The most charitable epithet for John Waters’s column in today’s Irish Times is “misconceived.” A more accurate description would be don’t-know-where-to-look awful. Waters’s musings on the death of a young Irish socialite, Katy French –whom Waters admits he met just once–presents the dismaying spectacle of a writer who has floated free from the moorings of reality, and is now adrift on the choppy waters of his own delusions:
“She [Katy French] was a child of Ireland in the time of its rebirth […] Katy was the daughter of our dreams, in the sense that it was the dreams of her people that gave birth to what is tritely called her celebrity. We have these words to box off the lucky/unlucky ones who act out of fantasies, while we stick safely to the grandstand. We refer to them as celebs, implying a different species. But they are human beings, filled like the rest of us with desire, distinguished only by willingness/opportunity to rush in where others fear to tread.
Driven by angelic recall, they plod on clay feet into the mire of three-dimensional reality. They do not know, are not conscious, that their appetites are infinitely greater than the world’s capacity to satisfy them. Katy French was a personification of our fantasies, of our sense of what we were becoming, of how we might unfold ourselves. She was not the only one, but in the immediate past was perhaps the most spectacular light on the skyline, a meteorite of desire plummeting through the Irish zeitgeist.”
If readers were not sufficient impressed by Waters’s use of “zeitgeist” and the “/” symbol to replace the word “or” (willingness/opportunity, luck/unlucky)–a sign he’s read some Derrida–he channels a bit of W.B. Yeats to convince us he’s grappling with some heavy verities:
“Katy’s death was the result not just of her foolishness, but of our collective helplessness. We do not know what to say to our children as we kiss their brows before allowing them into a world utterly, terribly changed, because that is what we desired. We do not understand the meaning of freedom.”
It should go without saying that the death of anyone at the age of 24 is a tragedy. But this bathetic twaddle (“I am crying, writing this”) adds nothing to public discussion about the significance, or otherwise, of an individual’s passing. Indeed the awesome self-indulgence of the writing, for me, eclipses the subject of this encomium.
A responsible sub-editor would have spiked Waters’s piece. A larger question is why people keep on publishing Waters’s ramblings. It’s not his barmy stable of hobby horses I object to in particular. For example, I can happily read Christopher Hitchens’s neo-con diatribes because the guy, regardless of his rebarbative world-view, can write. Waters, on the other hand, may be able to form sentences that, taken individually, loosely conform to notions of coherence and syntax. But on the level of the paragraph and article, his prose achieves the bizarre feat of consisting almost entirely of non sequiturs.