Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Who are the most overrated contemporary writers in the world?
Alison Flood on her Guardian blog
In a recent Huffington Post piece, Anis Shivani names and shames the most over-hyped authors. Do you agree with his list?

To find that out, we need to use a life cycle analysis (LCA), which evaluates the ecological impact of any product, at every stage of its existence—in this case, from cutting down trees for paper to the day when the iPad and the Kindle will end their lives.

Junot Diaz. left, describes everything at 'ear-shattering ghetto volume, as though there were no difference between murder and puking'. Photograph: Claudio Onorati/ Claudio Onorati/epa/Corbis

Whether or not you agree with him, it's hard not to admire Anis Shivani's balls. In a piece for the Huffington Post, the author and poet has set out the 15 contemporary American writers he believes are most overrated, laying into the likes of Jonathan Safran Foer ("always quick to jump on to the bandwagon of the moment"), Junot Diaz ("his manic voice describes everything with the same faux energy, the ear-shattering ghetto volume, as though there were no difference between murder and puking"), Michael Cunningham ("yet another gimmick man, yet another shtick peddler") and Billy Collins ("a one-trick pony who acts in every poem as if he's discovering the trick for the very first time").

It's not only writers he has it in for – the literary establishment also gets it in the neck. Reviewers are "no more than the blurbing arm for conglomerate publishing" (and Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times makes his overrated list as "enabler-in-chief for the preceding mediocrities"). Creative writing programmes: "few with critical ability have any incentive to rock the boat – awards and jobs may be held back in retaliation". Conglomerate publishing: "the decision-makers wouldn't know great literature if it hit them in the face". Incidentally, this essay on the death of fiction estimates that, with at least 822 creative writing programmes in the US, the next decade will produce around 60,000 new writers. Will they all, as Shivani suggests, "lean heavily on the easily imitable"? We can only hope not.

I get the feeling that Shivani has been brewing this piece for some time. These aren't wild, bitter stabs in the dark; his jibes have barbs to them. It's also extremely amusing – I'm still chuckling at his Sharon Olds takedown: "Childbirth, her father's penis, her son's cock, and her daughter's vagina are repeated obsessions she can always count on in a pinch. Has given confessionalism such a bad name it can't possibly recover." And I haven't read Helen Vendler, apparently "America's most banal critic", but if the sentence Shivani highlights from her work is anything to go by – "no new generalisations about [George] Herbert are proposed in this book" – he may have a point.
Read the full piece on Alison Flood's blog.

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