Thursday, April 21, 2005

They Just Keep Giving Me Reasons

to loathe writers of literary fiction. Today's gem is this coagulation of fatuous self-promoting blather from the nether reaches of G2: one Tim Lott's paean to the 'deepest forms of truth' found in--say it with me, children--Science.

Little is guaranteed to vex a science student more thoroughly than the damp-palmed, gropy appropriation (may I say aggropriation?) of science by the Literary Writer. It gets right in amongst us in no time. Now, I freely confess to a non-trivial element of snobbery in this. I also confess that, being a poet as well as science student, I have myself written not infrequently about things scientific. It is pretty damn amazing and inspiring. However, the utterly shallow, self-delighted smugness with which a given non-scientist writer trundles forth her tawdry little souvenirs of cognition from the Other Side Of Campus is enough to make me want to bludgeon this Lott and his lot pulpy with a spade.

I mean honestly. How are we supposed to react to being told 'I always remember [Martin Amis's] observation that everything around us, including ourselves, "was forged in the stars. We are literally made of stardust"'? Actually, that particular mot constitutes an impressive feat of unoriginality: the trite assertion of the profundity of a statement which is itself cripplingly trite. Cliche squared.

Also, offensively, though Lott starts out pretending not to buy into the ghettoization of science fiction writers by scare-quoting 'so-called "real writers"', before long he's laying claim to Kurt Vonnegut as a 'real writer who engages with concepts of physics and technology' and therefore 'written off as a writer of science fiction'. Fuck you very much, Vonnegut's one of ours. And, yes, a real writer.

(On a side note, Lott's list of '"proper" writers who have engaged with technology, physics and cosmology, to a certain extent' signally fails to include the best 'literary' novelist of science currently working: Richard Powers. Powers writes about the interplay of scientific and emotional realities with a range, skill and erudition that Lott should only short out his electric blanket dreaming of.)

In closing, Lott graces us with the (notably ungrammatical) confidence that 'My journey from fiction into science has just begun, and for the first time for several years, I feel genuinely excited by a subject. Because science is at the heart of life, that is to say, who we are, and as such any novelist who ignores it is turning their back on one of the most profound ways of seeing that we possess.'

So at least we have that to look forward to.

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