Monday, August 4, 2014
Week 24, Illuminatus! online reading group
(This week: "That's what we call a Bavarian fire drill," page 234, to "We'll show you how to pilot the second stage," page 242.)
And though she feels as if she's in a play
She is anyway
"Penny Lane," Lennon and McCartney
Here we get into a self-referential bit of the book. (The artwork by Bobby Campbell posted above, his kind effort to help promote the group reading, references the original Dell cover art and also the cover of the Dell omnibus edition, which I assume is what most of you have.)
At Confrontation magazine, the editor, top researcher and top reporter have all disappeared, but Peter Jackson is trying to put out the next issue, anyway; at least he still has other writers (page 238). Epicene Wildeblood has promised a review of an unnamed new work:
"It's a dreadfully long monster of a book," Wildeblood says pettishly, "and I certainly won't have time to read it, but I'm giving it a thorough skimming. The authors are utterly incompetent— no sense of style or structure at all. It starts out as a detective story, switches to science-fiction, then goes off into the supernatural, and is full of the most detailed information of dozens of ghastly boring subjects. And the time sequence is all out of order in a very pretentious imitation of Faulkner and Joyce. Worst yet, it has the most raunchy sex scenes, thrown in just to make it sell, I'm sure, and the authors— whom I've never heard of— have the supreme bad taste to introduce real political figures into this mishmash and pretend to be exposing a real conspiracy. You can be sure I won't waste time reading such rubbish, but I'll have a perfectly devastating review ready for you by tomorrow noon."
In a couple of ways, Illuminatus! is ahead of its time. The self-referential aspect of the book now seems familiar, but many of the books that do similar things came after: Martin Amis' Money, whose characters include an author named "Martin Amis," came out in 1984; Richard Powers' Galatea 2.2, which includes a character named "Richard Powers," came out in 1995.
Similarly, authors ranging from Margaret Atwood to Michael Chabon to Kate Atkinson have helped blur the line between genre "pop" fiction and literary fiction, but Illuminatus! came before them, and even now a novel that explicitly invokes both James Joyce and H.P. Lovecraft feels unusual.
"Well, we don't expect you to read every book you review," Peter says mollifyingly (page 239). Gore Vidal used to allege in print that some reviewers didn't actually read the books they write about, although I can't come up with a citation right away.
A couple of notes:
"The only hope for the left at this time is coalition politics. We can't exclude anybody who wants to join us." Page 239. The sorts of debates that Shea and Wilson are still satirizing still play out; I've read articles on left leaning websites that say progressives should not participate in peace or civil liberties rallies with libertarians, because, well, icky libertarians!
"There's an article in there by the University College physicist F.R. Stannard ... " page 241. Nick Helweg-Larsen actually tracked down a copy of the paper; for more on this, go here.
(Next week: Page 242, "Waving their crosses over their heads and howling incoherently," to Page 252, "His mother was Norwegian.")