Will Self has written a Diary piece for this week’s London Review of Books, which can be found here (you can subscribe or register for free to read the whole article).
A long review of David Cronenberg’s debut novel, Consumed, by Will Self can be read at the LRB website here (you will need to be a subscriber or register for free for a trial to read this in full).
There’s a 4,000 word essay that Will Self has written about Patrick Keiller and his new book, The View from the Train: Cities and Other Landscapes, at the London Review of Books website here. Will is going to be talking about Guy Debord with Patrick at the LRB bookshop in London tomorrow and there should be a podcast available soon after to listen to.
“‘Rome completely bowled me over!’ Hitler declared on returning to Germany after his 1938 state visit to Italy. Mussolini had laid on a grand night-time tour that climaxed in a visit to the Colosseum, which – according to Christopher Woodward in his excellent In Ruins – ‘was lit from inside by red lamps so that, as if ablaze, it cast a bloody glow on to the grass and the ruddy brick ruins on the surrounding slopes.’ Descanting to Albert Speer, his pet pseudo-classical architect, Hitler explained that ‘ultimately, all that remained to remind men of the great epochs of history was their monumental architecture … What then remained of the emperors of the Roman Empire? What would give evidence of them today, if not their buildings?’
I often think of Hitler and his ‘Theorie vom Ruinwert’ – that only stone and brick should be used in Nazi buildings – when I gaze on the four great towers of Battersea Power Station. True, they are cast from ferroconcrete, the perishable material the Theorie sought to proscribe; and the underlying structure of the power station is welded from steel girders that would have been just as unacceptable to Hitler, but I feel the huge expanse of brickwork that clads the grand foursquare hulk would surely gladden his hypertrophying heart, as would the prodigious quantities of stone that line the stairwells leading up to its marble-lined control room. What he would make of the hundred-foot-long control desk, finished in enough walnut burl to furnish the dashboards of a thousand Jaguars, I have no idea, but overall I think the spectacle of Battersea, now on the brink of its fourth decade of ruination, would please him.
“Woodward observes that Hitler – when it came to ruins at least – was a glass-half-full kind of guy. To him, the Colosseum’s sheer endurance made it a worthy monument to imperial ambition, one he wished to emulate with buildings that would also last a thousand years – although presumably he hoped they’d survive in better nick. Of course, by the standards of Rome and Luxor’s stonework – let alone Çatalhöyük’s – the Battersea brick pile is absurdly youthful. Still, I’d like to propose a sort of ruination coefficient based on variables of age, size and location, by which measure Battersea would rank alongside these far more ancient structures: the defunct power station, while only fully commissioned in 1955, is absolutely fucking huge (given a big enough counterweight you could lower St Paul’s into its now roofless turbine hall), and it’s also slap-bang in the middle of London.”
Will Self discusses a range of issues provoked by his digital essay Kafka’s Wound at thespace.lrb.co.uk with Nicholas Spice and Helen Jeffrey from the London Review of Books, and Dan Franklin, Digital Publisher at Random House.
Is this unique digital essay a proto-form for a new type of deeper engagement with long form content on the web? What can modernism tell us about the digital storm sweeping through our world? How might collaborative digital authorship move forward? What next?
Will Self’s “digital essay” on Kafka has been published in its entirety at the Space website, and includes an hour-long video of his trip to Prague and readings of Kafka’s “A Country Doctor”. For a short explanation of this unique London Review of Books commission, go here or visit thespace.org or @thespacearts for more details.
His essay will examine his personal relationship to Kafka’s work through the lens of the short story “A Country Doctor” (1919), and in particular through the aperture of the wound described in that story.
The essay is being “through composed” with Will’s own thoughts, as he works, being responded to by digital-content providers – many of whom are colleagues of his at Brunel University. The entire digital essay will go live in July.
There’s also a news story about the wider project at the Guardian here.
Also, tomorrow at City University in London from 5pm to 7pm, Will is going to be part of a panel discussing the difficulties inherent in translation, with particular reference to the aforementioned Kafka story. For more details go here.
“In the first few years of the last decade I undertook a series of what I called – with a nod to Iain Sinclair’s circumambulation of London – ‘radial walks’. These were tramps of between three and five days from my home near the city’s centre out into its hinterland, following either a cardinal or an ordinal point of the compass, depending on
which direction most appealed to me at the time. The first of these walks took me northeast up the Lea Valley, through Epping Forest, then followed a long path called the Essex Way that traversed the surprisingly deep country well to the north of the Thames corridor, before I debouched through Dedham Vale and the Stour Estuary to arrive at Harwich.
“I had never met anyone who had walked all the way from central London to the countryside – indeed, apart from my ten-year-old son, of whom more shortly, I still haven’t – and before that initial outing I seriously doubted whether or not it was possible. I feared the city’s surly gravity would prove too much for me, or that a bizarre bucolic force field would hurl me back somewhere in the region of the M25. Cyril Connolly, himself not a notable hiker, once said that no city should be so large that a man could not walk out of it in a morning. London, while by no means on a par with the megacities of the emergent East or Africa, still takes a very long day to egress on foot: if you leave at around 7am, and are reasonably fit, you may find yourself in open fields late that evening.
“Following Connolly, what this says about London I’m not absolutely sure: all I do know is that after doing a couple of these radial walks – first northeast, then due south – I was altogether more grounded in the city of my birth. Like some migratory creature that orients itself by sensitivity to the earth’s magnetic field, I felt for the first time in my life that I actually knew where I was. Of course, the radial walks, like my airport walks – which involved walking to a London airport, flying overseas then walking at the other end – were also a therapy devised by me to try and cope with my increasing alienation from mass transit systems and that reification of place itself which is the final redoubt of consumerism.
“Needless to say it was a therapy that didn’t work – or, rather, as with a narcotic habit, I seemed to require bigger and bigger hits of distance in order to achieve the same localising effect. My last radial walk was a mournful northwestern peregrination to Oxford; my final airport walk, a curious hop, skip and limp from the late JG Ballard’s house in Shepperton to Heathrow Airport, where I enplaned for Dubai. In Dubai I dragged myself for two days across the overcooked city and then into the baking Empty Quarter, all the way dogged by a mounting depression. It seemed to me that in pitting my body against the slave-built gimcrack postmodernism of Dubai, I had lost: something inside me was broken, and I hung up my boots.”
Read the rest of Will Self’s Diary in the LRB here (you can subscribe for free).
“While John Kasarda shares the title page of this scientific romance masquerading as a work of urban theory, Aerotropolis was written by Greg Lindsay alone. Kasarda, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s business school, may be a peculiar sort of Johnson, but Lindsay, a business journalist, is nonetheless his committed Boswell. A Boswell who, in search of his subject’s zeitgeist wisdom, once mounted a three-week exploration of ‘Airworld’ – as Kasarda calls it – by jetting from terminal to terminal around the globe but never exiting through the door marked ‘arrivals’. Why? Because it is Lindsay’s belief that Kasarda is the most important urban theorist alive today, a man who has fully anticipated the shape the future city must have and who has moved to make it a reality.”