Saturday, 13 November 2010

5:am and time for my battered sausage

A week or so back I wrote a rather angry piece on this blog that both got the tone wrong, and conveyed completely the wrong message as a result. The danger of writing generalistic pieces is that they are, well, generalistic and weak as a consequence. So I put examples in, and as a result came across as snarky, having more chips than Harry Ramsden, and aiming my shots where they weren't intended.

So an unconditional apology for aiming my snarks at Ben and Lee, and Todd and Emma - neither you personally nor Richard, The Canal, Literary Death Match or To Hell With The Lighthouse (now The Book Stops Here) were intended to be in my crosshairs. I also forgot the golden rule (that I finally got into my noodle with respect to "the mainstream" last year) that the best thing to do when you don't like something is to carry on doing what you're doing, only even better.

I did have a gripe, and it was this - the media portrays a literary scene as being new that is not, as being cutting edge that has actually been around long enough that it has donned its pipe and slippers and no longer occupies the front line position in the fight against "the boundaries" whatever they might be, that disproportionately reviews titles by its circle whilst refusing to look at other small releases; and there is also a part of the peripheral literary scene that likes to portray itself as these things in order to appear cool. The losers in all this are the public, who get disappointed, and never get to see the real boundaries until they too have donned pipe and slippers. The answer is for the literary media to spend more time looking around outside of what it already knows either from its friends, or from slick PR or the London circuit; and to be less frightened to champion something that other people don't like or don't get - to stop playing safe all the time. As writers and independent publishers we need to keep putting our message in front of the media to show them there is an alternative - and to do so vigorously and unapologetically - it deserves to be there as much as anything else does. Calling out laziness and prejudice is very much part of what we need to do. Snarking doesn't help our cause, but more than that it's not what I'm about and it's not what great literature's about. And the last thing for me to do is to piss off people who have done great things to bring great literature to the public. Sure, now they're successful I 100% expect them to extend a totally non-insular non-introspective outlook to everything else going on, just like they did when they were smaller. But I'll stick to bruhaha designed to promote the work I really beieve in, not to do down anything else.

So, I manifest myself to promote only manifestos of action not snark - I think at both Year Zero and latterly at eight cuts gallery I've done that - that needs to be done more transferably, and to work with people who want to promote great literature, to give the public the great stuff it deserves.

I could remove the previous piece and have done with it, but I won't, because that would be disingenuous to the people who took time to comment (even those who did so anonymously), and, having had my ass whooped, it would do me well for the ass-qhooping to remain public.


  1. The problem as I see it in this social-networking, self-promoting world, is that what gets overlooked is the artwork (in our cases the books) themselves. Too much about personalities, circles and Britain's got Talent- like popularity contests. Don't get me wrong, I love doing live readings, but sometimes these can be more about the scene and the evening/salon brand, and less about the material.

    There have always been sets and cliques in art, I don't see anything particularly wrong with that. Like-minded people with similar aesthetics tend to band together, it's perfectly natural. And there have always been people on the outside of them; some carp and some make a virtue of their outsiderness. The key marker is the reaction of the outsider when they are finally offered entry...

    marc nash

  2. Agree entirely, Marc, that what needs centre-stage is the art. And all too often it isn't. Like I say, I think it's the fault of the media. I also think there is a massive cultural turbo-lag in most art forms, so that an artist gains recognition for the art they made a few years ago. The problem is the public aren't fed art at its best

  3. Isn't this inevitable, that in order to get people aware of the art, artists need to engage the media. Can't then turn back and blame the media for doing it in the way they do. If you try and do it without media, chances are no public will get to hear of you.

    I also think your last sentence makes the public seem very passive in the whole process of how they come back by their art. As people get more skillful in referencing and uncovering things online, mainstream media is not the only resource any longer.


  4. The beauty of letting it all hang out is that everyone comes by to see. Yum.

    I do understand your aversion to cliques, cozy corners and circuits. I am all for a wide-open world myself.

    Hopefully the new media channels will be truly utilized and take us from smaller spaces to board audiences. As the public looks for more than tiny nibbles that are served up by pop culture, writers such as you will be there, offering a plethora of delights.

  5. One man's community is another man's clique. For all those who enjoy being part of a small group with shared ideals - whether it be in a pub, an arts centre or a literary cult - there are many more outside it who will feel excluded. Those clique/communities are not only inevitable but essential.

    In London there is not one literary scene but dozens, and those overlap and blend into the comedy circuit, music clubs, cabaret and performance art. Nor is the 'media' monolithic either - mainstream media is pretty irrelevant to the club scene.

    The problem to me is that we have a diverse but very fragmented culture. I grew up in a time where there was a mainstream culture and an alternative culture; now there might be a thousand flowers blooming, but they're blooming in the shadow of a fucking great skyscraper.

  6. I think you've all put your finger on the button about the level of fragmentation. I wonder whether this is *really* that different from how things were. I agree with Roland looking back that there appears for the very particular time that was the 60s (how much extrpolatable it is to other decades who knows) to have been a mainstream and, as it were, a mainstream counterculture. The thing is that the smaller countercultures, like evolutionary blips, leave very little trace, either in terms of their descendants or their products. So it will *always feel* as though the present is more fragmented than the past, because those fragmented elemenyts destined to sdisappear have not yet done so. I think the answer is for all of us in those smaller groups to stick to what we do and not worry whether anyone listens or not - to do our thing the very best we can. I tend to stick my head out of the parapet and look around from time to time to see what else is out there, and probably comment on what I see too much. I think we always need to look outwards, embrace everything, but stay true to our artistic ideals - let people come to us, without selling out ourselves to go to them. I think Marc is right that the key comes when you're offered a deal. I've faced it already when offered the monthly night at the O3 and hope I've handled it OK, but yes, the real test comes when you're offered a choice - it's easy to have integrity when no one's interested.
    Thanks, all :)

  7. Without wanting to over romanticise the 60's & early 70's, there wasn't feeling of fragmentation as much as a straight culture and a counter culture or underground. And you knew which side you were on. So art centres sprung up across the country offering a diet of performance, music, film and art that just had no other place to go, and along with it were its set texts of cult novels.

    In many ways now our culture is richer and more diverse, but the dominant culture today is an amorphous beast that will shift shape and incorporate anything it can make a buck out of. I can think of no equivalent today of a bunch of freaks booking the Albert Hall and selling out with a bunch poets almost unknown to the mainstream media. Live Nation and Ticketmaster today would get there first.

    In a way I'm optimistic. We're all still learning, and as long as we don't cling to particular very traditional forms (like the novel via a trad publishing house) for self-validation, there's a wealth of possibilities out there.

  8. "Without wanting to over romanticise the 60's & early 70's" Thank you, I was inviting a first person recollection of how it felt then "without wanting to accuse anyone of being older than they are" :)

    Yes, Ginsberg at the Albert Hall is almost mythical. I'd love to do something similar one day, but you're right - large venues have a lockdown these days.

    There are interesting doctoral theses to be done on the nature of counterculture homogeneity/diversity

  9. I don't think the terms underground/counterculture are very applicable today. In the sixties there was a moment when radical politics, libertarian attitudes to drugs and sex, formal experimentation and cultural optimism came together into what seemed to be an 'alternative' culture.

    Today we might all be indie (we don't have the power of big business behind us) but to what extent is what we do oppositional? Take YWO - where we met - what struck me about that group of writers is how conservative they were.

    What is exciting about Eight Cuts is that the work is very good, but the territory it is battling for is highly contested. Just keep up the fight!

  10. I certainly think oppositional is no longer a helpful term if it ever was (and it is implied in the terms "independent" and "alternative", which makes them problematic). Philosophically, the idea of a movement being oppositional is rooted, I guess, back in Structuralism. The problem is, even Structuralism recognises that the world is less binary than a nexus of interrelationalities. It therefore makes much more sense to focus on what we are than what we aren't.

  11. Well it helps to have a repressive culture if you want an oppositional one. Imagine how exciting it must have been to go to free jazz gigs in Czechoslovakia when they were illegal! And I think the dull and conservative post-war culture (which could ban Ginsberg) must have seemed repressive enough to those growing up in the sixties. Say what you like today and you're not going to be banned because no one is listening.

    BUT, of course, there are powerful oppositional cultures challenging mainstream values, but I don't think they are ones that you or I would want to participate it as they involve fundamentalist religion and bombs.