I took Mr. QUENTIN CRISP to luncheon circa 1994. He had knowingly arranged his life-style so that such treats were possible; one merely rang him up. “Mr. Crisp? I am a writer from Canada. I’d like to take you to luncheon.” “Let me get out the holy book,” he drawled, audibly hauling over a daybook that quite possibly bespoke a busy lunch schedule or was completely blank. We met at his favourite greasy spoon on the Lower East Side. I gave him the shish kebab from my Greek “salad.”

In How to Have a Life<hyphen>Style, Mr. Crisp presaged phenomena that are now commonplace.

  • Above all it is necessary to inculcate one’s own individualities, Mr. Crisp argues, for that is the genesis of style.

    Most people are at present content to cherish their mere identity. This is not enough…. You have to polish up your raw identity into a life-style so that you can barter with the outside world for what you want.

  • To become famous, talent is an asset. But nothing more.

    It used to be thought that only the rich and famous needed style. Television has changed all that. We can now see that there are people in our society who can earn vast sums of money, become the world’s sweetheart, be photographed at airports, and be known by name to hotel proprietors without displaying talent of any kind.

  • Mr. Crisp anticipated Fran Lebowitz in a number of ways, though they share a core message – “I don’t like writing. I like having written.” As did another wit.

    As [Mr.] Noël Coward has said, television is not a thing to watch. It is a thing to be on.

  • Speaking of which: As Mr. Crisp has elsewhere noted, in New York you are on the minute you walk out the door. Now it is true everywhere.

    Any one of us, be he ever so humble, may find himself “on,” and woe to him if he is not prepared with his own style. […]

    [W]e must do more than think of [television] as an enemy against whose intermittent stares we must brace ourselves. We must welcome its interest and rise joyfully to its challenge by taking our life-style with us wherever we go…. Soon there will be very few professions that are not also the profession of acting.

  • Of course reality makes for good television. But how real is it?

    Once upon a time the dross of everyday existence was considered quite unsuitable material for drama. Life was accidental, repetitious, unedifying. Tragedies were the opposite – formal, articulate and shot through with moral purpose. In spite of the apparent distance between these two planets, they were secretly set on a collision course from the beginning of time….Now the situation is so bad that we can plot the point where the drama and the documentary will crash. It will happen on television….

    Mr. Kenneth Loach, the television and film director, is… on record as having said that he wants television plays to look like the news. What a poor wingless creature he must be! Why does he not want the news to be as well acted as a play?

  • On “that classless, stateless, all-purpose human unit that now wanders up and down King’s Road or any similar street in any of the big cities of the world,” the connected teenager:

    This being has been deprived of all the smaller group styles on which he could have begun to build an individual style. To start from the ground up, without help, seems too arduous a task. He finds it easier to identify merely with the fact of being young and has more in common with the teenagers of Tokyo than with an elder brother…. The young have become like those primitive tribes whose oneness is such that their members can communicate with one another without speech and, if necessary, across hundreds of miles of desert.

  • The electronic book will take the form of an eternal river. It will also come with cover art that is a skiamorph of another era.

    If the spoken word is not quickly restored to health, we shall soon be in a very bad way indeed, for the written word is on the way out altogether….

    [A] book will be in a little vulcanite box (in a Penguin paperback colour to show to which category of literate it belongs). Proceeding from one corner of this contraption there will be a flexible tube with a mechanical device at the end of it which the “reader” will fit into his ear like a hearing aid. Once in a while he will go to the library and say to the girl behind the counter, “I’ve come to get my Ian Flemings recharged.” Then, on the way home on the bus – I mean the municipal helicopter – as he sits plugged in to whatever book is in his breast pocket, a fatuity born of murmuring sound will pass into his face.

    When that day comes, literary style as we know it will be obsolete.


The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.02.01 16:20. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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