Sunday, 8 May 2016

If writers wrote the world...

…and Burgess were the author, it would be the richest of worlds. Where it is most sensual, most erotic and most immodest it would also be most dry, plain and prudent. Where it is most funny it would be the saddest too. And if this sounds to the reader like nothing more than a postmodern hymn to the Nebulous Nature of Everything, then such a reader would be wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. Burgess, we know, even though he has not been asked as such, is entirely against postmodernism.

How would he manage to write the world like this? Take as examples two books recently read: ‘Nothing like the Sun’ and ‘A Dead Man in Deptford’. The first is about William Shakespeare and the second about Christopher Marlowe. ‘Nothing Like the Sun’, which I have written about before but cannot stop thinking about, is light in the sense that Shakespeare, according to Burgess, is not an intellectual, nor is he particularly complex as a person. This becomes more apparent when one realises, upon reading Dead Man, how Burgess does, in fact, render a darkly intellectual and unusually complex person. Shakespeare’s aspirations are normal; he hopes for success in his craft, recognition by his peers and financial prosperity. He works very hard. But he is also a romantic, a hopeless disciple of Eros. Yet, not once, in the rendering of William Shakespeare is his romantic nature made saccharin or his very normal human ambitions, trite.

Burgess can do this because he seems to be devoid of platitudes. Like Shakespeare does, he writes even the most tender afflictions in shards. The most adolescent heartache and most naïve and deluded mandates are written in prose which mesmerises because of its musicality but never hypnotises due to overuse and predictability. In other words, ‘Nothing like the Sun’ is entirely devoid of clichés.

‘A Dead Man in Deptford’, by contrast, is deeply sexual. It is dark and, short of the male entanglement of bodies, is lacking in kindness everywhere. It is unapologetically so. Burgess writes a person who is intellectually fertile and morally confused. His Marlowe vacillates between a true Christian sense of compassion and love for his fellow man, in the Platonic sense, and a cynicism so austere as to have him writing Faustus. His Marlowe never resolves this conflict; not with the application of any amount of philosophical abstraction, scholasticism or hedonistic indulgences. Where Shakespeare is innocence Marlowe is the opposite, whatever that might be. The point, here, is that Burgess, in his genius, captures this conflict without resorting to the ever threatening sentimentality of angst and the usual psychobabble that some writers seem to need. There is no free association, no dreamscapes and no tears. It is just plain and simple blood, gore, betrayal and fear. It is about sex and power and a properly sublimated hope for love.

If Burgess wrote the world, it would be clever, funny, clear and mostly unexpected. It would be incapable of containing anything ‘comfortably numb’ (gratitude to Pink Floyd, for this phrase).  

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