As always, I was blown away by Self’s intricate and knowingly clever prose, and the fact that story was built on one of the best-loved books of my adolescence – The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – just added to the mix to make it all the more enjoyable. Disturbing, heartfelt, evocative, provocative, saddening and terrifying in equal measures, the book serves to recreate Wilde’s dandies as a portrait of the Gay scene in London and New York in the 1980s and early to mid 1990s – the hedonism and cultural liberation of the fin-de-siecle art world swirling together in the grip of the emergence of AIDS. It’s a gripping read and splendidly told at the bedside of several of the characters, sucking you into a sordid underworld of drugs, sex and vanity; but at the same time having Self’s telltale wry sprinkling of humour. I absolutely loathed some of the characters but loved the book and on more than one occasion found myself stopping to re-read a particularly well-crafted sentence.
Every book I read by Will Self inspires me to get my pen out, or put fingers to keyboard and create something. If you’ve read the book recently, or re-read it in the context of now and not of the ’80s/’90s, you might draw parallels with any of your own user-generated content and Baz Hallward’s Cathode Narcissus, which forms the centrepiece for the novel. The image below is as close as I could get, it’s Nam-june Paik’s video installation, ‘Moon is the Oldest TV’. No one seems to have made an actual Cathode Narcissus yet – I was sorely disappointed when I discovered that www.cathodenarcissus.com a) did not exist and b) did not even pretend to exist – maybe I should create it? Maybe I really shouldn’t – maybe that’s the point? I loved how one of my other favourite writers, Joe Stretch, intertwined both Friction and Wild Life with the real world and the virtual one, but then again I suppose Dorian was written in 2002, right before or even on the cusp of the explosion of mini-Cathode Narcissi sites like Facebook and Myspace, so it is perhaps to be expected.
My interpretation of Dorian: an Imitation was made all the more resounding by an article I read in today’s Observer, by Aleks Krotoski, about the ever-blurring lines between online and offline identities. It talks about how online we have the power to create ourselves as we wish to be seen, rather than how we actually are; but due to the fact that technology and ‘real life’ are becoming more and more intertwined, that polished version of ourselves has inevitably become more real. Our Facebook pages, our Twitter feed and our blogs (yes, including this one) are increasingly brighter, shinier versions of our own lives. We can edit out the undesirable bits and amplify the good parts of ourselves. We can curate our interests, leaving out our guilty pleasures and instead tailoring our personalities to be the version of ourselves that we want the world to see. We are effectively leaving the digital world strewn with billions upon billions of our own versions of Baz Hallward’s Cathode Narcissi.
I’m not a morbid person – for the most part – but I do sometimes wonder what kind of eulogy I’m building for myself online.
Are these banks of links and pages of profiles really the only legacies that we want to leave in our wake?