Tuesday 3 June 2014

I know nothing about English Literature...except that Michael Rosen is wrong


Our debate about English Literature has some certainties.. And one of these is that Michael Rosen (posh Marxist chap who wrote some children's books and got to be something called the "Children's Laureate") doesn't like Michael Gove. Plus, of course, the fact that Michael Rosen is wrong.

I say this as someone who finds the whole idea of anyone - whether neocon insurgent or faux-marxist establishment - deciding what is or isn't good literature both offensive and pointless. Yet Rosen is allowed space to say (in simple terms) that he knows better that some other chap - lacking, I assume, in his elist left-wing credentials - what young people should be reading. Indeed Rosen's latest criticism sums up the presumption - "Dear Mr Gove - you are too unexpert to determine young people's reading" (I'm not sure 'unexpert' is a proper word).

Wow! The scale of the arrogance of Michael Rosen! This scion of wealthy, middle-class Marxists is so prescient, so much a renaissance man as to know that Michael Gove (a man lacking Rosen's privileged education and background) is 'unexpert'. The wonderment of this is beyond parody - a bien pensant left-winger attacking someone as 'inexpert'. Brilliant!

Rosen launches into an ill-informed, partisan and barely literate attack on Gove. It is a joy to see this supposed champion of literary right-on-ness crash into the contradiction of his obsession. He makes a huge leap in his assumptions - as if the study of "fiction and drama from the British Isles from 1914 onwards" is somehow the "Toryfication" of the English Literature GCSE! Look at that English writing - Thomas, Orwell, Wells, Waugh, Rushdie, Owen, Greene. These are all works that merely celebrate some Tory Reich!

Yet Rosen persists! To the point of simply pretending that 'British Isles' means something other than 'British Isles' (for what it's worth, I'm not sure I'd lumber any GCSE student with James Joyce but he clearly falls into the definition set out in the review). Our posh faux-marxist cannot conceive that what Gove is trying to do is get young people to appreciate something of our modern literary heritage.

Rosen is that worst sort of thing - an educated man with a bloody great bee in his bonnet. And the bee is that he doesn't like choice and liberalism in education. So, because he's sort of famous and the Guardian will pay him, he gets to make stuff up about changes to the English Literature GCSE and have them published in a national newspaper. Of course, Rosen is wrong but that won't stop a whole lot of folk sharing his ignorance simply because of their tribal distaste for a man who rather wants young people to read some modern English Literature.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I say this as someone who finds the whole idea of anyone ... deciding what is or isn't good literature both offensive and pointless."

I don't know what you mean by this. Are you saying that judging merit in literature (or music, or painting, or whatever) is by definition a pointless exercise, and that there's no sense in which (say) the words of a song by the Spice Girls can be judged as better or worse literature than (say) a novel by Jane Austen?