Prufrock's Page

Monday, May 01, 2006

An Authentic Post

In The Observer, Sarfraz Manzoor examines the issue of authenticity when it comes to writing:

"It is astonishing how many of the writers credited with telling typically Asian stories are in fact atypical - either Oxbridge-educated, mixed race, in mixed-race relationships or all of the above. Whether it is Monica Ali, Hanif Kureishi and Hari Kunzru, or Gautam Malkani, Nirpal Dhaliwal and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, these are writers sufficiently of the culture to be able to exploit and extract from their heritage, and for their publishers to claim they are authentic, but also, in a strictly literal sense, exceptional.

"I have nothing against any of these writers, just the suggestion that theirs is the authentic British-Asian perspective. It is not. It is, in the main, the particular perspective of the alcohol-drinking Muslim, or the mixed-race middle class, or the writer with the Asian name and white partner who is more interested in exploring the life of their Asian fathers than their white mother. All legitimate perspectives, but all particular and personal.

"The media demands diversity and authenticity but writers are rarely capable of fulfilling this expectation. When a writer emerges who appears to be giving us the real deal they are immediately lionised, and when it is revealed that they are not they are criticised. The publishing world wants Asian writers it can promote as authentic. Can they not be allowed to have imaginations? Can they not be allowed to simply tell stories?"

Well said, though Manzoor cleverly seems to sidestep the issue by claiming
particularity, rather than representation, when it comes to novelists writing about communities. One recalls the controversy (how unnecessary and overdone, in retrospect) over William Styron's Black character, Nat Turner. Closer home, here's an apposite observation by Amardeep Singh after reading Nilanjana Roy's column on the same subject:

"...all writers, Desi and non-desi, deal with the problem of distance from their subjects. Good writers convince us that they've crossed that distance. Less talented (or less experienced) writers leave room for us to question the gap."


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