More Christopher Priest versus the Clarke Award

Yesterday’s post about the latest genre dust-up involving Christopher Priest’s very vocal criticism of this year’s Clarke Award shortlist has been linked by John Scalzi at Whatever, which has sent my stats shooting up since Scalzi gets as many visitors in a day as I get in a year.

Meanwhile, everybody and his dog (and this is not a reference to Charles Stross) is weighing in as well:

James Nicoll agrees with Priest that the shortlist is crap, though he hates the Jane Rogers novel as well.

Cheryl Morgan thinks that awards are a good opportunity to get people talking about books but far from a life and death matter. Besides, taste is subjective and there are many different ways in which a jury comes to a decision, so Priest was out of line calling for the firing of the jury.

Jeff Vandermeer and his alter-ego Evil Monkey think it’s all a bit of a tempest in a teacup.

Charles Tan discusses the different responses to Christopher Priest’s rant and wonders whether anybody would be talking about Priest’s post at all, if he hadn’t been so rude.

Catherynne Valente quite enjoyed Christopher Priest’s rant, because any literary field needs it’s ranting old men. More importantly, Catherynne Valente also wonders whether she could have gotten away with writing such a rant, because women are inevitably judged harsher for being snarky or downright rude than men.

Now I rarely agree with Catherynne Valente on anything. However, I think she made some important points here.

Germany has a tradition of snarky and sometimes downright rude literary critics, foremost among them Marcel Reich-Ranicki, a diminuitive 92-year-old Holocaust survivor with an extremely sharp tongue. Reich-Ranicki was one of four literary critics who discussed new fiction in a TV program called Das Literarische Quartett (The literary quartet). Now most of the time, I couldn’t have cared less about the books discussed on Das Literarische Quartett, since the show focused on the sort of heavy and depressing literary books I don’t read. And my personal tastes run very much opposite to those of Marcel Reich-Ranicki and his compatriots. Yet I was an enthusiastic viewer of the show, because seeing those very distinguished critics tearing into each other and into the books discussed was incredibly entertaining (here is a taste of what it was like). In fact, it was so entertaining that I was quite shocked when critic Sigrid Löffler walked out after a disagreement with Reich-Ranicki, because I had always assumed that the animosity between the two of them was part of the performance. Writers hated Das Literarische Quartett and particularly Marcel Reich-Ranicki, too. Once, two novels murdering Reich-Ranicki stand-ins in various creative ways came out in a single year.

Christopher Priest is basically playing Marcel Reich-Ranicki for the SF community here, the curmudgeonly elder statesman critic with whose tastes you rarely agree, but who is so fantastically entertaining that it doesn’t matter. Damien Walter is the offended Sigrid Löffler, while John Scalzi is Hellmuth Karasek, the peacemaking third critic. And this is also how I view the regular genre dust-ups, as Das Literarische Quartett with science fiction.

Getting back to Catherynne Valente’s point, Marcel Reich-Ranicki once famously refused to accept the prestigious German TV Award in the middle of a glamourous and televised award ceremony, because the quality of the other programs honoured was simply too low for his exalted tastes. And in return for basically humiliating the awards organisers, the TV channel ZDF gave Reich-Ranicki half an hour of airtime to expound upon his views in an interview with Thomas Gottschalk, host of the sort of program that prompted Reich- Ranicki’s rant in the first place.

A few days after Reich-Ranicki’s very public rant during the awards ceremony, Elke Heidenreich, another literary critic with a successful TV show, echoed Reich-Ranicki’s points in a newspaper article. And what happened? Elke Heidenreich was fired, even though her show was successful, for supposedly badmouthing her employer. And Reich-Ranicki, rather than back her up, declared that she had been out of line.

So the doublestandard pointed out by Catherynne Valente is alive and well and men simply get away with much more than women.

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8 Responses to More Christopher Priest versus the Clarke Award

  1. Pingback: Good Friday Links | Cora Buhlert

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  5. James Davis Nicoll says:

    Please forgive this extremely belated comment.

    Catherynne Valente quite enjoyed Christopher Priest’s rant, because any literary field needs it’s ranting old men. More importantly, Catherynne Valente also wonders whether she could have gotten away with writing such a rant, because women are inevitably judged harsher for being snarky or downright rude than men.

    Back when SFWA existed to provide the world with moments in inept management, there were two incidents that happened almost back to back: Andrew Burt used an overly broad DMCA take-down and got a Cory Doctorow piece taken down, much to Doctorow’s vocal displeasure. Sometime later Doctorow quoted a Le Guin piece in full, believing (iirc) that fair use meant he could quote all of something if it was very short. Le Guin was also vocally displeased with this.

    I had people on my LJ chiding Le Guin for not opting for a more conciliatory approach to her dispute with Doctorow. I don’t recall anyone chiding Doctorow for his outburst.

    • Cora says:

      I vaguely remember that incident. And it’s indeed telling that Le Guin was chided more than Doctorow, especially since Le Guin had the elderly statesperson status held by Christopher Priest in last year’s uproar and Marcel Reich-Ranicki in my warring German lit-critics example.

      The belated comment is no problem BTW, since WordPress automatically puts the most recent comments on top, regardless when the post was made.

  6. Pingback: In Memoriam Marcel Reich-Ranicki | Cora Buhlert

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