Tag Archives: Christopher Hitchens

Will Self and Contemporary British Society

Self

Will Self and Contemporary British Society
By Graham Matthews
Palgrave Macmillan – £58.00

There’s no denying the fact that Will Self, like Gore Vidal, Christopher Hitchens and perhaps even Julie Burchill, is a writer of high velocity’n’vitriol in the most equal of considered measure. Whether reading about his work or the actual works themselves, Self never fails entertain and taunt, question and provoke.

At best, he never fails to least idiosyncratically inspire.

Much the same can be applied to Will Self and Contemporary British Society, which is why I should imagine Graham Matthews – who is Associate Professor in the Department of English, Culture, and Communication at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in China – initially embarked on writing the book to begin with. As one can tell almost immediately, that Matthews is probably as eclectic in his reading as Self is in his writing.

There’s an undeniable correlation betwixt the two; although admittedly, the man in question flies high and untethered amid the unknown vortex of invention, whereas the author of this book writes about that invention: ”The review is typical of Self’s work and displays his predilection for combining the quotidian with the absurd: banal subject matter with scholarly rigour; flights of imaginative fancy with commonsensical assertions; the ephemeral with the eternal. He is often presented as a bilious individual but, like many satirists, is content with his bile, and presents his excoriating criticism as preferable to the morass of hypertrophy, hypocrisy and illimitable dullness of the contemporary world” (‘Introduction’).

Absolutely spot on.

Self would, from a literal perspective at least, far sooner hyperventilate through the ”hypocrisy and illimitable dullness of the contemporary world” in every which way imaginable.

Of whom else for instance, would a critique pertain to and be ”transported in and out of quintillions of vaginas,” whereby ”sex is always already a discursive practice,” due to ”the essentialist notion that biology is destiny?”

Writing in the fourth chapter ”Fucking and fighting’: Will Self and Gender,’ Matthews traverses through the gender persuasion and much of the aforesaid, by tackling head-on, the hopeless Viagra of Victorian values in writing: There is no sex that is not already viewed through the prism of gender performativity. Instead the social appearance of gender is policed by a series of compulsory frames that are determined by the binary ethics of sexual difference. In a similar way, Self disputes normative assumptions regarding masculinity and femininity and their relationship to biological sex to argue instead that masculinity, and by extension, gender, is not predominantly determined by biology but by social norms. For Self, gender is indeterminate, not essential:

Yet whenever I’ve voiced this sense of indeterminacy which surrounds my masculinity and inheres in my very encoding – the combinations of deoxyribonucleic acids that make me one – men smirk, women laugh, and the consensus is that I could not be any more of a man if I shaved my head, pierced my foreskin, shoved a rag soaked with butyl nitrate in my face and joined a conga line of buggery.”

Thus, to determine if not describe these 172 pages (excluding Notes, Bibliography and Index) as a calibrated confluence of academia and an inflammatory roller-coaster, wouldn’t be too far off the mark.

As Dr Daniel Lea (who is the Principal Lecturer in Contemporary Literature at Oxford Brookes University) nigh substantiates: ”Graham Matthews’ study is an excellent introduction to Self’s writing, which is accessible in approach without ever sacrificing intellectual depth or complexity. There are many interesting theoretical interventions throughout which give it range and bite, and he expertly captures the violence, virtuosity, and vitriol of his subject.”

Indeed, each of the book’s six chapters penetrate right through the high-octane embrace of current-day, benign and rather dormant, literal languidity – for which one ought to be eternally grateful. For which one ought to yelp Halleluja from a menagerie of indeterminate rooftops.

That ”Self’s work should be considered as fragments of a larger, necessarily incomplete satiric project that deconstructs contemporary myths by portraying them at their most grotesque and degenerate extremes,” is what partially makes both him and this excellent book, so very, very readable. There again, when ”considered in its entirety, Self’s work reveals itself to be part of the long tradition of English literature that links the act of writing to social responsibility.”

David Marx

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Prepared For The Worst

hitchens

Prepared For The Worst – Selected Essays and Minority Reports
By Christopher Hitchens
Atlantic Books – £16.99

Apart from the fact that the standard of writing really is second to none, Christopher Hitchens, was, still is, renowned for taking his reader on a lively and most intellectual journey that can only be described as a combination of mordant wit and provocative prowess.

Each of Prepared For The Worst’s five sections is simply uber-jam-packed with the sort of dissectory analysis akin to that of say John Pilger, only without quite so much politicised, social commentary, and perhaps more flair for a variety of subjects that range from Graham Greene to Thomas Paine (”Merely by stating the obvious and sticking to it, Paine had a vast influence on the affairs of America, France, and England. Many critics and reviewers have understated the thoroughness of Paine’s comment, representing him instead as a kind of Che Guevara of the bourgeois revolution”), Pat Robertson to Albert Camus (”Camus had a knack for noticing grotesque things – not just in individuals, but in attitudes”), the questionably unresolved Watergate Scandal to Kim Dae Jung to one of my all time favourite writers, George Orwell, in an overtly thought provoking essay.

Aptly entitled ‘Comrade Orwell’) it begins: ”Orwell has been smothered with cloying approbation by those who would have despised or ignored him when he was alive, and pelted him with smug after-thoughts by those who (often unwittingly or reluctantly) shared the same trenches as he did. The present climate threatens to stifle him in one way or the other.”

This alone sets the literary, semi-politicised pace for what’s to follow, which, for all intents and persuasive purposes, is an essay littered with a number of sentences that are simply tailored made for academic questioning and further analysis:

”Orwell seldom wrote about foreigners, except sociologically, and then in a hit-or-miss fashion otherwise unusual to him; he very rarely mentions a foreign writer and has an excessive dislike of foreign words; although he condemns imperialism he dislikes its victims even more.,” – Discuss.

”It would be dangerous to blind ourselves to the fact that in the West millions of people may be inclined, in their anguish and fear, to flee from their own responsibility for mankind’s destiny and to vent their anger and despair on the giant Bogey-cum-Scapegoat which Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four has done so much to place before their eyes.,” Discuss.

”He was a materialist and a secularist – particularly hostile to the Roman Catholic heresy – but had a great reverence for tradition and for liturgy.,” – Discuss.

As Hitchens himself contends of this superb collection of essays: ”I suppose that, if this collection has a point, it is the desire of one individual to see the idea of confrontation kept alive.” And who, with the possible exceptions of George Osborne and those who work in either insurance or advertising, would want to argue with such razor induced profundity?

Prepared For The Worst is a terrific book and first of a number of Christopher Hitchens books I shall be reviewing in the near future.

David Marx