The Aura of Deferred Gratification

It’s 6.50am on Saturday morning in the mid-1980s. Me and the siblings are eagerly eyeing the letterbox, waiting for the postman to deliver The Beano and Eagle. When the letterbox snaps, all hell will break loose as only two of us will be victorious. The winners will scarper off and lock themselves away somewhere, devouring the comic in one sitting. This process will be repeated a couple of times before the battered comic is begrudgingly lobbed out onto the landing. When we’ve all read up, we’ll sit down and draw our favourite characters and then discuss how we’d defeat the Mekon or Doomlord if they visited Nottingham.

Saturday night is also when the videoman (back then it was always a man) will turn up in his rusty transit, peel back his creaking doors, and reveal 60 odd videos. So much choice! Problem is, we’re only allowed one film. Patience isn’t a virtue, it’s a necessity when there’s four of you. When it’s my turn I go for The Goonies. I’m allowed two friends to sleep over and we huddle under our bed covers in the front room and watch it repeatedly all night long until we know every line off by heart. Then the grim reality of waiting another month before I can choose another film, kicks in.

What these examples illustrate is the aura of material culture. 35 years later and I still find myself salivating when I hear our letterbox go – but now it’s just bills and credit card applications. Video has transformed into on-demand streaming that can be accessed 24/7 and comics can easily be purchased from bespoke shops such as Page 45 or found online for free – such as my own creations Dawn of the Unread and Whatever People Say I Am. And although I love the freedom and ease with which we can now access culture, I do miss the magic of deferred gratification.

In Ghostworld, which is 20 this year, one of the characters asks, ‘So, what’s my future?’ If asked this in March 2020, I doubt anybody would have said ‘wearing a mask, only allowed to leave the house for one hour of exercise a day, and a Tory government will implement a benefit scheme that will pay people not to go to work’. But this is exactly what happened when a disease that banished touch came along.

Our experiences of Covid vary, but I think one thing we all have in common is a greater appreciation for the everyday things we once took for granted. Eating out, seeing friends, listening to an elderly relative rattle on – have all become magical luxuries to be cherished. The banal has become spectacle.

Cinema is vital to this process of healing. To be sat in a dark cavernous auditorium laughing at a film together is not only about rebuilding a sense of community and connection but relishing shared experience.

During August, Broadway Cinema is looking at a hopeful future through comics, graphic novels and manga screen adaptations. Ghostworld, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year, is the centrepiece of the programming. As part of this, I was asked by Melissa Gueneau, the Cinema Programme Coordinator at Broadway, to write something for a zine they are creating to celebrate the season (this blog is an extension of that article). There was also the opportunity to get involved in a post-film discussion of Ghostworld but I declined this invitation. This is partly because I’ve lost my enthusiasm for public speaking (probably because I work in education so get sick of hearing my own voice) but also because I would much prefer to sit and listen to others talk about the film.

I’ve been creating comics since 2014 and it’s a slow and costly process that involves lots of people (writer, artist, script editor, colourist, letterer, digitization). But it’s nothing in comparison to the amount of people involved in creating and producing a film, many of whom have been laid off during lockdown. Consequently, sitting and watching a film in a cinema has taken on new meaning. It’s not just about connecting with people again, it’s about supporting an industry that’s been battered by Covid. If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that none of know our future. So best enjoy what you can, while you can.

Broadway Cinema, 14-18 Broad St, Nottingham NG1 3AL. The ‘So What’s my Future?’ season runs from 8 29 August. You can view the films Guardian)

  • Picture this: 3 possible endings for cinema as COVID pushes it to the brink (The Conversation)

  • Ghost World at 20: the comic-book movie that refused to conform (Guardian)

  • The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Walter Benjamin at MIT)

  • Broadway Cinema: So What’s My Future? (filmfeels.co.uk)

  •  

     

     

     

    A Geoff Dyer Moment with Geoff Dyer

    Geoff Dyer is the author of Out of Sheer Rage, my favourite book of all time. In this, he attempts to write a biography of D.H. Lawrence but is tormented, exhilarated, and exhausted by the process.

    ‘Looking back it seems, on the one hand, hard to believe that I could have wasted so much time, could have exhausted myself so utterly, wondering when I was going to begin my study of DH Lawrence; on the other, it seems equally hard to believe that I ever started it, for the prospect of embarking on this study of Lawrence accelerated and intensified the psychological disarray it was meant to delay and alleviate.’

    The book takes its title from a letter Lawrence wrote on 5 September 1914: ‘Out of sheer rage I’ve begun my book on Thomas Hardy. It will be about anything but Thomas Hardy I am afraid – queer stuff – but not bad.’

    Dyer tricks us into thinking he’s not writing about Lawrence but he’s writing about him all the time. Behind every vacillation and procrastination is an astute critical observation. For example, we find Dyer in a state of restlessness as he embarks on a move to Paris, or perhaps moving in with his girlfriend in Rome. These seemingly trivial details are annoying to the reader who wants explicit facts about Lawrence, not the bleddy author, but this is pure Lawrence. He was a notorious fidget arse. He never lived in the same place for more than two years. And then just when the reader is about to launch this self indulgent rant into the fire, Dyer gives us the connections.

    ‘And while he may not have owned a house, the Lawrences’ constant moving obliged them to keep making home. It is typical of Lawrence that, on the one hand, he became more and more anxious about finding a place to settle and, on the other, achieved the ideal condition of being at home anywhere: ‘I feel a great stranger, but have got used to that feeling, and prefer it to feeling “homely”. After all, one is a stranger, nowhere so hopelessly as at home.’

    It’s full of subtle nuances like this that slowly reveal the essence of Lawrence’s personality. It’s also a commentary on the process and point of writing as well as the purpose of literary criticism. It’s with this in mind that Dyer reserves his greatest scorn for academia which ‘kills everything it touches. Walk around a university campus and there is an almost palpable smell of death about the place because hundreds of academics are busy killing everything they touch.’

    I reread Out of Sheer Rage every year and it gets better each time as my knowledge of Lawrence deepens. It also partly inspired our approach (Paul Fillingham and I) to the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre. We wanted to create an alternative to the linear biography and curate Lawrence’s life through artefacts rather than a rigid chronology. Just as Dyer’s book implores us to feel Lawrence rather than analyse him with cold detachment, so too we want the form of our project to reflect the content. If Lawrence was ‘was nomadic to the point of frenzy’ then our memory theatre must be nomadic too and retrace Lawrence’s footsteps across Europe and New Mexico.

    Lawrence is impossible to pin down – either in movement or in classifying his work. He wrote plays, short stories, novels, travelogues, essays, poems, painted, and was pretty handy at DIY. Likewise, Dyer refuses categorisation. I saw Dyer give a talk at Nottingham Contemporary many years ago. I was sat close to the front row eagerly awaiting his entrance when a spindly figure turned up late during the introductions and sat down in front of me. He kept fidgeting. Everything about his presence was annoying. I was about to tell him to show some respect when the presenter called out ‘Now I’d like to welcome Geoff Dyer to the podium’ and the irritant in front of me got up.

    In November I joined the Idler magazine ‘In Conversation with Geoff Dyer’ on Zoom. It quickly became a very Geoff Dyer experience. A week before the talk, co-presenter Victoria Hull asked if anyone had any questions. I replied and was asked if I’d like to ask Geoff the question myself. I said yes, even though I didn’t want to. On the day of the talk I was a complete bag of nerves, convinced I’d make a malapropism, or stutter, or the wi-fi would cut out, or the GF would interrupt and ask why I was idling about again instead of doing the washing up, etc. All of these possible permutations made the whole experience thoroughly unenjoyable. And of course, I never got to ask the question anyway.

    Another distraction was obsessing about how close I was to Dyer in the weird, disembodied grid that is Zoom. He was one up, two across. A crossword clue away. Yet technically he was miles apart, calling in from Los Angeles. The problem with having 300 odd squares featuring strangers is I instantly wanted to know who these strangers were and if any of these strangers were more significant than the other strangers. And so, another distraction began: celebrity bingo.

    It was while scrolling through the pages of other guests (while trying to memorise my question) I noticed a woman painting while the talk was going on. Not only painting but eating and painting. Did she not understand the etiquette of Zoom? Was she aware she was eating with her mouth open? What was she painting that was more important than listening to Geoff Dyer? Was she being deliberately obtuse? Of course what made her rudeness even more annoying was it meant I was focusing on her rather than Geoff Dyer. Fortunately, the talk was recorded and is now available on YouTube – minus the other guests – so there’s no excuse to get distracted.

    The next Idler talk is Adam Buxton on 3 December. You can subscribe to the Idler for £39.95 (6 issues and free entry to talks) here.

    You can visit the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre here or pitch artefacts and ideas to us on our instagram account: DHLawrenceDigitalPilgrimage here