THE GAME WE SERVE IS NOT FARMED, IT IS KILLED IN THE WILD, THEREFORE IT CANNOT BE CERTIFIED ORGANIC.
THE FISH WE SERVE IS NOT FARMED, THEREFORE IT CANNOT BE CERTIFIED ORGANIC.
Had the game been factory-farmed the Crown could have testified to its diet of tofu and bean sprouts; since the animals had been living in the wild, the Crown could not lay hand on heart and swear that they had not been nipping into the nearest KFC. This was the gist. Only in Britain.
I was about to go to New York as a Fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. I gave Ilya my e-mail address on a receipt. A couple of weeks later I got an e-mail, or rather a copy of an e-mail he had sent to a friend in Canada, something he'd written in 22 minutes at 3am, the most exciting piece of writing I'd seen in years. Should have written back, but things were not going well in New York.
I write, delete, write, delete, write, delete a long wearisome account of all the things that went wrong. Long story short, I ended up in Berlin where more things went wrong. More crazy movie people. Yet another book in ruins. I kept reading the e-mail from IG, still in my inbox, sure the old e-mail address was dead.
The Internet has thrown up a strange fetishism of writing as commodity. As we hear all too often, anyone can post anything online -- it's not edited, there's no filter, no quality control. A published book goes through a selection process, the lucky few are then edited to perfection and sold to the discriminating public. Anyone can write a blog. Hence the striking gap between The Da Vinci Code and the sort of mindless drivel on offer in the pp sidebar. And anyone can write an e-mail.
There's something odd about this.
Byron's letters were not written for publication. Kilvert's diary was not written for publication. The text published as Naked Lunch was originally a series of letters from Burroughs to Ginsberg. Tom Wolfe's Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby was not the piece of journalism he had been commissioned to write for Esquire, a properly-crafted report on the cult of customized cars. He missed one deadline after another, unable to fit the material to the form; his editor told him to write everything down and send it in, Wolfe wrote Dear Byron followed by an outpouring written at a single sitting followed by Tom, the editor removed Dear Byron and Tom and sent it to print and that, oh Best Beloved, was how Journalism got New. Hunter S. Thompson said he did his best work when he just sat down and wrote, and it was Thompson's pharmaceutically-enhanced failure to report on the Mint that gave us Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
All of these texts have been published, but all were not written for publication. There is, in fact, no hard and fast line separating the public and private. Molly Bloom's soliloquy draws extensively on Nora's letters to James Joyce -- letters whose style entranced one of the greatest languagemakers the world has ever known. There's really something odd going on, then: we now have a convention, it seems, such that the letters of a dead poet can be published, but all sorts of other texts in unapproved forms must be hauled into publishable legitimacy by appropriation into journalism or the novel.
I don't especially want to label IG as a Thompson or a Burroughs, because his style is his own, but the e-mail in my Inbox was like those mythical texts -- the difference being that I had not picked it up in a bookstore under the auspices of Faber or Picador or Serpent's Tail, it had just turned up out of the ether. I wrote him an e-mail, and an e-mail came back: he had been travelling around the Middle East, was now on the border of Kurdistan, was thinking of coming to Berlin. 2 years ago now. Long time ago.
When I was 9 I was given The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for Christmas. I think I read it 100 times. I didn't know there were others in the series. I discovered the rest when we moved to Rio; the school library had the rest of the series, but they would not lend them to children under 12. I still remember the disbelief, the joy, on discovering there were more; the misery on being refused permission to read them; the long wait. This was like that. Getting a second e-mail to add to the one I'd had for so long, and then a third, and then a fourth -- but it was not really like that, because books are in the public domain. Years later I read a collection of Hunter S. Thompson's letters, including his letters to his agent Lynne Nesbit: the rest of us, of course, could always buy Fear and Loathing, but here were people who had writing no one else could see. So this was like that.
I think Mithridates hates new historicism, but I thought there was something interesting about this. IG has a degree in journalism from the University of Technology Sydney; in London he covered deaths at the Coroner's Court for an agency, got shifts with various papers, got contacts who would pay for celebrity stories. So there were stories he had trained to write and stories that could be sold. The stories that could be sold were what made it possible to travel around the Middle East and dodge bullets in Baghdad. If we think of the work of Burroughs or Wolfe or Thompson, the fact that we can read these texts tells us nothing about what it is possible to publish: each time there is a story behind the appearance in print.
I sent copies of three e-mails to my former editor, who used the phrase 'crackling with energy' and begged to see more -- but the idea of publishing a collection of e-mails was too alien. I then had an idea that looked very clever: IG and I could collaborate on a novel, incorporate some of these texts, the public would see them in a context that is generally recognized as a literary form.
This looked like a good idea because it drew on some films that we both liked. La Dolce Vita, that's obvious. Fellini's 8 1/2 and Kaufman's Adaptation both tackle the dilemma of the artist trying to live up to an earlier work, solving the problem by an exercise in narcissism. Being John Malkovich, Kaufman's first film, was edgy, manipulative, why not have a work of fiction that used a real person as an ostentatiously manipulated character the way Kaufman had used JM? And so on.
It's hard to collaborate with someone on a book. Perhaps there was too much going on in Your Name Here. My editor was not the only reader to be dazzled by the IG correspondence. Some readers said they were dazzled by YNH, but if everyone wasn't it must have been doing something wrong. I now have a stash of a few hundred e-mails from IG, which is sort of like having my own personal stash of letters of Byron or Thompson -- it's good for me, yes, but the possessor of this voice should have cashed in on it by now, and all I've managed to do is drag him into the publishing machine.
So this is not such a good anniversary, no, but it does make all the arguments about Webworld and the quality control of publication look very strange. People tell me: The way to find an agent is to think of writers you like and find out who represents them. I think: Yes, but I read the most interesting writer I know in a couple of hundred e-mails on my hard drive. There are writers who are certified organic, I know, I know, but show me your Whopper-fed venison, I want wild deer that's been scarfing Chicken McNuggets on the sly.