Sunday, February 23, 2014

Writers [On Writing]: David Mamet

The purpose of literature is to Delight. To create or endorse the scholastic is a craven desire.
David Mamet, The Humble Genre Novel, Sometimes Full of Genius

David Mamet's essay is a celebration of genre novels (Patrick O'Brien in particularly) and what they offer the reading community. And, part of me, the part that writes genre, agrees with Mamet's above statement, trumpet blazing away: 'Hey, listen all. Genre is the real deal!' After all, literature of the past and present has so many lasting and memorable novels that fall into the 'genre' category. Concentrating on speculative fiction alone, (which nowadays refers to anything that touches on the unreal), a few obvious examples from the Victorian era that remain in our literary canon include The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Frankenstein and Dracula; and from the present, the much lauded collections of contemporary writers Micahel Chabon and Karen Russell are just a starting point.

Yet, another side of me, and it's not the 'realist' writer, steams over Mamet's comment.  A comment that reeks of intolerance. A comment which has the same stench of prejudice that fuels my anger when realist readers dismiss the genre world. 

There is no doubting that to 'Delight' or 'Entertain' is the crucial element of any narrative but to belittle any kind of text, 'scholastic' or otherwise, due to one's personal taste is both demeaning and narrow minded in itself. It's a notion that bears resemblance to the tyrannical: What the King thinks is law. After all, what delights me differs from others and others delight differs from others in turn. To dismiss the 'scholastic' novel is therefore as narrow minded as those who dismiss the 'genre'  world. After all, is there anything more subjective than reading?

Juicy narratives entertain me. I'll admit it.  I'm a sucker for a great spec-fic tale, fantastic worlds like those of George RR Martin and JRR Tolkien, and the wonderful storytelling that accompanies them, but I also enjoy writing for other reasons. I'm held willing hostage, for instance, by the prose of Angela Carter, even more so, perhaps, than her narratives - I'm stimulated, bewildered, and of course, delighted, by Carter's command of syntax. I also revel in the ostentatious or fresh voices used by writers like Will Self or Junot Diaz. And then again, there are those writers whose prose impresses me with its pared back and contained style: Cormac McArthy's The Road and Neil Gaiman's recent Ocean at the End of the Lane (although both are also rhythmical), being fine examples of this. 

The whole notion of completely separating the scholastic from genre is ridiculous in itself. Huxley's Brave New World is a fine example. Although not personally my favourite work (I still admire it),  the richness of the text clearly comes from Huxley's scholastic interest in the future and his scholarly investigation of both the sciences and the humanities, as much as the genre world, in which it is set. In fact, there are a vast number of genre novels in the 'spec-fic' field that explore the 'scholastic'.

At a fundamental level, 'Delight' in a fictional text comes through a variety of means: through prose, through intellectual exploration or simply through an intriguing entertaining narrative. To deny one form of delight is to be as intolerant and fearful as those who deny the others. Read for delight by all means, but don't try to deny that literature delights readers in different ways.

I think that the pigeon holers, from both sides of the field, need to reign themselves in... or even better: remain locked-up in their birdcages. 

Aurealis Awards

Great to see Dreaming of Djinn ed. Liz Grzyb as a finalist for the best anthology. A huge huzzah to all the writers, publishers and editors involved with any of the listed finalists.  What a wealth of talent!