I take my commitment to public education and to presenting my work in new digital formats extremely seriously, which is why, from now on, each instalment of On Location will be accompanied by a riveting and informative film. The first of these, Will Self’s Alley, can now be viewed on YouTube.
Granted, the only circumstances under which I’d run a marathon would be if I had to deliver news of a great victory by the Greeks over the Persians and there was no other transport available, but nevertheless I’m not against other people running them. My old mate Nick did the London Marathon some years ago to celebrate getting his breath back following decades of heavy smoking. I asked him what it was like, but he said that after 15 very odd miles, things became a bit of a blur. Certainly, walking through Parliament Square the other Sunday and encountering the closing stages of the great race, I was struck by how blurred the runners were: canalised between steel barricades and overseen by thousands of cheering, screeching loved ones, they paced, staggered and limped towards the finishing line, their features pulpy with exhaustion.
Watch Will Self and Toby Young discussing the general election result on Channel 4 News here.
Oliver Sacks, the eminent neurologist and writer, whose many books have done perhaps more than any other body of work to explain the mysteries of the brain to a general readership, is a strong supporter of the “narrativity” theory of the human subject. Suitably enough – given this is an autobiography – Sacks restates the notion here: “Each of us … constructs and lives a ‘narrative’ and is defined by this narrative.” Elsewhere he asserts: “I suspect that a feeling for stories, for narrative, is a universal human disposition, going with our powers of language, consciousness of self, and autobiographical memory.” Setting to one side the truth or otherwise of this contention (personally I think it’s only the social being that is narrated – to ourselves we are always “such stuff as dreams are made on”), for a man who views his life in dramatic terms, On the Move presents the reader with some quite startling narrative leaps. Perhaps the most extreme of these are two seemingly throwaway remarks Sacks makes concerning his sexual life: aged 21, and desperate to lose his virginity, he found himself in the tolerant atmosphere of Amsterdam – yet, trammelled by his Orthodox Jewish upbringing and the social repression of the era, he was unable to act, and instead sat in a bar all evening drinking “Dutch gin for Dutch courage”. He remembered nothing between staggering out of the bar and awaking the next morning in a strange bed, being served coffee by a man who explained: “He had seen me lying dead drunk in the gutter … had taken me home … and buggered me.” A demon even at that age when it came to details, Sacks asked “Was it nice?” to which his ravager replied “Yes … Very nice”, before rounding off the bizarre episode by commiserating: “He was sorry I was too out of it to enjoy it as well.”
We waited by the corner of the choir and the south transept; our guide needed to fetch something. She returned with a plasticised flip-book that was full of photographs of a smiling and slightly adipose middle-aged woman striking various attitudes: standing on narrow stone spiral stairs, squeezing between ancient walls, and crouching to negotiate low and knobbly ceilings. I didn’t want to look at the photographs – but our guide insisted. “It’s for our insurance,” she explained. “We have to inform people of the potential hazards.”
I never watch movies or TV or play video games on planes. Why? Because those fag-packet-sized screens that they implant in the back of the seats are actually displaying the thoughts of the person sitting in front of you. It isn’t seemly to intrude on another’s thoughts – we’ve all read our Freud and we know that beneath the thin, smooth veneer of socially sanctioned self-awareness (I am an upright, decent, sincere, moral person . . .), there seethes a fetid-fiery pit of the libidinal imagination into which barrels of death instinct are regularly poured. How else can we explain what is plainly in view – a heaving morass of tortured and ecstatic and self-regarding flesh which is hardly ethically minimised by appearing in miniature?
29 April: Magna Carta and Commemoration with Will Self, 7pm, United Reform Church, High Street, Egham.
1 May: An Audience with Will Self, 6pm, Faculty of Social and Human Sciences, University of Southampton.
19 May: Defeating cancer: reasons to be hopeful, panel discussion, 6.30pm, Royal Society, Carlton House Terrace, London SW1.
20 May: The Philosophy of Particle Physics, Bradford literature festival, Midland hotel, 7.30pm,£8.
7 June: Stoke Newington literary festival, 4pm, town hall, £10.
17 June: The Internet is not the answer: Andrew Keen in conversation with Will Self, 7pm, The Idler Academy, 81 Westbourne Park Road, London W2 5QH.
You can read Will Self writing about his addiction to vaping at Esquire magazine here.