05 February 2008

Speaking Ill of the Dead?

I posted back in December about the death of poet and anthologist Bernard Gadd. Mark Pirie recently sent me news that that the New Zealand Poetry Society has set up a Bernard Gadd Memorial page and that Michael O'Leary's obituary of Bernard in the Dominion Post is available online.

Today, I received a comment to my obituary of Bernard which provided links to a couple of pieces from the Reading the Maps blog which are critical of Bernard's writing and political positions. I was inclined not to allow the comment at first - partly because it was anonymous, and partly because of the tone of the content about one so recently deceased - but in the end, I decided to. Since the article links would otherwise be buried way down in my archive of postings, here they are:

Bernard Gadd's Quest for Security.

Bernard's Fling with TINA.

My own view is that these postings, the first in particular, are evidence that left-wing sectarianism - that narrow obsession with "purity" of political thought and hewing to the correct "line" which keeps the left squabbling over trifles rather than working on real, difficult issues - is alive and well in New Zealand.

But maybe I'm over-reacting. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Isn't biculturalism and the creation of NZ, which is what the various parties to this debate are 'squabbling' over, a 'real and important issue'? I would have thought so. Bernard Gadd sounds like the type of fellow who would prefer this type of debate to the anodyne tributes seen elsewhere.

Tim Jones said...

These certainly are important issues. But what I was reacting to was the tendency of people on the Left to concentrate their energies on attacking each others' positions, and denigrating each other personally (and there's certainly a fair bit of that in the Reading the Maps posts about Bernard, especially the first one) rather than recognising common ground in the face of a common opponent.

For as long as I've been interested in New Zealand politics, it's been the same pattern - while the Left engages in internal struggle over whose theoretical position is the best, the Right runs away with the silverware.

maps said...

Personal insults? I didn't mention the halitosis, did I?

No, seriously Tim, I don't accept your portrait of the posts as sectarian and nasty. I begin each of them by paying tribute to Gadd as a good lefty and someone with a strong commitment to teaching New Zealand history. I argue that towards the end of his life the views he promulgated on biculturalism, nineteenth century history, and the Moriori were sadly out of step with his positive achievements. And I think the tone of my posts is in keeping with the polemical tone and intent of Gadd's essay.

I'm intrigued to hear that the left
has been bested by the right so often in NZ because it has been so enthralled by theoretical debate.
Is there somewhere these riveting and debilitating debates are recorded? In my experience, there is very little debate about the sort of historiographical issues which I was discussing in the posts you read.

I'll agree that some of the stuff I'm bringing up in the posts on Gadd, like the myth of the Moriori as a pre-Maori people or the conversion of Marx into a prophet of imperialism, is not exactly of frontpage importance. But I don't understand what that should make it unworthy of debate.

Too much of the discussion I hear on the Kiwi left revolves around the exigencies of election cycle politics and the talking points of the mass media. A little historical and sociological perspective would, I think, be splendid, even if we had to risk wandering down some unusual byways to get it.

But I get the feeling that a lot of the people objecting to the Gadd posts, and demanding that I remove them from my blog, don't actually want to have a debate. That's a pity, because Gadd himself wrote his spicy, sometimes vituperative, essay with the intention of provoking just the sort of sincere, albeit critical response I've offered.