Friday, September 27, 2013

David Gilmour’s Crossed Lines

Since Wednesday when Canadian author/professor David Gilmour’s boorish comments went viral, I’ve been trying to ignore the whole thing. Here’s why: if you’ve read the interview he gave that started the whole brouhaha it becomes clear that Gilmour is either trying to sell books through controversy or is just not a very nice man. Or maybe even a bit of both. Either way, giving the whole thing more and more and still more air only fuels a fire that will inevitably sell more books. And at this stage, almost no one beyond Gilmour and his publisher are likely to want that.

The interview that started all of this was done with Hazlitt, Random House of Canada’s online magazine. It ran in a column Hazlitt calls “Shelf Esteem.” The questions or guidance of the interviewer are removed, so what we’re left with reads like soapboxing, even if Gilmour’s comments weren’t particularly stupid. Which some of them are. A sampling:
I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf. And when I tried to teach Virginia Woolf, she’s too sophisticated, even for a third-year class. Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.
I teach Tropic of Cancer to the first-year class. They’re shocked out of their pants. No one teaches it except for me. Sometimes their parents actually question me about it, they say, Listen, this is really outrageous. I say, well, it’s a piece of literature that’s been around for 60 years. It’s got something going for it.
In a rebuttal interview with The National Post’s Mark Medley, Gilmour claims he’s sort of sorry and that much of what he said was meant in a joking way:
This was an interview I gave sort of over the shoulder. I was having a conversation, in French, with a colleague while this young woman was doing this interview. So these were very much tossed-off remarks. They weren’t written down. It wasn’t a formal sit-down interview or anything like that. She said, “Gee, there aren’t a lot of women here.” And I said, “No, I tend to teach people whose lives are a lot like my own, because that’s what I understand best, and that’s what I teach best.” I can sell anything to anyone, but I have to be passionate about it. For example, I have a degree in French Literature, and I speak French fluently, but I don’t teach French Literature because I don’t feel it as deeply and as passionately as some of the other teachers here. So I actually send people down the hall to somebody who can teach it better. The same thing goes for German writers, for women writers, for gay writers, for Chinese writers. It’s got nothing to do with any nationality, or racism, or heterosexuality. Those were jokes by the way. I mean, I’m the only guy in North America who teaches Truman Capote, and Truman Capote was not what you’d exactly call a real heterosexual guy. So I really don’t know what this is about. And this is a young woman who kind of wanted to make a little name for herself, or something, because when I said “real heterosexual guys” I’m talking about Scott Fitzgerald [and] Scott Fitzgerald was not what you’d call a real guy’s guy, a real heterosexual guy. Part of Scott Fitzgerald’s charm is in his feminine sensibility. But then this noise happened. But I am sorry because some of the letters I’ve got from people they are genuinely offended, and that’s not funny. That is a drag.
No, actually pretty unfunny, indeed. Though the way the original interview was conducted and relayed may or may not be stellar, after his interview with Medley, it seems as though Gilmour isn’t doing himself any favors when he opens his mouth. Asked if he felt the controversy would impact his chances at winning the Scotiabank Giller Prize for which his most recent book, Extraordinary, his eighth novel, has been shortlisted, Gilmour replied:
I don’t think it will have any affect at all, and I think the only affect it could ever have is to make me to use it as an excuse if I don’t win. But I talked to Margaret Atwood, I was running Céline down in a conversation about two years ago, and she said, “Now, now. A person’s private life and their personal comments should never be brought to bear on the quality on their literature.” She said that to me personally in quite a chastising tone of voice. Because I think Céline is such an asshole that I can’t read him. And I was saying that to her, and she said, “No, you should separate the man from his literature.” I’m also not interested in hurting people’s feelings. I don’t think that’s necessary. I don’t mind pissing them off, but I’m not interested in hurting people.
Be that as it may, Amazon reader comments of his work since Wednesday are both dismissive and insulting and Twitter nearly exploded with it all. It seems possible that this time Gilmour crossed some lines. From here on in, I’d guess he’ll have a hard time encouraging people to separate this particular man from his literature.


Blogger Trish Saunders said...

Well, seeing as how he has insulted his own countrywomen so badly, he deserves all the epithets hurled his way. Call me naive, but I always thought Alice Munro was one of the most extraordinary authors living today, male or female.

Friday, September 27, 2013 at 12:17:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't fathom why so many people are getting their panties in a knot. His agreement with the university is to teach what he loves and he loves make writers. So? Sounds fair. (I am a female in my 50's. I read around 300 books a year, mostly male writers. I prefer them.)

Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 1:18:00 PM PDT  

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