Libby Purves

There is something breathtakingly arrogant about Libby Purves’s piece in today’s Times. I refer you to this link for the whole piece:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/libby_purves/article5689514.ece

What shocks me is her absolute certainty that no one could have noticed Yates’s prescience but her. Ms Purves, he didn’t just anticipate the digital revolution but the whole sorry business of  engulfing materialism, the obsession with celebrity and, in so many ways, the equal rights of women. Have a read!

‘Well, it was probably just about worth making, and deserves its prizes. America in the Obama era – rediscovering its sense of hopeful revolution – may find it too dated to bother with. But for me the eye-opening moment was one that has not been noticed, not even (I suspect) by the film-makers. As the despairing wife plans her last act, she decides for once to be nice to Frank over breakfast. She makes scrambled egg and asks about his job. So he tries to explain the nature of these “business machines” his office sells – early computers – and on a napkin draws the vacuum tubes that lie at their heart. She feigns interest and tells him, insincerely, to be proud of his work.

But I sat bolt upright in the cinema seat and thought “Yess!” Because the huge unseen irony in the film is this: Frank’s dull commercial world was actually playing midwife to a revolution that would change the lives of millions of Western women who feel just as fed up, imprisoned and prone to Parisian fantasies as April did in 1955. Poor petulant kid, she was just born too early for the PC, the Mac, and the Internet. She could not have foreseen (who did?) that because of rapid development funded by companies like her husband’s, the computer would soon evolve from being a “business machine”, fall into the hands of fascinated hobbyists and inventive geeks, and thence move into the social mainstream. In the past ten years in particular home computers have been passionately embraced by women just like April, with no technical or scientific interest whatsoever.’

Perhaps I am being arrogant myself but it is galling to have someone clearly new to Yates suggest that he was extraordinary in ways that only she can see. I suggest you read some more Yates, LP.

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5 Responses to “Libby Purves”

  1. How dare she? I’m having trouble linking to it, but it sounds like she’s made herself a big fat target.

  2. It is indeed irritating, as is the implication that Americans (as if Yates weren’t American himself) are too clueless to pick up on what she observed in the film.

    But then, I also find it hard to listen to the exclamations of those who assert they’ve “discovered” him when they never knew the man, never worked with him (you’ve mentioned his students at Iowa, but those of us at USC loved him, too), and in some cases, never heard of him until the film was made.

    There is something about Dick that makes those who’ve read and appreciated him for years feel a bit huffy and possessive in the presence of Yates newbies. I have to remind myself that we were all Yates newbies once–that very thrill of “discovering” him is what carries his work into the future.

  3. kateonyates Says:

    Well Jen, on the one hand, thank you and on the other, hang on a moment…..imagine how his daughters, who really are the only ones to have any ‘claim’ to the man must feel as we all stake out our territory. This (the claiming of Yates and the passion that it excites) is not about Yates the man but is about his work. I realise my account of my journey suggests the opposite, and indeed it was as I got closer to seeing where he lived, where he worked, met people he knew and even some of his family, but it was all initiated by my discovery (my personal discovery) of his work and my absolute love of it. That’s where I am now. Back with his work. So I find your criticism rather short-sighted. What could be better for a Yates fan than seeing his work everywhere?

    The ridiculousness of feeling anyone of us has a greater right to proselytizing about the work of Yates is beautifully captured in an otherwise rather weak review in the Spectator magazine (The Spectator, 31st January 2009) by Deborah Ross:

    ‘The book, by the way, has only lately been ‘rediscovered’, not that anyone will admit they’ve only just come to it. I first read it in 1909, for example. Or was it 1876? It was way, way before anyone else, anyhow.’

    Get my point?

  4. Not really–it sounds like you didn’t read my last sentence.

    My goal wasn’t to criticize those who discovered him recently–rather to say that we were all there once, and that the possessive “these books speak directly to ME!” feeling we get about his work is part of its continued appeal. If anything, I’m defending Libby Purves a bit.

  5. kateonyates Says:

    Point taken. I apologise for snapping back at you; you are right. I missed the force of your final sentence. I would have felt more kindly towards LP had she not suggested that ‘the eye-opening moment was one that has not been noticed, not even (I suspect) by the film-makers’. It’s one thing to think the work only speaks to you but quite another to be apparently unable to objectify that thought and then suggest, in a national paper, how unique your observations are.

    Anyway, apologies again Jen. What did RY teach you? I would love to hear about it if you can be bothered to write on here again.

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