Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 10, No. 6. May 28, 1947
There has been so much talk of producing a literature of our own that it has, I think, blurred our vision. We are passing through the self-consciousness and introversion of adolescence when we need to be reminded that no one else thinks about us nearly as much as we do, and that disturbingly few people would care if New Zealand completely disappeared in one of her earthquakes—surely one of her few claims to world notoriety. What I mean is this: that it is all very well to write verse about the golden kowhai and the scarlet pohutukawa, and earthy stories in the vernacular. I have no specific complaint about this practice for, as Fairburn remarks, "art is a broad highway." But we want something more than a bicycle track, and I do not think that we can develop an enduring literature until we turn our gaze, not inwards, but outwards on the world and see how much we are a part of it, and in how few things we are different. It is only when we speak with a common voice that our arts will be remembered.
For this reason I think that this first issue of "Landfall" marks a new phase in New Zealand writing. In his notes the Editor, Charles Brasch, gives the central theme to which the arts always return: human life as such. "They are its interpreters. They display its inexhaustible variety. Above all, they relate, bringing together things far apart and seemingly indifferent or hostile; through them men come to understand one another; for they speak a language of reconciliation." He deplores their present isolation. "To rediscover a just relationship between the arts and men's other activities, and a single scale of values to which all can be referred—that must be the constant aim of those who care about them." Specifically for the New Zealand artist he states our dependence on the European tradition and the need for him to "reincarnate the tradition in a local form, and embody his local and personal material in terms recognizably of the tradition, however modified." Finally Brasch points out that "the particular form which the European tradition takes here is likely to be richer or poorer according to our knowledge of the completely different traditions of those neighbours who have most to offer us in this way."
Art and Criticism
As it should be, "Landfall" is the meeting-place of the artist and the critic. There is nothing so stultifying as poor criticism; nothing so fatal to a developing art as no criticism at all. Yet one or other of these has been, and is, the customary recognition in New Zealand of any artistic production, whether homegrown or imported. Particularly is this so in regard to films, painting and the theatre, and one feels that the commentaries by Gordon Mirams, R. D. Fairburn and Ngaio Marsh on these three topics do little more than underline what is already painfully obvious. But, one can say cheerfully, if you've got to start it might as well be at the beginning. Let us have no illusions.
Particularly welcome, also in the field of criticism are the reviews of four books which are, in a large proportion, written, printed and reviewed by New Zealanders. I emphasise this merely because I think we are mature enough to be able to do this adequately. The reviews may speak for themselves. The fact that they are there is the Important one in this discussion.
The poets represented in this issue are Allan Curnow and James Baxter. Neither altogether satisfies me. There is a frigidity about the first and an immaturity about the second—despite the facility with words—which make me wish for the warmer humanity of Fairburn and of the editor himself. Is it that they think in terms of themselves rather than of the world? That is how it seems, though none should be sorrier than I to do them an injustice. No serious work of art deserves the fate of a complacent dismissal.
I can find no fault with the prose contributions, "The Heresies of Samuel Butler" and "Reflections on Nikko." Both are the product of a maturity of thought and style which makes for so much more than a mere literary exercise. The second, particularly, is of deep sociological significance. The arts are the interpreters of human life, says Charles Brasch. Above all, they relate . . . through them men come to understand one another.
Perhaps the most noticeable thing about "Landfall" is that it tries to do so much, and who can blame it when there is so much to do. But this may be a mixed blessing. How can one small quarterly run commentaries on current art, review books, publish verse and short stories, and include as well contributions which have "no apparent connection with the arts?" I shall leave Mr. Brasch with the editorial enigma which some day (I hope) may confront him.
The fate of "Landfall' is still unknown, but sad though I should be to see it fail, its life or death is not now the real question. As Fairburn remarks, we are an unsophisticated race, and should not be in too much of a hurry to grow up. Meanwhile, the thaw has set in.
—J. R. Minogue.