Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Grayson Parry and Martin Amis

Have a look at this excellent exchange between Grayson Perry and Martin Amis in the current New Statesman.

That 'happiness writes white' is not a view expressed by Maupassant (as Amis, or the person who transcribed the interview, seems to think). It was another Frenchman, Henry de Montherlant (1895-1972) in his Don Juan ('Le bonheur écrit à l'encre blanche sur des pages blanches.')

It's a line often quoted, and almost as often misquoted, or partially quoted, and misattributed.

Montherlant is tricky. Homosexual (but, as somebody one described another celebrated writer, 'the wrong kind of homosexual'), pro-Nazi and ferociously misogynistic, he wouldn't be one's first choice for a convivial dinner party. 

Just as Tournier's sidelining for the Nobel has been attributed by at least one journalist to the troubling content of his greatest novel Le roi des Aulnes (paedophilia, fetishism, Nazis), Montherlant doesn't stand up well to modern scrutiny. But then which writers of the past do? The great ones are always nasty pieces of work compared to the enlightened scribblers de nos jours. None of them pass muster - drunks and junkies, racists and women-haters, brutes all of 'em, and not just the chaps. I'd rather have lunch with Philip Larkin than Ayn Rand, for example. I'd rather have lunch with anyone than Ayn Rand.

Grayson Perry writes persuasively in the New Statesman (which he also guest edits) about what he calls the Default Male (white, middle-aged, middle-class) and the decline of that privileged hegemony. I can't find much to fault in his argument - but wonder, not unreasonably if there's a female equivalent. If such a thing exists - and it unquestionably does - it, or rather she, might equally benefit from a thoughtful deconstruction. Perry's point is that the perspective of the Default Male can no longer reasonably be deemed normative (although this is surely nothing new). I can't help but observe that as society and cultural fragments into individual narratives (in which a clever transvestite potter from  Essex has, and rightly, the same or greater access to public discourse as the Foreign Secretary), we stand to gain a  great deal, but to lose something else - the assumptions by dead white men that underlie the formation of our Welfare State.

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