The Issues With Issues

HARRY PRANCE urges Cambridge’s ‘tortured intellectuals’ to stop quoting Larkin and come back down to earth.

Cambridge Dating intellectual Larkin literature Men poetry Tab Theatre Tortured

A very intelligent person once told me that “the problem with Cambridge men is that they all think they’re tortured genii”, but this problem has only really rammed itself home recently. I regularly find myself a victim of this particular problem – what can be more tempting than envisaging oneself as a Byron, Wittgenstein or Plath whilst poncing one’s way through Grantchester meadows at the apparent nadir of one’s emotions? However, it seems to me now, in the cold light of revelation, that this is not merely some innocent, delightful day dream but a source of intense narcissism and a real barrier to some good ol’fashioned, no nonsense sex.

In my deep intellectual analysis of this surprisingly relevant topic I have located a few salient causes. The first is literature. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a proud, banner waving Classicist and I love a good dive into a novel or five but when a sexual partner thinks it appropriate, after first describing us both as fucked up, to read out Larkin’s This Be The Verse – something seriously wrong must be afoot. The power of Literature is such that we often seek to assimilate an author or character’s emotions to our own – I have a particular affinity for thwarted and dissatisfied middle aged women (Oh Mrs Dalloway, how I do love you) – but when we start imposing these fictions upon our own lives, therein lies the rub.

The second cause is the nature of Cambridge itself. This place is rarely the home of
comfortable emotional progression: collegiate insularity, academic insecurity and essay crises hardly make for an easy time. These difficulties become bizarrely inflated here – since when was an essay a crisis? Mali, the Japanese tsunami and the Iranian nuclear programme – they’re crises; an essay is an academic exercise. I don’t deny that there are those of us with real difficulties, but none of these problems warrant the title of emotional torture. Last term, someone I had been on one date with had the audacity to tell me he couldn’t carry on because he had issues (how that word grates) – we’d been on one sodding date, for god’s sake; I wasn’t asking for emotional commitment, merely a shag.

Perhaps this cause is one slightly overblown as a member of the LGBT+ community
in Cambridge, but one of the most fruitful hunting grounds for a potential mate, as a gay man, is the ADC bar. Theatre is distinctly awash with overemotional nitwits. A casual perusal of dramatic literature makes this clear. Biff Loman – so what if your father had an affair? Just like you, he is a flawed and complex sexual human being. Get over yourself. Any of the Three Sisters (probably Masha, they all seem to be called Masha): stop complaining about it and get in that carriage and go to fucking Moscow. And as for Jimmy Porter, the greatest offender and chief of the dramatic fiefdom of twattery – misogynistic and bitter rants are not a productive way of dealing with your social and personal concerns; find a healthier outlet – join a trade union, become a teacher, just do something instead of wasting away your life in an aggressive and self-flagellating cesspool.

Now I hear what you’re saying – what’s the distinction between the problems in theatre and literature as a whole? Well the issue lies in the performative nature of acting. In attempting to ‘inhabit’ a character, luvvies find themselves in some weird schizophrenic nightmare in which the attempt to distinguish between their own emotions and those of the particular prat they’ve been assigned this time becomes an increasingly difficult task.

I’m not a Platonic nutter – don’t go burning any books on my account. Just start reading intelligently. You are not a character in a play or book; you are yourself and not a useful literary prop; you are directed by your own self-will and not twisted and manipulated by some distant authorial hand.

The heady mix of the literarily deluded and stressed lies at the root of Cambridge
men’s problems. The majority of us here, in reality, have problems no worse than a lack of balsamic vinegar. So before anyone tries telling me they have issues again, they’d better shield themselves against the onslaught of my brogues.