Just be yourself

David Hirson

  • Swimming to Cambodia: The Collected Works of Spalding Gray by Spalding Gray
    Picador, 304 pp, £3.50, January 1987, ISBN 0 330 29947 6

Spalding Gray is a 45-year-old American actor who uses the events of his own life as grist for a series of epic monologues. ‘Stories seem to fly to me and stick,’ he declares in the Preface to his collected works. This proves to be an irresistible locution for Gray (‘chewing gum flies to me on the subway and sticks’), and betrays an ambivalent egocentricity: that of a self towards which even rubbish gravitates. His is not the magnetism of a compelling personality, however. Gray typifies, even cultivates, ordinariness. It is his extreme passivity which is so attractive, his longing for identity that draws in the surrounding atmosphere like a vortex. He seduces the world in order to be defined or transfigured by it: to become somebody at last. And the world is only too willing to oblige. Emblazoned on the front cover of Picador’s Swimming to Cambodia are excerpts from reviews, each of which attempts to relieve Gray of his anonymity by turning him into someone familiar. He is called, among other things, ‘A new wave Mark Twain’, ‘One of the most candid confessors since Frank Harris’ and ‘An unholy cross between James Joyce and Hunter S. Thompson’. These remarks tend to compound an already severe identity crisis.

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