September 27, 2013

David Gilmour is a sad old fool


This is what a sad old fool looks like.

Alex Shephard: Hello Dustin, you “real heterosexual guy,” you. Read any good books lately?

Dustin Kurtz: Aw, Alex, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me. I must say, you’re smelling very heterosexual from over here yourself. I have been reading some good books: some Thomas Mann, some Andre Gide, you know, real Mens’ Men. Guys’ Guys.

A: Like David Gilmour, I only read books written by men about other men eating menstrual pads. Do any of those writers write about that? I am a little lost right now. You know how hard it can be to find a good book sometimes! A good book about men eating menstrual pads, that is.

D: Oh of course! I know how it is, browsing through a bookstore or library or a syllabus for a class by one of those “others” down the hall, and all you see are women or Canadians or Chinese authors. Whatever happened to good masculine writing by terrified, defensive middle-aged white men?

A: There’s a reason it’s called “the canon.” Because cannons are awesome and blow shit up, like real guys do! Real white guys who write totally outrageous stuff like Henry Miller, a dead white man, the most outrageous writer of the millennium. Whenever I read Tropic of Cancer I am just in awe of its total outrageousness. The whole package.

And what happened to all that good writing? Cultural Studies programs happened. Women’s Studies programs happened. Now everyone has to read so much bad writing all the time they forget about the things that mattered when real guys were real guys, like fire and bears and shooting people in the face.

I’m kidding, of course. David Gilmour is an ass.

D: Such an ass. That was good though. We kept that up for a couple of paragraphs. About as much as I can stomach.

David Gilmour, for those who don’t have their finger on the pulse of Canadian literary news (get with it Encino Man), is a novelist, a Giller Prize finalist, and a professor at the University of Toronto. He recently gave an interview to Emily Keeler of Hazlitt in which he said—and we know this because Hazlitt posted the transcript—that he doesn’t teach women or minorities because he doesn’t like their books.

When the internet, correctly, decided that maybe Gilmour has no right teaching anyone anything about books—books by anyone, pasty and mannish or otherwise—the National Post decided to interview Gilmour about the furor. And in that interview he looked straight into the eyes of the reporter, opened his mouth, and proceeded to dig that hole way, way deeper. Which is a shame, because if that hole gets too deep, Gilmour won’t be able to read the letter the president of U Toronto wrote denouncing him, or the on-campus reading of works by women being staged in his honor.

I like that Gilmour is not somehow a mistaken ass, or, like, an ass only from certain angles. I like my misogynist racist asses to stick to their ass-guns in follow-up interviews, as Gilmour has.

A: Yes, and thankfully because David Gilmour hit for the cycle of assishness (do they have baseball in Canada?) a number of people have taken him to task big time. Roxane Gay compiled a list of 41 writers Gilmour should read, as if that would do this clown any good. Mallory Ortberg, as usual, hit it out of the park. And, in repsonse to Gilmour’s suggestion that people interested in women writers go down the hall, Dangerous Words posted an outstanding piece of satire from, you guessed it, the “woman who teaches down the hall from Gilmour.”

(I should note that I am very fond of Emily Keeler and that we follow each other on Twitter and occasionally tweet at each other and favorite each others tweets. Man, modern life is nuts! The internet, huh?)

D: Yeah, I like Emily Keeler, too. Or, as Gilmour would have us call her, “this young woman.” It’s a phrase he uses only with the utmost admiration and respect, I’m sure.

I wonder though, Alex. As much as I love calling human pit-stains like Gilmour mean names, I also like giving people the benefit of the doubt. But what would that look like with Gilmour? Given the chance to clarify the exact nature of his worst-ness, Gilmour chose to double down with the classic: “I’m sorry for hurting your sensibilities, but there isn’t a racist or a sexist bone in my body, and everyone who knows me knows it.”

This guy is, simply, clearly, not suited to be teaching literature to anyone outside of his local Pale Calves support group. What more could he say in his defense? What doubt could we still owe him?

A: You seem to be forgetting something, Dustin. Gilmour is a natural teacher: “I’m a natural teacher, I was trained in television for many years,” he told Keeler. “I know how to talk to a camera, therefore I know how to talk to a room of students. It’s the same thing.” The best teacher I had in school was Mr. Seacrest, so that totally checks out.

I mean, his response is the classic “I have black friends” defense–he claimed to be the only person who taught Truman Capote in North America, which is ridiculous, and also absolves him of absolutely nothing. Obviously, teaching a gay writer no one teaches—even if tons of people teach them—does not get you off the hook for not teaching female writers everyone should teach. (And, if anything, it adds fuel to the fire, as most Capote kinda stinks?)

D: Agreed. About the stinking and the rest. Poor Virginia Woolf, having to be some kind of beard for this guy. And poor Margaret Atwood, whom Gilmour is quite ready to bring to his defense when talking about why he should still be read, but whose work, of course, he would never stoop to teach in a class. Anyhow, he says in the Post interview ‘I talked to Margaret Atwood, I was running Céline down in a conversation about two years ago, and she said, “Now, now. A person’s private life and their personal comments should never be brought to bear on the quality on their literature.”’

Did you catch that? We should all keep reading David Gilmour the same way we should all keep reading one of the most famous anti-semites of the last century. Fair. Great defense. Good luck keeping that teaching job you are so great at.

A: Yeah, and that gets at the thing that sticks out the most about all of this to me: not only does Gilmour hold truly offensive opinions, but he also evinces no understanding or real interest in literature anywhere in either interview. Names are checked, but only to serve David Gilmour’s gross, ambiguous ends: what seems to be most important to him is that he’s read this stuff and that you really understand that he has read it MULTIPLE TIMES and therefore really gets what makes it so great, which is apparently that people eat menstrual pads or whatever.

D: Right! He hates Celine’s opinions, but Miller’s anti-semitism is merely outrageous? The worst part of Gilmour, aside from everything about Gilmour, is that he is not only a bad man but maybe a bad reader.

A: Exactly, though we should probably stress that he is a bad reader because he’s a bad man.

Whether or not he was trying to be mischievous, or get a rise out of Keeler, he comes across as a sad old fool. And not just when he talks about not teaching woman writers or the Chinese or whatever—or, for that matter, when he needlessly went after Emily for trying to drag him through the mud to advance her career, as if he had much of a name before this piece anyway.

To me, in both pieces he comes off as a pathetic, grandstanding codger who’s trying to act like having read Tolstoy four times means anything. He’s like a 60+ year old version of that guy Bluto bashes a guitar over in Animal House. A blithering, pretentious idiot. Though, I guess I’m eating microwaved Chinese food and listening to Bad Company as I type this, so I probably don’t have the right to call anyone pathetic.

D: Come on man, that’s a great band. Yes, Gilmour is so pathetic, and so bumbling, I’d feel pretty bad mocking him. He’s the worst person in every room he enters, and this guy enters rooms full Creative Writing majors. But it’s easy to feel sorry for that guy from the other side of a party, much harder to do it when he’s been given a literal podium.

A: Fuck it, man. I’m putting on Live at Pompeii. There’s at least one David Gilmour who won’t let me down.


Alex Shephard and Dustin Kurtz work at Melville House and are friends.