MA Week Eleven

Somebody arrived at this blog yesterday by googling 'neutrally calm'.  I'm pleased the internet advertises me by playing down the partisan panic. I hope the visitor was pleased and will return.

Anyway, this post is coming to you a week late.  I'm getting more slack with the posting as the semester comes to an end, and the next lot of submissions nears - 6000 words of fiction and another 3000 word essay, due after the break.  This is week twelve, now, and with Christmas looming, I'll update these last few sessions as quick as I can before I get all tied up in travel and packing and wrapping and, er,  writing those submissions.

So - week eleven, in Forms of Fiction, was all about Roberto Bolano's By Night In Chile and the conflict between aesthetic and ethical thinking in our response to writing.  We looked at Bolano as a post-national writer, in the same way as Borges was; they saw nationalism as an excuse for bad writing.  Death and time are appropriate themes for a writer (echoing Joyce) and Bolano fictionalises various 'national' writers in the novel, parodying the pointlessness of that kind of success.  A writer should be representative only of his art, Bolano thought, not his country.       

With the ethics/aesthetics thing, we looked at the way art seems to thrive in oppressive right-wing dictatorships - our tutor pointed out Yeats, Pound and Eliot.  He asked of any of us would refuse to read somebody based on their politics - somebody mentioned Kipling, but most of us struggled to think of an example.  I remembered how Jake and Dinos Chapman have re-appropriated Hitler's watercolours in various of their pieces (they had an exhibition of these at the White Cube last year, it was excellent) but I couldn't think of any kind of literary thing.  Our tutor then told us that Lionel Shriver is openly associated with unionist groups in Northern Ireland and he said that based on interviews with her in which she's been very insulting of the Irish people, he's never been able to read her fiction.  He's Irish, as am I.  I've read Kevin (thought it was okay), the Post Birthday World (loved it) and Double Fault (awful crap) - I googled Shriver after class and read some quotes of hers about the Catholics in Northern Ireland, and I was seriously unimpressed.  She was so arrogant and dismissive of the other side of  the argument and insinuated that everyvody non-Unionist was pretty much likely to blow up England.  I'm not especially affiliated to one side or the other in that debate, but I can say now that I won't be following her career with bated breath from now on.

Anyway, back to Bolano - we talked about  his unreliable narrator, the idea of satirizing testimonial literature, the importance and meaning of art (art above politics?  So back to the ethics/aesthetics thing) and the idea of writing history - how do you  impose a hierarchy, decide what's more important in the account?  Phew, all the big issues.  Next time, it's Muriel Spark and The Girls Of Slender Means.

In the afternoon, we had three pieces to workshop - two novel extracts and a short story - and in the evening, there was a public discussion between Martin Amis and Clive James about literature and ageing.  Mainly, Amis was a little pessimistic about the whole thing, talking about how writers lose their ear as they get older (Updike is his favourite example, being not so keen on Updike's final story collection) and James was far more cheerful.  We all left the hall wanting his to be our collective grandfather.  I didn't take any notes, so this is a rather useless account (see my friend Daisy's blog for more detail) and then next morning I have to say I was less than wide awake for our fortnightly Amis seminar.  We were looking at Roth's Goodbye Columbus, which I really enjoyed, and though Martin did get a little nit-picky about Roth's sentences at times, and criticised the character's intentions and the sub-plot about the kid in the library, it was still a pretty upbeat session, though looking at my notes, I'm not sure what we talked about for almost two hours.  He did go around the room asking about our reading habits, and I remember blabbering on about how reading is, like, THE BEST THING EVER (I do really believe this, it's by far my favourite pastime, but I probably sounded like a suck-up prat) and then I think I went home and had a nap.  I'd normally do a separate post about these Amis sessions, but I was very negligent about the note-taking, and it'd be a very short account to put out on its own.  This week we've got our final session, on Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and then it's farewell to our private Martin Amis groups.  So I guess if we're going to kidnap him or hold him to ransom or whatever, it'll be done by the time I post again.  You'll have to wait and see. 

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