Reading He Kills Coppers by Jake Arnott, I couldn’t help but notice that although the book was cast in the form of a social history, running from the sixties to the early eighties, it has very little sense of the movement of time; the characters do not seem to change (perhaps because, since they are all outsiders none of them change in the way the surrounding society does) and the hippies of the sixties seem to be little different to the dropouts of the eighties. Similarly, the differing narrators leave a similar impression to that in the even less restrained English Passengers by Matthew Kneale, that is leaving one wondering if the device serves any purpose other than to demonstrate the author’s technical proficiency.
In Rabelais and his World Bakhtin wrote of the role of ecclesiastical
parody in carnival literature, with its playful changing forms. To Bakhtin
the profane degredation of such discourse is always polyphonic, and The Virtues of the Solitary Bird by Juan Goytisolo serves as a peculiarly modern example of this. Here, the modern ideas of the unreliable narrator and the stream of consciousness meet the episodic traditions of carnival literature. The alternation between the disease wracked narrator and his delirious dreams of St John of the Cross lends itself well to Bakhtin’s notions of polyphony; "he chose to invent
starting with semantics a colossal imposture assigning an arbitrary meaning to the words… a gratuitioud pairing of the hieroglyphic signs and the Greek and demotic texts." To Goytisolo, this is something as subversive of oppression as it is for Bakhtin – in the latter case, Stalin’s Russia, in the narrator’s case the Spanish Inquisition; "the original has been replaced… orthodox doctrinal explanations … with material of very different, vulgar content."
I’ve also read Off-Message by Matthew Parris, a man who should be given a knighthood for disservices to politics. His irreverence has come as a considerable relief, given the emotional stalinism imposed by the death of the Queen Mother. I always dread the death of a member of the royal family; the emotional correctness demanded in the mass grieving and dignified hysteria invariably gives me a glimmering of it would be like to live in a one party state.
I’ve also finished reading The Fall and The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus, the latter providing a particularly interesting treatise on the former. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus defines the types of the absurd man, he who makes no concessions to notions of the eternal; "assured of his temporally limited freedom, of his result devoid of future… he lives out his adventure within the span of his lifetime." Conversely, in The Fall, such existentalist notions are satirised; those that lack the mastery of god must choose another master, and most atheists are hypocrites.
For a man of the absurd, the narrator of the The Fall clearly is no Napoleon or Don Juan and one is left turning to the statement in The Myth of Sisyphus that; "these images do not propose moral codes and involve no judgements.. the lover, the actor plays the absurd. But equally well , if he wishes… the civil servant." The narrator certainly knows and masks nothing, but we are left wondering whether the more moral statement in The Artist and his Time does not also pertain; "against a romantic nihilism whether it be bourgeois or allegedly revolutionary." Considering Marxism to be merely an offshoot of christianity and the enlightenment ideal of progress, Camus nonetheless
remains a Marxist manqué in his attitudes to the bourgeoisie. As such, the portrayal of the eminently bourgeois narrator acquires a certain additional ambivalence; Camus remains wedded to romanticism in his portrayal of the rebel.