Doppelganger Blues

by rsbakker

So I had planned to follow John Barber’s installments on the future of the book in The Globe and Mail, but I’ve been finding them… uninspiring. Instead, I’ve been thinking of how I might turn this blog into something that actually aggravates the literati, instead of simply snickering behind their back. I was thinking I might run a regular spoof of some holier-than-thou literary journal like the Kenyon review, see if I can’t entice someone into a good old fashioned debate on what, if anything, makes literary values superior to genre values. Most all the literature types I meet simply take those values as given, as something painfully self-evident – which is just to say that, all their critical rhetoric notwithstanding, they’re no different than the vulgar masses they use as their negative reference group, as the marketers say. The losers they use to feel better about themselves.

Or maybe I should aim a little higher? The New Yorker, maybe? Or maybe I should tackle The Walrus, the idea being that a smaller, Canadian publication would be more likely to take notice of a gnat like me? I’m open to ideas. And I’m willing to do battle with anyone, no matter how big their terminological guns.Which leads me to the question of my own motivations. Given my own cynical outlook, it would be more than a little hypocritical to suggest I didn’t have a personal stake in all this.

Case in point. The past couple times I’ve trolled the web for reviews to add to the blurb pile, I’ve encountered a book called The Twin, translated out of Dutch original by Gerbrand Bakker. I didn’t think much of it, aside to wonder what Ger was thinking when he trolled the web and bumped into references to me. But at around 7AM (fatherhood, anyone?) I open up The Globe and Mail books section and what do I see, an extremely positive review of The Twin! What is it? From the review’s description, it’s a tea and torment special, lyrically rendered and abounding with critical sensitivity, written about people more likely to laugh at it than read it. I’m sure it’s all these things, and I’m equally sure that it will confirm more than challenge its readers expectations. Why? Because it’s generically coded only to reach likeminded readers.

I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

Now I’m a long time reader of The Globe and Mail – familiarity as they say, breeds contempt – and without exception, with every book I write, I have pressed my Canadian editors to push for a review. Nada. Not one. And this is but one engine of my animus, trust me. I even have a couple of revenge fantasies I revisit and revise from time to time. I was forged in these circles, trained and indoctrinated, until I reached the point where I use to laughingly mention reading Conan at the grad club, whenever the obligatory ‘How backward was I?’ conversations began.

Now I like to think I’ve seen my way past all that self-aggrandizing claptrap, and yet what do I do? Grind my teeth whenever all these literary brains do what they are programmed to do: which is judge me in the most superficial manner possible, then dismiss me as irrelevant.

Lock me out of The Globe and Mail.

So my Dutch doppelganger – the me I could have been had not genre saved my life – makes it through, wins the judgement I never will, simply because I can’t get a hearing, and he was slotted into the docket simply because of the colour of his literary skin. Quotidian minutae, anyone?

I really do believe that literary culture is socially pernicious, that it feeds wide-spread anti-intellectual sentiment, that conscripts critical talent which the larger community desperately needs, all in the name of a ‘literature’ that does everything that entertainment does and nothing what literature is supposed to do. And I have plenty of arguments to back up my case.

But my, doesn’t it feel like apologetic rationalization? More me real, you phony.