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The Tyranny of Youth

'From the Pulpit' in this month's issue of Literary Review is by Peter Washington, who has a well-constructed rant on what he sees is the tyranny of youth. He celebrates the older writers like Penelope Fitzgerald who wrote The Beginning of Spring at the age of seventy-two when most of society would have most at this age writing about deep mid-winter! We are, as a society, deep in youth fetishism:

It is not only the old in years who are invisible: they have been joined by almost everyone over thirty - or at least everyone who behaves as though they were...and the surrender of most publishers to literary pop stars, while established writers are allowed to slide into oblivion at ever younger ages.

Washington sees this as a disturbingly widespread infantalisation, especially made apparent by that opaque term of 'creativity' which is, he claims
the stock-in-trade of every educationalist who tells us not to worry about grammar, punctuation or syntax so long as children learn to 'express themselves' - as though expression and the means for its articulation could be separated.

He makes many pertinent points. However, he seems to fall short on explaining why 'correct' grammar, punctuation or syntax is so important when it is is under constant evolution. Surely 'right' self-expression cannot just be limited to those who use the correct grammar, punctuation and syntax - which is those who have had the 'correct' education in the first place. It isn't as cut and dry as he makes out and whilst he criticises the fetishism of youth he also frustratingly avoids putting his eloquent rant into a political context.

Using Penelope Fitzgerald as the prime example of his argument that the best can come from those in later years he then closes his piece by quoting Pound's view of Thomas Hardy, the man who wrote such good poetry in maturity because he got a dozen or more mediocre novels out of his system first! That Thomas Hardy wrote such good poetry cannot be denied - but that he wrote mediocre novels is pure pish! Thomas Hardy concentrated on poetry after writing novels because of the outrage to those novels, the Vicar of Wakefield (a figure Oliver Goldsmith satirised in the novel of the same name about a century before!) even publicly burned his copy of Jude the Obscure - it was a melodramatic and ridiculous outrage to his questioning of the conventions of his day - and therefore not a very good example for Washington to use in an opinion piece in which he himself is questioning today's conventions!

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