At the dead centre of this book’s snaking path down the friable face of human history stands Aby Warburg, a scion of the well-known banking family and a dilettante scholar at a time – and in a place – when to be so was still intellectually respectable. When Patrick Marnham writes that Warburg “mocked the keepers of academic purity as ‘border police’”, I suspect a strong sense of identification is at work. Michael P Steinberg, the translator of Warburg’s discipline-transgressing monographs on the snake dances of the Hopi, characterised his voice as one of “spiralling and endless mediation, between peoples, between pasts and presents, between the self that is known and the self that is secret”. I suspect that this, too, could be a description of Marnham’s own efforts in this book to which he would assent.
Will Self’s review of Mark Kermode’s Hatchet Job, from tomorrow’s Guardian Review.
To read Will Self’s review of Kevin Jackson’s Constellation of Genius, 1922: Modernism Year One – which he says is “an insanely readable book about modernism” that is “the primer the subject has been looking for: a way into its symbolic labyrinth” – go to the Guardian website here.
‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to convey – surely the apposite word – the full extent of my love of the London tube. It’s a love that exists prior to any sense I have of an estrangement from the world – I suppose if I were inclined to all that Freudian malarkey I’d say that the tube is not “other” to me, for it – or possibly she – is no mere transitional object, but my very internalisation of Mother London herself. Let me expand: I grew up about 10 minutes’ walk from East Finchley tube station, and I cannot properly remember a time when I didn’t travel by tube. That said, the first regular journeys I clearly remember were when, aged about eight, I began going to school in Hampstead. My older brother and I would travel the five stops to Camden Town, change to the northbound Edgware platform, and go the further three stops to Hampstead. A more direct route was to take the 102 bus to Golders Green, but while I liked the 102 well enough – and especially the breakneck plunge from the back platform as the Routemaster caromed on to the station forecourt – I loved the tube.’
“Daniel Franklin, the executive editor and business affairs editor at the Economist, is a tentative chap for a prognosticator. As well as editing this round-up of seers’ views of the four decades ahead, he and his co-editor John Andrews are also responsible for the Economist’s annual publication on the coming year ‘The World in …’. Perhaps it’s this workaday familiarity with the imperfections of futurology that makes Franklin so keen to distance himself from any great likelihood of being right.
“From time to time, as if heaven-sent to annoy, someone will ask me if I’m self-disciplined when it comes to my work. I usually look witheringly at them and snarl, ‘What do you think? I mean, how do you imagine anyone writes a quarter of a million words a year for publication?’ The hapless fools then mutter about inspiration or some such rot before turning tail and fleeing. Good riddance. The life of the professional writer – like that of any freelance, whether she be a plumber or a podiatrist – is predicated on willpower. Without it there simply wouldn’t be any remuneration, period.
‘In a typically razor-sharp exchange of dialogue that establishes – yet again – that The Simpsons provides the most coruscating illumination of contemporary mores, Lisa says to her grade-school teacher that “Good looks don’t really matter”, to which Ms Hoover replies: “Nonsense, that’s just something ugly people tell their children.” Stripping away the layers of irony from this statement we can reveal the central premise of Catherine Hakim’s book, which is that not only do looks matter, but that they should matter a great deal more.
Read Will Self’s review of Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test in the Guardian here.