WILL SELF DESTRUCTS
British author Will Self made Guardian columnist Adrian Chiles the subject of one of the most eloquent, yet totally unhinged take-downs in British literary history on Wednesday.
In typical Self style, the deluge was brutal and enthralling, but was it a good idea?
Self is acerbic - known for his muscular musings on everything from snorting heroin on John Major’s plane to hating-on political correctness and social media. He’s like a literary Conor McGregor. Chiles, by contrast, is a literary Timothée Chalamet. He writes about sweet things, like the politics of nodding “Hello” to passers by in the street and struggling to find what he’s looking for in supermarkets. He doesn’t appear to want to fight anyone.
Well, something about Chiles got under Self’s skin on Thursday because Self bashed out 2,300 words of bile on the gentle Guardian muser.
I read the article and it was hard to know what Self finds most upsetting about Chiles because he took a scatter gun approach to his scorn. But the central premise was that Chiles must have a large cock or his “turgid” “flim-flam” would never be published. Writes Self:
“I did vaguely know he was in a relationship with Kath Viner, the editor of the Guardian, because I’d read a couple of columns he’d written for the paper that were such utter flim-flam (Wilde described wit as “the epitaph of an emotion”, and by extension, Chiles’s efforts are the epitaph of cogitation), that their presence in the paper was only explicable if his cock were in some way involved. Clearly, Ms Viner – if we accept the idea that she’s an even halfway decent newspaper editor – must be blinded by Chiles’s cock to at least this extent.”
As the article went on, Self didn’t let-up about Chiles’ appendage. The more he wrote about it, the more the piece turned into farce. And I don’t say that in a condescending way. I like farce. And Self does it well. But why go after Chiles?
Why go after any writer?
From what I’ve seen, creatives who slam other creatives in public tend to do so when their careers have dipped into irrelevency. They lash out at small targets, and explain away competitors’ success with graceless, overly-simplistic terms like “diversity”, “nepotism”, “large cock”.
But grace was never Will Self’s thing. He was always going to go down kicking people in the balls. It’ll be entertaining for a while, then it’ll be sad, then it’ll be entertaining again. And then one day no one will pay him for his work and he’ll have to get a Substack.
There is an alternative approach. And that’s where Self comes to grips with the idea that the literary version of The Wire and the literary version of Just Shoot Me can co-exist. If he can get his giant intellect around that tiny concept, then maybe he can cast his ire on more deserving subjects and return to being one of the great writers of our time.
Meanwhile, more people now know Adrian Chiles than they did last week. And that’s a good thing.