Winterson, Roy, Nafisi

I saw something that made me laugh at Normblog this morning – I mean, I saw something at Normblog that made me laugh. I would never laugh at Normblog, or any other blog. I’m not that kind of person. Yes I am, but I pretend not to be. I am however the kind of person who would laugh at woolly novelists – would and does.

It’s a funny thing about novelists, at least some of them. The ones that have a certain kind of success, and get a certain kind of, what to call it, of cultural standing and credibility as a result. When I say ‘certain kind’ I don’t mean I know exactly what that kind is. Some combination of respectable critical acclaim (winning the Booker certainly doesn’t hurt) and notoriety and popularity. That will be our working definition of ‘certain kind’. Novelists in that category become omniscient. They become wise, and full of insight, and informed on all subjects, and equipped to set everyone straight. Because – ? They have a way with words and a talent for telling stories? I don’t see the connection, myself. It may be the case that some novelists really are well-informed and full of insight, but in the case of this category those qualities seem to be assumed in an odd way – that’s the part that I think is a funny thing.

And Norm’s comment is about a case in point.

But I have to say that even upon this terrain you can come across something so bloody funny that an uncontrollable belly laugh is impossible to avoid. Such is the following item from Jeanette Winterson, author:

I’ll never forgive them about the war. It’s not a women’s issue, it’s a world issue. I am buying a place in Paris because I no longer want to be in the UK full-time. I want to be European, not a piece of the USA.

The war is about her, do you see? ‘They’ have let her down, and she’s jolly well ‘buying a place in Paris’. Byeeee!

That is pretty funny. ‘I’ll show them – I’ll buy a place in Paris! So there!’

And it reminded me of something I meant to comment on several weeks ago, and never got around to. It was about seeing, on two concurrent evenings, Arundhati Roy and Azar Nafisi on C-Span, and what different impressions the two of them made on me, and what if anything that difference is about. Probably nothing really, probably just a matter of personality on their parts and perception on mine. And yet…

The first one was a session of a conference of US sociologists, which for some fairly unfathomable reason was devoted to listening to Arundhati Roy give her opinions on stuff. I didn’t see the beginning (was merely channel-surfing as opposed to deliberately watching), but I saw quite enough of sycophantic admiration on the audience side and smug self-satisfaction on Roy’s. The whole thing was just very ‘I am buying a place in Paris.’

Nafisi was different. Mind you, I’m biased going in – I think Nafisi has something worthwhile to say, and I think what Roy has to say is more mixed (at best). But all the same, Nafisi wasn’t preening, she didn’t keep gazing around in a queenly way as Roy did. She was intense, urgent, impassioned – what she was saying was not about her, it was about what she was saying. Self-forgetful. Not a performance but an attempt at communication. The contrast was interesting.

Update: Martin Amis. He’s another one. I meant to mention him and forgot. Though he neglected to win the Booker – but maybe the early success is the equivalent and has the same effect. At any rate, he has that novelist’s omniscience, such that he feels it necessary to tell us that Stalin was bad, because we didn’t know that until he told us. And he’s a great preener. In fact his memoir has more preening in it than any other book of comparable size I can think of.

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