Artwork by Sardax
CUTTING-EDGE LITERARY NEWS FROM AROUND THE GLOBAL VILLAGE
by Andrew Gallix
COPYRIGHT © 2000, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
GUARDIAN FIRST BOOK AWARD 2000 12/22/2000
On November 3rd, The Guardian announced the shortlist for its First Book Award 2000: House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, No Logo by Naomi Klein, Catfish and Mandala: a Vietnamese Odyssey by Andrew Pham, and White Teeth by Zadie Smith. Zadie Smith who didn’t make it on to the Booker and Orange shortlists was the only British book to have been selected by The Guardian this year. The winner, announced in December, was Zadie Smith.
Go to: http://www.booksunlimited.co.uk
PINTER AT 70 12/22/2000
The greatest living British playwright Harold Pinter has just celebrated his 70th birthday. To mark the occasion, The Caretaker is to be staged in London’s West End. Pinter’s stage version of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past will be staged at the National Theatre (London) with Pinter himself in the director’s seat. The Homecoming is set to open in Paris (Académie Française) while Betrayal comes to Broadway. A Pinter season will be held at the Lincoln Center in New York in 2001.
Go to: http://www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc28.html
HENRY GREEN BIOGRAPHY 12/22/2000
On the subject of Green’s Party Going, David Garnett wrote that it “might have been written by Groucho Marx if he had fallen under the spell of Virginia Woolf and sat down to write a novel about the rich.” Read Jeremy Treglown’s new biography of Henry Green, Romancing: The Life and Work of Henry Green (Faber and Faber). Read Tim Parks’s essay on Henry Green in 3AM Magazine’s literary archive.
WILL SELF’S SALON INTERVIEW 12/22/2000
Will Self is interviewed by Salon’s books editor about his latest novel, How the Dead Live. The interviews are available as MP3s, so you can listen to Mr Self’s rich baritone.
Go to: http://www.salon.com/audio/col/ mill/2000/10/19/miller/
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW’S FIFTIETH! 12/22/2000
To mark the 50th anniversary of George Bernard Shaw’s death, The Irish Times published a condensed version of Michael Holroyd’s lecture at the National Library of Ireland. It focuses on Shaw’s first novel, Immaturity: “The title of Shaw's first novel, Immaturity, has been generally taken as applying simply to Robert Smith, the central character in the book. Smith is a fledgling self-portrait, a pallid Stephen Dedalus. He has many of the qualities and attributes which we immediately recognise as belonging to the young Bernard Shaw.” Mr Holroyd goes on to talk about the young Shaw and the young Oscar Wilde: “The Shaws and the Wildes had known one another slightly in Dublin, and after Bernard Shaw came to London in 1876 he began going uncomfortably to Lady Wilde's At Homes at 1 Ovington Square, in South Kensington. Smith's relationship with Hawkshaw in Immaturity, and Shaw's treatment of Hawkshaw in the novel, tell us something about Shaw and Wilde when both men were in their early 20s and unknown to the theatre-going public. On one occasion when Smith, with great elaboration, makes a sophisticated observation about painting, Shaw as narrator intervenes: "Hawkshaw himself could scarcely have surpassed this". Something like that occasional aesthetic merging of styles was to take place when, a few years later, both were employed as anonymous book reviewers on the Pall Mall Gazette and Wilde's reviews, Shaw told David O'Donoghue, "were sometimes credited to me".
But of course Shaw and Wilde were in general very different characters, with very different styles and temperaments. In Immaturity it is Hawkshaw's affability that is immediately noted and contrasted with Smith's awkwardness. Smith, we are told, envied "the careless gaiety assumed by Hawkshaw". But what is this careless gaiety, this affability, actually worth? Such charm, it seems, is like courage: a condition of virtue rather than a virtue in itself—after all, it takes courage to rob a bank, and charm can merely be part of a confidence trick. So social affability is an aid to valuable work, but no substitute for it. "I should be sorry to compare Hawkshaw to you seriously,' says Harriet Russell to her husband, Cyril Scott, the painter. "But do you know he is a great deal more good-humored than you, and more sensible in putting up with the little annoyances which happen to everybody occasionally?" Cyril Scott answers this charge by explaining that he puts all his patience, humour, energy and good sense into his work. Scott, a man of talent, may make a fool of himself in company occasionally; but Hawkshaw, who affects genius, fools himself when alone. . . . It was true that Shaw, in his early down-at-heel, novel-writing days in London, knew almost nobody - nobody whom Wilde, taking tea with Walter Pater and Oscar Browning at Oxford, and travelling through Italy and Greece with the celebrated Professor Mahaffy, that connoisseur of fine claret and old silver, knew and would appear to have valued. But when their circumstances eventually changed and it was Wilde's turn to be known by nobody in society, then it was that Shaw went forth to champion him. For they were foul-weather friends, united only by a common enemy, the philistine Englishman.”
Go to: http://www.ireland.com/dublin/ entertainment/books/feature1104.htm
NO LOGO UK 12/22/2000
Thirty-year-old Naomi Klein, author of bestseller No Logo, spoke at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London on November 12th. The Canadian radical was interviewed by Gaby Wood (on the same day) in The Observer“Imagine a world designed by Disney, marketed by Nike, and described by Franz Kafka. When you wake up in this world, you think you are putting your clothes and shoes on, grabbing a coffee, getting in your car and filling it up with petrol; you think you are switching on your computer when you get to work and maybe having a cigarette or a soft drink at about 11. But you are sadly mistaken. What you are actually doing is buying into a lifestyle, having a 'deep emotional connection' with fitness or coffee. Of course, the clothes, the car, etc. really exist, but the plane on which you are experiencing them is a higher one, of ideas and aspirations. And behind the scenes of this enclosed, almost sci-fi universe of concepts and intangibilities is another, horrific one, in which you are exploiting people in sweatshops as you put on your shoes, working them to their deaths, and you are supporting the murder of a Nobel Peace Prizewinner as you fill up your car. We are all already living in this world. And for many the only way out seems to be to listen to Naomi Klein. . . . In the 1980s, Klein explains, there was a shift in focus from manufacturing to marketing. The goods themselves became unimportant, and branding was what mattered. As production moved to the Third World, thousands of jobs were lost in the First, and meanwhile, the power of the brand was unstoppable. . . . Exploitation of workers in sweatshops is bad enough, but when big corporations are promoting a lifestyle, it is all the more horrendous that the 'lifestyle' of production, behind the branding curtain, is no life at all. And perhaps the canniest corporate technique is the appropriation of politically aware language. At Nike, Tiger Woods blares from billboards: 'There are still courses in the US where I am not allowed to play, because of the color of my skin'. The revolution of identity politics has come to serve capitalism: what better mask for corruption could there be than an apparent battle against corruption? Corporations, as the anti-corporate movement is saying, are more powerful than governments, and they can turn anything to their advantage.” Read on.
Go to: http://www.booksunlimited.co.uk/ departments/politicsphilosophyandsociety/story/0,6000,396104,00.html
According to The Independent on Sunday (November 12th), some “small independent publishers claim they are facing bankruptcy after the giant bookseller Waterstone’s demanded huge new discounts from them.” Jim Driver of The Do-Not Press claims that “They used to be run by booksellers, now they’re run by book-keepers.”
Go to: http://www.independent.co.uk/ enjoyment/Books/News/200011/waterstones121100.shtml
HUGHES POEM AUCTIONED FOR CHARITY 12/22/2000
Keith Sagar, Ted Hughes’ biographer has donated an unpublished poem entitled “Knave of Clubs” to the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC).
RICK MOODY IN LONDON 12/22/2000
Us author Ricky Moody, 39, did a London gig at the South Bank with Will Self. The Evening Standard described him as “the coolest guy writing fiction in America.” His new collection of short stories, Demonology, is published by Faber.ccording to The Independent on Sunday (November 12th), some “small independent publishers claim they are facing bankruptcy after the giant bookseller Waterstone’s demanded huge new discounts from them.” Jim Driver of The Do-Not Press claims that “They used to be run by booksellers, now they’re run by book-keepers.”
Go to: http://www.thisislondon.com
News of Irvine Welsh’s forthcoming novel has been published by the ever-brilliant Spike. It’s called Glue (as in sniffin?) and should be published in May 2001. Don’t forget to check out Spike’s special Irvine Welsh website.
Go to: http://www.spikemagazine.com
GREENE WITH ENVY 12/22/2000
The Observer writes that “Even beyond the grave, Graham Greene can still inspire a vicious fight between women who knew him.” Yvonne Cloetta, greene’s mistress during the last 20 years of his life, has attacked Shirley Hazzard’s recently-published Greene on Capri: the thrust of her argument is that Graham Greene did not like her. Hazzard accuses Cloetta of having panned her book under a pseudonym. The review was sent to her anonymously!
Go to: http://www.booksunlimited.co.uk/
SCHUHL WINS GONCOURT 12/22/2000
On October 30, Jean-Jacques Schuhl, 59, won France’s most prestigious book award, the Prix Goncourt (created in 1867 by the brothers Edmond and Jules de Goncourt), for Ingrid Caven, a novel based on the life of his lover. The eponymous heroine, a German actress and singer, was once married to film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and starred in many of his pictures. Yves Saint Laurent also ranked among her lovers. Ingrid Caven recently appeared in Raoul Ruiz's film adaptation of Proust’s Time Regained (Marcel Proust also won the Goncourt in 1919). Schuhl’s latest offering is his first novel in 25 years!
Go to: http://www.academie-goncourt.fr/#
PARIS BACK ON TOP 12/22/2000
According to Stephanie Theobald, writing in The Times on November 5th, “London’s reign is over and Paris is back on top of the hip”: “Until a few months ago, you couldn’t turn the corner in Hoxton, London’s most achingly hip neighbourhood, without bumping into a gaggle of French photographers busily tapping into the creative seam of cool Britannia. Hoxton was hot, and the Paris fashion fraternity wanted a piece. Now, it seems, the tide has turned, and the buzz is that the French capital is again the place to be.”
Go to: http://www.thetimes.co.uk
MORE WELLBECK 12/22/2000
All the latest news on Michel Houellebecq and his new book, Lanzarote, can be found at “Le Site des amis de Michel Houellebecq” (see address below). J. Hoberman has published an excellent review of The Elementary Particles (called Atomised in Britain) in Village Voice.
Go to: http://michelhouellebecq.est-ici.org/
ANTHONY PALOU 12/22/2000
Anthony Palou (1965), whose first novel Camille (Bartillat) has just been published, is the latest Gallic Gen Xer on the block.
NEW PURITANS: BACK TO BASICS 12/22/2000
In early November, Lev Grossman published an article on the New Puritans in Salon.com: “A bunch of young English writers, led by the novelists Matt Thorne and Nicholas Blincoe . . . have banded together under the name the New Puritans and produced both a manifesto and an anthology of short stories to back it up.” The journalist / novelist goes on to recount how Blincoe was inspired by the Dogme 95 filmmakers and decided, in his own words, to do “something similar for writers.” According to Grossman, the “best thing about these stories might be that they’re so palpably happening now: they get the slang, the profanity, the brands, the computers and the TV just right. (The delightful Briticism "mong," as in "to mong out in front of the TV," occurs more than once.)”
When all is said and done, the New Puritans “seem to know more about what they aren't than what they are.” If the introduction to All Hail the New Puritans encourages writers to "strip their fiction down to the basics, and see if something exciting emerges," the most inciting thing, says Grossman, is the manifesto itself: “Of course, it's desperately out of fashion, in this gloriously polymorphous day and age, to tell other people how they should write, but it's refreshing that somebody cares enough about fiction to try it.”
Go to: http://www.salon.com/books/feature/ 2000/11/02/puritans/index.html
NEWS FROM MARK AMERIKA 12/22/2000
A few weeks ago, Mark Amerika flew to Chicago “to meet with the various artists, writers and designers behind ebr and ELO.” He also promised to tell me more about how the “Digital DJs” got on with the “Derridean Deconstructionist” when “we next meet for a beer in Paris.” I’ll keep you posted.
The Electronic Book Review is published by Mark Amerika and edited by Joseph Tabbi. It promotes “literary innovation on the Internet” and reviews books “that address the electronic future of fiction, poetry, criticism and the visual arts.” The latest issue (number 10) tries to determine “whether the use of constraints in writing might have the same impact on electronic writing as on traditional writing.” The Electronic Literature Organization’s website includes a directory of worldwide e-lit. The organization’s raison d’être is to “facilitate and promote literature designed for the electronic media.”
Go to: http://www.altx.com/ebr
A DEGREE IN GOBBLEDYGOOK 12/22/2000
An Oxford undergraduate, Helena Echlin, went to Yale to study English and American literature and was given a course in gobbledygook! Her article “Letter from Yale” was first published by Arete and then by The Times under the title “How the Ivy League Strangled Literature” (November 5th). Echlin explains that “literary criticism—at least as it is practised here—is a hoax. As she points out, Yale is “the home of the most famous English department in America”: “Generations of important critics had been nurtured here—from the New Critics to the Yale Deconstructionists, J. Hillis Miller, Paul de Man, Geoffrey Hartman and the magisterial Harold Bloom.” Yet at Yale, you cannot call a spade a spade: “obfuscation is de rigueur. Sentences are baroque in their lengthiness; suffixes are added, like flourishes in music, to words considered too plain. On the lips of Professor Langdon Hammer, ‘inert’ becomes ‘inertial’. One graduate student substitutes the more rococo ‘relationality’ for ‘relation’. In a class on Thoreau, we turn a noun into a verb, and speak of how he ‘solitudinised’. It is common to speak of ‘technology’ when one perhaps simply means ‘method’. For some weeks I listen to people talk like this. I tell myself I’m not stupid. Besides, I was educated to value clarity. My tutor at Oxford wrote ‘eh?’ in the margin when something I’d written wasn’t clear. He taught me that you should be able to present even the most abstruse ideas in language that anyone can understand. At Yale I begin to say ‘eh?’ or sometimes, ‘huh?’ How can we embed this discourse within more gendered parameters eh? Let’s talk about the technology for the production of interiority huh?”
Helena Echlin is talking about Yale, but it could be almost any university in Europe: the “long sentences that sound like English but lack all meaning”, the lecturers who “don’t read literature for pleasure any more”, the fact that “analysis is more important than the texts themselves”, the classics drowned in “secondary” discourse.
She pinpoints the problem: “Grooming oneself into a marketable academic is now the thing – forget about the pursuit of truth and beauty. There is a stream of workshops on publication and public speaking. In my class on The Canterbury Tales, the reason we spend so much time analysing book reviews is because, as successful academics, we will be writing them ourselves. Our final assignment takes the form of a mock Chaucer conference. We each deliver a twenty-minute paper. Grades seem awarded as much on the basis of one’s professional poise and command of handouts and slides as on one’s quality of thought. . . . Everybody should of course read literature, but spying a commercial opportunity, universities have turned this activity into something that requires an arsenal of theories and an army of professors. Because universities stood to make money from literary criticism, they developed a supply that far exceeds the demand. They drew paying undergraduates with a greater range of courses (and rather popular ones too).” In short, literary criticism has “reached its current overdeveloped state at Yale as a result of the profit motive.”
Go to: http://www.aretemagazine.com/2000/issuethree/helenaechlin.html
SUBSCRIBE TO 1LIT 12/22/2000
We have discovered an excellent new literary ezine for you. 1Lit is free, only available through subscription and comes in two editions: North American and European.
To subscribe to the US edition: firstname.lastname@example.org
To subscribe to the European edition: email@example.com
GLOBAL ENGLISH? 12/22/2000
In “What Global Language?” published in The Atlantic Monthly, Barbara Wallraff raises a number of very interesting points: “How can it be that English is conquering the globe if it can't even hold its own in parts of our traditionally English-speaking country? A perhaps less familiar paradox is that the typical English-speaker's experience of the language is becoming increasingly simplified, even as English as a whole grows more complex. If these two trends are occurring, and they are, then the globalization of English will never deliver the tantalizing result we might hope for: that is, we monolingual English-speakers may never be able to communicate fluently with everyone everywhere.”
Go to: http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2000/11/wallraff.htm
KERMODE ON CARVER 12/22/2000
Reviewing Raymond Carver’s Call If you Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Prose in The London Review of Books, Frank Kermode: “For various reasons the English short story is now a predominantly American form. There are hardly any London outlets, while New York still has a few, which sometimes accept British stories, as with Sylvia Townsend Warner and also, of course, Pritchett. There are many annual prizes for stories. Moreover the form fits better than the novel into the pattern of the creative writing courses that are taught all over the country and often by good writers. Carver says it was a struggle to get his first collection, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please, published in 1976. It took 13 years to write ('the long delay was due in part to a young marriage, the exigencies of child-rearing and blue-collar jobs, a little education on the fly') and the publisher took some persuading, but the prospects for American writers were even then better than for their British contemporaries. Later Carver could claim in an optimistic essay that there has never been a better time than the present for his aspiring compatriots and contemporaries; this is not to say it's easy, but it's far less difficult. 'Short stories are flourishing,' he says, and the readership is increasing.”
Go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v22/n20/ker2220.htm
DERRIDA AND GOD 12/22/2000
In Christianity Today, Bruce Ellis Benson analyses Jacques Derrida’s faith: “Few recent notions have caused such a storm and been open to such widely varying definitions as "deconstruction." Probably the typical view is summed up by a recent chapel speaker at my institution who claimed that "deconstruction is the theory that says you can make texts mean anything you want." But perhaps that chapel speaker himself was guilty of a sort of deconstruction: that of making deconstruction itself mean anything you want it to mean. As a method of reading and interpreting, deconstruction seems simple enough. Its roots are in Edmund Husserl's notion of Abbau—the "unbuilding" of a complex structure into its component parts. Such unbuilding is not unlike what philosophers call "analysis." Where the two differ is most clear in their focus. While both focus on what a text (or idea or statement or theory) says, deconstruction puts particular emphasis on what is not said (i.e., what is assumed but not explicitly stated). It's not hard to see that such a method has at least the potential for generating interpretations that are peripheral or even completely contrary to what the text or theory says. Understandably, critics like John Searle and Amy Gutmann view deconstruction as providing license for irresponsible scholarship.” Mr Benson tackles some of Derrida’s more contentious pronouncements like “there is nothing outside of the text” (Of Grammatology): “Some have read this as a statement of "creative anti-realism" (a term used to describe a view in which what we call "the world" is merely a construct of our minds). If that is what Derrida actually means, then I for one must part company with him. But I am more inclined to think that such an interpretation has gained hegemony in this country largely because it is heavily promoted by Richard Rorty, who wants to make Derrida an ally for his own agenda. Derrida's own read (in the "Afterword" to Limited Inc, p. 136) is: "'there is nothing outside the text' means nothing else but: there is nothing outside context." Read on.
Go to: http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2000/005/15.42.html
DAVE EGGERS NEW MEDIA HERO 12/22/2000
In the NY Magazine, Michael Wolff studies the “McSweeney’s phenomenon” and the rise of Dave Eggers as “the new media hero as anti-media hero”: “The McSweeney's phenomenon—not just a quarterly literary magazine but a counter media-culture event, now publishing its fifth issue—began in San Francisco in the same south-of-Market office building where Wired magazine began. During the latter San Francisco phase of Might and the early phase in Brooklyn of its direct descendant, McSweeney's, you might have thought there was something old-fogy-ish about Eggers and friends. . . . Eggers & Co. had hopelessly missed the Internet. They were on the scene in South Park but had been horsing around when the digerati train left the station. In New York, they were far from Silicon Alley; they were self-conscious small-timers in an unselfconscious era of wealth and growth. But then a funny thing happened. As the Internet got taken over by financial schemers and charlatans of every stripe, and as it now disappears in a tulip-craze bust, McSweeney's is what is left standing as the ultimate new-media, or anti-media, or cottage-industry-media, paradigm. Publishing their own magazine, on terms and in a form largely of their own making, they stayed far from Manhattan. Now they're publishing their own books, bolstered of course by the success of Eggers's postmodern autobiography about raising his younger brother after their parents' death, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The McSweeney-ites can lay claim to having done something close to what the Internet was supposed to let people do: they've taken their media destinies into their own hands—publishing stuff that would have been unpublishable anywhere else (some because it is not very good, some because it is not very commercial, some because it is based on a joke that you had to be there for) and, along the way, creating a fervent community of co-generationists and like-minded souls. . . . McSweeney's it would seem, is Partisan Review . . . without the politics. Or it's Partisan Review meets Friends.
. . . It is not just that Dave Eggers has entered that separate dimension of literary success, the Vonnegut, Brautigan, Salinger space, wherein many people believe he has the answer to some of life's very vexing questions ("He raised his baby brother!" ). In addition to that, he may well have made, by his declaration of media independence, the first new contribution in a long time to the art of a literary career (he was disinclined to discuss my theory of his media succession in person or by phone, although he would, he said, take e-mail questions and hinted, too, at new plans and ventures for McSweeney's that he also said he was not willing to discuss). He has even popularized the literary life. Indeed, he has expanded it into a group profession—which may well be a necessary step these days; you need acolytes who can help you with your promotion. He has even added to the craft. Every young writer will now surely learn good Quark and HTML skills. More and more writers (young and not so young) will certainly be figuring out how to publish themselves. And, most important, he has changed the literary paradigm: A writer, he has shown, has to recruit his own audience, be responsible for his own community, motivate his own stalkers.”
Go to: http://www.nymag.com/page.cfm?page_id=4037
WILL SELF IN THE US 12/22/2000
An excellent article by Chris Wright on Will Self features in the November issue of The Boston Phoenix: “The last time he toured the United States, British author Will Self was so drugged-out he ended up in the hospital. Now, he's back with a new book and a newfound dedication to sobriety. Self talks about life, death, smack, and his eighth novel, How the Dead Live. . . . Self's work—part Franz Kafka, part Jonathan Swift, and part obscene phone call—seethes with sex, violence, substance abuse, and enough bodily fluids to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool. He writes often about his native London, but one reflected in a very unflattering looking glass. His landscapes are grimly hallucinogenic, his language a swirl of poetry and bile. . . . In the 10 years since Self, 39, first bludgeoned his way into Britain's literary scene, he has been compared not only to Swift and Kafka, but also to Thomas Pynchon and J.G. Ballard, Edward Lear and Aldous Huxley. But there really is no one like him. Will Self, after all, is the author whose powers of description once led him to call a pit bull's penis "a knotty sea slug of gristle"; who has written stories with titles like "A Rock of Crack as Big as the Ritz"; whose 1992 book Cock & Bull featured a woman who sprouts a penis, and a man with a vagina budding in the crook of his knee. . . . As he folds his six-foot-five frame into a wing chair in the quietly posh confines of the Eliot, Self certainly looks every bit the renegade. He wears tight black denims and a tight black sweater. His tightly cropped hair tops a through-a-fish-eye face that's at once handsome and ugly, intelligent and menacing. He has a large, attention-getting voice. This guy, you think to yourself, is not someone you'd want to run into in a dark alley. Or maybe even a hotel room. . . . If Self's work has often plunged headlong into debauchery, so too has he. In his home country, Self is as well known for his history of drug use as he is for his fiction. In 1997, he sealed his reputation as a highbrow reprobate when, covering the general election for the London newspaper the Observer, he was caught snorting smack on Prime Minister John Major's campaign plane. "I had a habit," he says by way of explanation. Despite a long-standing addiction to drugs and alcohol, however, Self has proven himself to be a writer of superhuman stamina. Along with eight books of fiction and two books of essays, he has written a weekly column for an architectural magazine, restaurant reviews for the Observer, interviews for the Independent, articles for GQ. His vaguely sinister looks and switchblade wit have earned him regular spots on British TV. He recently completed a gig as a "live writer" at a London art gallery, in which he wove gallery visitors into a narrative that appeared on a large screen behind his head. He even has his own weekly radio show. Yet Self's accomplishments have too often been overshadowed by his appetites. Although American audiences know him mainly for his work, in Britain he's become a kind of literary novelty act—the biggest and baddest of Britain's bad-boy authors. And Self is the first to admit that his reputation is entirely of his own making. "You know," he says, puffing a Camel and sipping a Coke, "if I was still drinking and using, we'd be absolutely fucking toasted by now, you could bet your arse on that. We would be working our way through that mini-bar. I'd be beguiling you, inveigling you, working my hideous, charismatic, seductive wiles on you." But that was the old Will Self. The new Will Self wants to clean up his act. In fact, he wants to abandon the act altogether. "I think it would be a good idea to take myself out of the equation," he says. "I would like people to be able to read my books without a sense of the author hovering behind them. Because I'm fucking serious about the writing. That's what I do."
The last time I saw Will Self in Boston, in 1997, he was striding across Copley Square smoking a joint. With his large, angular features and his intimidating height, Self is not the kind of man who blends into a crowd. This is especially true when he's emerging, Godzilla-like, from a haze of pot smoke. But if he felt any cop-fear that day he didn't show it. He certainly made no attempt to conceal the smoldering spliff in his hand. Instead, he behaved as if drug use were the most natural thing in the world. And for Self, of course, it was. . . . "You have here a guy who was quite manifestly suicidal," he says. "When I was last on tour here in the States, I was hospitalized. I was really in a bad way with this. Yet there's that delusion—we addicts are the quintessence of humanity in that way—the addict, despite dying every day, still thinks he's going to live forever." . . . More dire, perhaps, was Self's discovery that terminal addicts don't write so good, either. "I wasn't an artist," he says, "I was a piss artist."
In spite of his addiction, Self won a place at Oxford “where he studied political philosophy, worked for an anarchist newspaper called the Red Herring, and performed in a band called, appropriately enough, the Abusers.” Will Self says that he “had a schizophrenia about being an anarchist and being at Oxford. That confused me. On the other hand, I was as willing to partake in the elitist credentials as everybody else.”
By his early 20s, Self had turned his attention from politics to literature. He became "obsessed" with the idea of writing a book. "I didn't go around going `I'm gonna be a writer,' partly out of a kind of magical thinking," he says. "It was such an intense ambition that I thought to actually tell people about it would queer the pitch. So I didn't harp on it." . . . After graduating from Oxford's Exeter College in 1982, Self "bummed around" for a few years, working as a builder's mate and in other dead-end jobs. He did some technical writing, including a stint for a Safeway supermarket in-house magazine. The first job that allowed Self to flex his creative muscle was as a cartoonist for the New Statesman. The strip was called Slump, and it featured, Self explains, "a man who goes to bed and refuses to get up again." . . . In all his work, Self says, he tries to balance "wised-up, exploded metaphoric humor, this bent for absurdism, and a fairly rigorous, intellectually tight level of argument." Read on.
Go to: http://www.bostonphoenix.com/indexr.html
THE DIARY OF A POLITICAL IDIOT 12/22/2000
Hip Bosnian refugee Aleksandar Hemon, author of The Question of Bruno, published a review of Jasmina Tesanovic’s The Diary of a Political Idiot: Normal Life in Belgrade (Midnight Editions) in Village Voice. Jasmina Tesanovic is “a Serbian writer, feminist, translator, and filmmaker” whose diary chronicles the suffering and disintegration of her country: “For Tesanovic, recording personal, everyday relations between people is a political act. But she also watches and listens intently because she is profoundly helpless—recording is one of the few meaningful acts left. She can do nothing about her neighbors; nothing about the children whose bedtime stories are the CNN reports of the bombing and the tales of eternal Serbian suffering; nothing about her cousin's death from AIDS, the disease whose name the nurse in the hospital refuses to utter; nothing about her parents, who effortlessly slipped from being obedient Communists to being obedient nationalists; nothing about Milosevic.”
Go to: http://www.villagevoice.com/vls/170/hemon.shtml
VIDOSAV STEVANOVIC 12/22/2000
Very interesting portrait of Serb dissident Vidosav Stevanovic on French paper Libération’s website.
Go to: http://www.liberation.com/quotidien/portrait/port990415.html
ARISTOPHANES’ DICK 12/22/2000
In The Spectator, Peter Jones explains how Aristophanes “went to town” on the subject of the male member: “Aristophanes refers to the male member as a tip, neck, finger, thing, flesh, skin, biggy, sinew, equipment, muscle, dried fig, fig petal, mallow stalk, acorn, chickpea, barleycorn, alabaster pot, spear, peg, pole, ram, oar, goad, beam, punt-pole, bolt, handle, sword, spit-roast, axe, club, staff, top, token, seal, drill, thong, wing, tail, sparrow, various sorts of cake, foot, rope, lump and soup-ladle. Aristophanes does not stint on women’s parts either: box, piggy, sucking-pig, fig, pomegranate, myrtle-berry, rose, garden, delphinium, meadow, thicket, grove, plain, celery, mint, fuzz, door, gate, sheath, ring, circle, hole, cave, pit, gulf, hollow, bolthole, vent-hole, seashell, sea-urchin, conch, hearth, brazier, hot coals, bowl, dish, boiled sausage, varieties of meat and fish, hors d’oeuvres, milk-cake, barley-cake, pancake, delta, nightingale, thrush, mouse-hole, bird’s nest, swallow, crack, gravy-boat.”
Go to: http://www.spectator.co.uk
LITERARY PRIZES UPDATE 12/19/2000
As you all know by now, Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin won this year’s Booker, Britain’s most famous literary prize. There’s an interesting interview with the Canadian author on The Guardian’s website. Zadie Smith’s White Teeth has been awarded The Guardian’s First Book Award. The winner of the Whitbread Prize will be announced in late January.
BS JOHNSON REVISITED 12/19/2000
The other day, as I was browsing in one of Paris’s best English bookshops, I happened upon BS Johnson’s famous book-in-a-box, The Unfortunates (first published in 1969). This fascinating novel is divided into twenty-seven unbound sections which (apart from the first and the last) can be read in any order. I was also delighted to find out, thanks to our friends at Spike Magazine, that there are two BS Johnson websites. An omnibus edition of his fiction will be published next year by Picador. Jonathan Coe’s biography of Johnson should at last hit the bookshops, and Johnson’s cult novel Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry is being made into a film (by Kasander Films). The music is by Luke Haines of The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder fame.
For the two BS Johnson websites go to:
BASTARD FRENCH EGGHEADS 12/19/2000
There was a big debate this week in the pages of Le Monde about French intellectuals. The occasion for all this was the publication of Régis Debray’s I.F. Suite et Fin in which Che Guevara’s comrade-in-arms and President Mitterrand’s ghostwriter attacks his country’s media-friendly intellectuals who keep lecturing the world on political subjects they have no understanding of. Don’t get me started.
Go to: http://www.lemonde.fr/sequence/0,2319,2507,00.html
SCOTTISH SPOKEN WORD 12/19/2000
A Glasgow-based literary organisation called Bletherink has published a brilliant spoken-word CD entitled Spoke: New Scottish Voices. Send a cheque or postal order for £7 (add £1 p&p if you’re outside the European Union) to:
Bletherink, 12 Hyndland Road, Glasgow, Scotland G12 9UP.
THE FIRST GREAT 1970S NOVEL? 12/19/2000
The brilliant author of What a Carve Up! (1994) and The House of Sleep (1997) is about to publish a novel based in the 1970s. On November 5th, Jonathan Coe, 39, told The Guardian that he was a “timid, unhip” teenager back in the 70s. More worryingly, he also described himself as “a die-hard lover of progressive rock.” Quite surprising given that each chapter of The Dwarves of Death (1990) was introduced by an epigraph lifted from a Morrissey song. The title of Coe’s forthcoming opus, The Rotters’ Club, is taken from a prog-rock album (by Hatfield & The North). Cosmo Landesman claims that it may well turn out to be “the first great novel about the 1970s as they really were.” He may be right if this extract is anything to go by: “people forget about the 1970s. They think it was all about wide collars and glam rock, and they get nostalgic about Fawlty Towers and kids’ TV programmes, they forget the ungodly strangeness of it all.” Another 3AM Magazine favourite, Toby Litt is also preparing a novel set in the 70s, Deadkidsongs.
Go to: http://www.booksunlimited.co.uk
NEW YASMINA REZA PLAY 12/19/2000
Her first play was produced in 1987, but it was with Art that Yasmina Reeza achieved international fame. The play was translated into 40 languages, Sean Connery bought the film rights and the author received a Tony Award. Reza’s new play, Trois versions de la vie was first staged in Vienna on October 29th, before Paris. It also opens in Athens and London (translated by Christopher Hampton under the title Life x 3, National Theatre December 1st-January 6th). In The Independent, Yasmina Reza was recently described as the mistress of the “ big ideas lite.” Read about “the most exported living playwright on the planet.”
Go to: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/People/Profiles/2000-12/reza101200.shtml
One of our favourite literary websites has disbanded. Neonlit.com, edited by excellent novelist Nicholas Royle, no longer exists. Timeout.com intend to launch “a brand new books site” in 2001. They promise it will be well worth the wait. Ros Atkins at Time Out tells us that “Nicholas Royle will still be integrally involved in the site. We will still be running new short fiction—more than we have been on the existing Neonlit site. There will be additional book events listings for London, reviews, a column by a different selected author each fortnight and all the features of the old site such as the searchable archive of reviews will remain.”
Go to: http://www.timeout.com
3AM PUNISHMENT 12/14/2000
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British tabloid The Mirror (formerly known as The Daily Mirror) feature a showbiz gossip column called—wait for it—3AM. Exactly! The cheek of it. Our only consolation is that one of the three young women who make up the 3AM team was publicly spanked by Liam Gallagher of Oasis fame. Serve her right!
Go to: http://www.mirror.co.uk
ANGEL TALK 12/13/2000
The author of Fever Pitch and Hi-Fidelity, Nick Hornby has edited a collection of short stories entitled Speaking with the Angel (Penguin). Although Hornby denies that it is a charity book, each time a copy is sold, £1 will be donated to the trust fund for autistic children Hornby helped to launch. (Hornby has an autistic son.) 12 stories, all written in the first person, by 12 authors including Irvine Welsh, Dave Eggers, Roddy Doyle, Zadie Smith, Helen Fielding and Nick Hornby.
THE WILDE MAN OF LETTERS 12/13/2000
To commemorate the centenary of his death, The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, edited by Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis, are being published by Fourth Estate. Apparently, Oscar Wilde’s tomb at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris has become more popular than Jim Morrison’s. Wilde’s grandson, Merlin Holland warns that the tomb is being damaged by lipstick kisses: “If these people want to to honour Oscar Wilde’s memory, then they should leave the bloody tomb alone” (The Observer 29 October 2000). Wilde died aged 46 at the Hotel d’Alsac (13 Rue des Beaux Arts, Paris) on November 30th 1900. Don’t miss “The Wilde Years” exhibition at the Barbican in London (until December 10th). For related links, visit the World-Wide Wilde Web. Feed recently published an interesting article on Wilde by Adam Kirsch.
Go to: http://www.showgate.com/tots/gross/wildeweb.html
Go to: http://www.feedmag.com/templates/default.php3?a_id=1496