Monday, 30 November 2020

Get with the Programme

More and more the lives of individuals in English speaking countries are being fenced in by other people's -isms and identity obsessions. Those other people, the ones building the fences, would say that they aren't "other people" but "the righteous". I would call them crashing bores.

This morning, reading the Sunday Telegraph, I noticed an example of the kind of thing I mean. I decided then that I would try to make a blogpost whenever I noticed other examples, so that one day we can look back and see where the palings of the fence went in. 

The example from today was in an article on new fiction by a writer called Claire Allfree. Bear in mind that the newspaper the article was published in is considered to be to the right of all the people usually springing to mind as considered extreme right, (Genghis Khan is the usual cliche used).

After a bit of waffle about coronavirus and lockdown and blahdy blahdy blah, Claire Allfree got down to the substance of the piece, which was telling us about the novels that have been published this year. "The future for literature ... looks cheerful - in young and diverse hands," ("diverse" is such an overused word at the moment), she told us, before going on to declare all the recent contributions of "veteran white male authors" pretty rubbish: 

"All feel like a retreat into a somewhat glorified past, away from such highly charged subjects as race, entitlement and sexuality, even though that is what now defines our cultural landscape", 

she explained. 

Leaving aside the plural subject and non-matching singular verb in that last sentence, don't you find that statement just flabbergasting? Since when have we started judging fiction by subject matter? So much for - well the list of books that would be found wanting if that's the standard is so long that I really don't know where to begin. The idea that subject matter should be the first port of call when making a judgment about a work of art is a very dangerous one - it points directly to a road marked “censorship”.

But get with the programme: our cultural landscape is now defined by race, entitlement and sexuality, and books published now that don't include at least one of those issues are just "a retreat into a somewhat glorified past".

I wish publishers the best of luck, if that is going to be an industry wide approach to book selection. I used to like browsing in bookshops, but from now on I guess those will only be secondhand bookshops. Yes, I think it's time for me to retreat into the glorified past of literature published before this year. 


  1. Hear hear. And I fear the publishing industry is already well down the road you describe, fast becoming a 100pc 'woke' zone, apart from a few sturdy independents. The displays of new publications in bookshops these days make a dismally uniform (so much for 'diversity'!) spectacle.

    1. Even Theodore Dalrymple has taken the route of a tiny publisher with his latest book Around the World in the Cinemas of Paris. Because it hasn’t been issued by a big publisher it has received nil publicity but I think you & many other readers would enjoy it

  2. Yes, I agree. Of course it's important that our writers deal with these subjects. We want our creative minds interrogating the things that are important to our times, but I do think that in all our earnestness to be fair, and diverse, and relevant, we are forgetting that art is first and foremost about art, and about the creators expressing what's inside them. I dislike the prescriptiveness that is creeping in.

    That said - and this is a bit of a tangent, but related I think - I have some sympathy with the "let Indigenous (or other disempowered) people tell their own stories" because they have been shut out for so long. However, to say no-one else can tell stories featuring Indigenous people (or whomever) is disturbing. Should Thomas Hardy not have been allowed to write Tess because he's a man? To completely eliminate imagination and empathy from the equation is, well, gobsmacking.

    1. Earnestness rarely makes for transcendent work, sadly. And to say that anyone can't tell any story they like is an infringement of freedom, but freedom is something that is being infringed more and more, which worries me a great deal.