Most of the ‘art’ we hear about today is fashion driven by commerce. Money is just a means of exchange, a means of keeping a roof over your head and all that, but to pursue wealth for its own sake is decadent. I agree with Samuel Beckett that one has to teach oneself not to want things. One wants many things for no better reason than that advertisers train us to want them.
– John Calder being sane and heartening, from Textualities.
It was not until we had passed Diamond Head and were coming in low over the reef for landing at Honolulu, however, that I realized what I most disliked about this incident: I disliked it because it had the aspect of a short story, one of those “little epiphany” stories in which the main character glimpses a crisis in a stranger’s life and is moved to see his or her own life in a new light. I was not going to Honolulu because I wanted to see life reduced to a short story. I was going to Honolulu because I wanted to see life expanded to a novel, and I still do.
– Joan Didion, In The Islands
Oh, Joan. Your politics are sour and your frailty aggressive, but as stylist of deep, insurmountable catatonia, you can’t be matched.
Let’s go backwards. Backwards in time, all the way to the beginning. Back to a country that neither of us would recognize, probably. Britain, 1973.
-Was it really that different, do you think?
– Completely different. Just think of it! A world without mobiles or videos or Playstations or even faxes. A world that had never heard of Princess Diana or Tony Blair, never thought for a moment of going to war in Kosovo or Afganistan. There were only three television channels in those days, Patrick! Three! And the unions were so powerful that, if they wanted to, they could close one of them down for a whole night. Sometimes people even had to do without electricity. Imagine!
– Jonathan Coe, The Rotters Club
At the moment, I’m making a concerted – if slightly reluctant – effort to bring my reading up to date. Indeed, if you glanced at the stacks of books currently gathering dust in storage back in the UK (ie. toppling precariously off my Dad’s ad hoc book shelves) you might be forgiven for thinking that the novel ceased existing some time around 1978 (which it didn’t, did it? Might as well have done, though. Arf arf. A little “situation of the novel” humour for you there. Jeez.)
Anyway, after a happy couple of days counting the erections in The Line of Beauty, I’m now onto Jonathan Coe’s The Rotter’s Club. I’m, oh, about 50 pages in, so not much cohesive to report at present, except this: Now, I’ve long held that English culture seems to develop unevenly around a series of time-lags, that there are certain manifestations or practices that persist, long past their appropriate chronology. However, it’s pretty disconcerting to find that Coe’s mid-seventies Birmingham, with its homemade light ale, Big School, prefabs and Black Forest gateau, meshes so easily with the 1990s Hull of my childhood.
For Frank Kermode, Zadie Smith’s novelistic gift lies in her talent for “being in the world, for knowing and loving its diversity”. Now, Kermode is, as well as eminent and brilliant, almost ninety, and so I forgive him this oversight, but if that’s the case then what is this?
…which is the shit, man ‘cos it’s like the best thing in the Requiem, and it made me think damn, you can be so close to genius that it like lifts you up… and all these people be trying to prove that it’s Mozart ‘cos that fits in with their idea of who can and who can’t make music, but the deal is that this amazing sound was just by this guy Süssmayr, this average Joe Schmo guy…
(On Beauty‘s Carl, explaining to Zora that much of Mozart’s Lacrimosa was, in fact, composed by Franz Süssmayr.)
Bryan Appleyard on David Hockney’s swimming pools, from The Pleasures of Peace. Appleyard has his own cheerful, intelligent blog here. In this book of his, subtitled ‘Art and the Imagination in Postwar Britain’ he grabs the reins of the historical forces of the period and manages to get them to play together rather beautifully. It’s a wonderful kick up the behind for someone whose own study of the period sometimes seems all-too-prone to whittle the really juicy stuff into dry bone.
Much to my chagrin, in times of great ire I tend to become rather inarticulate. Hence, I’ll say: just go and get a load of Zadie Smith in the New York Review of Books here. It’s very late in the VIIth District and there’s steam coming out of my ears.