Monday, 5 July 2010

What's the point of being nasty to bad writers?

In Terry Eagleton's  decimation of 'Heartbreak'by Craig Raines
a writer, possibly hapless, is set upon without mercy for some very self-regarding prose indeed.  Here are a few examples of the literary coshing. 

'There is, in short, plenty of stuff to keep Pseuds’ Corner busy for a fair few months: ‘Francesca’s fanny was a glorious irrepressible Afro pompon (“to go with my Botswana bottom”)’ might do for a start', 

There is much rustling of the author’s Things I Saw Today that Look A Bit Like Other Things notebook.

''There are pregnant pronouncements such as ‘the myth of our attractiveness survives its destruction’; in the margin the reader is silently invited to inscribe a large approving tick'

'Another character speaks of ‘some … dump in fucking wind-tormented Ireland. I remember going for a walk in one of those places. Got an amazing headache in seconds from the wind parting my fucking hair in a hundred different places. Every which way. I thought I had a brain tumour. Seriously.’ Nobody actually says ‘wind-tormented’, so the poeticism has to be deflated by that ‘fucking’. The notion of the wind parting one’s hair in a hundred different places is another shamefaced piece of poetry, which must be countered by the sham colloquialism of ‘every which way’. 

I admit, that last section makes one vomit mentally, but what is the attack trying to achieve?  It is published in the LRB so sales won't be hurt, only reputation.  So is it to do down the author's prospects?  Or stop him trying.   The book sounds unreadable, yet in some of the examples given you can sense the writer trying to describe something for the first time, without fear of 'the chill wind from Cambridge'.   What would Walt Whitman have written if he'd lived amongst English LIT CRIT creeps waiting to duff him up then roll off together sniggering from the common room twirling their conkers.  No wonder English writers all try to adopt the same bovver boy manner, Amis and Barnes and Faulks and Banks all set their faces into a turdy glare of negativity to announce that theirs is approved literature.
If you think the job of criticism is to show off  how good you are at criticizing things, you're playing to the same imaginary gallery as the Craig Raine.  Art Criticism is at its most beautiful describing the technical detail of the spectacular, not 'My dog could've done that.' 

 Who put you in charge anyway?

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