The tyranny of matter…
There that’s my summary of this debut novel by Tom McCarthy.
You know its really refreshing, think about how many novels are thematically concerned with the tyranny of time…
He already had established his avant-garde credentials as the founding member of the International Necronautical Society, where one of its axioms is: Death, is viewed by the INS as “a cipher for the outer limit of description, for the point at which the code breaks down”. The society explores the relationships between representation (in the artistic usage) and death.
Where to begin…. There is the narrator hero of no name, who could be referred to as the Enactor, who surrounds himself with re-enactors, who also have no names with the notable exception of the head Re-enactor, or facilitator, Nazrul Ram Vyas, Naz for short. This will be explained forthwith…Lets see, the plot structure is chronologically straight forward. The prose has a captivating, unassuming pulse, is invested with its own logic, and pace is brisk.
Our hero has experienced brain trauma, an accident involving some “bits” falling down from the sky. The first section is not so strange as we learn the nature and extent of his injury and the current state of his consciousness: that he is specifically amnesiac about the accident. But this works in his favor, as evidently this accident had a non-natural cause, and he receives a mysterious settlement of 8 ½ million pounds sterling. What is not in his favor, and which starts the novel’s own system of phenomenology, is that his primary motor functions have to be re-routed. He has to ‘learn how to eat a carrot’ by consciously thinking about every movement involved. As he gradually regains a semblance of normal life, and in the course of relearning, he develops an amazing ability to deconstruct: actions and events, the relation of objects in space.
He also comes to a conclusion that he has become, or at least his actions have become, “inauthentic” faked. He learns to equate a ‘real’ action as an act devoid of self-consciousness of the act itself, of any self cognition of the act. While in a bathroom at a friend’s party, staring at a crack in the wall triggers an apparent mimetic-connected vision. These episodes of altered consciousness, manifest themselves in a bathtub or bathrooms. He has a sensation of a part memory, part vision, where he perceives a connectedness, a sense of being “authentic”. His profound epiphany sets him off on a quest to reproduce the setting, along with a sequence of actions by various tenants in this vision, the entire high rise apartment complex, along with the neighboring building, and the particular peculiar tenants that formed the component parts, in his ‘vision-episode’.
In a mostly tongue in cheek and sardonic tone, its narrative is filled with metaphors of technology, especially telecommunications. It foregoes any interiority other than the narrator-as-commentator on his own discoveries, and the conclusions he draws from the series of successive replications. We go from one re-enactment, and all its logistics to another, but each time there is an associated revelation, sometimes in mid re-enactment, so that the novel’s processes are self aware, and has its own logic. The narrator examines the “residual”, what he has figuratively distilled from each series of enactments. This ‘remainder’ has both spatial and temporal connotations: a conclusion drawn, a residual of an event after the “surplus” matter (or time) is removed, or an actual physical residue. Each replication leads him to a new state of self awareness, advancing him closer to his quest for authenticity and subsequent moments of increasing “enlightenment” that his super-facilitators can make come to fruition. But what becomes troubling is that his visions are accompanied by an intensely pleasant physical sensation of tingling. They become an addiction, much like those that excersise to the point of enjoying their body’s own endorphin’s. Boundaries of what is not only possible, but what are ethical are pushed. After one particular adaptation goes awry, windshield wiper fluid gets re-routed through the dash of his old Fiesta and splatters his trousers, he requests that they duplicate this scene again, that his team make the fluid go away, disappear upward into space, dematerialize. He is informed that such transubstantiation is impossible, but he and his cohort Naz have become lost in their abstractions, they become detached from limits, in the enacting their ‘study’.
The mind expands, the texture of time and space deepens and stretches out, there is Light, and Blood…there are figure 8’s…I must stop here.
to avoid de-spoiling any further this amazing novel….I will leave you with the remainder…