Letters between Paul Auster and J. M. Coetzee

Terry Eagleton in the Times Literary Supplement:

P12_Eagleton_347034hIt is a Romantic delusion to suppose that writers are likely to have something of interest to say about race relations, nuclear weapons or economic crisis simply by virtue of being writers. There is no reason to assume that a pair of distinguished novelists such as Paul Auster and J. M. Coetzee should be any wiser about the state of the world than a physicist or a brain surgeon, as this exchange of letters between them depressingly confirms. In fact, there is no reason why authors should have anything particularly striking to say about writing, let alone about Kashmir or the Continuity IRA. Their comments on their own work can be even more obtuse than those of their critics. If T. S. Eliot really did believe that The Waste Land was merely a piece of rhythmical grumbling, as he once claimed, he should never have been awarded the Order of Merit.

Coetzee’s comments on the current economic crisis are not only wrongheaded but fatuous. Nothing has really happened to the world economy, he writes airily to Auster, other than a change of statistics. It is unlikely that the Bank of England, not to speak of those who have had their homes or livelihoods snatched from them by financial gangsters, would be over-impressed by this argument. Neither, judging from his circumspect reply, is Paul Auster, though he is too respectful of his renowned colleague to say so outright. Mysteriously, Coetzee goes on to suggest that putting this right requires an entirely new economic system, a piece of logic that his correspondent wisely leaves untouched. The truth is that neither man knows anything about economics, and there is no reason why being skilled in handling a metaphor should grant you such insight.

More here.

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