Fifty shades of opinion: Ulysses and the future of the novel the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference day 2

Fifty shades of opinion: Ulysses and the future of the novel the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference day 2

Keynote speaker Ali Smith opened the second debate of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference with an appeal to the audience to ‘Fight! fight! fight!’ after which a fierce debate ensued about the place of fiction in the modern world and the impact that bestsellers such as Fifty Shades of Grey have on the writing profession.

Smith gave a passionate and well-received meditation on the subject of ‘Style versus Content’, defending Ulysses ‘in the style corner’ against recent criticism by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, opining that ‘Joyce would’ve made a really good tweeter’. Smith concluded that ‘all of us (all seven billion of us here now in the world, not forgetting all the people in the future, and the past) with all our individualities, all our struggles, all our means of expression, will find ourselves, one way and another, when it comes to the novel, content.’

Portuguese author Jose Rodrigues dos Santos then defended Coelho, who in an interview earlier this month claimed that ‘Stripped down, Ulysses is a twit’, arguing that in Portuguese translation the seminal work had perhaps lost some of its resonance.

The debate continued with a discussion about what writing means in different countries with German author Matthias Politycki stating that ‘In Germany, if you are unreadable everyone thinks you are a genius.’

Much of the debate hinged on the impact that EL James’ work Fifty Shades of Grey is having on its readers with poet Nick Laird arguing that ‘EL James is fucking dangerous’ whilst author Patrick Ness pointed out that ‘She has the ear of more people than everyone in this room put together.’ Alan Bissett argued that it is the content not the style of the bestseller that makes it ‘dangerous.’

The Edinburgh events of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference, which is an ambitious programming partnership between the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the British Council, continue today, Sunday 19 August, when Scottish Novelist Irvine Welsh will address the subject of ‘A National Literature’ in an event chaired by Ian Rankin.

All of the conference events can be watched live online on the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference website.

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