ArchWay With Words 2014: Will Self
Will Self is one of those increasingly rare and precious figures in contemporary British culture; a polemical and voracious man of letters with an oceanic intellect that crashes in prolific waves upon the sprawling beach of his fiction and journalism.
The hall of the Archway Methodist Church is at full capacity on this darkening Tuesday evening in the north London provinces; the locality of which, as Self reminds us standing over the lectern like a rakish preacher, having been a prominent nexus point for his past work. For Self, the concept of place is often a more integral facet to his work than characterisation.
Self first reads a section from his new novel Shark, a high-modernist prequel to the Booker-short listed Umbrella, that drives forward his archeological excavation into psychology, both in terms of how consciousness can be transposed to the page, and how a dual combination of war and new technology can unleash new and unexpected forms of collective psychosis.
The audience, comprising a broad spectrum of ages, dutifully penetrate “the meniscus of dead air” to launch a fusillade of questions, inspiring characteristically acerbic anecdotes regarding creative writing courses, cycle rickshaws, the theatre (“the audience are always the most theatrical element, they’re playing the role of the bourgeoisie”), and the unbearable loneliness of being a writer (“it’s like being in solitary confinement, you do have to make friends with the spider and make chess pieces out of bits of mouldy bread”).
That Self is still able to provoke ire and fascination in equal measure renders him a castaway on the desert island of literary notoriety along with perhaps only Martin Amis (Bret Easton Ellis’ purchase on the island may have slipped somewhat in recent years, leaving him hopelessly frolicking in the social media froth). His recent provocations on George Orwell, the impending demise of the serious novel, and the cult of the “dickhead hipster” amply demonstrate how Self has long sought to use his prose as a wrecking ball to dismantle the collective delusions and orthodox myths of our society.
Attending one of Self’s literary talks is always intellectually invigorating and droll, and though he might aggravate some (as any decent polemicist should), this reviewer feels certain that our cultural landscape would be far bleaker without his presence roving through it like an iconoclastic shark.
ArchWay With Words 2014 is at venues across Archway until 24th October 2014, for further information or to book visit here.