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11 February 1993
Complete Prose 
by Woody Allen.
Picador, 473 pp., £14.99, November 1992, 0 330 32820 4
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... crystallisation of the absurdity of urban alienation – and simultaneously reaches back to incorporate the styles and modes of Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, Perelman and Groucho Marx. For my young self, the crucial juncture occurred when, thanks to Annie Hall, Allen became famous in England. Up until 1976 he was an oddity, a little-known Jewish funny man, a minority-interest comedian. With Annie ...


Will Self: James Ellroy

2 December 2010
The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women 
by James Ellroy.
Heinemann, 203 pp., £16.99, September 2010, 978 0 434 02064 5
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... murder of his mother, Jean Hilliker, in 1958. In this new piece of work Ellroy offers his readers – and who knows what they may make of it? – a different kind of case history, one of compacted self-delusion, grandiosity and monstrous self-pity. Dutifully, I set to. I reread My Dark Places and once more exposed myself to the fanfaronade of his self-interrogation as he detailed the riven union of ...

At the Wellcome

Will Self: Bedlam, The Asylum and Beyond

17 November 2016
... I’ve gone on trying to imagine these singular – yet synecdochic – spaces throughout my writing career. I remember also that during my Royal Free period I was reading R.D. Laing’s The Divided Self – so I came to an awareness both of the state-mandated asylums, and of those who radically opposed them, at more or less the same time. Still, I don’t believe I’m atypical, either among the ...
18 April 1996
... for this reason, and partly because I have a Kantian confidence in the ability of philosophy to reach conclusions of extreme generality on this sort of question, that I expect my remarks about the self to apply, if true, to human beings generally. When it comes to the sense of the self, the difference between those who can’t sleep and those who can may be more important than any cultural ...


Stefan Collini: The Movement

25 June 2009
The Movement Reconsidered: Essays on Larkin, Amis, Gunn, Davie and Their Contemporaries 
edited by Zachary Leader.
Oxford, 336 pp., £18.99, May 2009, 978 0 19 955825 4
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... the idea that Larkin might have been influenced by a foreign poet was ‘ludicrous’. ‘He had fallen,’ Raine comments, ‘for the propaganda – Larkin’s bluff, insular, faux-xenophobic self-caricature.’ Compound terms using ‘self-’ often raise questions about agency and responsibility. When we speak of ‘self-criticism’ or ‘self-restraint’, we are calling on ideas of ...

The Tooth-Pullers of the Pont Neuf

Will Self: The Art of Dentistry

28 June 2017
The Smile Stealers: The Fine and Foul Art of Dentistry 
by Richard Barnett.
Thames and Hudson, 255 pp., £19.95, April 2017, 978 0 500 51911 0
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... Many​ dentists,’ my mother once portentously remarked, ‘are thwarted sculptors.’ No doubt she herself had experienced their creative frustration – and painfully so. She was wearing a full set of dentures before I was born but never told me exactly when she’d acquired them. Perhaps she’d been presented with a pair (and some sort of voucher for the requisite extractions) on her 21st ...


Adam Phillips: Isaiah Berlin

23 July 2009
Isaiah Berlin, Enlightening: Letters 1946-60 
edited by Henry Hardy and Jennifer Holmes.
Chatto, 844 pp., £35, June 2009, 978 0 7011 7889 5
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... told not to be mad … & to run fast. It was only then that I observed that the other passengers were as specks in the distance & that I was alone in my distinguished detachment. Noticing, in his self-amused way, that he was behaving rather oddly, both inside the plane and when he got out, Berlin was baffled by the choices he’d made. An interest in the costs of choice-making, in the losses that ...


Will Self: On the Common

25 February 2010
...  when we admit to this fondness for Bragg’s programme. In part, this has to be because of the peculiar position he himself occupies in the sixth-form common room of British culture: though a self-confessed swot, his face displays the sheen of populism – the result of several decades’ spraying by television’s incontinent regard. While other pupils have come and gone, he remains; and when ...
8 March 2012
Militant Modernism 
by Owen Hatherley.
Zero, 146 pp., £9.99, April 2009, 978 1 84694 176 4
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A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain 
by Owen Hatherley.
Verso, 371 pp., £9.99, July 2011, 978 1 84467 700 9
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... rife in Hulme in Manchester in the early 1980s, where a post-punk community of Brutalist flat-dwellers, listening to Bowie and Iggy Pop while necking amphetamine sulphate, forged a ‘self-creating urbanism’ among the ‘labyrinthine complexity of the blocks’. Hatherley concedes that this could be seen as ‘a sort of slumming’, undertaken in zones of alienation from which ...


Will Self: Battersea Power Station

18 July 2013
... all four chimneys were going to be demolished and rebuilt. Together with all the other make and mend of brickwork and steel, the renovated power station will, indeed, be a simulacrum of its former self. After leaving Tincknell to get on with what he describes as the culmination of his place-making career – he will be nearing retirement when the work is finally completed – I walked past Cringle ...


Will Self: Cocaine

5 November 2015
... to personal history to rant. Of course the Camorra themselves knew exactly what it was – which is why Saviano’s new UNO is dedicated to his Carabinieri bodyguards. A quicksilver thread of self-awareness runs through the text of Zero Zero Zero – or rather, a quicksilver thread of complicity, since Saviano assumes you know his backstory when he mentions a petition in passing: ‘Add your ...

The Frowniest Spot on Earth

Will Self: Life in the Aerotropolis

28 April 2011
Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next 
by John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay.
Allen Lane, 480 pp., £14.99, March 2011, 978 1 84614 100 3
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... of the city to create ‘aerotropoli’. Kasarda’s first drop zone was Kinston in North Carolina, where a prototype ‘transpark’ was built in the 1990s at his suggestion. The aim was a ‘self-contained factory town with assembly lines literally ending in the bellies of waiting planes’. Kasarda didn’t actually choose the duff site for the transpark, but it haemorrhaged state money for ...

Man-Eating Philosophers

Will Self: David Cronenberg

17 June 2015
by David Cronenberg.
Fourth Estate, 288 pp., £18.99, October 2014, 978 0 00 729915 7
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... of the new technologies. This isn’t the effect on individual perception and cognition – although these are undoubtedly being radically altered – but on interpersonal relations and the social self. Further, if Cronenberg’s abiding analogy is between disease and technology, neither is adequately represented: computer viruses are alluded to, yet these, together with the vast pulses of febrile ...


Andrew O’Hagan: A Paean to Boswell

5 October 2000
Boswell's Presumptuous Task 
by Adam Sisman.
Hamish Hamilton, 352 pp., £17.99, November 2000, 0 241 13637 7
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James Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’: Research Edition: Vol. II 
edited by Bruce Redford and Elizabeth Goldring.
Edinburgh, 303 pp., £50, February 2000, 0 7486 0606 8
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Samuel Johnson: The Life of an Author 
by Lawrence Lipking.
Harvard, 372 pp., £11.50, March 2000, 0 674 00198 2
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Dr Johnson's London 
by Liza Picard.
Weidenfeld, 362 pp., £20, July 2000, 0 297 84218 8
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... Chiswick.’ Admiration is defined by Johnson in that Dictionary as ‘taken sometimes in a bad sense, though generally in a good’, and he was, for the greater part of his life, a great engine of self-admiration, as well as a copious begetter of admiration in other people. Yet none that loved him could easily match the love of James Boswell, who puttered along for many years, joyously, drunkenly ...

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