Tuesday, 7 April 2009

11. Angela Carter - 'Flesh and the Mirror' (1974)

'there had been a displacement of mail reminiscent of the excesses of the nineteenth-century novel, such as it is difficult to believe and could only have been caused by a desperate emotional necessity to cause as much confusion as possible.'

(Angela Carter, Fireworks, Virago, 1988, p.79)

We have a classic portrayal here of self and not of society; surely the imprint of the 'Me Decade' being felt. It is of couse a lot more complex than a simple reading that 'the post-war British political consensus was crumbling and greater individualism' was making itself apparent', but that interpretation is definitely valid in itself.

Carter's story is quintessential seventies, but in the transnational, postmodernist sense; very little British television or music was as cosmopolitan, as fundamentally rootless as this is. 'Flesh and the Mirror' is rooted in the ambiguities of language itself and in a transnational literary tradition. It is the perspective of the literary European experiencing Asia, and Tokyo in particular, being frankly unable to comprehend its effect: 'You never know what will happen in Tokyo. Anything can happen.' (p.79) As is textbook for the postmodern of this time, there are references both to High (Flaubert - the first-person narrator experiences 'Bovary syndrome', p.79) and Popular Culture: self aware role-playing: 'My demonstration of pertubation was perfect in every detail, just like the movies.' (p.83)

I wouldn't say, overall, that this delicately wrought tale has quite the force of Jean Cocteau's novel Les Enfants Terribles (1929), as an aestheticised vision of games and personae. However, it is very much in this esteemed company, in its deft marshalling of the dream mode of life as experienced by this individual adrift in the world's largest city - a puppeteer aiming for chaos rather than stringent order. 'passionate sensibilities' ' romantic spectacle' 'existential lacunae' 'accidental-on-purpose misreadings of train timetables' - Carter conveys the non-sense of this state of love; of love and lover as imagined creation, of love as an offshoot of self, not as a coming-together. The ending deploys a bathos that shatters the illusion; the 'palimpsest' that has been her 'love' laid bare. (p.88)


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