Words By Holly Thicknes
Art by Holly Temple
My main coping mechanism when feeling depressed about how perverse politics in this country was, for a long time, sarcasm. The reaction was born during my time at university, when I took a module called Devolutionary British Fiction. We read George Orwell and Monica Ali; Martin Amis and J G Ballard; James Kelman and Zadie Smith. These writers have become synonymous with that feeling I associate with being ‘British’ (whatever that means), satirising our simultaneous privilege and oppression, and creating a dislocated atmosphere from reality.
It seems to me that, as much as I enjoyed and learnt from this certain canon of writers, they could never make eye contact with their monsters, and described them inadvertently through constant metaphor. Their stylised nihilism – glamorous to a confused and periodically depressed Nation – seldom offered a way out, or rather a way back to health. Despite deeply resonating with me, the taste in my mouth after those seminars was always bittersweet. As if the best we could do on our Island was to accept how unequal everything was and make jokes about it.
Since leaving Uni, I’ve come to see my coping mechanism as more of a stagnation, leading to a bitterness I don’t want inside of me. There was one writer on that course that stood out because she seemed to come to a different conclusion : Muriel Spark. She seemed to place more importance on moments of lightness that negated the dark than the others, although their themes had many intersections. I’ve decided to run with her model of revolution (or am trying to, anyway. Will let you know how that goes).
But, let it never be said that I’m not a self-indulgent narcissist who likes taking the piss from time to time, so here’s my alternative Devolutionary British Fiction module exam paper.
Questions for Module 4.2.1:What The F*ck Kind Of Place is This?
Please answer ONE of the following questions. You have ONE HOUR to complete your answer. If you need more paper, please do not ask for more as funding for school supplies has been axed.
- Which novel does the current Prime Minister of the UK use as a manual for leadership
a) 1984 by George Orwell
b) Transporting by Irvine Welsh
c) Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
- What percentage of people who are considered by society to have “made it” feel like phonies?
- ‘The reduction of human beings to consumers is the only way to keep making money from such an enlightened, advanced race with infinite access to information.’ Discuss.
- What does the commodification of diversity by big fashion brands in their recent campaigns indicate?
a) The brand in question will empower all people if bought into.
b) The brand in question spends a large amount of its money on researching what consumers are concerned with at any given time.
c) Patriarchal capitalism is collapsing.
- How many homeless people on average do the workforce of City Of Westminster have to walk past on their way to the tube?
a) None – the streets are homeless-free
b) None – most order cars to arrive directly outside their building
- Do you think sarcasm, irony and satire are useful tools for fighting inequality, or manifestations of bitterness and sorrow? Please do not refer to this exam paper in your answer.
- ‘Intellectuals, academics and politicians spend their time having public conversations using registers of language that the vast majority of the population don’t understand, the subject of which is always in reference to social, economic, and political structures that only exists within the realm of this perpetuating conversation, in order to maintain the illusion of their being invisible rules in life that must be obeyed at all times, which incites not only a fear in the general public that they have no choice but to be guided through life lest they die, but also weakens their ability to imagine an alternative reality.’ Discuss.
- In an unhinged society, do we have the ability to differentiate between a safe space and a temporary numbing balm? Please use one or more of the following examples in your answer: Instagram, yoga classes, abusive relationships.
- ‘A pot can only boil for so long.’ Discuss.
- ‘Revolution is inevitable’. Discuss.