Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bloomsday or Doomsday

The carrion vultures are croaking and crawing over the corpse of the James Joyce literary estate which emerged from its copyright protection on the 1st of January 2012.

Oh Happy New Year!

"We all own Joyce now" shrieks the twitter account of a sausage factory for ready-made writers. Oh dear, duck your heads for some tedious mash-ups of Joyce with the staple fare of middle class banalities about what to wear to the jazz club. Workshopped to within an ironic inch of any vitality.

The Wikipedia version of Phenergan's Wake will be a triumph of democracy.

The unbridled exultation on the part of those whose commodifications will be unfettered at last, has led to a bit of a vituperative slagging-off of literary estates in general. How dare they be so obstructive! There has been a little more than muttering, and there's apparently a lot of resentment to express about the supposed outrages done to truth and justice. As can be seen, for instance, in this article from todays' Independent: An End to Bad-Heir Days (by Gordon Bowker, 7 January 2012).

A lot of it is fiction, and betrays the natural hostility of many academics towards literary estates The scholars project their own greed and inappropriate sense of personal entitlement onto the estates. They use these demeaning anecdotes to stir up public opinion. Perhaps they even believe this mythmaking, as legend-building appears to be their natural territory in any case. By demonising estates they attempt to take the attention off their own often unethical behaviour.

Note that Salinger is on the list of supposedly rude and obstructive 'estates'. He had been so depersonalised - as are the other great authors - that they couldn't even wait for him to die, let alone for his copyright to expire.

Anyone who tries to prevent an author's private life and work being exploited and miscontextualised is portrayed negatively, as in this article. I bet the literary estates have their own horror stories to tell too, of theft and lies and misrepresentation and misquotation on the part of unscrupulous career-builders.

Honestly your hair would stand on end at the lengths some of these people go to. Many of them do not respect an attitude of cooperation either, as I discovered personally. Their peers sneer at them apparently, if they are believed to be cooperating with an estate. Standard practice seems to be to attempt to manipulate or deceive, and some particularly unpleasant people take it further, and have been seen to bait the estates gratuitously, as is well known to have happened with the Plath Estate. In some cases, it becomes a kind of sport, and as for the obsessed scholar who has so identified him or herself with 'their' author - then it becomes a kind of madness I think.

And if my negative portrait of some academics astonishes and alarms anyone who reads this, then you need to ask yourself whether you are just as astonished and alarmed by their own attempt to assassinate the character of the major literary estates, or whether you are willing to just swallow their propaganda whole.

1 comment:

Pamela Gordon said...

Bowker is hardly a neutral commentator: his biography of Joyce was panned by the Guardian for its laughable attempts to draw simplistic correspondences between Joyce's life and his work. Any estate would treat that kind of time-wasting nonsense with disdain so perhaps it is no coincidence that Bowker's petulant outburst reeks of sour grapes.