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In his latest tome, Will Self tackles the travel book from a different angle. Wandering through locales as far flung as Hollywood and East Yorkshire he has as much to say about the act of walking, and then writing about it, as about the actual places he visits. Here he reflects on one of the strangest undertakings in a career already larded with odd-ball moments
Peter Murphy, 15 Nov 2010
Walking To Hollywood is the third – and possibly final – book in Will Self’s series of psychogeographic adventures (its predecessors Psychogeography and Psycho Too derived largely from his Independent column, illustrated by Ralph Steadman). Somewhere between Iain Sinclair’s extrapolative rambles and Hunter S’s absurdist journalism, the book documents a sometimes deranged, sometimes melancholic expedition that takes him from the streets of LA to investigate the death of film as the predominant popular 20th Century art form, to the eroded Holderness coast of East Yorkshire. It is a very strange book, even for Self, one that seems split on whether the act of perambulation aggravates the unquiet psyche, or functions as a sort of lucid dreaming, allowing the mind to reorder itself.
“Yeah, or disorder itself!” the author says via cellphone from London. “Over the last 10 years or so of doing this walking/writing gig, I’ve learned to be quite accepting of what comes. If you set out thinking, ‘This will help my mental state,’ you may be terribly disabused. And by the same token you may set out in a kind of angstified condition and it may really calm you down. But there are no guarantees.”
One thinks of the classic image of the Beckett-like schizophrenic, traipsing the streets, his condition exacerbated by the environment.
“Yeah, that’s definitely what happened to me in LA. Things got very gloomy really, and I felt increasingly shut off from the world and shut out by it, and indeed that’s been the tendency of the last few years. And I’ve stopped walking! (Laughs). I mean, obviously I walk, I don’t jog everywhere, but the last sort of big walk I did was over a year ago in March of 2009 when I went from JG Ballard’s house outside London to Heathrow Airport and then flew to Dubai and walked across Dubai for two days into the desert.
“Jim was dying at the time and the idea was to pay homage to him. And there’s that weird archipelago of artificial islands called The World in Dubai, so I thought I’d walk to The World, and walk to the analogous position on the island of Britain to Shepperton, and that would be a very Ballardian trip. But I loathed Dubai so much, I thought it was such a disgusting slave city that only exists because of globalisation, and that kind of put an end to my airport walking. I haven’t flown since then, I can’t face getting in a plane, I couldn’t face coming to Dublin for this publicity. I said I could only go if I could go by ferry, but it just didn’t pan out.”