Monday 15 September 2014

Generation Self

Writing in the current edition of the New Statesman, the novelist Will Self describes a recent showdown in an LA cafeteria in which he asked the proprietor to turn down the overwhelming music:

No, they would not, because they cannot comprehend why anyone wouldn’t want to eat their waffles to the accompaniment of loud trip-hop . . . When I reassume my seat, looking frazzled and out of sorts, one of my sons bellows sympathy over the shingly sonic backwash, and I say: “Really, it’s OK. After all, it’s my generation that’s to blame for this bullshit culture.”

I feel for him, I really do. He then goes on to develop his thesis:

And we are, aren’t we, us fiftysomethings? We’re the pierced and tattooed, shorts-wearing, skunk-smoking, OxyContin-popping, neurotic dickheads who’ve presided over the commoditisation of the counterculture; we’re the ones who took the avant-garde and turned it into a successful rearguard action by the flying columns of capitalism’s blitzkrieg; we’re the twats who sat there saying that there was no distinction between high and popular culture, and that adverts should be considered as an art form; we’re the idiots who scrumped the golden apples from the Tree of Jobs until our bellies swelled and we jetted slurry from our dickhead arseholes – slurry we claimed was “cultural criticism”.

Nicely put, although surely 'commoditisation' should be 'commodification'? I quote Self at length because his bilious rant seems to me a watershed moment in our current literary discourse, marking a  welcome realisation by a leading writer of his (and my) infantilised fifty-something generation that the game is up, and that said game wasn't worth the candle. I'm no more a representative of my generation than he is, although I think I'm closer in thought and feeling to the majority of those members of it who happen not to be Will Self, the pound store Martin Amis. I'm fiftysomething too, but lack, so far, the piercings and tattoos and neurotic addictions and clogged lexicon of Will Self. (A friend once said I must have made a fustian pact, as my tastes are resolutely unhip and tend more to V. S. Pritchett and Denton Welch than J. G. Ballard and William Burroughs, although Burroughs was, rather surprisingly, a huge fan of Welch. I am irredeemably square.)

So here's my point. Just as Self belatedly wakes up to the vain and hateful pointlessness of the gimcrack 'cultural criticism' perpetrated with sullen ferocity for decades by the likes of Will Self, just as he realises that 'the pierced and tattooed, shorts-wearing, skunk-smoking, OxyContin-popping, neurotic dickheads' of which he is the Self-elected incarnation have produced nothing, absolutely nothing of value or permanence or even passing interest over the past three decades apart from trashing the thoughtful  hierarchies of taste and judgement that made literature navigable and worthwhile, just as he and his sneering coevals dwindle before our  gaze shrilly squealing like the liquidated Wicked Witch of Oz, just as he comes to realise that all the prolix redundancy of his threadbare psychobabble amounts to nothing more than a pretext for whining about his spoilt breakfast waffles in a weekly magazine . . . I punch the air with a loud whoop and say: YES!  Now where were we . . .?

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