“Steve Azula”


Oct 2010



Reading Antimodernism while tramping to Koropuku Hut/Big Tops Hut….



Antimodernism could well be described as the most characteristic and, in many respects, the most creative aspect of modernity. Intimately bound up with a modern sense of alienation, loss, and fragmentation is the antimodern reaction to that sense. This reaction is at the heart of antimodernism[1]



    Chuzz and I were discussing how we should write a response to a tramping trip, while we were walking up the Taramakau valley in the sun past the cows. We were going to Koropuku Hut or “Big Tops Hut” in Koropuku Creek. We joked we could say a technical error had caused “Learn”[2] to post our offer of a class field trip only to ourselves—hence just the two of us. So for company, and in lieu of the vacant class mates, we had roped in – among others – Jean Baudrillard, Georges Bataille and Arthur Versluis who was fascinated. This place was interesting as it is a Hut that due to it being earmarked for removal had attracted a rare breed of trampers. Many were from an online backcountry huts club who call themselves “permolat”[3], but others had heard about it and like us just wanted to have a look. To attract people to it and ensure its survival, a few decided to make the hut take on a niche value so to speak.  They carried things into this hut to deck it out, so it had curtains, lights and light switch and a telephone. The trip in is eight hours if you are really fit, however, it has always taken Chuzz and I two days as a bare minimum and it is more like twelve hours/fourteen hours?. Now while the sun was out and we were approaching Lake Kaurapataka[4] where we were to camp, Versluis was saying of how he thought that all of this was most probably situated within the coordinates of “soft antimodernism”. He was saying that this kind of activity, where the “natural trajectory of those who love nature is…to leave society behind and go off into the wild”[5], offered a healthy respite from the city and of course that “such groups by and large present only the illusion of refuge—and eventually reveal themselves to be in fact variants within the large context of modernity itself”[6]. He wandered past the tents to stroll past the lake a while. That evening was still and a camp fire helped to keep the sandflys away.



    Next morning we awoke and it was hot! Today we were going to the Hut. Discovered that we forgot the Insect repellent. Last night we had made the 3 or so hours to the Lake and camped. Now we were to climb up on to the tops and go down the other side to the hut. Another hour sidling along the lake and then we would begin a 3 hour climb up and through 800 vertical metres of jungle, to the tops for a lunch. Meanwhile a helicopter had just whizzed over carrying a carcass from its hook. They must have been shooting up in the head of where we were going. Somewhere mid-climb I was leaning against a tree puffing my lungs out and Baudrillard kept on pestering me with some mad nonsense, he was saying: ah not too far to go and anyway:

One of the attractions of an American park: you go into a maze and are lost, not knowing where to turn, quite unable to get out. This lasts for one hour or two, depending on which ticket you bought at the entrance, at the end of which a helicopter comes and gets you out[7]

Easy for him to say, I was thinking, he had no pack so was strolling along enjoying himself, monkeying his way up the tree roots. Anyhow we had not hired a GPS locator beacon so – no ticket no ride?[8] Once we had cleared the jungle forest, and were meandering across the tussock tops I began to think more about Arthur’s claim of the antimodern being a sense of reaction to a loss or of the alienation of modernity. Unfortunately, Marx was still down at the river – not quite fit enough you see – but I suspect he would want to say something about ‘solids melting into air’ and he would not be talking solely about the sweat beads on his forehead! Although it does make a nice kind of metaphor – for we were all of us sweaty. We were dropping down into a steep scree slope that then turned into a waterfall and had to lower ourselves over boulders with trees fallen all over them. Some of the permolat members come out here just to help to make the way for others – cutting etc and putting up ‘permolat’[9] track markers, and we see a big white stake that leads us down a steep track into the dark green forest. The sight of the dank dark forest had, of course, caused Jean-Luc Nancy to start channelling Rousseau and he was alternating between bounding around in the undergrowth and having what looked much like heavy ruminations. And In a small patch of damp twigs Jean-Luc Nancy said to the world:

Rousseau…was perhaps the first thinker of community, or more exactly, the first to experience the question of society as an uneasiness directed toward the community, and as the consciousness of a (perhaps irreparable) rupture in this community[10]

We moderns, we Rousseau’s who long for the romantic time, a time that was not a ‘time’ but just ‘was’ in its entirety, is not to go back to it – because this is impossible – we merely want to recognise it as the dislocation that “engendered this modern era”[11], this is almost a Eucharist feast. We come for community; an action which also recognises a loss of community, and also helps to engender/maintain such a loss. Something seemed to catch in Bataille’s throat. He’d been quiet all day, which I thought odd. Presently we were approaching the Hut. It was freshly painted, blue, and a red roof. That evening the moon came out a little, and Georges Bataille, after excusing himself went outside. He was heard to speak thus, gazing upon the hut in the moonlight: “The festival is not a true return to immanence but rather an amicable reconciliation, full of anguish, between the incompatible necessities”[12]. The two poles that were incompatible – the city and this reclusive place in Koropuku Creek – but also necessary to each other, marks a site that while miles away and out of the electricity grid proper was still plugged firmly into the cultural circuitry of late modernity. This hut represented an amicable reconciliation, between the sacred world and its principles and this modern world of prior separation[13] from that sacred world and its principles. This hut is a modern day festival. ‘Yes, it is an illusion of refuge’, mentioned Versluis. Bataille came in and sat on his bunk.

1 Koropuku Hut in Koropuku Creek.jpg1 Interior of Big Tops Shelves.jpg

    The morning brought light in through the plastic skylights and warmed the interior. It also gave us our first good look at the objects that were given to this hut. As mentioned, it has no power, not even an inside fire or a water tank. Yet, somehow there is installed in the ceiling a 75 watt light bulb in a bracket and with a light shade, the switch to it is on the wall[14]. I ran my fingers over the phone, amazing. This hut was suddenly full of objects of relinquished value. Looking all over, his eyes darting Bataille utters: “To sacrifice is not to kill but to relinquish and to give”[15]. The light and the light switch were clearly the giving up of electricity, similarly with the phone, although there is no phone line so this is the relinquishment of communication[16] itself (which if we are familiar with Hegel we will notice that it defines a relation on the sacred) – given up of course because they are of value[17]. It is interesting that once there was a vacuum cleaner that someone had hauled over those tops to this hut, but that was removed in a modern day version of cultural suppression; DoC[18] had flown in a helicopter and removed all the ‘junk’. At just that moment Adolf Loos popped his head in to mention “cultural evolution is equivalent to the removal of ornament from articles in daily use”[19], and just as quickly he took off, plenty of hours in the day still – would not want to waste them. While the hut had been cleaned out of its objects, it filled back up again slowly through the various visits. This hut offers an example of a place where the things given up, the telephone and the lights/switch are given up in a way that draws a clear meaning: in the context the telephone is useless as a telephone, and even in the city its value was probably only $20, but it was carried out there so that it would be ripped out of context and once in the hut would no longer be just a telephone – it was ‘the’ telephone – it was fully returned to its intimate value. The telephone etc were a type of ‘necessary ornamentation’ and thus part of the articles in daily use, so in a way should therefore be left to remain.

1 Book shelf and Portrait of the Suburbs.jpg1 Back of the Door at Koropuku Hut.jpg

To tell you the truth, sitting in the hut and looking around seeing the lights and telephone and then needing to walk down to the river for water and then boiling it slowly over a cooker makes the place discombobulating. The place is quite nostalgically timeless/kitsch, it has old curtains and a 1970’s first aid kit, and a Santa neck-tie hung on the back of the door (to signal consummation? if hung outside on the door/but it is INSIDE which must mean the consummation is occurring outside?). Above the bookshelf there is a picture of the suburbs in a picture frame. Houses as far as the eye can see. In the city we put nature in the frame and out here it is the city itself that takes on a new nostalgic/romanticist glaze – oh a hot shower! I was thinking that someone should carry in a child’s bike (a tricycle I reckon) and set it in the corner, so that as you arrive you get the full force of the nostalgic childhood ‘yellowified’ gaze. A similar thing happens with the tools in the corner, they have an air of communistic propaganda about them. Even the LIGHT bulb appears to be haloed just as in Christian art. But still the interior is yellow and along with those skylights it was very ‘warm’ to look at in its hyper-reality. For all the effort taken to get here it is quite remarkable how few hours are actually spent at the hut. Most people seem to, by reading the hut book, end up arriving at 8pm or something and leave again at 8.30am to make it to the car in one day. It was lunch time and we were heading back up on to the tops to camp.

1 Phone but no phone book at Koropuku Hut.jpg1 Light switch at Big Tops Hut.jpg1 Lights at Big Tops Hut.jpg

     Later that day after we had ascended that long scree and set up the tent among the tussock, I was thinking of the impulse itself, that impulse to make the move to go out and look for the lost something. The impulse to ‘return’ itself. Bataille seemed to be saying that well the sacrificer (the tramper – for now my body was tired) must be ‘separated’, be modern[20], be apart from and recognize this loss – a re-cognition through the partaking of the impulse to ‘return’, most often experienced as a sense of a loss of time allied with a surfeit of reality. Sitting on some rocks overlooking the lake from our tops camp site he did mention: “The sacrificer’s prior separation from the world of things is necessary for the return to intimacy, of immanence between man and the world, between the subject and the object”[21]. Now this entire trip had been the exercise of a separation seeking a return, in a sense. And in good modern form, it is a return ‘for the weekend’, so so structured. This short duration of the return to intimacy is important to note because of the separation between the sacred and the other world that for the sake of duration/production is there to hold the sacred ‘in check’; it is from a state of prior separation from the sacred world (modernity) that the sacrificer seeks to ‘break’ into and also to maintain the separation. ‘Yes!’ cried Bataille, because if  “man surrendered unreservedly to immanence, he would fall short of humanity; he would achieve it only to lose it and eventually life would return to the unconscious intimacy of animals”[22]. For now a return to the unconscious intimacy of animals was hard to grasp, but tomorrow we would perhaps peek into its true meaning.

1 Impliments at Koropuku Creek.jpg1 Matt crossing Otehake swingbridge focus bridge.jpg

    Around 2am the rain began and by morning we were quite wet as the rain was pooling up on the surface around the tussock, and some of it was seeping in. After packing up in the wet and cold my hands were numb by the time we had reached the bush edge, the big descent was next and the track was a waterfall. Chuzz and I it turns out, at this point were wondering how big the Otehake River was going to be if all this liquid was running down hill with us. We ended up crossing that river using a rusty old swing bridge, which spanned the huge brown mess that was the Otehake[23]. After continuing for ‘forever’, past the lake where we camped on the way in, we were stopped by a flooded creek and camped. In the morning we continued as the rain had eased a little, and once at the Otira River, realised that it was uncrossable and had to carry on around a sidle track, we could see and hear cars on the highway but were still 3 hours away. This whole episode in the rain has a weird effect on memory and understandings of time. The rain had made the previous sunny days seem so remotely far away that, even though we had experienced them – on a calendar they were 2 days ago, they were so unreal and so very far from the current reality that they were more like a memory of a few weeks ago. Like animals I was thinking.

    While climbing up and down through the sidle, Baker was mentioning, that this was clearly a “form of what Zizek calls trauma and Benjamin a “standstill”: the sudden, miraculous cessation of all happening”[24]. For those moments, while we were in the rain there is a sense of being out of time as such, it happens to me sometimes where each day you need to get your fingers out and figure out if today is Friday or is it today that is Saturday – and you do this every day because these day names mean nothing when it is raining. Rather than this being something experienced it could be seen negatively as not experienced[25] and glimpsed at occasionally[26] – like now on the sidle track. This is the menacing feeling that people get in the mountains sometimes, the brooding feeling that makes people want to ‘get out’ – and where they lose their sense of judgement unable to sleep because of anxiety. If all goes to plan, in distinctly modern form this rupture for the weekend will be contained within the weekend and everything is as it is supposed to be, but occasionally this feeling of rupture is more than you would anticipate[27]. We had reached the bridge and left our packs in the bushes before crossing and walking back down the road to the car. In around 25 minutes we were at the car, amazing I thought because on the other side of the river we had walked up then down, up then down, to travel what now could be done in 25 min by the cutting of a road. As we whizzed down the road, to stop and recross the footbridge and get our packs, within the space of a minute, Marinetti, who was until then leaning out of the window listening to the whir of the wheels on the road, came back in to say, “Time and Space died yesterday”[28]. No, I corrected him – Time and Space died today. But yes the collapse from 3 hours and the unimaginable energy spent doing so, to what can now be achieved - within a minute and in comfort too – structures the whole enterprise. This hut is not visited and kept ‘alive’ because it is useful and in a ‘good’ place for utilitarian purposes (such as for a hunting base), and indeed this is why it was tagged for removal. It is therefore, kept because it is seen as useless, which is the antimodern impulse to maintain a place (the wilderness) where they can go and enjoy the uselessness as a way to help newly appreciate the usefulness of Modern society. In this way the useless wilderness is quite useful and inherently and characteristically modern.







Baker jr, J.M., (2008) “Vacant Holidays: the theological remainder in Leopardi, Baudelaire and Benjamin”, MLN, No. 121, pp. 1190-1219

Bataille, G., (1989) “Sacrifice, the Festival, and the Principles of the Sacred World” in G. Bataille Theory of Religion, Zone Books: New York.

Baudrillard, J., (1996) Cool Memories II: (1987-1990), Duke University Press: Durham. Trans. Chris Turner.

Loos, A., (1966) “Ornament and Crime” in L. Munz & G. Kunster Adolf Loos. Pioneer of Modern Architecture, London: Thames & Hudson, pp. 226-231. Originally, 1908.

Marinetti, F.T., (1972) “The Founding & Manifesto of Futurism” from A.W. Flint (ed.) Marinetti: Selected Writings, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, pp. 39-44. Originally, 1909.

Nancy, J., (1991) The Inoperative Community, Minnesota Press: Minneapolis.

Versluis, A., (2006) “Antimodernism”, TELOS, Winter: 137, pp. 96-130




1 SAR Wilderness.jpg


[1] Versluis, 2006, 106

[2] This is the University of Canterbury’s online class forums…for communication between students and between students and lecturers.

[3] See http://remotehuts.onlinegroups.net/groups/permolat... Their Charter States: “Permolat is an Online Group for Remote Huts Westland. The purpose of Permolat is to enable communication between people who [are] interested in the retention of Remote Huts Westland, New Zealand. Permolat was opened 27 May 2004 and will run indefinitely”.

[4] Kaurapataka means raised storehouse…in a way it also is a synonym for University/University study/intellectual endeavour…themes of a repository of higher knowledge.

[5] Versluis, 2006, 101

[6] Versluis, 2006, 103

[7] Baudrillard, 1996, 42

[8] See the attached SAR advert that I cut out of a Wilderness magazine, June 2010. Their motto is a cherry “We’ll Get You Out”.

[9] It is basically a piece of venetian blind that is cut to a piece the length of a pen and nailed to a tree – cheap and it reflects a torch light…which is nice!

[10] Nancy, 1991, 9 

[11] Nancy, 1991, 9

[12] Bataille, 1989, 54

[13] Bataille, 1989, 44

[14] Above the switch is written: please be sure to turn out the lights before leaving. Grimshaw has mentioned that this is perhaps a statement claiming that we should ‘not waste’ what is valuable (electricity – the ‘spark’ that we all share?).

[15] Bataille, 1989, 48-49

[16] In Hobbes State of Nature there would be no letters or postal services…because everyone exists in an environment of mutual suspicion. Perhaps this is a dig at Hobbes. We had no communication, but we also had no weapons…my mum once said to me ‘but what if someone tries to get you’ etc I just looked at her kind of weird….This was no state of nature, if anything it would be the re-creation of nature in the state, which is exactly what Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau did through their enquiries….re-create an idea of nature from within the state. Much like Peter Pan and ‘Neverland’, it never was…and exists only as a result of/for intellectual enquiry. The Hegelian insight is Nancy’s.obbesHobbes

[17] For example, having no electricity makes it really hard to read, candles are not bright enough…you realise the value suddenly when the switch does not work.

[18] Perhaps they were radical feminists? When faced with a road-side shrine the Loosian modern would, in contrast to the radical who would berate the shrine-goers, ‘doff’ his hat respecting what it represented (or attempted to represent) while himself being beyond needing it… See Grimshaw, M (2005) “Notes toward a Loos-ian theory of religion in modernity”, Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, pp382-392.

[19] Loos, 1966, 226-227

[20] But also separated from modern society itself…a kind of double separation.

[21] Bataille, 1989, 52

[22] Bataille, 1989, 53

[23] It was postcard blue and tame when we crossed it on the way in, we did not even have to link up it was mid thigh.

[24] Baker jr, 2008, 1213

[25] This understanding of time as such is interesting as many trampers operate within a ‘post-Taylor’ time frame, which is much like a workplace. Chuzz and I were meeting up once on a trip and when we met he told me of a guy who upon approaching him beeped his watch to stop the ‘clock’. They discussed a bit. Then Chuzz told him where he was going and ‘that took me 3 hours and fourteen minutes’…He then restarted his watch as he left Chuzz for the road. Another example of someone working at play, not that time constraints don’t weigh our plans down, but that is precisely the point I try to make.

[26] Hone Tuwhare’s poem Rain captures I think the relationship: I can hear you…making small (w)holes in the silence Rain…but if I should not see, hear, smell or feel you – you would still define me, disperse me, wash over me, Rain. In these terms and while in the rain, it is possible to realise that you may be (re)experiencing a fundamental ‘experience’ of being modern. The rains of modernity washes us of our fixedness and in this way while ‘defining’ (defined by our alienation?) us also ‘disperses’ us…a pointed made by Mike Grimshaw.

[27] As Curnow might point out…it was something nobody had counted on…

[28] Marinetti, 1972, 41