McCrum writes another marvellous article today in the Guardian/Observer, in which he argues – if I generalise his position a bit – that the worth of a writer is entirely dependent on the world socio-economic pre-dominance of the country in which he’s born.
OK, maybe he doesn’t say this precisely: – what he’s actually talking about is importance rather than worth. Though you may feel the latter is a little implied, especially since the article starts out on the subject of British books being judged, presumably on their merit, as worthy of winning American prizes.
[Importance (n.) Media, A measure of how many column inches should be devoted to a given topic].
Rather like, say, price and value in the stock market, one feels there is often little real correlation between worth and importance.
No one puts it this way any more, but unconsciously we believe we [i.e. the British] are Greece to their [i.e. America’s] Rome.
No – I’d hazard to say, we don’t. (And this is to ignore the fact that I’d never correlate the British Empire – its outpourings, artistic or intellectual – with Greece). I shan’t speak for everyone else in this country, but personally I’ve always considered American literature to be its own entity – and it’s always a surprise to me that they’ve ever read anything that’s emanated from our country. The North American literary tradition (unlike perhaps the South American literary tradition) has never struck me as particularly influenced by any English or even European tradition, unless you wish to hold negative influence as influence – as in, we’ll develop our own fucking literary tradition which doesn’t have in it all of that feudal-based class-ridden aristocratic shit which we came over here to escape in the first place.. etc*. Consequently, I have difficulty with this view of a jaded patronage.
The origins of British amour propre are not so hard to fathom. With the French, we were the first New Worlders, weren’t we?
Er … no, as I recall my history, we weren’t.
* Which reminds me, there’s a wonderful article here [
well, their remote server seems to be down oh yeah, I found it now: – not quite where I expected] about how all worthwhile French writers since the 1960s have been influenced by the nouveau roman. The argument is wonderfully self-fulfilling. If a writer takes up the ideas of nouveau roman, then they are influenced; if they don’t take up the ideas, then they are also influenced. [The highly worthwhile, of course] Michel Houllebecq claimed (and I’m paraphrasing): “I hate the nouveau roman. I’ve never managed to finish a single book within that genre.” That apparently constitutes his influence and therefore his worth. – Great. It just remains now to define who are the worthwhile French writers and slot them into the categories.