Tuesday, May 09, 2006
TRYING TO USE OUR WOMEN'S PARTS
Out here on the uncharted spiral arm of the great golden Horseshoe, I've just got wind of all of the ugliness going down recently in certain parts of the Toronto literary scene, and in particular, some ad hominem nastiness.
I have always appreciated the enthusiasm, creativity, commitment, intelligence, and lively centre that the Toronto scene has represented for me since I first moved to Toronto and enrolled at York University when I was 17.
Heck, in my first creative writing class I had Kevin Connolly, Jason Sherman, Julia Steinecke, and Cathy Steadman. And, oh yeah, bpNichol was teaching. Stu Ross was over at the school paper typesetting while having discussions with people. Frank Davey, in my second year, suggested that I head down with a little chapbook I'd made to the forerunner of "The Toronto Small Press Fair," which was called "Meet the Presses" and which Nick Power and Stu Ross had organized. It was a discovery of community for me. Of writers who became my peers and who inspired me. Of writers who introduced me to worlds of writing, publishing, and ideas. There was lots of writers whose writing I didn't really like. I had lots of discussions, but I don't remember anything being nasty, bilious, or vitriolic.
The goal of criticism is to be insightful not spiteful. It is to inspire more informed and better writing. It is to open up the possibilities and to engage the issues. Arguments should be won through intelligent discussion. And I don't buy the idea that anyone, no matter how brilliant or convinced of their correctness, should consider themselves the arbitor of "objective" quality. It doesn't exist.
This doesn't mean that everything is entirely relative. One can articulate one's preferences, one's strongly held aesthetics. The discussion doesn't have to be namby-pamby, where everyone gets blandly patted on the back. But what has to be implicit is everyone's right to respect, to their own right to try to create what they value, to their own right to succeed or fail as best as they can.
Hurtful, boorish, bullying behaviour isn't the same as clear-eyed, forthright, articulate, and courageous criticism. I'm objectively sure of that.
One can "pull oneself up by one's own bootstraps." One can also "hang oneself."
But I don't believe in pariahs. Even if someone want to be. It's just not helpful. For anyone.
Once, when my wife was pregnant, she went to see the Doctor. The doctor examined her and then he pronounced, "Dear, you've got an infection in your woman's parts."
"Oh," my wife exclaimed. "You mean my brain?"