World Literature Today review of The NeXt Wave
I believe The NeXt Wave deserves a detailed
The volume is an anthology of New Zealand writing which presents some of the new directions young Aotearoa-New Zealand writers (also known as Generation X and defined as those "born between the early 1960s and mid-1970s") are taking. It claims to mirror socioeconomic changes and to depict a further aspect of literary postmodemism commonly based on pulp and commercialized concepts. However, what soon becomes quite evident is that the writers of the new generation are actually reacting against the academic elitism - felt to be responsible for the decrease in popularity of poetry in the country - in New Zealand literature of the last two or three decades of the twentieth century. Despite this, we still get an occasional dose of academic reference: Dostoevsky in Bilbrough; Galileo, Kundera in Perkins; the Song of Solomon in Figiel; Larkin in Lee; Pinter in Pirie; Spinoza in Bernhardt.
These young writers opt for a more accessible urban culture heavily influenced by commercialism, the mass media, hi-tech computerization, and dominant American attitudes, often heading toward anti intellectualism. Within the fence of the global village it would be difficult to restrain or repress the effects of internationalism in contemporary writing by the young in many parts of the world, and in Aotearoa-New Zealand "postimperial" factors increasingly contribute to the multiculturalism of the new voices. Postimperialism is a concept the editor uses to imply postcolonial factors from the point of view of those who were colonized by the British (i.e. the inhabitants of New Zealand), and it also includes the influence that Europe and America exert on the country.
To present the new trends in their writing, the young Aotearoa-New Zealand authors had to use traditional techniques and integrate them with postmodern ones; so the book's greatest achievement is the continuation of postmodemism. Accessibility is certainly increased through the use of English, which is left a very distinct regional flavor most of the time, and when Maori words and phrases are used for local color they are referred to the glossary at the back, which is very helpful although not everything is given in the list.
In its iconoclastic role of repudiating established academic customs, The NeXt Wave presents innovative elements in world literature today and simultaneously introduces some of the emerging writers of the 1990s in New Zealand. The new trends are both stylistic and thematic: imagination and realism are interwoven with rhythmic strategies to deliver significant ideas and subject matter relevant to the general public. This required a swing from the extensive use of the esthetic potential of language to the frequent use of the street vernacular: "The onus is more on accessibility in order to reach the general reader rather than on clever word-play and technical skill to enthuse the academic critic," says the editor. But the services of the academic critic might still be required to reveal the modes of energy release in the stylistic strategies employed: for instance, the expressive effects of contrasting rhythms that are used to convey not only emotions and states of mind but also sociocultural atmosphere. Emily Perkins uses fast-paced rhythmic structures in her prose ("Let's Go," one of the best pieces in the entire collection) to depict a restless young female narrator who is made to feel insecure by "cultural relation". Elsewhere, the tonal oscillation from first-person to third-person narratives in Jeanne Bernhardt's story "The Sight" reveals a disturbed and possibly unbalanced mind which feels powerless against itself; the narrator's need is not for his parents but for his brothers, a shrewd comment on familial alienation. Other themes that emerge from the book include sex, sexual abuse, violence, poverty, Maori demands, youth culture, drugs, the decline of regionalism, internationalism, feminism, and homosexuality, all presented in an array of tones ranging from the angry and the cynical, to the disaffected and ironical, to the disappointed and the indifferent. There is much here that might be labelled pulp literature, and the language employed is simple, unadorned, and frequently coarse or even vulgar, consciously anti-academic, anti-traditional, and naturalistic.
The book claims to be innovative and experimental. Stylistically it attempts some daring feats, and linguistically it represents the common idiom even to the point of abbreviating the unabbreviated. Thematically it treats contemporary social realism and cultural values. And although established critics might find little of literary merit in them (as the editor says in his introduction), one must recognize the serious treatment of these new directions and changes in New Zealand writing. One must also appreciate the young writers' efforts to give their literature a new shape "by taking it out of the universities and back to the streets in order to popularise it to the general reader". And this can only be done by "integrating and utilising the techniques and methodologies of postmodern and traditional writers and continuing the changes which postmodern and other literary theories have occasioned". I think this publication is a successful attempt that will eventually force established academics to think about these new trends and to notice the new writers, even if they have to redefine literature.
Charles Briffa, University of Malta
(from World Literature Today, Summer 1999, USA, pp. 604-605)