JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR: Max Stafford-Clark
Nick Hern Books
ISBN: 9 781848 421790
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 25 01 14
Unsentimental accounts of financial and other nightmares.
This is not an easy book nor is it easy-going. But, lest we blame Max Stafford-Clark for inept writing, Stafford-Clark intends it to be neither easy nor easy-going. He gives us an apology right at the beginning, and describes his book as a ‘howl or rage’. What’s he raging against? The Arts Council of Britain and the brutal round of arts cuts of 2011, which left Out Of Joint (Stafford-Clark’s company) and many others gasping, if not for breath exactly, for a decent public subsidy.
The book is more than this; but let us stay with his main attack for the moment. Threaded through his story is the correspondence he had with his Arts Council ‘relationship’ manager – doesn’t even that term just sum up the truly pathetic nature of the Council and many of its officers. They wrap everything up with inappropriate words, short-hand for meanings they frequently can’t define. S-C’s anger at their meaningless drivel is only too real. And he exposes for us (as if we didn’t know) the danger; the power they have which stems not from an in-depth knowledge but from simply holding the purse-strings – ever more tightly.
As Stafford-Clark shows time after time, they have no need to justify their actions, they do not need to confront the contradictions of wanting challenging art but cutting the funding of the company that’s delivering it, they do not need to speak in a meaningful language, nor even address difficult questions like artistic or aesthetic quality.
But now I howl too . . .
Stafford-Clark’s account is a personal one. And he wanders into other intensely personal areas too. None more shocking that his account of his stroke. At one moment working totally normally, a moment or two later a wreck chatting away, oblivious to the fact he is making no sense at all. (His stroke, it turns out, was four strokes, one after the other in rapid succession; enough to kill off a lesser mortal.)
He talks of his relationships, of those who helped him recover. He speaks of course, of the work of Out Of Joint. And, too, of the many writers he’s had contact with.
A snapshot in time then; or perhaps several snapshots over this time. They are what they are – personal and idiosyncratic; but none the less revealing for all that.