Monday, December 14, 2009

How Can You Be Dissident?

Robert McCrum asserts that our contemporary market-driven culture has no room for the dissident writer, and that ' "the habit of art" has become the "addiction of charm" '. His heart's in the right place, and in my view he's absolutely right about the general trend, but the thrust of his argument is to blame writers themselves - he accuses them of 'want[ing] to join the system, not keep it at arm's length', and refers to 'artistic vanity' and 'complacency and an appetite for entertaining' which leads to a 'sapping [of] the instinct to ask awkward questions of the status quo.'

But this overlooks the power of a system within which it is just not possible for the dissident or avant-garde author to operate. If authors are 'fearful of risk', as he says they are, it is only because in this day and age your agent or editor will simply turn you down if you're 'not commercial enough'. McCrum says authors nowadays just wanna belong, but maybe it's more a case of not belonging meaning not being published at all.
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