Thursday, June 18, 2009

Biblical world view legitimised: Australian feminist icon turns in grave

What with first the longlist and then the shortlist, I'm not really all that surprised that the 2009 Miles Franklin Literary Award has been won by what was by far the safer choice of the two front runners, a novel in which a bitter, twisted woman called Eva (geddit? geddit?) corrupts the young hero, takes away his innocence and warps his psyche for life with her nasty dangerous bent sick non-missionary sexing-on ways. She robs our hero of Paradise, that's what she does; she pushes him into his fall from grace.

Because, as we all know, that's what women do. The Bible tells us so.

I reviewed Tim Winton's Breath for the Oz and I bent over backwards, to the point of indecency really and no it's not something you'd like to see, to be fair. I have great respect for Winton's considerable fiction-writing skills, and I wouldn't like to seem to be dissing the people who like his work. Yes it's a 'good novel', no argument there from me. But. But. Butbutbut.

It's completely incredible to me that in 2009 there are still people who don't get this, but looking at comments around the blog and MSM literary traps there clearly are, so let me spell it out once more:

It's not just some simple-minded essentialist thing about equal numbers of men and women. It's not a case to be met with 'We don't need feminism any more because we're equal now' (I assume this lot are actually unconscious, or trapped in a big plastic bubble, or living in some parallel universe like the Magic Faraway Tree). It's not about 'But can't they just be chosen on literary merit?', a common bleat that begs the question of what literary merit is, whose values infuse it, whether it can ever be objective or absolute, who decides what it is, and what sorts of values have dominated literature and the judgement of literature and the formation of its canons for centuries. A quick read of A Room of One's Own is all that's needed for answers to most of these questions.

No, it's this: that the masculine world view is still the norm, the feminine world view a lesser variant; that the masculine representation of women is still accepted as the truth, while female resistance to that representation is seen as some kind of wilful rebellion; that masculine values are still (mis)taken as universal values, and feminine ones seen as aberrant and unimportant in the world. Simone de Beauvoir still puts it best, even after all this time. 'There are two types of people in this world: human beings and women.'

And spare a thought for the dedicated, hardworking feminist Miles Franklin, who scrimped and saved and ran herself short to amass the capital for the establishment of this prize in the 1950s. In her name, let me record here that in the chronological catchment area for this prize, the following excellent novels, most of which have won at least one major literary prize, were published (NB Michelle de Kretser's The Lost Dog was eligible last year, not this year, but likewise came nowhere):

The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide
The Spare Room by Helen Garner
The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
Vertigo by Amanda Lohrey
The Good Parents by Joan London

All were eligible for the prize, within the terms of Franklin's will: of 'the highest literary merit', and dealing with 'Australian life in any of its phases'.

None of them even made the longlist.

Yes, as anyone who's ever been on one knows, the judging panels for prizes of all kinds are weird beasts, and their ways are a mystery even to themselves. Goddess knows I know that this is true.

But still. But. Butbutbut.

Cross-posted from Still Life With Cat

Monday, June 15, 2009

Teaching writing

Some important aspects of the craft can be taught, but the art of writing must be taught in the same way that art is taught in art school, and music in music school. Nobody would dare turn up to the door of a music school saying ’I’d like to be a guitarist, but I don’t have a guitar, I don’t have time to practice, and I don’t listen to music’, but people do that in writing courses.

From here, a long and detailed interview with novelist M. J. Hyland and a great read.

*The title I've given this post has reminded me of a particularly fraught staff meeting in my former workplace, where we were hammering out, at glacial speed and temperature, all the new subjects that were to be taught the following year, all aspects of all of which had to be subjected to the democratic process and agreed upon unanimously before proceeding. We spent at least three hours on the title of a new first-year subject that eventually sported the title 'Reading Writing', and then moved on to the question of a title for another new subject about literature and religion. Quoth the then head of department: 'Well, if we're going with the double gerunds, how about 'Seeing Believing'?

Cross-posted from Still Life With Cat