First of all congratulations for winning the Man Booker prize last year. It’s a tremendous achievement, and as you point out on Live Mint, it was your individual achievement, not New Zealand’s achievement.
Like many others I have purchased a copy of The Luminaries. That makes me a customer and a fan I guess.
You made the point:
So many people have talked in the media and me directly in ways of 2013 being the year that New Zealand won the Man Booker Prize. It betrays an attitude towards individual achievement which is very, uncomfortable. It has to belong to everybody or the country really doesn’t want to know about it.
I’m a big believer in individual achievement, and sympathise with you on that. Ironically your party of choice tends to be more a believer in achievements being a collective responsibility, not an individual one, but let’s put that to one side.
But I think you misunderstand the NZ habit of trying to own achievements by New Zealanders. I see it is as a mark of tribute and reverence, not lack of respect. When I trekked the Himalayas, so many locals associated us with Sir Edmund Hillary, as if his achievements were NZ’s. When the All Blacks won the Rugby World Cup, we celebrated as a country – and didn’t just see it is a victory for 15 players. And last year when yourself, Lorde and Lydia Ko all dominated the world in your respective fields, yes we appropriated your achievements as NZ achievements. But that is because we’re so damn proud of you. As a small country, we do get very proud when one of our citizens wins global fame. Call it small country syndrome.
You also said:
I feel that in the last year I’ve really struggled with my identity as a New Zealand writer. 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. It’s sort of a complicated position to be in.
You’ve got every right to express your views on such an issue, and it is ridiculous Sean Plunket has called you a traitor. However could I gently suggest your timing and location is a bit churlish.
We don’t tend to mind criticism at home, but we do get worked up, when people knock their country overseas. Again call it small country syndrome. I don’t think you would have got much of a negative reaction if you had made your comments domestically.
At the moment, New Zealand, like Australia and Canada, (I dominated by) these neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture. They care about short-term gains. They would destroy the planet in order to be able to have the life they want. I feel very angry with my government.
You campaigned for the Green Party at the last election, so your comments are no surprise. Good on you for having political beliefs and advocating them. You did the right thing by appearing at the Green Party campaign launch and advocating a vote for them.
But again your choice of forum to talk politics is perhaps not the best. A campaign launch is an excellent choice to talk politics. A global literary festival seems rather inappropriate for you to rage against the so called neo-liberal agenda in New Zealand. Also I would make the point that the moment anyone starts ranting about neo-liberalism, I regard that as a sad victory of sloganeering over substance.
So my unsolicited advice to you is not to stop saying what you believe. Far from it. But to perhaps reflect on what speech is most appropriate for what occasion. If an All Black in 2008 had got up at an international test match and devoted his after match comments to how much he hated the nanny state policies of the then Labour Government, well they would have been criticised greatly also. To quote Ecclesiastes 3:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens
Also I noted last year you said you would be happy to taxed at 40% to help young Kiwis. You may be unaware of this, but you can voluntarily pay more tax than you are obliged to. Just calculate the extra 7% on your income and send it to The Treasury, 1 The Terrace, Wellington and I am sure they will send you a receipt.
PS – I look forward to your next book.