This post can also be read on my Substack, Stray Bulletin.
My resolution this year is to write in a slightly more disciplined, less sporadic manner, and to use the internet to cultivate a space for the things I write – which is to say, I mean to publish more and react less. It’s a familiar resolution; I’ve made it many times before, and it is terribly difficult to keep. Social media is designed to facilitate chain reactions. It sustains great Mexican waves of anger, commiseration or jubilance. When I give in to frustration and respond to that which frustrates me, it can generate a fire that lasts for days and I’m suddenly, in a small way, at the center of a conversation. Similarly, on those occasions when I have good news, I’m guaranteed to be kept busy accepting people’s good wishes.
But publicising work and disciplined writing of any kind is much more of a gamble. Lacking a habit or a formula, I find it impossible to draw any conclusions from the results: sometimes a thing burns faintly for a while, often it sits unattended. Very quickly, I grow bored with the project of attracting attention. I’m interested in making a kind of public garden, and contact and exchange with others, but not in producing objects for admiring. But then, as far as I can tell, that is what people (in the main) desire from writing published on the internet, or on social media at least: something to admire, which asks only that you perceive its glimmer.
Why do I have an aversion to glimmering? Something to do with thieves, foxes, rats, ruins, and all those other dank things I admire.
Sandsnarl is currently on sale for £4 at the Emma Press shop, until the end of the month. That’s the same price as I paid yesterday to send one of the last copies of Scarecrows to the US. Unfortunately, I made nothing out of that sale, since I didn’t charge postage and Scarecrows also costs £4.
It’s nearly 20 years since Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won Best Actress and Best Actor at the Oscars, with Sidney Poitier receiving an honorary award. At the time, John Cleese was quoted as saying, “It actually felt as if something in society shifted.”
And did it? Is racism significantly less of a blight today than it was then? Vanity Fair hosted a party on the night of the awards, and their write-up begins thusly:
In one corner of the room, Hugh Grant whispers in Nicole Kidman’s ear. She giggles. Nearby, Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke greet Gwyneth Paltrow. Salman Rushdie huddles with his girlfriend, model Padma Lakshmi. A grinning Ron Perelman has his arm around Ellen Barkin, who is decked out in diamonds. Rupert Murdoch weighs an Oscar in his hand …
‘It seems everybody is here,’ says Rushdie. Nearby, Elvis Costello talks with friends as Mickey Rourke approaches Chloe Sevigny. Model Sophie Dahl, in a sparkly dress, smokes a cigarette as Hanks breezes through.
Whether Rushdie really used those words or not, the sentiment ‘everybody is here’ is extremely telling. The notion that racism could be dispelled by giving awards to black actors is only realistic so far as we believe in the possibility of benevolent rule by these few. As long as there is a representative mixture of people at the party – people who count – then society is moving forward, the logic goes.
But at the root of inequality is the fact that most people, most of the time, do not count. We are not guests at the party. That’s not to say that there’s nothing momentous about occasions when awards culture catches up, but these are aftershocks at best. The real work goes on at ground level, and is performed by networks of activists, educators, artists and workers. Their goal, and ours, must ultimately be to redistribute power in such a way that no elite gathering can think of themselves as constituting ‘everyone’. It would help in reaching that point if we were to disengage, even if only slightly at first, from spectacles of triumph.
I’m currently reading Penelope Shuttle’s Lyonesse and hope to be able to write a short review soon. The subject of the book is right up my alley: a lost underwater country! Progress, however, has stalled because I keep being drawn back to one of the early poems, ‘The Gownshops’, which begins:
took satin for granted, silk
was cheaper than salt,
but velvet rip-roared
like the water-lions of the west
who dealt the city its fate