Literary Atmospheres

A British novelist has been awarded legal damages in excess of £100,000 because she writes thrillers, not literary masterpieces. What's at fault?
She's been inhaling fumes from a nearby shoe factory.

The author "claimed to have become so intoxicated" by the fumes that "she was reduced to writing thrillers." Indeed, the fumes grew so intense "that she was unable to concentrate on writing her highbrow novel, Cool Wind from the Future, and instead wrote a brutal crime story, Bleedout, which she found easier."
That book went on to sell 10,000 copies.
So there are several unspoken arguments being put forward by her claim. Such as:

1) Literary judgement. Why is one "reduced" to writing crime thrillers? Perhaps Henning Mankell is more interesting than, say, Zadie Smith. This writer thinks so, at least. I.e. me. Perhaps the traumatized British author under discussion here should actually owe money to the shoe factory – a small percentage of her royalties, for instance – or at least an acknowledgment in the book.
2) Environmental causality. Perhaps BLDGBLOG is caused by the fact that I do not inhale fumes from a nearby shoe factory. Perhaps I find it difficult to concentrate on anything but architecture because of my city's aroma... I'd thought it'd been all the coffee.
3) Paranoia. Perhaps you, right now, are inhaling something that prevents you from writing your own Ulysses. Perhaps you are being held back by untraceable smells. Perhaps your life is being quietly reshaped by something you can neither see nor properly talk about, some vast and mysterious influencing machine that manipulates you from the outside. Perhaps that machine is a giant shoe factory.
4) Theft, unauthorized use of services, and/or copyright infringement. Perhaps this woman has been using the shoe factory's fumes without permission. Perhaps, Delphi-like, they have been wafting through the neighborhood for someone else's use, mesmerizing home scribblers into a state approaching hypergraphia. Perhaps there was another writer in the flat next door furiously pounding out thrillers and loving every minute of it. Perhaps this woman had no right to use the fumes in the first place – like taping a film whilst sitting at the cinema. Put the pen down, love. These fumes aren't for you. It's a form of neurochemical shoplifting.
5) Scapegoating. Perhaps you can't finish the novel you started writing last summer because of London. You don't live in London – in fact, you've never been there – but it's distracting you. It's forcing you to write emails to friends, instead. You haven't touched your novel in ages. You should sue London... Or perhaps all those buildings you see everyday are preventing you from being a good architecture critic. It's not your eye for detail – it's the buildings you're forced to write about. Perhaps the streets you take to work each day are not inspiring you to travel abroad and be interesting and do something fun with your life. Perhaps your coworker's cubicle makes you terrible at data entry. Perhaps nothing is your fault at all. Perhaps the color of Manhattan taxi cabs prevents you from writing good music. You're now homeless. You prepare to sue.
6) Aromatherapeutic innovation and/or the future of global perfume. In 2010, Burberry will release a new scent. It will smell like the fumes of British shoe factories. Within days of buying your first bottle you begin to convulse – and write thrillers...

So is your neighborhood causing you to write – or not write – highbrow novels? Can you prove it? Or do you only cook spaghetti because of the sad little street you live on – when, really, you're a gourmet chef...?
What is your city doing to you?

(Thanks, Steve T!)

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Blogger Robert Seddon said...

Think of the potential for an environmental criticism which incorporates the place of creation into the reading of the text. Presumably leading to neo-Borgesian speculation about an alternative Shakespeare who spent more writing time away from the odours of Tudor/Stuart London.

January 26, 2008 8:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is some related folk tale legal precedent in "The Stolen Smells" which according to Sharon Creeden's book is of American origin. However, the only versions I could find online were one set in Japan and a video of the story as set in India from the PBS children's show Between the Lions.

January 26, 2008 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pursuing an MFA at U.of H. I've been concerned about the effects of Houston's pollution on, not only my physical health, but my creative abilities as well. I also suspect that my landlord sprays ungodly amounts of insecticides in my apartment when I'm at home in Austin during summer and winter breaks. I've discussed these issues with my wife, an attorney, and I attribute her indifference to them, and her antipathy toward litigation, to consistently high pollen counts here.

January 26, 2008 7:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, at least natural-disaster victims have a great legal base to work from now: they can file suits against any nearby yet unaffected countries who's butterflies had recently been flapping their wings...

January 27, 2008 8:43 AM  
Blogger f:lux said...

Oh no! What wondrous lowbrow gems of dour British crime fiction have been lost to us, given that the cobbling industry in the UK has dwindled to at least a third, if not a quarter, of what it was even 30 years ago?

January 27, 2008 1:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The poor dear...

Now we know why Cormac McCarthy wrote No Country for Old Men after the 1000 pages of The Border Trilogy: it was that damned shoe factory next door!

January 27, 2008 9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well BLDGBLOG is directly responsible for my losing hours of productivity, I could be working on a paper right now instead of writing this comment.

Also, all of this speculative nonsense doesn't exactly contribute to my employability as much as if I were working on my AutoCAD skills.

Geoff Manaugh, I'll see you in court!

January 28, 2008 7:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

on the off-chance that you missed it, the times article you pointed out links to a surprising profusion of Ballard-related items:

January 28, 2008 9:39 AM  
Blogger The City Desk said...

I really need to find a way to use this on The City Desk.

January 28, 2008 1:46 PM  
Blogger oomoo said...

This entry made me laugh out loud!

January 28, 2008 4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a lengthy article about the issue here, including an interview with the author:,,2248484,00.html

January 28, 2008 11:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you sound like you are writing a DeLillo novel, especially around point 3

January 29, 2008 3:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My City caresses the back of my neck, sending a chill of anticipation and lust from the top of my spine to the milky white of my inner thighs.
Then my City gently yet firmly pull me onto the bed and showers my heaving bosoms with passionate kisses.

January 30, 2008 5:45 PM  
Blogger Allana said...

Now presiding in the case of Rousseau vs. Civilization...

"I could've been a carpenter, but I was so angry about bloody PEOPLE everywhere that I was reduced to philosophy."

February 06, 2008 12:57 PM  

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