Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 02:43:39 PM EST
A lazy midweek discussion partially inspired by this comment from ThatBritGuy in poemless's diary Sasha Hemon, or, Turning sad European Lemons into delicious American Lemonade!
I've been nursing a parallel theory that we confer official museum-grade status on writers from ethnic groupings we feel guilty about - 'we' meaning the mostly white, mostly middle class, slightly angsty and concerned audience which reads what's usually called 'literature'.
This isn't about talent, or the lack of it. More that there will always be talent which isn't picked up because it doesn't tickle the ethnic 'oh, the horror' guilt buds in the right way. Even when there's plenty of horror and brutality - which seems to be another essential contemporary ingredient.
I don't know what TBG will think of his new bedmate, but Rod Liddle, in a recent Sunday Times article, collected nominations for fiction with an undeserved reputation, and had something similar to say:
Here's a bunch of stuff we were all told we had to read by the political and cultural climate of the day; because it would be good for us and because, way beyond this, it was our responsibility to start patronising writers from minorities because it was only the oppressive white male cultural hegemony that kept them in an ethnic- or gender-defined ghetto.
What draws these nominees together? They perhaps captured a certain spirit of the age in which they were written, replete with its fashionable literary conceits, its political leanings (or lack of them), its mannerisms. And this is what characterises almost all of the books that were nominated. They were not so much deemed to be shocking at the time, or too difficult, or experimental - there is no Henry Miller on the list, or Robbe-Grillet, or Sartre. Instead, they seem to be books that fitted in far too comfortably with the sensibilities of a certain chattering-class elite when they were published.
So, which classic books do you think are overrated?
My nominations-anything by DH Lawrence, most of the counter-culture classics (vaguely interesting as museum pieces only-sorry) and the works of Ian McEwan, who I suspect would be regarded as a writer of potboilers, were his characters not upper-middle class.