Denis Johnson’s Fiskadoro, Part 2: 2011

October 20th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

So here’s the one-pager on Fiskadoro I did for Boyle’s grad fiction workshop this fall. What happened? Did I get dumber, or just more honest (and are they always opposites)? More nitpicky and literal-minded? Less willing to do work, and more wanting to be spoon-fed? In the meantime, I met a man who insisted he knew who the narrator was, and wouldn’t tell me, merely exhorting me to read it again, more closely. I’d like to think I’m always moving forward, but it seems I was definitely more adept at throwing words at things back then, even or especially when I didn’t feel actually it. Be kinder.

When I first read Fiskadoro fourteen years ago, I was bewildered. There was sense I could make of it, but it was partial; no reading encompassed all the available material. I clung to sentences that gleamed from the text, trying to piece them together into some consistent philosophy. I identified strongly with Manager Cheung, his frustrated historical passion, his human frailty, while Fiskadoro seemed remote.

The book now seems somewhat diminished to me: how could I ever have gotten lost in that? Immersive capability is the price you pay for being able to hold a thing whole in your mind. I can now read the death of Fiskadoro’s father as a step ticked off the checklist of Campbell’s heroic journey used as a plot skeleton, instead of the accident it is almost naturalistically presented as. While I know now that the vagueness with which Fiskadoro’s initiation is described is intentional (and within the world of the story, explained by drugs), it feels abstract; Fiskadoro as a character feels like a cipher. All descriptions of the past have an emotional immediacy and the advantage of specificity; all descriptions of ritual and dream shade into allegory. The two feel like odd bedfellows, as does the juxtaposition of nuclear apocalypse and the evacuation of Saigon: they never really dovetail. » Read the rest of this entry «

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