Lyndon Hood - fringable, Lower Hutt

Sunday, February 25, 2007

New-At-The-Time Hood: Howard Fails to Call Blair a Terrorist Patsy

New Hood: Ode in Apology to Helen Clark (After careful deliberation, on behalf of the New Zealand Media)

The latter might, among people who were reading certain newspapers during a certain period, give rise to comparisons with the work of Whim Wham. Comparisons such as, "That's wildly technically inferior to the work of Whim Wham!" or, "What's with the italics? Where are the arbitrarily capitalised words?" Anyway, if it did, any resemblance would not be entire coincidental.

Whim Wham (government name Allen Curnow - surely you've heard of him) delivered wry light verse to readers of the Christchurch Press (from 1937) and the New Zealand Herald until 1988, usually inspired by some item - or particular turn of phrase - from the week's news.

I myself only heard about all this through a review of the best-of compilation Whim Wham's New Zealand, which I managed to score as a Christmas present and have now - I'm pretty sure - actually read all of (it's easier to dip in and out).

He's also refreshingly difficult to pidgeonhole. I'm sure there are libertarians would be happy to wear some of his pieces on over-regulation or welfarism (or state-funded arts) as a t-shirt, yet he was equally curmugeonly about Rogernomics. We could make sense of this by imagining him in some middle ground between what were rather extreme situations, but perhaps he just liked to keep the state on its toes.

A little while back on the Public Address board there was mention of the apparently unkillable meme the "pakeha" means "something bad", as opposed to, well, "pakeha". And I made an unsatisfactorily vague reference to one particular poem. Here, in another place and far too late, are the details.

It seems that, speaking to the Waitangi Day Bill in 1960 - legislation Peter Dunne would have something to say about now - Mr R M Algie called the term "pakeha", among other things, "just a nickname and a vulgarism". Whim Wham, as was his way, grabbed the relevant quote to sit at the top of a poem, which he called called 'Unpakehaliamentary'.
I am a Pakeha and proud of it,
Although I seldom brag aloud of it.


Our Forebears in this land (good Luck to them!)
Were given the Label, and it stuck to Them.
The fact that Algie had complained of Maori having a big M but pakeha a small P gives added point to Mr Wham's habit of capitilising initial letters - if not whole words - to please himself. Having pointed out that there were several disputed and mostly innocuous derivations he closes:
Good Maori and good English – Why, Ron,
It's older than the Poet Byron!

Vulgar, you say? Now, that's absurd –
It can't be, when I USE THE WORD!
In the intervening 46 year we've opened up whole new field of argument over THE WORD. But for all Whim Wham's zingers (most unquoted - just get the book) I ge tthe feeling we still have plenty of Ron Algies out there too.

Lyndon Hood - internetducated, Lower Hutt

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Okay, Okay. Quiz.

Which New Zealand MP, earlier in the year, put out a press release with a quote from a 17th-Century French tragedian?

Have a guess.


New Zealand First's Ron Mark:
As writer Jean Baptiste Racine once wrote, “Small crimes always precede great ones. Never have we seen timid innocence pass suddenly to extreme licentiousness.”
... and therefore we should put 10-year-olds through the adult court system for more crimes than we do now.

I was rather struck by this. It suggests a literary esotericism out of the run of ordinary parliamentary language. I imagine one could tally actual literary references from last year on one hand, even if we count Hager's 'Hollow Men' and Winston Peters' Dirty Harry bit. Cullen of course had a 'Hollow Men' reference too, but that was 2004 - still, I discover his opening address to a Labour conference last year began "A spectre is haunting the National Party...".

If we google "Racine" on Scoop, and exclude references to certain towns in the US, the only other mention comes from Simon Upton, which I have to say fits my prejudices more naturally. Of the other "big three" 17th Century French playwrights Moliere gets 5 hits (one from something I wrote), or 4 if you get the accent right (Upton makes another appearance, for the same sentence as before); Corneille gets none.

From memory it was Don Brash who cited Voltaire while arguing we should only let people like us into the country; I hadn't thought that the overeducated approach would suit NZ First's target market.

Now, it's quite possible that Ron at some stage in his eventful life read Racine's Phèdre and was struck by that line. Perhaps he saw it produced. I understand the poetry of the original French is remarkable.

If so, he clearly needed to refresh his memory and looked it up on the web. The version he quotes, widely reported without reference to which play it came from, has been rather abbreviated. In Tim Chilcott's translation (page links to PDFs of parallel texts, which is nifty if you like that sort of thing), the relevant bit goes like this (from IV, ii):
Great crimes are always heralded by lesser ones
Whoever oversteps the bounds of law
Can in the end outrage the holiest rules.
Just as with goodness, crimes has its degrees.
Shy innocence has never yet been seen
To change to total licence at a stroke.
What can make the Google method of literary history hazardous is context. The thing about quotes from plays is, no matter how wise the dramatist, what you're actually quoting are the characters. For example, I have a book somewhere that says
Neither a borrower nor a lender be
— Shakespeare
... which is to ignore the way that the guy who makes this oft-quoted speech (Polonius in Hamlet) is a dweeb.

In this case, it's not especially embarrassing. The guy who say the line is the good guy, which helps. It's interesting though, that Hippolyte uses the quoted assertion to defend himself. Even if the opinions of dead frenchmen were admissable as evidence, the "I've always been a polite and well-behaved young man, therefore I can't have done it" argument probably wouldn't hold much water in a modern court. It doesn't work in the play, either, even though he didn't do it.

We could pass this by with a slightly confused glance.

Except it seems - quelle horreur! - to be part of a trend.

Winston Peters, in the opening debate:
Now that National has a leader who can actually fiancé [I'm guessing he actually said finance - L] the organisation himself, they can rid themselves of deep pocketed puppet masters – let us hope so. If not then Victor Hugo's classic tale of a the underclass of another generation – "Les Miserables" – will apply equally to the National party as it endures another three years in opposition.
So Peters is suggesting that National will become as the oppressed urban poor of Louis-Philippe's France. Or possibly that they will have an unsuccessful premature rebellion and all be shot.

Actually, I'm not sure how much the reference adds to the mere assertion that they won't be very happy. And it is what you might call superficial. Still, credit where credit's due: I recall that he pronounced it acceptably and at least he didn't say Les Misérables was by Claude-Michel Schönberg and librettist Alain Boublil.

But consider: Jean Valjean, the hero of the book and the musical, is a recidivist criminal, on the run from the authorities after breaking his parole, who is inspired to a life of virtue when a kindly priest lets him get away with a sizeable theft. Perhaps Mr Peters and Mr Mark might want to get together and sort out their sources.


If you're hungry for more discussion of French literature based on classical sources in English translation, we have a Fringe review for you.

Lyndon Hood - forced to sign in to Blogger 2, Wellington

Friday, February 09, 2007

If I might draw attention to one word in a recent press release from John Key in which he accused Labour of foiling his attempt to feed the poor for their own machiavellian ends. Which accusation was made without, for example, offering particular evidence, considering the plausibility of other scenarios or even asserting that somebody who might know (or who mightn't) had told him.

He called them, the "all-controlling" Labour Government.

You know that one? The Labour Government that exends its manipulative pseudopods into every single apparatus of the state, stopping at nothing to perpetuate the Clark dynasty – like one of those octopusses in the cartoons about the Communist/Chinese Immigrant/Jewish menace?

I have a mental map of the Internet, and there is a border in it defined by the bottom of David Farrar's blog posts, cutting us off from the local denizens of his comments section and the realms beyond.

I have visited, so I can report that, in that strange land, people talk like that all the time.

If that's the constituency Mr Reasonable is pitching for, I want a refund. We can bring back the "must corrupt government ever" guy. Apparently, it won't make any difference to the tone of politics.

No matter how often John Key accuses someone else of being "out of touch" in the coming years, I'll always think of this week and laugh.

And I have to say I'm also having trouble with the idea of political parties engaging in philanthopy. Directly, anyway. Though I'm having trouble working out exactly why.

Perhaps it's because the last time I heard of that happening, the political party was Hamas.


By the way, if you're about the Wellington Fringe, I wouldn't fret too much if you happen to miss The Bowler Hat.

Instead, you should immediately book for Lovers of Central Park. Actual review on Scoop some time today.

[Update (10/2): The Lovers review would be here. I didn't want to talk too much about the detail of what happened so mostly I just gushed. Fringe Coverage will be compiled here.

Incidentally, I don't know how many of you are Sapphire and Steel fans, but it struck me that the messing with time periods that goes on in this show is the kind of behaviour that allows Things to get in from the edges of reality.]

Lyndon Hood - pop culturey person, Lower Hutt

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I've recently come by a television set, after not having having one for — well, for a period that, if you think of it as a decent-sized chunk of my life, make me feel old.

So having finally sat down to watch a TV movie: those ads – intrusive, no?

Also: Close Up at Seven – sucks?

I'm referring to whoever it was that, on hearing that John Key was ferrying a disadvanged preteen to Waitangi for a publicity stunt, said, "Let us film this little girl's big day!"

Not that I watched the whole thing – after about ten seconds of it the TV became an unusually big paperweight for the rest of the evening. And I am actually curious about her experience now I think about it, and, y'know, happy Waitangi Day and all. But I didn't see that opening becoming hard-hitting current affairs any time soon.

If I might invoke analogies with Mark Sainbury's well-publicised pores, or trees (with respect to woods), sometimes focussing on the wrong detail gets in the way of the big picture.

Not exactly Hoods in the generally accepted sense:

Coming back from the weekend, my Sevens pictures were rating third on Scoop, after Kevin's Sevens pictures (the ones with the overly-authenic Borat shoulder-thong guy) and, perhaps for search-engine-related reasons, my Sevens pictures from last year.

Also, I went and saw the Summer Shakespeare. This means that the Fringe is coming, so bloggage may be... well, just as sporadic as it has been.

And as part of all that, the Wellington Improvisation Troupe are coming to a community venue that might be near you and featuring in the 24 Hour Improv-a-thon for the 40 Hour Famine. They'll have improv for Africa.