Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Being looked at

I was on television the other day. Watching the recording afterwards was weird, like watching a ghost.
The human gaze assesses you. Addressing "the public" can be euphoric or horrible. The public doesn't have to fill a huge lecture hall. We've all been there in the school playground. It's the configuration that counts. It's you at the focus, and - it need only be three - the public arranged around you in that imprisoning curve, facing in. With rapt attention. Or excited anticipation of violence upon your person. Or active indifference, their stony gazes all slightly elsewhere.
This is the prototype public gaze. Anybody who has addressed the class, or the lecture hall, or the hobby or lobby or pressure group, and failed to make contact with a single pair of eyes, failed to elicit a personal response, even if it's only a puzzled frown directed into the inside of your head - but hopefully it's a nod and smile - will know the cold sweat, sinking horror, barely controllable urge to flee. Experienced mass communicators single out individuals for that reason, not just to display the human touch, but to be welcomed by another human being, to fend off the terror of isolation. Because our evolutionary group instincts are strong. We know that if we are isolated like this for long, they are going to kill us.
I hate being looked at. I am sitting at a meal, or standing at a party, and suddenly somebody will ask the question, whatever it is, that amounts to "Who are you?" "What are you? "How do you define yourself?" And because there is a lull in interest elsewhere, eyes turn towards you. And my top lip instantaneously bubbles sweat, and I panic, and gabble something along the lines of, "Nothing, really. Oh my goodness, just look over there."
But put me on a stage, or even give me my head in a bit of political street theatre, and I'm away. I can perform, but I cannot merely be, not in any open or transparent sense, in public.
Nevertheless situations arise. J, the other half of Ogo Press, has been writing round to friends, many from the middle reaches of the past, to publicise Torc. My god, what distinction so many of them have achieved, as writers, professors, directors, even a successful global investment fund manager. While I, well here am I, perfectly undistinguished, lacking the slightest blip of emininence.
Such as I am, like most people this side of the manic I guess, I spend time being quite depressed about myself and time feeling quite pleased. I brood on the fact that I am an idle waster, and then on the fact that I am brooding on my idle waste rather than getting on with the kind of energetic and in their own way world-conquering things that other people do. Then I have a cup of coffee, re-read a review, look at a bit of work, and feel quite self-assured. So it goes on, up and down and round and round until, I guess, we are run over by a bus or too old to care.
But now, on Amazon, in order to encourage people to buy this book - the commercial imperative - and to read it - the egotistical imperative - I have to write about myself, because Amazon suggests the publisher do that, and I am the half of the the publisher who is meant to have imagination. I have to make myself sound attrative, and dynamic, and exciting, and as close as decently possible to being a genius while still keeping the slight contact with "objective reality" that we politely refer to as the truth.
The post below is what I wrote - it's not on Amazon yet because they say it takes five business days; and maybe they have some sort of decency filter which vapourises hyperbole.
Was it hard to do? Did I quail and sweat and want to flee the page. Certainly not. I enjoyed it. You should try it. Write your own three line eulogy. It's pure performance, exhibitionism, a virtuoso act. Do it. Share my shame. Don't miss the opportunity. It'll become just another part of you, and one that's worth having.
But I still hate people looking at me.

Torc - ISBN 9780955590603

These short stories range from the familiar and familial to the bizarre and the, in that seductive "Oh no, oh yes, oh no" kind of way, quite shivery. There is human sacrifice by a Swedish summer lake, and the murder of a voluptuous American tourist in Spain's other Versailles by a guerrilla troupe of ultra-European actors. An invisible shepherd mines a golden sexual vein in a Greek palace three thousand years ago. An old woman has visions of eastern orgies and transcendental holiness through the hedge of her very English terrace garden. A young woman from a failing central African state, swathed in a burka, meets an M15 spook in a London park to address the matter of her president's forked penis and his predilection for the discipline of traditional nursing. Nearer home, a good husband dallies with his mistress while his wife takes a succession of driving tests; and an elderly couple visit a computer screen to be informed of the cosmetic, and other, possibilities of genetic engineering. Elsewhere, holy adultery is practised and explored while raging old men expound the Abrahamic law.

Those already familiar with Waddington's style will recognise the slightly narcotic combination of the sensual and the cerebral, the arrestingly elegant and the look away crude. You are lulled as you are lured, charmed as blades are unsheathed, and you are left, more alive than before, with strange reflections playing across the shadows of your mind.

James Waddington has published a novel, Bad to the Bone [Dedalus 1998], which has been translated into French, Italian and Russian. Some of his short stories have appeared previously in magazines and anthologies. He writes and broadcasts on drugs in sport, theories of culture, the enigma of religion, bicycle technology; and any combination of any or all of the above.
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