Tuesday, September 13, 2016

"a fatal cheapness"

High Camp?
Shriver is annoying. The censorship is absurd. The criticism isn't.
[update: Suki Kim: there was no censorship.]
Styron and Nat Turner, etc. The problem is deeper.

Henry James
The "historic" novel is, for me, condemned, even in cases of labour as delicate as yours, to a fatal cheapness, for the simple reason that the difficulty of the job is inordinate & that a mere escamotage [slight of hand, trickery], in the interest of ease, & of the abysmal public naïveté, becomes inevitable. You may multiply the lithe facts that can be got from pictures & documents, relics & prints, as much as you like - the real thing is almost impossible us do, & in its absence the whole effect is as nought: I mean the invention, the representation of the old consciousness, the soul, the sense, the horizon, the vision of individuals in whose minds half the things that make ours, that make the modern world were non-existent. You have to think with your modern apparatus a man, a woman -or rather fifty- whose own thinking was intensely-otherwise conditioned, you have it simplify back by an amazing tour de force - & even then it's all humbug. But there is a shade of the (even then) humbug that may amuse. The childish tricks that take the place of any such conception of the real job in the flood of Tales of the Past that seems of late to have been rolling over our devoted country - these ineptitudes have, on a few recent glances, struck me as creditable to no one concerned.
And as far as "appropriation" is concerned, if you want to be serious about it, we're back to discussions of race and gender

I remember reading a James story written in the first person with a matronly American protagonist. The character was so obviously a drag performance it was annoying.

Shriver as book critic, in the FT
No Place Like Home
So are the powerful emotions surrounding immigration on the receiving end inherently unworthy of compassion? Are westerners who are uncomfortable with a tide of uninvited new arrivals ipso facto the villains of the tale? I think not. That discomfort need not proceed from bigotry alone, but surely from the same primitive notion of home that concerns Segun Afolabi. Illegal immigration occasions the sensation of a householder when total strangers burst through his front door without knocking and take up indefinite residence in the guest room. Britain memorialises its natives' brave fight against the Nazis in the second world war. In sufficient quantity, the arrival of foreign populations can begin to duplicate the experience of military occupation - your nation is no longer your home. Yet native western citizenries are implicitly told on a daily basis that to object is prejudiced, and they had best keep their mouths shut. This is a silencing in which fiction has been complicit. 
As an American resident of Britain, I am an immigrant myself. Perhaps I can never quite regard the UK as home either, so that on my yearly trips to New York City I would like to relish returning somewhere that is. Yet one in four adults in New York today does not speak English. The recreation area where I once hit a tennis ball against a backboard in Riverside Park has now been colonised by immigrants from Guatemala. The last few times I practised my forehand, I drew wary looks and felt unwelcome. I don't practise there any more, and I resent that a bit. Does that make me a bigot? In a story, would I look bad?

Surely fiction could stand to render as passably sympathetic an unease - or even fury - at being made to feel a foreigner in one's own country. In the face of mainstream disquiet over immigration, most centrist politicians abdicate to the venomous rightwing. By likewise failing to engage with understandably primal reactions to the compromise of one's home, fiction writers may abdicate the role of comforter and champion to future Jean Raspails of a subtler, more beguiling stripe. Literarily, readers are being cheated, for filling in only one side of the equation deprives a compelling modern drama of its delicious complexity.
She hadn't heard of Houellebecq in 2006. Now her novels are being compared with his.
And good writers can be idiots.
“I really like the idea of this country, and I wish we were more loyal to it,” she said. “I think the initial concept of a place where you could do pretty much whatever you wanted to as long as you didn’t hurt anybody else is positively brilliant. And most countries don’t have ideas. Most countries are just places, and collective histories. And we have an ideology. We have a set of principles. And that is crucial to the very concept of this country.” She was gathering passionate steam. “The country has a concept. I think that is cool.” Even if she were to renounce her citizenship and work to change her accent, the facts of her life would remain the same. She’s glad of that. “There’s nothing wrong with being an American,” she said. “Everyone has to be something.”
Houellebecq is honest; his books are as much about reaction as much as they are reaction. Maybe Shriver's novels are more mature than she is. But most of those attacking her for her ideas would attack Houellebecq for his, and most of those defending her wouldn't defend him. Art's a bitch

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