People are challenging all-male panels on political talk shows but what about men-only arts reviews? Angela Carter or Carson McCullers are seen as marginal for writing mainly about women, but if William Golding writes only about men, he can win a Nobel prize without anyone even noticing. J D Salinger is a genius for writing Catcher in the Rye but it meant very little to me. McCullers’ Member of the Wedding is a female growing-up novel, in my opinion more interesting and with more depth, and it’s ignored.
Authenticity means real things happening to real men, preferably in the American southwest or Glasgow. I think it stems from the machismo of the Old Testament stream of American writers such as Steinbeck and Hemingway, along with their outdated view of the world, passed onto Dirty Realism like a virus and thriving in Scottish literature. Male experience, especially war, prison life or manual work, is privileged as ‘real’. Why is this more authentic than childbirth, abortion or old age? One in six births used to kill the mother – why is it not ‘heroic’ like combat?
Chekhov, the Godfather of Dirty Realism, said emotions should not be discussed directly. Why not? Isn’t it the equivalent of ‘oh god, she wants to talk about the relationship. Must go and work on the car’.
I do enjoy this type of writing – well, not Steinbeck and Hemingway so much – but people are being taught on creative writing courses that adjectives and adverbs are verboten. Every language I’ve yet come across seems to have adjectives so they must fulfil some human need. For colour, for description. There’s more to life than plot.
Isn’t there room for the odd purple patch, for more variety in literature, than one that sees male, primarily American, life as the norm and everything else as marginal? Without diversity literature is drab as a room full of suits.