Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Paradoxes of self-reference

A novel describes a country as a cesspit of antisemitism, said country awards same novel top prize, thus proving that it isn't. If the novel is right then it wouldn't have received the prize; if the novel is wrong then it shouldn't have received the prize. But maybe the novel is actually set in a another possible world, resembling this one only in some respects? Its literary virtues, expressed in its depiction of this non-actual but possible world, more than merit the award. Or something. Whatever.


Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

For me, Jacobson is well into the "went off a while ago" phase of his career. When I read the Independent on Saturdays, I sort of enjoyed his columns for a bit - until he went on holiday and they replaced him with Alexei Sayle - also Northern, Jewish, comic. Sayle is just much better and more interesting. Less egotistical for one thing.

His acceptance speech is on iPlayer (the last five minutes of the Booker broadcast). It's a bit weird. It's supposed to be funny and the audience laugh, but there is a sense of entitlement there. Jacobson seems to believe that he should have won in every previous year he was nominated. I only watched the speech because I heard it was especially fat-headed (seconded), Andrew Motion's introduction is quite unbearably pompous. No wonder they broadcast less of it than they used to.

For balance, he's a very appreciative review

10/13/2010 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

And yet, it's not so much a Catch-22 situation, as Not as Good as Good as Gold.

10/13/2010 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

I've read a few Booker-winning novels that I didn't rate too highly, but I've never read one that actively sucked. If Jacobson's won, then I'm confident he's won on literary merit.

Plus, a warning - parsing of artistic works for political badthink is the main indicator of incipient wingnuttery. That's why I've taken the piss out of Nick Cohen's stuff so brutally in the past...

That said, I've noted on a number of occasions that anyone comparing modern Britain to Nazi Germany in anything other than comical circumstances is utterly insane. Jacobson = patient zero here.

The hilarious part of this is the way that the wider decent fraternity have responded, not by celebrating an author's success, but by instantly turning it into a referendum on their dingbat politics... Then charging off in a frantic search for someone - anyone! - complaining about it. whether such people exist or not appears to be immaterial. debates over whether Jacobson's book merited the award - utterly standard for all awards, I think - seem to suffice as evidence of malignant racialism, or something.

(As a side note, an issue I wouldn't normally touch with a bargepole, but which looks fairly common now... There seems to be a really unpleasant, toxic situation developing in comments on places like HP and the Spectator over Jewish people who are perceived as insufficiently supportive of Israel, i.e. everyone except belligerent wingnuts. There seems to be a real effort to invalidate these people's opinions with some nasty, Uncle Tom-style insults, which looks pretty fucking horrible to me. People that keen on excommunication for doctrinal differences should really think about taking up Catholicism instead, I think).

10/13/2010 07:34:00 PM  
Anonymous W. V. O. Quine said...

Booker juror:

"If and only if a work of fiction by a Jewish author truly depicts me as an anti-semite who'll withhold his vote whenever the author is Jewish, I'll vote for it."

10/13/2010 07:57:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Tim, oh very good. Very good indeed. I've read 'Good as Gold' and 'Something Happened.' Neither were bad, but...

FR, I don't think either CC or I were criticising Jacobson for his politics or badthink. CC noted that HJ's thesis was disproved by his win, and I just think he's an arsehole whose published work to content ratio is greatly weighted toward the first of those.

Re your sidenote: that's being going on a long time, IMO. There are righteous Jews and 'traitors'. Chomsky is among the latter, as is Mordechai Vanunu. Jews who don't cluster round roughly the opinions of Denis MacShane are suspect. I don't think this is about Jewishness as such (I'm sure Jacobson would disagree) but about having an embattled identity - and the worthiness and (vicarious) courage that flows from that.

The EDL and the BNP have rallied round the Israeli flag, as have several of the uglier HP commentators. It shouldn't take a genius to notice that this stinks.

10/13/2010 08:02:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

CC: Sure, wasn't getting on at either of you. Just noting that art/politics is fertile ground for fucknuttery, so I try to be a bit careful around it.

10/13/2010 08:11:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

The hilarious part of this is the way that the wider decent fraternity have responded, not by celebrating an author's success, but by instantly turning it into a referendum on their dingbat politics... Then charging off in a frantic search for someone - anyone! - complaining about it.

Some commenters at HP are desperately trying to find reasons to bash the Guardian and Independent over this, despite the fact that both liked the book and Jacobson writes a column for the Indie and they devoted a whole page to congratulating him. So they have resorted to taking offence at the Guardian having a disussion on whether the book was a worthy winner. Not the tone of the discussion, just the fact they are having it at all.

There seems to be a really unpleasant, toxic situation developing in comments on places like HP and the Spectator over Jewish people who are perceived as insufficiently supportive of Israel, i.e. everyone except belligerent wingnuts. There seems to be a real effort to invalidate these people's opinions with some nasty, Uncle Tom-style insults, which looks pretty fucking horrible to me.

This is a serious point - AIUI the objection to what they call "AsaJews" is that they are supposedly portraying themselves as somehow superior to other Jews with whom they disagree, making some artificial distinction between "good Jews" and "bad Jews". But this is exactly what they are doing themselves - "AsaJews" are bad Jews who don't properly toe the line, or are even not real Jews at all. It really is unpleasant and although I don't want to damn Jacobson's book without reading it some snippets I've seen suggest that it at least partly buys in to this idea. Maybe I've got it wrong - I hope so.

10/13/2010 10:53:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

On 'asajew' - i thought that ridiculous phrase was located only in the comments section at HP Sauce (kerching) til recently. They've started using it in actual posts now which i think is worrying and demonstrates a change in the site since David Toube was forced to effectively step down.

I've read a few Booker-winning novels that I didn't rate too highly, but I've never read one that actively sucked.

I think 'Vernon God Little' actively sucked balls. It is awful, and I still don't understand how even the arch-contratian John Carey could allow it to win. It was a pretty weak year, but still.

parsing of artistic works for political badthink is the main indicator of incipient wingnuttery

indeed, and TFQ actually seems a lot more nuanced that Jacobson's directly political writings. I might get round to TFQ when it comes out in paperback, but it's a very dull choice - I can see why tom McCarthy's C didn't win, since it and its author can sometimes be annoying, but my christ when it's good it's spectacularly good.

From a literary standpoint, the award seems odd. Almost anyone who actually likes Jacobson as a novelist, and follows his work, thinks that TFQ is mediocre in comparison to his other novels. He's always struck me as an ultra-pretentious but ultimately middlebrow novelist, who is beloved by people of A Certain Age, who were reading his books when they were young, which is true of Amis and McEwan as well. I'd actually have been happier to see Amis get the 'lifetime achievement' award, as at least he's written novels that will stand the test of time; I'm not sure you can really say the same of Jacobson.

as an aside, i almost put money on him just before the announcement, as a good indicator of who's likely to win is which novelist is either getting into the news sections of papers the week before ('DBC Pierre') or alternatively which novelist is doing loads of lit journalism in the run-up (Mantel last year and HJ this). Hj's stuff this weekend - on comic writing and Victorian art - was just woeful.

HP Sauce, and a fair few guardian commenters, seem to like Jacobson's fiction primarly because of his political journalism which seems odd - Can't imagine they'd post a 'congratulations Tom McCarthy' on the site if he'd won - and I think that once again demonstrates the philistine side to Decency.

10/14/2010 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger the management said...

since David Toube was forced to effectively step down

??? I did not know that. I'm surprised (probably more surprised than I should have been) that his departure made things worse though.

10/14/2010 09:54:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I think it came from all the Galloway-realted legal wranglings - all seems a long time ago now. I'm pretty sure Toube still posts occasionally as 'Lucy Lips', but he's had precious few bylines since that legal stuff. I thought a departure might have made things better but the place is now dominated by 'Alan A' and Michael Ezra...

verification 'vanisher', oddly enough...

10/14/2010 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

As I don't read contemporary novels (well, hardly ever) this doesn't mean much to me - I think Howard Jacobsen is a dick but I also think Dostoyevsky was a dick so it's neither here nor there.

Britian is plainly not a pit of anti-Semitism, though hostility to Israel is of course more and more common, so if anybody conflates the two then of course they're going to mistake B for A. I think rhetorical questions about opposition to Israel are likely to become extremely comonplace in the years to come - it's worth having reasonably generous answers to them, while at the same time recgnising the question for what it is, which is nine times out of ten a means of hinting that people who are not anti-Semtic are in fact anti-Semitic.

I don't know if I ever mentioned The Yiddish Polcemen's Union on here a couple of years ago, which I thought displayed some questionable attitudes towards Arabs, though no reviewer (save myself) that I'm aware of seemed to think so. So maybe it was just me.

10/14/2010 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I didn't know that either. I assume that he was 'forced' by his employers. If so, was this the point all along? (See Is David T a Troll?) The money claim seemed unlikely, but hurting David T may have counted as a win for Socialist Unity or whoever.

I thought 'C' (the bookies' favourite, apparently) couldn't win because 'G' already had. Surely taking cues from 'Sesame Street' would the Man Booker's "serious adult lit" brand, if not its highbrow aspirations. [Para on how the Muppets cultural mashups are indebted to Pound and Eliot goes here. Plus some yada about metanarratives and art that commentates on itself.]

Ian Leslie whose great intelligence is only marred by an inexplicable admiration for Tony Blair got it pretty much right on Twitter:

Howard Jacobson writes long essay on comic novel and not a single laugh in it He really wants that Booker.

Indeed, this is how you market a highbrow comic novel:

Have to agree that a) Jacobson as a fiction writer is much more nuanced than as a political commentator (there's a robust tradition of this though; and HP would play it up when any left-leaning writer or actor is revealed as naive in real life - it's not a biggie) and b) yes it is strange that anyone would come to a novelist because of their views. Not the point at all.

On a similar note, does anyone else think that David Mamet has gradually got worse as he's moved to the Jewish paranoid right? But see Ian McEwan joke in the 'Super Sad True Love Story' video above.

10/14/2010 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

As I don't read contemporary novels (well, hardly ever) this doesn't mean much to me - I think Howard Jacobsen is a dick but I also think Dostoyevsky was a dick so it's neither here nor there.

Quite agree. Was going to say something similar, but the writer who came to mind who was also an arse was Mailer, and I didn't want to seem to have a particular animus toward Jews.

Byron was possibly the champion of the world at being a dick, and he really was a highbrow immortal.

10/14/2010 11:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Breaking news: Denis MacShane suspended from PLP!

10/14/2010 11:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



10/14/2010 11:40:00 AM  
Anonymous bubby said...

This looks great. Hope its broadcast at some point.

10/14/2010 11:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apologies for linking to Guido Fawkes but it does include a photo of The Garage of Doom:


10/14/2010 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is some wierd shenanigans with his Brother (a poet) and a "European Political Insititute"

It all seems like he is doing a comedy re-run of the old Cold War "Congress for Cultural Freedom" thing, on all kinds of front organisations - only without the cash from mysterious benefactors

10/14/2010 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Coventrian said...

Can I claim the credit?

I went through MacShane's expenses claims and quite quickly found the stuff about the 8 laptops and traced the invoices to his brother.

I sent the info to The Guardian who praised my research, but didn't publish. I suspected they wouldn't rat out an old mate and NUJ honcho.

So with a very guilty feeling, I sent it to The Daily Mail as they had already run with the garage story. The bastards didn't even thank me let alone cough up the 30 pieces of silver.

However, I now have a warm, happy feeling inside.

Trebles all round!

10/14/2010 12:20:00 PM  
Anonymous bensix said...

MacShane's on more advisory boards than I've got bloody floorboards. All a tad dodgy.

10/14/2010 12:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's very bad of the Mail - they normally pay pretty good rates for a story, Coventrian - altho' you do need to be epxlicit that you are selling them a story from the beginning , along the lines - "I have a story - would you pay me for it ?"

10/14/2010 01:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MacShane's expenses mess also puts into context why he made staff from the new parliamentary expenses watchdog IPSA cry, and then tried to buy them off with "the biggest box of chocolates"

10/14/2010 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger Coventrian said...

I realise now that was an error not to ask for money upfront, but taking money from the Mail would have sullied what I saw as a pure and honourable exercise. A prison sentence would be its own reward.

It's always better to have the moral high ground over the Mail and MacShane.

10/14/2010 03:20:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

Wow! Well I guess yes, you can claim the credit then!

10/14/2010 03:46:00 PM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

On Heller, I think I read God Knows once, but God knows what it was about.

China Mieville gave Jacobson's book a bit of a kicking, but then he would.

I was wondering a couple of days ago if perhaps giving the identity of anti-Israelism/anti-semitism position more of an airing was a good thing as it soon collapses under its own contradictions when examined.

10/14/2010 04:02:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Yes - self-hating Jew is the term for those inconvenient Israel-critics. Not generally used directly against high-status targets like Chomsky - more of a diffuse generalisation. Though Norman Finkelstein has been on teh end of it, of course. I think its use may eb on gthe wane as it actually manages to be too rabid even for the headbangers involved.

10/14/2010 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Heller: I think GaG is underrated, Something Happened, er, not so much, and - yes - Picture This, oh dear. Like Flaubert's Parrot, that was never going to be a good idea.

But GaG wasn't typical 2nd book syndrome (disparity in gestation periods one obvious cause of that). I think H did have two books in him, just - sensibly - got the better one out first.

Also, vaguely on topic, Jewish-experience-back-when-golf-clubs-were-a-problem-wise (I should have such problems). Read a recent Roth a while back - judging by that one he seemed to be into the 'dirty old man' phase.

I mean, I like sniffing teenage girls' knickers as much as the next man (he is Japanese), but I at least realise that it's not heroic, romantic, etc., and keep it to myself, oops.

10/14/2010 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

MacShane's expenses mess also puts into context why and in conjunction with the fact that he is an almighty cunt, provides a complete and satisfying explanation.

That's very bad of the Mail - but pretty dreadful of the Graun. Interesting anecdote Coventrian - and nice work.

The Mail phenomenon is an interesting one - say what you like about it, it does actually get a bit more investigative - or more to the point, publicative(?) than most. Oborne is there, isnt he.

I speculate it's to do with the readership - not fully indoctrinated into the middle class, but enough of a foothold to avoid a (quite reasonable) Saturday Night Sunday Morning tyope of approach. Stakeholder cynicism, sort of thing.

Obviously can go astray, and the worst-of-both-worlds attitudes (get those foreign workers off my land, gays cavort at taxpayers' expense) are not endearing, but still.

10/14/2010 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger Coventrian said...

How I caught Macshane

'However, the big mystery is the strange sequence of invoices from The European Policy Institute (EPI), which doesn't seem to have any presence on the Internet other than it was founded by Denis MacShane. The invoices are strangely repetitive, lacking in detail as to what work was done and with all contact details redacted. Why?

After extensive Googling I found this website gave me a phone number, but no postal or web address for the EPI.

And the result:
European Policy Institute 020 7736 0350
So I decided to Google the phone number to see if that would lead to anything.
I found the EPI shared a phone number with this website which is a company providing addresses for direct mailing across Europe, but what has that to do with European Policy Institute or the research and translation work invoiced to the taxpayer?
A whois search on the website gives Registrant as someone called Edmund Matthew.
But looking back at the results of my phone number google I looked at the next result which gave me this
Edmund Matyjaszek (ems AT or 020 7736 0350)
From the Poetry Society website.
Could Edmund Matthew and Edmund Matyjaszek be the same person? But hang on wasn't Denis MacShane originally called Denis Matyjaszek? Could they be related, perhaps brothers? There is a resemblance
So why do the EPI, European Marketing Systems and the poet Edmund Matyjaszek, all share the same telephone number, and who at the EPI is being paid by Denis MacShane/Matyjaszek to carry our 'research and translation'? Whoever it is has received more than £10,000 of tax-payers money. I think this deserves more investigation.'

10/14/2010 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Oh, skidmarx didnt mention 'Picture This', but 'God Knows'. I'd forgotten all about that one - certainly don't have any idea what it was about now.

10/14/2010 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Just relocated a comment I started, comparing the case of European Policy Institute/
European Marketing Systems (that's the full name - you can still hear the poet's lugubrious tones on the ansafone) with the Henry Jackson Society/Students' Rights thing, here.

(captcha: 'fores' - not 'fures')

10/14/2010 07:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anthony said...

I gather the novel is dedicated to my old marxist English Literature tutor, who sadly passed away last year.

10/14/2010 10:05:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

That's among my reasons for not reading contemporary novels - what's the point of wading through them when so many will have been forgotten a decade later? Better to wait a couple of decades before reading them - if they're good, they'll still be around (or be rediscovered).

I had a copy of that Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in the back of my bag the other day.

10/15/2010 02:15:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10/15/2010 03:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David T still happily posts on HP, as "habibi"

10/17/2010 04:21:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

How do you know?

10/17/2010 05:35:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Adam Roberts reviews 'C'.

Two bigger problems, I thought. One is that the C-for-cypher element of the novel's title becomes, at 300+ pages, frankly tiresomely [sic]. ... The other is that the book is not well written.
Still, in sum: this may be the best novel on the shortlist. For all its blots and longeurs, it's much better than Jacobson's Finkler Question.

I don't know whether Gollancz submitted Roberts' novel this year New Model Army. I still haven't read it, but it sounds more interesting than anything on the shortlist. (IMO, the longlist had more enticing books.

10/18/2010 03:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re habibi. Small bit of deduction.

David's email address is; I noticed that when an email went out from "habibi" it was from

So, a quick google of that shows that it's only habibi.harryblog and davidt.harryblog that show up.

If you go here and hover your mouse over the "dear..." links at the top left, you'll see that only one person used the "" email formulation.

The coincidence is way too strong, given that the [x] type hasn't been displayed since the redesign.

10/18/2010 08:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry for posting that anonymously. These guys have tried to smear me before and in the current climate, it could cost me my job.

10/18/2010 08:39:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I vaguely know Adam R and I like his criticism; sci-fi fans i know rate his fiction too. But I'm not 100% sold by that review. He's definitely right - C is patchy, with some bits better than othres. But the code thing is done far more obviously and tediously in the review than the novel, where you can quite easily ignore it, as i did.

I'm with him in his conclusion too - it's ambitious, the good bits are spectacularly good, and while it is openly and unashamedly pretentious, it just about carries it off.

10/19/2010 07:02:00 AM  

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