Sunday, January 31, 2010


"Joyce hated being called a middle-class writer. For him this was the greatest of all insults, to which he responded jocosely by saying that 'nobody in my books has any money'. But he maintained at all times a strictly bourgeois distinction between his art and his life: for instance, he might write four letter words, but he would on no account utter them. This distinction was lost by many after his death in 1941, so that what had once been permitted only in the imagination might now be enacted by individuals intent on proving how free they were. By substituting the search for sensations for the making of art, these people confused art and life - but Joyce knew that real art required hard work. Among the bohemians he had noticed a culture-worship that rejected the idea of an art devoted to everyday life. Hence his famous put down of the young man who wished to kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses: 'No, that hand has done a lot of other things as well.'"

(italics: blogger's own).

Saturday, January 30, 2010


So, you know how, as you get older and accumulate friends, relationships and so forth, you stop being the architect of everything you do?

(Let's disregard the probability that you were never really independent - it was just an illusion that you allow to flatter your sense of self).

What happens is: you start having obligations. 'I've got to go to this thing because X has Y connection with A, B & C.' At first, they're small blips in an otherwise self-directed life. Then one day you turn around and notice: going to parties/things with people you barely know is your only social life.

Moreover, you realise you have known these people for a very long time and see them more regularly than people you're ostensibly closer to. Then you think: 'But I'm not actually close to any of them. These are just familiar faces in a room. I'm not even sure I like this room. I prefer the one at home. Just because I recognise these people doesn't mean we have anything to talk about. In fact, I think we exhausted our conversational reserves sixteen years ago, when we met. Oh God, I'm hungry. Better drink more. No, that's not a good idea. Too late.'

So what I'm saying is: does anyone else ever find themselves thinking: 'this is like going to a Christmas party for a job I left five years ago'?


So there's a lot of this about:

"I hope to hell that when I do die somebody has the sense to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetary. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody."

And that's fair enough, I guess. I liked Catcher second time around. My first reading was aged 12 or so, alongside a proto-misery memoir called The God Squad. Between the pair of them I decided when you were in your teens you were either an asshole or got treated like one. Later, when I was twenty-one and housesitting for a summer, I read it again.

At that point, I could look at Holden with the rueful eye of one who had known heartbreak, drunkenness and poor grooming choices. Ten years later, with my cataract-beset eyes, I think Salinger's fiction worked best as a hymn to past lives, as a romantic aide-memoire to experiences we had or almost-did and feelings we didn't realise were comforting at the time.

I didn't like Holden when I was 12 because he was such a vivid representation of the sort of kids who tyrannize younger ones - meaning he was like every boy older than I was - and I had no interest in empathising with someone I instinctively knew would have pummelled me for any reason at all. I held fast to that impression even as I inhaled the book over a weekend and called it up every time being intellectually cynical about literature came up in my life in the next 9 years (not enough for my liking but certainly much more than anyone else could have done with - I was the type of teenager who dismissed the Bluetones as 'derivative'. Didn't get away with that). It served me well when I spent fifth & sixth year being sniffily dismissive of Stephen Dedalus, another teenage disaster I would revisit in later youth. Basically, I disliked Holden first because I couldn't be him, ignored him when he informed every part of who I was, then was sucker-punched by a nostalgic reading of him when I was 4 years older than him. A phony, if you must know.

I haven't read Catcher since, but I will fight anyone who says From Esme With Love & Squalor isn't one of the best short story collections ever written (By 'fight', I do of course mean 'write something snarky on the internet but run away if I ever see you on the street').

The thing is, my earliest connection with the Salinger name came earlier and in the soup of my subconscious, could well be just as significant. I first saw it in Oscars, a small video store, when I was 10(?) or so. Never rented it. Which is strange, because normally anything with costumes went straight to the top of my must-watch list. I think even then I must have had some sense of how awful it might be - bear in mind I watched and LOVED Nicholas Hammond's Spider-Man - so I never saw more than the video cover (which I could probably draw from memory, stills and all. I was/am very sad).

So, something more cheerful. Here you go:

He may have been crazy, a shut-in, a Zen Buddhist, had problematic relationships and/or many other things. I don't know. I don't care, really. But his work has stuck with me, for better and worse. And his kid was in a schlocky B movie. What's not to like?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


"There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself 'Do trousers matter?'"

"The mood will pass, sir"


Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.

Monday, January 25, 2010


A lot of blogs are basically lists of things to buy. Which is great, but I'd like to add the pronoun 'me' to the last sentence.

What I covet at this hour, in no particular order:


Like all young artists nowadays, he had always held before him as the goal of his ambition the invention of some new comic animal for the motion pictures. What he burned to do, as Velasquez would have burned to do if he had lived today, was to think of another Mickey Mouse and then give up work and watch the money roll in.
(from 'Buried Treasure' in Lord Emsworth and Others)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Someone do the blasphemous version of this post for Irish readers...

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Welcome to my blog. I'm a freelance writer/journalist/researcher/editor. I write about education and ideas I've had for the Irish Times. I also research, write and edit for writers, publications and websites. Here I put things that tend not to fit anywhere else. Enjoy.

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