Will Self: A Critical Dictionary

Dr Jeannette Baxter, a senior lecturer in English at Anglia Ruskin University, was one of the contributors to Will Self and the Art of the Contemporary in March, the first conference on the work of Will Self. Here she introduces her Critical Dictionary:

Critical Dictionary: Or My Idea of Fun by Jeannette Baxter

A dictionary begins when it no longer gives the meanings of words but their tasks.” – Georges Bataille


Self & I

Will has written before about the time he spent living with Matthew De Abaitua – his “live-in amanuensis” – in the 1990s, most notably in the Independent in 2008:

“Thirteen years ago, Matthew – who is now a talented novelist in his own right – spent a six-month sojourn as my live-in amanuensis and secretary. It was a thankless task: so far as I can remember I was completely spark-a-loco. We were living in a tiny cottage in Suffolk, and I was given to harvesting opium from the poppies that grew wild in the field margins, then driving my Citreon deux-chevaux across the same fields, solely by the light of a horned moon, Matthew placidly crammed into the passenger seat.

Watch ‘Obsessed with Walking’

Watch some clips from the fascinating 30-minute Australian film Obsessed with Walking by Rosie Jones, which follows Will Self around Los Angeles “doing field research” for his book Walking to Hollywood and interviews him at home in London too.

Obsessed with Walking clip 1

Obsessed with Walking clip 2

Obsessed with Walking clip 3

To listen to the director talking about why and how she made the film, go here. For more information about the film, visit the Flaming Star Films website. To buy a copy of Obsessed with Walking go here.

Mortality, the corpse and the fiction of Will Self

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living: Mortality, the Corpse and the Fiction of Will Self.

Death, according to Jacque Lynn Foltyn, has replaced sex as the 21st century’s definitive taboo. While the valance has long since been ripped away from the collective Victorian piano leg, the corpse, meanwhile, has become primed with symbolic explosives, threatening the very foundations of society built upon the mythology of modernist progress. Be it the computer-generated cadavers of CSI Miami, or Gunther von Hagens’ reality TV autopsies, Foltyn argues that the human corpse has become an increasingly pervasive object of revulsion and attraction in our culture, a site of anxiety about medicine’s failure to conquer, but enthusiasm to hide, death. With all this in mind, it’s not surprising to find that the fiction of Will Self – an author who frequently weaves his narratives in, around, and beyond the boundaries of taboo – is one who showcases several literary autopsies, in which death and the human corpse are explored with a surgeon’s eye (and, more often than not, a coroner’s tongue).

A critical essay on Leberknödel from Liver

Liver Let Die
Will Self’s newest collection, Liver, contains a novella, Leberknödel, that is set in Zurich and has a protagonist called Joyce Beddoes. Call me an obsessive Irishman, but put “Zurich” and “Joyce” together and you automatically come up with James Joyce, who wrote a number of chapters of Ulysses in Zurich, died and is buried there. The link seems obvious to me. When you discover that Self’s Joyce eats a meal at the famous Kronenhalle (James Joyce’s favourite hangout and the place where he ate his last proper meal) and that she has reserved a plot in Fluntern cemetery (the very same cemetery where James Joyce lies buried), then you know that the sequence of coincidences is not a sequence of coincidences. Strangely, in British reviews of Self’s book in the likes of The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent and the Times Literary Supplement, not one critic has picked up on this. If the allusions to James Joyce were simply decorative then perhaps the reviewers could be forgiven for leaving it unmentioned. But to miss the ghostly absence of James Joyce in this occult novella is to read a different story then the one Self has written.

The Sweet Smell Of Excess: Will Self, Bataille and Transgression

A lengthy and coherent analysis of Will Self’s work and its similarities with the writing of Georges Bataille by Brian Finney:

“Self sees himself paradoxically both as a moral satirist and as a social rebel who is more interested in shocking his middle-class readers than in reforming them. ‘What excites me,’ he has said, ‘is to disturb the reader’s fundamental assumptions. I want to make them feel that certain categories within which they are used to perceiving the world are unstable’ (Glover 15).