Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Weird, some of the jobs that words are being asked to do. And redundant or deviously monstrous, I reckon, some of their other assignments.
Parked a street away from us is a grey Nissan Micra, fifteen years old, which has a rear window pennant insisting that its owner is “Proud to be a member of Equity.”
What’s this pennant actually telling us? Of what (be specific) is the Micra-owner proud? Would we, had we known about his or her membership without benefit of pennant, have doubted his or her pride, and suspected blackmail or a sullen sense of duty behind his or her decision to sign up? And how am I, a non-thespian, supposed to use this pride-centric information? Why should I care? And since the pennant has been published not by the actor-driver of the grey Nissan Micra, but by Equity itself, ought we to deduce that there’s a paranoid rump within its marketing team who suspect the union is largely despised? Or are they unconsciously displacing into this slogan their own secret fear that as a representative lobby, Equity is futile?
All these erratic trains of thought are set in motion as I walk to Gospel Oak Station. None of them go to an intended destination.
Next stop, Highbury Fields. Two snub-nosed street cleaning engines are buzzing up and down the walkway, their frontal double-brushes counter-rotating, their vacuum systems sucking up autumn leaves, sweet wrappers, cigarette butts, copies of the Metro and other debris.
On the side of each, in big green capitals: “KEEPING ISLINGTON CLEAN.”
What did they think we thought they were doing? Trooping the colour? What did they think we thought these squat vehicles were? Orgasmatrons? What would it say on the side of a municipal orgasmatron? “PLEASURING ISLINGTON’S LONELY”?
In Sainsbury’s Camden store they have pairs of sweet potatoes in cellophane packets on which the label reads: “Sainsbury’s Sweet Potato Twinpack £1.” Wouldn’t’ you think, as I did, that we’re supposed to assume this is a bargain, or am I an idiot? So are most of Sainsbury’s customers idiots, like me?
Bought loose from the adjacent shelf, the price of two sweet potatoes together amounts to a little over 50p.
I’ve just finished reading The Map and the Territory, Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel. It’s p.d.g., I have to say. Can’t think of an equivalent writer in English who with such melancholy wit and casual precision pierces the metaphysical and moral emptiness of the times we live in, beyond “the end of history.”
One constant theme of Houellebecq’s is the way that capitalism, rampaging unopposed in the west post-1989, has to keep “extending its battlegrounds” and finding new things to devour. As he writes in his study of H P Lovecraft, Against the World, Against Life:
“The reach of liberal capitalism has extended over minds; in step and hand in hand with it are mercantilism, publicity, the absurd and sneering cult of economic efficiency, the exclusive and immoderate appetite for material riches. Worse still, liberalism has spread from the domain of economics to the domain of sexuality. Every sentimental fiction has been eradicated. Purity, chastity, fidelity and decency are ridiculous stigmas. The value of a human being today is measured in terms of his economic efficiency and his erotic potential – that is to say, in terms of the two things that Lovecraft most despised.”
The reach of liberal capitalism now has its unwashed and unwashable hands in the dictionary. It’s got “passionate about vocabulary.”
There’s a brief but extraordinary interview with Houellebecq on YouTube. It includes this statement of breathtaking honesty and universal validity (by which I mean, he certainly speaks for me, and I imagine for you as well):
“I’ve never been able to talk about my life, actually. As soon as I start talking about my life I start lying, straight away. To begin with, I lie consciously, and very quickly, I forget that I am lying.”
The interview is part of an edition of the BBC Culture Show which was broadcast on May 10, 2008. Of course, interviewer and producers were too asinine to follow the quote up; too keen to trot the pony-and-trap of political correctness in pursuit of experts who might denounce Houellebecq as a “sexist” or a “racist” to notice that he’d given them a prologue to My Heart Laid Bare.
Footnote: You may be asking what’s the relevance or point of the picture of chair-straddling notables above this blog. Well, I chanced on the photograph of Dickens, which brought to mind the photograph of Christine Keeler, and I brought them together from a hundred years apart to see how they’d look. Rather good, I think. So the point of the picture, really, is the picture. In the Lovecraft book, Houellebecq also says, “we need a supreme antidote against all forms of realism.” I like that. I think of it quite often when I catch myself listening to that self-regarding and maddeningly repetitious cacophony called “The News.” And perhaps it’s why I’ve rather neglected the blog in recent weeks, switching my attention to some fiction, of which more follows later.