Thursday, 23 August 2012

Style vs. Content Symposium

After a slipshod introduction from Nathan Englander, a nervous babbling sort of chairman, Ali Smith delivered a fifteen-minute keynote speech, published here in its imperial whole. Citing Nicola Barker’s Clear: A Transparent Novel as an example of the ecstatic, multivocal style at the forefront of semi-popular semi-experimental fiction, she went on to deliver an impassioned address for the service of the word over the limitations of readers and the ruthlessness of the marketplace. The debate veered between illuminating but isolated self-commentaries, attempts to restructure the debate as it went on, and occasional back-and-forth banter between opposing tribes. Highlights included namedrops for Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style, Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine, and David Foster Wallace—lowlights included Jackie Kay citing Faulker and Toni Morrison as “trailblazers.”

China Mieville criticised “beautifully put but bloodless and anodyne” prose. A cheer went up for “writers who write for other writers,” but the economic realities of elite backslapping cliques were disputed by a Danish lady and a snotty American who defined the writer’s task as “to ejaculate and bleed on the page,” his advice being “keep writing and you probably will eat” . . . the word ‘probably’ in relation to starvation hardly promising. ALAN GIBBONS WAS EXTREMELY LOUD AND VERY ANGRY. A bookseller made the head-slapping point that Fifty Shades of Grey “gets the reader reading”—which is unbelievable, specious bullshit as readers will only move towards different types of trash. Some student who was “slogging through Middlemarch” took the microphone and made the embarrassing observation that certain Victorian literature was the EL James of its day . . . sigh.

Englander was an appalling chairman, simply dictating who spoke next rather than stirring up or controlling the debate. The conversation lapsed into tedium pretty quickly. Ali Smith kept quiet after her speech, but her mere presence was pure liquid brilliance.


  1. Next time it would be helpful if there was a non author chairperson as the authors kept moaning about how nervous they were and very few were up to the job. See, writers WRITE.