Friday, January 22, 2010

Not sure how I feel about this pt 2.

But wait! Since yesterday, I think I figured it out. At first, I thought author-I've-never-heard-of (which of course doesn't mean anything but you'd understand if you saw the hilarious preening that goes on in her piece) Susan Hill was also saying something about affirmative action (which she is not, it turns out.) I have a slightly mixed but mostly negative & suspicious view of affirmative action, which is unarguably a racist enterprise. It can go very, very wrong, but I also think it ignores the real problem-- more effort needs to be put into education at the start: let's say elementary school-- that is how to put people on an equal footing. Letting minorities into college for fun(ding) doesn't, nor does it mean it will improve things from the top down-- there are now enough examples of the disadvantaged going to college and succeeding, the time for affirmative action has passed. It is trickle down. It's time to start the hard work and reform the early portions of education, or even start with high school-- the really hard one. Also, to expect a minority to "go back" and help "their people" is a very odd impression and demand that borders on tribalism, projected & enacted. It also ignores poor whites as what, I think, will-- if it is not already-- become a group suffering under the same prejudices as racial groups are saddled with.

But Susan Hill is talking about something else. Continue reading!Herself. Susan Hill was asked to participate in-- and I haven't been able to find really good info on exactly what-- but it sounds like a public exhibit that includes published authors and non-published ("amateurs") writers. From what I have gathered their pieces are posted (on a wall?) anonymously. This has been done before. Susan Hill took great offense to this and wrote a piece in her column in the Spectator entitled "No, amateurs are not 'Just as good as. . .'"

The reason for my confusion on how I felt about what she was specifically saying was because she does not in the end provide any kind of real argument. She splits time between criticizing the practice of including writers only because they are from the margins of society-- though I can't imagine there wasn't a screening process for quality if a large group of marginal-types applied-- and between hysterically defending her position as a published author, which has nothing to do with choosing people of a certain background-- what she actually has a problem with is being presented anonymously, though she avoids directly saying this.

Hill understands publication to mean you are automatically good and uses herself as an example: "If someone writes a marvellous short story I don`t care where they come from – the sewer, the street, prison, a palace, a university…if the story is as good as one William Trevor can write, say, or Helen Simpson - or me - then good, let them go up there." In the first part of the sentence, she is making a straightforward argument for good quality as the supreme qualifier. But then. . . William Trevor, yeah, but he's the greatest short story writer of our time. I don't care how good Susan Hill actually is, but it's quite clear now how good she thinks she is.

I agree with this sentiment if you isolate it:
I can neither draw nor paint. I have zero – no, sub-zero – graphic talent. So, if I get some crayons and a bit of paper and have a go, should that have equal right to go up there next to David Hockney? Well, I mean, why not ? It’s part of the democratisation of crayon on paper isn`t it? No. It is not. You might just as well say the ‘democratisation of sound’ means I have a right to pick up a violin and join the Halle orchestra.

That is not the same as amateurs, though. An amateur is "one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession" and the word comes from a Latin root that means "to love." An amateur has an enthusiasm for something rather than a profession. Usually it would imply no formal training either, or at least nowadays it does (definition 3.) Of course this gets us into bad territory-- painters who can't paint, avant-garde improv music bullshit. But even punk rock needed real instrumentalists-- Sid isn't on the Pistols' album. So I don't want to talk about how many problems I have with recent philosophies behind "art" (or "post-art"), as I'm not qualified and then I will start sounding like Susan Hill-- not the ego, I know I can't paint, but the incoherence. The point is, Susan Hill's examples (violin) describe lack of skill and training. There is no evidence that the people who will be submitting have never written before or have no idea how to spell.

She has already decided that anybody who doesn't have a bibliography behind their name is automatically terrible. I'd say, yes, some of the time that is true, but it's also true of some of those who have been published, Stephanie Meyer-- who is actually terrible, I know now because I tried reading a few pages of the sparkly vampire books in a bathroom in PA.

So really, there's nothing confusing about how to object to Susan Hill's piece once you realize that she doesn't really take it anywhere other than patting herself on the back while nervously swatting out against an obscurity that these amateurs have that she fears. Also, this one event was designed around this one concept-- an event that has decided to be selective based on something besides the actual writing (though how do you prove you are disadvantaged, names alone can't show that.) I would be, again, surprised if after this first "who is disadvantaged" filter the event doesn't then get down to looking at the actual pieces.

It's interesting that one event is enough to get Hill stocking up on shotgun shells & Spam and boarding up her windows. She sounds reactionary & scared, worried that, yes, the cream will still come to the top but when they put the names back on the pieces it will turn out some unknown wog (or anyone else) will be that cream and she'll be left with nobody to join her in patting herself on the back.

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