A recent Guardian article by Giles Foden laments the disappearance of the literary salon, a place where like-minded, bookish erudites gather to discuss the great works, future projects and generally froth the literary waters. In this great grey city vibrant public houses and cafe’s are few and far between and Foden is right that such places are swindling still. But is it really a bad thing? He seems to be forgetting one key thing: writers both hate and fear one another.
He notes “As a child visiting Listowel in Ireland I would often be taken after the cattle mart to the pub of a relative of my mother’s, John B. Keane. His establishment, colloquially known as John B’s, remains a literary salon of sorts, especially in Listowel Writer’s Week where you might see anyone from Melvyn Bragg to Irvine Welsh in there. But a farmer is just as welcome as a writer. Here in Britain we don’t seem able to manage this kind of double act so well.”
Far from this idea, the shakers of Britain’s cultural future flap around in the private clubs of Soho, Piccadilly and Shoreditch – mostly ‘media types’ (thank God for this horridly reductive phrase) – talking and talking and talking. What they should really be doing is sitting in front of their monitors writing, writing, writing. Talking dissipates energy, interrupts momentum, convinces the mind that the work has already been done. Most importantly, it’s dangerous. People listen to one another going through the following mental process: “oh my God, that’s a good idea, I can use that if i change it a bit, he won’t notice and he’s not that important to me. What has he done for me lately?
The internet has undoubtedly replaced television as the retina of the mind’s eye, and the literary has been digitally transferred to the webpage or the blogsite. Sure, something has been lost along the way: the human connection, the eye contact, the drunken regretful romantic alliances. But, in exchange, the ‘scene’ (if it could be bothered to notice) has been flooded with writing: reviews, opinion, reportage, fiction. This literary-cornucopia means people, more than eve, are sitting down, engaging with the abstract and they’re not talking, not drinking, but writing. Many novels and much non-fiction is being co-published with websites. Countless publishers are scouring the archives of reference sites for popular, cutting edge material. The coffee may not be flowing as strongly but as long as the words don’t run dry there are sure signs that an interesting kind of dedication is flourishing.