Friday, June 6, 2008

McCarthyism de nos jours

Great interview of Tom McCarthy in the Believer.

That said, McCarthy sometimes seems not to see his hand in front of his face. He says:

TM: I mean, in the current climate in the UK, publishing is a very, very conservative field. Editorial decisions are taken by marketing boards. There isn’t really much room for something that isn’t middle-of-the-road. On the other hand, in the art world—you can’t help noticing if you mix, as I do, with one foot or one toe in the publishing world and nine toes in the art world—it’s the artists who are extremely literate. In the current climate, art has become the place where literary ideas are received, debated, and creatively transformed. You mentioned Robbe-Grillet—I know several artists that are doing works based on his novels. Most artists I know have read Beckett, have read Burroughs, have read Faulkner. For example, one of the real structural understandings of great literature, from Greek tragedy to Beckett and Faulkner, is that it’s an event. It’s not something that you can contain and narrate, but it’s like this seismic set of ripples that goes on through time, backward and forward. Contemporary novelists don’t really understand that, but contemporary artists do.

Now honestly. If you think editorial decisions are taken by marketing boards, and that marketing boards prefer middle-of-the-road fiction, this amounts to saying that the sample on which you base your assessment of contemporary novelists is based on what marketing boards were willing to publish. You can safely say that certain contemporary novelists were able to write fiction that could get past a marketing board. Unless you have done an enormous amount of research, you have no way of knowing whether A) some of the writers who got work published ALSO wrote books they could not get past the marketing board, B) some of the writers who got work published ALSO wrote books their agent didn't bother to try to get past the marketing board, C) some of the writers who got work published WANTED to write other books they knew they couldn't get past the marketing board, or, of course, D) writers who haven't managed to get ANYTHING published have written the sort of fiction he considers interesting but couldn't get an agent or couldn't get it past the marketing board.

I can't help but think that someone who had done substantial background research, and who had ascertained, on the basis of this research, that the middle-of-the-road fiction being published was NOT an unrepresentative sample of what was being written, would have, um, said so.

Ilya Gridneff got a job in London covering the Coroners' Court. He later got assignments covering Britney Spears and Angelina Jolie. John Pilger is one of his heroes; while travelling round the Middle East he wrote Pilgeresque pieces which he sent to various London papers and could not get published. He reads Bataille, Burroughs, Miller; he hasn't found a publisher for his novel, either. It would be silly to draw any conclusions from his portfolio except the unsurprising one that it is often necessary to eat.

(Still a very interesting interview.)

No comments: