Saturday, January 30, 2010

today : a perfect day for pretending to be well read

So, everyone has read Catcher in the Rye. Even those who clearly never did. I'm wondering why Salinger's death is getting so much attention. This book, hardly read nowadays, was American and barely taught in English schools, or, as far as I know, read by English people.

Of course, the answer lies in the cult of personality. Nothing makes someone more interesting than lack of access. And even in a post-structuralist world people are still obsessed over the artist way more than the art.

Anyone who has read Ian Hamilton's book 'In Search of...' will know that Salinger was a fairly typical New Yorker sort of author of his age. Existing on the edge of celebrity with his almost marriage to Oona O' Neil (later Chaplin) and his interesting counter-intelligence war work. What was allowed to be written was quite interesting.

But as a writer his published oeuvre: one novel, a few novellas and a selection of short stories is pretty scant. He was blessed by appearing in a world of change and newness, where American authors of the post-war could easily find fame and fortune just by the endorsement of a certain New York establishment. Capote, Harper Lee (whom I am convinced is probably Capote anyway), Heller, Salinger. All are known for mainly one influential work. And I guess the publishing and published world was pretty small in those days. It seems that anyone who got a story in the New Yorker, got a book deal, even when some, like Brodky didn't actually write a book for decades but suffered the fame anyway.

Now that Salinger is dead, it will be interesting to see what remains. The potential is that there are fifty years of manuscripts lying around.

I also find it ironic that Catcher in The Rye is almost an aside to what appears to be Salinger's main fixation, and that most of the people who are naming it today have seemingly never read Franny and Zooey, or Nine Stories, Seymour: An introduction, or For Esme, and wouldn't know the Glass Family if they came home and found them on the sofa watching The One Show.

I wonder what might happen today. Salinger's break came with 'A perfect day for bananafish' - A story about an apparently crazy honeymooning man who plays rather suspiciously with a six year old girl on the beach. I always thought it was plainly weird. I doubt in today's climate, it would get a hearing, just as I suspect that Nabokov would have been shunned on submitting his most famous manuscript.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

today : i-don't geddit

So Apple launched another thing today. I know this because the news (the News!) announced it a full 18 hours before it happened (also third item on the news on Channel 5 - Avatar makes loads of money. Fourth item: man jailed for killing three children).

Don;t get me wrong. I like gadgets - especially those that help me. I have a touch-screen phone that is also a pretty fully loaded MP3 device (not an Apple one, I got mine on a free upgrade to go with my contract. It was a good deal, less money: new phone) and I like it a lot.

But here's the thing I don't get. The whole queuing up overnight to get a gadget. Running and wrestling to the front of the queue. Paying premium money to get the latest thing. How empty a life do you have to possess before you begin to masturbate over leaked pictures of electronic communication devices?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

today : star witnesses

I know it's a huge long shot, but what if all the witnesses to the Chilcot Inquiry are being honest and telling as much of the truth as they can recall?

It's interesting to watch the likes of Christopher Meyer, Alistair Campbell, Jeff Hoon et al giving their evidence. So far, it seems that only Meyer has been in any way maverick. But then again, if you read his book DC Confidential he is a maverick kind of character. Lord John Marbury, if you like. But even then, he didn't rock the boat too much and what he said more or less fitted with the larger narrative.

Last week the reporters got all hot under the collar over Jeff Hoon. In some ways this is understandable, as Hoon might've shed more light on his recent attempt to oust Gordon Brown. But, it was never going to happen. The inquiry was not about what happened last week, and I imagine that Hoon is not so stupid that he doesn't realise he already looks a bit foolish. The worst it got was the fact that there might have been more helicopters for use in Afghanistan, had the green light been given five years ago. It's pretty convoluted and speculative, and, despite the right wing press endlessly exploiting the relatives of dead soldiers to to try and make it so, hardly controversial. The worst you could say was that the government didn't envisage what might be needed some years into the future and on the far side of both a UK and a US election. Having 20-20 long term foresight is something no government can even be credited with.

One blessed relief is that when the evidence has been shown, it has just been shown with none of the usual presentational tics, such as a correspondant breaking in every few seconds to tell you what you are watching and, whilst trying to summarise what you just heard, stopping you from hearing what you wanted to hear now. I imagine all the people whose job this usually is, sitting around having tea and cakes with their feet on the desk.

The heavyweight political correspondants are puffing and wheezing, as trying to find cynical angles and points of outrage is proving pretty difficult. The other day they got all worked up to a frenzy when they found out the date of Tony Blair's appearance. I think they will find themselves disappointed. How likely is it that Blair will sit there and announce that it was all a conspiracy, and that he is a swivel-eyed colonialist and had planned to start a war all along, whilst deceiving everyone on all the details and even personally murdering David Kelly in order to shut him up? Blair's answers will prosaically chime with those given already, even as the press and TV will try desperately to hype up every word to try and create controversy (especially given that this is a 'Labour' issue and much of the press and Sky News are in pre-election mode, where everything is about trying to undermine Labour).

The fact remains that there are two main camps. Those who think that the war was wrong and that there were conspiracies, who will never really change that view whatever is said or done, and those who believe it wasn't so bad in the end, who really don't want to spend any more time raking over the details, given that Iraq inquiries are getting a bit like a Status Quo greatest hits. People have a habit of vehemently defending their previous positions by any means necessary. To do otherwise would be to show embarrassment at their previous actions and statements.

The Chilcott inquiry will change nobody's mind on the issues. All it seems to be there for is to give political junkies something to have wet dreams about.

Friday, January 01, 2010