June 20, 2009

Fat man in a cul-de-sac

They don't have to tell me about this human condition: I'm in it.
B.S. Johnson, caption from Street Children
B.S. Johnson's Fat Man on a Beach has turned up, and all five parts are posted below.

If you don't know him, then it's of limited interest [almost certainly none], probably like the rest of this post.

He was a modernist writer who got caught in too many traps, mostly set by himself. I think he had very limited talents that he stretched too far with style, and when the talent broke and the style ran out there was little left over to live on. He killed himself in a bathtub at the age of 40, in 1973. With better choices perhaps he could have been Georges Perec, who died of natural causes [lung cancer] at the age of 45, in 1982, but he wasn't.

Although he did have some good titles, and to my way of thinking [which I accept is a little cracked] Instructions for the Use of Women is at least as good as Laferrière's How to Make Love to a Negro, although the latter is the better work, and neither are that outstanding.

I read Jonathan Coe's good biography of Johnson earlier this year, which a) explained why I'd been able to read all of this hard to find author's works while at university [Warwick had an English professor who was a supporter, and the library was well-stocked], and b) made it plain that the best I could have hoped for if I'd pursued a literary career would've been to become a failed B.S. Johnson. Moreover, and more importantly, that a failure in this case would still have been better than the real thing, as long as it was done fast (as it more or less was).

Some people have easy lives, but most face a long series of struggles. I write that, thinking about B.S. Johnson, with no idea if it's true, having no access to the lived experience of others. My life is very easy, with the few problems I ever face are nearly all of my own devising. But this might signify an emotional poverty or lack of daring on my own part, an unwillingness to engage more completely. I don't think it matters - I'd rather be a pig in shit than a sad philosopher.

part one

part two
[The start of the anecdote Coe mentions about the motorcycle accident / cheese starts near the end of part two...]

part three
[...and finishes at the start of part three]

part four

part five

No comments: