Will Self

Picking Up

This is an automatically generated transcript of Will Self’s opening remarks entitled ‘Picking Up’. Although it has been checked, please note that some transcription errors may remain.

Full transcripts appearing online for the duration of Telepoetics (27 May – 5 June 2020) have been reduced to excerpts of approx. 750 words .

d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … and again … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … two groups of four … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … on it goes … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … insistently persistently … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … not that one hears it quite so much nowadays … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … if one does it’s a fake – a recording of an old phone … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … done with a lot of echo … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … so’s to suggest it’s ringing in a largish, darkish hall … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … poorly lit by tall, narrow windows … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … many little stained panes … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! …altogether depicting a square-jawed medieval knight and his equally mannish lady … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … sword and spear … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … spindle and distaff … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … two groups of four … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! …on it goes … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … relentlessly … d-r-r-ing! … Can we make anything mysto-mathematico-significant out of this?

[00:01:31] No, probably … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … not – if it were  … d-r-r-ing! … and then … d-r-r-ing! … possibly, for the converse would be the six-five special coming down the line … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … and here he comes … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … right on time – but what time? Mid fifties, I s’pose … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … the mid fifties at Redington Road … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … Somewhere on a catwalk Sabrina’s forty-two-inch bust is being riveted into her brasserie … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … Wasp-waisted she was – this skyscraper as well … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! …

[00:02:20] nipped in the middle – the people with the luxury flats on the upper storeys … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! … tits, every man jack of ’em … d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing! …

[00:02:38] I’m Well Self and that was the opening of my novel Phone, the third novel of my trilogy that began with the publication of Umbrella in 2011, continued with the publication of Shark a couple of years later, maybe two or three years later.

[00:03:02] And then this novel, which came out I think in 2018, I need to check…

[00:03:12] no, in fact, published in 2017, so three years ago now. How do I get the ‘d-r-r-ing! d-r-r-ing!’ on the page? And the answer is with leader dots, with four dots,

[00:03:28] two groups of four, intended to both evoke the ellipses of three dots, that is a punctuation device, both suggests the parenthetic, the omitted text, and also pushes the reader on to the next clause, the next bitelet of data. I think that the ellipsis,

[00:03:50] you know, it could almost be part of a kind of binary system of notation. It also summons up the ones and zeros of computer code. That, of course, you know, were involved in the first mechanical exchanges, which in a sense have an interlocking relationship with the advance of computer technology. So, you know, the third novel of a what some people called a neo-modernist trilogy of books. Not an ascription I’d agree with, for me, I follow the critic Robert Adams, who observed that if Modernism were really over by, say, the post-war period or shortly after, if you think of Modernism as really been simply the period between the publication of the first sections of Ulysses in Paris and of The Waste Land in London and say the publication of Finnegans Wake, then how come, unlike all of the other major Western cultural errors, this one only lasts, you know, scarcely more than a score of years, whereas the others seemed to be about half a millennium, if you think of the classical period or the medieval or the early modern.

[00:05:14] So you know, we. In which case we shouldn’t even be in the postmodern era now we should be in the post post post-modern era. And that seems strictly unlikely. I view my work as still responding to the great complex of technological changes and their interrelationship that really began to gather pace, literal pace with the development of the railway system as a technology, the assemblage of rail and engine moving forward from the 1820s and 30s onward and in terms of the technologies of communication and virtuality. You know, from the inception of the photograph as the first viable virtual technology and of course, the telegraph as the first distance-abolishing communications technology.