Doris Lessing’s blogger bashing

Doris Lessing has a pop at the world wide web, Stephen Fry does panto and the Beijing Eunuch Museum

Oh, the irony. Just weeks after this blog praised Doris Lessing for her strong web presence, she’s gone and slated the internet in her Noble Prize acceptance speech. She argued that the net “has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that, once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging etc.”

Cue much uncomfortable shuffling at NS Arts Blog HQ. But, Lessing’s comments, which seem to view blogging as an activity roughly akin to opium addiction, are part of a broader debate that’s been going on all year.

On the one hand, at the end of 2006 Time Magazine celebrated the arrival of the interactive age by whacking a reflective(ish) panel on their cover and naming “you” (yes, that means you) as their Person of the Year, and Salman Rushdie has also been making complimentary noises about the growth of new media. Conversely, the rise of user-generated content was lambasted by Andrew Keen in his book “The Cult of the Amateur” (which he somewhat ironically blogs about here), and Jeremy Paxman announced that Newsnight was open to viewer submissions in a tone which made it sound like you’d have to be an incorrigible moron to take him up on the offer. So is the blogging community usefully democratising the media or just offering so much ill-informed blather?

At the risk of being accused of vested interests, surely “user-generated” content on the net is diverse and interesting enough to resist any glib generalisations or totalising theories. Moreover, on the literary side of things, the internet has the capacity to make great writing more readily accessible then ever before. Even if some of us spend more time on sites like this than browsing the complete works of Shakespeare, you can now, provided you have web access, view both from anywhere in the world.

It might also be worth noting that you get many more hits Googling “Doris Lessing” than you do Googling “inanities” but, of course, that’s a fairly inane point in itself.

Related:

A handy blog directory
An article on Google’s plans to digitise 32 million books
Online alternative news sources from around the world

Christmas Arts Round-Up

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat, the billboards are crammed with tinselly exhortations to prop up the flagging economy in a frenzy of consumerist excess and, of course, the theatres are wheeling out their big festive shows.

Stephen Fry’s “Cinderella” leads a crowded, star-studded field of pantomimes, while writer-director Anthony Neilson offers an alternative Christmas show with his “Gods In Ruins”. Our bumper Christmas issue includes all the tips you need on the best theatre to catch this yuletide.

However, if you’re a crotchety Scrooge looking to rise above the seasonal cheer, the Guardian was keeping things intellectual with a Freudian reading of Jack and the Beanstalk and Wired offered a decidedly sarcastic list of “10 Christmas Movies You’ll Never See.”

Meanwhile, a series of outdoor light installations reflecting the lives of families living on an estate in Oxford promises to be one of the most interesting displays of festive art on offer.

Of Pogues and Eunuchs

In other news this week, Lily Allen was announced as one of the judges for the Orange Prize, Orson Wells’ Citizen Kane Oscar failed to sell at auction and 37 African musicians have recorded a UN sponsored record to boost awareness of HIV/AIDS across the continent.

Meanwhile, the Russian government instructed the British Council to close its two offices outside Moscow (you can read our take on a BC sponsored project in the country here) and the erstwhile Pogues musician and NS diarist Jem Finer won the British Composer Awards 2007 with his “Score for a Hole in the Ground”, an acclaimed installation paid for by the PRS New Music Award.

Happily, the Beijing Eunuch Museum looks set to reopen in time for the 2008 Olympics, but there was bad news for the Museum of Ethnology in Hamburg as they discovered that the terracotta warriors they have been exhibiting are apparently faked.

Equally bizarrely the British Press picked up on the story of Barry Cox, a Merseyside shelf-stacker turned Chinese Pop Sensation. There’s hope for us all…even the bloggers.

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The non-fiction novel that takes readers inside the head of Raoul Moat

Andrew Hankinson’s depiction of Moat’s unravelling is being marketed as biography/true crime, but its semi-fictional world is something more complex.

In July 2010, just weeks after becoming Prime Minister, David Cameron expanded upon his vision for the “Big Society” that he had first unveiled at the 2009 party conference. It promised a “big advance for people power”, in which individuals would be responsible for their actions. “To be British is to be sceptical of authority and the powers that be,” he told conference. “There is a ‘we’ in politics, and not just a ‘me’.”

That same month, just two days after being released from HMP Durham for the assault of a child, the self-employed gardener and former doorman Raoul Moat shot and injured his ex-girlfriend Samantha Stobbart and killed her boyfriend Chris Brown, who he wrongly believed to be a policeman. Moat went on the run, shooting a policeman at point-blank range, then fleeing to the rural Northumberland town of Rothbury. For a week, the story of this exotically named, delusional man who left behind a wealth of material, including letters and four-hour-long Dictaphone recordings, was given joint top billing with Cameron’s “Big Society” – soon to be as dead and buried as Moat, who, cornered by police after a seven-day hunt, killed himself.

The journalist Andrew Hankinson’s depiction of Moat’s unravelling is being marketed as biography/true crime, yet really is a non-fiction novel, in which writer and reader squat inside a mind that moves from irrational anger and self-pity to despondency. Moat’s is a solipsistic narration, in which he is the perennial victim – of circumstance, enemies, authoritarian bureaucracy, police harassment and past lovers. There is little room here for the outside world. Like most outlaws, Moat believed that everyone had failed him. “All my life I wanted death,” he laments.

The real-life Moat story, however, was more than that of a lone fugitive. It was also about rolling news coverage and Facebook groups, some of which celebrated Moat as a Ned Kelly-type folk hero – a “#ledge”. When Cameron denounced him in parliament he inadvertently elevated Moat to a clearer anti-authoritarian position: the antithesis of a “Big Society” citizen, in fact. It is also the story of the Northumbria Police force, which did its very best to show that it had everything under control when it really didn’t.

And, bringing an element of farce to a tragedy, it featured the subplot of a thoroughly leathered Paul Gascoigne – the most exciting and idiosyncratic footballer of his generation – tearing through the countryside in a taxi with a fishing rod, a dressing gown and a rotisserie chicken in an attempt to bring a sense of calm to the situation. “All I want to do is shout, ‘Moaty, it’s  Gazza! Where are you?’” he explained en route during a live radio phone-in. “And I guarantee he will shout his name out: ‘I’m here.’” Gascoigne’s pantomime intervention added to the chaos: now another disenfranchised northern male was running amok. The parallels were evident: Gazza’s career had been beset by injury and alcoholism, Moat’s bodybuilder’s physique was no longer in prime condition after weight loss in prison. Both were separated from their families and prone to self-examination. Onlookers knew it could quite easily have been Gazza holed up in those woods.

Other exponents of the non-fiction novel such as Norman Mailer and Gordon Burn would surely have put all this in, yet Hankinson chooses not to cover any of the peripheral subplots, instead using a second-person narrative to burrow deep into Moat’s paranoia, sourcing all his text from real material. This narrative sacrifice in favour of a singular voice gives the book thrust and authenticity of voice, and manages to show the nuances of a man who was articulate and often capable, and had reached out to social services on many occasions for help. None of which excuses Moat’s action – but it does explain his choices. Where the tabloids favoured the simplicity of the textbook “cold-blooded killer”, Hankinson’s portrait lets the reader make his or her own judgement. Clearly Moat was a bully, and yet he was not born that way. Few are. “There’ll be books written about all this, and you’ll be made out to be some crazed fucking maniac,” he says to himself, with both foresight and grim resignation.

Elsewhere the semi-fictional Moat brushes over past transgressions and labours over the tiniest slights in such repetitive, droning detail that the reader’s sympathy soon wanes. The book’s strength lies in the real-life Moat’s keenness to confess – to be heard, finally, beyond death – through these nocturnal monologues, recorded in his tent after yet another meal of charred burgers. From these remnants, Hankinson deftly assembles the man’s inner workings, lending credibility to his portrait while, beyond the myopic commentary, we know, although we don’t see it, that the outside world is closing in. Critics might ask: why give voice to a loser? Perhaps because in the right hands any real-life story is worth telling, and history should never just record the heroes and victors. The losers play their part, too.

Ben Myers’s novel “Beastings” recently won the Portico Prize for Literature

You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat] by Andrew Hankinson is published by Scribe (211pp, £12.99)

Ben Myers’ novels include Pig Iron and Richard, a Sunday Times book of the year. His writing has appeared in The Guardian, NME, Mojo, Time Out, 3:AM Magazine, Caught By The River and many others. www.benmyersmanofletters.blogspot.com

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war