Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Winterson Dares to Say it

In a sidebar column accompanying a Guardian article (today) on the effect of the Blair administration on the arts, Jeanette Winterson is quoted thus:
Blair is only interested in popular culture and not the arts. He is by nature and mission a leveller, and art asks people to be more than they are, better that they are; it asks for intensity, concentration and effort. Blair worries too much about elitism to recognise art's power to change lives.
Unfortunately, you can imagine that some people will give this statement scant intensity or concentration, for Winterson herself has sometimes been accused of elitism, for her challenging, uncompromising and sometimes extremely daring prose, and indeed for her very insistence on art as corrective and transformative. She takes a moral and evangelizing stance to literature which is easily dismissed when clearly stemming from her proselytizing religious background, and in a culture where government and big business go hand in hand to 'please' and pander to 'choice'.

It gets harder and harder to say some things. In a comment on my post below, Alan Kellog makes some points about why short stories are so hard to sell which, though true, made my heart sink, feeding as they could into prejudices against the short story form. And recently, after a reading by short-story writer Chrissie Gittins, several of us discussed an issue about short stories which I felt I could hardly replicate on my blog for fear of doing the same. Several commentators, we noted, had recently pushed the short story as ideal for our age of rush, when people don't have time for long novels, and I have done it myself when selling the short-story mag metropolitan. Yet I know I was wrong, and the other day all of us, all short-story writers, felt strongly that this not only did a disservice to short stories but reinforced the cultural expectations which are squashing them: short stories, more than novels, require the intensity, the concentration and attention which Winterson identifies - and which nowadays seem to many people a BAD THING.

But the Bad Thing in reality is a culture and a society in which this state of affairs can occur, in which people, including Tony Blair, see freedom only in placation and passivity. And as Adam Curtis recently showed in his stunning BBC film The Trap, such 'freedom for the people' is in fact nothing of the kind.
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