8 July 1947
|Genre||Autobiography, fiction, non-fiction, screenplay, travel|
Jenny Diski FRSL (née Simmonds; born 8 July 1947) is an English writer. Diski was educated at University College London, and worked as a teacher during the 1970s and early 1980s. She won the 2003 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award for Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking around America With Interruptions.
Diski is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books; the collections Don't and A View from the Bed include articles and essays written for the publication.
A troubled teenager from a difficult, fractured home with a Jewish father, Diski spent much of her formative years as in- or outpatient at various psychiatric institutions. At the same time, she immersed herself deeply in the culture of the '60s, from the Aldermaston Marches to the Grosvenor Square protests, from drugs to free love, from jazz to acid rock and a flirtation with the ideas and methods of R. D. Laing. Taken into the London home of a school-friend’s mother, the novelist Doris Lessing, Diski resumed her education; and by the start of the 1970s was training as a teacher, starting a free school, and making her first publication.
Over the decades, Diski has shown herself to be a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction, articles, reviews and books. Many of her early books tackle such troubling if absorbing themes as depression, sado-masochism, and madness. However, some of her later writings, such as Apology for the Woman Writing, strike a more positive note; while her spare, ironic tone, using all the resources of magic realism, provides a unique take on even the most distressing material. Compared at times to her mentor Lessing for their joint interest in the thinking woman, Diski has been called a post-postmodern for her abiding distrust of logical systems of thought, whether postmodern or not.
On "The Sixties"
Diski sets out in her personal memoir to describe her experience of the 1960s:
I lived in London during that period, regretting the Beats, buying clothes, going to movies, dropping out, reading, taking drugs, spending time in mental hospitals, demonstrating, having sex, teaching.
This could be considered a normative 1960s life-style, while her representation of the era as a sort of golden age is also not atypical of her generation. However she also describes the darker side of the age – for example its pervasive sexism, institutionalised in the countercultural cult of casual sex – stating that
On the basis that no means no, I was raped several times by men who arrived in my bed and wouldn't take no for an answer.
Diski returns repeatedly to the question of how far the cult of the self in the permissive society gave rise to 1980s neoliberalism, greed and self-interest. She concludes that, in the words of Charles Shaar Murray,
The line from hippie to yuppie is not nearly as convoluted as people like to believe.
She married Roger Diski in 1976, and their daughter Chloe was born in 1977; the couple separated in 1981 and divorced. Her current partner is Ian Patterson, known as "the Poet" in Diski's writings, who is a translator and director of English Studies at Queens' College, Cambridge.
In September 2014, Diski revealed that she had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer.
- Nothing Natural (1986)
- Rainforest (1987)
- Like Mother (1988)
- Then Again (1990)
- Happily Ever After (1991)
- Monkey's Uncle (1994)
- The Vanishing Princess (1995) (short stories)
- The Dream Mistress (1996)
- After These Things (2004)
- Only Human: A Comedy (2000)
- Apology for the Woman Writing (2008)
- Skating to Antarctica (1997) (memoir)
- Don't (1998) (essays)
- Stranger on a Train (2002) (travelogue) - winner of the 2003 J. R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography
- A View from the Bed (2003) (essays)
- On Trying to Keep Still (2006)
- The Sixties (2009) (memoir)
- What I Don’t Know About Animals (2010) (nature)
- Katharine Viner Obituary: Roger Diski, The Guardian, 8 March 2011.
- Diski, Skating to Antarctica p. 35
- Jenny Diski, The Sixties (2009) p. 23 and p. 31
- Diski, Sixties p. 28 and p. 69
- Diski, Sixties p. 33-44
- Diski, Sixties p. 132
- Diski, Sixties p. 24 and p. 97-8
- Nick Turner "Critical Perspective"
- Nick Rennisson, Contemporary British Novelists (2005), p. 44.
- Gerd Bayer, in Vanessa Guignery ed., (Re-)mapping London (2007), p. 24 and p. 31
- Diski Sixties p.7.
- D. Sandbrook, White Heat (2007) p. 542
- Diski, Sixties, p. 59 and p. 61.
- Diski, Sixties, p. 136.
- Quoted in Diski, Sixties, p135 and compare pp. 87-8.
- Steve Crawshaw "Roger Diski: Social entrepreneur who championed sustainable tourism to post-conflict countries", The Independent, 10 March 2011.
- Jenny Diski at British Council: Literature
- Jenny Diski's official website
- Jenny Diski's blog
- Diski's writings at the LRB