Tuesday, 8 August 2006

Self Criticises Houellebecq

In a reasonably well argued piece on Spiked Josie Appleton mentions that Will Self has dismissed Houellebecq as a "little guy who can't get enough sex". Frankly I'd have thought that was the whole point of all of Houellebecq's books, so full marks to Self for stating the bleeding obvious, but apart from that it is a remark that betrays Self's own departure from literary outsider with the volcanic junk fuelled imagination (or William Burroughs wannabe) to fully paid up member of the literary bore establishment. Reviews of Self's latest novel, The Book of Dave, which admittedly I have not yet read, have tended to gush about the criticism of holy and sacred texts it contains - thus maybe proving Houellebecq's point in The Possibility of an Island nicely: "[artistic recognition went]... to productions that.. challenged moral values conventionally described as "traditional"..." - and so on for a good page or so.

The Will Self of My Idea of Fun, Grey Area and Great Apes was a fearsome talent, of prodigious angry imagination whose obsession with identity bore strange and exciting fruit, especially in the short stories. His conception of different, essentially satiric states of mind was vivid and startling. It was the work of an edgy writer writing about edges of various kinds. I especially loved Great Apes for its exposure of so many things: language, sex, sociability, drugs, art, human animalness and so on. The Self of How the Dead Live, going back to an old idea, seemed to me at least to begin to lose this torrential imagination without replacing it with anything of real depth. His was a greater imagination than Houellebecq, whether he is as prescient I don't know. Self is, however, a fairly conventional lefty, but Houllebecq doesn't fit that category quite so nicely, hence the remark. Stick to bizarre, funny and frightening imaginary worlds, Will, it's what you're best at.

England won the Test and Series today, their first home series win over Pakistan since 1982. There are a number of coincidences here, currently being discussed on the BBC's TMS site: then as now, an unpopular UK PM kowtowed to a powerful US Republican president; Israel was causing havoc inside Lebanon; England were going down under that winter; England were lacking key players; Pakistan were unhappy with several umpiring decisions and so on. This aside, it is notable for being yet another instance of England being a great team without any great players. England has no-one of the talent of Yousof, Younis Khan, or Inzy. But hunting in packs they more than make up for that.

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