NZ has many intellectuals who appear before the public. But since the death of Peter Munz in 2006 we haven't had an old-fashioned 'public intellectual'. Danyl McLauchlan's new book Tranquillity & Ruin seems to me to take up Munz's unfashionable but vital mission. (thread)
2 In NZ, intellectuals of both the left - think of, say, Jane Kelsey, @gtiso, @MorganGodfery - & the right - @PronouncedHare, Michael Reddell - regularly publish articles & speak on radio & TV. They take positions on issues, advocate changes to society. Their work is important.
3 We need intellectuals who advocate for certain ideas & take clear positions on issues. But we also need the sort of 'public intellectual' exemplified in the US by Edmund Wilson, & in NZ by Peter Munz. The public intellectual is not an advocate.
4 Over a long career, Edmund Wilson studied dozens of subjects. He wrote a famous book about literary modernism, but he also published on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Cold War, & the American taxation system. Wilson was teaching himself Hungarian when he died at 77.
5 A public intellectual is an intermediary between his or her society & the world beyond it. She or he intercepts important but difficult ideas & events, examines them, & explains them in accessible language, without necessarily linking them to any political issue or agenda.
6 McLauchlan's Tranquillity & Ruin is a book about a middle-age crisis. Struggling with his physical & mental health & feeling uncertain about what he believes, McLauchlan investigates a series of movements & ideas that claim to give meaning to life.
7 McLauchlan stays in a muddy monastery run by a tough & faintly menacing Aussie abbot, goes camping with the utopians of the Effective Altruists movement, reads the notoriously difficult philosophers Martin Heidegger & Derek Parfitt, & meditates until he hallucinates.
8 McLauchlan gives careful accounts of the various ideas & movements he encounters on his journey, analyses them, cracks jokes about them. But he does not finally advocate for or against any of the ideas & people he meets. He leaves doors open for readers.
9 It would be easy to dismiss McLauchlan as a faint-hearted centrist, unable or unwilling to take an unequivocal stance on the subjects he studies. Some would call the lack of resolution in his book a symptom of the midlife crisis it purports to describe.
10 But I think Edmund Wilson & Peter Munz would empathise with McLauchlan's approach. & I think that, in the epoch of Trump, shock jock talkback, & social media flame wars, the equivocal approach of the old-fashioned public intellectual can seem radical as well as necessary.

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More from @SikotiHamiltonR

23 Feb
1 For most people, the America's Cup is a rather esoteric series of races between very expensive yachts. For far right activist Derrick Storey, though, the Cup is an opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of whites over Maori. (thread)
2 Derrick Storey lives in Palmerston North, where he runs an accountancy business. He's a prolific social media poster and writer of letters to newspapers, whose work has often been republished by Don Brash's outfit Hobson's Pledge. This photo shows Storey with Brash in 2018.
3 On June the 27th 2017 Storey posted on Hobson's Pledge's facebook feed to share his delight at the victory of Team NZ in the America's Cup. In Storey's opinion, a policy of segregation had been key to NZ's success.
Read 7 tweets
23 Feb
1 With the America's Cup fleet based next door, Auckland's waterfront Maritime Museum is getting a wave of visitors. But why is the museum selling a piece of white supremacist pseudo-history in its small bookshop? (thread)
2 To the Ends of the Earth was published in 2012. It was written by Noel Hilliam, Gary Cook, & Maxwell Hill, & claims that white people reached NZ long before Maori. Hilliam, who died in 2017, was notorious for his raids on Maori burial caves & his far right political activism.
3 Hilliam worked with the One NZ Foundation, which claims Maori are not indigenous to NZ & have no rights under the Treaty. At the time of his death he was under investigation from Heritage NZ for stealing a skull from a Kaipara cave.
Read 8 tweets
9 Dec 20
1/7 Sam Linden has a letter in the Dominion Post condemning the Maori Party's co-leader for claiming that Maori suffered a Holocaust at the hands of colonising Pakeha in the 19th century. Linden thinks that such language is insulting to Jewish victims of Hitler. I disagree.
2/7 The term the Shoah refers specifically to the extermination of six million Jews in Europe between 1933 and '45. It should not be used in other contexts. But the term Holocaust has a longer & much more complex history. It has been used to describe many catastrophes.
3/7 The great English poet Geoffrey Hill, for example, called the devastation caused by the War of the Roses a 'Holocaust'. Holocaust seems a reasonable description for the devastation - invasion, land theft, steep demographic decline - Maori suffered in the 19th C.
Read 25 tweets
8 Dec 20
1/4I hate the antiseptic orderliness of supermarkets, but I love Auckland's Indian grocery stores, with their surreal juxtapositions of unlikely goods from several continents, their vials of holy water & cow piss, & their dancing Hindu gods. A strange new item's arrived in stores ImageImage
2 Werewolves Blood Incense is made in Bangalore, for export only. It joins the more traditional incense sticks, which are dedicated to deities like Shiva & Vishnu, in Auckland's grocery stores. The new brand seems to involve a Hindu reimagining of Western occult imagery. Image
3 The text on the product invokes Hindu notions of symmetry & order, claiming that werewolves bring balance to the universe. But it also describes the creatures as 'blood suckers' who need to be kept at bay. ImageImage
Read 5 tweets
17 Jun 20
1 For a dead guy, Captain Hamilton has caused a lot of trouble. Lately protests have forced the removal of his statue from the city named after him. Back in 1864 a report on Hamilton's death prompted 80 angry sailors to attack central Auckland. (short thread)
2 Captain Hamilton perished during the rout of British forces at Gate Pa, just south of Tauranga. The British charged straight at Maori defences; 31 of them died & 80 were injured. An anti-war Auckland newspaper added insult to defeat.
3 The New Zealander was a paper established in 1845 by John Williamson. Williamson became an MP in 1853. He supported the Maori King movement & in 1863 opposed the invasion of the Waikato. His newspaper's anti-war stance caused its co-owner to split & establish the NZ Herald.
Read 7 tweets
9 Jun 20
1/4 Some on twitter's alt-right say the Pacific slave trade is a mirage created by 'woke academics'. I don't think that phrase fits John Coleridge Patteson, the 1st Anglican bishop of Melanesia & the William Wilberforce of the Pacific. Patteson died fighting the slave trade.
2Patteson ran the Melanesian mission in Auckland & later Norfolk, where young men were trained in Christianity & various trades. In the 1860s he began hearing terrible stories from them, of 'catch catch boats' & stolen villages. Patteson began to write & speak against the slavers
3 Thanks to the Anglican church's Project Canterbury, we can now access some of Patteson's denunciations of slavery. They make sad reading, with their accounts of canoes run down & their passengers seized, & islanders made to sign contracts they could not read.
Read 10 tweets

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