Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Gutless culture

Aditya Chakrabortty, spurred by a weekend he's just spent at a festival to celebrate the life of the Bengali artist and thinker Rabinfranath Tagore, writes an impassioned complaint about the lack of political dimension in the fiction being produced in the West today. Partly, he says, it's because 'economics and politics have been cordoned off from the rest of society: as stuff best left to the experts and careerists', an argument put forward by Zoe Williams not so long ago. More importantly he sees it as a matter of the logistics of the contemporary writing life:
'...literature too has been professionalised, so that authors now go from their creative-writing MAs to their novels to their relentless promotional work. Contemporary literary writers, it sometimes seems to me, are so tightly wedged behind their Apples that they have no time for politics.'
Personally, I'd say the problem is more radically the fact that economics is at the centre of our so-called cultural thinking, and the way this impacts on the kinds of novels that find publication and that writers are encouraged to write or discouraged from writing. And in a similar way to Chakrabortty I returned yesterday from an experience - in my case a visit to the horrendous former Stasi prison in Berlin - which left me pondering these issues, and in particular chilled by the thought that while our government wants to seize the kind of power to snoop on its citizens that was used by the Stasi, our publishing companies turn down novels for not being commercial enough - which all too often means 'too political'.
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