Lost Binder

A more potent sleep-inducing object.

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mandarin
As maximalist, fantastic, and magical realist aesthetics proliferate we need to be reminded of how unconscious the unconscious is. As far as the revolution of the mind is concerned Bréton was as unsuccessful a prophet as Marx was regarding a revolution of class. If Paris is the western icon of failed revolutions then in Minnapolis the waking kingdom wins victory after victory over a sleep deprived population. Kunin asserts and reasserts the setting of his novel to redirect us away from surrealism’s Parisian topos, in order to contest some of its claims on the space of dreams. We can believe that whatever the city in which they are produced dreams more and more resemble the anxieties and banalities of waking life.

Surrealism as a whole contains as many techniques as it does divergent ideological platforms, and the trances of Robert Desnos or the dream journals of Henri Michaux and Michel Leiris represent alternatives to the high-fi effects of its fabulist strains. In the case of Leiris, surrealism’s emancipatory goals give over to a cynical and static anthropology of the mind’s automatic functions. The most embarrassing and banal concerns are treated as a type of evidence for an objective representation of dream life, with all of their potential tedium intact. Here we see a precedent of some kind for Kunin’s use of shame as a veritable technique of composition.

Ultimately, however, it might be mainly through a highly calculated artifice that the reality of contemporary dream life is most accurately rendered, as in the fiction of Kafka, and even more so that of Blanchot, which Aaron Kunin’s prose work most resembles. While it is impossible to summarize the complexities of The Mandarin there are suggestions within the work that one of Kunin’s missions is to conjure the experience of the dream apart from any fabulist aesthetic, the most obvious being a character who writes novels meant to put people to sleep. In part by inducing exhaustion, through wearying digressions, hollow exchanges, matter of fact impossibilities and constant recycling of very particular references Kunin succeeds brilliantly. Just as we lose interest in a person’s most profoundly evocative dream as he describes it, the novel sacrifices all of its interest as art, carefully sabotaging its own themes and allegories, in order to most artfully represent our failure to articulate our own memories of sleep.

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Written by Jesse Huisken

February 9, 2010 at 12:40 am

Posted in Poetics

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