This is the text of the Roger Scruton Memorial Lecture delivered by Lionel Shriver at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford on October 23rd 2023, titled ‘When Cowed Creatives Capitulate: Conformity and Bad Art’.
We’re all weary of the word ‘woke’, and I’ll try to keep my usage of the tiresome thumbnail to a minimum. After all, even its mocking variations—wokerati, wokismo, woking class — are no longer amusing. Still, I’ve been struck by how difficult it is to address contemporary cultural conflicts and not employ that word — so pervasive, and invasive, has this rigid, joyless, tyrannical gestalt become. Like children piping up from the backseat, “Are we there yet?” countless audience members at events like this one have implored me to predict when this corrosive, killjoy ideology will be over. Because most of us are not nearly as sick of the word as we are of wokeness itself.
For me, a big disappointment of our dreary era has been the silence, compliance and complicity of so many of my fellow fiction writers. Novelists once had a reputation for being mavericks. They were eccentrics who heard voices. They tended to be antisocial, bathed too rarely, dressed unfashionably and drank too much. They were the clichéd different drummers, the weirdos in primary school who never fit in and finally learned to turn their quirks to their advantage in adulthood. No one understood where their phantasmagorical ideas came from. But now we know where most novelists get their ideas: from the New York Times and the Guardian. Nearly all my contemporaries are Left-wing. In terms of the times, they fit in all too well.
In the last few years, writers have been showered with new ‘rules’ — what we’re allowed to write, especially what we’re not allowed to write, and how we’re allowed to write it. I’m never sure where these edicts originate. Fair enough, when I was growing into my occupation, I appreciated being alerted to dangling modifiers, and — here I nod to my hosts — I learned that the ‘Oxford comma’ was an aid to clarity. But these newer rules never pertain to proper usages of the semi-colon. No, they’re moral mandates — all about not causing so-called pain and harm. Pain? Being ordered to mangle my prose by shadowy scolds whose authority I don’t recognise puts me in considerable pain.
Yet my colleagues never seem to scoff at an anonymous bossyboots on social media, “What do you mean we’re now no longer ‘allowed’ to describe a character’s skin colour with words related to food? I’ve never heard anything more preposterous in my life! Besides, who made you president of the universe? Why do I have to follow your stupid made-up rules? In my novels, I am president of the universe. So if I want to describe my protagonist as having a ‘walnut complexion’, I’ll do so, thank you very much. Or an ‘Eton mess complexion’, if I’m feeling totally whack. So sod off, you mincing martinet. As Alice would say, you lot are nothing but a pack of cards.” No, I get the impression that most of my fellows just get with the programme: “Oh, it’s now officially unacceptable to write ‘coffee complexion’? Gee. I hadn’t heard that. So sorry. I sure hope I didn’t cause any pain or harm! I promise to never, ever do that again, and when other writers have Japanese characters with ‘eggshell colouring’ I’ll be sure to take them to task.”
For example, I was on a book festival panel not long ago with a prominent British novelist who announced to our audience that in his fiction he was no longer going to describe what his female characters look like. This was clearly a political decision, not an artistic one. Presumably you can’t make any reference to a woman’s weight anymore even when the woman is imaginary, and implying she’s sexy or not sexy could be fraught with danger either way. Still, why would this novelist want to publicly commit to tying his own hands at the keyboard? His characters are the fruit of his imagination; they belong to him; ergo, if he chooses, his characters can be fat.
There are merciful exceptions to these cowed creatives. Famously, J.K. Rowling has dared to make the formerly lame observation that there is such a thing as biological sex and aired the formerly self-evident proposition that putting men with functional penises in a rape crisis centre might be a bad idea. Margaret Atwood had the gall to defend due process during #MeToo. Kazuo Ishiguro has mourned the fearfulness and self-censorship he detects in younger writers, as well as rejecting the contrived taboo of cultural appropriation. Bret Easton Ellis may be my closest literary equivalent in merrily puncturing Left-wing pieties. And Salman Rushdie has paid a grievous price for defending freedom of speech. But the novelists who’ve stuck their necks out to protect our right to type whatever we damn well please have been depressingly few. In preparation for this talk, I found one video on YouTube titled ‘Anti-Woke Fiction’. No disrespect, but of the four authors interviewed, I’d never heard of any of them. Most of the heavy-weights are beating by joining, or keeping their own counsel.
In 2016, I discovered how rare and how perilous it had already become to poke one’s head above the progressive parapet. In the opening address of an off-the-beaten-track book festival in Brisbane, Australia, I pressed a point I worried was so obvious as to appear banal. The then little-known ‘cultural appropriation’ no-no, which at the time had largely afflicted the fashion industry, would utterly stifle our craft, I told an audience full of writers, if applied to fiction. Inventing characters different from yourself is the whole point, right? If we can only contrive characters identical to ourselves, there is no fiction, right? That’s called ‘memoir’. I delivered the address with gusto, because I was concerned that my uncontroversial thesis would be received with shrugging acceptance, and I’d put my audience to sleep. Instead, the next day my ‘fellow’ writers braced and verbally assaulted me in the festival green room, and there ensued an international uproar, with indignant comment pieces in a host of media from the New Republic to the Hindu Times. The hoo-ha went on for weeks. The few other writers who stuck up for me did so privately in emails. The bulk of my colleagues, whose right to write about whatever and whomever they liked I was defending, left me twisting in the wind, or launched personal attacks in Left-leaning newspapers.
To my dismay, in the seven years since, the ludicrous, creatively constrictive concept of cultural appropriation has now been firmly installed in creative writing programmes, literary agencies and publishing houses. An aspiring writer who approaches agents with a manuscript that boldly employs characters who are, say, gay, disabled, Muslim, or on-the-spectrum when the author is not gay, disabled, Muslim, or on-the-spectrum is routinely rejected out of hand. Agents prefer to represent ‘own voices’. Even if an agent is enthusiastic about the premise, a novelist whose ‘identity’ doesn’t perfectly correspond to the characters’ ‘identity’ is reliably informed, “You’re not the person to tell this story”.
For publicly defying today’s suffocating orthodoxy, I’ve paid a price in my private life as well. For 13 years I’d been good friends with a well-known novelist whose name I will not disclose — I don’t even shop my ex-friends — until she happened to catch my appearance on Question Time in 2019. The next day, this writer with the usual package-deal progressive views emailed to cancel our dinner date for the following week and never spoke to me again. My inexcusable sins on TV? Making a joke about the NHS and objecting that comparing a woman in a burka to a ‘letterbox’, hardly a customary pejorative, didn’t seem all that insulting. She-who-shall-not-be-named is ambitious, and I’m confident that this novelist felt she could no longer afford to be associated with me. I had become a professional liability, and proximity to my dodgy opinions could damage her literary reputation. Most of all, those dodgy opinions clashed with her righteous opinions, which were more sacred to her than our friendship. I suspect I’m not the only person in this room who’s seen a relationship go up in flames over unpardonable departures from politically correct catechism, and it’s always the party further to the Left who lights the match. For most of us during the last 10 years, loyalty, bravery, genuine tolerance and congenial agreement to disagree have been thin on the ground.
Like the Soviets before them, today’s progressives regard art as a promotional tool of ideology. The primary purpose of the arts, in this view, is to force the audience to become good. The purpose of the arts is to advance virtue. Individual works are judged in accordance with how closely they hew to today’s Left-wing view of the world. Books are therefore judged by whether the writer is sufficiently subservient to all those new ‘rules’ I alluded to earlier. A friend of mine teaches criticism at Columbia University, and she tells me that her students approach literary texts almost solely with an eye to moral judgement: whether the author conveys he or she is racist, sexist, ‘ableist’, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, etc. (Personally, I’ve become phobia-phobic.) Never mind whether the plot makes sense, the characters are complex, the prose is finely wrought or the book is fun to read.
Granted, while I was growing up at the tail end of the 1960s, plenty of music, theatre, film, literature and visual art was political, but it was nearly all subversive, anti-establishment. But now that the ‘counterculture’ has evolved into ‘cancel culture’, the ideas dominating artistic output aren’t anti-establishment; they hail from the establishment. So today’s governing ethos doesn’t echo the spirit of the let-it-all-hang-out 60s; it has more in common with the oppressively conformist Christian conservatism of the 1950s. That W-word hasn’t merely been embraced by dishevelled longhairs in communes, but by the highest levels of management in corporate behemoths like Disney, funding organisations like the Arts Council or America’s National Endowment for the Arts, august institutions like the National Theatre, awards advisory committees, museum boards, and last but not least — my bailiwick — nearly all the Anglosphere’s major publishing houses. Consuming obsessions with race and so-called gender — now a loaded agitprop term I make a yeomanlike effort, or yeo-woman-like effort, to avoid — are foisted on the proles top-down by grownups in positions of power. A raft of either divisive or crackpot protocols are being dictated by what we latterly call the ‘elite’, who use their authority to bolster their own moral vanity and to compete with one another over who can be more ‘inclusive’. The works they seek to champion must therefore demonstrate one way or another that slavery was bad, racism is bad and sexism is bad. Thanks. Good to know.
Lost in all this political line-toeing in the arts are the qualities any true artist once universally aspired to engender — qualities that have little relationship to good and evil, or to fairness and injustice, and so in a rectitudinous, censorious, sanctimonious age are regarded as immaterial: beauty, first and foremost, a quality dear to Roger Scruton’s heart, but now accorded virtually no value. Style is of no consequence, either; it has nothing to do with goodness. Wit is a casualty of our times as well; any comedian could provide us a long list of groups one is strictly forbidden to tell jokes about — the overweight, the mentally unhinged, any race other than the pale one — and those taboos increasingly apply to literary fiction, too. Humour is dangerous, in part because it isn’t moral — quite the contrary. Mischief is dangerous — and it’s a temperamental inclination to mischief, to saying or writing the very things I know I’m not supposed to, that gets me into the most trouble. Overall, the quality of excellence is no longer paramount; why, lately excellence appears to be downright irrelevant. ‘Good’ art now means virtuous art — and that is a virtue narrowly and tediously defined. A despotic virtue that is imposed and enforced, that comes not from within but from chiding comment pieces, activist university professors and anonymous goons on social media, is not real virtue in my eyes but a slyly disguised form of wickedness.
The books that would never have been published under this reigning ethos comprise not only a lot of books but maybe most books. My own bibliography is riddled with wrong-write. In my first novel, I invented an African tribe. Bad! My fourth novel is set entirely in Africa. Bad! I’ve composed long passages of dialogue in black English. Bad! Over the years, I’ve concocted characters who are Pakistani, Iraqi, black American, Mexican, Irish, Kenyan, British, Portuguese and other ethnicities galore — bad, bad, bad, bad, bad! I’ve written about a woman who’s terminally ill, which I now gather is none of my business. I’ve written about a disabled teenager without asking anyone’s special permission or commissioning a sensitivity reader. Terrifyingly, I have even written about fat people. All my books should have trigger warnings, and to be on the safe side, we should probably ban the whole stack.
Any major publisher today would not only reject The Satanic Verses, but would physically remove the manuscript from the building and chuck it in a bin across the street. Most of Martin Amis, Norman Mailer, John Updike and Philip Roth would never pass the strict progressive litmus test; Roth’s licentious, priapic Sabbath’s Theatre, which won America’s National Book Award in 1995, would never even be longlisted post-MeToo. These days, if you did the research for John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me, a then socially transformative account of wearing blackface during the civil rights movement, you’d probably be arrested. Richard Price’s Clockers, an impeccably researched novel about black drug dealers in New Jersey, would be shunned for ‘cultural appropriation’. (In kind, I doubt that today David Simon would ever have got the green light to write his masterful television series The Wire about black drug dealers in Baltimore; I can just hear the producer announcing, “You’re not the person to tell this story.”) For that matter, all these authors would battle to see print in our current cultural climate, solely because they are white men.
Remember, art is now for the promotion of goodness, and ‘diversity’ is the very highest good. Thus ever since George Floyd met his untimely end, literary agents on mswishlist.com have typically solicited manuscripts with postings like this: “My holy grail is Little Women, but make it Latinx.” Or, “Across the board, I’d like stories that normalise blended, single-parent, adoptive, racially and/or culturally diverse, and same-sex families.” Or, “I am passionate about representing under- or misrepresented voices, including BIPOC, LGBTQ2S+, disabled or chronically ill, and neurodivergent authors.” At the very least these agents want work for and about women: “I want to read more villain origin stories with angry women snapping, getting revenge and taking control of their narratives after being policed by oppressive powers for so long.” What we specifically don’t find on such a website is, “I don’t care who or what you are so long as you have written a compelling, original, meticulously crafted piece of fiction.”
I shouldn’t have to clarify this, but malicious misinterpretation on racial matters is rife. So, no, I’m not implying that fiction written by minorities is second-rate or that all the ‘diverse’ books released in the last few years are substandard. Publishing work by authors with a wide range of backgrounds is all to the good. I’d be especially enthusiastic about editors and agents reaching out to minority writers if the intention were to expand the readership and thereby grow the publishing business. For some years now, American publishers have successfully cultivated a significant black, largely middle-class readership for fiction by and about black women. But I’m dubious that Anglosphere editors’ post-Floydian motivation for building ostentatiously ‘diverse’ lists is commercial. Because here’s the weird thing: not only do publishing houses seem under-interested in acquiring books that are any good, but they seem under-interested in acquiring books that might make money. It’s all about having a catalogue that sponsors author pics with a lush variety of skin tones, as if editors aren’t assembling a season’s new releases but decorating a living room. Publishing’s elaborate overcompensation for what the industry regards as its previous ‘white supremacy’ doesn’t seem sincerely designed to reach new markets. It looks like political display.
There’s a telling but hazardous research project awaiting a brave journalist who’s better at investigative work than I am — perhaps the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald? And that’s a fiscal analysis of how many of the torrent of books published in the 2020s by ‘diverse’ authors have turned a profit for the publishing house, or even earned out. Surely a slower, more quality-oriented search for minority authors would have had a better chance of nurturing both a balance sheet in the black and successful careers than the hasty, showy redress of the last few years.
For exclusive obsession with the ‘marginalised’ is, again, top-down. Barring that brief popular appetite for White Fragility self-flagellation in 2020, publishing is not responding to readership demand. Goodreads and Amazon reviews are not bursting with indignation that a white male novelist sneaked past the corporate gate keepers and managed to get into print. The mainstay audience for literary fiction has long been, and continues to be, older white women, who’ve hardly been posting open letters petitioning for more novels about immigrants battling systemic racism.
Why the virtual banishing of white male writers from the shelves of new fiction releases doesn’t count as racist and sexist, well — this isn’t a movement famous for its consistency. I’ve heard from numerous such authors — alas, able-bodied, with no dire diagnosis, generally disposed to having sex with women, and passably sane — who can’t get anywhere with agents or editors, sometimes, they suspect, because their perspective is Right-of-centre. But the core problem is identity. These pariah white guys tend to seem a bit depressed. Me, I think they should be angry.
As for diversity within fiction, white authors are in a bind. Writing about characters of other races and creeds is cultural appropriation. Writing contemporary books with only other white people in them can misrepresent the nature of reality and risks seeming racist, too. You can’t win.
On the other hand, ever since June 2020 television scriptwriters have obliged with casts disproportionately chockful of minority characters, regardless of whether race plays a part in the plot, regardless of whether the show’s location contains vast numbers of nonwhite residents, and regardless of how credibly a given character would, say, marry across racial lines. (We’ve established a TV cliché: likeable characters are designated by being in mixed-race relationships.) In a pilot television script for my eighth novel The Post-Birthday World, in the Year of Our Floyd the writer doing the adaptation suddenly changed the wife of a central character named Ramsey to a Nigerian. But Ramsey is a white, provincial, poorly educated snooker player from South London. The fact that this character would never marry a Nigerian was nugatory. The mania for Black Lives Matter had addled an otherwise fine scriptwriter’s brain.
Similarly, Lena Dunham rues the fact that the central cast of her hit show Girls was all-white. But her retroactive regret is misguided. That friendship group made much more narrative sense — it seemed more socially plausible — cast with white actors. Lisa Kudrow’s feeling “embarrassed” and “so much guilt” over the lack of “diversity” in Friends is also uncalled for. When the show began in 1994, America’s most recent deluge of immigration had barely begun, and the country was more predominantly white. Given the demographics and the inconvenient truth that most people prefer the company of people like themselves, the likelihood that a group of six close friends would all be white in real life is extremely high. Bemoaning this casting choice after the fact again imposes the political preoccupations of the present on the sound artistic decisions of a popular programme from the past. A revamp of either series that inserted a black friend, an Asian friend and a Latino friend would appear to the audience as exactly what it would be: dramatically artificial racial tokenism. The writers who concocted multiple new minority characters for the recent Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That… were guilty of the same unmistakable pandering to the BLM era.
Most of you won’t be familiar with the American news programme The PBS Newshour, but to keep up with my own country’s media I watch it on YouTube pretty much every night — if often with rolled eyes, because the show wears its Left-wing bias on its sleeve. The nightly broadcast concludes with a review and interview segment about the arts called ‘Canvas’. Ever since mid-2020, that ‘Canvas’ slot has been devoted to an improbable degree — 90, 95%? — to minority artists; though African-Americans constitute only 13% of the U.S. population, the preponderance of these guests have been black. For the most part, white artists only get a free pass if they’re at least gay or trans. This conspicuous determination to spotlight ‘diversity’ to the nearly-perfect exclusion of artists belonging to the country’s racial majority has persisted without cease for three and a half years and shows little sign of flagging. It’s actually hilarious. Oh, and Channel 4 News has done exactly the same thing.
Yet like all affirmative action, this policy backfires, tarnishing the very folks it feigns to help. We viewers aren’t as stupid as they think, and the audiences for Newshour and Channel 4 News must have picked up the pattern after only a week or two. Thus these programmes’ arts-segment imprimaturs have grown far less meaningful. Once the arts slot is occupied day after day by black people — who in the U.K. constitute only 3% of the population — viewers can’t help but conclude that these artists have been singled out more for their complexion than because their work is exceptional. Even though in any number of cases the work is exceptional. The same problem plagues extravagantly ‘diverse’ short lists for film and literary awards. The effect is to negate the prize. It’s painfully obvious to the public that all these minority shortlistees were chosen at least in part to serve a political agenda. The result: a reduced status even for deserving winners and a reduced status for the prizes themselves.
Colour-blind casting has had its successes. I thought David Oyelowo as Inspector Javert in the mini-series of Les Miserable worked surprisingly well, despite the absurdity of a black policeman in 19th century France — though what made the casting work was that irrelevant little matter of artistic excellence. Oyelowo played the part powerfully well. About Bridgerton I was of two minds; the series is light fare and we wouldn’t want to take it too seriously, but to the degree the show tried to justify all these black aristocrats in Regency England it was ridiculous. The real problem with ‘colour-blind casting’ is it’s anything but colour-blind. The substitutions work in only one direction. No producer is going to cast Dominic West as Nelson Mandela.
In recent historical dramas, verisimilitude is often marred by ideological anachronism — the artificial insertion of approved contemporary views into eras during which these attitudes would have been utterly alien. To take but one example, Downton Abbey portrayed the Crawley family’s response to an employee’s homosexuality as mild and ultimately open-minded. Yet in the early 20th century, the English upper class would have regarded same-sex relations with revulsion. That storyline was less dramatic as well as less historically realistic because Julian Fellows took the edge off.
The larger pattern is clear. Artistic excellence is being subjugated to a strictly prescriptive and aesthetically oblivious version of political virtue. Why, I read an otherwise quite accomplished first-person novel this summer about a woman enraged at her alcoholic mother. Suddenly we come upon a whole page on which we break for a word from our sponsor: the narrator now understands that alcoholism is never anyone’s fault, it’s a disease, and her mother is therefore blameless, merely afflicted by an illness. That page was politically correct crap completely at odds with the furious, resentful temperament of the character. This passage felt very inserted — preachy and unnatural. Yet the author appeared to regard its inclusion as obligatory. She was covering her ass, compromising the integrity of her novel in the process.
What’s curious about so many writers’ at least passive cooperation with all this woke stuff — sorry; I warned you the word is hard to avoid — is that social-justice busybodies are cheerfully open about their ambition to exert political control through language. Authors, you would think, would instinctively resist impositions on the primary tool of their trade.
We’re meant to refer to the mythically ‘nonbinary’ with ‘they’ and ‘them’, rendering whole passages that also contain legitimate plurals unintelligible. Illogically, we’re to capitalise ‘Black’ but not ‘brown’ or ‘white’. We’re to adopt ungainly neologisms like ‘postcoloniality’, ‘decoloniality’, and ‘patriarchal heteronormativity’. In dialogue, we’re forbidden to transcribe accents, no matter how deftly, because nonstandard English is ‘othering’. We’re to accept that whole rafts of vocabulary are off-limits (last year, Stanford University’s Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative issued a list of newly unacceptable words and expressions that ran to 13 pages). So we can’t use the word ‘field’, which seems to trigger ‘intergenerational trauma’, so instead of ‘field of study’ we have to write ‘practicum’. We can’t write ‘American’, ‘master”, or ‘Indian summer’; we can’t ‘kill two birds with one stone’ because the idiom encourages violence against animals. ‘Women’ are being disappeared by people who both hate them and want to be them — wrap your head round that — so ‘people with a cervix’ will have to do, and we can only refer to the pregnant kind as ‘birthing people’, who don’t have ‘vaginas’ anymore but ‘bonus holes’. Naturally we can’t refer to ‘mothers and fathers’ or ‘sons and daughters’, though I challenge anyone to write even a short domestic novel without those nouns. In fact, all nouns for humans are too reductive, so the ‘disabled’ are ‘people living with disabilities’ and the portly are ‘people living with obesity’.
You get the picture. These people do not care about, or may be actively hostile to, lucid, pleasing prose. They have no use for beauty. In fact, I think they hate beauty, because they resent any quality outside their flat, lifeless goodie/baddie paradigm. They have no tolerance for humour. They have no appreciation for concision, clarity, grace, or elegance. Better incomprehensible, clunky, repetitive, wordy, jargon-strewn paragraphs so long as they reek of that bastardised version of virtue.
Of course, the restrictions of progressive doctrine also pertain to artistic content. Thou shalt not express any sympathy for native-born communities suddenly overwhelmed by foreigners; immigration as a hallowed good is second only to diversity, since one leads to the other. Thou shalt not express any sympathy for Brexit or for the malign morons who voted for it. Thou shalt not utter a discouraging word about transgenderism. Thou shalt never shut up about climate change. Thou shalt never hold Palestinians accountable for atrocities. Thou shalt only create black female characters who are wise, long-suffering and always right. Thou shalt designate all lead detectives on cop shows as black and female, and all these detectives shall be wise, long-suffering, and always right.
Sorry to sound poncy, but what is the purpose of art? There is no set answer. The purpose of a given work, in any medium, is whatever the artist wants it to be. A book, then, can promote a version of virtue. But it doesn’t have to. It can be political. But it doesn’t have to be. It can also be silly. Purely entertaining. Wicked, or upsetting. It can aim to make the reader angry or to make the reader cry or to make the reader delighted. Many novels do intend to impart a moral or a lesson — but if all you’re trying to put across is ‘racism is bad’, I might suggest another draft. Every project I’ve undertaken has been different, and every purpose I’ve aimed to achieve has been different. That’s what makes creating art so intimidating but also so exhilarating: not only what it is, and how it is made, is up to you, but what it is for is up to you.
So the wokies can be my guest, and bring into the world all the paintings and novels and films and plays they like whose purpose is to push Critical Race Theory and radical gender ideology — whose purpose is to persuade the rest of us that all that matters in life is power, that none of us have ‘identities’ of any consequence beyond our membership of the big blobby groups we were born into, and that pondering who’s the ‘oppressed’ and who’s the ‘oppressor’ for years on end is a fruitful use of our time. Okay. Good luck with that. Shove your pinched, small-minded virtue down your audience’s throats. Just don’t make me do it, too, and then we’ll see who sells more copies. It’s a big world out there, with far more to write about than rivalrous human hierarchies: architecture and tides; colour and the night sky; death and love; why we’ve started manufacturing uncomfortable square toilet seats and whether steamed broccoli really belongs on pizza.
Conformity, uniformity, weakness, obedience, timidity, fearfulness, aversion to risk — these are the qualities that dominate the arts today, the very qualities that virtually guarantee the production of bad art. I was attracted to becoming a fiction writer to begin with because I detest being told what to do, and I love being in control of whole worlds in which the characters say what I tell them to say and do what I tell them to do. That’s right, in my novels I am president of the universe.
My response to rules I don’t accept is to break them. That’s why, for example, two novels back in The Motion of the Body Through Space I gleefully conjured a black female character who was an incompetent diversity hire — to more than one reviewer’s predictable horror. In fact, for me personally the real threat of this poisonous period isn’t ‘cancellation’ but becoming too reactive, too trapped into battling a petty, mean-spirited, vengeful dogma that will not and cannot last, and consequently squandering my precious, finite literary energies on unworthy subject matter.