Sunday, 11 November 2012
THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT by Quentin Crisp
Perhaps five years ago I saw a one man show at the Edinburgh Festival, which was a tour de force performance by Bette Bourne as Quentin Crisp, with Crisp as an old man in his filthy London flat. I recall very vividly the fact that he hadn’t done any housework for ten years, and that his opinion was that after the first few years the dirt doesn’t get any worse – you just have to hold your nerve. Inspirational.
Crisp was an original thinker in all sorts of areas. He very early on accepted that he was gay, and rather than attempt to hide it as so many did in this period (the 1930s), he chose to flaunt it. It was astonishingly brave. I have to say, after a while, I began to find it foolish. He insisted on wearing makeup, hair dye and nail polish, and thus was beaten up on the streets frequently. It’s an odd mix of courage in who you are and flagrant exhibitionism. It also makes it clear how far the gay rights movement has come, that no one really seems to feel any more that you have to be a ‘girl’ or ‘girly’ in order to like boys.
Crisp is a person who has struggled much, and thus his book is full of a curious and rather sad kind of wisdom. As for example, when he is talking about a friend of his who worked day and night at his screenwriting. Eventually, this person had a huge and impressive career in television, and Crisp observes that such success requires not just energy but optimism. The first, Crisp says, he has; the second he does not. This is I think an interesting analysis of why it is that some people work hard, and some do not: it’s not so much laziness, as pessimism. Or realism, I suppose.