(The Marquesa Luisa Casati, a real rebel of 100 years ago. Photo Garry Craig Powell)
Six of seven years ago at one of the unutterably dull writers’ conferences known as AWP in the States, and prior to a presentation, I was talking to a fairly successful Canadian writer of subcontinental Indian descent, whose name I won’t disclose because this anecdote doesn’t reflect well on her. And I knew her personally. We were alone in the room, when in walked a very famous gay black poet, whom I will name, because his reputation is secure: he’s since won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. I’m talking about Jericho Brown, of course, who is actually a pretty decent poet. Brown was due to co-present the next presentation in the room, along with my acquaintance. He knew her, so it was not surprising that he greeted her first. But he cut me off, did not greet me at all, and struck up a conversation with his friend as if I were not there. Neither of them looked at me again. Whether the reason was that I was insufficiently famous to merit their attention, or that I belonged to the wrong ethnic group, I don’t know, but it hardly makes a difference: they demonstrated clearly by their behaviour that whatever they said about hierarchies – and we can be sure that as good arty intellectuals they were against them in principle – in practice, they respected them clearly, and cruelly.
One of the more nauseating phenomena of AWP and probably all writers’ conferences, is just this hierarchical instinct displayed by the participants, which is rather ironic when you think about it. To a woman (the majority are women) they claim to believe in equality. And yet there is a very evident slavish adulation of anyone famous at these events. Presentations given by celebrities are crowded, and afterwards, it’s impossible to get near the semi-divine being on the stage. (Even if he or she is deadly dull.) Conversely, I’ve attended fabulous presentations by ‘nonentities’ that were almost empty. So what’s going on here?
Jordan Peterson notices that human beings, like almost all animals, have hierarchical propensities, so perhaps it’s inevitable, and nothing to bewail. However, you might think that in literary art, where you’d expect most people to be bright and free of prejudices, at the least the hierarchies would be based on talent. And you could argue that commercial and critical success is a fair barometer of talent. But a cursory look at who the great celebrities are now belies that supposition, I think. The hierarchies are based on extremely conservative values – possibly instincts – such as power, attractiveness (Brown is tall, young, and good-looking, an obvious alpha, as Michael Chabon was and perhaps still is.)
What’s more, although the great and the good pretend to hate tribalism, particularly the oppression by the factitious white patriarchy, any examination of the bestseller lists for literary fiction, will reveal that certain ethnicities and sexualities, particularly, are favoured, as is one sex. And where are all the artists who pride themselves on being rebels, nonconformists, and transgressive? They’re invisible. I’m not saying they don’t exist – I know a few myself – but they are being squashed, silenced, and ignored. There’s a uniformity about the arts now that reminds me of Nazi or Communist art. It has an official aura. You know nothing offensive to the good ladies of the left will ever be found in it. On the contrary. Every word echoes intersectional doctrine. And any dissident is mercilessly dealt with.
This is partly why I wrote my novel, Our Parent Who Art in Heaven (forthcoming, Flame Books, 2022). I’m not the only writer daring to raise his voice against the woke catechism – but as yet is no real revolt among intellectuals. And where only one viewpoint is allowed, freedom and creativity has died. It’s time for an uprising. I’m not advocating violence. But we must stand up for creative and intellectual freedom. If we don’t, our civilization is lost.