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Free Thinking Will Self

November 1, 2008

Will Self has been a genuine surprise. A considerably more learned friend of mine suggested that Self was a master in making most people feel as though they really hadn’t studied enough. I could see what my friend meant.

Self takes dryness to a new level. He’s off the dry-scale. Whenever I’ve seen him on Newsnight Review I’ve never really been sure quite how to take him. In fact, if memory serves me correctly I may possibly have turned to long-suffering partner (from hereonin referred to merely as LSP) and said “The man doesn’t like anything, does he?”. I had this assessment in my head when I went along (almost too late) to the opening lecture in this year’s Free Thinking Festival at the Bluecoat, Liverpool on Friday 31 October.

I was, of course, being a fool. In his lecture, Self deftly illustrated the striking the differences between the thoughts we read about in our favourite novels and the reality of our own day to day thoughts. In so doing he skilfully demonstrated his mastery at the English language and why he is the successful novellist and literary anti-celebrity he is. Oh, and I almost forgot, he made me laugh like a queen too.

There’s something special about the Free Thinking Festival. It’s almost impossible to put my finger on. It’s something to do with the location and the fact that I feel as though for the rest of the year I’m starved of the kind of intelligent feeding of the kind there is on offer during this all-too-short weekend.

At first I reckoned referring to what struck me as the mere simple and possibly middle-aged pleasure of sitting and listening to a speaker read out his thoughts in front of an audience as something of an indulgence. 

Now, having listened to the same lecture back a second time during the relayed broadcast on Radio 3, it feels more accurate to refer to these events as a treat. Hearing and seeing someone speak makes for a personal experience. It’s something we just don’t get very much of. Or, at least, it’s something I don’t do enough of.

Self’s appearance this evening has changed my views about him. Not only that, but the criteria he’s using to judge whether his contribution to this year’s festival has been a success or not presents me with an interesting challenge.

Does his illustration of what the reality of human thought is make the likes of Jane Austen’s naturalism nothing but therapy for the reader? I can’t wait to pick up a copy and see for myself. Well done Self.

Will Self’s opening lecture in this year’s Free Thinking Festival is avalailable for the next seven days on BBC iPlayer or via /programmes. Go listen.

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