Vol. XX, #3 Henry Green / James Kelman / Ariel Dorfman
Review of Contemporary Fiction
The Temple of Iconoclasts, by J. Rudolfo Wilcock
reviewed by Sally E. Perry
Trans. Lawrence Venuti. Mercury House, 2000. 208 pp. Paper: $14.95.
Imagining Lives of Eminent Victorians crossed with Mad magazine will give the reader only an inkling of this ironic and imaginative novel which purports to be a collection of biographical essays on men who have gone against the grain in matters philosophical, political, and scientific. Wilcock creates what seems to be a reference book of the obscure and ignored thinkers of the last several hundred years. One could dismiss all of this as fiction, but some of the biographies are of actual people—a tactic that keeps readers off guard since it’s not clear from the text itself who are the real in this world of off-center thought. Most of the men presented want to challenge notions of epistemology and re-create the way the world is known through other means. One man creates a biological socioeconomic theory while another stops time occasionally to catch up with his work. Many of the biographies are replete with scientific discourse, referencing everyone from Anton von Leeuwenhoek to Charles Darwin and Thomas Edison and theories supposedly inspired by them, such as the dehydration of the living to prevent death, the distillation of the substance of beauty, and the creation of ways to modify gravity. Two especially fascinating entries are of playwright Llorenz Riber who brings rabbit symbolism into all his plays, including a dramatic adaptation of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations and an unpublished screenplay about Tristan and Isolde, two gay princes killed by King Mark who is in turn devoured by Tristan’s devoted rabbit. The other, Jésus Pica Planas, is representative of most of these men, for creating a number of devices “striking in their uselessness,” including an antinoise device for enamored cats and a mousetrap in the form of a guillotine. Although these and other devices “sank like a stone into the cesspool of scientific sewage,” Wilcock’s presentation of these passionate eccentrics, both real and unreal, deserves to have a wide audience.