About a decade and a half ago Keith Tyson, a conceptual artist and childhood friend of mine (who would later go on to win the Turner Prize), invited me to one of his shows. It was in a boutique gallery in a trendy part of West London and the place was filled with just the sort of preening, pseudish individuals you’d imagine attending these sort of events. Many were artists themselves and paraded about the gallery with a sense of overweening entitlement and a desperate need for attention.
After admiring Keith’s work for about half an hour and drinking a little too much of the complimentary wine, I fell into a conversation with a group of people. It was one of those earnest, self regarding conversations about the nature of art and the role it plays in every day life. The sort of conversation I’d had with many first year art students back when I used to hang out on campuses to score free drugs and sex. Frankly it was boring me rigid (and in all the wrong places).
To liven up the conversation I decided to change the topic. Cutting a floppy haired public school boy off mid-sentence I blurted: “Never mind all that, what do you reckon to Arsenal’s chances next week?” The young man looked down at the ground, shifted from foot to foot and sheepishly admitted that he didn’t know anything about football. The other people standing around in our little circle looked uneasy and confessed to knowing nothing about the sport either.
At that point there was a lull in the general hubbub of conversation and I heard a loud, boorish and rather drunken voice shout: “Don’t know anything about Football? Don’t Know Anything About Football?! What are you QUEER?!!” As the Gallery Owner escorted me to the door, under the glaring displeasure of everyone else present, I realised the voice had been mine.
As I wended my way back to the tube station it occurred to me that, as a then bisexual man who knew less about football than Amanda Knox knows about being a considerate flatmate, my utterance made me, without any doubt, the single most pretentious person in that gallery. If not the whole of West London. I can never be accused of not taking things to their excess.
Which sort of leads me to the theme of this month’s column. Namely, the joys of excess and how much I’m growing to hate the phrase: ‘less is more’. It’s one of those platitudes that people constantly trot out like an unchallenged piece of wisdom handed down through the ages. This sage proclamation is applied to endless situations as though it’s a sure fire argument winner that no one could possibly question. “Ah yes, but as they say ‘less is more’,” says someone, and that’s it, conversation over, game, set and match to the self satisfied asshole with the smug grin. With this column, I beg to differ however. If I’d drunk less at that party all those years ago, I wouldn’t have made more of a fool of myself.
One of the things that annoys me about this ludicrously overused phrase is the rather chilling air of Orwellian doublethink that it has. It’s a bit like the three party slogans from 1984: “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery”, and “Ignorance is Strength”. Less after all is the very opposite of more. We don’t tell people “ah yes, but low is high” or “fat is thin”. So why are we obsessed with telling ourselves that is ‘less is more’? It’s not, it’s less, otherwise it wouldn’t be called less it would be called more.
I may be sounding a little anal and literal here but, as a writer, language and the uses to which it is put, are of tantamount importance. ‘Less is more’ is exactly the sort of thing that a politician says before applying swingeing cuts to much needed public services. It’s the excuse of the chief executive of a company that’s making big cuts to the workforce, not because it will necessarily improve efficiency in the long term, but because it will give a short term boost to profit. Moralistic old ladies use it to justify their campaign against revealing female fashions, as though they want to paradoxically give women more sex appeal by making them less sexy. It’s a term that’s inextricably bound up with different forms of repression. It’s repressive because, as Orwell pointed out, it involves you having to hold “two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, [while] accepting both of them”.
Try telling a single parent whose hours have been cut, while their bills have gone up, that ‘less is more’ when it comes to feeding and clothing their family. Alternatively, try telling a lover who no longer wants to see you because you turn them on less that you’re actually more attractive to them. You can point out to them ‘less is more’ as smugly as you want, but it won’t save your relationship.
Like all moronic platitudes of course, there is a little kernel of truth hiding within the overused phrase. There are situations where it is preferable to have less of something. In prose fiction for instance, it’s better to use a few choice details when describing something than to overladen the story with endless descriptive passages. This is because with every descriptive detail you add, the reader is forced to redraw the mental picture they have formed of either your characters or their setting. This in turn distances them from the action and pushes them out of the story. Today’s readers don’t tend to respond well to pages and pages of description. This doesn’t mean that less details are more details however. We’ve already established that you don’t want more details. In this instance it means less details are better.
When it comes to horror the phrase ‘less is more’ is constantly trotted out. Considering that horror is supposedly a genre that sits on the bleeding edge of all that is forbidden and taboo, this seems eminently ridiculous to me. If less really is more, why do we pay extra to buy the director’s cut or the uncensored version of a movie? Surely if less were actually more we’d be paying a premium to see a shorter movie with more things taken out of it. We’d be praising the censor for finally revealing the director’s true vision by slicing his film to ribbons.
Horror is the genre of excess. One of the things I love most about horror is the way it always pushes at the boundaries of taste. It forces us outside of our comfort zone in order that we begin to question what truly is and isn’t acceptable in all areas of life. The less we do this in horror fiction, the more likely we are to turn out something mediocre.
All of which leads me to my new book Stuck On You. That’s right, your dear old Uncle Jasp has got another book out. In this case it’s an eBook novella. If you don’t read eBooks, fear not, it will be coming out in paperback as the lead story of a new collection of my work later in the year. As you’ve quite rightly guessed by now, everything I’ve said so far is one long preamble aimed at selling you my new book. You may be wondering why I didn’t have less preamble and get to the point more quickly, but that would rather contradict everything I’ve said above wouldn’t it? What’s more, if you’ve gotten this far and see that there’s much less to get through till the end of the column, then you’re more likely to finish it aren’t you?
The phrase ‘less is more’ could not be applied to Stuck On You in any way whatsoever at all. Stuck On You is as excessive as it gets. I can honestly promise you, with my hand on this recently severed heart, that this novella will be the guiltiest pleasure you have read in a long, long time. It’s a story that takes you way beyond the boundaries of everything that’s acceptable and just keeps on going.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll hurl and all the while you’ll be unable to remove your hand from the front of your pants. Could you ask anything more from a work of fiction? Trust your Uncle Jasp on this, you know it makes sense.
Here’s what my concerned publisher Crystal Lake Publishing had to say about it:
Warning! Do not buy this book, gentle reader.
No really, we mean it. Move along, click away from this page and go look at some Dino porn instead. We’re not kidding. The only reason we published it is because award winning author Jasper Bark has got some serious dirt on us. Honestly, there’s no other reason to put out something this depraved.
This is the sickest, filthiest and most horny novella you’re likely to read this year. It will turn you on even as it turns your stomach. Think you’ve seen everything there is to see in horror and erotica? Think again! Just when you think this story can’t get any lower it finds new depths to plumb.
Why are you still reading this?! Oh God you’re going to buy it aren’t you? You can’t help yourself. You’re going to click on that purchase button and download this little bad boy.
Well don’t say we didn’t warn you…
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