Wilson, J. M. (2008) New Zealand’s national literature and screen adaptations. Keynote presented to: Flogging a Dead Horse: Are National Literatures Finished?, Wellington, New Zealand, 11-13 December 2008.
The idea of the nation as informed by its literary culture-- significant strands of the national imaginary-- acquires a different currency when it comes to national cinemas which draw upon screen adaptations of local and national narratives. The refashioning and even appropriation of national images and motifs due to the commodification of a nation’s written and visual cultures is inevitable in the ‘borderless economy’ (Iyer) of subjectivity and culture found in global capitalism. Certain texts prominent in New Zealand’s literature, both popular and canonical, have acquired global exposure by virtue of the international success of cinematic adaptations of their narratives. The concept of the nation and its literature is reframed by the cinematic interpretation of local myths and national narratives destined for the global market, and conversely, in a process of transcultural exchange, by the circulation of stereotypes (e.g. narrative strategies, landscapes, iconographies) from global culture in locally specific ways. This paper discusses several screen adaptations associated with New Zealand’s cinema’s revival and breakthrough into the international market in the 1970s and 1980s (e.g. Sleeping Dogs, Came a Hot Friday) and successes of the last two decades (e.g. Whale Rider, In My Father’s Den). Taking issue with Jameson’s 1992 definition of the nation as ‘a way of feeling the sharp pang of powerlessness’, it suggests that the globalization of culture which New Zealand’s international cinema reflects, encourages a more self-reflexive nationalism and a reinscription of cultural authority.