Ultimately, by dismissing student activists as being intolerant snowflakes, commentators can avoid engaging with the arguments that these activists make. These are arguments that the commentator might disagree with, that they might find unsettling, that they might … well, be triggered by. The commentator can also avoid acknowledging (much less trying to rectify) social inequalities.
The way in which Polites has readied himself to write the novel could explain his exquisitely understated, tight prose. He disappears briefly, returning with a shoebox packed with loose sheets and slips of paper. There were hundreds of individual pieces, some scribbled on receipts, others on torn scraps of lined exercise books, and everything in between – clearly the first writable material, snatched whenever inspiration has abruptly taken him. He gestures to the nearest wall. ‘I’ll arrange them all there, and then I’ll cut them into a story. The one for Down The Hume filled up the whole wall. Like literally a satellite map. There’s a narrative underneath all that, and that forms.’
The audiologist might ask you how you feel about spending three grand on a set of hearing aids, and you might tell them you intend to explore other options, such as getting more of your sonic satisfaction from words. To find a new way of appreciating sound without bothering my ears, I began to assemble the list of what might be called Sonic Fiction, the Literature of the Ear, or the Noisy Novel. And Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, a novel saturated with sound and explicitly concerned with hearing and listening, comes very close to taking the title of ‘the noisiest novel ever’.
The benefits of women taking and using their authentic voices to tell their stories from a place of authority are far-reaching and largely very positive. But when we box women writers into a selective space that disallows exploration of themes, subjects, and topics outside of memoir, we open the door to women writers only to shut them into the foyer.
Davis has been called, dismissively, ‘a writer’s writer’s writer’, which gives the impression that her work exists somewhere on the ethereal edges of what can be enjoyed by the average person. It’s true that Davis’s prose is often very close to poetry in its meticulous attention to the verbal. But to dismiss this kind of writing as gratuitously abstruse, available only to other writers, is to ignore the true gift that Davis gives us in her work: the gift of noticing, or ‘vigilance’, as one of her Booker-prize judges called it.
While houseplant culture is structured, in some ways, around highly conspicuous consumption (of pre-arranged pairings of designer pots and plants, sold at a suitable premium) and the chasing of trends, plants themselves can never be compelled to hold meaning in the way that man-made objects do. In a global marketplace teeming with functional alternatives, Warby Parker glasses or Nike sneakers or Gorman dresses gain, and threaten to lose, their cachet primarily based on what they signify – they are, as Patterson would put it, ‘complicated by questions of style’. Natural objects can never entirely fall in or out of fashion, in part because their forms both predate and will outlast us, and in part because they were never created ‘for’ us in the first place.
What do our choices (our likes) – as writers now, as makers – say, if anything, about how we see the world? In other words, do preferences around style speak to the ontologies to which we subscribe, knowingly or not? Does style (in the broadest sense here) betray our most pressing existential worries, our particular way of squirming and daring? And, as an upshot, does what we experience as the spoken or unspoken rules of writing (or of particular writing enclaves and positions on writing) have anything to do with power and politics?
What did Christina Stead see when, in 1930, she left Paris – largely to avoid meeting the mother-in-law of her de-facto partner, William Blech, who, awkwardly, was married to someone else – for Salzburg, Austria, in order to attend a festival devoted to the work of Mozart, that city’s most famous son? The Salzburg Tales, published four years later, was based largely on her time there, and that book’s first word discloses to us in terms that could not be more literal what Stead saw when she arrived: ‘Salzburg’.
While my generation grew up with 50 choices in the yoghurt aisle and encouragement of our individuality and personal freedom, we also grew up with the message of Disney films and romcoms and every manner of heteronormative texts which promised a particular ideal, that one day you would make the choice and would commit fully and become everything to one other person.