Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Cuckoo in the Nest

I have returned from a refreshing jaunt overseas to a narrowly provincial New Zealand that appears as abusive towards Janet Frame's right to her own agency (as a self directed and ambitious and successful woman author) as it ever was.

It's not just Janet Frame that is being misrepresented now of course, it's also her estate, as I was reminded on reading a twitter exchange dominated by Helen Heath, the "publicity maven" employed by Victoria University Press, who uses Crosby-Textor-like strategies to great effect in her manipulation of social networks to publicise the works she is paid to promote. Heath is charged with promoting the fan fiction novel 'Gifted' by Professor Evans, that utilises Janet Frame's real name for a character ostensibly based on Frame but for which many important facts of Frame's life have been distorted and suppressed deliberately - in order to present a blow-up Janet Frame doll built for Patrick Evans's ideological convenience.

Heath was 'live-blogging' a talk by Evans who reveals his own academic agenda and his aims, by claiming that Frame herself is "unread" and "unreadable" (unless you're paid to do it, as he, an elderly English lit professor, is) and that his own novel is a climax of all Frame actually didn't ever manage to achieve because of her imperfections which he has managed to surpass by his self-proclaimed innate talent.

No really. He said all that. Perhaps we should reframe him as a stand-up comedian. But is he just a harmless buffoon as so many of his fellow academics have long treated him, with his dogged determination to entrap Frame within her own fiction, and his derogatory insistence that her non-fiction is a mere fable?

Here are some of the tweets:

Craig_Ranapia @helen__heath "I'm reminded that Frame was somewhat bemused by folks who took exception to 'All Visitors Ashore' on her behalf."

(a) This assertion is a total fabrication. To maintain a dignified silence in the face of a vindictive act of revenge is not to be "somewhat bemused".

(b) 'All Visitors Ashore' (by CK Stead) was at least a novel, with fictional names and characters. It cannot be compared to 'Gifted' which appropriates the real name of a recently dead writer, and deliberately falsifies important facts about her life in order to make fake claims about her personality and her literary theories. Claims that she abhorred in her lifetime and strongly disagreed with. Evans was not able to stick to historical fact in his novel because those facts contradict his puppet 'Janet Frame'. Claiming you can get insights about the real Janet Frame from his fictional 'Janet Frame' when he has bowdlerised her, is just plain dumb.

Craig Ranapia @Helen__Heath "I can understand why Janet's neice [sic] is very protective of her aunt's rep - but too much so perhaps?"

Helen Heath @CMRanapia "in some ways it more damaging to be over protective if you know what I mean?"

Craig_Ranapia @Helen__Heath "Nobody is honoured by being turned into delicate porcelain dolls locked in the glass front case of reputation"

Ironically is it Patrick Evans who is constructing the "doll" (although his is more of a blow-up doll given that the motivation to 'play' with Frame is not benign; it approaches the abusive).

I, who fight for Janet's right to be seen as the self-directed complex autonomous and ambitious author that she was, hardly condone the false doll in the cabinet. That sentimentalising reductionism is what I have consistently and coherently opposed. 

Read "Janet Frame in her Own Words" if you want to learn about the real Janet Frame herself and not just a pale bloodless travesty!! Evans treats Frame like an academic plaything - his is the 'porcelain doll'.

To accuse me of presenting Frame in a "glass cabinet" really shows that particular tweeter's rank ignorance of the real issues... and does give an insight into the kind of scuttlebutt about the Frame estate that is being circulated by a certain coterie.

But we knew that already.

‎Helen__Heath: "Even though her literary trust wasn't happy and she wanted to restrict public discussion, Gifted is a loving portrait."

Who is the 'she' who wants to restrict public discussion? Surely not the Frame who (we have just heard) was allegedly "bemused" by being defended? Which is it? Was Frame happy to be slandered and misrepresented and made an object of sniggering and belittling mockery or not?

Or is Helen Heath claiming that it's the Frame literary trust that wants to restrict public discussion? Gosh, how would we manage to do that?

Do the occasional blog posts by Frame trustees in defence of Frame's agency as a feminist writer mistreated by medical institutions and by sexist male literati, constitute a "whitewash" in Heath's opinion? And how precisely has this restricted public discussion?

Patrick Evans has made a last ditch play to replace the real Frame with his Cuckoo, and I will never understand why any intelligent educated person would delight in enabling that misogynist agenda which has been on the record as a fact of New Zealand literary criticism for decades (see Denis Harold's review of Gifted for some details of a feminist critique of Evans).

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