Friday, 23 January 2009

Berks in the Fens

Good old Will Self in his introduction to Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker:

This book breaks the alleged rules of literary composition. Of course, there aren't really any rules, or if there are, they're there for deadheads who want to be taught naturalism by some berk in the Fens.

I wonder if Will was forced to rescind that remark when he gave a keynote paper during last summer's conference devoted to the distinctly unberklike W.G. Sebald, held (unsurprisingly) at UEA?

Anyway, he goes on to qualify this unnecessarily warlike opening remark a couple of pages later by saying something that I think is pretty urgent:

The cod-naturalism that infects so many texts is not an arbitrary convention, it's the very essence of what modern identity is. The idea that what I say to you will be immediately and lucidly comprehended is one of the most prosaic delusions of this most neurotic age. Everyone wants to be understood as as if the world were in a position to provide unconditional love. This is balls.

Self in a nutshell, then: one cantankerous provocative gesture eclipsing a beautifully-thought point. Clearly, though, if it was all the latter no-one would ever have heard of him, and he'd be writing literary criticism read only by enthusiasts and postgraduates. What a Wildean place to be.

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