RADIO : Culture? I'll drink to that

Too Late for the Party, R4/ Nightwaves, R3
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The Independent Culture
One answer to the question "Do you like Ray Gosling?' is, of course, "I don't know, I've never Ray Gozzled." But another, at least for me, is yes, I like him very much, and more and more as time goes by.

Appreciating Gosling isn't easy, if only because it takes a while to get used to his voice (it still sounds as though it's just breaking, and he's certainly in his fifties now), and to the sense you always have that he's talking about one thing but thinking about something else. Once you're over these hurdles, though, and you've started to enjoy Gosling's world-view, compounded largely from a sense of cheerful resignation to living in the present day, you will accept no substitute.

Too Late for the Party (Radio 4, Wednesday) was particularly good Gosling, and hence particularly good radio. The subject was London's Bohemia - Soho and Fitzrovia - in its heyday of the Thirties and Forties, the point of the title being that Gosling himself turned up in the Fifties when the place was already in decline. (You can take this with a pinch of salt, perhaps: one of Gosling's strong suits is self-depreciation, and you sense that he thinks any party he turns up to is by definition over.) In these golden days, poets, painters and models rubbed shoulders with tramps and peers at the bar of the Fitzroy and the Wheatsheaf, in a democracy where talent took precedent over money or class. Every pub was a sort of hiring fair, where writers could makethemselves known to editors and find commissions over a pint. Dylan Thomas was liable to wake you up at three in the morning and demand a party on the spot; and you ran the perpetual risk of having Nina Hamnett pull her shirt up to show you what Modigliani was supposed to have called the best tits in Europe - Alan Ross (described by Gosling as a "heterosexual sailor poet") confirmed that they were "very beautiful", but said that the rest of her was so revolting that you didn't want to look.

The impression was that Gos-ling was not simply attracted by this milieu; he had derived all his aspirations, his view of what it is that a writer should do, from it. The listener might wonder if this was really such a good way of organising London's literary life. But possibly it was. Listening to Tuesday's Nightwaves (Radio 3), in which a panel of critics debated the question "What has literary theory done for us?", you were struck by the complete absorption of most of the panel in their tiny literaryworld, and their assumption that everybody else shared their view of its importance.

At least Edward Said made the point that "the separation between the academy and the society in which we live is now almost total," but you couldn't take him seriously when he'd already suggested that theory "has in fact changed the way that most people look at texts. I don't think it's possible to read and interpret a text without somehow absorbing the lessons that people like Barthes and others taught." Most people? Really? Somebody buy that man a drink.