Stephen Turner – Settler Dreaming


Stephen Turner, “Settler Dreaming,” Memory Connection 1.1: The Memory Waka (2011): 115-26. Available here.

Augustus Earle, Distant View of the Bay of Islands, New Zealand (c.1827-28).
Rex Nan Kivell Collection, The National Library of Australia (nla.pic-an2820815).


This article focuses on collective memory in a place that has been radically transformed by settlement and where memory itself is part and parcel of the make-over. Remembering isn’t passive or received but active, and forms a process of settlement too. For visitors, says Walter Benjamin, a new country is exotic, and the object of an exoticising gaze, whilst for natives the place is perceived through layers of collective memory. The problem for settlers is that the place they come to consider their own is originally exotic to them. They now have a memory of a place made-over in their own exotic image of it — at first a picturesque landscape occupied by a disappearing indigenous people. Just how an exoticised experience of landscape and its indigenous inhabitants became “us” New Zealanders is forgotten today in declaring settler nature — “our” identity and character — to be of nature, now primordial and pure, and quite organic. Benjamin’s formulation suggests a corrective to cultural organicism and the constructed public memory of popular national identity.

The exotic place of settlers’ perception, even when familiarised and domesticated, is the lens though which settlers view history. Their collective remembering makes- over the place in terms of the experience of its difference to them, not in terms of Maori experience of European difference to Maori. The gap in perception is foreclosed by the make-over, which itself constitutes national popular memory. The remembering activity of settler culture makes all the more real a made-over place while occluding its making over. An industry of historians, or memory machinery, is needed to support settler place-making, working to shape and contain memory, and to secure it against real knowledge of the making over of place. I will explore how it does so by explaining three components of national popular memory: re-enactment, remediation, and cultural plagiarism.

John Barr Clarke Hoyte. The Bay of Islands (c. 1873). Watercolour. Christchurch Art Gallery: Te Puna o Waiwhetu.


Stephen refers to Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” trans. Harry Zohn, Illuminations (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1968) 253-63 [online], in particular, section 9:

My wing is ready for flight,
I would like to turn back.
If I stayed timeless time,
I would have little luck.

Mein Flügel ist zum Schwung bereit,
Ich kehrte gern zurück,
Denn blieb ich auch lebendige Zeit,
Ich hätte wenig Glück.

Gerherd Scholem,
‘Gruss vom Angelus’

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating [my emphasis]. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. (257-58)

Paul Klee. Angelus Novus (1920).  Intaglio printing with acidic watercolor on drypoint. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.


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