14th August 2015
Almost as many Russians read this blog as do English-speaking readers. Russians love our bard Robert Burns and have some kind of a fascination for Scotland and its literary output. In fact. no matter how spurious their system of government, that country has never suffered from a lack of enthusiasm when it comes to the arts: it has often been pointed out that although you have to knock westerners over the head and abduct them to poetry readings, Russians will queue around the block.
Could you imagine that in this country? If you see a queue around the block in the West, it is either for the latest toy or the latest blockbuster movie. Sometimes, people will queue for books, but only if it is a bestseller. The publishing industry's wet-dream.
Western society, lacking almost anything else to gravitate towards lists towards the blockbuster and the bestseller. It has entirely lost sight of the reality that literature should say something beneath the story. I read Goldfinch. Bestseller. Pretty good (if a little unbelievable - says she who writes about time travel!) but not much there beyond the action. It's like the first wash became the painting. America in particular is drawn to this kind of cult - look at Donald Trump polling at 25%. Is there anything there beyond money and hot air?
Not that I move in Hollywood circles, but I hear that everyone you meet in LA is sort of in a blockbuster trance. Ironically, someone like Amy Shummer who finally comes along and bucks the system, questions the role of women in the movie making machinery, becomes a starlet of the cult herself. Her photo-shopped pictures start appearing on-line and in magazines.
The publishing industry, too, has been taken over by commercial enterprise and sits in wait for the next big thing. It has been asked many times, but it's worth doing so again: which of the late and great writers would be published today? Grapes Of Wrath? Not a chance. Any of DH Lawrence or James Joyce (Ulysees? Give me a break.) Ernest Hemmingway suffered from and played to cult status, but even he wouldn't be put into print in the current climate.
Since Amazon got into the publishing business, it has its own best seller list. The banner of bestseller has been flown until the whole notion has become frayed and faded, nothing more than a ghost.
Anyway, if I weren't sitting in literary limbo myself, I might not be beating this drum. I actually prefer the company of ghosts. But these are sinister ghosts, not good ones. They mess with your mind and rob the soul. Our collective soul. And soul is something here in the West we have so little of.