then.