Friday, May 28, 2010

Comedy with sting?

Dawn French interviews John Cleese

Dawn French: Do you think men are more cruel when it comes to humour?

John Cleese: I think men are a bit more armoured when it comes to humour. I mean, I think we spend a lot of time trying to laugh at things we're scared of.

Parky interviews Dawn French

Parkinson: Is there a difference between male humour and female humour?

Dawn French: Well, I've just done a series of documentaries called Boys Who Do Comedy and, to be honest, I thought I was going to find a big difference. I've never quite known, but I thought I would find some sort of latent thing that would be the key. And in fact I don't think there's any difference whatsoever. I think the only difference is the way that male comedians approach the job. They actually regard it as a possible career. Steve Coogan told me that in the sixth form he was thinking that it might be a possible career for himself and I don't think any of the women approached it like that at all.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Why don't females fare better in the Art world?

The NZ Herald's run-down of the Writers and Readers Fest includes more notes on what Sarah Thornton said about the gender divide in the art world:
Thornton found interesting gender differences both among artists and art collectors. She suggests one reason why so few artworks sold for over $1 million are made by women ("maybe now 10") is that auction buyers are predominantly male, while collectors who are female often prefer to be primary buyers - that is, to buy direct from galleries and get to know the artists whose work they're buying. She says female artists in general are less interested in selling work and making collectable items, particularly in a factory-style studio - "they're less happy to delegate".

Update: I should add that there are some people who reject all speculations on the 'causes' of the gender divide: they hold that the only reason women are not as successful as men is pure and simple discrimination. So, women, you can stop beating yourselves up over not being pushy enough. It's not your fault that men, even less competent men, are given more opportunities because they are male and you are not.

From a 2008 article in the LRB (the rest of the article is not for the faint-hearted):

"At the time of the Nobel Prize, [Elfriede] Jelinek was asked whether she thought feminism had made any significant gains over the years. Nothing, she said, would lead one to suppose that it had."

I think all of us, men and women alike, will have our different ways of dealing with this information.

Notes on a festival

The Auckland Writers & Readers Festival is my favourite time of year. It must be a surreal experience for authors to have to face the public so intimately, writing being such a private and solitary endeavour. I wonder if authors resolve, in addition to bettering their craft, to become better readers (out loud) of their work. Do they practice? Do they ever get a friend to coach them? Do they record their voice and play it back? 

Thomas Keneally & Anne Salmond with Kim Hill
To be honest, I attended this because I'm a Kim Hill fan. Bring her back to talkback television, I say. Thomas Keneally, most famously the author of Schindler's Ark, was a lovely grandfatherly figure and a most enthusiastic speaker. He once got so carried away with some wonderful one-liners that he forgot Kim's original question and apologized, to which Kim said that her question wasn't nearly as interesting as Keneally's answer. Anne Salmond came across as a historian with a heart of gold who has humanity at the heart of her research.

An Hour With Charlotte Grimshaw
Just hours before attending this, I read Grimshaw's short story from Opportunity about a novelist who is interviewed onstage at a writers festival and reads a piece of revenge fiction to her ex-lover who is in the audience. What a fantasy! Haha. Grimshaw's description of the festival atmosphere, obviously based on the real one, stayed with me throughout my experience at this festival. Paula Morris chaired this session and she always has a fabulous sense of humour, though at times Grimshaw did not really pick up on Morris' banter. Grimshaw struck me as a reserved speaker; possibly because she feels she has to protect the other famous writers in her family? One thing she said that resonated with me was her utter confidence in her ability and validity as a writer - I can identify with this wholly as an artist. Apparently writers (like artists) are often angsty about whether they've made the right decision in becoming a writer. Not Grimshaw - she may have doubts about the merits of a certain piece she's working on, but she never wonders if she should be doing something else (like going back to law). Go girl.

An Evening With William Dalrymple
He is known as a travel writer, but I don't think that description fits. His latest book Nine Lives tells the real stories of nine individuals living in India (where Dalrymple lives, too) and how they have each undertaken very different spiritual paths. Somebody in the audience asked Dalrymple if he thinks the innate spirituality of India is corroding due to economic expansion and materialism. Dalrymple responded by saying that Westerners often romanticize India as a very spiritual place, but it is and always has been, even in Buddha's time, a very materialistic environment. He went on to say that there is value in both Western and Eastern religions, that one is not more spiritually superior to the other. Yes.

Sarah Thornton, author of Seven Days In The Art World
An audience member asked Thornton whether she liked the art world or thought that it was not a wholesome environment to be in. I thought this question brought up the fact that Thornton's book, in being so careful not to judge, does not satisfy the reader's natural need for the writer to take a stand. Is that why I see this book as some sort of literary candy, lightweight and uncontentious? Well, I think there is room for such a book about the art world. I certainly enjoyed reading it; though, being an artist myself and therefore part of the circus that is the art world, some of it cut too close to the bone for me (which is okay). Anyway, Thornton's response to the question put to her was that she is happily ambivalent about the art world. There was also an interesting discussion with chair Linda Tyler about why women artists are still not pulling in the big bucks as well as their male counterparts. Thornton feels that women artists are far less interested in the marketing aspect of their work than male artists. For eg, she had to work twice as hard in getting interviews with the women for her book; they seem to be more suspicious than men of the media. Motherhood, obviously, is also a major factor in holding women back from their careers: not just because of the time spent on mothering (Thornton is a mother herself) but also the fragmentation of identity that comes with being a mother.

Related post: Last year's festival 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Meet Karl.

This package arrived in my mailbox today. Cardboard and brown paper were lovingly cut and cellophaned to cushion CK Stead's hot-off-the-press memoir against bumps and scratches. I dig such reverent handling of books.

CK Stead lives in Auckland, where I now live. How wonderful it is to share the same city as one's favourite author; to recognize the street names and landmarks of one's neighbourhood in works of fiction, and to read about fictional characters sipping coffee at one's own regular haunts.

Great fiction is powerfully transformative and makes us think twice about the familiar. A typical Auckland downpour has me recalling an evocative passage about rain in Stead's Death Of The Body, which includes these lines:

The air seems filled with water. Or as if, through the water, float pockets of air.

Even now, as New Zealand approaches autumn, I look outside the window and think of how Stead perfectly describes what I am seeing in All Visitors Ashore:

Autumn - early autumn - can offer the best Auckland weather, with that windowpane brightness and clearness of air and light that belong to Wellington and the South Island, but with the mildness that belongs to the North. It is, for that season only, mildness without a blurring of edges. The blade is sharp, the water sparkles, the far hills have precise lines and don't melt into one another, and the mind is fresh and alert.

Another reason I like Stead is that he is not afraid to speak his mind. This is brave, considering how small the literary scene is in New Zealand. Actually, this country has a dearth of top quality writers, but the scene is small in the sense that the market is small and there are few literary reviews -  if one review gives a new novel the thumbs down, rarely is there a second review to hopefully balance it out. 

Fresh from winning a couple of major awards overseas this year, Stead has now found himself in the middle of controversy again: something you can read about here. The article certainly tries to make a mountain out of a molehill and I for one am glad that Stead is paying no attention to the hot air:

“New Zealand isn’t grown up enough to celebrate its own successes without envy.” (Stead)

I applaud Stead's comment. We need more public intellectuals like him, and less pettiness. [I have read about the other 'controversial' views he has held in the past (his unflattering portrayal of feminists in Death Of The Body and Villa Vittoria, for example, was something I delighted in, even though I am a feminist myself) and yet I remain unoffended. This man usually talks a lot of sense.]

I now have a "CK Stead Omnibus" at the left column to keep track of his podcast appearances. Check it out!