Mathew Abbott Reviews Justin Clemens

15 January 2014

These erudite, ranting heroic couplets set the background for the book’s narrative: a world whose only claim to wholeness is made by global capital. ‘Global’ here should be understood rather literally. For The Mundiad, capital is the principle rendering the whole on which we live intelligible; it is what gives it its coherence. Nightfall here has of course always been the flipside of daybreak over there, but it is capital that has rendered this fact newly palpable for us, liquidating a localised experience of time and place in favour of a global ‘connectivity’ predicated on international trade, investment, and exploitation. The planet is brightened with it. But this brightening has revealed our homelessness.

This is a way of understanding the epic’s loss of prestige: it withers because the universal conditions it once discovered were replaced by a new, more abstract one. The Mundiad does not mock epic, but the form of worldliness standing in for the forms of it epic once located. Put another way, it discovers our world as the real mockery. So Mundia, the book’s protagonist – born out of a love affair developing in hospital between a drug-addicted nurse and a victim of a nightclub bashing – barely begins her journey before The Mundiad is over. Her destiny is continually forestalled throughout the work; it is not until the fifth Book that she even encounters the Dream Parrot she has been fated to (and even then it is via mobile phone conversation, itself cut short by an apparent signal dropout). Mundia faces her nemesis in the sixth and last Book, but it is very promptly clubbed away by Mr. X and Mr. Y – ‘both dressed like gangsters in designer gear’ – who arrive out of nowhere and conclude The Mundiad with ribald Machiavellian discourses on power and tyranny, delivered in a brothel.

I have three interconnected questions. The first is political and concerns an apparent or potential nostalgia. If this is a protest regarding worldlessness or homelessness, then is it being carried out in the name of a world or home we have lost and to which we should return? The second is philosophical. Has something truly been lost, or has the abstraction of capital just revealed to us the way things actually stand regarding world and the human’s home in it? The third is poetic. Is the aesthetic at work in this book – its deliberate archaism and ugliness and subsequent commitment to what we might call a poetics of failure – an implicit admission that poetry is no longer fully adequate to what we are? They are serious questions, and the ultimate success of the book may rest on how they should be answered. Regardless, one of Clemens’s significant achievements here is to show that opening such questions can – perhaps must – be rip-roarious in the extreme.

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Mathew Abbott

About Mathew Abbott

Mathew Abbott lectures at Federation University Australia. He plays in Life and Limb. His first book of poems, wild inaudible, is available from Australian Poetry.


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