Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Lit crit and clit

Posted By on Wed, Jan 29, 2003 at 12:00 AM

Some people go to a pub for a pint. Others go to pick up chatty and impressionable grad students. Meet Alan, the “hero” of this bizarre little piece of literary criticism masquerading as a blue travelogue around the historic sites of Aberdeen, Scotland. Alan has inherited a rambling flat filled with the library of the previous owner. He is intent on reading every book before unloading them on a local dealer. One of those books is a guide to the ruins around Aberdeen, entitled 69 Things to Do With a Dead Princess.

So, after the initial pick-up in the pub, Alan and his moll, Anna, settle into a movable feast of shagging and book chat as they follow the guide’s itinerary. The girl is very fuckish — thank God for that. Because without her relentless libido laying siege to Alan’s “juicy member,” the reader would be subjected to an unending slew of off-the-cuff criticism of works from every genre of English literature. Vintage British travelogues, modern celebrity bios and Booker Prize-winning novels all receive tart appraisals from Alan in between his tart’s ministrations. When they grow tired of each other, the duo throw a ventriloquist’s dummy with a big cock into the mix. And when that loses its charge, pub patrons, schoolgirls and tourists are solicited for impromptu orgies at picturesque ruins.

Irvine Welsh gave us junkies in Edinburgh — cool Britannia on the nod. Stewart Home revisits the dark years of Thatcher when the study of British popular culture was at its height. While the rich indulged their nostalgia for pastoral England of yore, the working class romanticized its life of oppression under the stiff upper lip of the toffs. The author wants it both ways. He implies that cultural studies (and the academic life that supported it) is a joyless, mind-numbing wank session that has taken on an atomic-clock drudgery. Then he moves on to the backstabbing world of publishing, daggers drawn:

The ’80s have disappeared, most of the writers from that era are more or less forgotten … A hack like [John] Wilde could only be compared to a band that never made it, a name that meant nothing ... the best a scribbler like Wilde could hope for was an afterlife interviewing burnt-out celebrities, a freelance fantasy without beginning or end. Wilde was voodooed, hexed, …

Now that academics like Home have grown tired of pumping out crap theoretical papers that go unloved and unread, they’ve turned to fiction as a way out of the publish-or-perish imperative. Home wears the emperor’s new clothes proudly and loudly, indulging those very same, very unsavory strategies that he savages. Read the book seriously and the joke’s on you. Read the book as highbrow Jackie Collins and the joke’s still on you for not appreciating Home’s piquant, plainspoken scholarship.

“Postmodern” fiction of this ilk is mysteriously still alive. The writing doesn’t have to be good as long as there’s lots of it. A lot of it is inscrutable, including the footnotes, and they’re almost as copious as the semen spilt into Anna, the book’s narrator. Given a choice, though, between Home and the hopped-up, run-on nonsense of American poseurs such as David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers, Home is the undisputed winner. He’s a punk in the same way Johnny Rotten was a punk — a geek all gotten up in snarls and leather, but a geek nonetheless.

Parting is such sweet sorry, especially when you’re a horny grad-school ninny:

The voice of the proletariat corrects and redresses the imbalances of bourgeois history, a long pent-up vigour rushing into expression … Now that Alan had merged within me, his poisoned lance was no longer a threat. I would never meet him again. We would never part. It was only by embracing the gross matter of my body and the wastes it produced that I was able to comprehend my historically determined place in our world.

Karl Marx, get out your handkerchief.

Timothy Dugdale writes about books and visual culture for the Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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