Lionel Shriver on Resistance to the Wokeness

Posted On: Tuesday - January 2nd 2024 5:58PM MST
In Topics: 
  Political Correctness  Pundits  Books

The story - a transcript of a lecture - headlined above, as kindly suggested to Peak Stupidity by commenter Alarmist, is from The Daily Skeptic and from ~ 2 months back, here. Peak Stupidity is not a particularly high-brow site, with favorite writers and shit. We pride ourselves on keeping our brow low-down, but I have made an exception by following quite a bit of the novel and other writings of one Lionel Shriver.*

Though a bi-coastal elite type by trade, being "based"** in London, England (mostly) and NYC, New York (still bi-coastal, right? Bi-continental then?) until bugging out to Portugal, Mrs. Shriver has become an anti-woke force for good. We mentioned her stance on the Kung Flu PanicFest in our Oct. '21 post Ya gotta like Lionel Shriver! and in our May '22 post Most Frightened Nation Status. In the first of those posts we noted that she was OK with the vaccines, but at least against the taking of them being mandatory.

That goes along with Mrs. Shriver's general biggest concern about the PanicFest, the creeping Totalitarianism for which the PanicFest was used. (She had been writing about the UK generally.) She has the same pro-freedom attitude in her stance on another type of Totalitarianism, the Wokeness. Because she is a novelist for a living, she lectured on what she knows, not necessarily to novelists in the audience, but directed to novelists. The transcript is a "Roger Scruton Memorial Lecture" that she delivered at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, titled: When Cowed Creatives Capitulate: Conformity and Bad Art. (Yea! She like alliteration too.)

It's a long lecture that I'm sure Peak Stupidity readers will enjoy. Here's a small sample, in a paragraph in which she gets personal:
For publicly defying today’s suffocating orthodoxy, I’ve paid a price in my private life as well. For 13 years I’d been good friends with a well-known novelist whose name I will not disclose — I don’t even shop my ex-friends — until she happened to catch my appearance on Question Time in 2019. The next day, this writer with the usual package-deal progressive views emailed to cancel our dinner date for the following week and never spoke to me again. My inexcusable sins on TV? Making a joke about the NHS and objecting that comparing a woman in a burka to a ‘letterbox’, hardly a customary pejorative, didn’t seem all that insulting. She-who-shall-not-be-named is ambitious, and I’m confident that this novelist felt she could no longer afford to be associated with me. I had become a professional liability, and proximity to my dodgy opinions could damage her literary reputation. Most of all, those dodgy opinions clashed with her righteous opinions, which were more sacred to her than our friendship. I suspect I’m not the only person in this room who’s seen a relationship go up in flames over unpardonable departures from politically correct catechism, and it’s always the party further to the Left who lights the match. For most of us during the last 10 years, loyalty, bravery, genuine tolerance and congenial agreement to disagree have been thin on the ground.
I can't "[sic]" all the bad British spellings and "Muoslem", but that's OK - I like that burka joke. You can use that and jokes like it anytime you want around me, Mrs. Shriver.

In the very next paragraph, she started off with:
Like the Soviets before them, today’s progressives regard art as a promotional tool of ideology.
See? Communists. I told y'all.

Now, I don't purposely try to nit-pick, but I ran into the following, so I have to point something out. It's from the very last, concluding paragraph, with that nice signature line:
My response to rules I don’t accept is to break them. That’s why, for example, two novels back in The Motion of the Body Through Space I gleefully conjured a black female character who was an incompetent diversity hire — to more than one reviewer’s predictable horror. In fact, for me personally the real threat of this poisonous period isn’t ‘cancellation’ but becoming too reactive, too trapped into battling a petty, mean-spirited, vengeful dogma that will not and cannot last, and consequently squandering my precious, finite literary energies on unworthy subject matter.
I wrote about this very piece of subplot in my review of The Motion of the Body Through Space***. You'd have to read that review, or at least the few paragraphs before this, but, here's what I had to say about that anti-woke subplot:
It was disappointing to me that this amazingly honest White-people-getting-screwed (twice) background story became nothing more than that, a small sub-plot. The author went nowhere with it. In fact, she reverted at one point. At some point Serenata noted that the MettleMan competition, the business of it, and the family and fans too, were predominantly White. She didn't make anything of that, until one paragraph that I couldn't find right now, in which she seemed to see that as a problem. OK, that was the book character, but was this an effort at plausible deniability by Mrs. Shriver? I don't know why she brought it up in the first case then.
OK, I understand it was just a subplot. I'm fine with that now, but why did she backslide in this effort late in the novel?

That's small potatoes though. I am glad to be able to even read things like this anymore from wonderful intelligent people who publicly speak out against the Wokeness, especially in England. I'm surprised it is not illegal to read or listen to her lecture, much less give it. But this is the lady who refused to take off her urban sombrero based on appropriation.

You go, girl! I mean that this time.

Thank you, Mrs. Shriver, for the encouragement, and thank you, Alarmist, for the article suggestion.

* Don't get confused. She is a woman the old-fashioned way, as created. She changed her name from Margaret or something as a teenager. That's weird to a degree, but a small one - they hadn't begun to see weird back in 1960s Gastonia, North Carolina.

** ... the use of that term being another bit of noticing by Mr. Steve Sailer.

*** While I'm at it, it'd behoove us to link the reader to our other reviews of Lionel Shriver books and one movie: First, I'd read The Mandibles and written a 6-part review: Introduction - - Part 2 - - Part 3 - - Part 4 - - Part 5 - - and Conclusion. Then there was We Need to Talk About Kevin, the book and the movie. There will probably be a couple more to come...

Dieter Kief
Saturday - January 6th 2024 5:16PM MST
The retreat remark made me wonder too Mod. It is a bit of a riddle. - She's an artist, so: Ok with that.
Friday - January 5th 2024 7:26AM MST
PS: It's true, Mr. Kief, that she ran away from it all (to some degree),or "bugged out". OTOH, she can still fight this battle in general just as well from her town in Portugal. After all, she writes novels, and I'm sure they'll still be in English, so she can put her anti-woke ideas in as a hopefully not futile effort to help change peoples' mindsets.

However, as per her "Spectator" article on her move (that was originally suggested by Mr. Hail), she feels guilty about leaving the UK. She also said that going back to the US would be a "retreat". I'm not sure what she meant by that.
Dieter Kief
Thursday - January 4th 2024 12:57AM MST
Apropos the Lionel Shriver quote in the headline: She sounds more of a lioness than she acts as one. - She did not take the GB troubles head-on - she - moved away from them to pensioner's paradise Portugal: "My response to rules I don't accept is - to move" might be less spectacular than the phrase "I break the rules I don't like", but also closer to her actual behavior.
Dieter Kief
Wednesday - January 3rd 2024 3:37PM MST
Thx. Adam! - I want to add that one of Donna Tartt's most beloved books is True Grit. - She exchanged letters with it's author, Charles Portis - a man who lived a very reclusive live but nevertheless accepted the young Donna Tartt as - an intruder - - - . She also wrote a Charles Portis portrait-essay.
Wednesday - January 3rd 2024 3:24PM MST
PS She might not be one of us, but at least it doesn’t appear that she hates us. By the way, I resemble the fact that you say this ain’t a high-brow site.
Wednesday - January 3rd 2024 3:07PM MST
PS: Not Lisbon, but a smaller town in Portugal, I should say.
Wednesday - January 3rd 2024 3:02PM MST
PS: Good afternoon commenters - thanks for the book suggestion and the on-line version.

Stretch, you know, I really knew that! I wrote about a post about her and her husband having moved to Lisbon, but that slipped by me when I wrote this post:

"Portugal is the new Uruguay"

That was just 3 months ago too. I'll add that to the post.
Wednesday - January 3rd 2024 10:02AM MST
PS Shriver is actually no longer based in London. She and her husband moved to Lisbon last year as explained in a Spectator column. She considers the UK a lost cause.
Peak Stupidity Book Club
Wednesday - January 3rd 2024 6:22AM MST
PS: Good morning, Mr. Anon, Dieter,

Donna Tartt The Goldfinch (876kb .epub)

Cheers! ☮️
Dieter Kief
Wednesday - January 3rd 2024 1:21AM MST

Thx. Mod. for thinking about her work once again.- As I found out recently, even The Guardian writes that she is a tough free speech defender.

I've read Donna Tartt's The Finch and recommended and given it to friends Mr. Anon. Great book, great read.
Mr. Anon
Tuesday - January 2nd 2024 9:43PM MST

Most modern literature just strikes me as being utter crap. I'm just going on what I hear or read in reviews of them, since those by themselves are usually enough to innoculate me against any desire to read them.

The last, most recent literary fiction I read were some stories by Paul Auster* from the 80s/90s, and that was nearly a quarter of a century ago. They weren't anything I would have thought I would like, and yet I did like them, sort of. But other than that, it just seems like a wasteland.

It is interesting that the only two contemporary "serious" authors I have any desire to read are both women: Shriver and Donna Tarrt

*Paul is a cousin of the late conservative curmudeon and immigration critic Lawrence Auster.
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