You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Guardian’ tag.

In the spirit of keeping things light at this time of year when the food and the body can start feeling just a little heavy, here’s the Guardian‘s update on one of my favorite annual awards—The Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction.

You gotta love it, these laughable attempts to describe one of life’s greatest thrills. Ever since a writer friend confessed to me that she suffered from crippling fear while writing her novel that she would be nominated for this ignoble award, I have had a little more pity for nominees. Ouch. While of course some people treat it as just one more google hit.

At the end of the Guardian article I have also included an excerpt from Media Bistro’s GalleyCat blog flagging John Updike’s lifetime achievement award. The passage highlighted is just too good to not share. “Legs in an M of receptivity”…really John. John? Hello?

Thank you Sally Reed for being all over it and way ahead of me.

campbell4
‘Slightly tortuous’: Alastair Campbell. Photograph: Luke MacGregor/Reuters

Alastair Campbell’s depiction of a gauche sexual encounter in his debut novel All in the Mind has won him a place on the shortlist for the literary world’s most dreaded honour: the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award.

Campbell would join luminaries including Tom Wolfe, AA Gill, Sebastian Faulks and Melvyn Bragg if he wins the award – a plaster foot – on November 25 at London’s aptly named In and Out club. Run by the Literary Review, the bad sex awards were set up by Auberon Waugh “with the aim of gently dissuading authors and publishers from including unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels”.

The former spin doctor may take heart from the implication that his debut is an “otherwise sound literary novel”. Campbell of course has some earlier practice in depicting sex, having written pornography for Forum magazine under the pseudonym the Riviera Gigolo early in his career, but a passage set on a bench has catapulted Campbell onto the list: “He wasn’t sure where his penis was in relation to where he wanted it to be, but when her hand curled around it once more, and she pulled him towards her, it felt right,” Campbell writes. “Then as her hand joined the other on his neck and she started making more purring noises, now with little squeals punctuating them, he was pretty sure he was losing his virginity.”

But Campbell’s prose is considerably less purple than some of the other contenders for this year’s prize, including new age novelist Paulo Coelho for his novel Brida, in which the act of sex – on a public footpath – is described as “the moment when Eve was reabsorbed into Adam’s body and the two halves became Creation”.

“At last, she could no longer control the world around her,” Coelho continues, “her five senses seemed to break free and she wasn’t strong enough to hold on to them. As if struck by a sacred bolt of lightning, she unleashed them, and the world, the seagulls, the taste of salt, the hard earth, the smell of the sea, the clouds, all disappeared, and in their place appeared a vast gold light, which grew and grew until it touched the most distant star in the galaxy.”

Historian Simon Montefiore is also a strong competitor, singled out for his first foray into fiction, the Soviet saga Sashenka, in which a formerly prudish Communist woman enjoys an encounter with a bohemian writer. “He pulled down her brassiere, cupping her breasts, sighing in bliss. ‘The blue veins are divine,’ he whispered.” And later: “He’s a madman, she thought as he made love to her again. Oh my God, after twenty years of being the most rational Bolshevik woman in Moscow, this goblin has driven me crazy!”

Other writers in the running include John Updike, Isabel Fonseca, Kathy Lette and James Buchan, as well as first-time novelist Ann Allestree for her novel Triptych of a Young Wolf.

“It’s very heartening to see what a distinguished list of writers seem to be listed with me,” said Allestree. “I wrote the book because I had written memoirs and biographies, and thought every writer has to do a novel, it’s a force majeure. So I set off to do it, and thought I’ve got to put sex in – every novel’s got to have sex in it.”

She said her novel was “essentially quite a serious one”. “It’s about wolves,” she continued. “There is wolf sex, between my young wolf, my hero, and his girlfriend, who happens to be an Alsatian … they have hybrid sex.”

If an extract from Allestree’s novel – here depicting sex between humans, rather than canines – is anything to go by, she should be in with a good chance: few novelists successfully manage to combine soup and sex. “He raised himself to his knees and bent to roll his tongue around her weeping orifice. He was bringing her to a pitch of ecstasy when she heard Madame Veuve, on the landing, put down the supper tray. Whiffs of onion soup strayed over them as he engulfed her. ‘Don’t stop,’ she clamoured; she was nearly there, it was in the bag.”

Jonathan Beckman at the Literary Review said there had been “quite a lot of variation” in this year’s shortlist in terms of how, exactly, the sex was bad. “There are some which take the sex far too seriously, like Coelho, and some which have a grating change of register, like Buchan, and others that are just slightly ridiculous,” he said. “The Campbell seems quite Alastair Campbelly-bad, in the slightly tortuous logical path the passage takes … and also, we wouldn’t pass up the chance to put Alastair Campbell on a bad sex shortlist.”

Last year’s award was given posthumously to Norman Mailer for his final novel The Castle in the Forest, in which a male member is described as being “as soft as a coil of excrement”. “It was the excrement that tipped the balance,” admitted Philip Womack, assistant editor of the Literary Review, at the time.

Alison Flood
Guardian

And from Media Bistro’s GalleyCat:

Updike won the lifetime achievement award after being nominated four times over the course of his career. Here’s a link to Updike’s shortlisted passage from 2005 Bad Sex nominee, Villages:

“Faye leaned back on the blanket, arranging her legs in an M of receptivity, and he knelt between them like the most abject and craven supplicant who ever exposed his bare a** to the eagle eyes of a bunch of crows.”

Advertisements

I’m still on a Jenny Saville bender (see post below)…Here are a few passages from an interview with Saville conducted by Suzie Mackenzie of the Guardian. I found these passages provocative and insightful.

She attributes the early “fascination with fat” to sitting on the floor watching her piano teacher. “From below she had these big, thick thighs, a thick tweed skirt and tights, and I’d spend the whole time looking at the way her thighs never parted and how the flesh would rub against the tights.” People sometimes observe that the experience of looking at one of the big early Savilles, with their dramatic cropping and foreshortening, is a bit like a child confronting a grown-up. A mix of awe and intimacy. “I wanted both in those pictures. A large female body has a power, it occupies a physical space, yet there’s an anxiety about it. It has to be hidden.” So a part of it, she says, was a search for intimacy, “as if being in a mother’s arms”. And part of it was discomfort, “the anxiety that comes from living with flesh”.

***
She began with the body for all sorts of reasons. “The art I like concentrates on the body. I don’t have a feel for Poussin, but for Courbet, Velásquez – artists who get to the flesh. Visceral artists – Bacon, Freud. And de Kooning, of course. He’s really my man. He doesn’t depict anything, yet it’s more than representation, it’s about the meaning of existence and pushing the medium of paint.”

***
What interests her is wherever the body breaks open – the genitalia – and, most particularly of course, the head, the face and all its openings. Her 2003 exhibition Migrants consisted of six paintings, three of them heads, all staring out at the viewer blankly, as if indifferent to their state. Gone are the morbid flesh tones of her early work; here the paint, a vibrant red and brown, is as charged as the images. Aperture, unusually, is a gruesome head of a man – puffy, one eye battered closed. Reverse and Reflective Flesh use her own image. Not as self-portraits: “I am not interested in portraits as such. I am not interested in the outward personality. I don’t use the anatomy of my face because I like it, not at all. I use it because it brings out something from inside, a neurosis.”

***
And she was a child of her time. Born in 1970, she came of age in the 1980s: “Everyone was obsessed with the body – it was all about dieting, gym, the body beautiful. Pornography, Aids were the big debates.” She was influenced by feminism. “As a child I’d look through art books and there were no women artists. Of course, you start to ask why not.” And: “Could I make a painting of a nude in my own voice? It’s such a male-laden art, so historically weighted. The way women were depicted didn’t feel like mine, too cute. I wasn’t interested in admired or idealised beauty.”
Females, as she says, are used to being looked at: “I don’t like to be the one just looking or just looked at. I want both roles.” Taking herself as her own model, her exaggerated nudes point up, with an agonising frankness, the disparity between the way women are perceived and the way that they feel about their bodies. Their massive bodies look diseased, half alive, half dead, the skin erupting in places as if cracking under the strain of having to contain so much fat, so much anxiety. In Branded, she inscribed on the flesh adjectives often used to describe women: “supportive” is scratched across one breast, “irrational” across the other; “delicate” across the midriff.

***
Propped has, etched into the paint, indecipherable words by the French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray, whom Saville studied on a sabbatical in America. There was “immense conviction” in making these pictures, she says, and an element of self-loathing. “There is in everybody. We are taught to judge ourselves from a very young age, to groom ourselves.” And this creates a neurosis for women, she says. “You see this dichotomy in women’s magazines all the time: an article on breast cancer – empowering; an article on skin products that make you look younger – neurotic.”

She says that feminism interests her less now. “I was never that polemical. That feels like a conversation I was having with myself then. I’m not drawn to that kind of admired beauty but I can’t say if it is because I am a woman or because my instinct visually is not that way.”

***
Paint, she says, is her language, the way she communicates – and everything else, everything else, takes second place…”My life is subservient to painting – I can’t find a substitute for it in the world.”

The Frieze Fair, the UK’s biggest art fair, is currently open in London. A lot of the coverage of this high profile event has focused on how the global financial crisis will impact high roller art sales. That’s not the channel I’m watching, but a recent article in the Guardian by Sarah Thorton had something more to offer.

Thorton interviewed several leading artists about money, art and how the market influences them. One is Francis Upritchard, an artist whose work I was not familiar with previously. Her comments resonated with me, something I find refreshing given how different her installation sculpture is to the kind of work I do. And wisdom in someone so young, well I can’t help but be impressed.

Young artists such as sculptor Francis Upritchard, 32, who will be representing New Zealand at the Venice Biennale next June, appreciates serious collectors who live with their art. Of collectors who keep their art in storage, she argues: “I’m sure it’s good to get the work out of the sun, but art needs to be used. It needs a thinking gaze. That is what makes it art, rather than just stuff.” Of collectors who acquire work as status symbols, she says: “I think they are wasting their money, because that is not what art is for. It’s a misinterpretation of its intent.”

And this:

What will happen if the art market follows the financial markets in a downward spin? Is the bubble about to burst? Upritchard, for one, is not worried. “I lived in a squat for six years,” she says. “If I had to downgrade my studio, it wouldn’t matter. I want to be an old lady making art. Perhaps I’ll be out of fashion at 50, but trendy at 80”.

About Uprtichard’s work, from the Saatchi Gallery site:

Francis Upritchard is a doctor of contemporary voodoo. Borrowing her aesthetic from the kinds of weird and wonderful mementos treasured in archives like the Pitt River Museum and the Wellcome Collection, Upritchard forges a dark and twisted history of her own…Upritchard’s a magpie Indiana Jones: inventing creepies and curses from stuff that probably exists in your attic.

What is it that Tom Stoppard does that moves me so deeply? Rock ‘n’ Roll was as intoxicating an experience as Coast of Utopia had been the year before. In many ways it is a continuation of many of the same themes, just brought forward 100 years and closer to home. (The play takes place in England and what was once Czechoslovakia, the bloodlines of Stoppard’s own identity.) We are still struggling with how history unfolds, how any one person can stand up, with honor, to the inexorable thrust of politics, of grand scale human folly, of historical precedence replaying itself over and over again, of disastrous conceits and misfired intentions.

In both Rock ‘n’ Roll and Coast of Utopia, Stoppard arcs his narrative out over many years and several generations. His voice does not speak to the concerns of his particular cohort group. Rather he traces the fractal pattern of how ideas grow, from what is frequently an inauspicious and unintended germination to historic unfoldings that explode with little regard for extenuating circumstances like truthfulness, appropriateness, or the achievement of any modicum of long term human benefit. The threads and leitmotifs in these plays are complex, provocative and interconnected, yet they are not delivered with anything approaching resolution. Stoppard poses profound questions about human existence that do not have answers. Intimations and flashes of possible resolutions come and go, but those moments are fleeting, a glinting parsec vision of what might have been.

An unforgettable experience.

Here is an excerpt from a review by Neal Ascherson of the Guardian, written when the play first opened in London in 2006:

stoppard.jpg
Tom Stoppard in 1967
(Photo: Jane Brown)

“Rock ‘n’ Roll” is a subtle, complex play about ways to resist ‘systems’ and preserve what is human. At its core is a succession of arguments between two Czech friends, Jan (who holds some of Kundera’s attitudes) and Ferda (who more clearly represents Havel, and borrows lines from some of Havel’s famous utterances). Jan, forced to work as a kitchen porter, at first despises Ferda’s petitions against arrests and censorship as the self-indulgence of an intellectual clique. A devout rock enthusiast, he sees the persecuted rock band the Plastic People of the Universe (who actually existed) as the essence of freedom because they simply don’t care about anything but the music. They baffle the thought police because ‘they’re not heretics. They’re pagans’.

Ferda at first dismisses the Plastic People as long-haired escapists who have nothing to do with the real struggle. But later, when they are arrested and imprisoned after an absurd trial, he comes to understand that the heretics and the pagans are inseparable allies.

Leaving the band’s real-life trial, Havel famously said that ‘from now on, being careful seems so petty’. Soon afterwards a few hundred brave men and women signed ‘Charter 77’, the declaration of rights and liberties which earned them prison sentences and suffocating surveillance but which was read around the world.

Stoppard is fascinated by the Plastic People, by the idea that the most devastating response to tyranny might be the simple wish to be left alone. In Prague he met and talked to Ivan Jirous, their founder, whose long hair enraged the authorities. ‘I always loved rock’n’roll,’ Stoppard says. ‘And what was so intriguing about the Plastic People was that they never set out to be symbols of resistance, although the outside world thought of them that way. They said: “People never write about our music!” In the West, rock bands liked to be thought of for their protest, rather than their music. But Jirous didn’t try to turn the Plastic People into anything; he just saw that they were saying, “We don’t care, leave us alone!” Jirous insisted that they were actually better off than musicians in the West because there was no seduction going on. There was nothing the regime wanted from them, and nothing they wanted from the regime.’

There is dissent which wants to substitute one system for another. And there is dissent which simply says: Get off our back, scrap all the guidelines and controls, and humanity will reassert itself.

Patiently, Stoppard explained to me how historic disputes between Kundera and Havel were reflected in the play. Kundera, in the first confused year after the invasion, had hoped that the experiment could still continue, working out a society in which uncensored freedom could co-exist with a socialist state, a new form of socialism which still needed to be devised. ‘Havel said that it wasn’t a question of making new systems. “Constructing” a free press was like inventing the wheel. You don’t have to invent a free society because such a society is the norm – it’s normal.’

I asked if this notion of freedom as ‘normal’ and ‘natural’, something which doesn’t need designing, wasn’t close to the anarchist vision But this was not what he meant, it seemed. Stoppard’s trust that ‘people’ will behave well when left on their own has its common-sense limits. In “Salvage”, the third play in the “Utopia” trilogy, Stoppard makes Herzen puncture the exuberant anarchist Mikhail Bakunin in a needle-sharp exchange:

Bakunin: ‘Left to themselves, people are noble, generous, uncorrupted, they’d create a completely new kind of society if only people weren’t so blind, stupid and selfish.’

Herzen: ‘Is that the same people or different people?’

Advertisements