“Steve Azula”

Interior of Big Tops Hut • By Steve Azula. Licence: C.


 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.

Koropuku Hut • By Steve Azula. Licence: C.



    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] 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