Thursday, January 21, 2010

Therapy and A Disaffection

David Lodge's novel Therapy is a true book of the 1990s when celebrity was in the wings, feeding on easy cash, TV and an emerging mania for self-promotion. It's about a sitcom writer with an obsession with Kierkegaard. Lodge makes some interesting statements about writing and journals: "The pen is like a tool, a cutting or digging tool, slicing down through the roots, probing the rockbed of memory...." and "A journal....is like talking silently to yourself. It's a mixture of monologue and autobiography."

But as I read it there was another book on my shoulder. Eventually I realised what it was. It reminded me of James Kelman, whose wonderful novel, A Disaffection, I encountered in the late eighties and haven't re-read but will do now. Therapy opened the door to Kelman's character, Patrick, who keeps up a running commentary throughout the book about Holderlin, the German writer who was ignored during his lifetime but subsequently influenced Rilke, Hesse, Celan and Trakl. Holderlin was a poet-thinker as Kelman is a novelist-philosopher. From Holderlin, tumble Heidegger and Derrida.....

Like Therapy, A Disaffection is a book about looking inward and in that sense, the nature of writing, language and thought. But it's a very different book - where Lodge is easy to read and English, Kelman is confrontational and much more experimental. He's been compared to Beckett and is an important writer.

He belonged to a writing group run by Philip Hobsbaum whose other participants included the poets Tom Leonard and Liz Lochhead. All have distinctive styles, all challenge our use of language and how we write down the words that come out of our mouths. Kelman is also incredibly outspoken about literary prizes, willing to articulate what many wouldn't dare.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hags and lads



Another whiteout this morning in common with with most of the UK, and I've already eaten my packed lunch. Is it a primitive reflex when temperatures drop? I shouldn't be eating. I'm planning a party. A friend surprised me last night by offering to bring salad. I had anticipated cheesy puffs from Lidl and dips, plus drink and dancing. I guess people might expect pies, bread and cheese. I'm surprised by the enthusiasm for it, but then there were so few parties over Xmas. I invited someone I hardly know by mistake on Facebook and there is a shortage of men. I am not going to any more women-only parties this year.

How does that no single men thing work? Say the 50 something men are with 40 something women. The forty something men are with 30 something women. The 30 something men are with 20 something women. So that leaves two floating groups - 50 something women and 20 something men. Society's hags and lads.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Camouflage and a new year



From the entrance to Petworth Park we couldn't see the deer. We walked through the beeches around the car park and up the hill overlooking the lake. Down in the dip we heard a dog and then saw the herd moving. As we focussed we realised there were scores of them, some lying in the winter grass, totally invisible. Even those grazing merged with the background and later, when we walked around the lake, the landscape had claimed them back again.

I was at a friend's 50th birthday yesterday afternoon, the tables groaning under the weight of cake and savouries. The talk was of teenagers and school, of college and choices. A friend who's a great champion of children's rights was talking about how difficult it is for teenagers to challenge the status quo, compared to how it was for us, growing up in the sixties. We want teenagers inconspicuous and tame, quiet and compliant - camouflaged, basically.

Listening to a piece on the radio this morning about the need for greater airport security I heard an interviewee suggest that air travellers should be prepared to be checked up on in the interests of safety. That there should be background checks on passengers from certain countries as a matter of routine and whatever rights might be compromised were sacrificed to greater safety.

Like rights to take photos in the street, to ask questions of institutions, to challenge wrong, to submit those in authority to scrutiny. How many of us want to question a bill, bank, utility company, local authority and are halted by an impossible automated answering system, are fobbed off by a standard reply, by a customer service line that is peopled by untrained junior staff without the knowledge to deal with a question?

Let 2010 be a year of questions, of examining the camoflauge, of being visible and of finding ways to loosen the tightening loop. Let us take photos in public, or as my friend Jane Fordham suggested, draw in places we're not meant to and see what happens. Let us ask awkward questions of insurance companies, banks and telephone companies and let's rediscover the power of boycott.

Then, perhaps, we'll begin to value that fabulous energy teenagers are infused with and see it as something of worth.