Friday, 31 July 2009

The hardest thing I have ever had to do

When I was a wee nipper, back at school (yes, that school), I used to scoff at so much that people wrote. (Hell, who'm I kidding? I still scoff at things people write.)

Specifically, though, what I mean is: I used to scoff – from a child's perspective – at things that adults wrote. What my teachers wrote, in particular.

The school magazine (a ridiculously otiose and protracted tome laughably entitled The Bromsgrovian, as if this were some kind of proud statement of acclaimed identity or tribal allegiance to rank alongside 'The Washingtonian' or 'The Royalist' or 'The Freemason' or 'The Confederate' ... oops, there I go again, scoffing away. Tsk.) ... sorry, as I was saying (David will no doubt object to my laboured syntax, here, as I interrupt my own sentence (twice now) with extended parenthetical observations. So be it. This is how the Hooligan rolls; how the Hooligan rocks.)

[Actually, let's chuck in a paragraph break, while we're at it. David will like that.]

... The school magazine (as I was saying, you recall?) was often crammed with laughably simpering, cliche-ridden tripe.

Meanwhile, termly letters from the headmaster opened – with elbow-ingestingly horrific frequency – with an account of the growth or retraction (depending upon season) of assorted foliage in the school grounds. Autumn, for instance, would invariably be heralded by a headmasterly paragraph on the falling of leaves from the trees around the green. Spring would feature the crocuses (oh! the crocuses!) ... and so on.

Even those teachers whose creative intellect I respected immensely (a group, I might add, that did not include aforementioned headmaster) seemed curiously unable to avoid similar blandness.

In my naive (yet simultaneously sardonic and hypercritical) youth, I could not understand how the authors of these assorted articles and missives could bear to dribble out such tired, anaemic shit.

It seemed to me at the time that I was one of the privileged few who were able to elude such triteness – to cut through the blancmange of cliche with the hacksaw of ironical self-consciousness combined with knowing self-parody and dry disclaimers.

(That's quite a hacksaw, you're thinking.)

Just cast in a few self-aware parentheses (the young Hooligan observed) and it'll all be fine.



But now – now that I find myself writing copy for this place (and, on occasion, this place, whose website I am soon to set about phoenixing the ass thereoff) – I realise with sober horror that ducking out of cheesy writing is the easiest and most self-indulgent thing in the world.

Because serious, non-self-parodic copywriting is the most fucking difficult thing I ever have to do.

No question.

All your defences are stripped away like so much wet tissue clinging to, um, the bowl of a blocked loo, um, being stripped away by, um, some powerful corrosive chemicals or something.

(YES? YES? YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THAT SIMILE?)

You're suddenly talking to an audience who is not even remotely interested in you or your cleverness. You're talking to an audience who is not interested in you, because (get this, you post-adolescent, attention-seeking squirt) you are not even remotely significant.

Your wit
don't count
for ...

... anything.


Writing 200 words about a school concert is several thousand times harder than writing a 2000-word pastiche in the style of Thomas Carlyle, or taking the piss with perfectly-poised irony out of WB Yeats. (Not that I decry the latter.)

Or writing this incredibly lame blog, for that matter.



I've got more to say about this. But I think I'll spill over into a second post, tomorrow. Ever since my 1,000-word spree, after all, I'm all about serialisation.

Tune in next time, then, for more about the agony of small-time copywriting, landing-page creation and ... probably some more stuff that occurs to me later.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The Neckwear Riots Begin



Well, okay, rioting is possibly a touch strong. Some people started up a Facebook group. Uh huh. But still: viva la revolucion!

Their noble cause: clip-on ties.

Pupils at McAuley Catholic High School in Doncaster (a notorious hotbed of dissidence) are gathering their pitchforks and burning torches at the revelation that the school proposes to introduce clip-on ties.

To these pupils I say: you are on the side of the righteous.

Clip-on ties are a frigging monstrosity. A disgusting item of clothing. If you're not going to have proper ties, don't have a tie at all. It's simple.

Two paragraphs of the BBC News report bear repeating:

In May the Schoolwear Association, the trade body for the school uniform industry, said 10 schools a week in the UK were switching, because of fears of ties getting caught in equipment or strangling pupils.

The association also said that clip-on ties can stop pupils from customising the size of the knots in their ties.

I like the idea of ties strangling pupils. Like some (really shit) horror film. Attack of the Killer Neckwear. And the latter paragraph features, without doubt, the best use of the verb 'to customise' that I've encountered for some time.

Sadly, though, the protests don't seem to be aesthetic in their motivation: 'I personally think they are a pathetic waste of money', reads the 'statement from the Facebook protest group'.

So – disappointingly – it's all about the money, after all.



As for Facebook protest groups in general ... Well, dear readers, that is a subject for another time ...

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

What brings you here?

Google Analytics Addiction is, increasingly, a recognised phenomenon.

For those of you who don't keep a blog or website (or who do, but haven't yet succumbed to the lure of sweet, juicy statistics on a daily basis), this may be hard to fathom. But there is so much joy, I tell you. So much joy.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Analytics is the facility to see how people reached one's site – specifically, the search terms they put into Google before arriving.

For instance: I note (with a combination of amusement and mild panic) that no less than three people have alighted at the Intellectual Hooligan in the past month via searches for some form of 'dr hugh brady'. 

I hope none of those people was the man himself.

More unambiguously heartening is the news that four people have got here through searches for 'edmund trebus'. I am not alone in my thirst for information on this splendid and elusive fellow.

Meanwhile, some of the other interesting searches that led people Hooliganwards – each one linked to the page to which these intrepid searchers were led. Judge for yourselves whether or not they were satisfied or disappointed with what they found there:

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Catcher in the Rye followup. Need I say more? Thought not. But I'm going to.



What bollockry is this?

As I was perusing the shelves and tables of Waterstones, a day or two ago, I chanced upon a tome that filled my gob with the foul taste of bile. A tome so hideously ill-conceived and despicable that I'd hesitate to fuel my hearth with its pages.

Its title is indication enough, perhaps:

60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye

– Yes, indeed. On 22 June (our unlucky friends across the Atlantic must wait until September, alack!), this monstrosity, penned by a 'John David California', was released in the UK. It's a follow up (you may've guessed) to JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye – a book the Intellectual Hooligan loves. It's internet fan-fiction, in other words, turned published pseudo-novel cash-in. Here's the 'teaser' description from Amazon (which teases me in about the same way as a frigging mosquito I'm about to CRUSH):

'A 76-year-old man wakes up in a nursing home in upstate New York. This seemingly normal day brings with it an unnerving compulsion to flee his present situation and embark on a curious journey through the streets of New York City. Powerless to resist these strange new urges, Holden Caulfield, like a decrepit marionette, finds himself in the midst of bizarre and occasionally depraved escapades. Is senility finally closing in or is some higher power controlling the chaos? 60 years after his debut as the great American anti-hero, Holden Caulfield is yanked back onto the page without a goddamn clue why.'

Like a decrepit marionette? What? As opposed to a youthful and sprightly marionette? Or a marionette that's generally in quite good nick, but suffering from a bit of arthritis and an ingrowing toenail? Or a marionette that gets scared walking across bridges and has a bit of a poorly tummy, but otherwise has few complaints?

MARIONETTES ARE INANIMATE. That's the whole point of your simile, surely?

And then the descent into cheap B-movie rhetorical questions. And that cheap-as-spit final sentence. Ugh.

Taste the bile, yet?

If not, all you have to do is open the book to its first chapter. Which I'll quote in its entirety, in order that you may grasp the full enormity of this book's rupture-inducing ghastliness:


'1.

I open my eyes and, just like that, I'm awake.'


I'm sorry. That is lamentable. Execrable. Like the worst precocious teenage novella I could possibly imagine.

Is your stomach beginning to calm, yet, after the first dry-heaves? If so, this fumblingly inelegant use of simile picked from the closing pages ought to push you right back to retchville:

'I feel myself warming up from the inside out and I feel my heart as if it's a small animal living deep inside me. Every little piece of me he warms up.'

Oh Jesus.

OH JESUS.

Was that supposed to be a comforting simile? If so, it was about as on-target as an typical English penalty shoot-out (sorry, footie fans, but you know it's true). The image of a small animal living deep inside one's chest is not a pleasant one. It doesn't make me think of beautiful, incipient paternal love. It makes me think of Alien. It makes me think of PARASITES.

If Shakespeare was a sculptor of the written word, this 'California' guy is a bloody wrecking ball.




Notice, I haven't yet even explored the realm of whether or not anyone should be writing a follow-up to Catcher in the Rye. This is because I don't think it's particularly worth exploring. Because anyone who actually wanted to write a follow-up to Catcher in the Rye would, by definition, do an apocalyptically shit job of it, being either (a) a teenager, (b) a dribbling, sentimental moron.

I don't think 'John David California' is a teenager.

Anybody who might possess even a modicum of the talent required to do justice (stylistically) to such an undertaking would also have the intelligence to steer well clear.

See, 'California': a character is not actually real. Holden Caulfield exists only in JD Salinger's words. Do you get this? There there. Don't cry. I know it's hard to accept. But the Holden Caulfield that shimmeringly exists in your brain is there because of the text written by Salinger. Salinger didn't just tap into the universal database of characters and pick him out. He's not there in some literary waiting room, happily living his three-dimensional life, ready to be picked out and examined by any author who might so choose. HE IS JUST A FUNCTION OF SALINGER'S WRITING.

Got that? Then let's move quickly onto point two:

SALINGER IS A BRILLIANT WRITER. YOU ARE A SHIT WRITER.

That one was quicker to explain than the previous one, wasn't it?

So onward to the conclusion – the marriage of the two above observations. To whit: If you, 'John David California', write about Holden Caulfield, you are not carrying on the work of Salinger. You are writing about a totally different Holden Caulfield. A really, really, really shit one. You are like a frigging talentless 12-year-old reckoning you can paint the Mona Lisa's sister because you're using the same colours as Leonardo.

LEAVE IT.




In any case, Salinger doesn't seem to like 'Mr Califoria's' efforts too much. Hence his legal action. Good.




Are there any doubts lingering? Are you wondering, in some vestige of your mind, whether I may be being a little harsh? If so (jeez, what does it take?), go and check out this deeply depressing interview with Frederik Colting (aka 'John David California'). Photo above. Assorted gems include:

'I think 60 Years Later IS a super-original novel. In many ways I believe [it] is as original and creative as Catcher.'

HAHAHAHAHAHA. Haha. Ha. Did you just say (haha) 'super-original'? HAHAHA. Idiot.

'With 60 Years Later I've taken on the task to seek out the real meaning of this reality, and the true relationship between Salinger and Holden. Holden has become just as real as Salinger himself. To anyone who hasn't met Salinger, and most of us haven't, he is simply a fictive character himself living in our minds.'

Just like you're a fictive character in my mind? A BLOODY BORING ONE.

'Frankly, I'm still having a hard time believing that, in this day and age, in a civilized world, someone can go to such lengths to try to ban a book. And what blows my mind is that I don't think Salinger has read the book.'

I know. Blows my mind too. Amazing, isn't it?

'I've never had much respect for old things, just for the sake that they are old. Especially if they act as brakes, keeping things from evolving. Creativity has to move freely or it will fall flat on its ass. If it was up to me I'd replace Mona Lisa with something new.' [See what I mean about the Mona Lisa thing? I had actually written that earlier bit before I found this quotation, incidentally.]

Oh, you fucking iconoclast, you. Man. I wish I could say deep and cool things like that. Now get this: we don't respect Catcher because it's old; we respect it because it's good. Unlike your pile of shit. You incredible, enormous pillock.

Taken from another interview:

'It is a weird literature world we live in if we need judges to tell us what we should read or not.'

No, turdforbrains. It's really not that weird. Listen and try to understand. Judges ain't telling you what you can't read. They're telling you what you can't fucking sell. You faux-naive bastard.

Oh, dear blogprodders, I think we've found ourselves a new sh1t muncher, don't you?

Monday, 20 July 2009

Guest post: Things I Detest


Here at Hooligan HQ, we (yes, all of us) are very much open to the idea of guest posts. We're especially open to these if they happen to be ranting or railing against deplorable social mores.

Best of all are the guest posts that are simmering energetically – barely below boiling point –with rage at the state of human behaviour in the arena of the World Wide Web.

With the above in mind, ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to Christine.

Christine has made energetic contributions to this blog in the past. Her views on The Panini Question, for instance, are commendable. And she is the international authority on faves.

Characteristically, Christine's guest post (in fact, as you will see, it's more of a guest list) is pithy. A quality, you may note, I am undermining by prefacing it with a great waffling deluge of prose.

So, then – over to Christine. Chime in, won't you, with your own additions to the list. And if you are seething with barely contained rage on any subject, send me your soapbox rant by email. The more spittle-flecked its misanthropy the better.


Christine Presents…
A Few Things I Detest

When people are on the internet and write:

  1. Lady!!!
  2. Miss your face!!!
  3. OM NOM NOM NOM NOM
  4. Noms.
  5. Fun times
  6. Good times
  7. Goodtimes (even worse I think)
  8. [----]times (insert any number of words. All annoying.)
  9. FTW (hate it in full as well, but the abbreviation is the absolute pits)
  10. Fail.
  11. Epic Fail. (or any variation of)
  12. Woop woop!!!
  13. [x] sleeps until [some event or other] (usually followed by several exclamation marks)
  14. All that 'I can haz' lol cats balls.
  15. Internets
  16. pEOPle TYpinG LiKe tHiS


Any more, folks? We particularly like Christine's #7 (the omission of the space is particularly heinous) and #14 (for its wording).

Saturday, 18 July 2009

I did not kill my father


Every so often, you may've observed, the Intellectual Hooligan turns his bloodshot eye (rolling disconcertingly in its socket) upon the field of literature. He's regurgitated Hamlet. He's ogled the spermatozoan buttocks of Richard Yates. He's hollered abuse (albeit admiringly) at the bastardly Martin Amis.

So what's on the agenda today?

Ian McEwan – and his debut novel, The Cement Garden.



But let's start off with a little context.

I've read two of Ian McEwan's later novels: Enduring Love and Atonement. And both I found ever so very slightly lumpen in one way or another. Passages occasionally strike me as a little clumsy, not quite assured. Small imperfections grate upon the ear like an off-pitch note in a violin solo.

Here's such a passage from the first chapter of Enduring Love – following lines in which the narrator has described the many greetings he observes while waiting at the airport for his partner, Clarissa:

I was just wondering how convincing I myself could be now in greeting Clarissa when she tapped me on the shoulder, having missed me in the crowd and circled round. Immediately my detachment vanished, and I called out her name, in tune with all the rest.

Now, that inflicted upon me a small cringe when I first read it – and it inflicts a similar cringe when I read it again. Possibly because it seems to be close to busting a cliche (in this case, correctly identifying the fact that – far from being spontaneous emotional effusions – much-anticipated airport greetings may take on a curiously abstract quality) ... But, where master-Modernists like Joyce and Eliot would've dived in and whacked the cliche, McEwan loiters goofily around on the edge of it, half-heartedly throwing pebbles and clumps of soil. The first sentence is awkward, marring the clever insight; the second is just prosaic. The whole thing has a slightly otiose earnestness to it – it's a little fussy, a little effete.

Perhaps you'll think this is pretty nit-picking. You're right. I remember Enduring Love to be full of interesting ideas – and graced with a brilliantly geometric exposition in which the superbly-conceived opening action is imagined from a buzzard's perspective:

I see us from two hundred feet up, through the eyes of the buzzard we had watched earlier, soaring, circling, and dipping in the tumult of currents: five men running silently toward the center of a hundred-acre field. I approached from the southeast, with the wind at my back. About two hundred yards to my left two men ran side by side. They were farm laborers who had been repairing the fence along the field's southern edge where it skirts the road. The same distance beyond them was the motorist, John Logan, whose car was banked on the grass verge with its door, or doors, wide open. Knowing what I know now, it's odd to evoke the figure of Jed Parry directly ahead of me, emerging from a line of beeches on the far side of the field a quarter of a mile away, running into the wind. To the buzzard, Parry and I were tiny forms, our white shirts brilliant against the green, rushing toward each other like lovers, innocent of the grief this entanglement would bring. The encounter that would unhinge us was minutes away, its enormity disguised from us not only by the barrier of time but by the colossus in the center of the field, which drew us in with the power of a terrible ratio that set fabulous magnitude against the puny human distress at its base.

(I'd say the prose overreaches itself in the final sentence, though.)

But, yes, as I was saying – I may be nit-picking. But when a writer's tone is prone to falterings (however infrequent), it is extraordinarily hard to take his grand ideas seriously.



Onward to the main feature

On Friday evening, though, I read McEwan's first novel, The Cement Garden. It is leagues more convincing than anything else I have read by him.

The opening is – again – brilliant. As a first sentence, 'I did not kill my father, but I sometimes felt I had helped him on his way' is pretty strong. Especially creditworthy, though is its successor: 'And but for the fact that it coincided with a landmark in my own physical growth, his death seemed insignificant compared with what followed.'

Why's this so good? Because the rather posey, deliberately dramatic quality of the immediate opening is offset marvelously by the careful insouciance with which it is qualified.

At no point in The Cement Garden does McEwan's first person narrative make me cringe a la Enduring Love. That may, of course, be because – by adopting the character of a taciturn, bleakly detached teenager – he's given himself an 'easy' voice with which to speak: characters with extreme personalities are considerably easier to animate and render convincing than 'normal', boring folk. But be that as it may, McEwan identifies a narrative voice and sticks to it with total success. No wavering, no thuddingly leaden overexplications.

There's also some excellently minimalist dialogue – of which the opening (again) provides a fine example:

'Cement?' one of [the delivery men] said. I hooked my thumbs into my pockets, moved my weight on to one foot and narrowed my eyes a little. I wanted to say something terse and appropriate, but I was not sure I had heard them right. I left it too long, for the one who had spoken rolled his eyes towards the sky and with his hands on his hips stared past me at the front door. It opened and my father stepped out biting his pipe and holding a clipboard against his hip.

'Cement,' the man said again, this time with a downward inflection. My father nodded ... The tightly packed paper sacks of cement were arranged two deep along the floor of the lorry. My father counted them, looked at his clipboard and said, 'Fifteen.' The two men grunted. I liked this kind of talk. I too said to myself, 'Fifteen.'

Here, there's a shade of Joyce – specifically, of the linguistic fascinations of the self-conscious young Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man ('That was a belt round his pocket. And belt was also to give a fellow a belt. One day a fellow said to Cantwell: —I'd give you such a belt in a second.')

And I'd say that the influence of (early) Joyce is clear throughout the novel.

Which is no bad thing.

It's a muscular, tight, economical novel (less than 150 pages). Psychologically, it charts extreme territory: the power-play, increasingly unchecked sexuality, aggression and grief of four children isolated together after the deaths of both parents.

Again, we should remind ourselves that it may be easier to be convincing when chronicling the outlandish: what made Joyce so brilliant, after all, was his success, in Ulysses, in rendering the mundane life of advertising canvaser Leopold Bloom linguistically (and allegorically) epic.

But I don't think anyone's suggesting McEwan's a Joyce. And by choosing an insulated, dramatic, dark and psychologically fascinating scenario, he plays to his strengths.

The novel is most brilliant, I'd say, in the realism of the characters' interactions. The manner in which they scrabble for hierarchy, for consistency. The shimmering influence of their parents' authority illuminating their own fitful stabs at domesticity.

Some people will read (and have read) The Cement Garden and call it grotesque. Gratuitous, even.

But those people are idiots. It's actually rather nuanced, and – in spite of the subject matter – has a clear moral orientation.

I'd recommend it to anyone who doesn't recoil instinctively at taboo without pausing to consider what it is from which they're recoiling. And if that sounds like a qualified recommendation (er, well, it clearly is, innit?), that's only because this novel explores fairly dark territory. But it does it with intelligence, punch and humanity.

And did I mention that it's really, really short? You could read it (like I did) in an evening.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Why blogging is easier than writing an email

Pitfall.


There's lots and lots written on the internet about the difficulties and pitfalls of running a blog. But one issue receives (to the Intellectual Hooligan's mind) scant exposure.

It's this:

If you are crap at replying to emails, you ought to think very carefully before starting a blog.

Now, as one who blogs (ye! In more than one place!), I'd like to assure you that writing a blog post occupies a totally different place in my spectrum of activities (and uses a very different kind of energy) from composing a personal email of a reasonable length.

Writing a blog post is a lot more like writing a work email. It's also – crucially – reassuringly noncommittal. That's odd, you're thinking. How can he call it noncommittal when he writes stuff like this? That's pretty sodding committal if you ask me.

But it is. Because when writing a blog, one has a license to exaggerate, a license to provoke. It's like being James Bond, but way, way cooler: trust me. At almost any point at which one might, under normal circumstances, pause and wonder, 'Can I really say that?', when writing a blog post, one may steam right on ahead. Because a blog post isn't meant to be the last word. It's meant to ignite conversation or record a passing impulse. It's devil's advocacy verging on demagoguery.

IN A GOOD WAY.

An email – or a letter – is way harder. It involves actually representing oneself and one's views with pellucidity. For one as chronically indecisive as the Intellectual Hooligan, this is a terrifying prospect.

But I suspect a lot of people don't feel this way. In fact, I suspect a lot of people would think writing an email was a hell of a lot easier than writing a blog post. Audience of one familiar acquaintance = infinitely preferable to large, unknown, multifoliate audience.

(Multifoliate, by the way, is from Dante, via TS Eliot. Awesome word. And I'm prepared to believe that y'all, my audience, are as beautifully multifoliate as they come. You petals, you.)



Anyway.

If, to many, writing a blog post seems a more daunting prospect than that of composing an email to a friend, it's fair to imagine that – each time I publish a new post – a sizeable proportion of the people whom I have failed to email for weeks months will be thinking:

'Another blog post? Fucking hell! This guy is taking the piss. I sent him an email back in April and he still hasn't replied – yet he has time to write some old cack about paninis? Not just once, but four bloody times. Jesus. I guess he must just really hate me or something.'

It's this fearsome prospect, towering above all other factors, that is – for me – the biggest problem with blogging.


(And it has not escaped my notice that – yes – like many problems, this one has its root in me being a bit shit.)

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Quote of the day: Julian Linley


'Celebrity mags are, on the surface, about celebs – but they're actually about real life, human emotions and people we can identify with. Every woman who reads them is putting herself into the story.'

Wise words indeed from Julian Linley, editor of Heat magazine. I'd kill for insight like that.

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