The agreeable world of Wallace Arnold: Sex and intellectuals

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MY EYES positively lit up. The editor of this newspaper had asked me if I would write an essay about my dinner. My friends invariably accuse me of being the veritable doyen of food writers, so I found myself agreeing forthwith. It was only some minutes later that I discovered, with no little disappointment, that he wished me to write not about my dinner, but about Madonna.

It emerged that the Independent on Sunday - responsible, up-to-the-minute newspaper that it is - had spent a great deal of money in securing the rights to a small portion of the aforesaid Madonna's latest oeuvre, Sex (dread word]) For the full pounds 5,000 17s 6d, we are now legally entitled to reproduce: (a) three (3) buttocks, fully naked; (b) one (1) bosom partially bared; and (c) one (1) head shot of Sir Norman Fowler with spectacles. (The last- named item being acquired as a tie-in with the publisher, which is also responsible for Sir Norman Fowler's forthcoming A Vision of Britain, thus accounting for the additional 17s 6d.)

For an extra pounds 3,000, the newspaper was entitled to send a leading representative to New York, there to peruse the aforementioned tome in conditions of strictest privacy. The editor had lined up a shortlist of intellectuals for the task, the first being the great Argentinian scrivener Jorge Luis Borges. Alas, it had emerged that not only was there, as yet, no braille edition of the book available, but also that poor Borges had died a full six years ago.

The third choice was Dame lris Murdoch, but she was pipped at the post by the second choice - yours truly. My commission was to write an accompanying text of 2,000 or so words, emphasising the deep seriousness of the project, showing how the publication of three buttocks and one half-bosom was indeed a worthwhile and thought-provoking exploration of the nature of contemporary celebrity.

At the New York headquarters of Madonna's publisher, I was ushered with a copy of the tome into a gentleman's lavatory and directed to the cubicle bearing my name. As I passed along the row I noted the full range of well respected authors and thinkers whose illustrious names were posted on the adjoining doors.

In the first cubicle, grunting learnedly, sat Mr Norman Mailer, reporting for that oncedoughty journal, the New Yorker. The next cubicle betrayed odd swishing sounds which I can only imagine emanated from the inhabitant, Mr Martin Amis, in his struggle to pull the top off his felt-tip. In the third cubicle, my old friend and quaffing partner Mr Andrew Neil could be heard getting in trim for his forthcoming in-depth interview with the 'lovely lady'. In the fourth cubicle sat Mr Melvyn Bragg, reciting over and over again in his sonorous Cumbrian voice a freshly- composed extract from his new book, in which the hero, Martin Bagg, a highly successful Northern television producer and Booker Prize-winning novelist, ends up in bed with the world- famous pop singer, Gadonna, only to find himself questioning the very nature of his existence as he grapples with her suspender belt. Finally, there in the fifth cubicle was my old friend and mentor Lord Rees-Mogg, meticulously studying the work with high-powered binoculars in search of any stray sightings of artistically invalid flesh.

Taking my place in the sixth cubicle and locking the door behind me, I opened the book with an intellectual excitement unequalled since my first reading of Proust. For the next hour, I studied those extraordinary photographs with a fierce intensity, breathlessly decoding the semiotics of celebrity, time and time again deconstructing the resonances of such polymorphous cultural weaponry, and urging myself on in my quest to ponder the palpable otherness of fame. I emerged breathless, yes, exhausted, yes, but strangely elated.

Next week, our magazine will proudly publish my definitive essay on the work, alongside full colour photos of the three buttocks and half a breast. Reports on the recession, the cutbacks in the mining industry and news from abroad have now been rescheduled for February 1993.