Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Yann Martel -- Torch Bearer for Literature

[edit] I've just discovered Martel is more "humane" than I'd first surmised. The set-up was a book sent every other week. Math, below, altered.

Problems posting this on Nigel Beale's Nota Bene site. I'll put it up here first. This is after listening to a podcast interview of Martel by Beale:


Wow! I'd long thought Martel's long-running stunt was all about a book set-up, as well as an excuse to flog his own political views, but this interview underlines and amplifies those suspicions. The arrogance was also multiplied. Good questions, Nigel!

The additional head-shakers from Martel were also illuminating. He cares about our political leader being literate or not, but doesn't care if the rest of the population watches TV 24/7? Really? I must have been deluded. I'd thought that a strong and engaged political and cultural society was possible here because of the ... efforts (or not) of the 33 million or so that make up our country, not just the whims of the figurehead of an institution that no one looks to for literary revelations.

His tone, especially, surprised me, only in that it exactly mirrored how I'd imagined it playing out through the stunt. Even though it was the same, I say it surprised me because I thought Martel would at least put up a veneer of humility or lightheartedness on the matter. No: strident, self-important in the name of (said with a spooky hush) literature, bizarrely exasperated and unbelieving (though I believe there's a large part of salesmanship there), Martel not only confirms but heightens my feelings that Harper did/is doing the right thing by ignoring this pest.

Imagine yourself (and Harper, for all his power, decision-making importance, etc., is first a human) receiving in the mail a novel every other week, and being asked to read it because it's good for you. The first thought is to laugh at the entire endeavour and dismiss it outright, and that's that. But then it's worth thinking about in greater detail. A novel takes (for me, at least-- I'm a fairly slow reader) between 8 hours and 20 hours to read (depending on length and complexity and readability). We're to entertain the notion that one should set aside, say, 6 hours every week to engage in an activity simply because a complete stranger tells us to-- because it's "good for us". The disconnect between Martel's idealism and his lack of understanding for another's rhythms and realities is wider than one of the great oceans.

And what, exactly, does Martel really think would come of it if Harper, teeth grinding, and reading out of a chastened duty-bound decision, somehow knocked off two or three of Martel's fave titles? Would Harper then have a revelation, and initiate decisions more in tune with those of Martel? Would he immediately cut his hockey watching from constant to that of perusing one or two playoff games only, all the while squeezing in the latest Ondaatje release on the toilet between conference calls? Is the Pope pro-abortion? What gall and naivety. Or, more likely, what a creepy way to engender a few sales of the suggestions-as-book, all while patting himself on the back for his "political engagement". (Oh, wait, that's something only important in our Prime Minister.)

The arrogance and condescension of his artistic stance, in isolation, is also nauseous. To be a supporter of art, and to be familiar with it, means that one must read novels? What, painters and sculptors who largely shun the printed word are to be belittled?

I hope someone starts a campaign to send Martel a book a week on the fine arts of diplomacy and individuation.


L said...

Yann, or "Yawn" as his name is pronounced in Canadian English, has not responded at all to the weekly packages I've been mailing him. He clearly hates both art and literature, does M. Martel; at least he refuses to subsidise my elaborate conceptualism and minimalist poesy, viz:

Week 1 -- mailed an inflateable Tom Thomson doll to Y. in Montreal;

Week 2 -- sent a brutal Russian coke dealer to impersonate YM at Banff writers' conference -- no difference detected;

Week 3 -- hired 4 Tory cabinet ministers in frizzy Margaret Atwood wigs to present Yann M. with uncashable novelty cheque;

Week 4 -- sent 20 mushroom-bacon pizzas and ten Canada Council grant-application forms to Martel's Annex mansion;

Week 5 -- cage fight between Mark Kingwell and Jane Jacobs ends badly, with philosophers apologising to corpses;

Week 6 -- the Prime Minister sings, writes and plays piano; Martel advocates federal support for junkie cellists;

That's all, Brian,


Brian Palmu said...

Excellent initiatives, L!

I've just sent out all 4 weekly installments for the month of Nov to Mr. Martel: "How To Win Friends And Influence People"; "Pride And Prejudice";"Great Expectations";and "Deception".