I read all but the last two pages of Music & Literature No. 7 over a month ago, before my trip to the Balkans, before I was shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards, before I began working on Batch 2 of #TotNTV, before I published two reviews in Open Pen, two new pieces on the Huffington Post, submitted two pieces of literature to an anthology for works on addiction, sent off some work for a weird collection of avant garde haiukus, wrote a post apocalyptic love song, and had some of my writing workshopped in a casual new writing group. In short, I read this magazine before I had one of my intermittent periods of reinvesting time and energy into my “creative pursuits “. It’s almost like the meaninglessness of almost winning an award has been great for my (usually weak) sense of worth. OR it’s that I was so enthused by Music & Literature No. 7 that I threw myself back into the pursuit of the Word. Maybe it’s a bit of both. LET’S SAY IT’S A BIT OF BOTH.
I bought Music & Literature No. 7 for one reason, that name in the middle on the pictured cover, Ann Quin. Quin was a mid 20th century British experimental writer, she’s the one who wrote Berg and Passages, the writer from Brighton, the one who drowned herself in the sea off her hometown. She’s the one who was B. S. Johnson’s main rival, the one ignored even more than he was after their similarly-timed suicides, and the one who is – finally – starting to get a bit more attention outside of niche interest groups. A friend of mine is about to start working on a PhD on Ann Quin: Ann Quin is trending, Ann Quin is cool, Ann Quin is zeitgeisty. Ann Quin’s unpublished/uncollected works are being published soon(ish) by And Other Stories, and I believe that is the root of the focus on her in this magazine, which also looks at the work of Paul Griffiths and Lera Auerbach.
In the section about Ann Quin, the work included is both by her and about her. The work by her are short stories, rather than novel extracts, so things I had not read before. They’re great, which is reassuring: engaging, alarming, moving, experimental. There are extracts from an interview, there are casual and formal essays about Quin as well as creative writing inspired by her. Contributors include Deborah Levy, Joanna Walsh, Ian Patterson, Kate Zambreno plus other people I hadn’t heard of, all of whom emphasise the value and importance of Quin’s work: her legacy, her import. This is great to read and to find, y’know, appreciation of a previously overlooked writer you liked. Quin’s liberal attitudes towards sex and drug use come up repeatedly, and it may be these that make her a palatable writer for the modern age – Quin often discussed the threesomes and hallucinogens she took, just like all the hipsters, yo, and without the kind of shame that all the sad, repressed losers like me have when they think of physicality.
Quin’s work speaks of someone more aware of the realities of bodily pleasure than someone like Johnson, although his sexual repression is one of the things that chimes the most with me. I’m far too repressed to enjoy anything, other than books, without shame, and I struggle to imagine how I’d change that, not that I want to.
Let’s digress. I don’t understand how people are able to fuck without shame but not shag constantly. For me – and certainly someone like B. S. Johnson – it is the great, overwhelming shame and sense of disgust that keeps my trousers on, that stops me from cracking bottles and popping pills at daybreak daily. I often find myself confused that the world isn’t more depraved, as no one else seems as repressed as me, but laterally I’ve come to wonder if I’m perhaps more self-destructive than others, if I need to be more repressed for my own safety. I have asked writers, when interviewing them for Triumph of the Now TV, why society doesn’t collapse, why people don’t rut in the dirt high on rotten apples until death takes us mid-thrust (not in those terms), but no one has yet answered with the same sense of urgency that I – secretly – ask the question. Am I wrong about our base desires, or is everyone else in even more denial about our corrupt animal natures than I am?
Ann Quin behaved in a way I imagine everyone would do if they could – create gorgeous art, then swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh. But I worry sometimes that lots of people don’t want that, in contrast to having just convinced themselves they don’t want that. I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know. What are we? Are we more than flesh or less than it? Are we animals that have gotten above their station or are we spiritualised effervescence that doesn’t understand its own import? I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know.
It is culture that separates us from the animals, the people who think we’re better than them argue. High culture, especially, Art with a capital A, The Arts with a capital T and A. I don’t encounter much “high culture”. I see a lot of comedy and I read a lot of books, but I tend to avoid things that outwardly exclude people. I’m not into opera or classical music or “proper” theatre, because they are exclusive. Music & Literature is a magazine about high culture, about things that normal people – a bracket I would hesitatingly include myself within – don’t notice. Can you name a contemporary classical music composer other than Philip Glass? Do you know how many ‘L’s Phillip Glass has in his name? No, you probably don’t, I don’t, most people don’t. The final third of this magazine is about Lera Auerbach, a composer, musician and writer of cultural products of such an elite status that she should be considered a niche cultural product, whereas this magazine discusses her as if a household name. Paul Griffiths is a librettist and writer, who wrote a novel – called let me tell you – based on the character Ophelia from Hamlet, and the novel only uses word that the character speaks within the play. It sounds quite good, but it’s a niche cultural product.
I suppose this magazine made me think – especially all the bits about Quin’s depression, her great contribution to literature and a life that included more luxuriant, decadent, physical abandon than I imagine mine will ever now contain – about the detachment I have from normal people. I felt alienated by the way the first and final third of this magazine spoke about their contributors, spoke about classical music and spoke of its relevance. These are things I forget, fully forget, happen today, and so do most people. I feel guilty that I haven’t listened to the new Kendrick Lamar album yet, but I feel no shame, no confusion, no disappointment, that I haven’t listened to a single symphony since I was a postgraduate student and did this piece for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I don’t think of classical music as a relevant or contemporary cultural field, and to suddenly be confronted with the idea that the kind of book I’m interested in has the same level of importance as fucking opera – OPERAS, FUCKING OPERAS IN 2017!!! THERE ARE NEW OPERAS, WHO THE FUCK WATCHES NEW OPERAS – is profoundly distressing. If the books I’m reading and getting excited by are as relevant as CONTEMPORARY VIOLINISTS then I may as well be wanking into steaks, shoving sticks of hash up my arse and rubbing cocaine under my foreskin. It’s TERRIBLE if the things I’m interested in put me on a par with the elitist, detached, poshos who go to “galas” and wear suits in the evenings and think society is going very nicely, thank you very much. I don’t think society is going nicely, I don’t think things are good or cool or alright, y’know. I think things are fucking shit, and the things that make us pretend that isn’t the case are “bad” and “dangerous” because they might kill us, but quite frankly I’d rather die tomorrow at a drug-fuelled orgy than watch a three hour classical symphony. I’m going to do neither, and I’m unlikely EVER to do the first one. I’m not Ann Quin, sadly I am more like the staid tuxedos who’d rather watch contemporary opera than head out into the ‘burbs, dogging. I deserve the alienating, elitist, Music & Literature No. 7 because I’m no more in touch with my animal nature than these fucking whack-jobs are who think ballet should be subsidised by the state.
I enjoyed the Ann Quin section, but if I enjoyed that it means I’m the correct readership for this magazine, which means I’m a cultural elite. Maybe I am, who knows, but that isn’t how I think of myself.
To be honest, though, I’m more likely to buy another issue of Music & Literature than I am to drop acid, so I’m part of the problem, I’m part of the lies. I probably need a party.