Lionel Shriver

Writing in Commentary, Jonathan Foreman discusses the writings of novelist Lionel Shriver (“Lionel Shriver Is Out of Line… And thank God”):

Shriver had been invited by the Brisbane Writers Festival to discuss “community and belonging.” Instead, Shriver gave a talk about “fiction and identity politics” that criticized the idea of “cultural appropriation” and other forms of political correctness. She espoused the right of writers to create characters and speak in the voices of people ethnically or culturally different from themselves, pointing out that “otherwise, all I could write about would be smart-alecky 59-year-old 5-foot-2-inch white women from North Carolina.”

She excoriated contemporary forms of politically correct censorship with typically astringent fearlessness and rubbished the whole notion of identity politics: “Membership of a larger group is not an identity. Being Asian is not an identity. Being gay is not an identity. Being deaf, blind, or wheelchair-bound is not an identity, nor is being economically deprived.” It was a tough, fine, coruscating essay that should be widely read by every university head, arts administrator, and literature teacher in the West. But it might have gone unnoticed beyond Queensland had not a local activist stormed out of the talk and then written about its offensiveness for the Guardian.

The article was by Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a 25-year-old Sudanese-Australian author (of a memoir, of course), engineer, and activist, who had ostentatiously walked out of Shriver’s speech (while live-tweeting her walkout). Many people who came across the article, myself included, thought initially that it was a witty spoof of the ultra–politically correct counterculture that has taken such a hold in many academic and literary institutions. Its censorious mixture of ignorance, arrogance, inverted racism, melodramatic self-pity, and self-righteousness (at one point Abdel-Magied declares that Shriver’s dismissal of “cultural appropriation” is “the kind of attitude that lays the foundation for prejudice, for hate, for genocide”) seemed almost too perfect, too titanically solipsistic to be real.

An un-PC novelist; how refreshing! (That quote I’ve bolded above is particularly nice.)

On Amazon, Shriver’s 2016 dystopian novel The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047, is described as a book that:

… explores the aftershocks of an economically devastating U.S. sovereign debt default on four generations of a once-prosperous American family. Down-to-earth and perfectly realistic in scale, this is not an over-the-top Blade Runner tale. It is not science fiction.

In 2029, the United States is engaged in a bloodless world war that will wipe out the savings of millions of American families. Overnight, on the international currency exchange, the “almighty dollar” plummets in value, to be replaced by a new global currency, the “bancor.” In retaliation, the president declares that America will default on its loans. “Deadbeat Nation” being unable to borrow, the government prints money to cover its bills. What little remains to savers is rapidly eaten away by runaway inflation.

From a snarky WaPo review:

Contemporary fictions set in future dystopias tend to reflect liberal anxieties, such as climate change or the corporate takeover of our public institutions. Lionel Shriver’s 12th novel is something very different. “The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047” approaches the imminent collapse of American society from the right side of the political spectrum. As it opens, entitlements have driven the national debt to unsustainable levels, making the dollar worthless. Expansionist Keynesian economists are proved to be a “gang of charlatans.” A desperate nation renounces its debts, foreign and domestic. To refill the treasury, the federal government confiscates citizens’ gold, right down to their wedding rings….

The Mandibles go hungry amid the ruins of an America that hasn’t been made great again, and it’s clear who the culprits are. Becoming bluntly partisan, the novel uses fantasy and name-checks to score points against Florence’s fellow liberals in her time and ours. The immigration amnesty of 2020 is followed by a constitutional amendment that allows for a foreign-born president: a pudgy, lisping Mexican, just one of the novel’s several racist characterizations. The criminally incompetent Fed chairman is named Krugman. Later, some very bad stuff goes down during the Chelsea Clinton administration.

So, with Shriver, we have someone following in the footsteps of Robert Heinlein.

In his Commentary piece, Foreman writes:

Early in the novel when America’s first Mexican-American president insists on giving all his addresses first in Spanish and then in English, one of Shriver’s WASP characters looks forward to the day when white Americans finally become a minority, too:

They’d get their own university White Studies departments, which could unashamedly tout Herman Melville. Her children would get cut extra slack in college admissions regardless of their text scores. They could all suddenly assert that being called “white” was insulting, so that now you had to say “Western-European American,” the whole mouthful. While to each other they’d cry “What’s up, cracker?” with a pally, insider collusion, any nonwhites who employed such a bigoted term would get raked over the coals on CNN. Becoming a minority would open the door to getting roundly, festively offended at every opportunity.

Alas, when whites do become a minority in the U.S., they will never be afforded the abovementioned rhetorical tools of victim-hood. They will forever be subjugated, called ‘racist’, forever called to atone for their Original Sin (slavery) which will forever be the ‘root cause’ of blacks behaving badly and the like.

Nevertheless, Shriver here reminds me of France’s Michel Houellebecq.

There is something in the air.

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