The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books

13 May 2014

A Clyster for the Republic

— [Nicholas Currie]. Momus. UnAmerica. Penny-Ante Editions, 2014. Success and Failure Series. 157, [1] pp.

From the very first sentence of UnAmerica, it is plain that we are in another universe ; just how near to our own does not become apparent until later in the paragraph, when the narrator, Brad, makes an illegal U-turn in his Dodge Custer and parks at the Tastee Freez. Brad is on his way to meet God in Summerville, South Carolina. By page 11, it is clear what shape that universe has taken : “ the triumph of the slave-driving South over the Yankees during the Civil War, and the Confederate States of America’s use of nuclear weapons against civilian populations in Britain during the Second World War. ”

UnAmerica is the third is a series of explorations of national stereotypes and alterities (The Book of Scotlands, 2009, reviewed here , and The Book of Japans, 2010). Nicholas Currie, who writes and performs as Momus, is past master of the gross-out, the bravo of bestiality, the cantor of incest, and the psychopomp of the obscene. He is able to break strong taboos in a single aside. Even at his most transgressive, the satire gleams pure gold and his tricky prose demonstrates the high level of intellectual agility and engagement. UnAmerica is a genuinely Swiftian satire, obscene, blasphemous, and necessary : a clyster for the republic as vigorous as anything the Lilliputians administered to Gulliver, depicted by William Hogarth (The Punishment Inflicted on Lemuel Gulliver [December 1726] ). The truly apposite gross-out is another form of the lie that tells the truth. Everything is fair game : art, murder, botany, the seasons, diet, numbers, music, the American legal system, and especially, commerce.

At the meeting in the Tastee Freez, Brad is instructed to make a voyage like Saint Brendan’s : not to reach Tir na nÓg but to undiscover America. The labors of his preparations are a voyage into the darkest corners of the malls of America. With all due apologies to Joaquin Miller and Avram Davidson, to ask if Momus has visited South Carolina is to ask of Dante, “ Say, Bub, has yoouu ever been to Hell ? ” (or perhaps not), but it is to ask the wrong question.

Why don’t I have a car ? It’s a legitimate question for a man living in a nation where a driver’s license is the default ID,