Geometric Regional Novel by Gert Jonke
Edited by Vincent Kling
Poetics of Structure: Establishment, Movement, and Time in
J. F. Campbell
By the time our narrator, enmeshed in the fate of time and place, performs the keenly anticipated but endlessly postponed crossing of the village square in Gert Jonke's Geometric Regional Novel, the elaborate social order of the novel has re-duced freedom and logical comprehension to a program of predetermined re-sponses founded on deceitful subterfuges of communal exploitation. As the so-cial order unfolds across the whole plot, the structural arrangement sets up cer-tain characteristic features and devices—we stumble across them every few feet—that constitute the poetics of Geometric Regional Novel and so compose its meaning, both its substance and significance. Yet, all the while, it would appear as if the action of the novel were in no way progressing, as if, for some reason, the movement of the plot were being restrained, almost as if we, as outsiders, were being disbarred by some social force within the village from understanding the culture of the world unfolding before us. Jonke establishes a village for us, a social structure whose movement through time is represented in a fragmentary way in order to dramatize the psychological debility imposed upon its occupants while revealing to us certain truths about our own social situation.
The Flux of Time
Jonke's villagers, unable to recognize the oppression they are subject to,are incapable of any expression other than neutral description, pathos, or the un-controllable, delirious hysterics of the narrator, and seem to be suffering from the symptoms of what, in Nietzschean terms, might be described as "Last Man Syndrome." Here, for fear of spoiling their digestion, the villagers profess happiness and blink: "Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into the madhouse" (Nietzsche, Zarathustra 18). Besides this miserable affliction of imposed homogeneity, the novel is deficient in any sort of any identifiable or traditional plot line. Plot is a teleological construction, always moving toward some end, so that each element executes some function in the satisfaction of our "desire to see an enigma or problem resolved" (Culler 211). This "enigma or problem" is the one complete motivated action of Aristotelian thought, where the incidents of the text form a cycle of condensation, accumulation, and precipitation, a constant flux of establishment and movement between character disposition and decisive action. Neither is the direct cause or effect of the other, but we must recognize and un-derstand that
all human actions that are worked out to the end, passing through the unforeseeable contingencies of a "world we never made," follow a similar course: the conscious purpose with which they start is redefined after each unforeseen contingency is suffered; and at the end, in the light of hindsight, we see the truth of what we have been doing. (Fergusson 13)
Instead of linear development, this novel appears to be structured so as to perform simultaneously two parallel functions, neither of which works to expli-cate either character or action. The more basic function of the text is to structure the village as an immediate and tangible social world, something for us to read. However, the primary function is to construct our own world for us within the confines of this village. Jonke establishes a concentrated, microscopic recon-struction of our world, so that we do not just observe outwardly but are forced to examine ourselves thoroughly as well. We are called to measure our movements against those of the villagers and bear witness to the effects of social control and its sometimes imperceptible impact on our lives.
The two parallel levels converge continually upon one another in the form of an informal conversation between the reader as visitor to the village and the narrator, the two voices that discuss the action of the text, the crossing of the village square. We quickly become dumbfounded at our inability either to progress across the square or to understand why we cannot. It seems as if the narrator operates with no regard for narrative conventions. Narrative progression is re-placed with dialectic posturing, where we, as readers, must repeatedly request of the narrator to move the plot forward, must ask if we can "walk across the village square" (7), only to be persistently dissuaded from our affinity toward conven-tional plot movement. The novel's disregard of our reliance on convention quickly institutes itself as the standard when, in the course of the dialogue, the narrator states,
yes i remember you said
The entire text of the novel is suffused with ambiguous dialogic terms,unsubstantiated referential pronouns without discernible apposition, like this mysterious"you," not to mention innumerable "let's" and "we." Clearly, a con-versation is taking place, and it is this conversation that moves the plot along, almost as if this conversation were a device borrowed from Greek drama, where we, the readers, along with the narrator, form an informal chorus, repeatedly re-convening to question in strophic form the events occurring before us. Without this constant questioning, this constant expression of one party's expectations, this desire to move forward, we would remain with our cheeks pressed up against the blacksmith's walls. This desire is ours, as readers. We desire to witness the unfolding of the arrangement of incidents, to observe the completion of some motive in either success or failure, to see some "enigma or problem re-solved," to see what lies on the other side of the square. The narrative of Geometric Regional Novel is probing our need for convention, calling attention to the unconscious plot projection that all readers exercise throughout the reading of a novel. This supposition is the articulation, for us, of our reliance on convention, as well as a rendering of the consciousness that we all, unfortunately, share with the villagers. The light of the "artist or acrobat, or whatever such a man should be called" (18) will not allow the villagers to sleep comfortably, and by extension, by presenting this scene so early in the book, this light prohibits our dropping off, which, like all the sleepy and the blessed, is what we would most like. In this way, Jonke's novel captures complete control of our attention, forcing us, by way of the anxiety its radical structure inflicts upon us, to question everything, even the most rudimentary components of our lives.
Gradually, Geometric Regional Novel develops into a strangely simple, precisely provincial social reality, a text that reflects our world, whose moment and whose consequence depend entirely upon our ability to recognize the resemblance. Much in the same way, a mirror only functions when we engage with it, revealing our reflection to ourselves. What we perceive, then, is solely a function of what we consciously receive. Our reception of sensory stimulation determines our perception or awareness and in turn our subsequent understanding of both ourselves and our world. A mirror will show us, superficially at least, what we are, or, perhaps more correctly, what we look like. To recognize this reflection, to recognize who we are, we must analyze each characteristic, engage with our perception, and resolve the relationship of parts. To understand this harmony of parts, this seamless coalescence, in turn, we must first recognize in the smooth glass the composed whole, thereby providing a proof for the relation of parts, where each part, along with its connections to other parts, reveals the whole. Truly, the interaction of these characteristics, these poetics, produces coherence, a flow of formal continuity, across a construction. Then these interactions, down to even the dramatic interplay of simple syntactical structures within the sen-tence, develop meaning.
So, when we encounter the social mirror of Geometric Regional Novel, we realize, almost immediately, that the formal flow of the narrative seems to be intentionally diverted, that the organized sequencing of the text seems to prohibit fluidity altogether. In fact, the narrative is entirely disconnected, lacking any causality between scenes, impairing assimilation of the plot. To us, outside the village, nothing inside it makes sense. In time, however, we assent in this suspension of plot. We acknowledge that this loitering must be a major thematic device, a dramatic structuring force or poetic of the novel, a seed that will eventually bear fruit. We come gradually to realize, from the very lack of standard coherence, that structural seeds are being scattered about, which will take root and form a whole in the end. Indeed, we are assured that there will be a harvest, that there is a point to all this disarray, this deranged arrangement. We are told, "yes that’s right outside the village grain is being threshed" (40). The harvest, then, is ours to reap. However, instead of becoming intricately bound together, or woven as one would expect of a plot, this novel suffers from a sort of sever-ance, where its "grains are separated from stalks the grains arranged in a circle the stalks arranged in a circle alongside" (40). The narrative presentation dis-plays almost total incoherence, not only among its relatively desiccated narrative passages but also in its erratic indented passages, as well as in the interrelations between the two. We readers are forced to engage, to interact, with this text, to follow its dizzying, faintly circular plotline to its logical conclusion, through its seemingly inconclusive ending, all the while suspending our expectations and hoping we were right about the harvest.
All fictional conventions seem to have been removed from the construction of Geometric Regional Novel, displacing the reader, raising barriers to the infu-sion of any potentially intrusive expectations. Not only is there no chance for either tragedy or comedy, but there appears to be not even a structural possibil-ity for beginning, middle, and end. The reader remains unsure throughout the whole, altogether insecure and thus altogether too hesitant to draw any conclu-sions. The reader’s diffidence and apprehensiveness, which pervade the reading of the whole novel, prevent the slightest connections, even between contingent scenes. For example, the benches present in the first chapter, of whose removal we were never made aware and which simply disappear, seem unrelated to those added to the square after an earlier subtraction, the uprooting of the tree stumps. Yet, by the time the benches return, taking their initial position around the periphery,"on the edges of the square, their backs turned toward the walls" (91), the narrative has come full circle. Accordingly, when those people sitting on the benches in the opening chapter, "as if suddenly put there, two on each bench" (7), reappear many scene changes later, we are still unable to "walk across the village square because we weren’t supposed to be seen, and we observed how those sitting on the benches c o u l d n ' t see us, because we didn't walk across the village square; we saw how they d i d n ' t see us" (92). We have established ourselves in this environment, but every time we try to move forward, to advance across the square, to get on with our lives, we find some so-cial force impeding us, restraining us, restricting our growth. The narrative circle has cycled round in a full revolution, shuffling about outside the square while outlining its contents; yet, even after this construction is completed, nothing has changed, except that the square empties and we are able to sneak across. Our re-ception is wholly obscured by the narrative presentation, forcing us to tread lightly through the text, avoiding the village square, so as not to disturb the sub-tle and delicate reality assembled for us.
Every novel, being an independent, singular construction, will produce meaning according to its own laws, its own textual associations. Each novel is composed of a series of characteristics, an arrangement of materials, which determine our interpretation of it, if we truly engage with the characteristic materi-als of the work as presented, that is. The novel's devices, its poetics, specify how the text functions, its structural schematic and path of development. The poetics act as a support upon which the structure of the novel is built. As the novel progresses through the plot it finally forms a stage on which the reader can watch the drama of the text performed, can see it developing even within each sentence. The performance of the text, of its meaning, is a presentation for the observer to witness, so that readers can feel that the understanding gained, through the tension of the dramatic situation, is their own, the result of their act of recognition, not their passive reception. Therefore, through conscious consideration of our perception through analysis of our reception, we will be able to recognize and understand whatever presentation we encounter. It is specifically true of any art that "we can not observe the creative phenomenon independently of the form in which it is made manifest" (Stravinsky 6). The form, the structuring of the creative phenomenon, either conforms to or deviates from certain inevitable rules of the craft, and the measure of conformity or deviation is the measure of the meaning. To develop a meaning by this approach is the task of the text; full disclosure of purpose is the text’s to make. Meaning, then, becomes animate through the movement of the text. This meaning must be something intrinsic to the text, the impetus or motivation for each aspect, as well as the whole. The entire text is one motion toward the production and elucidation of its meaning. In the same way that a sentence evolves semantically through its syntax, so language gains meaning through its context. A word by itself is only an agent of potential meaning, often with several different and unrelated definitions. The interplay of textual parts unfolds, smoothing out its wrinkles until it appears unified, ultimately determining meaning through its context. The meaning extends from the text, first developing within it, and then radiating from it. This blending, the harmonizing whole, this assemblage of complete component parts, creates the recognizable text and makes it intelligible.
The Imposition of Time
This generative aspect, characterized by image sparks struck with seeming thoughtlessness, acts as a structural frame enclosing a social mirror. The mirror reveals a melodrama of sorts, one whose arrangement of dramatic episodes actually appears much more chaotically or melodically than logically constructed. Ultimately, each small section of either scenic description or dramatic incident displays the conventional sentiment pervading the surface of the novel. As the panoramic depiction of the village proceeds, expanding aimlessly, suspense builds steadily in true melodramatic fashion, fostering a desire to follow the narrative throughout its chaotic coincidences. The melodious generation of mysterious scenes appeals to the reader, intentionally distorting perception in order to heighten sensation. Invariably, each section is simply an interval of time containing some condition or event, superficially independent of any scripted plan or overarching periodic logic. Yet, in reality, as in literature, not even chaos is an autonomous force, but rather "the occurrence of . . . apparently random events in a deterministic system" (Sardar 16). A deterministic system is a set of rules that establishes an environment, whose function is not only to limit but also to remove any variability within it. Jonke composes for us, then, a series of events that appear random, but are actually part of an extremely complex, deterministically governed system.
As Geometric Regional Novel develops, throughout its patterned course of constant derivation and continuous repetition, it eventually delineates a closed system whose existence depends upon severely enforced conformity and the un-flinching constancy of its citizenry. The village's chemistry, then, requires continual attention. Specific chemical levels must be manipulated and maintained so that the governing forces of the village allow to be developed only the print they demand, the print that captures their vision, the picture they have preconceived. We, as readers, also must monitor the village's delicate chemistry, but we do so in order to focus accurately upon the lifescape produced for us by Jonke. In this respect, the village, like the equilibrium of a chemical reaction, is sensitive to any fluctuation among its variables. In the village all variables are immediately assigned a value in accordance with a predetermined solution. The development of this deterministic system must be not only predictable, but also completely knowable. Any divergence, as we have seen, is quite simply absent from the progression or plot of the text. Inescapable may perhaps be the best word to describe the flow of the text or the course of life within the village. Once we are within the novel, the current becomes indeterminate for the reader, as if it were approaching from all directions at once, yet at the same time apparently going nowhere at all. The reader is intentionally confused upon entering this inverted reality, where "The village square is rectangular, bordering on the houses gathered around it . . ." (7). Normally, one would expect the houses to border on the square, but here, in the village, our focus is reversed, distorted, perhaps even perverted. The narrator’s eye has been trained to see things irrationally and to believe that the irrational is rational. Any discrepancies occurring while the world of people observes the world of objects, any inconsistencies arising in the translation from the physical to the psychological—a translation supervised and effected solely by the village authorities—are easily enough explained away as the fault of the observer. "That is the power of your retina’s imagination . . ." (73) is the only clarification necessary, as any and all questions are quickly glossed over and shelved. Luckily though, placed next to the narrator, we are able to assume a voyeuristic position, "hidden in the blacksmith’s workshop, cheeks pressed up against the walls" (7). From here, through a rear window of sorts, we can observe the proceedings and able to escape, for the most part, anyway, all corrupting contact with the village and its inhabitants. From here we are able to listen to the testimony of the incessant surge of time, which tosses all others about, and we can attempt, not to pass judgment upon it, but to just understand it, to come to terms with it.
This village, secluded, set off somewhere amid mountains, is actually con-structed so as to eliminate not just interference as an actuality, but even the pos-sibility of interference. Utterly isolated, the village "lies in a hollow" (9); it is in a valley completely "surrounded by mountains" (9). Each direction exhibits the "silhouetted margin" (9) or pictorial suggestion of a different mountain range, or natural barrier, each of which in its own way describes and circumscribes the village. To the north, the sky contains graphed trigonometric functions, "a sine curve, a cosine curve, and a sine and a cosine curve, each displaced by one and three-quarter phases" (9). This description conjures up a thought of music, which is known to resemble a sine curve when its sound waves, its resonations, are graphed. By contrast to the one curve, however, the picture to the north ac-curately graphs a cacophonous mess of sound, a composition whose harmony is undetectable, perhaps nonexistent, without any chance for intellectual engage-ment. Audibly, then, as well as visibly, the village resembles an unstructured sound explosion, distracting noise, impenetrable except by the most perceptive, active, and aware ears. The visual to the south "is comparable to the diagram of a repeatedly interrupted energy flow" (9). This picture represents a force unable to continue on, to gain or maintain any momentum, unable to exist because of its inability to make any connections with anything other than its present manifes-tation. In the same way, the village has no explicit past or foreseeable future. Also, the village, an anomaly, or inexplicable physical disturbance, has no neigh-bors to which it can connect in its fictional world. The west "approximates the shape of the outline of an elongated trapezoid" (14), which, since it is only mentioned in passing at the end of the section, appears to be of little importance other than as an exaggerated visual image, connecting the natural world with an imposed physical description. However, by pretending to simplify the image, by attempting to make it seem more accessible, the image only manages to add unnecessary complication. The picture of a trapezoid is an odd shape, not readily summoned up or immediately recognizable. Much in the same way, the village is simplified or perhaps oversimplified, so that an observer cannot easily scrutinize it. Many of the scenes contain descriptions of movement that are broken down into frame-by-frame narrative expositions. Each segment succeeds in interrupting the flow or fluidity of the novel. These poorly animated, oversimplified scenes quite actively defamiliarize us with the action in progress, to the point of addling our perception, and it is axiomatic that we can never understand what we are rendered unable to recognize. The east holds foothill-like features, whose depiction impresses upon its viewer a vision of easy access or admission into the village. However, the scenario following this description proves how this impression, as well as all impressions, or, for that matter, anything based on the superficial, can be treacherously inaccurate.
Yet throughout this entire lockstep dance, where we remain under the control of time and preordained choreography, and in spite of all the derivatives of our original agenda we encounter, we are determined to cross the village square. The well, then, at the center of the square, which we continue to circle round, seems to attract or pull us toward it, as if it were the still point around which the novel revolves. As we gravitate toward the well, it becomes a point of reference for us, which we continue to return to, in order to reorient ourselves before attempting again to move forward. Our tour guide, while trying to in-form us of the finer points of the village, shows us ultimately the entire village, but in doing so the narrator only creates a profound perplexity, or a disorienting, dizzying confusion. What we eventually come to recognize is an environment whose very existence imposes ignorance upon all who enter it and engage with it. The village becomes a structural model of sorts, representing "the experience of the conflict between the world of objects and the world of people in which the world of objects dictates patterns to the world of people" (41), and these patterns are by no means promising. The plan for this structural model is formal, with a traditional foundation in the unflinching regularity of Euclidean geometry, where the product of A2 + B2 can only ever equal C2. Apparently, with this village, an "ideal scientific world was created where regularities were isolated from actual experience" (Sardar 19). This deterministic system, designed only to reproduce regularized behavior, is set up solely for control. The citizens of the village are limited to reproducing the behavior of their parents, unable to achieve their own identity. The blacksmith's son can only become the blacksmith, and only after his father dies. Such institutionalization prohibits individuality and diversity and thereby removes any potential turbulence or noise that would undoubtedly interfere with the village's strict uniformity.
The Politics of Time
Arguably, the human animal naturally exists in a state of flux between individual movement and social establishment. Yet perhaps that conclusion, with its resignation to the inexorable logic of chaos, represents a complete misunderstanding of the complexity of human existence. Both individual and social drives exist at the center of each person and each action, impelling each and every moment of our lives. At all times, and in every imaginable way, these two forces work against one another. The only resolution for this tension, this drama of two contrary inclinations, would be the formation of an accessible and accountable social group, responsible for the growth and well-being of each individual subject to it, as well as its own survival. In order to analyze this struggle, this movement toward complexity, this human agonistes, we must first recognize that by defini-tion, without a social group there could be no such thing as an individual; yet, without individuals there can be no social group. In this vein, the formation of a social group is contingent upon a common language, but this language could never exist without a society, a culture to first require and then cultivate it. These two philosophical conundrums express very clearly the tension between establishment and movement that has defined human existence since the dawn of consciousness. Civilization, then, as Freud has argued, exists in a constant state of revolution against itself, constantly evolving and changing according to demand, but, at the same time, forever attempting to coalesce around a comfort-able supply. In other words, it is impossible to measure in any satisfactory way just how far, if at all, our civilization has advanced, since neither the point of conception nor the inception of movement is assignable to any specific agent. Assessment is subject to an arbitrary and artificial set of rules, whose foundations and calculations may or may not be credible. Indeed, although these rules are necessary, their very existence prompts their own rejection. The human animal must always be confined, constrained in some way by the factors that define it, but if human consciousness grows aware of an imposed set of rules, of restraints not inherent in nature, it will invariably attempt to transcend them. We must realize that "Without this tension between necessity and freedom, between rule and choice, there can be no creativity, no communication, no meaningful acts at all" (Chomsky 153).
Geometric Regional Novel contains a particularly disorienting presentation and discussion of time. In fact, reading the novel, we are never sure whether or not time passes between what appear to be discrete scenes or if all the conversational encounters occur in one continuous flow. Certain scenes are clearly recalled and retold in retrospect, but one can never be quite sure of what any one scene's relationship, thematic or otherwise, is to those which stand adjacent to it in the narrative presentation. Any novel that operates as one continuous flow, where any one scene precedes, physically, the one which succeeds it, "presup-poses before all else a certain organization in time, a chrononomy" (Stravinsky 29). Such a work is known as "temporal" and is before all else chronological. The incidents of each scene are organized so that they correlate logically, are motivated or caused by the incidents that preceded them in time. Temporal art depends directly upon causality for its development. A temporal work is set up in an ordered, recognizable space and moves through an immediately under-standable environment. Yet not all art is chronological, as we all know. We also know that a work must be structured so that the governance of the movement of time within it should coincide with the development of its theme. So if a work is not structured temporally, then we can assume that the concepts of order, recognition and understanding are being consciously held up for consideration by the artist. Jonke’s novel, it could be said, "is oriented to a narrative of the spatial type, to the detriment of causality" (Todorov 47). Spatial time requires a physical disturbance of some sort, an apparent lapse in the temporal continuum. An artist will organize a work spatially in order to frustrate the reader's normal expectation of sequence by forcing the reception of elements that are juxtaposed in space rather than unfolding in time. It would be a mistake, however, to believe that the clay of the text is being thrown into life haphazardly; instead, it is meticulously organized so as to question the very concepts of overt causality and common logic. On the physical level, the spatial text produces complete confusion, but all the while, the unseen, underlying seeds are growing, the true psychological consequences of gestating nothing less through art than a world, one which, to quote Matthew Arnold, "lies before us like a land of dreams/so various, so beautiful , so new."
It is impossible, however, to underestimate the value of the original properties of the system, the initial position from which movement began. In Geometric Regional Novel the variables in motion throughout the village that converge upon the well have actually lost their independence to a set of false attractors, which establish themselves as arbiters of all movement around the square, thereby usurping all freedom. The false attractors are the institutions run by the mayor, priest, and teacher. Life impulses have been displaced by institutional controls. Only too naturally do individuals in a society revolve around such institutions of culture. They provide identity by association. Through institutions, individuals become members of something, whether as citizens, students, graduates, or church members. In return for providing identity through membership, the institution in turn assumes power over its members. Once control is gained, it is unlikely that an institution will ever set free those whom it controls, even if that control turns detrimental to either its own welfare or that of its members. Instead, these institutions will attempt to establish both their intrinsic rightness and their enduring existence through bureaucratic policy and procedure. Ultimately, the bureaucracy will attempt to prevent any potential destabilizers from contacting their sphere of influence. In so doing, the institution will aspire to co-opt or thwart the evolution of its membership so as to eradicate even any poten-tial desire for dissent. An institution will establish and promulgate a code of conduct and cast out any who dare to challenge it. Anyone moving contrary to the establishment will be stripped by the institution identity and even existence, if possible. The village of Geometric Regional Novel is a case study in exactly this phenomenon. The villagers are unable to consider life outside of their village, outside of the altogether conventional, nonempowering education they receive and the elaborate code of conduct they all must conform to, not to mention the restrictions on movement set in place by "The New Law" (96). They are taken in by and unable to diverge from these false social attractors. The initial position the villagers are born into, of complete indenture to the institutions of the village, those timeless establishments, remains firmly in place at the end of the novel. The natural movement toward freedom, toward accountability, toward complexity and self-formulation, has been negated. The villagers are left to languish in their immediacy, unable to recognize the "epidemic" from which they suffer.
By the end of the novel, the villagers' repetitious actions actually become an irremovable part of the establishment. The patterns and the habits of the citi-zenry, in their somnambulant existence, replace any conscious motivation to act. Even the defense of their village, "against the destructive members and inhabi-tants of a hostile atmosphere and its merciless sky" (117), is performed as a reaction, not an action, more of an automatic response than a planned strategy. The birds, which "came for the first time, many years ago" (93), apparently continue to return at some undefined interval. Indeed, after the first attack, "Time passed," and "we soon forgot all about it" (93), but again and again the birds came back, destroying the village, until one citizen quite accidentally stumbled upon a defense. Even with it, though, there is no solution, and the pattern continues to repeat itself. The novel moves forward, through its representation of this vicious cycle, though it is significant that the villagers learn nothing. The attack of the birds is actually an anticlimactic scene in the novel. If story line were foremost, this point would classically provide the highest emotional intensity in the novel, the climax, the point at which something occurs that reverses the fortune in some way of the existence of the characters, the point at which recognition takes place, purging some key individual of fear and pity, of loathing and desire. However, no such thing takes place here. There is no reversal resulting from the attack, and without a reversal, there can be no recognition. Neither reversal nor recognition by the characters can occur among the village denizens, deprived so to-tally of identity and individuality that character, as a set of individual traits, is exactly what they could never be capable of rising to. After the attack, we continue to gaze out across the village square, wondering if we can cross. At this point, we, as readers, learn that the defense of the village was not the one, complete, motivated action of the novel's plot. We have not yet been able to reach the village square, with its well at the center. The reversal, instead, comes after the physical struggle with the birds.
The Economics of Time (and Space), and the End of Our Time Together
The village Jonke stages for our scrutiny in Geometric Regional Novel exists outside of time and space as a sort of prototype or paradigm, a case study in the dys-trophic effects of predatory capitalism on the growth and development of the human mind, on the adverse conditions a capitalist environment forces, enforces, and reinforces within its domain. The village bodies forth the very essence, abstracting the concepts of the pathetic and the polemic, where invalid and otherwise unviable value systems thrive and flourish, deliberately crushing the spirit and the will to power, until the last vestiges of freedom are routed and removed. The novel itself plays out like a mirror, in which we are able to see ourselves with a critical eye, very up close and emphatically personal. After the curtain falls, we are able to assess our situation, our relations with a bureaucracy whose essence covets absolute control of our lives. "No, that’s not right, that’s a lie . . ." (109), responds a mob of men who believe they control their own fate, a veritable Athenian chorus too proud to admit that they have forfeited their right to freedom, only to suffer through a lifelong indenture in relative comfort, a stingy middle class who have sold themselves today, already, for wages tomorrow, while still not loosed from yesterday's debt chains. Jonke's village is most obviously representative of a fledgling capitalist economy, barely sprouting the fruits of "free enterprise," where property has just begun to be seized and sold with utter disregard for environmental integrity, where the land will soon be stripped of all its trees, at the behest of the government, and the citizens compelled to panel every last piece of their property in wood, or, with perhaps yet more chilling accuracy, "t h e w h o l e l a n d w i l l p r o b a b l y v e r y s o o n b e d e c o r a t e d a n d p a n e l e d w i t h w o o d" (107). While the villagers are cooperating in the destruction of their natural surroundings, they can congratulate themselves on being patriotic citizens by denying hiding places to unseen but dangerous aliens and subversives, sinister "black men" (97, 104-05) whom the trees must not, by government decree, be allowed to shelter. Regionalism has degenerated into automatic xenophobia, but why should anyone care about the freedoms of others when they have so gleefully given up their own? Why worry when all are making money in this capitalist wood-cutting enterprise run rampant? Nothing is too much trouble to ensure material prosperity—not witch-hunts for imaginary enemies, not bureaucratic interference in ordinary pleasures that entails filling out insanely proliferated, six-page questionnaires just to take a walk in the woods, not deprivation of the most rudimentary individual identity. What’s good for the village authorities is good for the whole village. Diametrically in opposition to the "New Law" that nominally governs the life of a Christian village, the "New Law" of the village authorities kills the spirit through the letter and removes all freedom, dignity, and individuality.
Aristotle. Poetics Trans. S. H. Butcher. Intro. Francis Fergusson. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.