[1.7.06] [Andrew Gallix]
LURING THE READER INTO THE REALMS OF LUNACY
3:AM Magazine's Book of the Year 2005, Tom McCarthy's instant classic Remainder (initially published by Metronome Press) which, heretofore, was only available in good bookshops, will soon be available in bad ones too following its re-release in Britain as a mass-market hardback by Alma Books. McCarthy's Barthesian work of criticism, Tintin and the Secret of Literature (which the French would no doubt describe as jubilatoire) can (and should) also be purchased. You'll find an extract in today's Guardian.
The figure-cum-spearhead of the fabled Offbeat Generation will be talking about his Tintin book with art critic Marcus Verhagen at the ICA in London on Saturday 8 July at 1pm.
On Tuesday 11 July, Tom will be talking about both Tintin and Remainder at the Ottakar's Putney Store (7pm). [Readers of Tintin and the Secret of Literature will remember that "kar" is Syldavian for "king". Coincidence? We think not!]
Finally, he'll be discussing Tintin and Remainder in relation to Georges Bataille and the Documents Group with Independent journalist Peter Carty at the Hayward Gallery (as part of their Undercover Surrealism exhibition events) on Wednesday 12 July (6.30pm).
Incredibly, The Economist have misread (or at least elected to misread) Tintin and the Secret of Literature as a parody of Gallic theory:
"The best parodies are so good that the reader is never quite sure if the author really is joking or not. This is certainly the case in Tom McCarthy's delicious new book, which unleashes the arsenal of post-modern literary criticism on Tintin, the comic-strip boy hero created by Georges Remi, a Belgian, under the pseudonym Herge. The book blends genuine detective-work with the most absurd non-sequiturs and red herrings of literary criticism. ... Such detours into reasonableness serve only to lure the reader into the realms of lunacy: the Castafiore Emerald, the author argues with sweeping confidence, is not just the oft-misplaced bauble belonging to a forceful but absent-minded opera singer: it is her clitoris. Switch on the 'sexual sub-filter', he explains, and the jewel's real nature is clear. 'She sits on it. It is hard to find, and easy to lose again among the moundy grass ... it gives her pleasure and encourages her to give men more pleasure.' Poor Captain Haddock's plaster-covered leg, meanwhile, is 'a sign of both castration and an erection'.
There is plenty more such drivel, with other details of plot, scene and character being the subject of a farrago of bogus inference, forced taxonomy and lame puns. It is all bolstered with a galaxy of references from the self-indulgent worlds of literary criticism, psychoanalysis and the Situationists of the 1960s. Too few names go undropped, the prime spot going to Roland Barthes. The book is sprinkled with enough pretentious jargon, factual error and illogicality to infuriate and baffle the unwary. But the result is a satire of which Herge, himself the creator of a cast of immortal parodies, would indeed have been proud."
Tom McCarthy told 3:AM that "The idiocy of English empirical culture is astounding!"
In the New Statesman Alex Gibbons writes that "McCarthy is obviously a very erudite chap, but his arguments too often create as many riddles as they solve. For anyone unfamiliar with Tintin's adventures, or who would rather not think of the opera singer Bianca Castafiore's emerald as a clitoris, this might not make ideal poolside reading".
In Time Out, Omer Ali is far more sympathetic to McCarthy's approach:
"In this literary investigation of Tintin, Tom McCarthy eschews the lay psychology routinely paraded by journos about the cartoon hero's creator, Georges Remi, for a fascinating look at the work. This is definitely one for the fans: so detailed are McCarthy's references that I found myself reading this slim volume a handful of pages at a time. Refracted through the ideas of Barthes, Baudelaire, Derrida and Freud, McCarthy's text conjures magnificent insights on such recurring themes as diamonds, tombs and tobacco. ... It's a shame McCarthy doesn't go further at the end, tracing Herge's literary inheritors (Arturo Perez-Reverte's 'The Nautical Chart' springs to mind) or more recent resonances (he has a fascination with the word 'kar' -- Syldavian for 'king' -- and the original Turkish title for Orhan Pamuk's 'Snow', which features a hero called Ka, visiting a town called Kars). But the success of McCarthy's experiment resonates. He sends you back to the books with renewed enjoyment and a refreshed eye."
In the Times, Ian Beck writes: "The author offers an exceptional, and very up-close, reading of Herge's texts, characters and plots, finding that they conceal a veritable palimpsest of coded messages and signifiers, of layers and densities, of crosscurrents, hidden meanings, and sublimated desires. Here is a fascinating, and sometimes disturbing work of deconstruction". ... Blistering blue barnacles, this is an intellectual book!"
Finally, The Guardian has published a round-up of reviews which includes this extract from the Sunday Telegraph: ""No matter how much you despise his critical reference points (Derrida, Barthes, etc), no matter how far-fetched his wilder flights of fancy, by the end you're throwing your arms up in surrender. The book runs the risk of ruining your enjoyment of Tintin forever. By golly, though, it's brilliant".
(Crap picture at the top by Andrew Gallix: Tom McCarthy reading an extract from Remainder at a 3:AM gig last year.)