In the dark old days of Mao’s China, erring party disciples would, if they were exceptionally lucky, be made to write self-criticisms. In these documents, the straying member of the flock would abase themselves, detail their crimes against the collective and swear to be a better and truer comrade in the future. For all I know, this sort of thing still goes on.
In the short life of this blog, I find I have urinated copiously from the lofty internet heights on Robert Frost, Inga Clendinnen, Nick Hornby, Francis Collins, Emma Beare, Don DeLillo, Ron Rash, Madeleine St John, Andrew Porter, Bret Easton Ellis, Margaret Atwood, Norman McGreevy, Michael Leunig, Colleen McCullough, J D Salinger (the day after he died), Bryce Courtenay and Tim Winton. Well over twenty per cent of my posts, in other words, have been more or less slavering attacks.
The tables must turn, however. In the interests of fairness, I’m going to have a go at me. Ladies and gentlemen, the scorpion is about to sting himself. Let the Mao-style self-criticism begin. I direct this not to Mao, but to George Orwell, whose Politics and the English Language is and shall always be my final guide to writing. The idea of taking up a totalitarian epistolary notion and directing it at Orwell is grievously inappropriate, but I can’t resist. Continue reading
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Tagged Andrew Porter, Bad Writing, Bret Easton Ellis, Bryce Courtenay, China, Colleen McCullough, Communism, Don DeLillo, Emma Beare, Francis Collins, George Orwell, Inga Clendinnen, J D Salinger, Madeleine St John, Mao Zedong, Margaret Atwood, Michael Leunig, Nick Hornby, Norman McGreevy, Philosophy, Politics and the English Language, Robert Frost, Ron Rash, Tim Winton, Totalitarianism, Writing
Some books become classics in spite of themselves.
The most outstanding example of this strange phenomenon is without doubt Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Moby Dick (let me spare you the trouble and the agony of reading it) is a very interesting short story about obsession. But, for some reason, Melville decided it would be even better if it was sandwiched between a laughably obsolete encyclopaedia on whales and a very boring how-to guide to whaling.
The author of another classic-that-isn’t, J. D. Salinger, died this week. He was 91.
Salinger is best known, of course, for The Catcher in the Rye, a book you’ve probably been forced to read at some time in your schooling. The AFP called it a ‘seminal’ book, which ‘lent a voice to the angst and despair felt by generations of rebellious adolescents.’
To this I say: bollocks.
Since seminal means ‘containing or contributing to the seeds of later development’, I suppose we can let that one go, only pausing to mourn the fact that Catcher led to some sort of literary movement. But ‘lent a voice to the angst and despair felt by generations of rebellious adolescents’?
I don’t know about you, but the last people on the planet I want to hear in full voice are angsty and rebellious adolescents. Mostly because they all sound a lot like Holden Caulfield, the narrator of The Catcher in the Rye. You’ve met them: they’re the ones alone in the corner at a party, muttering under their breath that ‘everyone’s shit, the music’s shit, the wine’s shit and… and it’s so lame having lollies at, like, a party, y’know.’ Continue reading