Last Saturday, I went to the Aubrey Beardsley exhibition at Tate Britain. Beardsley's style was recognisable pretty much from the start and what you ended up with was the sense that here was a man who, artistically, knew exactly what he was doing. What he had was the kind of certainty that allows you to forge your own "voice", be it in writing, music or art. I always find this invigorating – it's the equivalent of the Grail, I think, for all serious writers, artists and musicians – but I did have reservations. This is what I wrote to a friend:
"I thought [he] was... I don't know. Expert. Original. Fluid. But I did find it all a little stultifying after a while. There is something cliqueish and diseased about a lot of fin de siecle stuff, it seems to me. It struck me as very much an aesthetic experience rather than a felt one. It was a funny mix: he was obviously a young man (all that genitalia) but his pictures seemed simultaneously to be picking up what they were depicting between their fingers. I admired it but I didn't connect with it."
Which begs the question: what do I like? I don't think I can entirely put it into words. Both, I think: the exercise of skill, but the exercise of skill in order to communicate something felt. Or, at least, something that feels as though it's felt. Norman Mailer goes some way towards explaining it in Advertisements For Myself:
"...our attempt to see – to see and to see hard, to smell, even to touch, yes to capture that nerve of Being which may include all of us, that Reality whose existence may depend on the honest life of our work, the honour of ourselves which permits us to say no better than we have seen."
I'm sure there are people already thinking up a counter-argument, or at least shaking their heads, but this makes sense to me. Dig into this week's pages and see what you think. Me? I think that all of our contributors do this. All but one. We have the exceptional good fortune to be able to feature a track by Fela Kuti that has only just been released. It's a very early example of his music; proto-Kuti, if you like. He doesn't sound exactly like himself nor does he seem particularly interested in excavating anything. But it shows him, expert and eager, right at the beginning of his journey. Very exciting, I think, and not dissimilar to some of the writers that are featured here. Enjoy.