Thursday, October 25, 2007

I'm writing, damn it, writing, can't you see?

Of all the bad ideas there have been, the one about poets being the unacknowledged legislators of the world must be up there with the worst of them.

In fact, poets are pretty much the last people you would want passing laws are literary figures – hell, artists in general – seem to have a propensity to spout the most staggering bollocks. (Imagine, say, DH Lawrence, TS Eliot and Philip Larkin passing laws. It doesn't bear thinking about). All that creative endeavours, no matter how worthwhile, seems to do something to the common sense and ability to see the world as it is. I suppose that's the point of having an artistic vision, you make something else of reality; but it does come at the price of the most terrible tosh. I can hardly remember an artistic figure saying anything even vaguely sensible in a non-literary form.

But recently it's been a boom time for literary idiocy. Doris Lessing's al-Qaida wasn't as bad as the IRA comment was just silly (to be honest I was more, pleasantly, surprised by her comment that however bad Bush is, he isn't as bad as Ahmadinejad. The fact that this urprised me, probably illustrates my point here). Anyway, we need not let it detain us (for up to 90 days without trial).

Far more energy has been expounded in the past week or so by the brain farts of Anne Enright and Martin Amis. I'm surprised that the various commentators haven't linked the two more explicitly, because it seems to be that both Enright and Amis are guilty of the same thing: thinking out loud and then trying to claim some special virtue for so doing.

Norm's point, that owning up to discreditable thoughts still means you have discreditable thoughts and thar airing them does not necessarily benefit anyone is well made. In both cases there's more. In Enright's case she's written a jumped up Daily Mail piece that somehow combines knee-jerk emotionalism and over-intellectualising (she has previous). However, because she published it in the London Review of Books, it has been dressed up as a look at what her knee jerk tells us about the media (they hype things up) and ourselves (er nothing really, Ann, it's just you).

In the case of Amis, his thought experimentshould we be nasty to all Muslims?, er maybe not – has been poured over more thoroughly. Even if we leave to one side his over-analytical and over-emotional (yes, that again) approach to the topic and his distancing looks pretty weak to me having re-read the interview "; even allowing for the impression that Amis is struggling to keep up with his far more incisive (and decidedly non-creative) chum Christopher Hitchens, there is the same old problem. Having realised that he is, like all of us, I suppose, capable of mean, base thoughts, he doesn't decide to squash them. Instead he thinks out loud, tried to draw a universal meaning and significance for all of us from his own squalid mental processes.

That is, I suppose, the job of the artist. But the idea that a writer (non of your common hacks here) can draw lessons that are applicable to everyone from their own stupidity is something else. Call it hubris, call it arrogance, but I'd say it's one of the best proofs we have that writers aren't the best placed to engage with day-to-day issues. I'd sooner unacknowledged legislation passed by dustmen. As Orwell, kind of, said they wouldn't be such damn fools.



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