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Disillusioned by contemporary literature, the Brutalist group took up arms and brought punk to the written word.
WORDS: JEAN HANNAH EDELSTEIN
Independent bookshops are shuttered. Book review editors are made redundant. Books by glamour model Jordan are outselling all of the titles on the Man Booker Prize shortlist. It’s not, it seems, a good time for traditional book publishing; it’s not been, if you follow the headlines in the trade press, for some time.
And with the young and hip who ostensibly serve as our cultural trendsetters more likely to be storing an iPhone in the back pockets of their skinny jeans than a paperback novel, many are inclined to place the blame for the long-anticipated demise of the book publishing on the inversely proportional rise of new media.
But could Web 2.0, in fact, be literature’s saving grace?
Three writers from the north of England were amongst the first to see the potential for this in 2006 when they decided to consolidate their work under the moniker ‘The Brutalists’. While member of previous literary movements have formed their identities through publishing their statements of intent on paper, Ben Myers, Tony O’Neill and Adelle Stripe picked a medium more appropriate for the particular cultural moment in which they were living and working: MySpace.
The group posted their manifesto to the website in the autumn of 2006: “Brutalism calls for writing that touches upon levels of raw honesty that is lacking from most mainstream fiction. We cannot simply sit around waiting to be discovered — we would rather do it ourselves. Total control, total creativity. The Brutalists see ourselves as a band who have put down their instruments and picked up their pens and scalpels instead.
“The only maxim we adhere to is an old punk belief, which we have bastardised for our own means: ‘Here’s a laptop. Here’s a spell-check. Now write a book.’”
In the two years since they set up their literary shingle, the movement has expanded both in terms of output and followers. “We chose the word ‘Brutalism' to present a united front against the more conservatively-minded writing establishment,” Myers says. O’Neill is even more blunt: “I felt totally disenfranchised from literature, and I had the feeling that a lot of other people probably did too. If we didn’t give it a name, and make an attempt to push this kind of writing collectively, nobody would have done it for us.”
[Ben Myers and Adelle Stripe]