Thursday 28 July 2011

Fever Diary - 31st January 20--

There has been some debate about this journal, revolving principally around its circulation. My first reaction to the idea of some sort of private therapeutic diary for the benefit of Dr Statton and my own ‘recovery’ was lukewarm. After realising the accessibility of the messages hanging in the ether to anyone who cares to stumble across them, I insisted that the entries should be as public as possible. On the basis that I would not show her any of my writing otherwise, she reluctantly agreed. I have always regarded myself as a political writer. Even in my dreams, it seems, I insist on bludgeoning the reader with my own unfashionable views. The journalist’s malaise.

It is said that great and enduring writers are a product and a reflection of the age in which they live. Political and historical context is all. This being the case, I currently find myself a man without context. A large fragment of the world my mind has created for me to experience, contains a wealth of new chapters that I appear to have slept through. To this end, I am rudderless and voiceless, unable to express any view that is not coloured by my own brief sliver of perspective. Faced with a world of choice that does not immediately announce its significance to the age, I find myself falling back on my journalist colleagues for guidance.I begin with the Times newspaper’s contentious list of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945. A handful are familiar, the rest necessarily unknown to me, apart from one name that I shall resolutely ignore as unworthy of the accolade. A reading list made up of their greatest works gives me a literary perspective as well as one that throws a light on the development of the novel, of poetry and of the essay as a craft, even if the selection is subjective to fashion and partiality.For the political, I draw upon an old friend. Tribune. Bevan’s baby looks somewhat dog-eared and class war-weary these days. But I am gratified to see easy access to its back issues remains at the newspaper library, which no longer stands in Colindale, but hangs, like everything else, in the ether.I have, under Miss Statton’s guidance, also snatched a glimpse of this invisible library at my disposal through the device she constantly carries around. As I have since discovered through my introduction to the contraption I am using for this entry; a window on the world shows you only what passes from one side of the pane to the other. It does not discriminate and therefore paints a constantly shifting picture of the universe in which it exists. Without preparation, she advises, I can find myself disappearing up arcane cultural cul de sacs that will serve only to confuse my ambition to obtain a modern overview of all that has occurred since the war. I am therefore restricted to this journal or ‘blog’ (derivation?) and ‘The Times’ news page. It is tempting to venture further, but I am slightly cautious having only recently emerged from a semi-catatonic state.I find this experience both frustrating and exciting. Overwhelmed with all that I have to absorb, I find it difficult not to leap to conclusions that are instantly gainsaid by Emily’s dogged recitation of past events that render both my view and my method of expressing them invalid and patently inaccurate. I have already been upbraided for referring in conversation to the ‘negro view of colonial power’. The altered orthodoxies of language are probably the most noticeable and, for the most part, welcome. I am fortunate that she is highly educated in both social history and psychology with a younger person’s encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture that I find constantly surprising and helpful. Her articulate and measured responses to my endless questions are thoughtful and eked out like morphine to an addict, constantly aware of my being overwhelmed. She is not typical of her generation, whose argot appears largely indecipherable and delivered as a babbled lingua franca of restricted code.In a way, I resemble a patient with brain trauma, except instead of learning to walk or speak again, I am being ‘brought up to speed’ in a measured and careful way by a guide of some sensitivity. I am not comfortable with what I reveal to her, unintentionally, about my own psychological barriers. But in a sense, this is the only way in which I can repay her. The quid pro quo is painful but necessary and relieves the loneliness I find creeping up on me, like a baleful burglar in the night. Below is the Times list of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945, found amongst old copies piled in the corner of Miss Statton's consulting room. I have started to read them in the order in which they are listed, although there is a temptation to leap to familiar friends to see how they developed in later years. One imagines Anthony Powell would be quite incandescent at the ranking. I will skip Tolkien, I think. I am heartily at one with Eileen’s fellow Inkling at Oxford who greeted yet another reading by the earnest Professor at the literary discussion group with the words, 'Not those bloody elves again'.1. Philip Larkin 2. George Orwell 3. William Golding
4. Ted Hughes 5. Doris Lessing 6. J. R. R. Tolkien
7. V. S. Naipaul 8. Muriel Spark 9. Kingsley Amis
10. Angela Carter 11. C. S. Lewis 12. Iris Murdoch13. Salman Rushdie 14. Ian Fleming 15. Jan Morris
16. Roald Dahl 17. Anthony Burgess 18. Mervyn Peake
19. Martin Amis 20. Anthony Powell 21. Alan Sillitoe
22. John Le Carré 23. Penelope Fitzgerald
24. Philippa Pearce 25. Barbara Pym 26. Beryl Bainbridge27. J. G. Ballard 28. Alan Garner 29. Alasdair Gray30. John Fowles 31. Derek Walcott 32. Kazuo Ishiguro33. Anita Brookner 34. A. S. Byatt 35. Ian McEwan36. Geoffrey Hill 37. Hanif Kureishi 38. Iain Banks39. George Mackay Brown
40. A. J. P. Taylor 41. Isaiah Berlin 42. J. K. Rowling43. Philip Pullman 44. Kurt Vonnegut 45. Colin Thubron46. Bruce Chatwin 47. Alice Oswald 48. Benjamin Zephaniah49. Rosemary Sutcliff 50. Michael Moorcock

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