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Fails to capture

Essays in epistolary snootiness

As a connoisseur of the higher snootiness to be enjoyed in tiffs on the TLS Letters page, I was slightly disappointed by this effortful complaint that recently appeared from the pen of Toby Litt:

Sir, – While it covers the basics of the editorial relationship between Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish, James Campbell’s review of the Collected Stories (July 31) fails to capture what is really important about the publication of Beginners alongside What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

Having thus glibly condescended to Campbell (“covers the basics”!), Litt, whose own books are gifted to the world in strict alphabetical order by title (he has lately reached the letter J), goes on to explain that “what is really important” about the publication of the new Carver material is, er, what it can be interpreted to say about the “creative writing” industry.

It’s understandable that Litt, who teaches “creative writing” at Birkbeck, should be particularly interested in this topic, but is it really fair to accuse James Campbell of “fail[ing] to capture what is really important” about the Carver book because he didn’t choose to write about it in his original (excellent) piece, instead choosing to write about, er, what Carver and “Carver” actually wrote? Is it not rather fantastically rude (as well as absurd) of Litt to do so?

I regretfully conclude, then, that Litt’s salvo is not sufficiently subtle to warrant praise as higher snootiness: it too obviously combines a plainly unwarranted assault on the original writer with a preening announcement that the correspondent’s own hobbyhorse is the most interesting thing that can be said about the topic at hand. I think we can say, indeed, that Litt has failed to capture what is really important about the aesthetics of a truly fine snoot.

  1. 1  Tom  September 10, 2009, 5:24 pm 

    And truly grade-a snoot is to be treausured, after all. David Foster Wallace had a fine essay in Harpers about life as a snoot. I’ve tried to find a PDF link for you but it would appear I’ve failed to capture the URL.

  2. 2  Gregor  September 10, 2009, 5:47 pm 

    Dunno, but it seems like British fiction writers are getting dorkier all the time. Not ALL fiction writers I hasten to add, but it does seem that they are given a freer reign to be pompous and condescending c.f. Ian McEwan coming down from Olympus to tell anti-war protestors that Saddam did some nasty things, or Martin Amis’s extended brainfart, I mean, astoundingly intelligent article about ‘deplaning’ at Tehran to analyse ‘the Persian soul’.

  3. 3  Steven  September 10, 2009, 9:23 pm 

    Tom, I believe I’ve read it in the book version — though DFW was using “snoot” somewhat differently.

    As for Amis, perhaps it would be better if he never “deplaned” at all but remained at cruising altitude analysing the soul of the planet from up above, doing repetitive orbits before his oxygen ran out? Like a kind of sneerier version of Laika the cosmonaut dog?

  4. 4  Alex  September 11, 2009, 11:50 am 

    …or an even more superficial version of Airmiles Friedman, who at least lands occasionally to consult a taxi driver.

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