Phantasmagorically Noh: The Blindness and Rage of Brian Castro Deconstructed

By | 1 November 2019


‘A’ is for archness of writing – it is obvious Castro loves what he despises (odi et amo – ‘love which doesn’t fit with our description: dilectio, caritas, amica, amor and concupiscia’ [174]; ‘arguing the toss against the tossers’ [206]; ‘[t]he pen can be a penis’ [176]; etc.).

‘A’ is for Australia (‘an Australian curious and clumsy / in French and English, / not quite churlish’ [96]).

‘A’ is for Adelaide, the colonial backwater; en revanche, Paris is talismanic. (It is all relative: Baku, in Azerbaijan, could also be considered a backwater in comparison to Adelaide – pace ‘The Eurovision Song Contest’. Adelaide’s hickness is metonymic for Australia’s. (Even the Multifunction Polis, an attempt at sophistication that remains unbuilt, is mentioned: ‘brand new techno city in Adelaide’ [65].) Paris as endpoint: ‘He thought that jolly fifty-three days in Paris / was the folly of a dying man’ [209]; – ‘fifty-three days’ naturally refers to Georges Perec’s unfinished novel, 53 Days. Does not death make life an unfinished endeavor?)

Note the interior jolly–folly rhyme, a common device of poets, such as Louis Zukofsky.

‘A’ is for Absence.

To play a on the piano (Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor).
The indefinite article a/an.
The privative -a.
L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E (a postmodernist movement).

what an man! says ‘Madam Cha-Cha-Cha’ at a sax
bar an abstract altar and watcht an adman spasm
all Gracq had – was an avatar a ballad a day
Madam plays at an art a day (what abstract facts?)!
Arcadys Lacan astral landmark law at all
playd trad jazz and gangsta rap what Lantana saw
a small graph that marks a patch hard and fast apart
that barks landlady days can and may salvarsan
‘Lana has clapst!’ what a shabby party plan and
walk away Canaan alphas alfalfa attack
than happy past a small hallway at a Makar
as sad as any land gantry ah what a Mann

Oulipian games – in this instance, a monovocalic lipogram – often end in nonsense, like this above, unless performed by a genius like Perec who, for example, wrote a whole novel without using the letter E. Luckily for me, Spicer is on my side. Blindness and Rage is an Oulipesque – or oxymoronically, (Per)ecphractic – novel insofar as verse is a sort of constraint. As Perec was not above borrowing snippets of text from Kafka, Melville, Flaubert, Le Clézio and many others, it would not surprise me that Castro has done the same; if I were a better reader, I could surely locate them.

Phenomena of appearances. ‘Disguise’ (92) is part of the game (‘Duc de Guise’ [92] – Michel Deguy?). A love of binarisms in a non-binary (English-speaking) world of différance.

From Zukofsky’s ‘A’ or aaaaw to zzzzd by John Bevins to Berger’s From A to X or Warhol’s From A to B and Back Again. The hidden Life A User’s Manual in his ‘life, a manual’ (147). Perec, member of Oulipo and ‘the grand master of aleatoric perfection’ (50), is not mentioned by full name in the text, but permeates Castro. Perec’s book la vie mode d’emploi (Life A User’s Manual – the same lack of punctuation as Castro’s Blindness and Rage A Phantasmagoria) is dedicated to Raymond Queneau, and is perhaps his most recognised work. (The missing colon is gastric/punctuative.) Francophile readers – or aficionados of Perec – will recognise, for example, that it is Perec’s Tentative d’épuisement d’un lieu parisien (‘Attempt at Exhausting a Parisian Locality’ [of its daily life in prose]) Castro is referring to when he writes that Georges ‘was jotting down / every passer-by’ (145). Perec is acknowledged in Castro’s ‘Index of Names’ at the back of the book; otherwise, he is simply Georges, or anagrammatically, Crêpe. (Castro has him explaining his surname, which ending is usually pronounced as a hard C, as ‘… really an anagram / of the Hungarian word for ‘pretzel’’ ‘ [38] with the C prononounced as ‘ts’, as it would have been originally.) Pretzel, crêpe, another joke among a plethora of jokes. (Although ‘plethora’ is no laughing matter.) Castro does not explicitly state that the writers mentioned here are embedded – Queneau, a leading Pataphysician, is mentioned by name on pp 92 to 95, 106 and 218 – it is implicit. A postmodernist device, what Castro calls a ‘phantasmagoria’. The darlings of French theory populate these pages (e.g., Bataille, Heidegger and Adorno, although the last two are not French); however, Deleuze and Guattari are not mentioned nor secretly embedded in the text, so far as I could see. Adorno is famous for his pronouncement that it would be barbaric to write poetry after what happened in Auschwitz (‘Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch’). You be the judge. I note Joan Rivers’ jokey shorthand, ‘Too soon?’ James noted, ‘Adorno’s remark […] is all too dreadfully true: after such knowledge, there might be forgiveness, but no more innocence’ (CJ 103; ellipsis added). There was no innocence before Auschwitz; the loss of innocence is a common mistake people make after an enormity. James knows this, for he adds, ‘Adorno’s remark was also false […] There had been Holocausts throughout history, which probably featured slaughter as its first multicultural activity’ (ibid.; ellipsis added). Time means the wound fades and writers write, poets compose poetry and comedians make comedy (they can even joke now about the American atrocity of September 11, 2001, for a long time a taboo, until memory fades, as Gertrude Stein put it).

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