Axver (axver) wrote,
Axver
axver

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Well, I hope everybody else has had a good start to their 2008. Mine has been fairly mundane so far. I've watched a good deal of cricket, returned to my writing, and read a fair bit. I've been feeding my addiction to 19th century Russian literature lately, but I don't want to overdo it. This morning, I finished Mikhail Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time, so now I'm moving on to some material from elsewhere before I pick up Leo Tolstoy's War And Peace. I'm currently reading Victor Hugo's Les Misérables and I'm thinking about starting Franz Kafka's The Trial. Hopefully I will get a lot of reading done this month. Summer's such a horrible season but it has one positive aspect in that it provides an incentive to stay inside, away from the bloody awful weather, and read in front of the fan.

I am, however, rather disappointed in New Zealand literature - or more to the point, the absence thereof. It would be pretty fair to say that the country hasn't exactly come close to producing a Fyodor Dostoevsky. Just trying to find a recognisable name beyond Katherine Mansfield seems like a mission. I can't say I'm surprised though; it's similar to what I have noticed in my academic field, New Zealand's socio-political history. Kiwi literature seems to be low in quantity, unremarkable in quality, and ignored by the rest of the world. Kiwi history is probably worse, truth be told. There are plenty of narrative or descriptive histories out there, often written by amateurs and retirees about their local region or particular field of interest - and many of them are fantastic and have a lot of character, but "verifiable references" seems to be a foreign concept. Academic works and analyses are sorely lacking, and many of those that exist are dreadful in quality and horribly out of date. Things have improved a bit recently, but I was let down by the brief treatment Neill Atkinson gave the female suffrage campaigners in Adventures in Democracy. Still, he did far better than older works, such as Airey and Condliffe's A Short History of New Zealand, an incredibly biased and poorly written work that I would not recommend to anybody who wishes to know anything about New Zealand.

While on the Gold Coast, I was both encouraged and discouraged by responses to my ambition to pursue New Zealand history academically as a career. I was asked multiple times "why are you doing that?", and on some occasions essentially dismissed with an "oh yeah, you're from New Zealand" (which isn't at all the reason). I suppose people expect me to do something more "important". Frankly, I think the world has more than enough dodgy historians of World War II, Germany, the US, etc. and such fields are overwhelmed. I feel sorry for someone with a genuine passion for World War II - how the hell are you meant to write about something original? There is so much work out there on so many aspects of the war from so many different perspectives that I really do wonder what's left; the "social health implications of World War II's impact on declines in carrot production in Australia in 1943" or something?

The New Zealand field, however, has huge deficiencies and gaps, as I stated above, and what's more, I believe it is very important to academic disciplines and relevant to the general person both within New Zealand and around the world. My trump card, of course, is the fact that New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the vote, an incredibly forward-thinking decision and one that was not repeated elsewhere until Australia followed suit some nine years later. This bold move gave untold motivation to suffragists in the UK, US, and elsewhere, and the dodgy state of work on the matter has stunned me. The aforementioned Airey and Condliffe book dismisses the matter of female enfranchisement in under a paragraph of a 305 page book while dedicating three whole chapters to the Maori Wars of the 1860s. There's so much more than just that one matter too. New Zealand was the last country on earth to be settled and one of the last chapters in the British colonial experiment. Socially, it is one of the most progressive (not just in women's rights; it is worth noting that New Zealand is at the lead in the secularisation of society) and I think an analysis of the origins and development of this national progressivism would be of considerable worth. So while it is disheartening to repeatedly meet with disinterest and perplexed surprise, it also encourages me - I doubt I could make a difference, but it sure as hell motivatres me to try.
Tags: 2008, books, life, literature, new zealand, new zealand history, new zealand literature
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