And with it, Self guns for literary immortalityby Ian Sansom / June 21, 2017 / Leave a comment
Phone by Will Self (Viking, £18.99)
“Modern authorship,” according to William Hazlitt in his Lectures on the Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth, “is become a species of stenography: we continue even to read by proxy. We skim the cream of prose without any trouble; we get at the quintessence of poetry without loss of time. The staple commodity, the coarse, heavy, dirty, unwieldy bullion of books is driven out of the market of learning, and the intercourse of the literary world is carried on, and the credit of the great capitalists sustained by the flimsy circulating medium of magazines.” Hazlitt was writing a long time ago, and of course we’re all proxy cream-skimmers now, but if you’re in the mood for the coarse, the heavy, the dirty and unwieldy—if you’re a true seeker after the bullion, then go straight to Will Self. He’s like Goethe’s dog: he eats glass and shits diamonds.
Self has been a central-marginal figure in English literary and cultural life for more than a quarter of a century. For all his insistent high-and-mightiness, he has in that time done more than his fair share of low-maintenance dictation, knocking out opinion pieces and articles on everything from Peperami and Pizza Express for the New Statesman, to puff-pieces for in-flight magazines and musings on the meaning of love for these fine pages. He is endlessly popping up on good, bad—though never indifferent—television. (Go to YouTube and warm your cockles watching Self merrily mocking and lambasting the left, right and centre on Question Time, Newsnight and Channel 4 News, a six foot five giant, a Gulliver—or at least a Bernard Bresslaw lookalike—pissing all over the niceties and nonentities of cultural programming and current affairs.)
Self’s massive expressive power is necessarily a massive excessive power and his entire career may sometimes seem like an ill-conceived attempt to seize cultural authority by any means possible. (He was even at one time a team captain on Vic and Bob’s Shooting Stars.) Like Boris Johnson and Katie Hopkins—undoubtedly weird, really quite posh, possessed of the powers of spontaneous eloquence and with a tendency to appear on Have I Got News For You—he seemed for a time a figure condemned merely to perform himself for the entertainment of an easily distracted audience. He was a terrible show-off, but at least he was our terrible…