Thursday, 28 October 2010
Wednesday, 27 October 2010
A joint venture between Creative Tourists’ ‘Manchester Weekender’ and Dave Haslam’s successful ‘Close Up’ venture (previous guests include Mark E. Smith and Kevin Rowlands, future guests include Terry Hall and John Bramwell), it was a massive coup to have Jonathan Franzen appear at the Whitworth Gallery. America’s great literary hope actually made his appearance slap bang in the middle of the great Freedom pulping and the bizarre Situationist spectacle theft the following day. He could not have been hotter literary property as he took the stage and wrestled with a makeshift suggestion-box-cum-lectern. Inside sources hinted that the author’s enthusiasm for promotional duties had been seriously dented by the recall of his long-awaited novel, but he persevered, it was with good humour he took the stage to read to us from Freedom.
The writing is characteristically evocative and wry, always hinting at a vast dramatis personae of the usefully maladjusted that might well incorporate the whole of America. I always think of it as a Hollinghurstian talent, the knack of reproducing odd arrangements of conversational inflection and idiosyncratic syntax that really mark one individual from another, but in all probability Franzen does it best, and I’m still only a third of the way through The Corrections.
He discusses the possibility of his place, according to Time magazine, amongst the pantheon of ‘Great American Novelists’. It seems inevitable The Corrections will one day be a canonical American text, and maybe Freedom too. He is humble but palpably confident about the quality of his work, famously confident enough to deplore the quality of writing elsewhere (see ‘Perchance to Dream’). When he talks he has a lovely habit of taking great long pauses before he answers a question. When Dave opens the floor to a series of pleasingly intelligent questions, Franzen says, ‘Now I know why I remember Manchester. You ask such good questions here.’
He responds to a question from Dave about the need to cultivate a public persona in order to publicise his writing with this: ‘Occasionally one gets irritable and even snaps a little bit and you can feel it going straight to a blog’. Don’t worry Jonathan, I like you. In fact I was so enamoured with him, I went straight home and wrote. Check out the interview transcript at Dave Haslam’s site here.
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Monday, 25 October 2010
The novel I’m working on (11,600 words and counting), the one I will submit as my final piece of coursework at the end of my Creative Writing MA, is about Shakespeare. Well, it’s about ‘Shakespeare’ actually, the idea, rather than the man, and about the difference between the two. So I’m seeing and reading as much of the Bard as I can. John Simm acted in The Lakes, Dr Who and Life On Mars. I’ve never seen those programmes but I liked his discrete role as Bernard Sumner in 24 Hour Party People. Aside from that I’m able to appreciate his role as Hamlet at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre with few preconceptions. He’s good. It takes him a little while to warm up, and lying sulkily on the ground while the grown-ups are talking cannot be done lightly post-David Tennant’s Hamlet. But he’s good. His strengths are actually the ensemble scenes over the ‘woe is me’ soliloquies, and there’s always too much pressure put on those pieces anyway. After all, this play is twice the length of Macbeth and, despite how it might sometimes seem, Hamlet isn’t talking all the time. It has one of the best Shakespearean women’s roles in Gertrude (and one of the most overrated in Ophelia) and some tremendous speeches you might have forgotten about. This is part of the ‘my thoughts be bloody’ speech when Hamlet is on his way to the ship with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, about to be sent to England, or so they think:
What is a man,
Sunday, 24 October 2010
There’s a tendency in polite society to be so respectful of a person’s religion that it begins to border on the type of indulgent sympathy one might give to the mad. ‘I don’t have religion myself, but I do think a person’s faith ought to be beyond reproach …’ What this actually does is stifle debate about how much a person’s faith ought to have to do with the rest of us at all; and why shouldn’t the individual be able to answer for the institution? These are ‘organised’ religions after all. When people discover that I’m vegetarian they don’t hesitate to ask why, often aggressively ridiculing my viewpoint. I seldom bring it up unless asked, for that reason, but it’s a fair point to debate (though they could be nicer, and I know I’m right). Where religious choice is concerned, people tread much more carefully, as if religion were comparable to race or sexual identity. It isn’t. It’s comparable to vegetarianism, to politics. It constitutes, or should, an informed and conscious choice by a mature, thinking person. A person’s politics can be tested daily, with no afterlife promised for the durability of such beliefs. That sounds much more like genuine faith to me.
If you’ve ever (guiltily) thought any or all of these things you’d do well to read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Contrary to what you may have heard, this isn’t a book designed to promote hate, though for atheists subject to religious indoctrination you might find hate exists anyway. It rather serves as an overdue rallying cry, dispelling the notion that atheism constitutes a lack of viewpoint, but actually is itself a considered opinion on the provenance of life, the universe and everything. In a world where religious influence in public, political and family life demonstrably damages individuals and communities there’s no bigotry in bringing such powers to task (and make no mistake that religion is powerful, and not an institution cowering beneath the unforgiving glare of SCIENCE). Dawkins has passionately argued that we have a right to intervene, protect communities and keep religion in all its forms out of our lives if we choose. This really is a book about liberation. Oh, and if you think you can bow out of the debate by pleading agnosticism, forget it. There is a particular place in dialectical hell just for you …
Saturday, 23 October 2010
I attend the Rambert Dance Company’s 'Awakenings' at The Lowry, my first contemporary dance experience, and it’s fantastic. I take part in a writing workshop about it where I write a very short story on the spot which I’m quite pleased with. A couple waiting for a train become dancers on a stage, the train tracks become the orchestra pit, the rumble of the oncoming train is the orchestra tuning up. I The wonderful Dave Haslam takes me to see The Vaselines who are terrific, part humble indie, part stand-up comedy routine. New album Sex With An X is a gem, ‘I Hate The 80s’ is riding high on my songs of the year. We go backstage and talk about Butthole Surfers. Eugene gives me a beer. I am quietly starstruck. My parents have been married for twenty-five years! Silver Wedding Anniversary! We have a party which is great fun. I appear on the radio for the first time, doing a queer arts rundown on Crank’s Gaydio show. Amazing month. Stay tuned for more ...
Friday, 22 October 2010
Anyway, Kalimera Gleeko …