Wednesday, 22 September 2010
The current buzz around Tom McCarthy and his recent novel C strikes me as fascinating. Here is a novelist who deliberately aligns himself with the Modernist legacy of Joyce, Kafka and Beckett and furthermore openly admits to the influence of continental Post-Modern Theory on his approach. As if this weren't heretical enough, in the conversation between McCarthy and Lee Rourke (another interesting novelist) in last Saturday's Guardian:
he goes further in denouncing the traditions of "sentimental humanism" and its cult of the individual which still inform so much of our critical discourse, and in enthusiastically citing a whole raft of other coolly transgressive names ( Cocteau, Heidegger, Blanchot, Pound, Celan, Ballard, Mark E Smith) almost in the manner of an early 80's NME piece by Paul Morley - though needless to say with rather more substance than Morley ever managed.
This is hardly an original stance, of course (one wonders in fact whether McCarthy has his tongue at least half in his cheek when making some of his more ponderous statements); the blanket demonisation of "liberal humanism",for example, is one of the corner-stones of any undergraduate Literary Theory course. Yet because of the scant credence ordinarily granted to such intellectually-weighty pronouncements, their very abnormality coming from the mouth of an English novelist - that endemic retroist and rester-on-laurels, staunchly averse to ideas, theories or formal experiment - McCarthy comes across as remarkably refreshing and forward-looking.
Moreover, the fact that C has not only been nominated for the Booker Prize, but is 9/4 Favourite to win, speaks perhaps of a groundswell of dissension among general readers, an inquisitive inkling that it might still be possible to do new and exhilarating things with the haggard old British novel.
All this is immensely heartening for writers like myself who also invariably take their bearings from the cross-currents of international Modernism and its later forms. Within the sphere of poetry, Identity Parade seems to indicate a similar desire to challenge and redefine the parameters of mainstream taste, although in McCarthy's terms we might still point to out-moded tendencies - default realism, autobiographical disclosure, a belief in 'personal voice' - which need debunking in British poetry as urgently as in the novel.