Thursday, 23 August 2012

that nationality....

so, irvine welsh was speaking at the book festival the other day, 'tearing into' the booker prize apparently (the whole speech is in there on the guardian somewhere but i can't find it right now. that he should do so was signposted by alan bissett a couple of weeks before which might lead one to think that the cheeky wee scallywags had it planned.

my first thoughts were that her we were, recreating that conference yet again, as if it was the one thing that had happened in scottish literature ever. and at that, what with welsh's girning, i was like, didn't john berger do that years ago? whihc welsh should know, and probably does, but it seems a bit disingenuous but to acknowledge if he did, esp with his references to gramcsi which he seems to like and i've heard him do before as if he's doing some sort of undergraduate essay and he wants us to know just where his reference points are.

being edinburgh folk seem to have picked up on the scottish whininess, that 'we' have only won once and somehow there's an anti-scottish cabal at work, fuelled by their upper middle classness. the irony of this accusation, coming as it does (at a book festival ffs!) and, in bissett's case, in the pages of the guardian is the kind of blinkered comedy you just couldn't write. worse, in the lists of writers 'overlooked', certainly in comparison to the people who've actually won the booker prize, it seems there's an oddly familiar theme - they're all, almost without exception, white guys.

oh dear, perhaps the boys aren't quite as cutting edge as they thought they were. or maybe it's just the ladies, in their heads, perhaps aren't producing the goods for them. and is scotland so monocultural that list of our writers have to be so overpopulated by whiteys? and, wait a minute further, aren't all those books written in english? which isn't to suggest that either bissett or welsh are sexist or racist just maybe a wee bit more brain engagement before speaking might be in order. or being, cynical, maybe welsh has a new book out.

of the many comments, the most apt for me, in terms of both bissett and welsh, was ben okri's

The writer writes. As well as they can, as truthfully as they can from the depth of their spirits … If you say this space is Scottishness, you have limited the possibilities of Scottishness for all time … if you overdefine what is a national literature you will constantly reproduce a cycle of cliches.

i'm kind of bored of this whiny reiteration of old grudges and arguments whether it's the scottish thing, rhyme in poetry or the death of the novel. it seems a strange divisiveness that if say, you get a bunch of musicians together, they make music, but a bunch of writers and they start moaning and fighting (or, if you're ian mcewan, cosying up to politicians). as in 1962, so much stays the same.

it's a pity tho that what seems to have been overlooked in the online and print discussions around this were welsh's point about the londoncentric nature of publishing. not something the guardian so likely to complain about! yet welsh's point, regardless of whether you like it or not, that it seems unlikely that trainspotting would be published today as a result, seems a fair one. for me tho, again, this seems like the concern of just the sort of person welsh is pretending he isn't. as okri puts it - the writer writes. all the rest is gravy.

i'm a fan of the day job. in the parlance of pretend urban types like welsh and bissett it 'keeps it real'. competitions biased? you don't say! unreflective? surely not! so don't get involved with them. the writer writes and free from all that commercialism can write whatever they want. which, i think is kind of what china mieville was getting at. rather than trotting out the same tired old tropes mieville's vision (even if parts of it did tread on some of my own sacred cows !) seemed far more exciting. more people writing? now that's a world i want to see.

in ian mcewan's piece there's a bit about 'britishness' and the olympics. to be honest, scraping beyond that meniscus of flag waving and before soaking in that unreconstructed mire of online and print nationalism there was a something that was about people. people in all their wonderful diversity without their politicinans (however hard they tried), the isms they locate themselves by, all that jargon. just people. wandering about the streets of london those days was both a privilege and some kind of wonderful.

not so long before i'd been working on a wee collection of poems that were later described as 'unpublishable'. which was true enough whether it was in the world of that london publishing or the nationalist engaged sphere of the likes of welsh and bissett. and it was equally true for the people who weren't publishing my collection. me, tho, i wasn't so disappointed because i was happy and at the end of the day that's all that matters. the poems will come out in some other form - let's face it, there's never been a better time to read more by more people in a bewildering variety of formats.

it's not about winning the competition or whether you are being represented. better surely to present yourself. be in the present rather than the past. live the life rather than talk about it.


Titus said...

I enjoyed your meditations on this.

Is this the whole thing here:

Me? Off to watch Miranda. So English...

swiss said...

that is indeed the link i was after. cheers.


Titus said...

The comedian. Comedienne? Hart.

swiss said...

yes that mirnada thing. not for me i'm afraid. perhaps it's a cultural thing then!