Missing Meaning Turns Up Found, the headline reads. Or perhaps, Meaning Found to Be Missing.
Okay, kids, this is for all most some a couple of a few of you—a very few, when it’s all said and done (WTF does that ‘and done’ accomplish at the end of that phrase, other than make it somehow appear complete?). This is one helluva novel, better even than the review through which I found it might suggest (at least, the rating—the review is perfect as is) okay, okay, this one. It's everything a Literature-, Psychology-, Philosophy-, Communication-, or Linguistics-Major, might want in a novel. Everything. It is not, however, something a casual reader, or a plot-driven reader (debatable), or genre-reader will likely appreciate. It’s something else. I’ll try to explain.
The story is frantic, funny, and straight-forward: a baby, who doesn’t vocalize, does begin reading and communicating with his parents using notes. His ability to read and manage language exceeds many adults. Consequently, when his parents submit the baby (Ralph) to a psychologist for examination, a rapid and bizarre sequence of kidnappings and misappropriations soon begin. Psychologist kidnaps baby before a Linguist kidnaps baby only to have the Military kidnap baby only to yield to the kidnapping by a Mexican family who risk another kidnapping at the hands of a priest. Predictable, right? In any case, that’s what the story is about. The novel, however, is not about the story. The novel is about something else. In many ways, it’s about everything else.
So if the novel isn’t about the story, what is the novel about? Among other things: reality and fictive reality, language and fictive language, signifiers and signs, and meaning. The stuff of novels. Their implications one in another. It’s about all those things Humanities Majors bumped into at some point in their academic adventure that either clicked and made sense, or (if they were like me) left a mark that enables recognition and the barest, most meagre of memories. Those concepts that many of us only assumed would take root in our thought eventually. All those ideas, the philosophies which inform those ideas, with the gentle prodding of members of the Frankfurt School (Adorno, Habermas, Benjamin, et al), with Freud and post-Freudians (a cameo by Lacan), by the structuralists and post-structuralists (Roland Barthes makes a surprisingly lucid cameo), the phenomenologists are represented (Husserl, Heidegger, et al.—Merleau-Ponty has a cameo). In some ways, an intimidating reminder of once upon a time. So excited now, right?
This novel is the other side of Markson’s coin. A delight. Some quotes for your edification with context provided as needed:
[a footnote in baby Ralph’s words]
My lack of familiarity at the time with Balzac’s novella perhaps hindered my ability to be fair in reading S/Z, but just because one doesn’t see the shit in the toilet doesn’t mean one does not smell it.
[the voice of Dr. Steimmel, the psychologist kidnapper, of baby Ralph]
He’s the link between the imaginary and symbolic phases. I’m going to dissect him and then it will be Freud, Jung, Adler, and Steimmel. And to hell with Lacan. He’s just Freud in a spray can.
Genius, I assume, does not recognize itself, having better things to do.
[Baby Ralph? Sometimes, you just don’t know.]
Clockwise is a direction and so is south, but if one continues in a clockwise direction no progress will be made. And no one ever comes from clockwise, though people often turn south or to the south or from the south. The words on the page always travel in the same direction, whether left to right or right to left or up to down or, as in the case of short-cut seeking bad poets, clockwise or counterclockwise in the shape of a gull. But there is no direction simply because the words are on the page and meaning knows no orientation and certainly no map. Meaning is where it is and only where it is, though it can lead to anyplace. Confusion, however is necessarily only in one place and looks the same regardless of where it stands in relation to meaning. Being confused always looks the same and it comes from clockwise.
Like all sotries, any of these I offer here has another side.*
*Here I defer to popular wisdom, however against my grain and better judgment, it being the case that I, personally, do not adhere to the logical necessity of many or even one extra interpretation or decoding of a given story. I constantly consider the literal and come back with positive reports. It’s not the simplicity of the literal, but the cleaness of it, the weight of it, and lastly, the fact that nothing makes such a figurative statement on everything like a literal statement.
Of the letter I, I have nothing to say, except where would I be without it and that there is no situation more self-affirming as seeing I to I with oneself. And there is no mutiny as when I can’t believe my I’s, as when one is acutely harassed and appears to be the I of the needled.
Enough of this.[Baby Ralph]
I was now in the chapel of the mission, a scary cavern of gaudiness and mawkishness. The only thing understated was subtlety.
This novel is a testament to the encyclopedic (NR, it doesn’t require a massive tome), reminding readers of things they once knew or knew about—frequently demanding bookmarking to return to later (spenx?), or in my case, the purchase of a dozen or so OUP Very Short Introductions. Oy! 5 stars!
The hell with it, one more:
And there it is. Some of you should get and read this; others might find it frustrating. For me, more Everett is on the way.The fact that the constituent parts of a story are related and associated in ways paralleling a given world represents like relations and associations in reality.
This is the structure of a story.
The possibility of this structure is the form.