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Dorian - Will Self

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Author: Will Self / 288 pages / Publisher: Grove Press / Released: January 20, 2004

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      17.08.2012 13:33
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      Self The Great Imitator

      Published by Viking in 2002, Penguin in 2003.
      Duration: 277 pages

      My, what a 'Wildean' tribute - Self, delivers an updated version to Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Grey'. Already eloquently structured via Wilde's feathered quill, featuring obscenely bumptious decadence armed with frivolities - Self manages to transport Wilde's Dorian Grey ninety years onwards, into the early 1980's, his imitation Dorian is laced with a black comedic pathos.

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      Eternal youth, is a Wildean prose evident in, 'The Picture of Dorian Grey'. The mirroring foundation is never far away in Self's interpretation called 'Dorian'. Self has the know-how and boundless intellect to have pulled off such a feat to 'successfully re-invent a Dorian written by the literature grandiose of Wilde and teleport the performance to Brixton London to the year 1981'. Self is logistically at ease when it comes to London digs, Cockney slang, land of hope and gory, filtering in nostalgia as if it was an aromatic coffee bean scent parading around the nasal hairs. He quickly desensitizes his audience by painting a still life via wordage: 'crusty bread, knife, needles (many of them), jiggling-man at the window' and builds up an image, the characters parade in the same bumptious means Wilde would have opted. Henry and Victoria Wotton, high aristocracy a product of Royal Chelsea, Dorian Grey, the show-piece, Adonis, eloquently devilish, the honey-pot for the homosexual eye. Basil Hallward (Baz) the creator, 'artist extraordinaire' - notorious for exhibiting budding flowers, fruits and tarts.

      Self had initially tinkered with the Wilde's narrations prior to writing 'Dorian' in a different format - but actually, going in with your muddy size nines' and replicating your master's work is something to behold and admire from a writer's perspective. All what was required was to flick the linseed oil at ian era choice; no-one can depict a scene of stiff regal Victorianism like Oscar Wilde can.

      Instead of a painting, Self's readership is subjected to 'Cathode Narcissus'; Hallward's installation, a performance art piece of a body form of Dorian, captured on VHS tape - Postmodernism's 'contemporary flâneur' - Eadweard Muybridge (1830 - 1904) 'Phase Two' - 'the replicating moving image' . Amusing choice of media from the author, especially as 'installation was seen as the new weapon of choice for contemporary artists - spatial awareness and ones entity entwined in a sea of pretentious balderdash. Evidence of a chasm of how art has changed since Victorian times, it simply gone 'anal' (excuse the cheek). Art, or what is deemed to be art, had evolved beyond the canvass, it was questionable to say the least, and Self's era witticism to what denotes as 1980's aestheticism ticks the humour boxes. Hallward wallowing in an artist ditch of needles, excrement and demise epitomised what came of many 'so-called bright minds'. A perfectly formed Dorian rotates around as if he was Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni's 'David'; on an embankment of thick screened video monitors; nine in all. Silent in audio, the vision of Dorian nakedness is described as a rose just about to bud. Self adopts no hint of euphemism, when expected, a testament to the writer's intellect. The script rolls on - natural big digs at postmodernism and profoundly acute in its delivery. Hallward the artist is seen as the dire druggy sweat fest whose desires are creatively warped with excruciating lust for his subject, a doppelganger curse indeed. Homo-erotism played out daily to a raging homosexual, and poor Hallward craved for it as much as the drugs. A hovel of a being - Self, was merciless.

      Chronologically, 'Dorian' is a master class of adding that believability aspect to a book - Self's Dorian Grey is of the same generation as the late Princess of Wales; their lives are played out simultaneously as if on a VHS movie set. In regards to events, both were eternally youthful, confident in public, doting and poised at events, engaging to be around and charming to the ear and vision. Self's strengths in magnitude are the means in which era shapes a novel, the distinct Jaguar XJS moves along as if on a red carpet even if driven precariously. The lyrics of 'Soft Cell' breaking the twilight ambiance not only due to the, 'Once I ran to you (I ran)... Now I'll run from you' lyrics, accompanied with the hiss sound of the tape audio that plagued a generation - Dorian Grey's portrayal grows initially as a naïve just out of college kidult who'd split up with his girlfriend to opt for a bit of the big bad smoke - educated, intelligent, yet required a fatherly figure, a confidante. Wotton obliged naturally, and Dorian was his protégé or 'plaything' was more like it - What Wotton achieved in several days was what Hallward had wanted to do for months, to seduce the innocent, beauty of Dorian - make him squeal like a piggy dog. Wotton's managed to do the deed in his marital home, under the nose of 'Batface' (Victoria Wotton, Henry's wafer wife). Along with 'Fag Clubs' for the eternally horny 'just come out homosexual' and prestigious dines a whole new world was opening up for Dorian to have a piece of - one being a debauchery Congo ring orgy whom one bad egg in the mix, unchecked and dosed up on a cocktail of drugs smudged lives forever. The six year 'age of ignorance' queerly spun out of control, pointing its damnation finger as a means of punishment at those who've lusted and had been infected by queer flesh, indeed took it's toll. In Octavia the cruelty of a narcotic rape, left a victim psychologically tortured, and diseased - one of many destroyed.

      Amongst the new romantics, mods and *ockers - deed's were flourishing as 'Rimbaud', 'Gucci', 'Fiorucci' designer emporiums embraced shoppers; they glittered the London streets with crocodile shoes, tiaras and tears. Warhol was revamped from his 'factory' and the queens' parade like accessories from a 'Bjorn Again Abba Tour' eager for 'prom't' prom' in the land of grope and gory. Dorian had pangs for Manhattan; a port of call perhaps on the search for the American dream. 'If he can make it there, he could make it anywhere'. 'Cathode Narcissus' on tow - Hallward may escape his narcotic demons, perhaps another illusion. Whether it is to do with personal acridity that makes subjects of gay sex offensive or whether a reader is a covert homophobe - Self depicts the 1980's toffs and queers scene with a flamboyancy that may repulse readers - A sign of a clever writer is enabling the reader to see into the window of debauchery and then make them ponder the scripts legitimacy. Did I just read that? Oh how gross! Why does the jigging-man incessantly jiggle? Is it one of Self's metaphors that if the table was turned, what would happen if the jigging-man didn't jiggle? 'Dorian' is a jiggle, and a giggle from Self, 'noir comedy' with more than a spoonful of the grotesque, perhaps a 'Wildean' Self had imitated. Henry Wotton character could easily be Self, an egotistical man, old for his years, quick-witted - love the sound of one's vocals and exercises in being a polyglot. The Wotton's are a pillar of the community for charity giving's, figure-headed by 'Batface' his wife; by which Henry engages in at dinner, only to retire into his private quarters with a foray of gentleman of high society, gossiping over the sordid details of old comrades namely Dorian Grey. The snippets of scenarios were hardly inflamed, if, anything; what was coming back to Chelsea was mere lineage in comparison to the reality.

      Drug dealers equip themselves with delicate bird name pseudo; a bird via default is, 'friendly' and 'jiggling'. A Self made quip - that works by the same analogy that 'Big Daddy's' real name was 'Shirley' - If, they've managed to survive in the druggy underworld with an affiliated girl's name or bird name, they're not to be messed with. As Wotton retiringly embarks on life's new role of a disease riddled, partially blind man. His Aids fully advanced, doctor visit like an intravenous drip; his old dalliances have either surpassed to lesser jaundiced / grey flesh or they've succumbed to dust. It's now sixteen years on, and a gaunt, goofy nine year old girl plays in the dawn dew - an addition to the Wottons. Victoria a fulltime carer now, she knows of her husband's fate and like an old matted mare ploughs on being a dutiful socialite with her paper errands and grisly chores. When it comes to bodily fluids Self's accuracies have got to be applauded even if your face say's another story. There is an element of wallowing in ones' fluids may to a few seem 'overcooked somewhat' - albeit, it isn't any different to watching a erotic chainsaw movie, during the heavy blooded days of kitsch - Self, is highly tuned to the era and it is played out in his adaptation of 'Dorian'. Dorian's ills are clearly evident yet on the surface his silky complexion remains untouched, he physically hasn't changed since the birth of 'Cathode Narcissus', his mind is distorted, as he sees the diseased Dorian manifesting itself onto the grainy monitor screens. That's VHS Video tape for you, sixteen years on.

      Great imitator

      When it comes to morbidity, Self embraces the fact that art or literature lives on for years after the death of an author or artist. The concept plays a vital part in Self's 'Dorian', it shapes the outcome and delivers character damnations. There is a psycho analyst aspect to how mental health eventually catches up with your evil deeds, a Karma essence which completes the book perfectly - black comedy in its finest form, hilarious yet with streams of truth. The evils are desensitised in the maverick script's, i.e. 'purposefully infecting victims' becomes less horrific due to the fact what has gone on before it. Self's complexities is marvelled, the socially unsullied Dorian in a drug-fuelled London in the 1980's which mirrors the life of 'Diana Princess of Wales' when it comes to wealth and influence is admirable. The raconteur twists in response to postmodernism is a savage hilarity and that to me is where Self's 'Dorian' captures the reality, the believability, which overall works as a fitting imitation to the great man's work 'Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Grey'.

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