A Dictatorship of Taste. Cultural Nationalism and the Function of the Critic 1947-1961
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMasters of Arts
Although much has been written on the 1930s as a period of ferment and innovation in New Zealand’s literary culture, the immediate post-war period has remained largely unexamined. As an outcome, literary histories have tended to downplay the significance of the Centennial publications and overlooked the impact made by the literary-cultural periodical to the post-war literary economy. The formulation of a conversation within the pages of the journals and the associated creation of the culture-critic were central to the cultural nationalism of the period 1947-61. It is argued in this thesis that the ‘long fifties’, the years from the cessation of the Second World War through to the early sixties, were a discrete moment in New Zealand’s literary history. To understand the success of the journals as a form of intervention their founding needs to be traced not only to Phoenix and Tomorrow – journals of the thirties – but also to the programme of publishing that was part of the 1940 Centennial celebrations. Under the leadership of J. C. Beaglehole and E. H. McCormick, the Centennial publications contested the existing structures of cultural authority that lay with the amateur historian and the literary criticism of the ‘bookmen’. Beaglehole and McCormick professionalised the discourse of history writing and literary criticism through the introduction of academic practice, and, significantly, a rigorously critical engagement with the formation of national identity. Their critical engagement acted as an encouragement to the founding of the literary-cultural journal during the late 1940s: Landfall begun publishing in 1947 and Here & Now followed in 1949. This thesis argues, however, that alongside these two independent journals there needs to be placed the Listener under the editorship of M. H. Holcroft, and that these three publications created sites where the imaginative could sit next to the critical, and that this development was based on the belief that the absence of a critical undertaking would stunt the growth of the culture’s imaginative and creative undertaking. During the period 1947-61 the development of a specific form of intervention in the writing of the culture-critic can be detected. The culture-critics sought to actively engage the reading public in a conversation; therefore, they wrote for the periodicals in a style that was accessible but discriminating; they understood that they had a specific function within society. Furthermore, the primacy attached to the cultural authority of Brasch and Landfall is contested, and it is instead claimed that an exclusive focus on Landfall distorts the overall temper of the post-war years. Landfall was but one site where the developing national consciousness was published and assessed; it was a disputatious time.