I’ve started reading again, after three months of lockdown, when I mainly watched a myriad of YouTube videos, and managed to complete a first draft of my modest history of the London Musicians’ Collective. So, my recommenced reading has been kick started by a re-reading K-Punk, the collected writings of the late Mark Fisher, and a first reading of Here Comes Everybody, Anthony Burgess’ 1965 ‘Introduction to James Joyce for the ordinary reader’. It is this idea of the Ordinary Reader that interests me most here.
Burgess wrote this in his Preface:
“ The time is coming for both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake to be made available for the paperback audience that already knows his earlier, more orthodox, fiction. This audience needs the guidance of a sort of pilot-commentary, and that is what my book tries to be”.
Remember that this was the era of Paul McCartney’s ‘Paperback Writer’, which presupposed a growing audience of educated working class readers, one that ‘needed the guidance’ of paternalistic and patrician Virgils such as Burgess, who one would have thought would be ideal, what with his Clockwork Orange of three years earlier, with its working class protagonists and their own particular meta-language. All this aside, it would be interesting to have heard hear the reactions of the ‘average’ Ordinary Reader to this Introduction to Joyce, back in 1965.
Jump forward to 2018, a year after Fisher’s death, and as his editor,Darren Ambose, sought to reassure potential readers about the contents of this weighty (about the same length as Ulysses) compilation of the hyper-referential critic’s work:
“Some of his references and allusions are undoubtedly challenging and potentially intimidating -Spinoza, Kant, Nietzsche, Marcuse, Adorno, Althusser, Deleuze and Guattari, Baudrillard, Jameson, Zizek, Zupancic, Badiou, Beradi, Lacan - but his writing is never marked by the zealous pedantry exhibited by so much academic writing in the theoretical humanities”. I count myself a reasonably informed Ordinary Reader, and yet I hadn’t even heard of at least four of these ‘names’, making it, at least in my terms, a ‘specialist’ read. Just like, I’m afraid, is Ulysses, which has nevertheless always remained my own personal favourite book over the past five decades
“Theoretical humanities” and “academic writings”? Ambrose rather disingenuously gives himself away right at the beginning, just as Burgess did with his ‘paperback audience’s need for guidance’ pat-on-the-head comment. Fisher was indeed an academic, with his PhD in Philosophy from my own alma mater, the University of Warwick, and his Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU.) Which is all fine, but hardly lets the Ordinary Reader know what’s in store in terms of potential difficulties with the jargon and specificities of Cultural Studies literature..
I well remember, back in 1977, when I and my circle had completed our undergraduate degrees at Warwick (which was far less well-regarded, at least academically, back then) and we were all wondering what to do next; and one of our own revealed that he was going to Sheffield University to do a further degree, in Cultural Studies. We all asked ‘WTF is ‘Cultural Studies’ when it’s at home? Two years later, we all began to find out, when Ian Penman started to write for the New Musical Express, our bible at the time.
To be continued.