This blog was created as part of the Erasmus Mundus Crossways in Cultural Narratives Masters programme, which is the only one of the EU approved and funded Erasmus Mundus Masters programmes to specialise in traditional humanities with a modern languages background. The Crossways Consortium comprises 6 top-class European universities.

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Monday, 7 January 2008

Perpignan: Quantity Theory of the Self

by Poonam Ganglani

It was around 4pm on December 15 some weeks ago when we got to the Paris IV Sorbonne, in time for Prof. Girard's paper presentation on "Radical No-Saying: Paradoxes of the Will/Self". A group of us from his Decadent Literature class were there to attend an international conference on "Voices and Silence in the Contemporary Novel in English", particularly since Will Self, whose collection of short stories we are currently studying in class, was to be there in the evening for a reading and discussion.

It was around 5:15pm when Will Self-- tall, unimposing and quite resembling a vulture-- entered the hall and shortly after, began his reading.

I'm not sure what I expected him to be like. I had, till then, only known him as the creator of a topsy-turvy, bizarre world where the dead reside in a London suburb, where women grow penises, and where Amazonian tribes consider themselves interminably boring.

I have to be honest. The one thing I was quite sure of--from the mental picture I had constructed of Will Self-- was that I wouldn't like him. But when he finally began, he was surprisingly.....normal. Likable even. I must admit that I enjoyed everything--his theatrical excerpt reading from his recent work "The Book of Dave" , his beady-eyed addresses to the audience in his deep baritone voice, his evasive answers to the questions people asked him (including his replies to Prof Girard's particularly cornering questions) and even the way he politely asked me the spelling of my name before signing my copy of his book, "The Quantity Theory of Insanity."

When we stepped out of the Sorbonne a little while later, I asked Soma (a co-Mundus student who was also in Paris to attend the conference), what she thought of the whole thing. She stared at the road ahead of us as we walked looking at nothing in particular, the way she usually does when she's in critical thought. "I was disappointed", she said. "How come?" I asked, rather curious, but not too surprised that she thought differently. "That wasn't the real Will Self", she said, "it was a performance." "And what were you expecting?", I asked. "I was expecting someone who couldn't care two hoots about the reader...here, he wanted to be accepted... he was selling his product".

In retrospect, what she said it is true in a way. We all expected a more-- well--heterological experience, if I may use the word and it wasn't quite what we got. But then again, there has to be an equilibrium between extremes; and a writer who is so unconventional in his fiction has to balance it out by being urbororo-ly normal during a live exchange. That is, I suppose, the Quantity theory of the Self.