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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In Which I Reach the "I Have Been a Bad Blogger" Point with Alarming Rapidity

Well, that certainly didn't take long. Blogging unfortunately gave way for some time to my other activity, which consists of doing my bit to keep the wheels of commerce greased. It can be a somewhat dreary occupation -I remember a conversation about a year ago with a good friend whose mother said to her, with some asperity, when she began working in PR after a stint teaching math in South Africa, "You know, I didn't send you to Princeton for this."

Another good friend, who is also an editor I work with, once remarked to me that the shreds of dignity one has as a magazine writer essentially consist of whatever modicum of quality and work ethic you can bring to your writing, and that in the venal world of being a hack for the slicks (as Damon Runyon would have put it) that's pretty much all you have to keep you going. A rather bleak but not inaccurate assessment, although I suspect it depends
somewhat on the kind of journalism you're doing. Sir Kingsley
Amis once wrote, "There's no point in being a journalist if you can't offend people" (he should know) and I have fairly few opportunities to do so in my current journalistic incarnation (not that I would necessarily attempt to emulate Kingsley Amis in any general or particular way -though another of his famous remarks, that any habit the giving up of which would merely result in an extra two years of life in a nursing home in Weston Super-Mare is not worth giving up resonates more and more as I get older.) This picture of Amis (thank you Wikipedia- again) always reminds me of a painting by Philip Guston:

. . . called "Smoking, Drinking, Eating," which are a sort of quintessence of the three bad habits I'd indulge in to the hilt if what I wanted was a sort of hedonistically logical extension to where the kind of writing I do now locates me philosophically. However, at least for now I'm trying to follow my Editor Friend's advice to wrap such shreds of qualitative decency remain to me as a writer around me like a warm blanket and warm myself therewith as best I can. God knows there are worse ways to make a living, of course, but I do miss the opportunity to be pejorative. The fact is criticism is often at its most interesting when you're taking something or someone down a notch -or better yet, when you can just excercise the faculty for appreciation and insight without worrying about whether you're either currying favor or giving offense at all.

Which brings me, rather circuitously, to one of my favorite passages in English literature. I'm sure that We Have Always Lived in the Castle is not everyone's, haha, cup of tea, but it has a great opening paragraph. I don't know whether it's one of the greatest opening paragraphs in English literature as such (whatever that means) but I certainly enjoyed it more than almost anything else I've read in a long time:

"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenent, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead."

I have had to be content with what I had. Haha, forsooth. Haven't we all, Merricat, haven't we all.


Anonymous said...

Meehna-Cat is not content with what she has and intends to change the game.

Anonymous said...

In reading your first paragraph, then through to the end, and back again, I find myself pondering.....

You write that your "other activity" "consists of doing my bit to keep the wheels of commerce greased", and this appears to troubles you to a certain extent, if I am reading your latter words correctly (and a point with which I have sympathy).

I linked that in with your Amis quote, and wondered about how I define "journalism", and "journalist", and wondered at how you define them.

You seem to be working within the luxury products field as another entry seems to indicate, and feel somewhat constrained within its boundaries, hence this blog. Do you sometimes feel that you are in fact not a journalist at all?

Jack Forster said...

To your point, Anon, that is pretty much the heart of the matter -I would have liked to think that journalism, even in the somewhat debased form that lifestyle journalism manifests it, would allow for some degree of critical sensibility, but I've found a rather depressing tendency, especially in the present economic climate, for fawning sycophancy to displace any genuine analysis; I think criticism to be interesting ought to be both sympathetic to the intentions of what it criticizes (don't criticize an apple in terms of oranges) but it also has to be frank about the extent to which the object of criticism achieves its goals and I think that sort of thing is thin upon the ground these days. Plus, you know, pejorative is entertaining for writer and reader alike -most of the more entertaining criticism I've read has been negative, which is probably a point worth pondering ;-).

I'd like to think of journalism as equal parts care taken in the craft of writing and pains taken in offering an honest perspective, and in my worse moments, yes, I'd have to confess I feel I fall short in both respects. Of course, it's nobody's responsibility but my own to do something about it.


PS, Meehna, I will observe your ongoing efforts with some interest ;-) .