Which sterling cry is from the sly witty Scottish writer Alasdair Gray on the social ills of our time and the personal dilemmas that seem to offer no way out. You are dreaming the disease. Now you must dream the cure!
Stressful times. More rioting — shops looted in in a nearby town, the national highway closed after stone-throwing and torching of vehicles, a Somali shopkeeper killed trying to defend his property. Some of the rioting is about farmworker grievances and some is about tensions with illegal migrants competing for casual labour on the farms. The police and army hopeless at crowd control, protesters have suffered severe injuries from rubber bullets. And for the first time, the day hospital was attacked and has been cordoned off. Everyone frightened and angry, unsure what will happen next.
Lay awake all night with gunfire and shouting. I do sometimes feel so trapped and stuck here, no way to move forward, the fabric of a multiracial community shredding.
Nothing to drink about though and I can just imagine how quickly alcohol would turn realistic fear into high-flying paranoia. I hope that by now I’ve internalised to some degree the idea that no emotional upset or distressing circumstance is an excuse to drink, ever.
Distracting myself from the rampaging all around ( mob violence is so scary even when the mob has justifiable grievances) with the habits of writing and meditation, neighborliness, gardening and books. Reading as a tried and trusted panacea.
Ambivalent about the Stieg Larrson novels, which is why I didn’t read them before — I am both drawn to and distrust the mythology behind the books ( Larrson the leftwing journalist dying suddenly at 50 with these magnificent books left behind, the girlfriend left out of the will, the rightwing death threats and hidden sides of a liberal society etc). I went through that when the cult around Latin American novelist Roberto Bolano got going and suddenly one day thought that this was all too politically correct and heroic to be true, too much of the doomed writer about it, too much of the prophetic political exile. And then other facts about Bolano began to emerge, the more human and deluded sides, as in any life.
Parts of Larrson make me squirm but it is also gripping stuff and popular fiction that verges on political commentary in some ways. I like that weird Scandinavian Modesty Blaise of a heroine. And for me this is also part of my enthrallment with the newish renaissance among Scandinavian authors, the crime stories of Henning Mankell, literary fiction by Per Petterson ( James Wood’s sharply perceptive piece on his work in the New Yorker), Per Olav Enquist (that novel on Marie Curie’s assistant), Karl O Knausgaard’s My Struggle with the graphic account of his father’s death from alcoholism. Very different (to my way of thinking) from the older Scandinavian writers like Sigrid Undset, Isak Dinesen, Knut Hamsun and the 19th-century dramatists we studied at university like misogynist Strindberg and Ibsen. And some of these new Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish writers will become famous and fame will change our appreciation of their work and lives. What do we do to writers when we make them famous?
Bolano, Larrson, David Foster Wallace, the publicity machine that deforms writers after their deaths. From someone who knew and loved DFW, questions about his legacy and posthumous fame:
If nothing else, and as much as I despise the thought that all this post-death doing is killing what was wonderful about what had been, it is a good reminder to anybody that what you do or say or create often only begins to define what you always are. We will read or not read what is given and all the rest around it will go on. Time is alive. Regardless of what ends up remaining of Wallace, I will remember him as a great and endless mass of brightness, the rarest sort of maker, whether he would have wanted me to or not.
The same ambivalence about fame and writers and mythmaking I felt yesterday when reading Joel Lovell’s gushing praise in the New York Times for writer George Saunders, comparing him to the canon of already established white male writers and ‘geniuses’ like Hemingway, Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, Jonathan Franzen, poor much maligned David Foster Wallace. No mention of women writers (someone like Helen DeWitt or Jennifer Egan) , minority writers (Teju Cole for instance) or LGBT writers or authors in translation. So bizarre to read that kind of Old Boys Club coziness in 2013.
As the international publishing industry unravels (even Barnes & Noble going into decline), there needs to be more space for voices from elsewhere, more than a single story told about our lives here today on this crumbling cusp of what we used to call civilisation — and a space made for the hope found even amongst the walking wounded, the casualty class.
“New towns, new cars, more roadways, bigger buildin’s”, remarks a squatter in a semi-derelict tenement. “Yet all the time the casualty class grows bigger too. Is there a connection, do you think?”