Saturday 27 January 2018

Robinson by Jack Robinson   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
When Robinson Crusoe in Daniel Defoe’s novel of the same name discovers the footprint of a stranger on the margins of the island he considers his domain, he builds defences and prepares violence. He wants to keep for himself his table, made with his own hands, his rude bowl, likewise, and his parasol - which publication of the his eponymous novel would create a fashion for in England - but even more he wants to keep for himself the puritanical practices of useful labour, useful thought and self-restraint - he made a very small amount of rum last for ten years! - that are both the expression and the perpetuation of his isolation. He remains sealed to all that is not him. When given the opportunity, upon a suitably disadvantaged other, he shows himself prepared to teach but not to learn. The propagation of Defoe’s novel as an English classic over the centuries has both epitomised and contributed to a particularly noxious strand of Anglo-Saxon masculinity compounded of an arrogance and a superiority complex on the one hand and a concomitant deep insecurity and fear on the other, resulting in an instinct to build defences and prepare violence. Jack Robinson, in this quick and subtle little book, not only sketches the deleterious effect upon English society of this thread of Englishness, leading to the Brexit vote resulting from the projection of threat onto difference (“Robinson’s question: why are there not more crazy people running amok with machetes or second-hand Kalashnikovs?”), but also traces the literary offspring of Ur-Crusoe, so to call him: Robinsons in books by Franz KafkaLouis-Ferdinand CélineMuriel Spark and others, and in the films of Patrick Keillor, each either or both perpetuating or degrading the character with whom they are inescapably associated, and ultimately, collectively, dissolving and erasing the ethos he represents, or, in any rate, moving towards such dissolution or erasure. Jack Robinson, one of the last of the literary Robinsons, is the author of a number of quick and subtle little books, although in this one he appears more as a companion, or sidekick, albeit an enigmatic one, of the man he is the pseudonymous alter-ego of, Charles Boyle (responsible for, among other things, the eye-wateringly wonderful CB Editions (the publisher of, among other books, those of Jack Robinson)), evidently the narrator of this book, packed as it is, or seems to be, with slices of Boyle's fine-grained memoir, but curiously attributing authorship to another version of himself who appears in it, almost grudgingly, in the third person (or is Boyle ventriloquising Robinson ventriloquising Boyle writing of Robinson? (Well, yes, but where do you stop?)). The literary bloodlines, or bloodlesslines, or inklines, or whatever, of double-yolked identities are also examined, from Defoe’s Crusoe and Friday through Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon to Lars Iyer’s W. and Lars, and, of course, ultimately, to the bastard doubles Robinson and the (here-unnamed) Boyle. What is the relationship between these pairs of men (and between them and their authors), and why are they so concerned with what we might, without, these days, descending to an exclusively religious connotation, term the End Times? Given the cultural pedigree manifesting as the collective paranoia of Brexit and Trump, it is no wonder that there are people running amok (with machetes or whatever), but Robinson’s question pertains: it is a wonder there are not more.

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