‘Lint’ by Steve Aylett: Shamanic Fools & Defensive Writing
Well, having finally gotten around to reading Lint, a book that’s drifted around on the peripheries of my attention in the hands of friends and as a familiarly lurid cover in second-hand bookshops for the past several years, I can guess exactly why Stewart Lee’s being interviewed for the Steve Aylett’s film adaptation of his, Aylett’s, book. I’m guessing his, Lee’s, contribution will be along the lines of Lint representing an example of the shamanic fool; a figure whose role, by his, Lint’s, ignorance and ignoring of taboos and social mores, offers truths and critiques which an acceptance of and adherence to the said taboos makes impossible. He, Lee, might also make mention of the Pueblo clowns, a tradition he, still Lee, explored both in an excellent documentary for BBC Radio 4 White Face, Dark Heart (freely available here) and in his, Lee’s, own novel The Perfect Fool… It’s not that he’d, Lee’d, be wrong, though I might maybe be in my assumptions, but the fact of his, Lee’s, (wordless) presence in the teaser trailer for Lint (film) helped me codify my thoughts on Lint (novel) somewhat.
Steve Aylett (we’re done with Stewart Lee for now), is at pains to cast Jeff Lint, the subject of Lint’s fictional biography, not merely as some abstruse and awkward outsider, but as a genuine and unaffected buffoon throughout the narrative. From the inane misapprehension that his manuscripts need to be personally delivered whilst ornately cross-dressed to the more idle idiocies that cost Lint his most significant relationships and even in his attempts to free-run across imaginary rooftops, Lint is less unhinged than totally detached, capable of self-defeat and self-destruction on an almost heroic scale. It’s this flaw and freedom of character that allows, even necessitates Lint’s characteristic prose, prosody and the outré behaviour which Aylett as author needs in order to first craft and then bury the vaguely gnostic and/or gnomic pronouncements that litter his, Lint’s, reported writing and speech. For the character of Lint to be able to be intermittently profound, but without the righteousness or motivation that an understanding of his own, Lint’s, unintended and sporadic teachings would impart he has to be a fool, or to be a wholly different character , and not the star of some pulp parody, delivering inadvertent wisdom amidst boundless ravings and lunacy.
There’s one gnomic phrase in particular I’d like to draw attention to, that “America’s make-believe is more dangerous than its reality”. It isn’t, by the way, the only example in the book, but it’s almost unique in that it’s the only phrasing that stood out for being reprised, repeatedly. It’s an odd recurrence, an odd lack of confidence in a book, Lint, which, whilst seldom subtle, tends not to make such overt exertions in order to demonstrate its, Lint’s, point. It’s almost as if, having fashioned such a neat and apropos bon mot, Aylett could not bear to let it sit amongst the varying inanities which must, by necessity, make up the majority of his, Lint’s, outpourings, and elevated it by repetition, with a nod and wink to become the central aphorism of the book. Of course the problem is that it, the aforementioned bon mot, is swiftly transformed into truism, or worse, cliché by its repetition. The use of Lint, or any shamanic fool or sacred clown, as a protagonist is problematic in this regard, partly because the significances can be lost amid the absurdities, misinterpreted, overlooked or ignored, but also because the intermediary figure potentially demonstrates a lack of confidence.
It could be that Lint, in representing a compounded parody of both paradigm-altering writers and penny-a-word hacks, is a necessary creation in inhabiting and addressing a pulp-history which (unsubstantiated generalisation) was very different in the United States and the UK, and that Aylett felt he needed an avatar by which to make such seemingly culture-specific pronouncements. Or it could be that, in putting the aphorisms in the mouth of a character, Lint, just as likely to scream “aspect eggshell” and defecate in a drinking-fountain as to say something worthwhile he, Aylett, is writing deniability into his work. He, Aylett, can see how any aspect of his, ostensibly Lint’s, fictional philosophy or ideology is received before having to take responsibility for it, but with the option to jump in at any point and accept credit and acclaim for the sincere or meaningful aspects of his character’s, Lint’s, work. Or it could be that I’m maybe reading too much into an amusingly tongue-in-cheek look at the idea of the self-perpetuating myths of the hack/artist as a fringe figure, and I should give the book a mark out of ten or some stars or a percentage score and just, for once, shut the fuck up. Maybe.