Friday 1 October 2010

Great New Zealand essays

I once shocked a colleague by using the word 'autochthonous' in a lecture I was presenting on snapshot photography. I was thinking of the way that local art writing frequently uses words in relation to visual art and wondered was this being reflected in our tuition of art history?

I have banned myself from saying autochthonous in public because it is just too arcane a word to convey meaning directly. It is like a swear word delivered from a position of vocabulary assurance. This was not always the case and I was reminded of it again when I read yesterday's posting from Wordnik:

They posted the word: remanence. I doubt whether that word will be spoken or written by anyone in New Zealand today (except by me, of course). Here is Wordnik's commentary:

(noun) The state or quality of being remanent; continuance; permanence.
(noun) That which remains; a residuum.
(noun) Residual magnetism; the flux density remaining in a magnetic circuit after the magnetizing force has ceased.

'Remanence' comes from the Latin 'remanere,' to remain.

Example: "Neither St. Augustine nor Calvin denied the remanence of the will in the fallen spirit; but they, and Luther as well as they, objected to the flattering epithet 'free' will."
- The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, by Henry Nelson Coleridge

So, I won't employ remanence in any public talk either but I can see potential in 'residual magnetism', which is a bit like experiencing the negative capability of a reputation refit.

Yet, the point of this posting is to alert you to two great New Zealand essays. I think I might even prepare an on-going list (which would definitely have an essay by Wystan Curnow included, he is a superb essayist).

One of the most incisive New Zealand essays is Bill Pearson's Fretful Sleepers - A Sketch of New Zealand Behaviour and its Implications for the Artist.

Public Address, in their impressive way of reminding us of our cultural genealogy, have given homage to this brilliant essay and it is worthwhile accessing the essay on-line as the original 1952 issue of Landfall is not easy to access, neither is Bill's own book of collected essays:,
(I acknowledge the generosity of Dr Donald Stenhouse in kindly permitting me to cross-post Public Addresses' work).

Another impressive New Zealand essay was written by the late Ruth Ross, one of our most important historians. Included in The Feel of truth : essays in New Zealand and Pacific history / presented to F. L. W. Wood and J. C. Beaglehole on the occasion of their retirement ; edited by Peter Munz, Wellington, 1969. There it is: The autochthonous New Zealand soil by R.M. Ross.

As well as having the most unexpected title of any local essay you are ever likely to come across, it is gripping reading. R.M. Ross was Ruth Ross, and previously Ruth Miriam Burnard and Ruth Miriam Guscott. Ruth was, arguably, the most maverick and talented pupil of John Beaglehole. She had an obsession with original documents and the influence of her historical methodology is evident on New Zealand's history books.

She was the mother of the late Malcolm Ross, written about so eloquently by Douglas Wright. When I was a student Ruth interviewed me to ascertain whether I could be a suitable friend of Malcolm's. She said to Malcolm "he's a serious one".

Here is a link to the on-line access to Ruth's essay:

I include the first paragraph from Ruth's essay. You will see she is a total stylist that incorporates scholarship and autobiography in the one sentence:

"You could hardly be closer to the original authochthonous New Zealand soil, you ought to be very happy, wrote J.C.B shortly after we went north to Hokianga. It was a dig at my reaction to his New Zealand Scholar. It added to my vocabulary, and it prompts me now to reminisce a little about the bank of the creek at Waiwhao."

1 comment:

jessica said...

I have been visiting various posts for my Essays Writing research. I have found your blog to be quite useful. Keep updating your blog with valuable information... Regards