A Terrible Pun

Bad Writing On Writing Badly

This is an amazing piece of writing: It's so graphic and dramatic that you could let it convince you of anything.

I thought I would talk about writing because I read an article about Yann Martel.


He's given up his four year crusade to send Stephen Harper a novel on a bi-weekly basis (frequent enough to be serious, but not so frequent that a guy can't have a life) along with a letter explaining the book's significance. The complaint is that Harper never acknowledged Martel's existence; the insinuation is that this makes him some kind of gap-toothed barbarian.

There's a simple reason for why Harper hasn't responded. It's similar to someone who sees a flasher. Such is the overly familiar tone of Martel's letters. It's a kind of mock sniveling humility that barely shrouds a twisted heart, bursting with unconditional ambition. To be subject to this and in someway aware of what it is must be a deeply unpleasant experience. Like being hungover on a plane. On top of the discomfort, there's an unshakeable awkwardness. These were public letters. To acknowledge him would be to stoke the fires of this lust for power, so the only plausible response is none at all.

What I mean here by ambition can be seen in his readiness to shill himself in any way. The best well to sell the lie, is to be the lie, to speak the language of the lie. Something like this:

"It takes a long time to write a book so you can put a lot into a book. So to access a book is to access a tremendous resource for thinking about the human condition. And it strikes me that our leaders, whether they be political or economic must, at some point, access literature. Because that, for me, remains the best way to explore a reality."

When was the last time you accessed literature? What does it say about language, about the culture in which it is rooted, when all of its verbs are deflated into one? Access. The political leader and the economic leader are one and the same, athletes in separate divisions. They should know best of all the guiding principle of the day, ease of access, efficiency, excess.

The basic justification of the book itself is presented like the specs on a semi. Books, can hold a lot of stuff. Whole bunch of thinking. More in less time. A hefty dividend of the intellectual division of labour.

Finally we are left with the suggestion of some vague pleasure to come. The exploration of "a" reality. What the hell does that mean? If you think it's already "a" reality then you can't possibly explore it as one. Sure, you could say that the diversity of human perception means that we each live in our own unique version of the world. The point is that very few people sincerely doubt that their version is the correct one.

To talk about exploring a reality is deliberately obscure. The aim being to cow the listener into obedience, like the swaying cobra. This is the language that a writer is forced to learn if he is to be heard.

And yes, we can lament, as the book market is chewed to shards by the jaws of industry and novelty; we can rail against the commercialism, the constraint, the books unpublished -unheard of even, the profiteers, the agents, the academy -for being so weak, the buying habits of overworked parents, the mismanagement of schools, the weather, and even the era in which we are born. But you don't judge the cargo based on the ship that carries it. If it sinks, the gold is still gold.

So let nobody say that this acquiescence to the desolate language of technology is somehow an artistic project, a necessity of purpose. Let nobody blame his ineffectuality on his constant pandering to his audience, the buyers, the consumers, access enthusiasts.

I've noticed that writing about culture is becoming almost as common as golf. If you were to try and amalgamate all of these countless reports, this data, you'd get quite a mess. In seeing the entirety of the mess, however, you might glean a thing or two about this era in which we live. The fact of the mess of opinion, its presence as a mess, tells us that there is too much damn opinion. What else is Twitter if not a rather crude yet effective form of social commentary? Twitter exists for no real purpose, other than to channel this twin urge: to know and be seen. It is easy to sustain something that lacks a purpose, it's far from taxing.

Aimless boredom leads to speculation, but not serious speculation; to dabbling, but not with any surety of intent. If the author put as much energy into writing as he did into getting the interview, he might have written something better than Life of Pi, a novel that amounted to an awkward wedding of Treasure Island with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. If I have seemingly singled out Yann Martel, he's far from alone, the symptom of a trend, a case number.

Sometimes this fervently idle opining reaches a fever pitch through which words are no longer discernible. It is not left to the author to try and shout into the blizzard, sometimes thinking people need to know when to go to ground.

Even if he looks like he could be an uncomfortably life-like mannequin in a department store, Stephen Harper may actually possess more of this seriousness than Martel. The latter is a clown who doesn't know it, the former a trickster who does. I wouldn't be surprised if Harper had a little laugh about it, every time he was told he had received a letter he would never read. I can picture him with a glass of fine cognac in a comfortable chair, a roaring fire of paperbacks casting a cheery light.

The artist's influence on the political is never through mere "dialoging."