On deciding last night that I’d like to kick off this blog by revisiting and deconstructing a work of feature science journalism I admire1, I re-read Will Self’s “Head-hunting for Eternity”, published in Esquire magazine in 1993. The historians among you will recognise this as a date from the long and arduous pre-internet age and the artefact in question hasn’t yet been excavated from its paper bed for online display. In short, I can’t link to it and you’ll just have to take my word that it is what it is.
The 4000 words of “Head-hunting…” can be found nestled in Junk Mail, a collection of Self’s early journalism and Self-lovers would do well to buy a copy if only to see how far he’s come as a writer in the last 20 years. Here we catch him in the throes of devotion to his master, William Burroughs, and The Great Junksman plays a lead role in at least a third of the articles2.
Self’s usual satirical conceit is to twist, amplify and distort the mundane through the prism of his sesquipedalian prose. As such he performs the reverse manoeuvre to Burroughs, who depicted his obscene fantasies in a matter-of-fact voice descended from hard-boiled crime fiction. In “Head-hunting…”, however, Self is called upon to investigate a real-world phenomenon straight out of the Burroughs lexicon: cryonics – the “preservation of legally dead humans or pets at […] temperature[s] below −2000F/ −1300C […] in the hope that future technology can restore them to life, youth and health” (as the Cryonics Institute has it). Accordingly, he reins in the prolix, makes like Burroughs and keeps the lunch naked. Continue reading