The idea for the book grew out of a 2014 blog post in which Reni, a young British journalist of Nigerian heritage, wrote of her “frustration that discussions of race and racism were being led by those not affected by it,” and that when she tried to talk about these issues was told that there wasn’t actually a problem or accused her of being angry. The irony of marking this line in the sand was that suddenly lots of people wanted to listen to Reni’s point of view – including a full (mostly white) art gallery auditorium.
There are a number of themes in the book. One is history, and Reni is keen for black Britons to write themselves back into history. The British connection to slavery and to Africa is deep. I studied economic and social history 1750-1875 at A-level and slavery and colonialism was barely mentioned. I find this appalling because:
a) hello – where was the cotton for the cotton mills coming from?
and b) it has taken me until the last week or two to realise this.
It is this kind of oversight that Reni is trying to point out.
Whiteness isn’t the default. Whiteness isn’t neutral. There are other ways of doing things; there are other points of view. Which is actually quite liberating if you think about.
Reni was assured and matter of fact, and very easy to listen to. Another topic she highlights is feminism. What is the point of feminism that is only for white women and doesn’t have a space for black women and others? Issues don’t happen in isolation, and overlap and intersect all the time.
This truly was a session to make you think about and observe how you experience the world, to make you want to explore further by reading her book, and to shift your point of view.
As is often the case when I attend a literary event, I have not read the book of the person speaking (I have good intentions leading up to the event but life generally gets in the way). So I know Clementine Ford only by her reputation as an outspoken feminist and the target of online trolls (it seems, in the modern world, that the first of these things almost always leads to the second). Possibly that’s all you know about her too.
I warm to her immediately. She’s just so cheerful in the face of the abuse that gets flung at her, so “can you believe someone said that?!” about language that is filled with hate, ignorance (and yes, bad grammar). I admire her ability to take rancid, toxic lemons and make mocking, humorous lemonade from them.
Clementine Ford comes across like your best friend who is much smarter and more perceptive than you, and who is prone to dropping hilarious truth-bombs into the conversation while you’re chatting over wine. Except in the auditorium at Christchurch Art Gallery. With 150 other people there. And no wine.
This was obviously a flawed analogy but you get the drift.
She’s also very respectful (not of the trolls) of her audience, warning everyone that there will be some very strong, very unpleasant language shared in the presentation, most of it via screenshots of the “missives” she’s received from various men who feel the need to tell her that she’s wrong, stupid, evil, sexist, fat, sexually unattractive, a professional sex worker, as well as various terrible things that should happen or be done to her. The warning is needed. It’s cumulatively rather overwhelming and makes you feel sick for humanity, even as each one is dissected, commented on and ruthlessly pilloried.
On the upside I’m surprised and delighted to hear Ford, an Australian, acknowledge not only Ngāi Tahu but also Ngāi Tūāhuriri (Christchurch sits in the traditional rohe/territory of this Ngāi Tahu hapu) and to use “Aotearoa” in preference to “New Zealand” because a friend of hers has challenged her to use indigenous names as a statement against colonialism. Also, her pronunciation was better than average.
But back to the trolls. Reading the messages Ford has received from various men makes you wish that they really were misshapen goblins living under bridges and not actual humans walking around with a cellphone in their pocket and the notion that they can say whatever they want to another person, if that person is a woman, with a complete lack of consequences. This is a situation that Ford has tried to turn around as she frequently adopts a “name and shame” approach. This may seem harsh but when you read the things that men have said to her it seems more like a public service than anything. The irony is, though Facebook is happy enough to be the medium of choice for threats of sexual violence and abuse by these trolls, the sharing of such by Ford often violates their “community standards” and has sometimes resulted in her account being blocked. But not those of the people doing the abusing.
Well, that seems a bit screwed up, Facebook. But Ford acknowledges that Facebook has its claws in us and a boycott simply wouldn’t work. Possibly advocating for a change to the laws around online abuse might help.
Ford has other helpful suggestions for dealing with sexism and sexist behaviour such as forcing someone to explain their sexist joke, with “I don’t get it. Why is that funny?” or pretending not to hear the sexist/offensive thing and forcing them to repeat it once or even twice. This subtly shifts the power dynamic in the interaction.
In the online world she is in favour of out and out mockery (with reference to Harry Potter and the boggart – your greatest fear that can only be vanquished by laughing at it). Ford advised deploying a series of gifs, the following of which is my favourite.
This was a really illuminating, funny, and challenging session but one which only a handful of men attended and relatively few young women, two groups I really feel would have benefitted a lot from the realness of Ford’s feminist experiences (and rude jokes about her genitalia).
As it was it ran overtime and nobody wanted to stop, least of all Ford herself. But the talk was being recorded so I’d recommend giving it a listen when it becomes available or –
Try this for an exercise in freedom. Think you’re a failure at art? Take a piece of brown paper and screw it up into a ball. Freeing, or what? Tear out the rough shape of the leaf by hand. Decorate your leaf with a crayon. You can colour with dye and a paintbrush, or leave natural. Display your leaves around the room!
Come along to the Great Hall at Christchurch Arts Centre on Friday; reflect on life and how the struggle to survive can spark the creative mind.
She is even more intelligent than I expected. Amazingly well read and educated. So she will always be one step ahead of me. Damn.
The whole book-talk thing was not what I expected, as there was a lot of dancing around what actually takes place in the novel, as some attendees haven’t read it yet. But I got a fascinating insight into how Sarah puts together her novels. She starts with around two months of research, although she said her latest book is taking a lot longer, perhaps up to four months.
The first half of the book was a “bit of a bugger to write” with a lot writing, rewriting and editing. But the second part was easier, as she enjoyed seeing her characters grow. It was interesting hearing her speak of characters in her latest novel The Paying Guests, Lillian, Leonard, and Frances as though they are real people, just showing how much thought is put into each one.
My favourite quote from the night was when she described The Paying Guest as “a love story complicated by a crime”. That sums up the novel perfectly.
I definitely recommend attending an author talk if you get the chance. I am looking forward to my next one.
Peter Singer is perhaps one of the most polarizing philosophers of our time. His radical views and ideas have provoked many with inflammatory pro-abortion remarks and animal rights activism. However, Professor Singer spends lots of time at Princeton University, where he works in the field of bioethics and “practical ethics”, which wrestle with the diverse ethical and moral implications of reproductive rights, animal rights, genetic engineering and other bio-medical advances. So he’s pretty brainy.
But being a utilitarian philosopher, he is generally guided by the classic utilitarian notion that “the morally right action is the action that produces the most good”. He acknowledges a perplexing problem – how do us lowly citizens decide what produces the most good, in a world wracked with seemingly insurmountable problems?
That’s where Effective Altruism comes in. A movement Peter Singer promotes. Effective Altruism is an international social movement concerned with charitable works, and seeks to fuse “global empathy” with “critical thinking” so as to enable us citizens of the Earth to ascertain the most “effective ways to improve the world”, and therefore, enhance the way we give.
Mr Singer discussed the dilemmas we face as charitable givers, and how we are often emotionally compelled to favour certain charitable efforts over others (emotive advertising campaigns etc). This is despite the fact that some charities are arguably more deserving, or more productive than others. The questions of “how to give and who to give to” often stifles people who are prepared to help financially, for example, should we give to programmes abroad, or, does “charity start at home”? Is it better to directly help feed starving children in developing countries, or, do we give to biotech’ programmes which conduct research into crop enhancement, which could potentially feed and save millions?
The discussion at the festival had a distinctly globalized feel, as most subjects traversed were generally pegged to a broader global context. This is reflected in his book, which tries to determine the areas of greatest need and deprivation in the world. Therefore, when we consider the world and all its problems in its entirety, it seems that as global citizens the greatest good we could do is probably in Africa and developing countries where things are the most dire. These notions of global giving are quite challenging in light of various domestic issues.
Interestingly, Singer concedes that the works of charitable organizations are tricky to measure because the services they provide might be preventative, therefore, it’s hard to prove a service prevented (or failed to prevent) something which “otherwise WOULD have happened”. It was also pointed out that determining the success (the greatest good) that non-governmental organisations achieve is almost impossible in certain environments where one would have to randomly visit, for example, 200 villages scattered across a region of continental Africa so as to gauge how well an NGO is doing on average. There are many cultural and political variables which determine outcome.
Effective altruism requires a rigorously unsentimental view of charitable giving, urging that a substantial proportion of our money or time should be donated to the organisations that will do the most good with those resources …
I arrived (just) in time on a nippy Sunday for Imaginary Cities. It featured the super-intelligent powers of authors Fiona Farrell, Anna Smaill, Hamish Clayton, and Christchurch City Council designer Hugh Nicholson, and a stellar chairperson in the form of Christchurch Art Gallery Senior Curator Lara Strongman.
Taking the Christchurch blueprint as a starting point, this panel will look at ways in which we imagine cities, either in fiction, in history, or in contemporary life; whether as utopias or dystopias, cities imagined or reimagined.
Blimey. I can only hint at the brilliant barrage of words and ideas we were treated to.
Man Booker Prize nominated Anna Smaill – author of The Chimes – complained of jetlag, but was like intellectual quicksilver. She spoke of cities as places of amassed energy, and how we have only a “narrow toehold” on civilisation. In a city, the natural world is forever leaning over our shoulder.
Hamish talked about the city as a “morbid playground”, and a place that allows us to escape into anonymity. (Especially good for these introverted writerly types).
Designer Hugh Nicholson spoke about the imposition of the imaginary on the real:
Street patterns stay in the city for a very long time.
A couple spin by on a tandem, a white boy on the front, a brown girl behind, both pedalling unsteadily through green trees, both laughing with delight at the prospect of their opportunity. Earthquakes have destroyed their beautiful city, 70 per cent of its major buildings have been or are about to be demolished. But 106,000 of the city’s residents have risen to the call! They have submitted their vision for a new city and here is the synthesis of their dreams, a “flyover of their hopes”.
Fiona loved maps since reading Milly Molly Mandy as a kid. She spoke of Hippodamian grids – “a quick way of slapping down a city on a frontier” and the motivation to citybuild as encompassing politics, power, and the impulse to profit.
The one map we never see is where we are always coming ashore, looking for something.
How do fiction and memory fit into this? The city is a time machine. Hamish sees fiction as an engagement with an imagined remembered place. And every NZ writer is dealing with a relationship to place. Anna said that in fiction, you are inheriting the physical remains and stitching them back into a narrative. Fiction can help us understand cities better, said Hugh. Fiona spoke of the power of the novel to comfort, and proposed that the humanities are well named.
The writers spoke about the city in their books. Hamish set The Pale North in a fictional Wellington, and had to think deeply about ethical engagement after Christchurch’s quakes.
Fiction is a hell of a machine when things go wrong.
Fiona read a lot – including Seneca on earthquakes, and used that research as “a rich mass of compost” on which to build. Her next book is a novel that will sit with The Villa as its fictional counterpart.
The dystopian London in Anna’s book The Chimes was born of sensory impressions, and one of the books she mentioned was Peter Ackroyd’s psychogeography about the Thames. The other great influence in her hybrid of fantasy and mythic elements was Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (an amazing book that). She quoted Conrad:
“And this also,” said Marlow suddenly, “has been one of the dark places of the earth.” (Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad)
Fiona spoke of the new doco The Art of Recovery and how it showed little shoots of hope and energy:
"I find great poignancy & loveliness in our constant attempt to make life better." Fiona Farrell. #wordchch#chchfest2015 ^DR
It’s not often that, in your own town, you get a highly accessible ex-Speaker of the House coming to give an intimate talk about critical political issues. And listening to someone with her background had me in awe given that she’s the Former Attorney-General, Minister of the Crown, current Professor of Law. Nothing too serious …
Shifting points of view sessions. WORD Christchurch events at the Christchurch Arts Festival. Sunday 30 August 2015. Flickr 2015-08-30-IMG_9004
Her exposition at the festival was related to her nifty little book The Struggle for Sovereignty: New Zealand and Twenty first Century State. We have a paper copies and eBooks in the library. This short work provides a concise perspective on how – since the economic reforms of the 1980s – the core parts of the sovereign New Zealand state have been eroded and compromised by globalization and the neoliberal, free-market ideology – basically the deregulation, privatization and legislation which seems to give large business entities powers which don’t keep them accountable to citizens.
Mrs Wilson argues that the NZ State: the public service, the legal system and New Zealand’s constitution, are (often by default) providing a fertile ground for deregulation which affects society in all sorts of detrimental ways. Over recent years, Government policy has re-ordered the New Zealand economic environment in keeping with the neoliberal philosophy, and this is exemplified in insecure work and the trend towards free trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
Insecure work – In another basic example of how things are going, Mrs Wilson points out that around 30% (over 600,00 humans) of the NZ work force is employed in “insecure/precarious” working conditions – meaning that such roles are “casual”, “fixed term”, “zero hours” etc. Which gives employees minimal bargaining rights for better pay and conditions and no certainty with regard to secure hours for the future. She claims this is due to the global neoliberal trend which NZ has adopted and favours “contract work” over “wages”, as keeping people on contract keeps them working more efficiently, whereas “on wages” people take too long – so the neoliberal (in)sensibility goes.
The TPPA could potentially enable large multi-national businesses the right to sue the NZ Government if our Government enacts laws which hinder their ability to make money – say if we had legislation which made plain packaging on cigarette packs mandatory – a business may have legal recourse if the courts deemed plain packaging affected their ability to make a profit.
Margaret Wilson and Bronwyn Hayward. Shifting points of view sessions. WORD Christchurch events at the Christchurch Arts Festival. Sunday 30 August 2015. Flickr 2015-08-30-IMG_8959
It seems our wonderful Pacific democracy is somewhat undermined – as policy can be rushed or hushed through Parliament without the public knowing or debating the nature of its contents. The Select Committee process can be circumvented due to the policy process being carried out “under urgency” – Parliament can rush through policy faster than normal because of some special “urgent” circumstances. All this basically means it’s very hard for the public to make submissions regarding certain policy initiatives. Which is what the Select Committee process is often for.
Margaret Wilson points out that it might be time for Kiwis to really get hold of our State and demand some changes to our Constitution, for example, which could usher in a more robust regulatory regime and pull back the neoliberal economic steam roller so as to make NZ a fairer, more equitable society – maybe resulting in some better contractual conditions and pay for workers somewhere down the line.
However, I asked her if New Zealand even has a “constitutional culture”, and she said one of the things which came out of the most recent constitutional inquiry was that Kiwis generally don’t have a basic understanding of what a constitution even is because its not taught in schools or referred to and celebrated as a crucial part of our history. Unlike the Americans, who have a very staunch constitutional culture. Just think gun control!
Maybe time to teach politics in schools.
Her book “The Struggle for Sovereignty: New Zealand and Twenty first Century State”, is a great tool – a short and to the point read about these technical political issues.
Here’s some quotes from her session:
Margaret Wilson's talking about the social welfare state historical evolution as a response to suffrage. #chchfest2015
수키 김(Suki Kim)은 한국에서 태어나 13세 때 부모를 따라 미국으로 이민을 가 뉴욕의 컬럼비아 대학에서 영문학을 전공하고 영국 런던대학원에서 동양문학을 공부했답니다. 2003년 첫 장편소설 “통역사(The Interpreter)”로 펜 헤밍웨이 문학상 후보에 올랐고 미국 내에서 민족 다양성을 뛰어나게 표현한 문학작품에 수여하는 펜 경계문학상과 창조적인 인간을 구현한 작품에 수여하는 구스타브 마이어 우수도서상을 수상하기도 했습니다. 아울러 가장 명성이 높은 구겐하임, 풀브라이트, 그리고 조지소러스 재단 오픈소사이어티의 펠로십을 휩쓸었답니다.
2011년 7월부터 같은 해 12월까지 6개월간 평양과학기술대학에서 학생들에게 영어를 가르치며 그녀가 진실로 원하는 것은 북한의 실상을 직접 보고 느끼고 그것을 글로 쓰는 것이었답니다. 그 경험을 토대로한 “평양의 영어 선생님(Without you there is no us)” 2014년에 펴냈습니다.