It was once possible to participate in cultural debate—and write fiction—without thinking about identity politics. No longer.
From The Wall Street Journal:
A much-remarked recent poll found that more than half of Americans have become afraid to voice their opinions freely for fear of retaliation or severe criticism. The expatriate novelist Lionel Shriver is not among this cowed majority. Over many years of writing articles and essays for the Spectator of London, Harper’s, the Journal and other outlets, dozens of which are now gathered in “Abominations,” Ms. Shriver has persisted in making ornery observations about politics and culture. Her asperity has brought upon her the full flaming rage of the Twittersphere. Unhappily for her enemies, she is not on social media, and her professional associates have stood by her, so the conflagrations have left her unsinged.
In her works of fiction, meanwhile, Ms. Shriver has explored a variety of topics and themes, creating dramatically compelling stories that chase human proclivities to dark conclusions in such novels as “The Mandibles” (2016), a dystopian family saga set amid national bankruptcy and social breakdown; and “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (2003), a psychological thriller that tells of a distant mother and her homicidal, psychopathic son. The latter book, made into a 2011 film starring Tilda Swinton, brought Ms. Shriver’s work to wider attention.
What made her personally notable, or perhaps notorious, was her appearance in 2016 at the Brisbane Writers Festival in Australia. Her speech to open the event was as much a plea to her fellow novelists to protect their creative realm from identity politics as an excoriation of the new vogue for policing acts of “cultural appropriation.” Earlier that year, two students at Bowdoin College in Maine had thrown a birthday party where tequila was drunk and miniature sombreros were worn. Such was the subsequent anger on campus that deans decried the party theme as a possible “act of ethnic stereotyping.” Members of the student body condemned an environment “where students of color, particularly Latino, and especially Mexican, feel unsafe.” Ms. Shriver told her audience of writers that the Bowdoin morality play fit into “a larger climate of supersensitivity” that was “giving rise to proliferating prohibitions supposedly in the interest of social justice that constrain fiction writers and prospectively make our work impossible.”
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Ms. Shriver has been quick to note, and brave to say what she thinks about, the progressive catechesis facilitated by the internet. In 2021’s “Would You Want London to Be Overrun by Americans Like Me?” she points out that, despite blithe “no human is illegal” rhetoric, nowhere in the world do people greet mass immigration with unalloyed pleasure. “We are a political and territorial species,” Ms. Shriver writes. “Most people are capable of hospitality toward foreigners who arrive in modest numbers, but balk when outsiders become so populous that they seem to be taking over.” In 2020’s “Just Because We’ve Been OK Doesn’t Mean We’ll Stay That Way,” written in the aftermath of the first Covid lockdowns and the violent Black Lives Matter protests that followed, Ms. Shriver blasts Western governments for failing to do any sort of cost-benefit analysis before shutting down their economies. She also roasts the “woke white activists [who] want to demonize ‘whiteness’ as the sole source of all evil, while mysteriously believing that this does not entail demonizing themselves.”
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“We are told that a trans woman may have been born a man, but ‘feels like’ a woman,” she tells us. “I don’t mean to be perverse here, but I have no idea what it ‘feels like’ to be a woman—and I am one.”
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal