Will Self – Mokni Rebel
Will Self is an important writer. A cynic, a skeptic; septic. He has the rather dubious credential of having been fired from a national newspaper for taking heroin on a prime ministerial aeroplane – very respectable outsider behaviour; the truth is smack doesn’t care who you are – don’t forget that he is an Oxford graduate – and cites the mercurial Burroughs as an influence.
Notoriety, however is not a prerequisite for, nor is it as important as brilliant writing.
William Tell Overture
Burroughs was a thoroughly mid 20th Century post-war American iconoclast – homosexual, uxoricist, junky, peddlar of pederast fantasy and highly controversial “filth” – exciting, extremely subversive, gifted, deviant, obscene. Burroughs changed everything.
Burroughs’ genius meant that later pop-culture “icons” were desperate to align themselves with him – popular music has always been writing’s cheap, easy, thieving, simple-minded cousin, happy to label regurgitate cuisine.
Self is an Oxford educated English writer whose novels are often visceral, bilious, gynaecological, difficult, dystopian explorations of social themes through unique and bizarre “spaces”. Like Burroughs Self also likes to experiment with the fabric of language; his lexicon is deliberately challenging. If you want easy to digest, banal, vacuous drivel, seek out the arch kings of mediocrity elsewhere because Self’s work will eat you alive.
“Apart from the advanced experimentation of The Atrocity Exhibition, which exhibits elements of the “cut-up” and “fold-in” methods originated by the Dadaists and channelled into English by William Burroughs and Bryon Gysin, the great majority of Ballard’s fiction has altogether traditionally realist formal properties. Indeed, it’s the juxtaposition of these hokey characters and straightforward plot lines with the outlandish psychogeographic content of Ballard’s fictive inscape that makes the books so profoundly unsettling…”
Cock and Bull
Self’s satiric “Cock and Bull” (1992) repositioned the fantastic notions of a man with a vagina growing in his knee and a woman who grows a penis back into the humdrum suburban world of Muswell Hill and local rugby clubs. Liberal quotients of onanism, rape, alcoholism and violence ensured the result was hilarious, twisted, blunt, entertaining, disquieting and established Self as the acid sharp voice of satirical British writing.
How the Dead Live
In “How the Dead Live” Self chose to create an afterlife in London’s “Dulston” through the deceased, stream of post-consciousness monologue of Lily Bloom and her lithopedian foetus. Critics found the book nihilistic, difficult, ambitious and extravagant. It was a radical piece of deep Ulyssean psychogeography set somewhere in the wasteland of dead imagination.
In “The Book of Dave” the misogynistic rantings of Dave Rudman, a mentally ill London taxi driver are rediscovered centuries beyond and become the sacred text upon which a religion is founded. Self uses such “devices” as non linear narrative and an invented vernacular “Mokni”.
Going, going gonzo
Self has noted H.S.T. as an influence, but his writing definitely isn’t “Gonzo” – not in the pure sense of the word – he isn’t peddling acid soaked rock ‘n’ roll hallucinations from the depths of the 1970’s American Psyche. Those Gonzo days are gone & Thompson is now a part of the illustrious sky. Back then Rolling Stone was a magazine of some edgy repute. Not anymore.
Self’s avant-garde socio political inventions of imagination and satire are not easy going – this is adult fiction. Unlike Thompson Self is not really “pop culture” friendly. Will Self doesn’t “do” facile – his oblique social mirror grotesquely echoes modernity in increasingly original, disturbing and complex ways.
Self’s journalism is very highly regarded and more “accessible”, more immediately “Gonzo” and later we will look at his collection “The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Prawn Cracker” – an out to naked lunch collection of pieces about food with no hint of the preposterous and pretentious reasoning that Self suggests has made modern heroes of “egg flippers” ( like “Fucking Gordon”) and pushed Pancetta into Yorkshire as an artifact of elite sophistication.
…that the likes of Jamie Oliver make a big noise about healthy eating for the lumpy proletariat while racking up fees advertising a supermarket chain certainly gets on my tits, but what it must do to Cupcake Man – who’s manifestly involved in the honest labour of a culinary artisan – I hate to imagine. I see Cupcake Man, by night, working away on his treatise, his hands covered in icing burns, while on the TV in the corner of his garret (which is above the cupcake works), Oliver, Ramsay, Stein, Fearnley-Whittingstall, Blumenthal and all the rest of the celebrity egg-flippers are effing and blinding about a soufflé made from Eritrean goat’s cheese.
And while we’re thinking about Heston Blumenthal (crazy name – whatever persuaded his mum and dad to name him after a motorway service station), he’s recently invited me on one of his TV shows. Apparently, on these he recreates the cuisines of the past in order to “tempt the jaded palates of the 21st century”. But there’s nothing jaded about my palate at all, Heston, me old fat duck, I cleave to the notion that food is only shit waiting to happen, and that paying too much attention to what you shove in at one end is tantamount to coprophilia in advance.
The SECOND PART of our Will Self profile continues with a succulent Sweltering soupcon of shiz du jour – his food collection The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Prawn Cracker.
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