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Booker of Bookers?: Boring

As recent Eyewear posts have discussed, many British poets are (rightly I think) concerned, lest poetry become commodified, incorporated into a part of the capitalist literary industry. Sadly - or perhaps happily for those less-Marxist - novelists have fewer limits to their access to the culture of commodification. Indeed, prose writers are routinely coopted into an increasingly slick assembly-line approach to narrative-based writing: novel, radio play, audiobook, then audiovisual adaptation for TV or film - the "book" being simply the first in a potentially (and legally) infinite series of incorporations across all foreseeable media platforms. Meanwhile, back on Planet (Man) Booker, no one seems to have stopped the tedious juggernaut of endless back-slapping and PR machinations.

Yet another prize has been concocted, out of the list of 41 Booker-winners, so far. The first was in 1969, so this isn't even the 40th anniversary (that's next year) - or is it? At any rate, a select tranche has been chosen, as if by random, by three people (how can three judges be enough for such a decision?). The final list features Mr. Rushdie. Margaret Atwood, and Ian McEwan, by the way, are off the list. Instead, the shortlist of all shortlists seems to be about "Empire" - a subject the British never tire of, even if the all the news is bad, or critical.

It feels like a world gone mad, or a hoax in some trumped up country where elections are routinely stolen. Literary London can sometimes seem like Floridaland. Literary reputations are, as all writers like to remind their friends and exhausted lovers, fickle. Bad or unknown writers hope the pendulum will swing their way, as it did for Poe. Famous writers, of course, hope it will not do to them what it did for, say, George Barker.

Around 1950, the greatest British novelists of the 20th century might have been, shortlisted: D.H. Lawrence, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster. It is hard to think that a similarly impressive list could be offered for the period 1950-2000 - and yet, if one is to be so offered to posterity, it is likely that Rushdie is now the canonised main figure of the period, with his admirable 1981 Midnight's Children squarely in the middle of it.

Lawrence, viewed by Leavis and others as one of the main writers of the 20th century, is relatively neglected as a poet, and his novels have not, recently, done well as films. The subject matter seems passe. Everyone wrestles nude now, everyone has affairs, no one represses their coal-black desires.

Nor do these Lawrentian novels, anymore, raise much controversy, or win prizes. After a time, the dust settles, and the prize-machines rust. Sad to see or hear the silence then. The silence of integrity, the indifference of a mainly reified age.
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