Tag Archives: Writers

Literary populism – my ‘soul of arrogance’

[Edit 10/05/07 – Mr. Wright has been good enough to apologise in reply to my response on his LJ, which makes the following look astonishingly childish and petulant with hindsight. I leave it here as a lesson for myself, and consider this matter closed.]


Oh dear. It looks like my rapidly written little rant from yesterday has upset John C. Wright:

“I cannot join Mr. Raven in the idea that it is mean or wrong-headed to have standards, or that it is somehow cruel to have high standards. I can admire things I cannot appreciate.”


As I mentioned in my comment left in reply, I never said that. Or at least I never meant to; I know I wrote that piece rather quickly (and not in the best of tempers), but a few re-readings fails to show me the point where I said that it was wrong to have standards. I did (and still do) say that projecting your personal standards onto others is an act of elitism, and (as was the entire point of my original post) that elitism very effectively puts people off reading classic literature.

But it appears the problem is that I have entirely misunderstood the nature of elitism. Let’s allow Mr. Wright to explain:

“The sixth reason is that it takes humility to be an elitist, whereas being a populist is the soul of arrogance. An elitist, someone who likes great books because they are great, not because he likes them, is as humble as a mountaineer standing before a titanic, mysterious, unclimbed peak. To climb that mountain is work, at least at first, we all agree. But once you have achieved the summit, and all the world is under your heel, how far you can see! What things those content with lower perspectives will not view! The humility of a mountaineer is this: he does not think of himself as he climbs, he thinks of the rock under this fingers and toes. He did not make the mountain, he is not the one who piled it up. That is the work of former years, previous generations, so to speak.

The populist, on the other hand, looks in the mirror, and seeing only his own little self dressed in his own little circles’ little fashion, preens and says he is as large as the mountain. Who can actually prove he is taller than me? (says the populist) “By my measuring rod I have invented for myself this day, I say I am taller! My taste is just as good as his. He likes the Venus de Milo, and I like Charlie’s Angels It’s the same. He reads HAMLET, I read GREEN EGGS AND HAM. To each his own!” “

Hmmm. Well, that’s me set straight. I regularly use the phrase “to each their own”, never knowing that I was actually being sweepingly arrogant to others by doing so – evidently I should have been ramming my own opinions down their throats as gospel. I wondered why my career as a reviewer and critic was moving so slowly …

Luckily, most of Mr. Wright’s supporters have had the humility to lambaste me in the privacy of his Livejournal; how shameful it would have been to be bearded in my populist’s den by such bold mountain climbers, here, in front of all those who know my populism and shelter beneath it in shame at their own lack of humility!

The one bit I still don’t get is why he called his post ‘The Judgement of Paris’. I mean, how can one be judged by a city?

Still stalking Sterling – what is a spime?

Those of you who play the “VCTB Bruce Sterling drinking game” had best steel yourselves to down your beer in one.

This time round we have the inimitable Sterling on video at the Google campus, pitching a collaboration to a dissappointingly empty and unresponsive room. He’s talking about two concepts he mentions a lot these days: ‘spimes‘ and ‘the Internet of Things‘.

And this isn’t just some blind fanboy linkage, oh no. This is worth watching for sf writers, readers and critics – because not only is the concept of the Internet of Things definitely sf-nal, but also because Sterling talks about how difficult it is for an sf writer to imagine interfaces for the ideas they create. It ties together design, technology and fiction in one pitch. The other guy doing the presentation is a rather dull speaker, so you may wish to skip through him to Sterling’s ‘Q&A’* at the end, but if you have the time I’d recommend you watch it all.

[* Actually less of a Q&A than a pitch extension, as only two people have questions – not that Sterling’s going to let that stop him putting out the message.]

Iain M. Banks returns to the Culture

Great news via Big Dumb Object – the next Iain M. Banks novel is scheduled for release next February.

It’s set in the Culture (which was revealed a little while ago, IIRC), and will be called Matter (apparently just to annoy internet people, as that was the working title for Steep Approach to Garbadale).

According to BDO, the sample the man himself read out had all the usual IMB goodness we have come to expect. There’s a reason to look forward to the new year – as far as I’m concerned, the release of an Iain M. Banks novel should be treated as just cause for national holiday.

Banks holiday weekend, anyone?

OK, I’ll get my coat.