I am actually more interested in the whole flow of information, who controls it and why, and my interest in this is as much artistic as it is political, or social.
If you are a novelist, or a painter, you have the socially-granted right to not only be as pretentious about your work as you like, but also to have your words granted a veneer of artistic license. Why can’t anyone discuss themselves in story terms?
They can, and do. And not only in the oral traditions of the pre-printing world.
I have always been annoyed by this distinction between “high” and “low” – as if it cannot be applied to rap music, or pop music. As if popular culture can only ever be literal (and yet, still frivolous) whereas “high” art can take whatever liberties it likes with empirical truth.
My father once told me that my granddad ran away from his family at a young age, joined the army, and changed his name (just slightly) to avoid detection.
The change in surname stayed with the family.
When I reminded him of this story recently, he smiled and said
“Ah, your granddad was one for the stories…”
I paused for a second, as he stared wistfully into the middle distance, waiting for some conclusion.
On that occasion, at least, I never got the full story.
Should we research our family tree, would it reveal the “real” name of my family – ie, without my grandfather’s adjustment? I don’t know. I don’t think I need to know.
It makes a good story.
Maybe I’ll tell the full version someday….
Still, I’m trying to learn patience with not being able to control every piece of information about myself. (In my more optimistic moments, I see it as another opportunity to be creative. In pessimistic times, it’s an affront to my right to create myself however I see fit.)
But we do create ourselves, even if our former selves are permanently preserved in pictures and other digital information. In Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal (2011), the writer discusses the nagging and frequent questions about Which Bits Were Real and Which Bits Were Made Up in her (semi-?) autobiographical novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (1985).
(I wasn’t sure what year the book was published, so I googled it. I suppose you think that’s ironic, don’t you?)
I am similarly intrigued and occasionally annoyed by the desire to know those kinds of things about art, or even entertainment without those kinds of pretensions (YES, I have those kinds of pretensions). Why would you want to know “for sure” that
Stewart Lee also discusses these issues in his stand-up act, especially in the live DVD Stand-Up Comedian, where he discusses his adoption.
In a more recent live release, Carpet Remnant World, Lee reads out several negative comments about himself from internet forums, or comments on articles. Personally, I like that he blurs the line between the ones that are “real” and those he’s made up for comic effect. He even gets some laughs out of the fact that some of the quotes he reads are made up.
Just to be explicit about it*, I’m aiming at the same thing kind of idea with lyrics, and other writing. I might not have the talent, but I am quite good with grammar, which of course, aids clarity. Maybe I’ll discuss that in next week’s blog.
Cheerio for now.