Gilmour on Turning Stomachs
ETA: I should also link to this follow-up, wherein Gilmour responds to the criticism of his comments. I’ve done interviews before where my verbal comments were rephrased or edited in ways that distorted their meaning. On the other hand, the apology (which he says he normally wouldn’t give, but he’s got a book coming out) and his other comments … well, it still doesn’t feel like he gets it. But you should read his response and decide for yourself.
I stared at this author interview – David Gilmour On Building Strong Stomachs – for a long time before conceding defeat. I had been planning to write a satirical send-up of his interview, but nothing I could come up with came close to the things this award-winning novelist and professor actually said.
Let’s start with one of his introductory comments.
“I’m a natural teacher, I was trained in television for many years. I know how to talk to a camera, therefore I know how to talk to a room of students. It’s the same thing.”
Okay, I totally get this. I mean, I don’t like to brag, but I’m a natural sniper. I know how to hit the bowl when I take a piss, therefore I know how to take out an enemy soldier from three hundred yards. It’s the same thing.
“I teach modern short fiction to third and first-year students. So I teach mostly Russian and American authors … I can only teach stuff I love.”
Have I ever told you about my other day job? Oh yeah. I’m a professional hairstylist. So I only give people mullets and 70s pornstaches. I can only cut the styles I love.
“I’m not interested in teaching books by women … What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.”
I WANT YOU ALL TO KNOW THAT I’M VERY, VERY HETEROSEXUAL. NOT BECAUSE I’M COMPENSATING FOR ANYTHING, BUT BECAUSE GIRLS WRITE YUCKY STUFF!
(ALSO, TOTALLY NOT COMPENSATING, BUT I HAVE AN ENORMOUS PENIS! A REAL PENIS-PENIS.)
“There’s an even dirtier one that I teach, by Philip Roth, called The Dying Animal … There are men eating menstrual pads, and by the time my students get to that they’re ready. Roth has the best understanding of middle-aged sexuality I’ve ever come across.”
Speaking as a man who will be turning 40 next year, I am absolutely terrified about what looms ahead for me and my middle-aged sexuality.
Alternate response: Weirdest. Diet plan. Ever.
“I teach only the best.”
I.e., “Look, I don’t want to generalize, but women and gay men are no good at anything.”
What gets me is that so much of what Gilmour says is the same crap we hear all the time. Gilmour turns it up to eleven, but the underlying sentiment is the same. “I only read stories I love. I don’t judge by sex or race or anything else.” Sure, I never stray outside of my white, male, American comfort zone, but it’s not like I’m racist or sexist!
I know Gilmour’s an easy target with this interview. But he’s not saying anything plenty of other people don’t believe, even if they’re not as obnoxiously blunt about it. And that’s disturbing as hell.
September 25, 2013 @ 10:31 pm
Have you seen the interview that follows this up, where he attempts to clarify his comments? It’s here: http://arts.nationalpost.com/2013/09/25/david-gilmour-there-isnt-a-racist-or-a-sexist-bone-in-my-body/
Jim C. Hines
September 25, 2013 @ 10:39 pm
I hadn’t seen that, thank you!
I don’t know that he really digs himself out at all with that follow-up, though…
September 25, 2013 @ 10:56 pm
A lot of headdeskinga dn he’s still allowed to teach with such an unbalanced curriculum?
Also, how can one teach about Henry Miler without also teaching about Anais Nin? Does he erase her from his teachings and Miller’s writing? Reduce her to Miller’s sexy muse and mistress while dismissing her literay output and importance?
September 25, 2013 @ 11:00 pm
No, I’m afraid the hole only gets deeper. The really horrifying part is that he seems to be under the impression that he’s making it better by continuing to talk.
September 26, 2013 @ 12:56 am
Also, since when is Woolf too complicated for third-years? I guess she’s not understandable if you have a MANLY MANLY PENIS.
September 26, 2013 @ 1:20 am
I’ve read the “apology”.
Oh dear. At least he was honest enough to say he only “apologized” because he was afraid it would ruin his book sales.
I’m also a bit confused when he says he’s the only one in North America who teaches Truman Capote. This is doubtless a surprise to a lot of other professors, and even high school English teachers. Ol’ Truman’s a pretty set portion of the canon.
September 26, 2013 @ 3:36 am
He appears to be in dire need of one of those T-shirts that says, “Help! I’m talking and I can’t seem to stop!”
September 26, 2013 @ 3:39 am
Nothing to fear as you enter your 40’s. It’s not like that. At all… (thank %diety%!)
September 26, 2013 @ 3:39 am
While reading that interview, as happens so often lately, I found myself thinking, “Oh, surely not. It’s joke, right? Satire? Or some kind of performance art?”
I’ve got to give up that reflex. It just wastes time.
September 26, 2013 @ 3:40 am
Good to know. Now we don’t need to offer shelter and refuge to Mrs. Hines and her unmentionables when Jim turns 40.
September 26, 2013 @ 4:26 am
What I really like is this quote: ‘It was a careless choice of words. I’m not a politician, I’m a writer.’
Wouldn’t you expect a careful choice of words sooner from a writer than from a politician?
September 26, 2013 @ 4:39 am
“It was a careless choice of words. I’m not a politician, I’m a writer.”
I actually cracked up laughing when I read this. I love how that rebuttal interview singled this quote out.
Jim C. Hines
September 26, 2013 @ 7:28 am
I get what he means about doing multiple revisions to get the language right, and wishing you could do that in real life, but … yeah.
Jim C. Hines
September 26, 2013 @ 7:29 am
It’s depressing when satire becomes so indistinguishable from the real thing.
Jim C. Hines
September 26, 2013 @ 7:30 am
A PENIS-PENIS! (I don’t know why, but that phrase makes me giggle.)
September 26, 2013 @ 8:45 am
Has he been taken out of context, perhaps because he was busy talking to his Frenchman friend while this young woman wanted to make a little name for herself? Ask the unedited transcript.
Jim C. Hines
September 26, 2013 @ 9:02 am
Thanks for that link.
September 26, 2013 @ 9:03 am
Have read that and no, not really. If anything, he sounds worse in the transcript.
September 26, 2013 @ 10:07 am
As my friend put it “Virginia Wolf is ok but soooooo haaaaard to read! Hurt brain need more man books!”
What are the odds that he sees a woman’s name, or an “ethnic-looking” (but not Russian, apparently?) name on a book and just doesn’t bother ever to read it? Self-selection is not the same as not having a bias, as he seems to think. Also, how they heck does he know how heterosexual the authors he does like are? Seriously? Does he research their lives extensively and then cross off his list the ones who are too “gay”??
I’m just really really sad for my alma mater right now, and also VERY VERY glad i didn’t go into English lit in university if this is the calibre of teacher they have teaching this material there.
I’ll have to read that follow-up “apology”. But maybe later, I’m currently full up on black and yellow bile. . .
September 26, 2013 @ 11:00 am
Ugh, I hate the argument “I only teach what I love and I only love male authors”, I see it so often substituting authors with anything: singers/artists/actors/announcers/etc. and male can be substituted with white or white male and so on. You can only love what you have actually read and if you continue to only read men (with the very select special exceptions, probably when a manly-man really recommends something by a woman), then how CAN you love anything else. Yes, we can’t always help what we love, but we CAN control what we expose ourselves to and he is choosing not to diversify.
I get teaching what you know best, but if you don’t know anything but male authors, maybe you shouldn’t be teaching literature? I mean, I get that this is not uncommon (even though it should be), but it is so ridiculous. How can you not get out there and expand your reading if you love literature this much?
I need to go dig up Jim’s blog post recommending POC authors for anyone who does want to expand their reading, here it is for anyone else who wanted to find it again: http://www.jimchines.com/2012/08/good-books-byabout-pocs/
September 26, 2013 @ 11:02 am
From the follow-up: “But I think anybody who teaches Truman Capote cannot be attacked for being an anti-anything.” Oh gosh, is “I read books by a gay guy” the literary equivalent of “Some of my friends are black/gay/female!”?
I’m also concerned that he makes it abundantly clear he doesn’t understand anything outside of the straight, middle-aged male writer mentality, to the point where he can’t understand and teach books by anybody else– but he has just written a book with a female narrator? 0_0 Generally when a highly literary male author writes about women, the result just leaves me cringing.
September 26, 2013 @ 11:20 am
I’ve never read Gilmour, so I can’t speak to his literary skill.
However, I have read the original article, the full transcript, and the follow-up, and I think the guy’s being treated somewhat unfairly.
He never claimed to not appreciate female authors. He never said that females were incapable of writing well.
He *did* say that he only felt capable of teaching a handful of writers who happen to be male. I think it’s fair of him to admit what he teaches well, and I think it’s more than fair of him to recommend other teachers when he feels they’ll do a better job than him. That strikes me as an admission of his own limitations, which I believe comes from a place of humility on his part.
But, while I don’t agree this is the case, let’s go forward with the thought that he *did* say he didn’t like female authors, just for the sake of argument. Whereas I might not be able to understand how he arrives at that conclusion, isn’t it his right? What’s with the effort to force him into holding an opinion he doesn’t? I really don’t get it.
What I do get is the suggestion that universities should offer a diverse curriculum. However, is anyone saying that such isn’t the case here? After all, Gilmour sounds like he’s quick to send folks down the hall where such material is covered in depth.
September 26, 2013 @ 11:32 am
Having read the article, the follow-up, and the original transcript, I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that Gilmour *doesn’t* read anything but male writers. That criticism seems to lack foundation. To me, it seems more than apparent that Gilmour is well read.
September 26, 2013 @ 11:33 am
LOL! I thought you said you *wern’t* going to do a satirical send-up? Well done, Sir–well done!
Jim C. Hines
September 26, 2013 @ 12:23 pm
“I get teaching what you know best, but if you don’t know anything but male authors, maybe you shouldn’t be teaching literature?”
Bingo. (Or if you don’t love anything but white male authors.)
At the very least, don’t teach a class on “Short fiction.” Teach “Short fiction by dead white dudes.”
September 26, 2013 @ 12:37 pm
>>Speaking as a man who will be turning 40 next year, I am absolutely terrified about what looms ahead for me and my middle-aged sexuality.
If it involves eating menstrual pads, I’d be scared too.
September 26, 2013 @ 12:56 pm
I’m amused that he seems to be saying, “Margaret Atwood, bastion of female literacy, says you should forgive me and read my upcoming book anyway! It’s not about the writer, it’s about the book!”
September 26, 2013 @ 2:03 pm
It’s also worth checking out the transcript of the original interview: http://www.randomhouse.ca/hazlitt/blog/gilmour-transcript
September 26, 2013 @ 2:24 pm
Because I follow many authors my twitter was full of tweets concerning men eating menstrual pads, it was rather disturbing.
September 26, 2013 @ 4:42 pm
How fun is it that a Canadian guy who is now nominated on the “long list” for the Giller prize, Canada’s prominent literary prize, doesn’t love and won’t teach other Canadian authors?
This guy is not a professor and has about as much knowledge of how university teaching works as a goldfish. He’s a television journalist (which doesn’t mean he’s not smart,) who has written a few novels and one well-received memoir. He got asked to guest teach one course at UT as basically an artist in residence and he has no idea what literature students are or are not capable of understanding. An actual professor teaches partly what he or she is researching, because profs are researchers as well as teachers — the two are active, co-merging parts of the job — and then curriculum for courses that fit the needs of the students for graduating with a rounded knowledge of literature in a range of offerings, which includes all those writers sent “down the hall.”
It is funny how he keeps talking about how he’s basically not competent to teach the authors that actual English professors teach, but just a few whom he feels he can spout off on. And that’s true, the course is probably not a lot of use to the literature students. It would have made far more sense to just have him teach a creative writing or journalism course where he has a lot to offer, (at least to the white heterosexual male students.)
Because he isn’t an English professor but is teaching a lit course, he didn’t realize that his words would be interpreted as if coming from an English professor, who is in charge of exposing students to the whole world of literature, not just favorite tough dudes. He thought he was just doing book promotion, where the title of teacher at UT was a little status “serious writer” credential for him. It’s not that some English professors don’t say this sort of crap (see Harold Bloom,)but the general academic world regards it as fully counter to how they serve the students. An actual English professor who said this sort of thing in the media would be deliberately courting controversy. Gilmour sounds instead just clueless, even more so on his “apology” (although who knows.)
I sincerely doubt, his ability to write books and news articles notwithstanding, that he’s got much insight on F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tolstoy or Roth. And I love that he thinks it’s important to teach twenty-year-olds about middle-aged white heterosexual male sexuality and that’s mainly what he has to offer them — and that they can’t already get that far better “down the hall.” There are a lot of really interesting new writers doing short fiction today (including oral storytelling and poetry slams,) and as a writer out there in the market and a media journalist, you might think Gilmour would have a pulse on the scene and do that. Leave Fitgerald and Tolstoy to academics who are actually qualified to teach the works and have a better read on the students.
In any case, Gilmour is going to have an interesting time of it if he makes it to the short list for the Giller and goes to the prize luncheon (the judges are Margaret Atwood, SFF’s own Jonathan Lethem and Esi Edugyan,) and at every book festival hereon in.
September 26, 2013 @ 6:10 pm
I assume this isn’t the guitarist David Gilmour of Pink Floyd Fame. That’s who the name brings to mind. Never heard of a writer called David Gilmour. Googled him and found a list of titles I’ve never heard of or read.
I guess I never read anything by middle-aged white, straight, Canadian guys, because I only read the best (just kidding and with apologies to any white, straight, male, Canadian authors who might read this).
I saw another article where he issued an apology for implying that female writers weren’t any good but reiterated that he specializes in straight male writers of the American and Russian persuasion. This sounds awfully like all the teachers I read when I was taking classes in high school and college. Never a single novels by a female author, and only a couple by ones who weren’t American or British.
But my ignorance of who this Gilmour fellow is or why anyone cares about his tastes in literature illustrates an important point. There’s a tendency for people to specialize in their literary tastes and to be quite ignorant of authors who fall outside of their preferred comfort zone (for me this is speculative fiction with a bit of grounding in the classics and a very few modern, mostly female, popular and possibly literary writers, like Margaret Atwood). That’s fine if you’re an ordinary reader, but less fine if you’re an aspiring writer (as I am, so this tells me that I should–sigh–know more about who these “literary” writers are), and even less fine if you teach a college class in literature.
September 26, 2013 @ 6:34 pm
I figure: he can like or dislike whatever he wants. And if the class is a seminar on Tolstoy, sure he can just teach Tolstoy. But if it’s one of those broader courses by time period or genre (Short Story Form, or Nineteenth Century Lit), then it’s his duty as a college professor to provide a well-rounded education. I had plenty of profs assign us books they didn’t personally enjoy– but they felt we should be exposed to well-regarded and diverse texts. Is it more difficult to write a lesson plan when you’re bored? Yeah, but it’s a job, if you don’t understand the topic you’re teaching you need to study harder.
September 26, 2013 @ 9:55 pm
I think you have a reasonable point, and I certainly understand where you’re coming from. In my opinion, whether or not the classes he teaches are worthwhile is a decision best left to the university in question and the student body. But, again, I get your point, and I think your position is logical.
It’s mostly some of the other positions that confuse me. For instance, your earlier comment about how it’s “abundantly clear” that Gilmour doesn’t *understand* anything outside of a particular viewpoint feels more like a subjective opinion than objective fact, if that makes sense. To my perspective, I feel like there’s a lot of venom being thrown at Gilmour that isn’t necessarily supported by evidence. At least in my opinion, according to the way I read the interview. But this lack of understanding on my part (in certain ideological circles) isn’t exactly new for me, which is why I made an effort to engage in conversation.
September 27, 2013 @ 12:14 am
Erica: Some white middle aged straight (As far as I know) Canadian writers you might have heard of: Robert J. Sawyer. Charles De Lint. Guy Gavriel Kay. Peter Watts. Spider Robinson. William Gibson (Half; he’s a dual citizen, I think.), James Alan Gardner. Robert Charles Wilson. We also try to claim Gordon R. Dickson, but on some thin grounds.
Also known as a cry of: “But they’re not all like that!”
September 27, 2013 @ 7:53 pm
Hey, it’s mightier than the sword 🙂
September 28, 2013 @ 4:31 am
I read that sad interview, and posted to share two links, which demonstrate that unfortunately, sexism is alive and well with the gatekeepers of fiction, and that surprise surprise, racism is also alive as ever. The second link doesn’t have to do with writing specifically, but it does show that everything exactly EQUAL as the study’s authors designed, “black” named applicants get rejected more often than “white” named applicants. I wonder how many people also tune out authors with “ethnic” names arbitrarily, just as our Mr. Gilmour apparently rejects “Chinese” authors.
I am glad, however, that authors like Mr. Scalzi and Mr. Hines here feature many books by new, talented writers, some of whom happen to be women and minority writers. (In return, I always take the chance to introduce Mr. Scalzi and Mr. Hines to my sci-fi/fantasy-loving friends.)
September 28, 2013 @ 3:55 pm
Yeah, I probably worded that too strongly. I was reacting to his comment in the follow-up that “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” (which he clarifies as middle-aged male writers). So I suppose he doesn’t *only* understand that perspective, he just isn’t inclined to teach anything else.
It’s hard not to be rubbed the wrong way by statements like “I’m not interested in teaching books by women,” since it would be so bizarre for me to read a few books by men that I didn’t like, and conclude there’s no point teaching books by men. The fact that he isn’t interested in books by women, but thinks he can write from a woman’s perspective is baffling to me.