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Not a great decade to be Jewish

Will Self, 11 February 1993

Complete Prose 
by Woody Allen.
Picador, 473 pp., £14.99, November 1992, 0 330 32820 4
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... 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 Hall all this changed, and at least for the ...

Fanfaronade

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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... 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 ...

At the Wellcome

Will Self: Bedlam, The Asylum and Beyond, 17 November 2016

... 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 psychically distressed or those who’ve never suffered from ...

The Tooth-Pullers of the Pont Neuf

Will Self: The Art of Dentistry, 29 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 birthday, or the occasion of her first marriage ...

Diary

Will Self: Battersea Power Station, 18 July 2013

... 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 Dock, the deliriously authentic waste treatment centre next ...

Diary

Will Self: On the Common, 25 February 2010

... 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 it was announced last year that, after 30 years, Bragg’s ...

Man-Eating Philosophers

Will Self: David Cronenberg, 18 June 2015

Consumed 
by David Cronenberg.
Fourth Estate, 288 pp., £18.99, October 2014, 978 0 00 729915 7
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... 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 suggestibility that pass through the web, creating ...

It hits in the gut

Will Self, 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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... 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 families had ‘long since decamped to more hospitable ...

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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... 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 a decade before getting on track. No matter, because in the ...

Diary

Will Self: Cocaine, 5 November 2015

... 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 signature against Saviano, who calls northerners ...

The Frisson

Will Self, 23 January 2014

The View from the Train: Cities and Other Landscapes 
by Patrick Keiller.
Verso, 218 pp., £14.99, November 2013, 978 1 78168 140 4
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... than I see that reality reclaimed and borne away by the uncontrollable river of things.’ This self-cancelling – or possibly short-circuiting – property of the Surrealist frisson (or indeed the Situationists’ ‘situations’ and ‘détournements’), was explained by Lefebvre in his Critique of Everyday Life, in terms of his own roughly equivalent ...

Diary

Will Self: My Typewriters, 5 March 2015

... When​ I was a child I perved over my mother’s typewriters; first, her beautiful olive green Olivetti Lettera 22 with American keys, then later her IBM golf-ball electric which seemed to explode into kinesis if you touched it. I picked up an ancient Underwood of my own in a junk shop and used it to hammer out comedic plays. By the time I wanted to write less childish things, my mother had died, and since she’d been a relatively early adopter I’d inherited her primitive Amstrad PCW 9512 word processor ...

Diary

Will Self: Video Games, 8 November 2012

... I wonder if Northrop Frye played video games. It’s true that it’s difficult to imagine the doyen of North American literary criticism with his pouchy features shivering over the levers while the reflected white-line paddles of Pong tracked up and down his spectacle lenses; yet when it – the first true video game – hit the arcades, Frye was just sixty ...

Diary

Will Self: Walking out of London, 20 October 2011

... In the first few years of the last decade I undertook a series of what I called – with a nod to Iain Sinclair’s circumambulation of London – ‘radial walks’. These were tramps of between three and five days from my home near the city’s centre out into its hinterland, following either a cardinal or an ordinal point of the compass, depending on which direction most appealed to me at the time ...

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