Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ah, so that's it

Lured by a glossy Baddiel/Skinner World Cup Wallchart, I picked up the Times rather than the Guardian today. It's book pages is comparable in quality, and at least you get a breather from David Lodge and Julian Barnes; and there was this interesting article by Helen Rumblelow. First, thanks for highlighting that Allan Ginsberg would have been 80 today, and that "Howl" is 50 this year. She asks the very apposite question: "what would he make of today’s young generation of literary talent?" And provides a considered answer: "I can’t help but think he would be disappointed." Ginsberg and Kerouac, she continues, wrote as adults, but too many of today's feted writers "write as teenagers, looking back through the rear window of the school bus." She's put a finger on why I find myself frustrated with so much contemporary writing. Struggling with my own prolonged adolescence (look, I've just a reissue of the first Violent Femmes album playing in the background), the last thing, I think, I want from my writers, is nostalgia for a 60s, 70s or 80s childhood. And as someone who writes, I realise I got writing that out of my system quite early on thank you. I'd like to write - and read - about adulthood, for my generation, and there's precious little of it out there. Perhaps with us all expecting to live to 80+ there's still plenty of time - but I don't know - the beats were clearly avoiding the prescripted life; and therefore had little nostalgia from where they'd come from, far more interested in where they were going. What begins as a criticism from Rumblelow becomes less grudging as she concludes the article - its the urgency of teenage life that appeals to the contemporary writer. I'm not so sure. I noticed how many of the novels on my MA were not only first person narratives, but also from relatively inarticulate characters - the teenager, the drug addict, the mental patient. It was like Holden Caulfield was the only literary role model allowed. As Mark E. Smith wrote in "It's a curse", "balti and vimto and spangles were always crap, regardless of the look back bores." Just time to remind you - and me - that Mark Lawson's interviewing Philip Roth on BBC4 tonight at 7. So much for watching Dr. Who! BBC get your demographics sorted.

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