Skyscrapers and Self expression

Do you love or hate Will Self? I bet if you have read any of his writing you won’t be indifferent. I’m not indifferent but I can’t quite make up my mind. I both love his writing and hate his writing. Why? I love it because he is so clever. And I hate it because he is so clever.

He uses big words like synecdoche, which I have looked up in the past and forgotten and can’t be bothered to look up again. Impressive. And annoying. He makes endless puns and circumlocutions and word play. Clever and funny and admirable. And somehow distracting as well.


Now Will Self feels about something rather the way that I feel about him. He can’t make his mind up, he told us at length in Saturday’s Guardian, about skyscrapers.

He writes: ‘The current architectural zeitgeist, whereby form invariably follows finance, finds its purest expression in the skyscrapers de nos jours, with their parametrically designed waveforms that positively billow with opportunism.

‘Yet I also love them – truly, I do. I love their Promethean swagger; I love their ability to transform our perception of the city by proposing a new parallax around which we instantly reorient as we tunnel along at ground level. And I love the way that they are seemingly purpose-built to accompany what Marshall McLuhan described as the “instantaneous medium” of electricity.’

He explores this, at length, talking about the Shard and Renzo Piano but also about Tolkien and King Kong and Mecca. At the end you (well I) am really not sure what point he is making, but the ride has been fantastic. Showing off with not much point? That is what many of our skyscrapers seem to be about.

And how great to have a cultural critic addressing contemporary architecture in such an unusual and, yes, erudite way. Time to get the dictionary out.

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