Lethem Slams Brooklyn’s Writers

“Brooklyn is repulsive with novelists, it’s cancerous with novelists.” So opined acclaimed novelist Jonathan Lethem in a profile in the LA Times this weekend. The comment has raised eyebrows - in Brooklyn and further afield - because few writers of recent vintage have been more closely associated with the city. Partly because of his disillusionment with Brooklyn, Lethem moved to southern California last year to take up a prestigious teaching post left vacant after the suicide of David Foster Wallace.

There are no doubt a bunch of reasons why places such as Brooklyn attract communities - or dare we say colonies - of artists, musicians and writers. In The World Republic of Letters, literary sociologist Pascale Casanova suggested the reason why Paris had been so disproportionately influential in the history of modern letters was that it was a net exporter of cultural capital. She argues that it was the imprimatur of a Parisian publishing house that enabled writers like Joyce and Beckett to establish their international credentials. No doubt it’s the success of writers like Lethem (not to mention a host of his contemporaries) that draw other aspiring writers to Brooklyn.

The story has us thinking of Australia’s literary enclaves - Brunswick and Newtown in Melbourne and Sydney respectively, and to a lesser extent towns like Castlemaine and Byron Bay. What do you think? Is living in a literary enclave good for good writing or not? Leave a comment and give us your two cents.

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