Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Writers' Photos

I'm not ashamed to say that I place a degree of value in the way things look. And I include people. And I'll go one further and say I sometimes read upon a person's face or frame aspects of their character. My readings are often awry, but I can't help making them nonetheless. Which brings me to writer's likenesses. You know, the little photos publishers shove on the inside of the dustjacket so we know that not every author isn't a nom de plume of Ed McBain (six or seven by my reckoning). I mentioned in my previous posting how Samuel Beckett has an aura of slowness about him and I found myself wondering how many readers excavate something of an author's personality through his or her image, rightly or wrongly. Perhaps I'm a shallow kind of fellow, but I do it all the time, and it's never so much fun as when I see a writer's face having read some of their work in the dark, so to speak (this tends to be the case as most of my books are picked up secondhand with mutilated covers, missing jackets or in editions that predate the trend).
I'd be interested to hear any of the assumptions you have made based on an author's photo, the more groundless the better. For what it's worth, here are a few of mine (try Google images if you don't have you're Famous Writers Sticker Album handy - collect them all, swap with friends et cetera):

Paul Auster - quite handsome on the underside of his paperbacks, but something conciously writerly in the gaze and rather vain given the stock image looks to be 10-20 years out of date

Dan Brown - struck me as a rather dreary bloke. Perhaps it's the turtle neck and the whole American business-casual look. Puts me in mind of an accountant at the weekend, maybe about to play a round of golf.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez - looked spot on as I'd envisaged him having read 100 Years of Solitude, which is to say, like an older, greyer Mario (from the Nintendo videogames).

Ian Fleming - not at all like a spy. But then neither did Michael Caine in The Ipcress File.

J.K Rowling - she looks uncomfortable in just about every photo I've seen of her. It may be Croesus-like wealth that seems to have unsettled her. Or it could be the posh frocks she seems to have been coerced into wearing.

T.S. Eliot - uncharitable, in person, if not ideologically. Bordering on the mean.

Christopher Marlowe (strictly speaking, not a photograph, and only presumed to be the playwright) - every bit as arrogantly louche as I'd hoped.

Anita Brookner - on the Random House website, she looks distracted by what I hope was a spider in the corner of the room and not musings on the disappointments that so often accompany love.

Beckett and Anonymous Comments

All comments are greatly appreciated, positively invited, entreated for, and whilst anonymous ones are better than nowt, if you have a name, be it given or taken, first or second, true or user, please use it. We're all in this together, my friends, and I like to have a name I can address. I appreciate my profile is itself less than forthcoming, but I promise to give more of myself away as we get to know one another. Can't say fairer than that, can I? So do we have a deal?
Anyway, Anonymous, in response to my last posting, asks why I describe Beckett as a writer given to slowness. I suspect Anonymous is the one friend I told about this blog, in whichcase, she knows why. But it's a fair question and one I could go about answering in a quasi-academic fashion (much of the mid-period work and on, starting in earnest with The Trilogy, do away with movement, narrational and, for the characters, physical, to such an extent that simply progressing forward is the aim, not the destination, which almost certainly doesn't exist. By the late writings - e.g. Worstward Ho - language for the writer/narrator/voice has reached such a level of self-negation as to be aporia; things have slowed to a halt). Or, I could 'fess up and say it's not based on a whole lot other than the photographs I've seen of the man. Irrespective of his age (there seem to be a lot of the older, wrinkled Beckett), whenever I see his likeness a voice says, 'there's a bloke that goes about life slowly.'
Take that as you will. I'm not sure to what extent this notion is informed by the man's writing, or whether the slowness I sense about him is meticulous in nature, ruminative, bored, melancholic or all of the above. But I feel sure it's there.
And this raises, in my mind anyhow, a related thought, which I'll post as my next comment.

Beckett Centenary

I briefly flirted with christening this blog 'Disjecta', less in honour of the Samuel Beckett book that bears the same title (and where I first happened upon the word) and more because it's such a wonderfully inclusive, yet humbling notion. Nonetheless, Beckett is a writer worth honouring and it seems the Barbican's dusted off the candles and baked a great big cake to mark the occasion of the writer's 100th anniversary.
Tickets to the obvious one (Waiting for Godot) were prohibitively expensive for somebody of my limited means (more on the ridiculous cost of theatre tickets some other time), so I'll be toasting the old man by clearing my living room of all furniture and fitting a 40-watt (pun intended) light bulb. I may stretch to putting a bicycle in the corner and a solitary chair in the centre of the room.
Anyway, Beckett, for all his wonders, is besides the point. What struck me as I perused the Barbican's extensive celebrations was the fact that April 2006 marks the centenary of the author's birth. An auspicious date when viewed from a certain angle (all the more so for me as we were both born on Friday 13th, which as good as ensures my future inclusion in the literary annals if the science of numeromancy holds true), but also a very silly year to mark, when we consider that Samuel Beckett, grand vizier of (post)modernism, arch-deconstructor of narrative impetus, was just another gurgling, shitting baby. And probably called Sammy or Sammikins by Mr & Mrs Beckett.
Surely it makes more sense to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the staging of Godot, or his death? But then the literary world loves an event, and if a writer can be trussed up and rented out in the process, all the better for it. And besides, the centenary of Godot would be almost fifty years off (though I'm sure that will be noted too, come the day) and time is of the essence.
I tend to groan at the conjuration of a person's memory in imagined criticism of some contemporary ill ('Shakespeare would turn in his grave at the prospect of Iago being a New Labour spin doctor', that kind of thing). Chiefly because it's often bollocks, partly because it doesn't matter a great deal and lastly as it's usually the critic's attempt to ally themselves with the deceased in an unfairly unilateral pact. So you'll forgive me then, when I wonder out loud what Beckett, who to my philistine mind seemed a man given to, prompted by and perhaps in favour of slowness, would have made of this rush/rash of birthday parties?

An Inaugural Hello

The attentive amongst you might have spied something pessimistic in the early fumblings of this blog. There's the Wodehouse quotation that, for the time being, sits atop the page. And then there's my username. Canute, the English king who, legend has it, sought to hold back the tide. He failed, of course. So yes, I see how this blog could be said to be of a less than sunny disposition.
Ah, but what's that I hear, Canute was attempting to show a sycophantic courtier that even monarchs have their limitations? Thank you for pointing that out, dear reader. Have a silver star. And Wodehouse was clearly having a laugh, you say? Well, unless there's a sonnet or a Hamlet soliloquy that fair slipped past me, I rather fancy you're correct again. Gold star. Top of the class.
So there we have it. The blog as some delightfully Janus-like confectionery. Hard on the outside, soft and gooey inside.
Let's hope we can strike a fair equilibrium between the two - griping, melancholy, disappointment, grief, negativity, on the one hand; laughter, joy, cheeks full of tongue, on the other.
I'll get to putting a few links on here soon enough and maybe things will take on a semblance of something or other. And even if they spurn my controlling, shaping advances, let's hope that you at least, dear reader, gets lucky.