Sunday, September 20, 2009

Random Something

It seems I wasn't the only one to be a little concerned at the Booker's past-fixation. It's not that they're in the past per se, but, as Elizabeth Baines points out, their contemporaneity. That the Booker is only one aspect of this is remarked upon by Tim Adams in the Observer, and now, Kim Stanley Robinson makes a good case for SF being worthy of inclusion. I'll certainly look out at the recommendations. Fascinating that James Naughtie, Booker judge, bemoans that no SF was submitted by publishers, though the admission that the Professor of English at UCL is "not aware of science fiction" should make John Mullan ponder his job decription. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy of course; what sort of book makes the Booker list? Either something set in the past, or in an exotic lets enter those type of books. Having said that, a shortlist that is entirely made up of novels set in the past does make one question the judges. Perhaps they didn't want to be comparing books so different as to be incomparable. And Robinson's key point is worth repeating: "A good new novel about the first world war, for instance, is still not going to tell us more than Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford."

But let's be honest, this is no golden age for fiction, and the fascination with the past is a symptom of this. It doesn't make them bad books, it makes them limited books. But I'm not sure what arts are going through a golden age. Certainly not cinema or rock music. The vivid invention found in comic books, American TV serials, circuses and multimedia spectaculars since the early 90s might now be petering out...contemporary classical music is a niche art form. Architecture and visual arts have had an arc of grandeur that may, in retrospect, be fuelled by marketing and money. Theatre and poetry remain anachronistic. Digitisation has yet to give us a D.W.Griffiths rather than the sideshows of the Lumiere brothers.

Anyway, one finds gold in the unlikeliest of locations. Would a visitor to New York in the seventies have imagined that St. Mark's poetry project and CBGBs would become the temples of a renaissance rather than interesting cultural-anthropological niches?

The Didsbury Arts Festival runs next week, and there's a cornucopia of events. I think you don't plan it, just turn up somewhere, and there'll be something unusual on. It's all very Didsbury of course, (which is different, somehow, than very Chorlton).

I've a number of creative things to do today, and over the next week or so. I keep having vivid dreams, and being very busy has meant that although I don't have much time for reflection, I find that there's layer on layer on stimuli waiting to be processed. Part of that, of course, is looking back and I'm still reading through old computer files and listening to old music in a way of remembering things that I've perhaps half-forgotten - not so much the pieces themselves, but the intent behind them.


Richard said...

"And Robinson's key point is worth repeating"

No, it's not, it's complete cobblers. Pat Barker's Regeneration novels were able to say quite a great deal that no-one at the time could have said. Robinson assumes that historical novels are some form of historical treatise, rather than what is often the case, namely that they're a means of articulating present concerns through a distanced setting. In the same way, he assumes that science-fiction novels are simply indices of technological progress.

Adrian Slatcher said...

It is worth repeating though. There are novels that add to our understanding, several decades on, I'd add "A long, long way" by Sebastian Barry to your mention of Pat Barker, but do "Birdsong" or "Atonement" do anything more than offer a certain tourism in the past? I've not read the SF novels he mentions so I don't know if they are more than just "indices of technological progress". In many ways SF and historical writers have the same disdain for the contemporary world; but SF has worked at its best (early 20th century, 1950s) where it has been a necessary commentary to the contemporary. The historical novel did this in the late 19th century, but is it doing it now?