An Expansive Review of Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate. by Johannes Göransson
One of the hurdles to enjoying Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate. is that the book requires the reader to learn how to read it while the reader is reading it. One of the pleasures of Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate. is that the book teaches the reader how to read it, page by page, beginning with the title, which promises four things:
(1) There is a pageant.
(2) The pageant is colonial.
(3) In this pageant, we all begin to intricate.
(4) The form of the book will be the entrance to this pageant.
The reader immediately asks a few questions:
(1) What does it mean for a pageant to be colonial?
(2) What does intricate mean when it is used as a verb?
(3) How to you write a book in the form of an entrance to a pageant?
The question about intricate-as-verb is the thorniest title question, because it is a provocation (intricate is an adjective meaning complex or complicated or having lots of entangled parts) and also a battle cry (the title is announcing that the book will require a resituation of our relationship to it as readers, starting with grammar.) When intricate moves from adjective to verb, the reader asks: Does this mean the we of the title will all begin to get complicatedly entangled? Does it mean something that the sounds of the words enter and intricate are very similar? When we get it as an active verb, we’re looking for motion. Is that motion into or tangling-around or both? If it is, as it seems, a going-in, are we meant to think of it as a penetrating motion, which means that we’ve got in some way an act of violence or violation in play? If we do, who is we? Is it the writer or the characters or the reader or all three? And if we do, what is being penetrated or pierced, and what complicated thing is happening inside, during or afterward?
The next thing worth noticing about that title is that it is presented as a sentence is presented – the first letter capitalized, the rest of the letters not capitalized, and the whole thing ending in a period – rather than the way that a title is ordinarily presented—all the letters of the major words capitalized, and no period. And the sentence the title comprises is not a complete sentence, with a subject and a predicate. It is a fragment—a subject without a predicate. The reader asks: The entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate…is what or does what? So the title sentence is deceptive in a second way: It is not declarative the way a sentence that ends with a period usually is. It is an open question: What is the predicate?
One way to read the title is to think of the rest of the book as the predicate.
Another way to read the title is to think of the title as a promise that what the book offers will be fragmentary the way the title is fragmentary.
Another way to read the title is to think that the book will be simply an entrance, period.
Another way to read the title is to think that the we of the title will include in its we-ness the book’s speaker and also include the other characters in the book as part of the we.
Another way to read the title is to think that the we of the title will include in its we-ness the book’s speaker and also the reader.
None of these readings contradict the others, and the book doesn’t do anything to discourage any of them. Lawrence Weschler, in Vermeer in Bosnia, wrote: “It’s one of the great things about great works of art that they can bear—and, indeed, that they invite—a superplenitude of possible readings, some of them contradictory.”
The book opens with a “Note on the Production,” which is worth quoting in full:
The main scene should be full of ornaments and crime. The words attributed to the characters do not necessarily have to be spoken; they can be acted out, or played on an archaic tape-player.
The second stage is an abandoned factory in downtown South Bend, IN, where during the entire performance my daughter Sinead dances while changing in and out of various costumes: the Hare Mask, the Cartoon Face, the Red Robe of History, the Reversible Body. She is only once actually seen by the audience, on a video screen streaming live from her dance. Mostly she is hidden because she represents that which is hidden.
The third stage is a mall, where the Natives stand still, watching, interviewing and photographing the Customers. Sometimes I feel a certain tenderness towards the Natives. Other times I want to stab them in their plug-ugly faces.
Here is a bit of extra-textual information that Facebook has confirmed for me: Göransson has a daughter named Sinead. So Göransson is inviting the reader to consider at least the possibility that the first person narrator is Göransson, or some analogue or fictional version of Göransson. And because everything that follows will be “the production,” we are invited to consider several possibilities. Perhaps this is an actual production, and if it is, it is a massive and transgressive one, since it will take place at least partially in the public space of the mall, and at least partially in an abandoned place—that factory in South Bend—which means at the very least young Sinead will have to trespass in order to perform her role of dancing while changing in and out of costumes. Since the main scene, full as it is, can be acted out (the dialogue can go unspoken) or played on an archaic tape player, perhaps the entire performance will only take place at the behest of the most dedicated and motivated of all readers, who becomes, then, the producer. Or perhaps the entire performance will only take place in the mind of Göransson. Or perhaps the performance primarily takes place in the act of engagement with the pages of the book, the reader in collaboration with the author who is no longer present except on the page. So the pageant, conceptually, is dislocated in space and time along many different axes, and since so many choices about its staging have been left to its stagers, every iteration of the pageant will be a different performance and a different sort of experience for everyone involved, even though they will all be playing the same beats. Thus, strangely, by the end of page one, the very specific stage directions by a very specific author, have already been opened up to invite a universalizing reading: The things that happen in this pageant, and the ways in which they happen, will have some correlation to the bigger pageant we’re all performing across the great stage of the planet which includes but is not limited to South Bend, Indiana, that shopping mall, and the scene of ornaments and crime. It is worth noting, here, that the book is only 82 pages long, that it is cut small enough to fit in a coat pocket, and that the pages have a lot of white space. Yet because of the work done by page one of the book, its size in the mind of the reader has expanded to include all of human experience.
The performance begins. In the book it’s given as a progression of dramatic monologues, entirely in dialogue, and already we’re reading them in multiple ways, because we know that in some versions of the performance, many of these parts won’t be spoken at all. They will be performed. The first time through the book, the reader might try to hold competing versions of the performance in mind. The second time, the reader might realize that a better way to go might be to make definitive choices and proceed from them in imagination. Using this second reading technique, the reader might realize that the reader has become the producer of Göransson’s pageant, and that Göransson’s pageant has now become the reader’s pageant, which means the responsibility for what goes on in it has suddenly slid in the direction of the reader, and Göransson—that trickster—has caused the reader to self-implicate. If the reader can bear up under the pressure of this self-implication, there might be a third reading, and if there is a fourth, then there might as well be a fifth, sixth, seventh, seventieth, and seven hundredth, because since the book has opened itself to choice-making, and since the book functions as a performance rather than as, say, an conventional novel, there is no limit to the number of unique performances the book might offer. And once the book has done this, the book has then invited the reader to think about the experience of reading other books, even books of the most conventional variety, and in how many ways those experiences, too, are the reader’s performance.
In quick succession we’re introduced to our cast, or at least the ones who get speaking or acting-in-place-of-speaking roles: The Passenger, Nurse Marble, The Girlfriend, Miss World, The Promoter, Father Future, The Natives, Stagehand, The Repulsive Man, Father Literature, Daughter, Father Exchange, Father Voice-Over, My Girlfriend’s Body, Father Insect, The Virgin Father, Little American Girl, The Oil Daughter, Nurse I Would Die For, Mother Empire, A Cheering Nation, Charlotte Brontë, Hollywood, The Genius Children, The Iconophobic Daughter, A Looted Model Speaks Out for Symbolism, The Visual, and so on.
We see The Passenger first, and we will follow the passenger throughout the story. At first he is admitted and asked a series of intrusive questions, to which we learn he is answering “no” with a bag over his face. He undergoes a surgery, and blood pours from his head. There is a lot of blood. Already we’re thinking about the verb intricate. The Passenger has entered, has been admitted, and upon admission complicated things are happening to him. He undergoes a surgery, blood pours from his head, and we’re thinking about the violence and the violation of entry. The surgical instruments have penetrated his skull.
Nurse Marble, who speaks next, declares the thread of passengers to Our Children, and now we’re thinking about the promise made in the Note on the Production about the mall and those Natives. Clearly this book is preoccupied with the matters of inside and outside—who is in and who is out, who belongs and who does not, whether people who do not belong are a threat to those who do, and what responsibilities accrue to each party.
Göransson clearly does not subscribe to the now-fashionable notion that literature ought not traffic explicitly in symbolism. Characters wear masks, their names are often simply descriptions of the type they describe, their actions are often transparently stand-ins for abstract things outside the story. But, as promised by the verb intricate, these starting places are quickly undermined by way of special language, special syntax, special turns of character. Miss World, for example, is a five year-old boy in a basketball jersey. The characters of the Father and the Daughter seem to actually shift personas while remaining a constant if disrupted continuum of the two characters Father and Daughter. The second time we see the Daughter, she is “television horny.” The Natives are often given the task of asking people intrusive questions in the mall they are using as their staging area. Hollywood is played by a heap of dead horses. The character named Stagehand, who is literally a stagehand, is made to fall into obsessive love with an audience member before castrating himself, and this progression happens very quickly. He has castrated himself harmless to the audience member by page nine.
By the end of the performance, everything is going to hell. Audience members have been pressed into service to perform impromptu the Fall of the House of Usher in whiteface in collective portrayal of the character The Primal Scene. All sorts of abstractions by now have become characters. Mimesis lives in the movie theater, where he seduces women and steals their children. The Welfare State dares the audience to look at her in her nakedness, without shame. Trauma suddenly seizes the stage and repeatedly harangues everyone. A lot of time must have passed, because suddenly Miss World is a teenager. Suddenly so many characters are wearing hoods, as The Passenger did at pageant’s beginning. There is a mock execution. There are 5 Outfits for the Execution. The final scene has Father Voice-Over shouting “NO!” as Sinead “dances with her hare-head for approximately 2 minutes.”)
If these descriptions sound to you like spoilers, I have five things to say in response:
1. This book cannot be spoiled by a recitation of some or all of its parts, because it does not bear up to summary unless that summary is approximately 7.2 times the length of the book (I estimate), since the book’s plot resides not in a progression of events but rather in a reader’s response to the interplay among disparate parts, fragments of language, intentional but complicated symbology, dislocation of character, the many levels of point of view that make each sentence point-of-view-wise a hall of mirrors, and conflation of character with setting with stage direction with actor with audience member with writer with reader.
2. If by spoil, you mean something akin to ruin, impair, damage, plunder, take by force, decay, pillage, or perish, then the book is already spoiled, or else it is
3. a document of spoil, or else it is
4. a mirror held up to spoil, or else it is
5. an invitation to spoil and/or be spoiled.
When I said in the first paragraph of this review that this is a book that requires the reader to learn how to read it and that teaches the reader to learn how to read it, I meant it in an active and ongoing way. The book continues to teach, and the reader continues to learn, and perhaps eventually, the roles reverse, and the reader begins to teach the book, but the book refuses to learn, and perhaps in time the book grows angry and turns on the reader, or perhaps all along the book has been angry and has been preparing the reader to be turned upon, or perhaps all along the reader was angry and the book held up a mirror to the reader, and the reader turned upon him- or herself, and here I think we’re getting closer to the question of what intricate means when it becomes a verb, when it gets inside you and twists around and there’s a hole where it entered.
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