“The time comes in any upright British male’s life when he needs to have made his peace with all of the following: his homosexuality, his dress sense, and Germany. The first two of these I got out of the way decades ago (true, I still occasionally wake up in the morning and flirt with becoming a dandy for the few short seconds before the stiff denim of consciousness descends on me), but Germany has proved more problematic.
Will Self has written a long introduction to Notting Hill Editions’ small and beautifully formed new hardback publication of Guy Debord’s Situationist masterpiece The Society of the Spectacle, originally published in 1967.
“Never before has Debord’s work seemed quite as relevant as it does now, in the permanent present that he so accurately foretold. Open it, read it, be amazed, pour yourself a glass of supermarket wine – as he would wish – and then forget all about it, which is what the Spectacle wants.”
You can buy a copy for £10 from the Notting Hill Edition website here.
On the dockside in Boston I spotted Fia’s Seafood – they were offering “twin lobsters” for $28.95; I ventured in and asked if the lobsters were identical or non-identical twins. “Why d’you wanna know?” the maître d’ snarled. “Because,” I replied, “I can only perform unnatural psychological experiments on them if they’re zygotic.”
The president was in town for a speech and the area around the State House was fraught with security: state cops on cliché Harleys, FBI agents in cliché letter jackets, and, most intimidating of all, those excessively polite men in pale yellow raincoats with pig’s tail antennae dangling from their ears. I gave them all a swerve and took the Red Line into Cambridge.
Jamie Oliver – like the poor he so adores – seems always to be with us; to be with us and to have been with us always as well, although it’s only 14 years since he first thrust his meat and two veg at us in the television series The Naked Chef. Since then, not a year has passed without some new Oliver production: cookery books, more TV, many Sainsbury’s advertising campaigns, restaurants, delicatessens, food product ranges and latterly a number of campaigns aimed at improving the eating habits of the nation, specifically its children.
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.
“People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles,” or so the opening line of Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero would have it. For myself, I’ve never seen the least evidence for this, any more than I have that happy families are all alike. Everywhere I’ve ever driven in LA, its inhabitants have cheerfully braided me into their steely weave until I too have merged with their all-consuming automotive abandon.
“A few years ago, I decided to walk on the foreshore of the Thames from Battersea Park as far to the east as I could. I had observed over the years that, at especially low tides, quite large areas of hardened mud were exposed; these were either studded with pebbles and flints, or gave way to chunks of concrete slipway, or elided into true shingle. Naturally, being the sort of man I am, I hadn’t made a comprehensive survey of either the littoral or the tide table, so I soon found myself wading thigh-high in the obscuring mocha of the waters, and feeling the thick silt ooze between my sandals and my soles. Impulsiveness has at least this virtue: it impels you.
Listen to Will Self’s latest A Point of View, on the malign influence of the older generation on the young, on the BBC Radio 4 website here.