Arnon Grunberg



On scratching my back and scratching your back – Dalya Alberge in The Guardian:

‘Berlinerblau, of Georgetown University, Washington, who has published papers on Roth and lectured on his work for three decades, said: “The thing I learnt about Roth in looking through this material is how much time he spent networking, scratching people’s backs, placing his people in positions, voting for them. There are countless examples of friends in publishing and the literary worlds doing favours for Roth – some of those including awards committees. There is ample reason to infer from their responses that Roth reciprocated.
“So much of Roth’s fiction – about a writer who resembled Roth – neglected to allude to that component of the artist’s life. It was a bit disillusioning for me, as I thought – naively – that the great writer cared only for art, its integrity, its austere demands.
“We have this romantic conception of the great man, who’s just lost in the endeavour, and Roth writes about this in The Ghost Writer, probably his best novel. He wants to be passionately writing – art, art, art, nothing but art, life will not intrude on art. It was a vision of Roth that Roth sold.”’


‘Berlinerblau acknowledged that all writers self-promote and that a young Roth was known to have pushed hard to publish his 1959 fiction collection, Goodbye, Columbus. But he added: “Roth was the beneficiary of relationships, arrangements and perks that few writers ever possessed.” The letters reveal “the degree of collusion”, he said, singling out one in which Roth told a scholar, who had written glowingly about him, that he had tried to get him a particular academic job.
Berlinerblau also pointed to an extensive correspondence with a literary critic, which includes discussions about literature: “But mostly they’re talking about how they can help each other with this award, this position… It made me a little suspicious about the publishing world. There’s a lot of networking.” In one letter, that critic – a close friend – congratulated Roth on receiving a prestigious literary prize, when he had actually headed the committee making the decision. Roth, in turn, helped him. The critic wrote to Roth: “I am also applying for another fellowship… So, may I ask you to dust off the letter you recently sent and send a version of it again.”’


‘Berlinerblau was “shocked” to see such obvious back-scratching: “I’m a liberal academic, who believes in critical distance and blind peer review.” He added: “I can’t think of a single novel where you had an alter ego Zuckerman who writes a letter on behalf of someone else, and his friend sends him a letter saying I got you the prize, baby, I talked you up, you’re in… “He refrained from depicting that ‘hustling’ aspect of the craft, even though so many of his novels were about writers just like him.”’

Read the article here.

The famous author as a secret hustler.

I remember that another fairly famous author asked me a couple of years ago at a festival, after he heard that I had interviewed a Nobel Prize winner, whether it was wise for him to start lobbying for the prize.

I’m pretty sure he was not being ironic.

Needless to say, there is no blind peer review in literature.

And the question is not whether hustling and scratch-my-back-I-scratch-your-back is ethical or not, but it robs the author of his unforgiving gaze. He becomes a priest, a politician, a healer, in other words, he himself turns out to be the con man he is supposed to be writing about.

And then there is the pettiness of it all.

My advice would be: don’t lower yourself for fame and money. Marry a rich person, become a part-time gigolo, but keep your art as pure as possible, the pollution is there anyhow, don’t make it worse.

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