The novel is dead: Long live the novel

I think it was Will Self who in the past has made several claims the novel is dead, usually when he is publicizing his latest novel? He is not alone. Many have said something similar, often for a similar reason. It’s an old rort. The look at me novelist engaging in a little self-flagellation over his chosen craft – the novel – following up with, and here look at my latest – you got it – novel.

I believe in the slow novel. The slow-dying novel. Perhaps the problem is not that the novel is dead, rather we are being ‘entertained’ by as good as brain or industry or novel-dead novelists or ‘deader than deader’ bought novelists. It’s not entirely their fault – they have been led down through this novel is dead garden path so long they couldn’t help but drink at the poisoned novel is dead well – lured there by you got it – money for the next novel.

We still live in an age of publishing which is owned and controlled largely by giant mixed-media conglomerates using consolidation-techniques of the late 20th century dribbling over into now in publishing that seems to have a project to kill off diversity in publishing.

Using the constricted market, the consolidated conglomerate run industry has been made easier business – fewer less diverse products, selling way more copies of each un-diverse novel, creating their ‘stars’ who weave the same old same un-diverse old rope you find in any shopwindow of limited product-range where variety is only now a word on a magazine cover.

What would happen if new-well-developed craft appeared on the front bookshop-paid-for-by-conglomerates table. Would readers have a nervous breakdown?

Instead of fewer and fewer choices by fewer and fewer voices which logically will one day be one – one publisher with one author on one table with a zillion books – the same book sold over and over and over for centuries. Sound good? It does to me. All that free time not having to say: when am I going to read a book again? I read it! Ten years ago. What a relief!

My once doctoral research looked at the period when digitisation once offered a chance at democratisation over the oldie-big-corporation-run publishing industry.

The big players killed off one such possible – Gemstar. The owner – Yuen. Where is he now BTW? He didn’t look the history of Allen Lane – psst drop the price – but Yuen didn’t look or didn’t hear.

Maybe he was too busy being cosyied up to – and cosying up himself to them of course – hearing one or more of the big players say with a smile: come in on old boy. It’s seductive – money for the new novel. Have a chair in our club where the good old boys and girls enveloped Mr Gemstar with ideas of ebooks and ereaders as luxury-items. Leave it to us old boy to run the market and it will flock to you, old boy.

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2002/oct/09/newscorporation.rupertmurdoch

p99 ‘Publishing: Principles and Practice’ Sage Publications UK 2011

What noise does a Penguin make? Let’s all sound like Penguins for a moment – in 1935. 6p of Penguin chanting in old money. Not six shillings for old hard covers. Allen Lane ‘the bugger that ruined the trade’ – who made the paperback boom. And did it boom – like a thousand penguins in the snow and ice arriving at the ocean. The paperback which we all grew to love and carry around everywhere. We love hardcovers too of course – but could we as well have grown to love an ebook that stood for democratised literature?

And so with the not so new digital now not so great industry the offshoot of paperbacks that once dominated the market and used the word – democratisation –  then – democratisation of information – small companies springing up all over the auction – only to dry up and become only Amazon and Apple – in the main – and bingo the digital revolution which supported literary ideas-of-reader-choice – as any endangered species in any jungle you care to roam into has to be supported or dies from neglect or poisoning or will die – shot between the eyes – under the reasoning ‘let’s make it all a smaller more manageable-market with the management-cry of more profit yes for us. Good old boys and good old girls’ culturally watching over – you got it – the endangered – nearly dead and or dying novel.

A Rainy Day in New York

From the moment in Annie Hall when he led Marshall McLuhan out from behind a film hoarding in a New York cinema I have been a huge fan of Woody Allen. He is America’s best writer director of ensemble urban comedies – truly a unique filmmaker.

Joe Strummer and I ran the ’83 London Marathon together

Joe Strummer April ’83

The Selvedge Yard writes:

“Believe it or not – Joe Strummer actually ran the London marathon in 1983. “I didn’t fuckin’ train. Not once. Just turned up and did it,” Strummer said. His keep-fit regime for success– “Drink 10 pints of beer the night before the race. Ya got that? And don’t run a single step at least 4 weeks before the race.” Got it, Joe…”

Well Selvedge – Believe it or not I ran the London Marathon with him – only I needed a beer so ran on ahead getting to the finishing line and over to Earl’s Court an hour earlier – finishing at 3hrs and 3 minutes.

I didn’t train either … tho’ I did for another one six months earlier

… I heard the Clash were running out of steam and wanted to give some moral support …

… Well partly not true. I didn’t know we were in the same stream of humanity on that given day – tho’ always liked them & their music … London Calling and all that … but then who gives a fuck about me and that … One day I might run the LM again …

Just so I can say Lou Alba died right here on this spot on the road which Joe Strummer ran over too … R.I.P. Joe

CEO – Crass Enervating Oligarchic

For believers in “anything” – creed – philosophy – watching DT’s puerile trumped-up religiosity demonstrates how scoured empty his mind is. I would call it utter desperation if I thought his brain could understand his own condition. This takes U.S. ‘politics’ to a new nadir – a slow-motion slow-brain insult to all intelligent reasonable human beings.

Exposure by Robert Bilott

Robert Bilott’s ‘auto-documentary’ book, Exposure, on Du Pont’s chemical pollution in Parkersburg, West Virginia, is a sobering look at the immorality of corporate America of recent times. In a searing study of how greed drives so much economic activity in America these days, Robert Bilott’s personally and legally revealing work was first made known to me when I recently saw the film Dark Waters – a Todd Hayes (directed) and Mark Ruffalo (produced and lead role acted) – a fine film, worthy of several nominations in this year Hollywood hoopla round. It received none BTW. I think we get the picture.

Bilott’s book tells us the whole story. It begins with Rob Bilott’s ‘unusual’ jumping the fence from his law firm’s usual corporate defence work to take on a plaintiff’s case for an angry lone quite desperate West Virginia farmer, Earl Tennant, who contacted him, then showed up at his office carrying a mountain of evidence.

What Rob Bilott discovered demonstrated how Du Pont had been for years dumping poisonous waste from its Washington Works plant at Parkersburg, West Virginia, into landfills which leached into rivers, streams and ponds, killing cattle and compromising the health of many inhabitants in a wide area around the Parkersburg plant. 

His book is a story of corporate harm, demonstrating the casual and arrogant and quite ugly ease with which a powerful corporation can engage in immoral practices in the name of business as usual. Initially rebuffed by Du Pont, Bilott convinced the courts to order the company to agree to setting up an independent scientific investigation into the potential harm done by a chemical PFOA, that Du Pont used for many products, famously in Teflon, a huge worldwide profit source and spinner for the firm. 

After years of waiting for results from an exhaustive scientific study of the blood samples of nearly 70,000 people in the immediate and surrounding areas, the appointed scientific panel finally came back with findings of clear probable cause links to several major life threatening and life-altering diseases and conditions. The ruined natural water and piped-water supplies meant that many were already suffering, some dying, from these diseases and conditions. 

This story is as stunning as it has been breathtaking, a jury finally finding for a class civil action against the company – who put up a fierce and at times devious public relations & legal defence – with the plaintiffs awarded a 670 million dollar settlement against Du Pont. Du Pont appealed and appealed then in the face of the evidence folded and accepted the jury’s decision. 

This whole immoral if not statutorily felonious ‘environmental crime’ was aided and abetted by the EPA who worked in tandem with Du Pont to obfuscate and hide key facts of a chemical dumping program from the public, while Du Pont carried on its harmful activities for years, abusing the basic trust its economic stranglehold over the small community provided, where they were the town’s main employer, knowing full well all along that PFOA was an extremely dangerous substance for all life forms. 

So in summary, a fine book and a very necessary read for people who want clean land, air and water and a reasonable chance at living life without corporations poisoning them or providing them with cancer. Also for anyone who believes that honest and accountable corporate activities are a necessary right for individuals in any properly managed and democratically governed society in the 21st century. 

Without Earl Tennant bringing this to Robert Bilott’s attention and Bilott deciding to take the career risk of bringing this civil action on behalf of Earl and many others, for so many stress-filled years of his life, we may never have even heard about Du Pont’s malfeasance.

(In a run up to the class-action trial, Du Pont spun off its Washington Works plant into a new company, Chemours, in a technique many companies use to limit financial damage by placing the offending product range under another firm, that can easily be tipped in bankruptcy thus preventing a payout. After years of seeing how Du Pont operated Robert Bilott was ready for the legal tactic.)

Exposure

Reading Robert Bilott’s ‘Exposure’ on Du Pont’s chemical pollution in Parkersburg, West Virginia, the book in giving a great deal of legal and personal background to the story in the film Dark Waters (see below), answered a question that came to me while seeing the film: why wasn’t Bilott removed from his Ohio corporate law firm particularly as corporate defence was its main bread and butter?

I wondered how Du Pont’s power didn’t trump Bilott’s personal and moral interest in the plight of one farmer, Wilbur Earl Tennant, by simply pulling strings to give the crusading lawyer an offer he couldn’t refuse. Get out of town boyo, now. They tried. More power to Rob for his courage and dedication, and to Earl of course who started the whole process.

Rob Bilott in jumping the fence to take the plaintiff’s side against Du Pont uncovers an ugly story of corporate harm done to the community of Parkersburg and surrounding populations. The casual and arrogant ease with which this immensely powerful and rich corporation lied and cheated and eventually killed people in the pursuit of profit is as stunning as it was breathtaking (pun intended).

Working in tandem with weak and complicit authorities to hide the facts of a chemical dumping program, Du Pont knowingly carried on its ‘corporate crime’ for years and years, poisoning water supplies, the air and earth, abusing the basic trust its economic stranglehold over the small community provided by economic default, placing a virtual muzzle on anyone who dared question its activities. And I am still only half way through…more later, COVID-19 lockdown giving me valuable reading time.

Dark Waters

As a filmmaker and writer everything I saw and heard in Dark Waters was pitch perfect for me. Is this the point when an already very, very good filmmaker makes something so significant it and he cannot be ignored? On my one viewing I would say definitely yes. So, how did Todd Haynes, and the cast and crew, not receive any Oscar nominations? The answer to that is unfortunately in the film itself.

Mark Ruffalo is exceptional as the initially unsure advocate (should I, shouldn’t I take this case?) the reluctant hero turning crusading lawyer travelling deeper into the lies and cover up world of Du Pont’s immoral practices, as he takes them on in the courts. The journey is long and far from easy.

Based on the New York Times Magazine’s “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich, the story is real, the deaths associated with teflon and the poisoned waters from chemical spill run-off are countable, coupled to another important fact—the film narrative is so well managed and un-histrionic in its style and delivery that it makes watching dramatic and very affecting.

The mantra told often to us by lecturers in JD units: a lawyer reads, that’s what a lawyer does’ hit home as I watched the many boxes of incriminating documents and records being wheeled into Mark Ruffalo’s (Rob Bilott’s) law offices.

How was Bilott not removed from his firm? It’s to my relief and all our benefit that he kept his position and kept on fighting the actions. A roomful of long applause for all involved.

Stanley’s say

I recently saw Stanley Tucci’s 1964 Paris set Final Portrait, with Geoffrey Rush playing the lead, artist, painter Alberto Giacometti.

Not much happens in terms of the old story plot nexus but a lot goes on.

Verdict: Wonderful film, brilliantly observed. Great cast and script. Funny ironic tender sad cruel. Bring on more Stanley. 9/10

I’d give it ten out of ten but no films hit that high for me. Music, painting, literature, yes. Films, no. Too many departments, too many hands on deck for something not to go wrong somewhere.

Europe & Freedom of Movement

As Brexit continues morphing out over the coming months, I think we should begin sharing experiences of what it has been like to live in and freely travel around Europe before our rights disappear. The ‘good’ the young of Britain in particular are about to lose.

Automatic right to be and travel inside Europe without a visa, attend universities, work without foreigner status conditions, to learn languages, share in the life as citizens of Europe with equal rights.

What the Europe Union does so well is not to look towards obvious economic stimulants as bridges to future social, cultural and economic activity, but to social and cultural stimulants, which when aggregated from individual life-changing experiences multiply in exponential societal ways, not only across Europe but across the world. Europe is a civil and cultural force unlike any other.

Here is an early pre-FOM personal European experience, before freedom of movement was instituted, but giving reason to why it is so good for societies and individuals.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The ancient Odeon, built by Herod Atticus 161 AD, situated at the foot of the rock of the Acropolis with the Parthenon as a backdrop. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus written up by Vernon Kidd in the New York Times, describing a 1981 Athenian summer component in a plethora of Europe-wide festivals, The Athens Festival awaiting travellers… “plays of Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes … presented by the National Theater of Greece, the Amphi-Theater, the Art Theater and Northern Greece State Theater. Tickets: from $1.20 to $6. July 5 to Sept. 25.” As Kidd’s NY times article detailed, Ancient Greek theatre in the ancient Odeon was only a small part of a Europe-wide extravaganza of arts festivals in the summer of 1981.

So, unaware of any of the above, one hot early July ’81 evening I wandered up the road from my Plaka hotel to the Acropolis, this young filmmaker then resident of Hong Kong. As darkness gathered, I sat myself on a wall to take in the dusk scene at a spot overlooking the lit-up Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre. A rehearsal was going on way down below. Intrigued very quickly by what I saw, I hiked down the hill to find out what it was I was watching. A poster outside the Odeon announced the Athens Summer Festival’s showing of The Acharnians by Aristophanes. Had I see an Aristophanes play before? No.

I returned to my hotel and the next day bought a ticket for the play at a ticket outlet – (prices of the day ranging from $1.20 to $6). I found a Penguin translation of the play in a bookshop, read it, and no wiser I have to say set off a night later to see the performance.

The Acharnians was first performed in 426 BC. A strident anti-war play it is credited with being the oldest staged Greek comedy. I didn’t know what to expect because the Penguin translation did not make anything clear. Still, I had seen the rehearsal. That was enough. The play itself would do the rest.

The Odeon theatre is an extraordinary space, but on a hot July summer night it is other-worldly. The night air made translucent by light was alive with what looked like tiny floating tips of flowers, rising in the warm air all throughout the amphitheatre. In jeans, t-shirt, sandals surrounded by Greeks in evening dress I felt a rank outsider. Yet nobody cared.

What truly resonates with me most, nearly forty years later, is how an ancient play, interpreted, performed and directed as it was, was soon so relevant for a 1981 audience. Filled with dance, mime, mask, and music, George Kounis’ (or Kouns’) production lifted me off my seat. This was not a stilted play from Ancient Greece, a production I remembered too well from university productions. The Penguin translation was swept from my mind.

Dicæopolis, a native of Acharnæ and an ex-soldier returns disillusioned from the Persian wars, heartsick at the miseries and stupidities of the conflict. Not shy in making his views known, with earthy gestures he rails against fellow citizens, while a chorus of startled, indignant citizens in white masks, odd hats and fantastic bed square sewn quilt costumes, rush in dance formation from one side of the stage to the other, all to a cacophony of startling music and sound effects, remonstrating with him and each other. The audience was in stitches inside minutes. I didn’t understand a word yet understood everything.

As a writer it is hard to communicate the effect this experience has had on me: the hot July night, the western world’s most ancient comedy, the mime, dance, costume, design and performances, Greeks all around me ‘rolling in aisles’, the old director helped on stage after the performance – I felt as if theatre itself, not only the ancient Greek concept of  ‘spectacle,’ had finally been made clear to me.

Athen_Odeon_Herodes_Atticus_BW_2017-10-09_13-12-44

photograph by and courtesy of Berthold Werner 2017

Ian McEwan’s article on Brexit

The future is dead. Long live the glorious past.

b3-dq886_mcewan_p_20190409113522-1https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/feb/01/brexit-pointless-masochistic-ambition-history-done

I don’t usually republish articles but Ian McEwan’s Guardian piece, Brexit, the most pointless, masochistic ambition in our country’s history, is done, deserves our thanks.

Take a bow all inside the inner-office cabal of getting brexit done. You couldn’t have done better if you had lined up Britain’s young against a wall. In terms of self-annihilation Brexit ranks with Napoléon’s march into Russia.