Thursday, August 11, 2011

Upside down world

It may be seen as ridiculous to be worrying about short stories - about fiction, about the arts in general - when looters are smashing windows around England, burning down buildings. It's a scary time. I feel it's been a scary time for quite a while now. How can I ask you to sign a petition to show Radio 4 how you feel about cuts to their Afternoon Reading slots when there are cuts that deeply and tragically affect people's ability to actually live? I can't really answer that question. I can only say that just because I spend a lot of time here talking about short stories, about fiction, about writing, doesn't mean I am not also doing other things, privately, that I don't shout about, to help in other ways.

I am finding it very hard to write this blog post. All I can say is that I don't consider the Arts "trivial", a "luxury" that should be put aside, that doesn't in some way save lives too, or make lives better, or hold a mirror up to our lives to show us who we are, who that Other is whose skin we can't normally get into, whose shoes we have never worn. Yes, this is partly because it's what I strive for, it's what I do... but it's also where I get comfort, inspiration, stimulation. It's what challenges me, opens my eyes, doesn't let me rest easy, coast along. Short fiction is my choice, but of course it's not the only choice. The thing is: if the Afternoon Reading is being replaced by more news... what's next? At what point will there be no choice?

11 comments:

Dorothee Lang said...

Thanks for sharing those thoughts. Reading your lines made me remember an essay i read a while ago, which also was about stories and the world. i just looked for it, and found a paragraph i copied back then: it's from John Crowley, "Practicing the Arts of Peace":

"My work and the world: I was asked by somebody back at the time of the invasion of Iraq how we could all just go on writing or funny little stories, especially we fantasists, and I said that in my opinion what we were doing was practicing the arts of peace.

What we want is a world in which funny fantastical stories are possible and are valued. In which there is nothing so dreadful or urgent that it causes the writing of such things to stop or be stopped.

Worlds where the arts of peace can't be practiced are wounded worlds, and that's why we have to go on practicing those arts, so that our worlds don't die."

Tania Hershman said...

Dorothee, thank you so so much for sharing that, it's so beautifully put. Yes, let's hope for a world where no-one asks us how we can write what we write... "Arts of Peace", that's lovely.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

I don't find it ridiculous at all. What I 'do' find ridiculous is the BBC's insistence that we have to have more 'News'.
What is 'News'? It is never, it seems to me, a balanced reporting of what is going on in the world at large. Rather, it is a list of the negatives that are occurring. So if we are fed a diet of 'news', all we hear is the bad messages, never anything to balance them.

How do people learn about other people? How do they learn how to be part of any society? By example. By seeing how others are, good role models, and following their example. If all we are shown on the 'News' are bad models, if all we live with are bad models, where do we find the balancing info?

Maybe, in exploring fiction, we find them. Maybe fiction challenges us to consider the 'what if's, both good and bad. But at least it shows us the whole spectrum. We can try on those 'what if's in safety.

Those kids are trying on 'what if's in reality - maybe fed by News, or a diet of videos, no imagination engaged. They've skipped that stage and are 'imagining', acting things out, but in reality.

Keep up the fight, and don't think it isn't worth it, or seems slight. If its possible to do, bring back imagining, but safely.

Jim Murdoch said...

We can’t drop everything every time there’s a wee disaster. Life goes on and if that life includes fretting about the state of the nation’s art then so be it. There are more than enough of us to go round. Someone will be doing far more worrying about the riots that they ought to so that’s you (and probably me) covered. I’ll tell you what I’m worrying about at the moment. I can hardly think of anyone I know online who isn’t writing genre fiction (maybe not from the poets – not much genre poetry there) apart from you, at least you were the first to jump to my mind, and even since then I’ve not come up with a long list. Now, I’m not going to debate whether you write literary fiction or just plain ol’ fiction-fiction but as far as I’m aware you’re not planning to write an historical romance for your next book. (If you are, please don’t.) This is worrying. Let me explain what caused this revelation. I joined a site on Facebook a wee while ago and they put up a list of who was willing to do reviews and what they were interested in reviewing – YA, sci-fi, fantasy, romance etc etc – and no one, not one of them, mentioned fiction, let alone literary fiction, and then it dawned on me – none of them are writing just fiction. The genres – YA especially – have taken over. Does that make me a bad person because I’m more worried about that than the riots?

Tania Hershman said...

V - clearly the point of me writing this blog post was to give my highly articulate friends a forum to express their opinions! I love the way you see that these kids are trying the "What Ifs" but in a highly dangerous and risky way, and second your call to bring back imagining....

Jim, you're right too, of course, about us not dropping everything in the face of disasters. I know that well from having lived in Jerusalem. Re genre, well, some people call short fiction a "genre". But that said, I know that what I write is not easy to classify - and I also know that the writing I love most defies such easy classification too. I don't worry about these things, it's up to others to put labels on my writing if they must - such as whether a particular story is flash fiction or prose poetry. I only have enough time to worry about the writing - I don't really have the time to worry about where to fit it into too! I think there are a lot of us - perhaps the group you joined was slanted in a particular way? Always happy to have new reviewers at the Short Review, if you're interested?

annie clarkson said...

The short story is important too... I think we need to keep hold of everything that is important for our society and the arts is one of them...

timecorps said...

"While the looters had cleared out the stock of Currys, Claire's Accessorie​s and Phones4U, nearby Waterstone​'s had been left 'without a scratch'..​."
(Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-14475741)
Perhaps, if lovers of fiction don't loot, encouraging love of fiction is a positive thing.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’ve cut back on my reviewing of late, Tania. A book a week was pushing it. Now I aim to post one every ten days which means I’m never short of review copies and because I have a wee bit of a backlog I’m being a little pickier of late. I could squeeze in the odd review and interview for you if I had enough warning – my lead time these days is a good two months (drop me an e-mail if I can help) – but feel free to direct anyone you know in my direction and I’ll see if I can accommodate them. You know the kind of thing I do and as long as they’ve not written a teen-werevamp mystery/romance they’ll be in with a shot. If they have something that doesn’t meet your criteria or if you’ve already reviewed them well my criterion is whatever takes my fancy and I can always say no.

Lauri said...

When all of this started in UK people in my part of the world were saying things like- "What do these London kids have to cry about? They ought to come and live in Old Naledi or Soweto for a while."

I thought everyone has problems where they are, and those problems are not any less serious for them than our problems are for us. Yes, I agree we should acknowledge what we have but too to say don't complain there are worst things happening makes everyone stop in their tracks and nothing moves forward.

The arts and fiction in particular are vital. As others have said, they help us understand who we really are, they help us find empathy for who we're not, and actually that is the basis of harmony and peace. There is nothing inconsequential in that.

Tania Hershman said...

Annie, very true. I hope you're okay, was anything happening near you?

Timecorps - excellent point! I saw that floating around Twitter.

Jim, I will email you.

Lauri, I bet they were saying that. It's an odd odd world. But no, the arts are not inconsequential at all.

annie clarkson said...

There was a lot of problems one night in Manchester, looting etc, but I didn't see any of it, I stayed clear of the areas where it was happening!