Acciaccature heard elsewhere

Not every acciaccatura originates in this spot . . . (ahem).

Tuesday’s posting, Pixels in the wind: traditional publishing vs. the blogosphere (part 2), mentions attempts in certain quarters to blame the financial crisis for the commercialisation of book publishing. This isn’t just untrue but unnecessary. See the quotations of writers and publishers at the bottom of this article in today’s Independent for proof that the only thing more depressing than tone deaf businesspeople shaping literature is the literary community’s glum acceptance of the shift.

Three cheers for this spirited opponent of the trend:

Geoff Dyer
Novelist & critic

Anyone who has an eye on the market is not a writer but a whore. Nothing wrong with being a whore, of course – just don’t try to make out you’re a writer. Writers sometimes talk of pressure from their publishers to do this or that in order to be more commercial. Nine times out of ten this is sophistry and cowardice… I have this existential conception of writing not as a career but as a back-against-the wall option, the thing you turn to when you’ve got no other way of making a mark on the world. In those circumstances, whether or not you’re going to be adequately recompensed is irrelevant.

Readers with long memories will remember that extracts from Geoff Dyer‘s scintillating — not to mention blistering — review of Haruki Murakami‘s book on running posted by me on The Guardian‘s books blog a few weeks ago were deleted by moderators within two hours. Despite repeated enquiries, neither those thought police nor Guardian editors would give any explanation for the censoring. Later postings of the same extracts were also removed. . . Similar actions by that newspaper inspired the setting up of this site.

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47 Comments

Filed under Book publishing, Censorship, Editors and editing, The Guardian

47 responses to “Acciaccature heard elsewhere

  1. Ask and ye shall receive. By Geoff Dyer’s criteria I and the entire theatre scene are total whores – not because we make work solely in order to make money but because without money to begin with the work isn’t possible. When that is the case then you have to be pragmatic about getting it. We don’t compromise as far as I know and for 21 years we existed on scraps of commissions and Arts Council grants of a few hundred quid a time – which were welcome but totally inadequate for the job in hand – thank God for the concept o self-exploitation! In the end it got too difficult to make the scale of work we wanted to make without serious support which doesn’t come from the commercial sector plus the Arts Council as good as offered to fund us properly.

    So be it and if that sounded defensive it wasn’t meant to be but I wonder from what perspective Dyer is coming from? In order to get his money-making reviewing jobs which presumably keep him able to devote long stretches of time to the writing what contacts is he drawing upon etc. ?

    I sort of agree with the principle of what he says but I think the lines are far more blurred and it’s always easy to look on the past with its lack of neurotic/desperate marketing departments and pressures from super-capitalism to sell, sell, sell with rosy-tinted spectacles.

  2. BaronCharlus

    Hi Wordn,

    I wrote the post below yesterday then decided against posting it, not wanting to taint your generous image of me as in some way diplomatic! However, if you take it in the spirit of good-natured debate (please) read on….

    ———————————————————————-

    ‘Anyone who has an eye on the market is not a writer but a whore. Nothing wrong with being a whore, of course – just don’t try to make out you’re a writer.’

    This kind of stuff is sort of pretty exciting to read (Bill Hicks did a good line in it), but surely it’s a rather shrill, unsupportable statement. I guess it’s true by Dyer’s stated terms but how many artists of major talent pass outside this narrow view? Off the top of my head,

    Hitchcock, Shakespeare, everyone painting in Renaissance Italy and Flanders, Melville, Dickens…

    All worked hard (with or without success) to meet the needs of their audience/backers
    and produced vital, enduring art in the process. My own statement might begin

    ‘Anyone who believes a single criterion can be applied to adjudge the glorious tangle
    that is commercially-disseminated human expression is…’

    Is what?
    Fortunate, having succeeded without once needing to compromise?
    Tediously dogmatic?
    Prone to communicating in absolutes (‘any cup of tea with sugar is whore-tea.
    Nothing wrong with whore-tea, just don’t make out you’re a cup of tea.’ ‘I only asked if you wanted…’ ‘Well, don’t. Whore-tea-monger.’)?
    A talent of rare integrity, stating a truth that the craven world will not admit to?
    A hustler, jockeying for attention in a crowded market by making eye-catching statements?

    All of the above? I don’t know. And part of me yearns to heed these Puritan battle-cries but, Wordn, do you really believe the wellspring of art is so locatable? You have me entirely persuaded that there is a severe imbalance now between the corporatisation of publishing and the support of new/idiosyncratic work. But Dyer’s statement doesn’t seem to me fresh enough to instigate progress (it’s a cliché, after all) or generous enough to allow debate.

    I also have the glum impression that you’ve learned the location of several of my buttons. *sigh*

    ————————————————–

    Having since checked up on Dyer online I see that he has quite a critical pedigree so I should probably keep quiet. But then this brave new online world gives everyone a voice. Even would-be whores 

  3. One could also look at the entire history of cinema and see how the producers have contrbuted immensely to the films they um produced.

    The recent fad for director’s cuts also demonstrate how often the producers have been proved correct in their decisions but of course the director as auteur theory has been running for many a decade.

    The Baron’s mention of Hitchcock is interesting – Bunuel very much the epitome of an auteur made some fantastic dream-like films. Hitchcock – very much the epitome of a film-maker who was extremely conscious of the business side of film-making made Vertigo, the Birds and Psycho which in terms of dream logic are the equal of anything Bunuel made ( perhaps Un Chien Andalou outranks them in terms of savagery and innovation ).

    But rather like the current creative writing debate on the GU PotW where teaching writing seems to be “worse” that teaching visual art maybe writing is different from artforms ( theatre/cinema ) which are more collaborative in creation and which are more ephemeral to experience?

  4. wordnerd7

    Zounds! … I can hardly read for the blizzard of flying feathers … 🙂

    Dear @alarming and @BaronC! I am not Geoff Dyer, much as I admire his stance — a lonely one, in this age of weak-kneed compromise — and even if I do agree with most of what he says. . . By no means all of it. For instance, unlike him, I do think that _all_ highly skilled writers ought to be able to make a living from writing alone — as accountants do from accounting; proctologists do from proctology — and hope to see this happen with the help of the internet in my lifetime. I even have some ideas about how that might come about that I’m still refining. . . and will be, for a while.

    @Alarming, you remind us at least once a week, somewhere, that writing is so different from what you do that there is hardly any basis for comparison. I think you’re right, and also right to make that point, so why invent a grievance about what doesn’t apply to you in the smallest degree? Colour me sincerely baffled, please. %-) [wn emoticon denoting crossed eyes]

    Then there’s a critical semantic problem. What does ‘with an eye on the market’ actually mean? . . . Aren’t you both over-interpreting his phrase as something like, ‘precious and unconcerned with anything but what he and his marmalade cat like?’

    I read him as meaning, writing in conformity with what the marketing executives running the show today think will sell — rather than with what writers’ own imaginations dictate. Remember that a flexible imagination throws up hosts of possibilities for a writer to choose between.

    That’s very different from the ‘marketing’-driven writer who works as I imagine Hollywood’s scribes do, adapting every detail of their stories to passing trends and fads. A character’s name might be changed from Jim to Theobald because some survey says it’s the most popular name-of-the-year for new babies — or, as I read yesterday, a string of films with financial wizards for villains is apparently in the works because of the Great Crunch. I don’t mind someone leaping on that trend for a day job — and not for a serious novel, either, if the news conjoured or coincided with some deeply worthy idea from some novelist’s psychic deeps.

    Dickens — and one of my dearest, greatest, loves, Alexandre Dumas pere — wrote to delight and enchant. Would I call that writing with ‘an eye on the market’? No, absolutely not . . . even if they did work keenly aware of their mountains of bills — both men being notorious spendthrifts and high-livers.

    . . . And btw, @BaronC, I’ve been dancing through dull tasks listening to Blind Willie Johnson, a raw and gritty gospel singer that you (and @Sean, implicitly) recommended — after pouring scorn on my mention of his voice reminding me of Tom Waits. Perhaps I read you wrong but I _think_ you were implying that Waits is just a bit too slick for you, perhaps a bit too much the panderer and . . . dare I say it . . . ‘market’-driven? . . I’d certainly agree, about his recent CDs — not about magnificent Jersey Girl and Burma Shave, for instance . . . So are we really that far apart in our views?

  5. Twice a week please Wordnerd 🙂 Obviously failed in my new year’s resolution to present the same old views with a cunning coat of paint.

    But what intrigues me is how 2 things which both have roughly the same intention – to open eyes and minds – can be created in such different circumstances and why a damning critique of one method of achieving that can be contradicted by considering the methods used to create another form of art. On the PotW thread I’m still not clear why teaching creative writing is seen as “wrong” whilst it’s perfectly reasonable to teach visual art.

  6. wordnerd7

    @alarming, I hadn’t seen your 11.20 post when I put up my last comment. I see that you were making the vital distinction again . . . a friend of mine was famous for telling everyone who worked for him, so often that after the first word, at meetings, they completed this quotation of Emerson in chorus:

    (from memory) ‘It is too little considered that men more often need to be reminded than informed.’

    About this:

    === how 2 things which both have roughly the same intention – to open eyes and minds – can be created in such different circumstances and why a damning critique of one method of achieving that can be contradicted by considering the methods used to create another form of art. ===

    What about my Hollywood examples . . . pandering name changes, etc., . . . do the intentions still overlap in the examples you have in mind?

  7. wordnerd7

    @alarming,

    === On the PotW thread I’m still not clear why teaching creative writing is seen as “wrong” whilst it’s perfectly reasonable to teach visual art. ===

    Even three times a week would be alright with me, never mind if other people think you’re going dotty . . . 🙂 !!! . . . and as for such differences and distinctions, you people I’ve been keeping company with in this space have been making me think about them nearly every day . . . and I have a post on the subject coming on. Not exactly about teaching, though . . .

  8. BaronCharlus

    I wrote a really long post, pressed submit, and it vanished.

    The general idea was…

    ‘writing in conformity with what the marketing executives running the show today think will sell — rather than with what writers’ own imaginations dictate.’

    I think much good work is a product of the attempt to wed these opposing, contradicting forces. Let one dominate (as is current, yes) and you lose the tension I feel is necessary for art.

    I did take the Dyer statement as an extreme one. I’m not good with absolutism. Had someone said ‘anyone who ignores the wisdom of publishers and needs of a readership is a self-indulgent poseur’ I would have been equally snarky.

    I think your own reading, Wordn, is far more inclusive, subtle and generous than the Dyer quote used in the original post.

    re; Tom Waits

    My only problem with Waits, and it’s not a big one, I have many of his records, is that I feel I can hear the craft in his music. It certainly isn’t market driven (anyone who thought they would mint it with Swordfishtrombones would have been a lunatic). But I do hear a certain self-conscious literaryness in the stylisation. I have the same issue with Leonard Cohen, whom I wish I could love more than I do. When he says it took two years to write Halleluiah, I think you can hear it.
    However, your love of Waits is stated and, as I know how I get when people criticise Dylan, maybe we should leave it there! I often prefer early (1920s-30s) recordings as that individualistic weirdness one hears in BWJ, Dock Boggs, whoever, just isn’t around anymore (due to microphones, studio skills, urbanisation perhaps). When BWJ sings that way it’s because that’s how he sings. Waits, and Dylan, sing that way because they’ve chosen to, like actors.

  9. 3p4

    ‘Anyone who believes a single criterion can be applied to adjudge the glorious tangle
    that is commercially-disseminated human expression is…’'””””””””””””‘

    me
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    A talent of rare integrity, stating a truth that the craven world will not admit to?””””””””””

    ordinary man with unusual experience (luck?) such has been the case many millions of times before,,(i expect)
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    do you really believe the wellspring of art is so locatable”””””””””

    yes
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Alarming, you remind us at least once a week, somewhere, that writing is so different from what you do that there is hardly any basis for comparison.

    there is no difference
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    But what intrigues me is how 2 things which both have roughly the same intention – to open eyes and minds – can be created in such different circumstances and why a damning critique of one method of achieving that can be contradicted by considering the methods used to create another form of art.

    see “tribal/creative”

  10. ISA

    I don’t care about the house I just want a shed. An out house the Americans say.

    Most of us early – late middleaged chaps have something to give, but we are not young enough to be commercial.

    Lot’s of creative people out there. Have a listen to my colleagues: The Shed Dwellers. Have a listen, they are good – but not yet commercial.

    I shall continue looking for our house, with my writing shed.

    Do you guys like the Shed Dwellers? If you do then post a little encouragement on their site.

    http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=51145097

    Let the page load and it will go through a few of their songs.

  11. ISA

    I think that’s the issue for a lot of us, isn’t it – shelf life.

    Wordy talks about the commercialisation of book life, but in practical terms that means ageism. How many of you have been irritated by some young journo protege who is pig ignorant?

    I have.

    The charming fecklessness and smooth skin of youth. It’s like Ground Hog Day to have to hear people come out with the exact same bullshit you heard 20 – 30 years ago – and all with the pretext of bringing along young talent.

    Of course the blogosphere opens everything out to everyone. And that’s a good thing. But if there is a pretense at developing a literary culture, when the literary editors sell their soul to a marketing Mephisto who whispers this poison in the editor’s ear:

    Ghhhhhet Rhhhhheal … hhhhhh.

  12. wordnerd7

    Hello, @BaronC . . . I’ve just liberated your wonderful post from the spam queue — this one: https://acacciatura.wordpress.com/2009/01/09/acciaccature-heard-elsewhere/#comment-774

    I am so sorry that that took so long. This is my first computer session for half a day . . . life getting in the way of blogging, I’m afraid . . . and Ill reply to all these unusually interesting comments as soon as I can. That might not be until tomorrow.

  13. wordnerd7

    @BaronC,

    === I did take the Dyer statement as an extreme one. ===

    At this point I think we need him to erm, . . . apparate in this space — like Marshall McLuhan in — was it Annie Hall? — and confirm or repudiate my interpretation of his remarks.

    === When BWJ sings that way it’s because that’s how he sings. Waits, and Dylan, sing that way because they’ve chosen to, like actors. ===

    Not at all sure I agree with that . . . and I like early Waits, not his more recent releases. And I would take Cohen to my desert island, but not necessarily TW.

    @3p4, I hope you don’t mind if I can’t agree that there’s anything ordinary about Geoff Dyer. How is this possible when almost no one else has the courage to speak out so clearly against what corporate publishing has done to books? . .

    @ISA

    === the commercialisation of book life, but in practical terms that means ageism. ===

    No, no, and . . . no, to that. Eg., I’m looking forward to reading Peter Murphy’s John the Revelator. And I’m on record at GU for recommending both @Sean Murray’s and Iamoscarmacsweeny’s works-in-progress. . . of writing by people much younger than me, as far as I know.

    But this is very well said:

    === But if there is a pretense at developing a literary culture, when the literary editors sell their soul to a marketing Mephisto who whispers this poison in the editor’s ear:

    Ghhhhhet Rhhhhheal … hhhhhh. ===

    🙂

  14. wordnerd7

    @alarming . . . I keep forgetting to thank you for breaking the ice, here . . . not a peep from anyone for a whole day, I think, … ….before you came along. : ) !

    A general point, @BaronC, that I meant to make earlier, is this:

    If Geoff Dyer is wrong to urge writers not to give in to commercial pressures, and if — as he correctly implies — only a minute fraction of scribes can support themselves from their writing alone . . . they are, in effect, doing a day job for the sake of _another_ day job**. . .

    I’m defining a day job as the kind of drudgery endured solely for survival that is rarely chosen for any form of self-expression or aesthetic satisfaction. . .

    How much sense does that make?

    This is a question I’ve been asking myself for a very long time.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________

    ** the point of the second day-job being the most shallow form of ego satisfaction. ‘Look at me, I’ve had a book published with my name on it — and who cares if it mainly expresses what my publisher’s marketing department thought it should!’

  15. I’d certainly agree with the Baron about Dylan – a strange man and a bit too addicted to mystification for me, very much an actor these days if not since the motorbike accident in the 60’s.

    We did some work at a Danish rock festival about 15 year’s ago ( I usually can’t stand such gigs but this one was very pleasant ) where Dylan was a head-liner. He kept to one side of his mike so that the spotlight was only on half of his face. You couldn’t be entirely sure it was Dylan up on stage. He sounded like Enoch Powell or regional runner up to the Dylan sound-alike competition of 1994.

    At the end of the festival you queued up to get paid in cash by rock’n’roll lawyers. Dylan’s manager was in front of me – a true cliche of white suit, light blue brothel sneakers, Hawaiian shirt, balding with a ponytail and a metal suitcase. After seeing the “Dylan” on stage and witnessing this caricature of a manager it occured to me that perhaps the whole Dylan tour was some sort of an elaborate joke.

  16. wordnerd7

    @alarming, I won’t be ignoring you and @BaronC if I say nothing about Dylan. He’s just never made any particular impression, one way or another.

    Something I said earlier about day jobs was written in too much of a rush. Corrected version:

    A general point, @BaronC, that I meant to make earlier, is this:

    If Geoff Dyer is wrong to urge writers not to give in to commercial pressures, and if — as he correctly implies — only a minute fraction of scribes can support themselves from their writing alone . . . they are, in effect, doing a day job for the sake of _another_ day job**. . .

    How much sense does a bargain like that make?

    This is a question I’ve been asking myself for a very long time.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________

    ** the point of the second day-job being the most shallow form of ego satisfaction. ‘Look at me, I’ve had a book published with my name on it — and who cares if it mainly expresses what my publisher’s marketing department thought it should!’

    I’m defining the first kind of day job as the kind of drudgery endured solely for survival that is rarely chosen for any form of self-expression or aesthetic satisfaction. . .

    D’oh. : )

  17. We might also be living in an age where the day job crosses over with the artistic job and where the willingness to value what people have done in the day-job is taken notice of. I’m thinking of people such as TV writers ( especially on some of the US shows like the Wire, Seinfeld, Simpsons, add or delete according to taste etc. etc ) who manage to be very creative within extremely defined commercial formats.

    Once they were dismissed as low art ( comic-strip artists also fall into this category ) and they flew below the critical radar but now there is a developed critical language for what they do.

    If you are an avatar of high art then this will be the sign of plummeting standards. For others it just makes it difficult to define what pure art / “Dyer-art” ( pun good but not intended or accurate! )actually is.

    Have I gone off-message again? Did I mention that although my work isn’t releva….. blah blah

  18. wordnerd7

    Interesting, @alarming. But about a dozen years ago a graduate of Harvard (M.Phil. Oxon.) spoke to me yearningly about the lucky members of his class who were writing for Seinfeld and The Simpsons. He said that they’d attained the highest aspiration of the literary gang in his year. When I still looked both astounded and blank he rushed off and returned with recordings of each show that he insisted I watch immediately. . .

    I don’t believe he’d agree that the work would fit either of my definitions of a day job. . . but then those _are_ only one nerd’s suggestions and perhaps no one else agrees with them.

    The point I’m trying to make is that a day job is almost by definition something done secretly holding your nose _or_ for the wrong reasons (the second category). So this wouldn’t apply:

    === who manage to be very creative within extremely defined commercial formats. ===

    . . . since I think that anyone being very creative is always having a whale of a time.

    Btw, I did notice this intriguing comment of yours at the other place . . .

    === I would have thought all art starts with inspiration but it’s those with the experience, technique, stamina, awareness of accident and good fortune that make something of that inspiration. ==

    . . . and wondered, but how does our @alarming think that can be done collaboratively – or, . . . for vanishing @3p4’s sake, ‘tribally’? . . . I mean, working from ‘inspiration’ (with which I agree, of course — leaning towards Des’s view).

    Incidentally, if anyone else has any ideas or answers for my post addressed to @3p4 in Marginalia . . .

  19. collaboratively you need a team focused on the same aim – create something new using an agreed approach (e.g visual theatre or piece of music ).

    Each member of the team may have different interests ( puppets, sound, integration of music and performance, costumes, movement) and can attend to those elements. In the work I do you develop a sort of 360 degree approach – when I think of an idea to suggest I try to make sure it is initially and sufficiently open enough for others to come in and make their mark.

    After working with a great sound artist I am very aware that my ideas about sound need to be heavily developed and stretched. What’s fantastic is how someone like that can come in and completely surprise you with what they’ve come up with.

    So now on top of music, performance, relationship to the public, visual elements I am thinking more and more about the sound possibilities. I am still very much a primitive at heart and the context for our work doesn’t allow for anything too technically complex but it’s lovely to develop in all these areas.

  20. should have added that in a group like IOU Theatre the core members’ interests and strengths blurred to such a degree that the result was fantastic indefinable visual/musical/theatre. They are well worth a look.

    The main threat is that in these tough times it’s difficult to aintain a large group so now a lot of theatre consists of an artistic director who hires suitable freelancers to come in. The danger is that the freelancers under pressure of time just unpack their box of tricks and the result starts to lose an individuality it had.

    Of course good work still prevails but you have to be aware of that problem.

  21. wordnerd7

    === when I think of an idea to suggest I try to make sure it is initially and sufficiently open enough for others to come in and make their mark. ==

    Ah yes, I can see that. Strangely that can be even more satisfying, sometimes . . .

    === The danger is that the freelancers under pressure of time just unpack their box of tricks and the result starts to lose an individuality it had. ===

    Can also happen to great old artists stuck in the same schtick — ? For some reason Marcel Marceau near the end of his life leapt into my head – still magical, but the magic felt just a little stale.

    Would Jean Cocteau or Dali be closer to a patron saint for WARS, @alarming? ( I know, you’re going to say, neither . . . 🙂 . . ..).

  22. WN was going to ask about Woody Allen. He’s in today’s Guardian being as witty as usual about the new film. I seem to remember you having seen a few of the later efforts – I haven’t seen anything for at least 10 years ( Deconstructing Harry was the last which I enjoyed ). Is he still any good?

    I have the impression that he’s lost a lot of his sheen but that there’s still some flicker in his work. But mainly I feel he is being over-punished by younger critics who are having a go at him for being one of the darlings of the 70’s art-house set. So if you don’t get to see the films it’s difficult to get a handle on what he’s up to. But he could just be fading.

    In answer to the above – neither!!!!!! 😉 Krazy Kat ( sublime comic strip by George Herriman ) and the Michael Andrews painting “The Man who suddenly fell over” are our patron saints……at the moment!

  23. === Is he still any good? ===

    @alarming, you’ve put us right back on-topic, because there is a perfect sendup of Geoff Dyer’s and every other purist’s view of Art in the film in one character I wrote a tiny squib about here: https://acacciatura.wordpress.com/2008/11/21/a-poet-of-the-silver-screen/ . . . I couldn’t recommend it more warmly for your Potw friends and Posterpomesters.

    . . . About your question, many sequences in the last two films (Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona) are nearly as good Annie Hall and Love and Death – he’s a long way from his dull patch, and you don’t have to endure the nausea from watching a great-grandpa (him) play a romantic lead with lubricious young cupcakes. . . . The actresses are beautiful and Javier Bardem even more so . . . In this new film you wonder where on earth Almodovar’s gritty Barcelona has gone – and yet . . . what can I say? He’s Woody, whom I watched with my mouth nearly hanging open the first time – someone indulging Moaning Minnie behaviour absolutely condemned in me, growing up. He is shamelessly not in the least profound in Vicky C . . . but I could easily watch it again – for that scene with the antediluvian poet and any bit with Bardem. ; )

    . . . Yes, yes, I loved the mad completely invented diary in today’s paper, for which I’m emailing the link to a person or two. http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/jan/12/woody-allen-vicky-cristina-barcelona

    . . . will have to look up Michael Andrews . . . thank you . . .

  24. wordnerd7

    Not that he’s stopped fantasising, of course . . .

    === 20 August

    Made love with Scarlett and Penélope simultaneously in an effort to keep them happy. Ménage gave me great idea for the climax of the movie. Rebecca kept pounding on the door, and I finally let her in, but those Spanish beds are too small to handle four, and when she joined, I kept getting bounced to the floor.

    ===

  25. Later Michael Andrews can be dreadfully dry if beautifully painted but I love everything about “The Man who suddenly fell over”.

    From its title, to the capturing of an embarassing moment in public ( unique as subject matter in painting as far as I know ) to the use of a strange gnome-like woman laughing at the plight of a well-to-do gent. Cruel but you empathise as well.

  26. BaronCharlus

    @Alarming,

    ‘Once they were dismissed as low art ( comic-strip artists also fall into this category ) and they flew below the critical radar but now there is a developed critical language for what they do.’

    I quite agree with you on these points. I think the emergence of new forms always creates tension whilst the critical establishment rejects, debates and, usually, once things are safe and established, absorbs the low and proclaims it high.

    @Wordn

    ‘Look at me, I’ve had a book published with my name on it — and who cares if it mainly expresses what my publisher’s marketing department thought it should!’

    I wonder if anyone’s actually said this!

    I should make a declaration of interests.

    Last year I had an MS taken on by an agent after three previous had been rejected, often after much reworking and debate. Ironically, the MS that was accepted had been written during a phase when I decided I would do whatever I wanted and not worry about commerciality (try pitching ‘semi-autobiographical-time-travel-drama-with Peake-esque sub-plot and all using the structure of King Lear’). My agent gained my complete trust when she urged me to develop what I felt were the most experimental aspects of the text.

    However, publishers weren’t buying. So we met last year to discuss my next project and agreed I should produce something with a more direct narrative, fewer Moorcock-esque dream-worlds and closer focus on a particular genre rather than using elements from several. And that’s what I’ve done.

    So. Have I compromised my art? I don’t know. I was surprised to discover that, where I thought I’d feel compromised I’ve found my ideas sharpened and disciplined by the demands of a swift narrative. Am I a would-be-whore for wanting to work with my agent, someone who’s given me much support over the years, on developing a piece of work that might stand a chance of getting published? I don’t know. But I do know it ain’t clear-cut.

  27. WN thanks you kind of confirmed what I thought. Somebody as effortlessly witty as Allen doesn’t lose it quickly.

    But the critics over here seem to have influenced the distributors and as a result the films aren’t generally available in cinemas. Many haven’t appeared at all or if they do are on for one week in June/July when I’m away touring.

    Mighty Aphrodite was the last one I saw in fact – it had a great bonkers turn by Mira Sorvino, one of those really under-used actresses who would have flourished at the height of the screwball comedy in the 30’s.

  28. ISA

    I think one of my most embarrassing moments was when I was bored and teacher training at a university and stuck in a hotel room. I bought some facial scrub and scrubbed my face with it.

    It was a boring Sunday and I went outside into the main square to buy an ice cream and a few people started staring at me as I licked my ice cream and I wondered why. I stared back at them aggressively.

    “Mind your own business I thought.” A man can eat an ice-cream.

    It was only when I got back to the hotel room and saw the white face staring out at me in the mirror that I understood, heart sinking to my boots, what people were looking at.

    …………………………………..

    One of the most embarrassing moments I have heard of is about a high ranking all male back slapping government delegation last year going through security at a US airport.

    One of the team kept on getting beeped as he went through the metal detector. He had to take off his jacket and all the rest and finally they discovered that he was wearing a metal but plug.

    When the Minister asked. “Hey, what’s all this about a butt plug Peter?

    The reply was a rather weak: “I thought it would improve my posture.”

    And for the rest of the flight he was so embarrassed he went to the back of the plane and refused to sit with the rest of the delegation.

  29. BaronCharlus

    @Alarming

    Re: Bob Dylan (and I’ll try to make this all I say about him, Wordn, I won’t evangelise!)

    Bob’s ‘Never-Ending Tour’ has been going since 1987 and, on the nights when he appears bored/drunk/distracted, the great cry is often ‘why does he bother’? He doesn’t have to and yet he goes out night after night, year after year. He’s spoken of it as his calling and I think there’s some integrity in that.

    I saw him a couple of years ago and the show was much as you described. What was unusual though, was how the performance could shift from dull to electrifying with Bob’s mood, even within a single song.

    As for the cowboy manager etc. Dylan presented himself as a moral figure between, I would say, Blowin’ in the Wind and Chimes of Freedom – 1963-1964. After that (one or two, often bungled, brief moments aside) he’s mostly been happier to present himself as a cowboy/hipster with too much cynicism and bad love for ideals. This, I think, did wonders for his art. I would place his last two albums “Love & Theft” and Modern Times above any of his 70’s work bar Blood on the Tracks.

    Also, if you’re digging cat pictures, do you know Louis Wain? A minor hero.

    @Wordn,

    Waits’s voice is certainly far less self-consciously raw on his earlier recordings. I’m more familiar with Bone Machine and the like.

  30. atf

    I’m not used to this site yet and wanted to post something…so I’ll do it here as it’s the most likely place for ISA to read it – so as to lay a balm to his battered heart on account of Lawrence’s comments about his beloved people. This is by the author of the book I mentioned that brought up the topic of the great writer. The first half of it is about him but the second half about those she met and worked for as a care worker in the hills and valleys of Mendochino where I think there are a variety of nationalities including people of Spanish extraction although she doesn’t mention ethnicity at all hardly. She describes the greatness, often in extreme poverty, of the people she meets and caters to, a far cry from the Bloomsbury set and creme de la creme of European letters and arts, and the difficulty she had to take to get to their out of the way cabins in the hills, often having to abandon her car and walk and once encountering a mountain lion on the track and another time just being missed by a bear which the locals had killed and were skinning. She died I think in ’92 before the book was published in ’93 and must have lived a pretty anonymous life from the time of L’s death to her own, but here is how she pays tribute to those anonymous people whom the Bloomsburies wouldn’t have thought worthy of a mention but maybe for scruffiness and lack of aesthetic virtue.

    “Once down in the valley memories raced, and I realized the debt I owed to this strangely mixed land. Coming into contact with people of other cultures and other philosophies that were not my own, I yet found in a curious way that they did belong to me – because I had learned to belong to other people, other ways of living and other standards.

    In that valley I had learned much of the wisdom that ruled the lives of other people, foreign to me at first and not understood yet, after lengthy exposure, I realized other ways of life had their own truths and quite often their own magnificence. For example, I was reminded of the courage required when elderly grandparents found it necessary to accept the responsibility for young children abandoned by their own parents, and did so unquestioningly.

    Ideals and perhaps faiths have suffered radical changes over the past years. Life and the job have not been easy. There have been miseries. One hill may be approaching darkness, but there have been many later sunsets and many rainbows and innumerable pots of gold, leading to a fullness of life and understanding and acceptance never encountered in a more regulated and easier employment.

    I owe gratitude to the beautiful country where I have worked and to the often magnificent people I have met in those strangely mixed days of miseries, some triumphs, and always a widening of life offering other doors to open and pass through to new experiences.”

  31. ISA

    Very soothing @ATF.

    But isn’t it interesting to just pick out some shard of a writer’s work and examine it on its own merits. I think it does three good things:

    1. A writers work is not necessarily holographic. In other words, you won’t see all his or her writerly goodness in one shard, though you may identify the voice.

    2. It’s democratic. Not all of us have all the time in the world to read everything by a writer, but we all have a reaction to him or her. Close examination of one shard reveals something different.

    2. Assessing a writer based on one fragment stops people from making too much of an investment into a writer’s outlook or world view.

    So perhaps looking at shattered fragments is a good thing. Take Coleridge.Great poet, but a bit of an old racist, Coleridge.

  32. atf

    Yes, I think that’s true and few of us have the time, even if we had several lifetimes, to get to know much more than then fragments.

    But to be on theme about the ‘whoring’ thing I think it is difficult to argue that good art, like Yeats, say, or any great literary figures, are not doing it…maybe they are doing it supremely. The more I read about writers the more I conclude that they knew where the money was and went for it. Certainly the greatest of them all, Shakespeare, could not be argued to have been above the concerns of the market and lots of stuff that was in his plays were aimed to amuse the poorer sorts who flocked into the Globe; I’m sure S was aware of how to make them enjoy standing often in the rain; he knew if he could overcome the discomfort by giving them plenty to laugh at – and cry about – he’d keep taking their pennies.

    What made Sean O’Casey the host of ultra bourgeoise of dublin society was the queue outside the Abbey not the fine quality of his writing. If not the queue would they ever have noticed anything about it?

    literature IS whoring!

  33. BaronCharlus

    ATF,

    I could kiss you for the following:

    ‘I think it is difficult to argue that good art, like Yeats, say, or any great literary figures, are not doing it…maybe they are doing it supremely. The more I read about writers the more I conclude that they knew where the money was and went for it. Certainly the greatest of them all, Shakespeare, could not be argued to have been above the concerns of the market’

  34. ISA

    I lived with writers, journos, and I was very well aware that they were constrained by what they could say. So, because they were not hacks but good people, they fought tooth and nail over every comma and participle to somehow slip what they wanted to say through. They were embarrassed by the whoring and uncomfortable with it.

    In fact they had to be cleverer than their masters in order to survive. None of this freedom, this Ciffer – books blog, Donkeyshott stuff.

    So I don’t agree with you ATF and Iago is a perfect example. If people had thought for a moment that Iago’s philosophy had elements of Shakespear’s then they would have lynched him.

    I always wonder about those people who visualise incredible horrors and think. But how does that reflect on these “ordinary” writers that they could conjour up such horror? And they do. Whatever happened to thought crime. But all they have to do is put the horror in the hands of the bad guy and they disassociate themselves from it.

    Well this is a kind of freedom, isn’t it.

    Shakespeare is not whoring because what attracts us to Shakespeare, for me, is the fact that his words fill with life like a baloon fills with hot wind.

    Take Ian Fleming for example. I think it is only because there is something in the pace of Fleming’s writing, in his cavalier approach that helps convey what Fleming experienced.

    I agree with you that literature is like sausages, you don’t really want to know what real experience goes into it. But it is only whoring if the writer is stupid?

    You could make a spectrum of analogies about the relationship between authors and commerce:

    – Prostitution
    – Forced marriage
    – Bad marriage
    – Marriage
    – An affair
    – Love
    – True love

    Doris Lessing did an experiment when she wrote the diary of Jane Somers. Would she be published if she came to the book market afresh. After several rejections – and the comments in those rejection letters must make the editors concerned squirm – she got published because they saw “promise” in her. And that’s a Nobel laureate.

    One unprepossessing colleage at Surrey got his book published. Haven’t seen it on the shelves. Three connected in Richmond have. A woman who writes historical fiction for young readers. A young teacher. The wife of someone who made a speculative approach.

    I always remember a group of overweight and middle aged men dressed in expensive clothing I heard discussing what was in and what was out and who they would publish.

    These are the cynical chaps that control the creative industries. If it doesn’t puch their buttons or the buttons of their demographics then they won’t react. Behind every winsome young act or writer there is a Simon Cowell or an Alan Sugar or some variation on that theme.

    Publishing as the younger brother’s priesthood.

  35. wordnerd7

    @ISA, all your posts since my last one have been a treat to read — (oh, that facial scrub affair!). You have the best stories and tell them better than any of us except for one non-blogging email correspondent of mine (who is just as brilliantly evocative). I can’t answer in detail at the moment, and hope you’ll forgive me.

    I’ve been having a wonderful time reading _all_ the conversations in my absence.

    I will just quickly say this about @ISA’s suggestion about bringing over other GU posters. Every commenter in this spot has come of his or her own free will — not because of ‘marketing’ or any other form of manipulation — and that’s how I’d like to continue.

    If _you_ miss doggerelists, Phil, why don’t you invite someone you like, as @Des/@Eremon did @atf? . . . Which reminds me, Frances, that you’ve raised an important point when you say you don’t yet know how the site works.

    The blog traffic analysis WordPress sends me does clearly show that readers go first to ‘recent posts’ in the top right-hand corner. That means that even if you wrote to @ISA about Lawrence or @alarming about condom distribution in Africa and put those posts under Marginalia, people would still see what you had to say.

    When I was at GU and some other sites, I was irritated by having nowhere to go to make off-off-topic comments (like Off-Off-Broadway theatre 🙂 .. .). There was no choice but to interrupt the flow of a discussion. Now I’m trying to fill that gap with Marginalia — and Long Posts for extra-long cardigans — and it would be lovely if people would actually use them. You can always post a brief notice in other threads drawing attention to comments you put there, at a later stage — I mean, after they are no longer ‘recent posts’.

  36. wordnerd7

    @atf and @BaronCharlus . . .

    There’s a persistent misunderstanding of what I — and I believe, Geoff Dyer — have been trying to say.

    Writing for money doesn’t automatically make a writer a whore. Writing guided solely by mercantile considerations and _against_ what I’ll call deep drives and promptings of the psyche and gut does. . . . [if interested, see a related comment upthread: https://acacciatura.wordpress.com/2009/01/09/acciaccature-heard-elsewhere/#comment-761 ]

    Shakespeare, Dickens, Yeats, and anyone else we think of as great may indeed have been prompted by visions of their next mansion or yacht to put their heads down at their desks. But in what they wrote, they worked with the grain — not against it. There are millions of people lusting after riches in trying to write, and most of them fail. Shakespeare & Co were lucky in that what they wanted to say coincided with what people wanted to hear or read.

    Whether the art someone produces is deemed ‘low’ or ‘high’ by critics, that seems to me the essential difference.

    To write as the slave of your financial ambitions, and let others experienced in such calculations direct what you do is, as I said earlier, doing a day job to support another day job. [explained here:
    https://acacciatura.wordpress.com/2009/01/09/acciaccature-heard-elsewhere/#comment-798 ] I call that a fool’s bargain.

    A whore is a woman (or gay male prostitute) who has to sell her body to virtually all comers, no matter how disgusting she may find them, in order to eat. A woman who marries for money — only slightly less despicable, in my view — is still marrying to suit her own inclinations. That’s a rather crucial difference.

    I wouldn’t put Shakespeare & Co in the second class, either. The point is that a whore is about as misguided and unlucky as it’s possible to be.

  37. wordnerd7

    @ISA, . . . thank you, : ) . . . the nicest sort of surprise to see your link to this site in the open thread at Cif headed by an announcement of the Civil Liberty Clinic. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/12/civil-liberties-law

    You’ve asked some good questions there. It’s going to be fascinating to see what the GU lawyer team has to say, when it begins supplying answers.

    For anyone interested, the censored comment I’ve referred to in the post at the start of this thread can now be examined at:
    https://acacciatura.wordpress.com/salvage-operation-2/

    There’s no mystery about why it was removed: if you study the pattern, starting with The Annals of Guardian Censorship: the Evidence (part 1) on this page . . . https://acacciatura.wordpress.com/salvage-operation/ … it’s pretty clear that The Guardian’s books section goes out of its way to please and placate book industry advertisers.

  38. ISA

    Thanks wordy, I shall go over and invite them. Who knows if they’ll listen.

    You’re teaching me to avoid being such a blogging gorilla. I read what Susan wrote about her Arabian journeys, but have to reread them – especially the longeur. We are all a bit time poor I feel, and have to be selective.

    As soon as things settle down I am going to pop in to the other posters’ blogs too. We have to support each other.

  39. wordnerd7

    @ISA, maybe they’ll refuse to come . . . and the rest of you will get bored with the blog, the storms of clicks the site has been stirring up from lurkers will cease, . . . and I’ll fold my tent and end this funny little experiment. On verra as they say across that Channel.

  40. atf

    I think ‘whoring’ is too strong a word for what writers do; it’s an amusing analogy but not really a practical one. I listened to a writer on radio years ago who said his friends criticised him for writing for an Irish tv soap, but the money was there for a writer who would do it, although he preferred the kind of writing he thought was worthwhile himself. Talking of journalists of whom I have no experience – apart from reading slight amounts of press – I think they are in a different category and have much less freedom in what they write. I can’t think of even one name of a journalist that I ever had the slightest liking for. There was just one as I mentioned to Des recently, Nuala O’Faoleann, but my liking her was based on reading just one or two articles she wrote and which stood out in my mind as being written by a ‘human’ being. To my mind journalists are sychphantic to a degree that would make one sick, particularly Irish ones, the way they used to go on about Haughey day and night used to make me sick, when I thought there was so much of interest to write about. Irish news/broadcasters are a sick lot to my mind, the latest evidence of it was the way they went on about Obama. Very personal feeling about it but their obsessionalism gets my wick.

    @wordy. funny you should say that about marriage and making a loveless one as I’ve just finished that novel I mentioned by Kate O’Brien The Ante Room and towards the end a nurse who’s nursing the mother who’s dying in the family home starts making up to the son, the sister has to tell her that he’s a no goer as he contracted syphilis many years ago, but she still goes ahead with the courtship and the agree to marry towards the ending. a little incredible but she never had any security in her life and so the offering of a secure home tempted her and she decides to become a ‘nurse and mother’ to this fellow. it’s a bit kitch but in the Ireland of the 1880s not long after the famine a secure place of residence seemed a good bargain in return for a little washing and singing to his piano playing. fair exchange!

  41. BaronCharlus

    Fair points Wordn

    I think perhaps the key to the debate (and why we’re starting to confuse one another) is this:

    “Shakespeare & Co were lucky in that what they wanted to say coincided with what people wanted to hear or read”.

    How do you know? Perhaps Shakespeare sat down to write Henry IV thinking ‘not another play about bloody kings. This is killing me. When will those Philistines let me do my four-hour mime-translation of the Aenid?” We can’t tell. And I think that’s the key. It’s in the author’s conscience and only he/she may ever know what concessions were made, what pure visions were sullied in the passage from thought to marketplace. And I still think Dyer’s statement doesn’t match your more thoughtful interpretation:

    ‘Writing for money doesn’t automatically make a writer a whore.’

    Is a long way (penguins to polar bears) from:

    ‘Anyone who has an eye on the market is not a writer but a whore.’ One eye? Both maybe but not one. Here, it’s hard to argue that Dyer isn’t appointing himself a scryer into writers’ souls and a moral decider. I agree with you but not with what I can’t help but see in Dyer’s statement.

    Obviously, IMalways-HO

    That shouldn’t, however, stop everyone yelling ‘whore’ around here. It’s very invigorating.

  42. === That shouldn’t, however, stop everyone yelling ‘whore’ around here. It’s very invigorating. ===

    [laughing helplessly] . . . It’s why I was on my way to telling @atf that I don’t actually see myself ending the experiment until the last commenter calls in sick for three weeks in a row 😉 !!!. . . I just never know what I’m going to find you people saying, and the unexpectedness is thrilling . . .

    === Perhaps Shakespeare sat down to write Henry IV thinking ‘not another play about bloody kings. This is killing me. ===

    Ah, yes, the poor old dear, but @BaronC, it’s never about the ‘about’ — the subject — in the Bard’s case, is it? His plots — as theatrical you, even more than the rest of us — know, were mostly stolen . . . It’s the subversive philosophy (see @ISA on Iago, upthread) and surpassing language he cleverly insinuated into other people’s stories, innit.

    @atf, your post made me think . . . it’s one thing for any of us to choose for ourselves and quite another to advise — say, a daughter, someone I don’t have. If you did, would you say, ‘Darling, never marry for anything but true love,’ . . . or. ‘Darling, promise me you’ll only ever marry for money — _lots_ of it.’ I’m sure I could sit down and list a precisely equal number of disastrous marriages I’ve been close to, for either choice . . . . [sighs . . . : ) ]

  43. BaronCharlus

    @Wordn,

    On Shakes; yes! Exactly. And how did that philosophy and language get into those plays? We don’t know, other than the resource of a standard gammar-school education in rhetoric. He could have been aware of it, punching the air and wondering how long he’d burn so fierce, or he could have been pausing between verses to jingle the purse at his belt with a nervous sigh. Or both. If both, or just the purse, then by Dyer’s statement – as i read it – Shakespeare was ‘not a writer’. And I think that’s silly.

  44. ISA

    Take a few of the things Iago says.

    These are not only Iago’s murderous sentiments, these are modern reflections:

    Perhaps the Atheist campaign should put them on the side of a few buses, and add…”so stop worrying and enjoy life.”

    “Cruel is the God who in his own image has created me, and who in wrath I worship. From some vile germ of nature, some insignificant atom was I born. Vile is my substance, for I am human. I feel the primal slime-flow of my species.

    “Yea! This is my creed. This is what I firmly believe, as ever did woman who prays before the altar. Every sin that I do, whether I think it or do it, it is fate that drives me to it. You, you honest man, are but a bad actor, and your life is but a part, a lie. Every word you say, every tear-drop, every kiss, every prayer, are as false as you are.

    Man is fortune’s fool. Even from his first breath, the essence of his life is directed toward feeding the worm of death. Yea, after all this folly, all must die. And then? And then? And then there is nothing. And heaven is an ancient lie.”

    Verdi

  45. freepoland

    Just calling by, wordy, and to say I have poked my head round the door. And what a nice room and guests you have. But my boots are very muddy just now, and I am after finishing a children’s story, so I will come back. So you know you have some very interested readers – and I will have something to say when I feel slightly important.

  46. atf

    @wordy you’ve hit the nail right on the head for me…i quite liked the outcome in the novel because this character didn’t seem to have much of a purpose in the story except to be there as a casualty of casual sex until the ending. he seemed deadweight until the end when his purpose became clear and it was sort of a load of my mind to think of him having someone to care for him after his mother died; he was very attached to her and a bit weak and liked to play piano and sing, and drink a little.
    but I’ve just remember my sister telling me she was going to marry this fellow and it just seemed to me that there was nothing in it but his need of her and i was very strongly against it; it just seemed that she would have been lost altogether to me if she went ahead, which she didn’t. but the recollection makes your point ok that what we like in a novel maybe is not what we’d want for our own lives.

  47. wordnerd7

    @ISA, in a very old Chinese book I once consulted avidly it says, ‘He brings help with the strength of a horse’ — referrring to the time before horses gave way to horsepower. That is you. Thank you — and thank you @BaronC . . . and perhaps we’ll see some of those faces here some day, swiftly burying hatchets, whenever necessary . . . ; )

    @freepoland, all luck with the kiddie book and we’ll break out the bubbly when we see you again. There are two subjects I’ve been keen to discuss with you for some time, so I hope you return sooner rather than later.

    @atf . . . so glad you think so . . . but will you please, please, bring @alarming back from wherever you hid him at the end of your African erm . . . tete-a-tete. : )

    [Remarks to @ISA and @BaronC refer to their kindest posts here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2009/jan/12/crashaw-wishes-supposed-mistress?commentpage=1 ]

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