Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (2.94 MB)

Neither Here nor There: The Writing of Wystan Curnow 1961-1984

Download (2.94 MB)
posted on 2021-11-15, 05:41 authored by Sleigh, Thomasin

This thesis addresses the writing of Wystan Curnow from 1961 to 1984. Curnow has written a great deal throughout his life, and the challenge of this thesis has been to select an appropriate time frame and important texts to place within it. The period of 1961 to 1984 has been chosen because it encompasses the 1970s, an interesting decade of experimentation for Curnow and also because the early 1980s signal a shift in Curnow's work. I argue that Curnow's encounter with post-object art and the immediate, phenomenological writing he produced in response to this work gives way in the early 1980s to a style of writing directly informed by post-structural and postmodern theory. Further, this study looks not only at Curnow's criticism but also his poetry to reveal how, in their form and content, these two strands of writing together construct one of the first arguments for an 'avant-garde' in New Zealand art and literature.  The thesis is divided into four chronological chapters. These follow the course of Curnow's life from his birth in 1939 up until the publication of his seminal essay on Colin McCahon 'I Will Need Words' in 1984. The first chapter begins with the biographical background of Curnow's youth and education and considers the significance of the eminence of Curnow's father, Allen Curnow, in the decisions that Wystan Curnow has made throughout his career. This chapter then goes on to look at Curnow's experience in the United States, studying for his Ph.D. and engaging with contemporary American culture. Chapter two begins with Curnow's return to Auckland in 1970 and goes on to look at his important pieces of writing from the 1970s up until his return to New York on sabbatical in 1976. Chapter three focuses on this trip and the key texts which followed it. And finally, chapter four examines the early 1980s, the increasing influence of continental theory in New Zealand and the shift this precipitated in Curnow's writing.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Art History

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Barton, Christina