“This [lack of recognition in the New Zealand arts curriculum of pakeha arts as localised and acculturated] is regrettable but hardly surprising and it is actually quite serious. The lack of a fundamental pakeha groundedness in pakeha identity, history and culture is a far greater problem for the shaping of our ‘distinctive, evolving national identity,’ than the Maori, Pacific Islands and Asian component of that identity because pakeha either lack an awareness of their cultural distinctiveness or their culture is presumed to be so self-evident as to render analysis superfluous. Either way, the lack creates a knowledge vacuum, a learning vacuum, about which art educators should be very concerned.”

– Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, (Director of Art and Visual Culture at Te Papa Tongarewa, from his chapter “Culturalisms and the arts curriculum,” in The Arts in Education [edited by Elizabeth Grierson and Janet Mansfield]).

It’s tempting to generalise from the preceding statement a State-wide state of cultural affairs, wherein the colonially given, or forcefully foisted-on, is now taken, out and left, for granted, on the side of the road, more and more (and MOR) traveled, towards a ‘distinctive, evolving national identity.’ There was that point in time, in sharp relief in the early 1980’s, before the full onslaught of political or cultural correctness, at which the bleeding-heart liberal could be so called and called also to account for wanting to take the culture of the dominators down on a siding and shoot it. One of the legacies of that time is the stretch of road we find ourselves today traversing, whereon the point appears as a version of colonial identity inclusive of what it latterly excluded. Which is to say, a post-colonial status could only be acceded to by the most clearly colonial, the Pakeha, in a gainsaying of the colonialism providing for it in its ‘groundedness.’

Yet and still an act of charity towards this slipped figure of New Zealand culture has mana and legitimacy of an altogether different degree should it come from a Samaritan who takes part in the main traffic on the road to identity. Jonathan Mane-Wheoki is simply better placed, under the auspices of the covert and invert racism of ‘post-colonialism’ – although this is a misnomer, sooner call it PC, a degraded form of liberalism, that wished-for now prevails – to extend a Christ-like hand and wipe the sores, the running historic sores, of a Pakeha culture, which having internalised its guilt for and grief at the colonial moment, has fallen by the wayside. (But then, the new Germany, post-war, would not and could not be built with the knowing participation of Nazi-sympathisers (in all senses of sympathy) – or could it?)

Still and yet the idea of a distinctive local and evolving New Zealand culture is seldom credited as preceding what exactly takes its place, its absence, and does so with the complicity of Pakeha who, as Jonathan Mane-Wheoki says, are not aware of it. And this because they don’t want to tell any other stories than those that help them sleep at night, the tonic history of the dominant culture’s absence, which is a history of the future, science fiction. As if the species Pakeha retrospectively founds a culture that in giving itself this much – a co-producing role under the Treaty of Waitangi – denies itself that much more, a history that in its proper succession is colonial and then post-colonial. The rewrite lies therein that Pakeha culture is a reactive formation brought about, firstly, by a self-reflective disavowal of the inclusivism of New Zealand culture on the grounds that it, and of what it, excluded, and secondly, on behalf of an asymmetrically weighted other – its ‘Maori, Pacific Islands and Asian component’ – brought about by its patronising identification with that excluded, by its self-commendation as being on the same level (as the favoured underdog), itself the equivalent, in its absence, of its excluded other’s absence. The Pakeha is a hypocrite. While the New Zealander may be a liar. For the latter we have no room. For the former there is strictly limited space.

An earlier post, La Nouvelle Caledonie, suggested in the end that the obstacle to the self-realisation – in the broadest possible terms, political and cultural (but leaving aside for another long while the most important, economic self-determination) – of colonised peoples might constitute (the boundary of, the limit of) the dominating culture’s possibility, its inability to talk itself down, to become minoritarian. There it was hinted that if there were a locally adaptive formula, a re-coding of the French, an emergent French Pacific culture, the paving of the way to contra-distinctive indigenous identities would be lubricated, and quarried out of the same bedrock of a shared cultural and linguistic reference, however questionable the history of its foisting-on, its given-ness.

The question you ask as a New Zealander in New Caledonia is how could the colonial project be so successful? Is New Zealand as English as New Caledonia is French? It asks you to question colonial success, which, Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, above, in pointing to the problem of a conspicuous absence of Pakeha culture, discounts as failure. Pakeha fail to succeed and the colonial succession is effectively broken.

What would colonial success mean in New Zealand if not the road from colonialism to post-colonialism? Insofar that Pakeha culture falls by the way and insofar that the rupture between Pakeha and a New Zealand, a Pacific European, culture signals a reversal against the ‘groundedness’ of the other ‘component’ ascending on the road to a ‘distinctive evolving national identity,’ colonialism ceases to be a fact and becomes an option, an unwelcome option, at dinner or in arts curricula. As if colonialism in being the condition for the State can no longer assert itself as the condition of the State. And this rupture, this denial, closes the way to its reassertion as post-colonialism. The failure may be limited to education; education may come out of the same Enlightenment software-package as colonialism (or post-colonialism), but, and it’s hard to resist this temptation or that of extending the metaphor, isn’t it the operating system, the bare code, which, in its bare life, is an extension of the Enlightenment project?

Then is the problem of the ‘vacuum’ evoked by Jonathan Mane-Wheoki the invisibility of the host who has become the unwelcome guest? The absence of the decisive condition for a ‘distinctive, evolving national identity’? Perhaps it could be claimed that New Zealand culture had outlived its usefulness as host to its parasite cultures, who in a reversal recolonised as they were colonised. But this reversal is complicated by the Pakeha’s inclusion, whose lack of awareness of anything other than the walls of the burrow, the green ghetto, re-inscribes colonialism as the big unknowable body of the mother, other, motherland. Then bare life is bare code, the culture in a cul-de-sac and the road to identity the source and endpoint of a phantasm.

(“I found the decency, authenticity and integrity of people in New Zealand so striking,” Oliver James (writer of Affluenza, [in “The Wanting Disease,” interview with John Campbell, TV3, 15/02/07]).)