Like a late Victorian clergyman sweating in the dark over his Doubts, I have moments when my faith in fiction falters and then comes to the edge of collapse. I find myself asking: am I really a believer? And then: was I ever? First to go are the disjointed, upended narratives of experimental fiction. Ach well … Next, the virgin birth miracle of magical realism. But I was always low church on that one. It’s when the icy waters of scepticism start to rise round the skirts of realism herself that I know my long night has begun. All meaning has drained from the enterprise. Novels? I don’t know how or where to suspend my disbelief. What imaginary Henry said or did to non-existent Sue, and Henry’s lonely childhood, his war, his divorce, his ecstasy and struggle with the truth and how he’s a mirror to the age – I don’t believe a word, not the rusty device of pretending the weather has something to do with Henry’s mood, not the rusty device of pretending.
When the god of fiction deserts you, everything must go. The book-lined church and miked-up pulpit, the respectful congregation, the interviewer’s catechism, confessions disguised as questions, the supplicant line to the healing power of a signature, the reviewer’s blessing or curse. I confess, I’ve been on those panels with fellow believers as we intone the liturgy, that humans are fabulators, that we “cannot live” without stories. Priests, too, always imply that we cannot live without them. (Oh yes we can.) My doubter’s heart fails when I wander into the fiction section of a bookstore and see the topless towers on the recent-titles tables, the imploring taglines above the cover art (“He loved her, but would she listen?”), the dust-jacket plot summaries in their earnest present tense: Henry breaks free of his marriage and embarks on a series of wild …
“Those victims who were slaughtered are people that I knew well. These children I knew well, personally. I ate with their families. I had social ties with them. The regime cannot lie about these people, who they were and what they did to them. It was a brutal act by the regime against people who were with the revolution.”
Hey guys, can you spot me skulking at the back in this picture? Any idea where I am?
THAT’S RIGHT, King’s Place, a.k.a. The Guardian's HQ. Sadly, I wasn't there on business - I went to its first ever Open Weekend, which is exactly what it sounds like. The Guardian opened its doors to its readers, holding workshops and events featuring speakers such as Grayson Perry, Ian McEwan and David Miliband.
It also opened up its editing process, with one of the available sessions entitled ‘Editing the Guardian’, again, exactly what it sounds like (such transparency! All in the name of ‘open journalism’).
Because I am very, very keen, I got up early and managed to get one of the limited slots for the session - which was actually three sessions, in the form of the thrice-daily editorial meetings, with the G1 Editor Emily Wilson, Picture Editor Fiona Shields, G2 Editor Malik Meer, and lots of others, including News and Foreign desk editors.
It was a brave and innovative thing to do, and I found it both hugely interesting and somewhat reassuring; their editing process, it turns out, is not so different from that I’ve experienced with my university paper - except they have much nicer offices.
I can expect to dribble my way into old age. If I am lucky I will acquire a life-threatening illness such as cancer so that I can refuse treatment and say no to those who would keep me alive against my will.
By all means protect the vulnerable. By vulnerable I mean those who cannot make decisions for themselves – just don’t include me.
I am not vulnerable. I don’t need help or protection from death or those who would help me.
[W]hy should I be denied a right, the right to die of my own choosing, when able-bodied people have that right and only my disability prevents me from exercising that right?”
“That doesn’t mean religious people shouldn’t advocate their religion. So long as they are not granted privileged power to do so (which at present they are) of course they should. And the rest of us should be free to argue against them. But of all arguments out there, arguments against religion are almost uniquely branded “intolerant”. When you put a cogent and trenchant argument against the government’s economic policy, nobody would call you “intolerant” of the Tories. But when an atheist does the same against a religion, that’s intolerance. Why the double standard? Do you really want to privilege religious ideas by granting them unique immunity against reasoned argument?”
From this discussion between Will Hutton & Richard Dawkins on the place of religion in British public life. Essentially a riveting conversation between two very intelligent men, and a very interesting read for anyone interested in this debate.