I like British novelist Dame Margaret Drabble! With time, as I become more acquainted with her work, I might even come to love her.
On Monday, quite by chance, I heard Dame Drabble grapple (couldn’t resist) with the testy issue of what may usefully be called “the China challenge” for Western writers: taking advantage of the tremendous marketing opportunities being presented by increasing access to China’s very substantial reading population, while protecting your intellectual property against piracy, in a country where copyright and trademark infringement seem more or less institutional.
Drabble, author of 17 novels – according to Wikipedia – was one of the first English participants in what are being billed by London Book Fair 2012 organizers as “High-end Dialogues” between persons in the Chinese and British publishing and associated industries.
She was paired with Chinese writer Wang Meng, who “has published 60 novels, short stories, essays and criticism” and has “contributed to a number of Chinese literary movements since 1979” – according to promotional material for the Dialogues.
I was running around, sorting one last minute detail or another for the Intelek stand at the LBF, when Drabble’s remarks - rising above the din of determined deal-making, disillusioned dream-scrapping and multiple other auditory distractions – arrested my attention.
She’s right on the money, I thought. This is the crux of the matter for writers, so far as China – and India, I might add, and for similar reasons – are concerned.
I wanted to stop and join the audience of 100 persons or so gathered at the Chinese Pavilion (Earl’s Court 2) and listening attentively to her every word – with the help of Chinese and English translation via headphones.
But I was mindful that my Intelek Domino Effect Associates (IDEAs) colleague Omar was a bit nervous about minding the stand alone while I was gone.
Due to “logistical difficulties” he only had one title to promote: my “The Bible: Beauty and Terror Reconciled”. (I won’t be in possession of the other title I had been planning for – Dr. Viola Davis’ “Derek Walcott: Dramatist” – until Wednesday or Thursday, when the fair will be over.)
But while not short of enthusiasm and talent, Omar, an English-Egyptian aspiring comic book artist, was finding it difficult to succinctly, sales-manly communicate the message of TBBTR.
Who can blame him? Canon Noel Titus, former Principal of Barbados’ prestigious Anglican seminary Codrington College at one time struggled to get his head around the purpose of that book.
And one of Titus’ colleagues, a British seminarian named Matthew Sykes (or was his first name Allen?) seemed to have totally missed some of the main points of the publication.
Well, I wouldn’t blame them either. It is so much easier to understand an argument when it is made from a polarized point, rather than in an attitude of persistent pressing for balance.
Which brings me back to Dame Drabble’s remarks about the crises and opportunities for writers and publishers who would do business with China.
Lady Holroyd, as she is also called, seems to excel in the presentation of balanced arguments. “A theme of her novels” according to Wikipedia, “is the correlation between contemporary England's society and its individual members.”
“Her characters' tragic faults” says the writer “reflect the political and economic situation and the restriction of conservative surroundings, making the reader aware of the dark spots of a seemingly wealthy country.”
It seems to me that while I have tended to focus on religion (albeit, holistically), Dame Drabble, it may be argued, has been doing her own reconciliation of “beauty and terror” in society generally more explicitly.
And I suspect that as I become more acquainted with Lady Holroyd’s work I will find insights there that are particularly pertinent to Britain’s political overlords and captains of commerce – especially members of the current conservative government underand my “boss of bosses” (the “top topping”), Surinder Kandola, the UK’s Domino’s Pizza largest franchise owner.
And this reference to one of corporate America’s global giants brings me to a key factor behind my emergent admiration for Drabble: the management of her anger at America, which she wrote about cathartically, in her 2003 article “I loathe America, and what it has done to the rest of the world”.
Now, unlike Drabble, I wouldn’t say I “loathe” America (and I think there may be issues around Drabble’s choice of that word that have something to do with British-American history).
But coming from Barbados, in a region (the Caribbean) where American abuse of power is well known, I think I understand the anger Drabble expressed over the US invasion of Iraq.
I understand the sense of inner conflict Drabble points to when she speaks of “remembering the many Americans that I know and respect”.
I understand the mixture of resignation and hope on which she closes her article: “I hate feeling this hatred. I have to keep reminding myself that if Bush hadn't been (so narrowly) elected, we wouldn't be here, and none of this would have happened. There is another America. Long live the other America, and may this one pass away soon.”
I do not loathe Domino’s Pizza or Surinder Kandola. I sincerely hope that neither passes away soon.
In fact, I rather enjoy the work of delivering warm, delicious pizzas – the most delicious I’ve ever tasted – to those who choose them for their evening meal, late night study “fuel” or after party refill, as is the case with students I deliver to after midnight, typically.
However, after four years of toiling at Domino’s Pizza – having never been offered a raise beyond the minimum wage that Mr. Kandola (or the previous franchisee I started with) is legally bound to pay myself and others nor received a Christmas bonus - I have some appreciation for where Lady Holroyd is coming from.
After witnessing, up close, what seems like the Kandola multiple-store franchise’s almost unfettered intention to minimize the value of my and others’ labour while it maximizes its profits, I have some understanding of the arrogance and posturing of Bush and Rumsfeld that Drabble deplored.
Now, while Domino’s Pizza is American, Surinder Kandola is not. He is a British citizen, born to (Sikh?) Indian parents. He may even have been born in England. I don’t know.
And therein, actually, lies one of the main problems I have with what appears to be Mr. Kandola’s - or Domino’s Pizza’s, or some Americans’, or some English business people’s - apparent notion of what makes for a profitable business operation or regime.
From where I stand, having worked for Domino’s Pizza as a delivery driver for over four years now, it seems that there is an unnecessary, arguably undemocratic, restriction of information in this global franchise’s business culture and model.
It seems that there is such a deeply illiberal approach to the valuing and management of information – and of course, a relatively free flow of information is critical to all human relations, not just employer-employee interaction - that some people might say Domino’s information and relationships model rivals the conservative information policies of the Chinese government!
Is that the business culture of Domino’s Pizza globally? Is this Domino’s founder Tom Monaghan’s legacy?
Are all franchisees in the Domino’s Pizza empire “the world leader in pizza delivery” keeping the delivery drivers (and others) on whom their franchises’ capacity to make wealth depends in the dark about their own and Domino’s history – relatively speaking?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that like Margaret Drabble I feel a sense of outrage at the “infantilism” that powerful states like America, global companies like Domino’s Pizzas and some powerful individuals seem to think is a viable approach to foreign relations, global commerce and interaction between individuals.
That’s why I’ve been working – until now, quietly – to reform Britain’s largest Domino’s Pizza franchise from within.
That’s why I have been initiating my own, Intelek-style “high-end dialogues” with managers and other colleagues within the company.
And that is what, partly, the Intelek International “Occupy Poetpurri House” project at LBF 2012 is intended to help achieve.
I’m also hoping to send a friendly, timely message to Barbadian Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, MP Hamilton Lashley and other Barbadian politicians, clerics, journalists and other business people about their “conservative information policies”.
Another Margaret (Gill, not Drabble) might also find this “intervention” beneficial - especially if Gill could fight her inclination to grabble, like the "Mighty Grabby" (http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-new
Let’s not be outdone by China. Let’s be true exemplars of generous, liberal, creative commerce and democracy.
(Visitors to London Book Fair 2012 are invited to visit the Intelek International "Poetpourri House" stand. It is stand S925, located near the LBF/Gourmand Cook Book Corner in Earls Court 2.)
Junior Campbell is based in Norfolk, England, United Kingdom, and is an Anchor for Allvoices. Report Credibility