Thursday, July 12, 2007

Queries and questions

I have never believed in the subsidy of the arts via the taxpayer's money (other than in education). Only once, in an article in the UK's theatre weekly The Stage, did I see an argument which came even close to convincing me. Generally speaking, therefore, I hold the view that the UK's Arts Council ought to be closed down at 9.00 a.m. tomorrow morning; or preferably, if you can possibly manage it, at 5.00 p.m. this evening.

Some hints as to why some people feel even less enthusiastic about subsidy of the arts than I do may be found in various blogs. It seems that the Arts Council recently funded a study trip to New York for various members of the UK writing and publishing community. The invitation to apply to be included in this study trip (from the North East region), was included in an April newsletter; this is a public document, but an obscure one.

In the event, a party of delegates was selected and was in New York from 28 May to 2 June. A couple of them have written about their experiences: here's one, and here's the other.

While in New York this party of (reportedly) 15 or 16 earnest enquirers after truth were one day in the offices of Palgrave Macmillan, where their presence was noted by Richard Charkin, boss of same. He found himself wondering why it was that British taxpayers' money was being spent on subsidising these already very competent publishing people on a visit to America. He is not alone.

Please note that I make no criticism of those who took advantage of this example of government largesse. If the government is dumb enough to hand out taxpayers' money on various projects, and if I think I am eligible to apply, then I will stand in line with my hand out, like any other sensible person.

But do I think such subsidy is justified? No, I do not. People who want to know how New York publishing works should either go out there at their own expense (which I have done at least half a dozen times) or sit in front of their computer and read blogs.

As for last year's equivalent 'project', which was a trip to the Festival of the European Short Story in Croatia -- I am at a loss for words. Strictly a temporary condition, I'm sure.

Dave Lull, who seems to have a full-time job finding interesting internet sites, points me to the 2Blowhards blog, where a number of 'eternal amateurs discuss their passions'. One of them has the good taste to read the GOB (11 July). What a splendid fellow.

You can get a sense of what Michael Blowhard is all about from his best-of compilation. These guys are heavily read, and judging by the samples I've taken, they attract a lot of comments. Thanks again, Dave.

In the Independent, Sarah Churchwell asks 'Why can't British students write like Americans?' The answer, as we all know, but few of us dare say, is because the British educational system has been a catastrophe for the last 50 years or so -- more or less during my working lifetime, which was spent (sadly enough) in education.

Sarah Churchwell's article is a brave and outspoken piece of comment, doubly so because it comes from a practising academic. I don't go for her definition of a sentence, but apart from that I give her full marks.

A few days ago I mentioned the Million Writers Award. Now I hear that, on Bloggasm, Simon Owens has interviewed both the creator and the winner of this year's Award. Well worth reading.


Anonymous said...

A nice article on Bloggasm--I couldn't agree more heartily with the positive spirit that goes into putting out an online magazine. The interaction with the authors in the drafts and final product, in fact, is almost more fun than hitting "send" when it's all done.

David Isaak said...

Enjoyed Sarah Churchwell's article, but I take exception to her complaint about the proliferation of capital letters in the writing of her students.

I learned capitalization as technique from that master of serious prose, AA Milne, and I believe it can be A Very Good Thing when properly employed.

Anonymous said...

The most beautiful people I've ever seen were in Croatia. Sorry I missed that trip.

Anonymous said...

This is not sour grapes, since I've had a grant or two in Ontario, but granting, for some reason, fosters mediocrity.
I am wondering where those angry young men and their angry old typewriters are today, here in Ontario after thirty years.

Hardly anything of quality produced all that time.
Just remaindeered dogs in the bookstores.


Anonymous said...

I'm afraid that Sara Churchwell's observations would be just as true of Australia. I spend a lot of time on technically oriented web sites, and it is striking that most of the clearest and grammatically correct writing is by Europeans (notably Swedes, Germans and the Dutch) who are writing in a second language.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid Sarah Churchwell has no idea what she is talking about. I can't speak for the intelligence of British students, but very few of the normal American university students that I have seen know how to write. And they certainly do not know their grammar. I have taught writing to university students and my partner is a university professor. American students are equally as ignorant. They don't know the parts of speech, and they can't even spot a complete sentence when it's put in front of them.

From what I can tell, Churchwell is just one of those extremely lucky people who has a job in a university where the students are expected to know the basics. Perhaps she should take the time to study the laziness of the English-speaking student in general, because it appears that this is a problem in every part of the world