Thursday, 22 March 2012

Cheer for Artistic Success

Even if it's not yours.

Have we all forgotten what we learned in playschool/Montessori/kindergarten?
  • If you haven't anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all
  • Be a good sport
  • Be a good friend
Sound simple? I reckon so too. So then why do people in the literary world seem so intent on ripping one another to pieces?

Any success in art is a success for all artists. Art is a struggle for anyone in a time of drastic budget cuts across the world. We are facing a time when children are being taught fewer art classes and have less time to spend on figuring out who they are as individuals, never mind how to express that artistically. I think we should be cheering the latest book release, the latest prize winner, the latest success of any description.

Last summer Tea Obreht was named the most recent winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction. Instead of  rejoicing at the success of a woman who was born in the strife of the war in the Balkans, the literary world turned her into the whipping girl for American MFA programs. It's hardly her fault if MFA programs are churning out less than stellar graduates. She didn't get the prize because she had an MFA, she got it because she wrote a good novel.

Now, I am not saying that literary books should not be subject to criticism, of course. In fact, I didn't really like The Tiger's Wife. I thought it wasn't as strong in the framing narrative as it could have been and was a little bit superficial on the war. Look at what I've said: "wasn't as strong...as it could have been," "a little bit". These are minor points. She did a beautiful job of weaving legend with her main narrative and she captures a sense of history through place extraordinarily well. Her narrative is superbly layered and the novel is very well structured.

Anyway, who cares whether I liked it or not. The question is: is it good literature? And the answer is: yes.

I'm not sure when personal opinion became so important, but in this digital age when everyone can broadcast their opinion to the world (i.e. Me. Here.), I'm here to argue for thoughtful, critical debate, not ad hominem attacks. Thorough critical analysis enhances the literary world. We should, of course, be engaging with the books we read and thinking about their construction, themes, ideas, whatever interests you. But it does the literary community no favours when we tear ourselves down from within.

There is a saying in Boston (I've heard this come from the Wampanoag tribe who are the Native Americans indigenous to the area, but don't know that for a fact) that if you have a bucket full of crabs there will be one or two who figure out how to climb up and get one claw over the edge. As soon as the other crabs see one getting out, though, they pull him or her back down so that no one gets anywhere.

If someone is having literary success. I say, hooray! More power to you. How did you do it? What advice do you have? Oh...and I just happen to have this writing sample...would you mind giving me some constructive criticism?

If Tea Obreht crossed my path, you can bet I'd be asking for her advice. Maybe she'll think I'm rubbish, but hopefully, she has come criticism that takes me one step closer to the Orange. Or even just an agent!

Watch out for crabs in a bucket. We're all just headed toward the sunshine.

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