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  1. Culture
  2. Books
25 April 2008

Bad sex

By Natasha Periyan

Two goliaths of the arts world, David Mamet and David Edgar have drawn their battle lines this week, at a time when both have productions staged in London’s West End. The two Davids have waged their war via essays that stake out their respective political positions.

Edgar’s article in the Guardian this week is a riposte to Mamet’s Village Voice piece, in which he proclaims why he is no longer a “brain-dead liberal”; ostensibly because he no longer believes that “we are generally good at heart”. His realisation of the similarities between Bush and a hero of his youth, JFK, apparently prompted this adult disillusionment. For Edgar, however, defectors such as Mamet are merely “seeking a vocabulary for the progressive intelligentsia to abandon the poor”.

As the saying goes, anyone who isn’t a socialist at 20 lacks a heart, but one who is still a socialist at 40 lacks a head. David F Bjorklund’s recent book , however, argues that there are certain advantages of a prolonged childhood. Children typically overestimate their own abilities, which may maintain their motivation in the face of failure, and lead to eventual success. For Edgar, this is the crux of his political position; “it behoves those of us who have been there and done that, not to defend the indefensible, but to protect the vocabulary of alliance that has done so much good in the past and is so necessary now.”

Songs for youth

Meanwhile, the English National Opera is keen to bring opera to a new audience. In a bid to reinvigorate the genre, Madeleine Holt, reporting for Newsnight, noted how ENO have decided to stage productions in the more intimate Young Vic. This move reflects ENO’s hope of connecting with a younger audience, who might usually be attracted to the theatre. The ENO’s desire to attract a wider audience also extends to their choice of production, with an adaptation of David Lynch‘s Lost Highway being staged last month to attract film fans.

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The contemporary composer Harrison Birtwistle is also enjoying considerable attention. The Minotaur, reviewed in this week’s NS, is currently being staged at the Royal Opera House, with the ENO simultaneously running Birtwistle’s first opera, Punch & Judy.

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Posthumous lothario

Norman Mailer’s posthumous reputation as a lothario of the literary world continues. Carole Mallory, Mailer’s former mistress, also received writing lessons from Mailer between 1983 – 1992. “We’d have a writing lesson, we’d make love and then go to lunch in whatever order that would be, and I saved all the writing lessons,” Mallory says. The result of these writing lessons have been sold to Harvard University this week for an undisclosed amount, with the papers reportedly containing sex scenes Mallory had written based on their affair.

Mailer, whose posthumous award for bad sex in fiction was blogged about on http://www.newstatesman.com/200702190046“>The Castle In The Forest, last year. More interesting, perhaps, is Mailer’s writing advice for fiction, also contained in the papers. Keep the dialogue punchy; stay away from adverbs; don’t lecture the reader. Unfortunately, even advice as conclusive as that didn’t save Mailer from the Literary Review’s infamous Bad Sex Award.