My feet are cold and this room’s not a fit place to write given that the temperature outside has still to rise about frigid. However, I’ve been avoiding work all morning and I’m not entirely sure why.
I know it has something to do with my looking at a long book-length Word document and thinking: ‘would anybody want to read this nonsense?’ The problem is an old and familiar one. Nothing you create yourself can ever surprise you. It comes from known places of your mind, so reading your own work is like knowing the punch lines to all your favourite jokes. In fact, it’s worse than that: it’s understanding the mechanisms of the jokes, the rhythms of your own speech, the comic turns you habitually employ, the tricks you use to make something funny. To other people, they come as a surprise and, hopefully, make them laugh. But me, sitting here: I generally only have the academic sense of things being funny, the occasional laughs coming like momentary stings amid the blizzard of one liners.
What this means is that I’m tinkering with things that probably don’t need my tinkering, trying to make familiar things unfamiliar simply by changing them so they’re no longer the same thing I’ve read a hundred times. I suppose that’s why Elberry’s latest blog post made me smile. It wasn’t simply because he opened by saying that he’d been reading my blog. It was because I felt a sense of recognition.
The post is an interesting piece about how we value writers and their work. Elberry recounts his encounter with a London journalist who had pretty strong opinions about various literary figures, including Joseph Conrad who the journalist described as ‘shit’. I guess it was this judgement about Conrad that intrigued me so I emailed Elberry who provided a link straight into the heart of darkness.
The journalist’s blog was a well written, full of intelligent things and precisely the kind of blog that gets held up as the ‘quality article’. It also bored the hell out of me. It was the type of blog that makes me stand back and look myself in the mirror. I see myself as a reasonably intelligent guy but the blog made me look again, as though some hand were pushing me back into the monkey cage where I’ve previously been daubing my shit on the wall. Perhaps I’d been daubing it better than other monkeys but nevertheless, I’d still been daubing shit.
The journalist’s blog had a sense of perilous elevation, like a man standing on a stepladder whilst balancing on one leg and blowing a tune on a hollowed out carrot with the word ‘eternity’ scratched onto the side. It was meaningful with an artiness that I’ve never ever felt. I don’t believe that art is about some disembodied ethereal sensation you channel. I think art is mechanical, physical, designed, determined, and ultimately hard won. Yet the other is an attitude so very familiar and utterly horrifying to me. I have a pretty heightened sense of my own pretentiousness and I hate myself if I recognise it in anything I’ve written. I’ve written blog posts where I thought I was stretching to hold a pose that wasn’t natural and I regret that I’ve never deleted them. This journalist’s blog is one long well held pose and it just looks so uncomfortable. I didn’t recognise the title of 20+ of his films of the year and the only one I did recognise was the one about the two French lesbians, one of whom has blue hair and I only remember because she was beautiful but awkward in Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’. I later discovered that she is the granddaughter of the Chairman of Pathé and grandniece of the Chairman and CEO of Gaumont. Again: what a small world…
But back to the journalist and his blog... It got me thinking to myself: would I really want his life? Would I want to spend my year watching nothing but independent foreign movies, going to art galleries and listening to bands that might not make another album but had artistic integrity for one wonderful summer as they made tunes by beating beer crates? I can’t say that I would, except it seems satisfying to the journalist and would be satisfying to the many like him, who live in a world centred on the Guardian building, their electric souls brightly illuminated and entirely free of humour so they can’t laugh at anything or hold any hard position for fear of appearing didactic and judgemental. I suppose I’ve never been into art in such a meaningful way and that makes me a fraud. Compared to the things that me feel happy, so much of what the journalist praises looks cold and unappealing. I liked the line I read in a book by Alan Furst the other night (the book is called ‘Dark Voyage’): ‘Conrad shaded off, as DeHaan saw it, to what he really liked, adventure stories with intellectual heroes.’ I guess I’m the same. Give me intellectual heroes in a meaty American genre movie. Give me clever twists on the formulaic rather than the bold and experimental. Give me craft not guile.
Speaking of which, something which has neither craft nor guile: today’s picture. I was directed me to read Bill Murray’s recent question and answer session on Reddit and I thought he’d make the perfect subject for my late night doodle. It didn’t turn out as a caricature or, at least, this was my initial sketch where I worked out the way his face works. I fell asleep drawing the caricature.