Robert Kloss is the author of How the Days of Love & Diphtheria (Mud
Luscious Press/Nephew) and The Alligators of Abraham (Mud Luscious Press,
2012)....read more He is found online at rkbirdsofprey.blogspot.com.
JOHANNES GORANSSON'S entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate is one of those rare literary achievements, a work so new and brilliant and strange that a reviewer initially fumbles for any possible comparisons and antecedents to make sense of the text in-question. In this case, none of the ready comparisons really live up to this new object, not even that readiest of comparisons, the plays of Jean Genet, with their obsessions of identity, their masks, their pageantry, their crime and lust and perversity all rendered in an overstuffed and too-gorgeous language of musky flowers, thieves, and dead whores. Indeed, nothing really prepares the reader for pageant’s unrelenting deluge of horrific and make-up smutty images, narrated by a shifting cast of impossible size and historical identity, beneath various masks and disguises, and always in the same over-bursting and beautiful writing.
pageant is told in a series of monologues, sometimes delivered in the form of questions, sometimes shouted over barking dogs, or spoken into infected shells, or in stutters, or while wearing hoods, or out of unison like school children or interrupted by loud recording[s] of small mammals fornicating violently and it is in this chaotic frenzy that we find the energy of modern America, the cancers and AIDS and assassinated presidents and malls and pageants, as well as a hint of the history of America, in pageant’s obsession with Natives, contagion, pigs, and horses, for what did this first colonists set loose to breed and overrun the landscape but disease, swine, horses?
pageant is alive with the fear of colonization, both by disease and immigrant, and these fears are unified by the character of The Passenger, whose arrival and subsequent interrogation (while hooded) open pageant: Are you gay? Are you a terrorist? Are you communist? Eventually of the twin threats these bird-like, twitchy people (passengers) present that the more serious threat is the diseases passengers carry with them. Internal terrorism. Children love these diseases…. Such children cannot be cleaned off. Kill them. Or turn them into art.
This conflation of art and violence is also witnessed throughout pageant, not only with the live performance of horses who give birth on stage with the help of hammers and unsharp razorblades, or the horse cadavers whose main problem is not that they bleed or stink but they can be turned into theater, but also through the character representing our great national export, the Hollywood film industry, which at one point says, You may know me from such roles as the colonial war in the jungle and the place where the president was shot in the head.
Certainly, it is telling that the two presidents most frequently represented in the pageant, Reagan by name and Kennedy by implication, are not important in American history for their understanding of personal image and theatrics in manipulating public favor, but for their infamous assassination or attempted assassination so often depicted on television and in film. At one point in pageant, stagehands re-enact the assassination of Ronald Reagan while, at another point, the role of the President is played by as many people as you can fit into a board room, all of them with their hairs still ruffled from the bullet wound. It is also notable that both Reagan and Kennedy (along with Nixon, who is the third president represented in pageant) are among the most famously willful of Cold Warriors, stemming the infection and spread of communism.
pageant is a strange and new tidal force. And, as such, I highly recommend it. With no true literary antecedent as preparation, the accumulating horror of Göransson’s prose onslaughts overwhelm with their ruthless beauty, to remarkable and lasting effect.