Drawing from Northrope Frye, we now enter the stage of thematic criticism of the criticism of Gilmour’s character. Trippy…
It seems two questions occupy the same space: “Why are ‘we,’ who knew (of) Gilmour, surprised that he is consistently misogynist?” and “Why are ‘we,’ who knew nothing of Gilmour, surprised that there is such a person participating in Canadian literature and in the Canadian literary education system?” In both cases, I wager, we aren’t.
André Babyn answers the first question: “If you knew anything about David Gilmour, or had read any of his books,” you aren’t surprised. As to the second—are we surprised? Two of the three categories of response I’ve read are (1) thanking Gilmour for acting as an obvious instance of a systemic problem in literature and university industries (a category Mike Meginnis identifies) and (2) suggesting or insisting that he shouldn’t have a teaching job.
Both of the above responses demonstrate systemic awareness—the first realist, perhaps, and the second utopic. Our ‘outrage’—and Babyn’s “distress”—is a justifiable and potentially productive response to the disjunction between our (particularly Canadian) meta-narrative of social Progress and the reality of the publishing and university industries. I suspect that most who’ve been through even a single literature degree know (or know of) one or more profs like Gilmour, and so his prideful misogyny is our opportunity to discuss systemic issues; or, because this episode relates to our common experiences, he becomes a metonym of those. But some haven’t set foot in a literature class, some don’t know what VIDA is, and some don’t have experience undisguising the sexism and racism that can inhere within aesthetic opinion, so the popular derision of Gilmour, even by the “news agencies” Babyn rightly suspects of disingenuousness, has an educative choral effect.
Yes, we can derive self-satisfied pleasure from hate; we can Gilmour-bash more or less on social-media automatic mode. “Gilmour’s sexism is so garish and tacky and plainly spoken that we are absolved,” Meginnis insists, “by the mere act of reading it, from the necessity of examining ourselves.” But doesn’t this assume that the figure of jester is obsolete—that, by implication, satire in general is obsolete? Doesn’t it also assume that anything communicated by social media is, by default, facile—an assumption blind to these media’s potentials, blinded by their dominant cultural use? Can’t we see something we detest, say so, and through saying so make a serious commitment toward ensuring we don’t become it? Whether or not we were in the know about sexism in the literary industry, loudly deriding a single Gilmour is better than quietly tolerating his ilk—and so that loud derision is a resistive ally to the quieter, incremental assertive contributions (a prof’s diverse syllabus, an editor’s solicitations of diverse writers, etc.).
Why, in a nutshell, do Meginnis and Babyn presume that punching someone in the face (in effigy, of course) won’t give you a little push in the opposite direction, won’t shake you up in the least? A question I’d like to pose sincerely rather than rhetorically is whether there’s a certain writer-in-touch, uni-educated privilege undergirding their positions. Claiming a superior position from which, Well, I could have told you that! doesn’t do much to undermine a system of white male superiority (neither does my white male faux-blue-collar heroic-masses bullshit, I guess).
So, “Why did it take Gilmour’s implication of himself for this to become a story?” Well, that’s one of the limitations of stories. In that smaller circuit of people who knew (of) him, where Babyn finds himself and his Facebook feed, Gilmour had already implicated himself and his misogyny was a known. In that larger circuit, where Meginnis finds himself and his Twitter feed, Gilmour only appeared through his creepy elbow-nudging, head-patting confession—so how could he have been the story, rather than one of many such stories, beforehand? I understand and support Babyn’s and Meginnis’s suggestions that, rather than remaining smugly complacent, we must do something about the situation by doing something about ourselves as actors within the situation—but this has, from the very beginning, been category (3) of responses to Gilmour. There’s a spectrum of responses—public and media ‘outrage;’ private and public choices to read more widely (Babyn); editorial and industry choices to publish and hire more widely (Meginnis)—and quite evidently they can and do work together.