A few days ago, I blogged about VS Naipaul’s blanket dismissal of women writers.
There are a couple of responses to Naipaul’s misogynist remarks:
First of all, Diana Athill, the editor turned writer who was accused of writing “feminine tosh” by Naipaul dismisses the whole affair as laughable and says that Naipaul is just angry, because she criticized Naipaul’s writing in her capacity as an editor.
At the Atlantic, the extremely popular (at least, I see people linking to his posts all the time) Ta-Nehisi Coates says that young women writers should just do their own thing and ignore the Naipauls of this world, because nothing is going to change their minds anyway. In a follow-up post, Ta-Nehisi Coates also highlights a comment by a woman identified only as hilzoy who says that Naipaul’s works are still worth a read, even if his attitudes towards women and people of colour are appalling. Because Naipaul is nonetheless a good writer whom other writers could learn from, even if they despise what he believes.
At Obsidian Wings, a poster only identified as Doctor Science disagrees and states that no one should read Naipaul, if his attitudes put them off, because writers can learn what Naipaul (or any other good writer with problematic attitudes) has to teach from other sources.
I largely agree with this. Of course, one sometimes has to read writers one vehemently disagrees with for school, university and scholarly work. I had to read some essays for my MA thesis that made me want to scrub out my brain with bleach afterwards. In one case, I even wrote a poem mocking the author (a well known and highly regarded name in SF) of a particularly offensive essay. But the good thing about having to read offensive essays by awful people for a thesis or paper is that you get to pick their argument apart and demonstrate why they’re totally wrong. For example, I wrote in my MA thesis that “the offensiveness and sheer racism of [famous SF author’s] essay is mind-boggling” and damn, it felt good to type that.
However, learning to write is different from academic scholarship. And outside the context of a university creative writing program, I don’t see why anybody should have to read an author they find repellent. Of course, one shouldn’t dismiss a writer for his or her opinions out of hand, because even thoroughly unpleasant people can still be good writers and they might even have something useful to say about writing and literature. Indeed, I’ve come across several excellent “how to write” articles by writers with very out there and fringe lunatic political views. But if an aspiring writer absolutely cannot stand an particular author to the point that the mere thought of having to read that person is causing them to break out in hives, I don’t see why they should have to, especially if there is a more palatable alternative. There is no patent on writerly tricks and techniques, after all.