A terrific essay

No doubt I’m the last to discover it, but I thought this essay ‘An imaginary “scandal”’ by Theodore Dalrymple was a great piece, marred only by the occasional ideological sloganeering.

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Bill
Bill
2022 years ago

Good article. thanks

Mark Cully
2022 years ago

Nick,

Theodore/Anthony will be doing his stuff live at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas this July.

Mark

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

Been reading Dalyrymple’s collection of essays on his experiences as a psychiatrist to the British underclass, ‘Life at the Bottom’–an extraordinary book, well worth reading.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

Fascinating.

Thank you so much for pointing to it. I have forwarded it to several people.

I liked all of it, even the ideological sloganeering! ;-)

Mindy
Mindy
2022 years ago

I remember discussing this issue with my boyfriend once. He pointed out that as a woman I couldn’t tell him that “he didn’t understand women because he wasn’t one”, because not being a man I couldn’t know how he felt or thought as a man. The article certainly uncovered a few home truths. If your author is called Khan, you can feel all multicultural and tolerant and proud of yourself, even more so if it’s a woman, but if it’s a white man – well don’t even bother, there is plenty of them, we don’t need anymore. I think if you can write convincingly as someone else you should be free to do so – but sell it as fiction, not fact.

Richard O
Richard O
2022 years ago

Mindy,

I know this is off topic, but:

“If your author is called Khan, you can feel all multicultural and tolerant and proud of yourself, even more so if it’s a woman, but if it’s a white man – well don’t even bother, there is plenty of them, we don’t need anymore”

Thank you, whether you realised it or not you just encapsulated the Lefts moral position perfectly.

Paul Watson
2022 years ago

“Humor, fearlessness, seriousness, and honesty: the qualities that are hated with an equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies that are contending for tenure in the humanities departments of our universities. There lies the real literary scandal of our times”

derrida derider
derrida derider
2022 years ago

Paul – Booooring. You are clearly someone who sees everything through a single lens – in this case generational conflict. That narrow focus is pretty clearly founded in some personal disappointment.

Why don’t you get a life – people are not primarily defined by their cohort, any more than they’re defined by their gender, race or religion. Identity poltics is deeply distateful, whatever the identity chosen.

Paul Watson
2022 years ago

Whatever, DD.

If you don’t think/care that there’s an inter-generational war going on right now (a conflict that’s going to get much worse), you may still be interested in Anna Nicole Smith’s role in it all:

http://afr.com/articles/2005/05/05/1115092619574.html

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

‘I think if you can write convincingly as someone else you should be free to do so – but sell it as fiction, not fact.’

Mindy: Are you perhaps confusing this with the Nora Khoury case? There was never any question that this was fiction.

This is a magnificent essay, but I agree with Nicholas’s qualification. In fact it’s more than occasional sloganeering: I’d call it systematic, unsupported generalisation for the purpose of idelogical point scoring. Assuming Forward’s stories are as brilliant as Dalrymple makes them sound, all we know from this account is that someone in the BBC lacked the literary discernment to recognise the fact. Whether this was a widespread failure in the ’80s is undemonstrated; and have one good counter-example for the current decade – namely the enthusiastic reception of John Doyle’s mini-series about the love affair between an Australian schoolboy and his Afghan refugee classmate, a fictional piece that drew no criticism on the basis of its having been written by a middle-class white bloke.

The pulping of Forward’s book on the part of the publisher sounds like another instance of very bad judgement, but one must take into account that Virago was mislead into publishing lies about the author’s identity. We don’t know whether other publishers, who don’t specialise in women’s writing, would have rejected it.

I think Dalrymple would be pretty hard pressed to find anyone, left wing or otherwise, who would deny the literary worth of Forward’s stories – including the ones about girls – on the grounds of inauthentic authorship. If this was a widespread tendency then lefty literary criticism would be choked with debunkings of Tolstoy, Flaubert and Zola, all of whom have been lionized for their sensitive protraits of women.

The essay would have as good, even better, as a straightforward book review. The story of the identity fraud and its causes and consequences is secondary, and doesn’t in isolation support the general critique of ‘left wing’ ideas that Dalrymple wants to make.

wbb
wbb
2022 years ago

The Dalrymple essay was awful. A concoction of absurdly broad lines

eg

“The doom of an entire class, composed of millions of people, is most sensitively captured here ”

littered with exampled of that inept ploy, the false binary opposition.

eg

“you can’t be a multiculturalist and believe in the legal equality of the sexes”

The thing is a silly rant against an ill-defined Leftism that his already converted readership share as a common fantasy bogey-man.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

DD

as my old grandad said to me, (god bless him)

“show me yer friends an’ I’ll tell ya who y’ are”

David Tiley
2022 years ago

What James and wwb said.

“occasional ideological sloganeering” is a gross infusion of high tory cant. And ironic too that the man he is defending is a priest in the Anglican Church.

The Rev. told lies. He got it published in a press which existed to publish works by a certain sort of author, in which these people had invested their time and energy. He told them he was that kind of person, and they represented him as such. He humiliated them, made them misrepresent his work, and they decided to no longer give him the satisfaction of disseminating his work.

Funny how this particular work of genius was not taken up by anyone else. Maybe the current owners of Virago could find another imprint for his magical stories inside the stable. It might be, of course, that the Rev. Forward, now established as an author under his own name, is a bit embarrassed by his indiscretion.

By the way, the whole point of Dalrymple’s work is that he claims to speak from a certain kind of privileged experience. I, Theodore, go into prisons and see what you do not. He would be vulnerable to challenges on the facts, because he purports to report actuality. But he is arguing to a deeper kind of truth, caused by an accumulation of his experience, because he is editorialising very heavily.

And yes, he is good writer in an unctuous kind of way. I felt that about him before I discovered his political affiliations.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

It is a fine essay. Try reading it without “class enemy” shades on guys. His writing is superb.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

High Tory cant it may be, but he does write very well. I admit, I enjoy his writing, despite the listen-up-to you-one of-your-betters politics behind it all.

Amanda
2022 years ago

It’s an alright essay, as in it is easy to read. “Fantastic” I hardly think so and since ideological sloganeering is Dalrymple’s whole point in everything he writes (perhaps rather, everything of his I have read), its hardly a marginal blemish. I don’t think the whole episode say much about anything particularly, certainly not the end of civilsation as we know it spin he puts on everything.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

can’t stand the guy. sanctimonous tory snob.

Mindy
Mindy
2022 years ago

James – my tell it as fiction was meant as a general comment on writings of this sort. I wasn’t sure whether the Rev’s stories were sold as fiction or not. Thanks for clearing that up.

Thinking about the issue of the Rev ‘misrepresenting’ himself as a woman to get published will we in time recognise this as a means to a end employed by many authors over the years (George Eliot, the Brontes/Bells etc) because at the time their particular brand of person wasn’t being published. Does this make him legit?

I hold this type of deception apart from say Helen Demidenko/Darville who claimed that her book was non fiction. I don’t see any problem with writing ‘in the style of’ as long as you don’t claim it has any basis in fact.

wbb
wbb
2022 years ago

“The Rev. told lies. He got it published in a press which existed to publish works by a certain sort of author, in which these people had invested their time and energy. He told them he was that kind of person, and they represented him as such.”

Mindy, Virago was deliberately publishing a series of works by a particular type of person (the weaker sex in this case).

Of course there’s nothing wrong with publishing as Secret Agent 86 or whoever, normally. This was different. And no big deal in itself.

Dalrymple uses it to appeal to the idea that white males are doing it tuff and hence our civ is in peril. It’s Evil Pee with gratingly mannered and arch style.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

I don’t think I’ll enter into the predictable left-right slanging match about Dalrymple and his straw man portrait of leftist attitudes. I’m more interested in the issue he raises while reviewing the work of “Rahila Khan”, namely the ethical attitude we ought to adopt towards authors who adopt a pseudonym across gender and culture/ethnicity.

In general terms I agree that there’s an important distinction between adopting a pseudonym when writing and publishing overtly fictional works, and claiming that what you’ve written is fact. Thus Helen Demidenko/Darville and “Norma Khoury” both richly deserved the opprobrium they both suffered, because their works purported to be factual.

But I don’t think you can generalise even by making that distinction. For example, subject to reading the book (which I probably won’t do given its out of print status), I’m prepared to accept Dalrymple’s claim that “Rahila Khan” exhibited a deep (if second hand) knowledge of the world of young Muslim men and women in the British Midlands. By contrast, “Wanda Koolmatrie” (mentioned by Paul Watson above) doesn’t have that saving grace (see http://info.anu.edu.au/mac/Newsletters_and_Journals/ANU_Reporter/_pdf/vol_29_no_04/aborigines.html):

“Not only did Wanda not exist, but her creator was white and male, someone who couldn’t be further from the mind set and experience of an Aboriginal woman, regardless of how much research he did – which he confessed as none. He admitted to never even meeting an Aboriginal woman. A statement in itself that reflects Carmen’s attitude towards Australia’s Indigenous people.”

Mudrooroo Nyoongah (also mentioned by someone earlier in the thread) is a more problematic case. He fairly clearly cashed in on the Aboriginal industry by masquerading as Aboriginal for years to build a writing and academic career (although AFAIK he never admitted his non-Aboriginality before decamping from Australia in 2001). But he was also a serious and influential writer, whose background and life experience allowed him to observe and absorb Aboriginal experience and sensibility at close quarters. So arguably, like “Rahilah Khan”, he’s entitled to a bit of slack you wouldn’t cut for “Wanda Koolmatrie”, and certainly not for Darville or “Khouri”.

Nevertheless, I also have sympathy for David Tiley’s argument. Virago was publishing quite specifically to give opportunities to young (female) feminist writers, a category that didn’t include Rev. Forward. I don’t think the comparison with George Eliot is necessarily an apt one. It was very difficult for female authors to get their work published and sold in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, irrespective of talent, so arguably Eliot had no viable alternative but to adopt a male persona. Moreover, she wasn’t published by a publisher with an overt policy and purpose of publishing only male authors in order to give a chance to writers who otherwise wouldn’t receive one. By contrast, male authors today CAN get themselves published if they’re good enough. They have no need to masquerade as either female or Aboriginal.

It may well be that there is a degree of reverse discrimination, however, in some areas, in the sense that some Aboriginal writers, painters and musicians may well be able to get their work published/exhibited/recorded where work of indentical type and quality by an “Anglo” creator would be rejected i.e. the barriers to publication are somewhat lower. But does that provide an ethical justification for cheating and masquerading as an Aboriginal person in order to gain the benefit of being judged by different and lower standards? Personally I don’t think so. Whether one regards these differential standards as appropriate affirmative action measures or hypocritical double standards that don’t even assist the people they’re designed to help, is a separate question.

Finally, what about the visual arts and Elizabeth Durack, a famous artist in her own right who masqueraded as “Eddie Burup” in the years before her death? Again, despite her existing prominence, she probably gained sales and exposure for her work that it wouldn’t have received but for pretending to be Aboriginal. But I doubt that she deprived an Aboriginal artist of exhibitions or sales; she DID have a deep lifelong knowledge of Aboriginal people and culture (as one of the “Kings in Grass Castles” Durack family); and she didn’t use sacred Aboriginal totems/designs. She simply painted in a manner generally reminiscent of some contemporary Aboriginal artists and adopted an Aboriginal psedonym/persona. On balance I don’t think I would condemn Durack either.

Ultimately, I think a fictional literary work, or a work of visual art, must be judged on its inherent quality rather than the real or assumed identity of the creator. But I also don’t think we can take that argument too far. We generally correctly assume that a fiction author’s work conveys their own personal experience, albeit in a form substantially altered by imagining both situations and the experiences, emotions and perspectives of others, and our understanding of and response to the work is coloured by assumptions about the gender, ethnic, and cultural background (not to mention age) of the author. It may well be legitimate for an author to play with and challenge those assumptions for a literary or political purpose, but what if the prupose is simply to gain a commercial benefit? To what extent (if at all) is the reader (let alone genuine female/muslim/ aboriginal authors) cheated or defrauded by being misled as to the real ethnic and cultural background and experience of an author like Khan or Nyoongah? Anita Heiss (see the link above), talking in the context of “Wanda Koolmatrie”, argues that the reader IS cheated:

“I often argue that as a reader, if I were interested in reading a text on lesbian love I wouldn’t choose a text written by a heterosexual man, but one written by a lesbian. I wouldn’t want the perceptions of what a man imagines it might or might not be like to be a lesbian in love. I don’t care. Nor would I find it relevant.”

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

Ah, but Ken, ‘Wanda Koolmatrie’ was published by an Aboriginal publishing house–Magabala Books, in Broome–who presumably should have known better, if what you say about ‘her’ were true.
Obviously it rang true enough for them and their panels of community advisers..Whereas ‘Mudrooroo’ aka Colin Johnson was only published by non-Aboriginal presses. I think it’s interesting that he’s been defended so much more–he is a much better writer than Leon Carmen, that’s for sure, but I’m not sure he’d have had half the attention he had if it had been thought he was not Aboriginal. Same goes for ‘B.Wongar’–real name Streten Bozic–a Serb immigrant who wrote several acclaimed books under an assumed Aboriginal name(he actually lived in Aboriginal communities for ages)but since the whistle was blown on him a while back, has not published anything I’ve seen..
Successful literary hoaxes to me show up definitely that a/it is an absurd fallacy to believe that imaginative writers can’t transcend the body they were born into; and b/that there are indeed agendas, often unconscious ones, at work in the publishing industry.

Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

I’ve been reading Theodore Dalrymple for years. I enjoy his quickly sketched vignettes of the underclass even if he is a bit grumpy. He tends to blame those wishy washy straw baby boomer era lefties that he invents for most ills and seems to implicitly yearn for an earlier mythical era where an underclass didn’t exist and the poor were more grateful and polite and doffed their caps gov’ in a ‘umble way.

His small essays on the prison patients he sees are enjoyable and I often even grump along and shake my head in despair, however his analysis of cause, effect and cure reek too much of port, coal fire, smoking room, armchair and a red velvet smoking jacket.

Theres a good bunch of his stuff here:

http://www.brothersjudd.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/reviews.detail/book_id/1218

There is a useful essay on aboriginal identitiy and specifically on Mudrooroo Nyoongah by Gary Foley here:

http://www.kooriweb.org/foley/essays/essay_10.html

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

Mindy

I agree with Ken’s view. The ‘literary merit’ of a work shouldn’t depend on who wrote it, but the author’s characteristics might add to a book’s interest and sales potential in their own right. If I write a mediocre and cliched semi-fictional account of life as a child raised by wolves, and succeed in convincing publishers that I am that, they will expect to sell millions of copies. The book will be a sensation, not just because a wolf-child has miraculously been rehabilitated and taught to write, but because now readers can at last satisy their lifelong curiosity what it’s *really* like to be wolf child. To exploit this potential is unmitigated fraud, isn’t it?

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Yeah, in this age of personality and celebrity driven publishing, the fact “it really happened to me” is just kinda the hook the marketing department tells the commissioning editors they should be seeking.

And speaking of hooks, I’d agree with various comments above that, while Theo does write well, he is using here a 20 year old scandal as an excuse upon which to hang a well-worn polemic.

And speaking of polemics, interesting how those who trot out the shapeshifting moral relativism spawned in the 60s as a main cause of the civil ills that ail us now, never mention another major cultural, social and economic push of the last few decades – the whole Thatcherism/Reaganomics “loadsamoney’, “no such thing as society’,’Me Generation’, ‘greed is good’ thang – as another possible instigator of amoral and socially irresponsible behaviour.

I mean, who do you think has fucked up more lives by assuming they don’t have to answer for the consequences of their actions, the drug-fucked bling bling ram raiders Theo deals with or Kenny Boy and Enron?

saint
2022 years ago

Oh whatever. I just want to get hold of the “book of the replies he received from Anglican bishops when he wrote them spoof letters as Francis Wagstaffe, and published as The Spiritual Quest of Francis Wagstaffe.”

LOL.

Mindy
2022 years ago

James – yes I see your point. But if you sold it as fiction is it still fraud?

mw
mw
2022 years ago

“It was very difficult for female authors to get their work published and sold in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, irrespective of talent, so arguably Eliot had no viable alternative but to adopt a male persona.”

I don’t think that’s actually true–at least not in the mid-late 19th century when Eliot was writing. I believe that books by ‘lady novelists’ sold in huge numbers. What was difficult was for female authors to publish novels that would be taken seriously as literature. Which makes this situation much more comparable. It’s not hard for a white male to publish, but it is arguably difficult for a male to publish the kinds of stories that “Rahila Khan” wrote and have them read and taken seriously by the target audience.

What I also find interesting about this topic is that this book appears to be flat-out unavailable. A quick search found it on Amazon and a couple of other places, but no copies are listed for sale. It’d be interesting to read the stories and see what Dalrymple’s talking about, but apparently that’s not possible.

rvk
rvk
2022 years ago

And then there is the author of “The Swallows of Kabul,” Yasmina Khadra:

Yasmina Khadra is actually the nom de plume of Algerian army officer Mohammed Moulessehoul — who took on the feminine pseudonym to avoid submitting his manuscripts for approval by military censors while he was still in the army. “Yasmina Khadra’s Kabul is hell on earth, a place of hunger, tedium, and stifling fear,”

Steve
Steve
2022 years ago

Nabakov – pretty obviously its the “drug fucked bling-bling ram-raiders” who are more damaging for society, as there are huge numbers of them & they bring the whole culture down to the lowest common – I assume you have never actually visited the vast wastes of human life that are typical of the modern British city.