Saturday 20 February 2021


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The Disinvent Movement by Susanna Gendall    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
He could tell she was a serious writer because she had been photographed in front of a brick wall and it is well known, he thought, that all serious writers, or at least those persons who are keen to present themselves as serious writers, are so photographed, he knew that he would never be taken seriously as a serious writer unless he was so photographed and, actually, he had even been so photographed at some time but usually found that he had been cropped out of the photograph in which he appeared. He at one time had compiled an informal collection of such serious writers photographed against brick walls but he could no longer find this collection, he had perhaps left it on his old computer or deleted it as insufficiently interesting, but he remembered, or it seemed to him that he remembered, if that is not the same thing, that the serious writers in these photographs all looked squarely at the camera, staring down the photographer perhaps, or the reader more likely, each wearing a winter coat of some description, some sporting a cigarette, impressing upon us that they were not only serious writers but writers with grit, attuned to the disaffection of modern urban life. None of them, however, as far as he remembered, had been photographed with her head tilted to one side as had the author here, a posture he thought usually indicative of persons whose desire for approval outstripped their self esteem but in this instance accompanied by a glance so guarded and accusatory or just plain sad that he was compelled to look away, unable to decide whether this photograph reinforced or undermined the concept of a serious writer. He considered the possibility of ceasing the review of actual books and commencing the review of author photographs but he did not consider this possibility for very long. “Once I was in I wanted to get out,” writes the author of The Disinvent Movement, or, more precisely, states the narrator written by that author, if we can make such a distinction. The novel begins as a series of fragments, seemingly unrelated other than being what he called I-related, a grab-bag, if it could be likened to a bag, of snippets and impressions, writing course exercises perhaps, what else can you do with them, verbal jokes, somewhat smart, a bit too cute, lightly irritating, presumably deliberately so, he thought, phrases turned upside down to drain the meaning out of them, phrases expressing their lack of meaning. Fragments are the only truth, as the philosophers say, but these passages are a facade, he thought, a facade constructed of detritus, cast-offs, abandoned matter, abandoned phrases presented strangely, and all this verbal capering, what could it be but some sort of exercise in avoidance, an exercise in staying on the surface, dog paddle, an exercise in not sinking down to the heart of things. Despite, or because of, all that light shone glinting on the surfaces there must be something dark beneath, he thought, there is something horrible hidden but not very well hidden, the impulse to hide is the impulse also to reveal, once he began to look for clues they were everywhere, how could he have not seen them from the start, the narrator calling out for help but stifling her call in pleasantries and cleverness. Once you start to look for it, the truth reveals itself like an injury. What is it that makes people serial victims of relationship violence? Where lies the harm when the harm is endlessly repeated in different situations? “There was a basic outline,” states the narrator of her relationships, “which I filled with different stuffing. There was one role that always had to be filled. It was always a surprise to see who had got that role.” For her, people are interchangeable, everything is replaceable and therefore inescapable. Everything must be repeated. Escape is not possible and therefore has to be “attempted”, rather than actually attempted. One must go through all the motions. “In Switzerland the landscape was not mixed up in my problems yet.” This is my favourite sentence in the book, he thought. The narrator attempts to fool herself, knowing that she cannot fool herself, that running away is possible. “In Switzerland your actions in other countries were of such little consequence that it was unclear if they really mattered at all. I guessed my job didn’t exist any more. That was one way of dealing with it. It didn’t require much imagination to consider that the house we lived in and the unmade beds and the unpaid bills didn’t exist either.” But actually to escape would require a narrative and narrative is only a literary device of no real use in a world of fragments, he thought, narrative is impossible in such a world. The only option left, then, is erasure. The narrator forms The Disinvent Movement, a feckless group of sloppy idealists, or should that be anti-idealists, he wondered, who set out to disinvent the evils of the world but whose only action, if it actually occurs, is to paint the windshields of a few vehicles black to shock their owners with their inability to see. But is not seeing the same as disinventing, he wondered, or just the best we can hope to achieve? The narrator has a pile of ‘Disinvent Yourself’ T-shirts at the back of her drawer. Will the narrator’s self-obliterative impulses, he wondered, result in invisibility or self-destruction? What is the difference between these options? Is not being the only way of not being a victim? Why all these questions? I am guilty, he realised, because I do not help, even though I cannot help. No wonder the accusatory look. The narrator is completely I-obsessed, he realised, because she is intent upon the destruction of the I. Refuge in nullity. There is no helping her. “It turned out to be harder to hurt someone,” she writes, “whose personality kept turning blank.”

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