Over the past few of weeks, Mom and Dad have been fighting in literary cyberspace. Notably, in her article for The New Republic, “What Jonathan Franzen Misunderstands About Me”, Jennifer Weiner responds to statements Franzen made in his article for The Guardian, What’s Wrong With the Modern World.
In his article Franzen expresses opinions on many things, including Macs vs PCs, how bad Twitter is for us, and the looming literary apocalypse that will be brought on by Amazon. He tells us that, “In my own little corner of the world, which is to say American fiction, Jeff Bezos of Amazon may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen. Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion.”
While I don’t agree with Franzen’s dark assessment of Amazon, as a writer/software engineer who works with other software engineers as well as those who manage the often narrow vision of software engineers, I welcome his reflection on the technological ‘advances’ that change our world. We should talk about them. We should argue about them. Some make things better, but others definitely make things worse. (I personally am still mourning the loss of the more aesthetic iPhone icons that were cast into oblivion by iOS7.)
But I am dismayed when Franzen gets personal and goes on to paint a picture of impending gloom and doom that includes physical books going on the endangered species list, responsible reviewers going extinct, the end of the Big Six publishers, and, perhaps the ultimate horror, literary novelists conscripted into “Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion”.
Jennifer Weiner takes offense at this, and rightly so. She comes out swinging in her response when she says, “…Franzen bemoaned high-class writers like Salman Rushdie succumbing to Twitter. The literary world, Franzen lamented, rewards ‘yakkers’ and ‘braggers.’ Not even his peers are safe, not with prestigious writers being ‘conscripted’ into ‘Jennifer Weiner-ish’ self promotion. The horror! The horror! The … oh. Wait. Never mind.”
The horror indeed. Go Jennifer!
The Franzen/Weiner dustup was quickly eclipsed by another Internet debacle, this time courtesy of David Gilmour.
In case you hadn’t heard, David Gilmour (the novelist and literature professor at the University of Toronto, not David Gilmour the guitarist for Pink Floyd) recently stirred up a firestorm in an interview with Emily M. Keeler for ShelfEsteem, when he said:
“I’m not interested in teaching books by women….What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.”
Of course, Gilbert has his defenders. In an article for Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente makes this point, “Frankly, I was surprised and glad to learn that there remains one small testosterone-safe zone at U of T (although I guess it’s not safe any more). As anyone who’s set foot on campus in the past 30 years ought to know, courses in guy-guy writers are vastly outnumbered by courses in women writers, queer writers, black writers, colonial writers, postcolonial writers, Canadian writers, indigenous writers, Caribbean, African, Asian and South Asian writers, and various sub- and sub-subsets of the above.”
Fair enough, but in saying that he only teaches the authors he loves, none of whom are female, Gilmour is implying that women authors don’t quite measure up to the great male ones.
I am so sick of that. And I can’t dismiss his dismissive remarks.
Randy Susan Meyers addresses this aptly in her post for Beyond the Margins when she says, “Dismissive remarks against women writers make sense in the context of men (consciously or not) guarding their places in line, those hoping to enter the realm of becoming a canonical writer.”
In rising to his own defense in an interview with the National Post Gilmour offers this as an excuse : “This was an interview I gave sort of over the shoulder. I was having a conversation, in French, with a colleague while this young woman was doing this interview. So these were very much tossed-off remarks. which makes no sense, but whatever … there’s a guy in the room talking to you in French, you’re more concerned about your French accent than you are in actuality [with] what you’re saying to her, and what happens is you get careless with the interpretation the words might have.”
I don’t like to see someone vilified and derided based on a few remarks, but Gilmour should have been thinking about what he was saying to HER. I can’t help but conclude that he took the interview about as seriously as he takes women writers. And that makes the ensuing result poetic justice.
Though there is certainly more to all this than the cyber-bytes we digest via social media, I’m disappointed that apparently Franzen can’t talk about what is wrong with the modern world without dissing Jennifer Weiner. And I’m disappointed as well that Gilmour can’t talk about his love for certain great male writers without dissing just about every female writer on the planet – except for Virginia Woolf. Still, I want to believe that this wrangling, sniping, and bitter debate will eventually result in an equal platform for all writers. So rather than end on a divisive note, I’ll close with “Us and Them”, a song by the group that contains the ‘other’ David Gilmour.