Govt isn’t the country

January 29, 2015

New Zealand author Eleanor Catton used the forum of the Jaipur Literary Festival to criticise her country, its people and its  government:

Man Booker Prize author Eleanor Catton says she is uncomfortable being seen as an ambassador for New Zealand which she says is dominated by neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, shallow and money hungry politicians who do not care about culture.

The Luminaries author made her comments at the Jaipur Literary Festival which were reported across India, including at length on Indian news website Live Mint.

She said New Zealand did not have a lot of confidence in the brains of its citizens and there was a lot of embarrassment over writers. . .

She also said:

. . . “We have this strange cultural phenomenon called ‘tall poppy syndrome’,” she said. “If you stand out, you will be cut down.

“If you get success overseas often the local population can suddenly be very hard on you … it betrays an attitude towards individual achievement which is very uncomfortable.”

Despite her historic novel winning the Man Booker prize, it missed out on the main prize at New Zealand Post Book Awards.

Catton said she was uncomfortable with the way her international accolade was regarded in her home country. “It has to belong to everybody or the country really doesn’t want to know about it.”

She also said she was angry with the Government, which cared only about short-term gains.

Catton said had struggled with her identity as a New Zealand writer in the past year despite being in an “extraordinary position”.

“I feel uncomfortable being an ambassador for my country when my country is not doing as much as it could, especially for the intellectual world.” . . .

She has been criticised for making the comments.

I have no issue with her speaking out, she has the right to say what she thinks.

I do, however, take issue with what she said and think that much of it is wrong.

New Zealanders generally rank well for literacy and reading. From what I’ve observed from travel we have a lot more bookshops than many other countries and we have active and vibrant literary and artistic communities here who appreciate our artists.

To say New Zealand is dominated by neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, shallow and money hungry politicians who do not care about culture and that we have a Government, which cared only about short-term gains reflects her own political views which is very much a matter of opinion and one I think is unfair.

This government is focussed on the economy not as an end but the means to help people help themselves and look after those who can’t.

It  took a very moderate approach to policies in order to protect the vulnerable from the worst of the global financial crisis. Just one example of its long-term approach is welfare where it is determined to get those who can work into jobs.

But even is she was right about the government she is wrong to confuse it with the country.

Governments come and go, some of their policies endure and some don’t. They influence what happens but they are not the country.

To be uncomfortable as an ambassador for the country simply because she doesn’t like the government is showing the sort of ignorance of which she criticises her fellow citizens.


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