Read an edited version of the lecture that Will Self gave on Dictatorship, Machines and 20th Century Classical Music as part of The Rest Is Noise festival at the Southbank last Friday in Guardian Review here.
“WG Sebald, who died in a car crash in 2001, was an inspired essayist, quite as much as he was a novelist; indeed, I often think of his most achieved fictions – Austerlitz, and The Emigrants – as writing that tests the limits of both forms, blending them together at their margins with a kind of vaporous diffusion of their creator’s lucidity, so entirely are the invented and the real fused together. This essay on the last years of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s life exhibits all of Sebald’s strengths as a writer – and all of his strange, gnomic, secretive foibles. Ostensibly a straightforward account of Rousseau’s exiled wanderings, it begins with his first glimpse, in 1965, of the Ile Saint Pierre in Switzerland, where Rousseau spent the first period of his stateless exile, and where he claimed – in his Reveries of a Solitary Walker – that he was happier than he had been anywhere else.
Will Self’s Guardian review of Cities Are Good for You by Leo Hollis.
‘Back in the tail end of 2009, Nigel Farage stepped aside from his leadership of the United Kingdom Independence Party to concentrate on challenging the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, in the parliamentary elections of 2010. In a characteristically forthright statement, Farage said that Bercow “represented the worst” of a legislature that had “broken the trust” of the British people. In due course Bercow, a somewhat maverick Tory, was returned to parliament and the speaker’s throne, but not before Farage himself had been spectacularly unseated. It was during an election stunt, while he was flying his light aircraft high over the Angleterre profonde of Northants. The banner trailing the plane, and bearing the legend “Vote for Your Country, Vote for Ukip”, created a little too much drag, and the habitually ebullient Farage fell to Earth.
‘In Barry Lopez‘s haunting, poetic book about the hyperborean realms, Arctic Dreams, there’s a magnificent story about an Inuit family who are washed out to the seas on a calved iceberg. Nothing is heard of them for about 30 years, until one day they rejoin the rest of their tribal group. The reason for their prolonged absence is this: it has taken them this long, on the deserted island where they fetched up, to hunt the seals, narwhals, whales and assorted other fauna, required to provide the skins, the baleen stretchers, the bone needles and the sinewy thread with which to construct a seagoing boat – as soon as it was done they headed home.
Will Self recently chose Tenniel’s illustration of Alice with the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland as one of his favourite classic book illustrations:
“When I was a child my parents had a splendid edition of Alice in Wonderland with some of the Tenniel illustrations as shiny colour plates. I was obsessed by Alice – and the illustration that particularly gripped me was of the caterpillar sitting on the toadstool smoking his hookah. It’s easy to see why it exerted such a hold …”
To read the rest of the article, visit the Guardian Review here.
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.
As the publication of Umbrella on August 16 nears, Will Self talks to the Observer about his new Man Booker-longlisted novel (and, briefly, his next novel, which will be “Jaws without the shark”.)
Will has also written a piece in the FT about what he terms “everythingitis”, which he feels every time he finishes a book, and how he conducts his research. There’s also a long piece here that he wrote for the Guardian Review about modernism and how he got going as a writer.