Wednesday, August 02, 2006

For some reason I’ve been musing (he’s only gone and been musing , lads!) on the notion of “success” recently. I’m certainly “unsuccessful” by most of the standard measurements. I don’t own my own home, I don’t own a car, (in fact I can’t even drive) my “wardrobe” consists of three pairs of jeans, some very knackered trainers and a couple of t-shirts, my wage is quite substantially below average for London and for a graduate of my age and “experience” with a Masters (though admittedly even useless would be putting a positive spin on the general perception of Creative Writing MAs, it’s largely felt that if you’ve done one there must actually be something wrong with you).

And yet, nonetheless, I feel that the last few years have been pretty successful, more or less because of the things I haven’t done. First of all I haven’t accumulated any debt or useless possessions (errr, except for that gently teetering hedge of two-quid cds) I have stopped drinking (well three or four times a year, these days, a reduction by about three-hundred and sixty days on, say, the year 2001) I stopped smoking, I stopped eating crap, I haven’t taken any drugs, I stopped watching TV (haven’t had one for four years thus far). I also finished (of whatever quality) two novels I was happy with, learned Spanish to a reasonable level, travelled to South America for the first time (not having spent all my money, for once, down the boozer) and devoted as much time to learning and reading as I could.( Of course, much of this wouldn’t have come about but for the influence of my better-half. Fair play to you, gal!).

Frankly, I’m glad for it, but there was certainly a weaning-off period, a bit of cultural cold- turkey at the prospect of not going to the cinema four times a week irrespective of what was on, of spending every weekend trawling around mediocre gigs that offered nothing but the opportunity for a bit of self-congratulatory peer-group sneering. This unbearable itch to do something, even if it's crap!

The simple fact is that it’s also a relief to get past the point where any kind of “selling out”, where any kind of volte-face and desperate scrabble to “get with the programme” career-wise has passed. Not going to happen now, not at my age. While it’s there it’s always tempting you, “maybe, you should, maybe you could… after all they’re no smarter than you are…..”. The kind of auto-subjective-destitution that Zizek identifies in "Fight Club", the kicking the shit out of that within you which is attached to the “real-world”, needn’t be as violent as all that, (certainly not if you're as inclined to procrastination as I am) it just needs a certain amount of hunkering down, taking a deep-breath, letting the shackles of opportunity rust right off you until, hey presto! you’ve condemned yourself to the life you always really wanted.

I suppose what I’m up for at this stage is a kind of ascetic bohemianism, (yes, a toe-curling coinage, I know) NO! to the horrible, imaginatively-dead drudgery of the “real world” and YES! to the search for new forms of living and new ways of being, but minus all the decadence. After all, being a Bi-curious, Kulchahead mired in drugs and profligacy is hardly going against the grain these days, hardly shocking, hardly the sign of a radical. The average secretary’s weekend is a bacchanal that would have had Byron flagging mid-afternoon Saturday and Verlaine throwing in the towel before they’d even got in the queue for cheap entry at Fabric. What we might be aiming for (he’s talking about we now, lads!) I guess, is a kind of systematic re-ordering of the senses within a culture that generally wants/needs us to be as maximally sensation-hungry as possible.
A culture of moderacy and self-cultivation I don’t think need imply conservatism, some Buddhist struggle against desire and ambition and a lapse into acceptance, but it’s probably the important pre-requisite to coming up with anything else ( being in a state to come up with anything) not just getting off the “hedonic treadmill” but finding a spanner to stick in its works (though in this case maybe, “ the key to the treasure is the treasure”). I think that I regard my last couple of years as “successful” because (“hey, there goes the successful, balding thirty-six year old unpublished author in his Primark sweater and NHS specs, dashing through Greenwich Uni on the way to his low-income job!”) I’ve finally been able to fully abandon myself to moderacy.
Who knows then, cautiously optimistic and all that, maybe the first stage complete.
Question is, what’s next?
That mention of “Fight Club” reminds me of an interview with Chuck Pahlaniuk that I saw on-line few years ago. Asked why he had switched to writing gothic horror novels instead of his customary zeitgeist nihilism he replied that post 9/11 the American public had no appetite for transgressive fiction. So there it is, the great, dark ironist, the arch torch-wielder at the bonfire of the liberal vanities, scourge of late-Capitalist inauthenticity, rather than ramming it home to the sad-sack, pussy, brown-nosing Korporate scum he despises while they are down and the whole edifice is shaking, is, instead,worried about loosing his audience, loosing those lucrative publishing deals, the film rights, the book tours, the adoration of a generation of backyard wrestlers. After all, once the market changes, only an idiot wouldn’t respond to it, right?

“The things you own end up owning you”, eh Chuck?


stevieteee said...

Carl - do you know (of) the Shortwave Set? This post and your blog in general remind me strongly of their - so far - only album. Maybe it's the fact that they're from Deptford and inveterate secondhandshop trawlers. Anyways, if you haven't got it, I thoroughly recommend it.

Samuel said...

Carl, I agree with this post 100%. I've posted a full response here...

JD said...

Carl, I am with you on this one. I would say, that, not to misunderstand or misinterpret you, there is a simpler, less academic way of putting this conundrum. I prefer to think of it as 'blissfully unaware'. This has nothing to do with being a Luddite or anachronism ( no 'Mods v. Rockers' clashes ) but simply being able to ignore the culture we live in by sheer desire to do so. It's not to say that some of the nonsense doesn't filter it's way in, but I have found it rather simple to just dismiss this 'false information' because I really just can't be bothered with it otherwise. Belive me, living in the good ol' US of A, that can take a bit of doing, but it can and is being done. I may be kidding myself to some degree, but much of what you discussed are all things from my past ('doing something even if it's crap', etc as well as tedious boozing purely for the sake of holding out hope that this time, certainly, it may turn out to be magical! )and while my ratio of successes-to-failures (in the basest of terms )is getting pretty good. Much of what I held dear in the past I have let fall away, in order to embrace more fully the things that mean the most to me ( and I am using this in a purely cultural context, not family or Jesus or some such thing). I consider myself neither 'conservative' nor Buddhist (a pretty easy thing to not consider myself ). It's just a matter of, say, 'soft-spoken abhorrence'...which may curl the toes just as painfully.
Anyway, good luck to you on this. Your logic is perfectly sound from what I can tell.
regards, JD

JD said...

I fear my grammar at times was equally toe-curling. Why, oh why, did I reject the 'preview' button? Pure egotism! Ah, well.....