Phantasmagorically Noh: The Blindness and Rage of Brian Castro Deconstructed

By | 1 November 2019


The ‘and’ in ‘blindness and rage’ is different from, say, ‘pen and ink’, for it is functioning as an adverbial ligative to ‘rage’. The usual expression is ‘blind rage’, where ‘blind’ acts as a qualifier, but here they are given equal weight, with ‘blind’ in its nominative form, ‘blindness’. It is gestural, dismissing the negative. It involves the muscles, a spasm, an experience of words, an instrument, a contemplation, the sensation of pronunciation. It is not ‘but’.

A stylisation and systematisation of signs. The rhythm or tempo of metronomical verse, its twists and turns, its subterfuges, its illusions, its resonances, its repetitive syndesis (‘for reproducing yourself as another’ [147]), its embedded rhymes, its Wittgensteinian analogies and exuberances (Derrida’s différance). The privileging of the fugitifs of sound over hermeneutics.

And why is Gustave Flaubert on the cover? A caricature by Achille Lemot – the word – depicting the man who said he was Madame Bovary piercing his protagonist’s heart with a knife (also: language as an ‘unsheathed sword’ [74] or ‘a cell uprising will always plunge a stiletto / into the heart of history’ [83]). Stiletto as knife, not as the more familiar women’s shoe. Misogyny – Madame Bovariabilité?; after all, Verdi says that la donna è mobile.


Considering the title, there is scarcely any rage in this book. Not a night-time rage à la Dylan Thomas. Readers must use their imagination. A concision. Like blindness, rage is not a choice, though Gracq believed ‘[b]lindness quelled rage’ (29). While blindness could be congenital or an acquired disability, rage is involuntary, momentary, a fear response, an expression of impotence. This is not the rage of which Germaine Greer writes, which is intergenerational, akin to despair, far from the harmony of a verse novel: ‘The rage that eats away at Aboriginal hearts is too deeply embedded to be trotted out and paraded’ (GG 15).

Blindness and rage as metaphor for love (there has to be a love-story, although a verse novel, not to mention rhetoric, is hardly commercial fiction): ‘[Gracq’s] blindness and [Catherine’s] rage’ (148) or vice versa (‘her blindness or his rage’ [152]).

Rant is a kind of rage. Rage approximating ‘rabid’, ‘rape’, ‘raptor’. The inherency of violence in rage.

Castro would know that rage in French is rabies as well as rage or fury (Canto XXX). Rage is also a violent envy, a dogged determination. However, madness, as I have mentioned, is never far away (think: syphilis, which Castro mentions a number of times).

The nexus between blind(ness and) rage and abrogation evinces the protagonist’s not facing up to the truth of the matter (cancer).

War, for all its dynamism, is then a kind of paralysis, a kind of rage. Bataille is French for ‘battle’ (‘Bataille’s father, syphilitic and paralysed’ [16]), a component of war. Clive James suggests that this kind of rage ‘contributed to a laboratory for the study of the connection between materialism and the spirit’ (CJ 113). A stratification of syntax, semantics and semioticisation.

Speaking of stratification (strafing), Stendhal likened political content in a work of art to a gunshot in the middle of a concert, something startling, frightening and altogether inappropriate, though Tariq Ali has said we ought not to take Stendhal literally, which is the stance Castro has taken. It is commonly believed that postmodernism eschews politics, but that is not true. Castro talks of ‘solitary confinement’ (100) in his verse novel, the scourge of anti-Semitism and Nazism, the (r)ictus of communism, the politics of Aboriginal politics (‘upon land that is not our own’ [209]), the problem of unemployment (The Big Issue, Dogman) and terrorism (Charlie Hebdo), the questions of euthanasia, pornography, prostitution and AIDS (‘not even for a phenomenal fee / would they hook for what looked like HIV’ [28]) and the resurgence of China (189 – Castro mentions China at least half a dozen times, where China – or Chinese, at least – featured greatly in Pound’s work). He has Bataille say that France’s politics was riddled with vice (17; maybe Bataille really did say that); and he has his protagonist scratching his head when it seemed as though the members of the Club des fugitifs did not care for politics themselves (94). Castro has his deuteragonist state his position, using paronomasia and humor to make his point: ‘[T]he Fugitifs spent a lifetime / encoding a literature which was really / a ligature strangulation of meaning. / ‘They all suffer from vowel cancer’ (142; emphasis added). Castro is not (a)verse to paronomasia, another of the hallmarks of postmodernism (‘hippy camps’ [27], ‘crême de moth’ [69], ‘Doctor Philip Nietzsche’ [167] … the list goes on).

Religion features heavily, too.

This entry was posted in ESSAYS and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Related work:

Comments are closed.