The lesson to be drawn from the controversial remarks of author Eleanor Catton is perhaps that those who do their thinking on paper have more to lose when they open their mouth. She should be allowed to live down her comments to a literary audience in India this week.
Far from living them down, she wants to amplify them – as is her right:
In future interviews with foreign media, I will of course discuss the inflammatory, vicious, and patronising things that have been broadcast and published in New Zealand this week. I will of course discuss the frightening swiftness with which the powerful Right move to discredit and silence those who question them, and the culture of fear and hysteria that prevails.
I find it strange that people think that their harsh critical remarks about others are free speech, but if people then in turn make critical remarks about the speaker it is not free speech, but a conspiracy to silence.
The same rationale was in Nicky Hager’s book. Basically people who have centre-right views should not criticise or attack people who say things they disagree with.
Eleanor Catton has every right to travel around the world decrying NZ as a neo-liberal hell-hole. And other people have every right to point out she is speaking nonsense. This Government is so far from neo-liberal it isn’t funny. The last budget was more money for free under 13 healthcare. The announcement this week was an extra 3,000 low income families to get larger subsidies for the rental properties. The Government spends hundreds of millions on subsidies for arts, science, innovation and the like. And the welfare system is one of the most generous in the world.
There is nothing frightening about people exercising their rights to free speech and criticizing someone. Just because you are an artist (or an academic) doesn’t mean you are beyond criticism.
Back to the Herald editorial:
Among many accolades she received in New Zealand, the Herald named her one of its New Zealanders of the Year. We remain proud of her and do not believe she misunderstands these gestures in a country that was proud of her.
Nobody has claimed her achievement “belongs” to the country. It was hers alone.
Her book is a novel set in New Zealand, authentic in its setting in time and place.
Every country takes pleasure in art that reflects it well and counts itself lucky to have artists capable of doing so, especially if its population is small.
As I said yesterday, it was pride in her achievement that saw NZers celebrate her prize, not a desire to minimise the fact that it was her personal achievement.