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Counting literary hatreds

The writer Bidisha is concerned about misogyny in the arts, and who better to judge?

I have been a critic for 16 years, across all arts disciplines and all media.

Oh! Well, I am aware of all internet traditions, which is nearly as impressive? Anyway, let us hear an example of this pandisciplinary and multimedia criticism!

Men and women both like to worship men, for some reason; women even, perversely, love to promote men who themselves hate women (hello, Roth’n’Updike fans. How’s it going?).

Um, fine, thanks? Presumably Bidisha has made her detailed literary-critical argument (through the medium of dance) about how Philip Roth hates women somewhere else; but even this boldly undiscriminating denunciation of “Roth’n’Updike” does raise one interesting question. If I like Roth but not Updike, does that mean I hate only 50% of all women?

  1. 1  Martin  October 16, 2009, 8:36 am 

    “What percentage of women do you hate, readers?”

  2. 2  Neil  October 16, 2009, 9:30 am 

    Moral: never trust someone who goes by a single name.

  3. 3  Dave Weeden  October 16, 2009, 9:38 am 

    While I think Bidisha’s piece was pretty awful (standard for CiF), I also think that she had a bit of a point. I think women are still discriminated against, and in the way she says. OTOH, I also think that’s changing.

    I’m not convinced that either Roth or Updike hate(d) women. I don’t think Kingsley Amis hated women either, though Philip Larkin might have. Norman Mailer probably did, but who worships him now?

    @Martin upwards of 95% but it depends on my mood. According to various exes anyway. (One tried to convert me to country music with “You’ll like Lyle Lovett, he hates women too.”)

  4. 4  Dave Weeden  October 16, 2009, 9:40 am 

    @Neil, god can you imagine Plato writing on Comment is Free?

  5. 5  Steven  October 16, 2009, 10:16 am 

    Dave, it is true that women are still discriminated against (and I think this is a bad thing). It might be worth discriminating, though, between this claim and Bidisha’s own claim of widespread “misogyny” on the part of named individuals and institutions.

    I think the most satisfying counterexample to #2 is Shakira, obviously.

  6. 6  judith weingarten  October 16, 2009, 10:18 am 

    I hate Roth’n’Updike, their fans, and 100% of men.
    (signed) Timon of Athens

  7. 7  hellblazer  October 17, 2009, 9:20 am 

    Have to say that I started off reading Bidisha’s piece thinking “valid if depressing point, the commenters are going to go to town on this” and gradually getting frustrated with her choice of rhetoric/hyperbole/polemic/whatever.

    @4 For some reason this made me think of Wanda and Otto in the not-quite-eponymous film. “These are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up.”

    Anyway, off-topic: in light of the recent cause celebre du jour (fool is spiteful in The Mail, even by their standards, and rapidly attracts ire), and the *original* headline to her article, would an Unspeak entry on “natural” be worth writing or “revisiting”?

    [Headline in question was, if memory serves correctly, “Why there was nothing `natural’ about X’s death”]

  8. 8  Tawfiq Chahboune  October 17, 2009, 11:09 pm 

    “If I like Roth but not Updike, does that mean I hate only 50% of all women?”

    But it does mean that you have some semblance of taste in literature. Has there ever been a more talented prose stylist than Updike who wrote such rubbish and wasted a lifetime on complete nonsense? He had that rare gift, but used it to no end. Updike was a bizarre experiment gone wrong: Saul Bellow doing Jackie Collins.

    Perhaps I’m in a very small (but honest) minority. Really, what do people see in Updike? I can readily understand what Martin Amis (another pointless author) sees in Updike: a sort of self-regarding faux-cleverness and stylistic farting that believes its pisspoor originality to be somehow Joycean. My giddy aunt, even the excellent Julian Barnes, in today’s Guardian Review, was worshipping at the Updike altar.

  9. 9  roger migently  October 18, 2009, 4:20 am 

    I only hate the women who fail to recognise my brilliance, my wit, my deeply and creatively romantic nature, my universal kindness and compassion, my humility and my horny studliness. So it’s getting close to 100%, I guess.

  10. 10  roger migently  October 18, 2009, 4:25 am 

    And I don’t like men. Oh, god, I’m so lonely!

  11. 11  Steven  October 18, 2009, 9:43 am 

    Really, what do people see in Updike?

    I do actually like Roth but not Updike, so I can’t really say?

  12. 12  Freshly Squeezed Cynic  October 18, 2009, 2:03 pm 

    @ Dave: Would Comment is Free stoop to the level of publishing Socrates fanfiction?

  13. 13  organic cheseboard  October 19, 2009, 2:39 pm 

    Bidisha’s dislike of Updike was most readily manifested on Newsnight Review a few years ago. She denounced the book as a catalogue of misogyny, likened the act of reading it to a sexual assault, and a hate crime (with apologies to a blog I just read that on which helped jog my memory). I think they cut her microphone off after a bit when it became clear that she wasn’t going to offer any evidence for this, but the impression has clearly stayed with her.

    I can kind of see her point about him and roth, in that their books do often prsent women in a derogatory manner, but that’s a bit like the Achebe ‘Conrad is a racist’ argument – it’s not just oversimplified but wilfully oversimplified. I don’t for one second think there’s any evidence that either novelist ‘hate(d) women’. Bidisha undoubtedly gets gigs on arts TV shows and gets columns in the NS etc because she’s ‘outspoken’ but it’s at the expense of anyone ever taking her serously.

    Roth is a far superior novelist to Updike; the latter is colossally overrated and will fade into what is likely to be lengthy if not permanent obscurity. Even his biggest fan, good old Martin ‘suffer to get their house in order’ Amis, had deviated from the script of calling him a ‘master’ recently. I think Updike had the problem a lot of novelists have in that he just wrote far too much, and his quality control was (contrary to his fans’ claims) very varied. And especially towards the end, he was being indulged as only a ‘great man of ltters can be’ by those who published him, just like Frank Kermode and a few others over on this side of the pond, here clearly awful pieces (and indeed novels) were heralded as great no matter what.

  14. 14  Dave Weeden  October 21, 2009, 9:09 am 

    I don’t know if Updike is ‘colossally overrated’. I find him hard to read, but I think there’ll be a hard-core of Updike readers for a long time yet. (The only book I’ve ever given up on intentionally after half way was one of Updike’s. I can’t remember which it was though, but I was really about 9/10s of the way through when I’d suddenly had enough of the rich prose. I found ‘The Centaur’ blah, and couldn’t get into the Rabbit books.)

    But I liked his criticism and the one poem I know (the nuclear physics one, which is, I think, his most celebrated) suggests that I should read more. The only Nicholson Baker I’ve not read is ‘U And I’ and that’s because I don’t share Baker’s admiration of Updike, but then I admire Baker a lot. I’ve always felt a bit of a philistine for not liking Updike more.

    Part of Bidisha’s problem seems to be that she gets upset about what happens in books, rather than the world. Sexism abides, but not nearly as much as it used to do. Girls outperform boys at school; women writers win lots of major awards; JK Rowling is incredibly successful; many of the best newspaper comment writers and critics are women. Newsnight Review sometimes has all-women panels, and that now just seems like a statistical accident, rather than a deliberate policy. Of course, putting someone like Bidisha on with other women (or Ian Rankin as a token male, though his PhD was on Muriel Spark, so I doubt he has a neanderthal bone in his body) would just make her look ridiculous.

  15. 15  organic cheseboard  October 21, 2009, 12:21 pm 

    Oh yeah I think that Updike will still be read for a long time but the stuff written about him alwats seems to over the top that I can’t really take it seriously. Most of his ‘keenest admirers’ actually wear his influence very lightly, as well.

    Most of Updike’s criticism I’ve read is okay, but I am still drawn to the Kermode similarity – reading Kermode on Coetzee in the LRB recently I wondered how on earth he managed to get the piece published, since it consistes almost exclusively of uncritical plot summaries of Coetzee’s last 3 novels. The same kind of applies to Updike on art – it was taken as given that he had something to say even though a lot of the time he didn’t.

    aha, here is the newsnight review. am at work so can’t watch it but Marina Hyde (who i generally admire) was on too. I’ve not read any of Bidisha’s novels and probably never will; but her approach to reading, as demonstrated in the reaction to Updike, seems really very out of date, as if Achebe on conrad and the Shylock debates never happened.

  16. 16  Steven  October 21, 2009, 12:35 pm 

    I like Kermode (a lot) but not Updike?

  17. 17  organic cheseboard  October 21, 2009, 12:49 pm 

    i like kermode too but he needs a good editor.

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