Friday, November 02, 2007

The Season is (Almost) Over *

The literary season is over for another year. The prizes have been doled out, the festivals sold out. Writers, weary, sated, fed (oh, how fed) can return back to their garretts (or 4-bedroom houses with a view overlooking the Severn) and wonder at the exhaustion, the elation of it all. Some, no doubt, will be fingering through the manuscripts of the day job, as creative writing lecturers or writers in resident, and some, no doubt, will be picking up their quills/Mont Blancs/Olivettis/Dells & Apples to start anew. By all accounts, Cheltenham et al were tremendous successes this year, queues round the block, tickets sold out, multiple conflicting events fit into a couple of weeks. Then there are the "newsworthy" joints, the Booker, the Frankfurt Book Fair, where the industry gets in gear and celebrates or speculates, accordingly. I think we have to accept that the literary season is as embedded in certain calendars as the "Season" or the Football season for other demographics, and let's be honest about it, the literary season is the end result of the middle class colonising of literature. Yes, its no longer a bohemian pursuit, or a tawdry one, or a worthy one, but a very middle class one - yes, we're all middle class now, of course, but its Oxford and Cambridge who still dominate, and its a very middle class sensibility that reduces literature to a glas of wine, a reading, and a meal afterwards in the nearest Gastropub. Its not a complaint - I'm as prone as those as the next man (and, if proof be needed, you can see me at Elizabeth Baines' eminently enjoyable launch on Monday) - but when an event becomes just one of many at a festival, and a festival becomes one of many festivals, and those festivals become a season, Hay in the Spring, Cheltenham in the Autumn (and nothing in the summer because the audience are away in Tuscany, naturally), you realise its become as redundant as a signpost for the language, the spirit of the age, or the creative zeitgeist as the party conference season is for debate and the issues of the day. I looked in vain, even in Manchester's little version, for anything edgy, and realise that this isn't the point. The "product" now, is similar to what you get on hand at the Royal Exchange Theatre or the Bridgewater Hall, a pre-defined repetoire, (Attwood to Zadie perhaps), augmented only by celebrity pseudo-literature (memoirs of actors et al), with an audience shipped in regularly from Wilmslow who know what they like, and like what they know - the word "literature" in the festival names is there only as a cipher, to keep out the young, the neophyte, the boheme, the poor, the working class, the crusty, the down-to-earth. Literature in this context is a cultural package holiday for the middle classes - and why not? They're the ones buying the books (and the wine, and the meals), happily paying literature's bills (those pesky writers) in return for what is little more than a cultural spa weekend. I have heard people arranging to meet "old friends" there every year, probably booking their favourite restaurant in Ludlow as we speak. In any other context we'd happily ignore it for what it is, "marketing", our modern age's only truly defining creed. Just let's not pretend it's anything else. For those of a messier bent, post-season, you might come along to the 2nd Matchbox event at the Thirsty Scholar on 14th November, here in Manchester, with Matt Welton, Tom Jenks and Scott Thurston.

* see comments


Ms Baroque said...

How can you say the season is over?? It's Aldeburgh this weekend, the Guardian First Book Awards shortlist has just been announced (hence no prizes doled out yet) and the TS Eliot Prize list has also just been announced. At least THAT one has some poetry on it. And the winner there won't be announced till January, so I think the season remains open for a bit.

Then, after two months' hibernation, in March the StAnza festival in St Andrews. Another day dawns.

Adrian Slatcher said...

God - its longer than I thought! And I noticed its Lancaster Litfest last week, they'll kill me for forgetting that one. Maybe we get Xmas off.