Sunday, December 01, 2013

Commercial and Literary writing - Jeyamohan's Q&A

Very happy news - attended Jayamohan's Q&A at Panuval book shop. I like his writing very much. Unfortunately, asked a question and got him angry. It seems to be my "raasi". I still think his answer was not correct, but I learnt not to argue with a guy holding a mike. Whole exchange is below. I should write it in Tamil, but computer problem:

In Jeyamohan's website he has a link - here:
You can read the link and see that he is saying how he selects stories by others for his website. He says there are different kinds of stories - one is commercial model. Then he proceeds to clearly diss this model - he says they are "taken from other stories". He compares them with Kodambakkam (Tamil film) stories. He proceeds to say a lot of different things. Then he compares it with literary stories, which he says, have structural flaws but are, clearly "better".
A month back he wrote an article in Tamil Hindu, where he said we need more commercial writers in Tamil, because only then overall reading will increase- and that this space has been taken by English commercial writing (very true). If overall reading goes up, literary reading will also goes up.
Now, I had a vague question, but I already knew he was not very correct in his comments. I mentioned these two articles, and I said, "The split between commercial and literary exists in every language's lit. Therefore much work has already been done on this space. Why do you have to redefine it in the above form?"
What I should have asked is, "if you have such a low opinion of commercial writing, then why would any one write it? Why should someone do it just so literary writers eventually get readers?"
But clearly I phrased it wrong, and got caught.
He started telling me about Harold Bloom and mentioned a lot of different Western authors who have said the "same thing". I made a comment about Harold Bloom which irritated him. He said, "Only after reading all this I am coming and sitting here". He said, "Therefore, the distinction between commercial and literary fiction exists"
I tried to say something and he said, "Accept what you said is wrong and then we can proceed".
I said, "I can accept, but that was not my question at all".
He immediately softened and said, "I am sorry I am being harsh".
I said, "That is fine. After all, I have been reading you for some time".
People laughed and he seemed to relax. But I persisted.
I said, "I did not state that the split between commercial and literary fiction does not exist. My question was why would you say writers of one of those forms is not very sound?"
He said, "That is not what I said. I said commercial stories may have better structure." (He is correct there, but anyone can read the above link and decide if he is positive or negative about such writers. He actually talks about good form as if it is something writers "use").
Then he proceeded in making a series of claims. He was entertaining, but I thought all of those were pretty wrong statements. You can decide for yourself.
First,he said we may read something in New Yorker etc (somehow he got that I had been "abroad"), but real literature is in small literary magazines in English too. In other words, he was conflating writing in counter culture style magazines with literature. While they may be, saying New Yorker etc are not the place for literary stories is shocking. It means his definition of literature and commercial is already completely at conflict with what most people accept. 
Second, he said writers of commercial stories decide what their audience wants and then write. Pretty major claim and not true. He mentioned how Hollywood market research works - which is true, but we were not talking about movies. Even in movies, he was talking about James Bond.
Third, he said for many commercial English fiction, the editors decide a major part of the story. Again, not true. Editors do not have the time anywhere to sit and baby sit an author through his book. 
Then he started talking about Kodambakkam again. At this point, I realized I had to shut up when another person has a mike.
I think what happened was he decided to choose extremes of commercialism and literature.
To me, it still seems odd that he would claim this. What he means when he says "commercial" seems not to be an accepted form of writing at all. If all that he says were true, popular writing cannot be a valid form of creative expression or art at all. He keeps comparing it with the situation in movies, which is doing a disservice to popular-fiction writers.
But, he still wants commercial fiction to be written, so that more readers come in!
But I still liked him in the meeting, since he has a very deep intellect, very sharp, excellent debater. He is still great, but I may not communicate with him much.

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