Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Absence of Literature

It's half way through the last month of the decade; the sun is shining, and I'm doing some late Autumn tidying, as I've been so busy since coming back to work in September - in that time I've been to Cyprus, Brussels, Strasbourg and London with work, and to Lancaster (three times) for my writing. There's only so many weekends etc. I've neglected writing and music in the interim, though fitted little bits of the first in here and there - though music has remained a little harder to find time to do. I've almost completed my new album "You want to know something?" but the majority of that was written and recorded in the first 6 months of the year.

I've also been "archiving" some of my old writing, which has been useful and instructive, but as I go back further (I'm at 2001), there seems little point just compiling a PDF of that time, there has to be a little revision, a little reflection along the way, otherwise its a mere exercise in filing. Perhaps this is a once only chance to fix any little problems etc. with things I wrote best part of a decade ago. I'm not a great one for wholesale revision; after all, I was a different person then.

And I do feel that I'm at the end of something, not just the year, or the decade. Perhaps the intensity of the project I've been working on for the last few years? But there's something else...something darker perhaps. My own "New Labour" years has been spent working almost entirely on short-medium term projects in the public sector. I've enjoyed some of the work, but been frustrated by many of the institutions. In Strasbourg the last few days I'm seeing a "grown up" country; France and Germany now know they didn't have to adopt the Anglo-American model, and are probably damn glad they didn't. If this part of France seemed a little bourgeois, a little too comfortable, then I'm not sure that it should be seen as a criticism. Bourgeois, like bureaucracy, is a French word. I sometimes feel that we in the UK aspire to both, but they are not meant to be aspirations but descriptions. Whatever one thinks of Europe and its institutions, it seems that there is a consensus, at least in the core European nations about national, regional and European institutions; policies may change but the institutions are set. In contrast with the UK, with our inadequate regional/local democracies, and our filling in the gap with politically expedient "councils", "boards" and "agencies", which have, over the last 30 years have all but followed the political will. A new government in the UK will almost certainly disagree not just over policies but institutions. It's treating UK PLC as a series of medium term projects.

So, after a decade (under Conservatism) working in large private sector organisations, and a decade (under New Labour), on public sector projects, I've pretty much gone where the opportunities were at the time, rather than having a "masterplan". I'm sure I'm not alone in that. We react to the world as it is, not how we want it to be.

I keep seeing the absence of literature everywhere; as an artistic parallel to times when we have institutional uncertainty, I think we also have cultural uncertainty. Britpop style rock and roll probably perished under the hands of Simon Cowell; so that the only consensual culture over the last decade: Harry Potter; Dan Brown; Big Brother, X-Factor, is one that I've been only tangentially interested in. That's fine, of course, and the margins are always the more interesting place to be. But its not just Amazon who says "if you bought this, you might be interested in Peter Kay/Jeremy Clarkson/Chris Moyles/Cheryl Cole" whenever you approach a mainstream choice - you get the sense that the "two cultures" I grew up with; not high and low, but mainstream and avant garde, hardly exist anymore; or rather the bellowing noise of the former makes it ever more difficult to create a space for the latter. Our small magazines, our experimental art, our poetry readings get diminished because of their status as "minority sports." Reading the "books of the year" in the Guardian, Sarah Crown, the poetry editor mentions the poetry news stories; the prizewinners; the large presses when surely the story of the year has been the emergence of a generation who don't take Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney, "Rattle Bag" and all, as there link with the past? Books by Tom Chivers, Matthew Welton, Chris McCabe, Daniel Kane and Luke Kennard strike me, along with initiatives such as The Other Room and Stop/Sharpening/Your/Knives as having severed any umbilical cord with the consensus poetry that spawned New and Next Generation poets? Maybe the individual poems or collections aren't yet quite "there", but the writers seem infinitely more interesting than that consensus.

Perhaps, decade end, as we come to terms with blogs, twitter etc. not as technological novelties, but part of the regular communication landscape, the end game for a certain complacency might be upon us. I've read/seen various pieces on the YBA phenomenon being played out; and perhaps its time not for a new art movement, but for another art to take up the cudgels. All the kids of punk parents don't grow up to be Lily Allen of course, but she seems a fundamentally more interesting pop star than the X-factor wannabes, (whose parents must surely have been buying Wham! records by the bucketload, if the preponderance of George Michael songs on these shows is anything to go by.)

No comments: