Saul Bellow once described the experience of reading the literary quarterlies of the fifties and sixties, after their takeover by the academy. He recorded feeling “first uncomfortable, then queasy, then indignant, contemptuous and finally quite bleak, flattened out by the bad writing.”
If you have followed the events and aftermath of the recent Brisbane Writers Festival, you may have experienced a very similar emotional reaction. In this essay, I hope to arrest that sense of bleakness, but first, a brief summary is in order.
To put it uncharitably, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a sensitive plant, had a tantrum during the keynote address by Lionel Shriver. Her ire was caused — or triggered, as the kids say — by what is a very conservative notion nowadays: writers of fiction can write about whatever they damn well please.