Saturday, April 21, 2007

Comedy of despair

You drag yourself out of the desert desperate for water, and the barman is busy. But this is not a romantic world. There's not enough Santa Claus to go round. Everyone treats each other with disdain. No one is indispensable. There are mothers of twins who have trouble getting the buggy in and out of shops. Who cares for these? There are people, our contemporaries, lost in libraries through the malice of evil librarians. Who loves these? We are all labouring under a lack of love, a bad situation for human beings. This situation is even bad for CATS.

The biggest threats to life now are leaky radiators, superglue and pre-cooked chicken. When people were dying all over the place (Schubert died just three months after declaring himself healthy), they lived with gusto. They did not waste a brushstroke because they feared death. But now people only die from their own or their doctor's negligence. Convinced of immortality, we're troubled by boredom, an inordinate sense of history and our own fecundity.

Animals have a much harder time of it. The world doesn't owe them a living. But at least they haven't forgotten what it's all about: you, the earth, the sky. Even trees know this.

- Lucy Ellmann, Varying Degrees of Hopelessness

[Varying Degrees of Hopelessness, by Lucy Ellmann, 1991. Love (and the lack of) and sex (and the lack of) at a funhouse-mirror version of the Courtauld Institute in the late 1980s. Talked of as a precursor to the chick-lit boom. Which, in the comic examination of single twenty-and-thirtysomething female lives, it probably is. But it's a hell of a lot odder than that: the anti-naturalism and the brevity, the madly individualistic style, the intensity that is sometimes a deadpan joke and sometimes not, the worrying at the facts of sickness and death - these could be descended from early Beckett. Which is not to accuse Lucy Ellmann of ever writing like anyone else.]

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