Elegiac Machinations, written by Daulton Dickey, could only be written by a curious and creative writer, in tune with the history of literature but also with the potential of literature itself. A book like Elegiac Machinations, in other words, requires both an ability to understand the art of literature, but also must be able to project future possibilities of art. I would say that this novella pulled that off splendidly.
The novel’s influences are eclectic and multifaceted. I can see within the book some influences of the pop-horror icon Clive Barker, what with the weird and fantastical horror. I can see influence of the surrealists with the attention to the fragmentation of concepts and ideas and language. I can see the influence of Wittgenstein, part of the Vienna Circle, what with the attention to the philosophy of language and with the structure of the novella itself, which is set up like “propositions,” much like Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. The novella is of course inspired by Postmodern writers in general, such as David Foster Wallace (this can be seen with the novella’s interesting way of going about logic), and the aesthetic quality of the language reminds me of writers such as Thomas Pynchon, and the Modernist James Joyce.
But the purpose of the avant-garde is to always avoid tradition at all costs, and while this novella is knowledgeable of the tradition in which it is inspired by, these influences don’t limit the novella, but rather push it past its potential. The novella is a highly cerebral foray into many topics, ranging from metaphysics to the philosophy of language, the philosophy of mind to the many ways in which we think about art.
I’d like to focus on two concepts that really hold this novella together. While the writer implies in the afterward that the novella doesn’t hold together, I would argue that the piece holds together by these two concepts I am going to mention, both related and unique in their varying ways.
One concept derives from the philosophy of language. In Daulton’s terms, this is the idea that reality is not dictated by language.
The other concept can be found in the philosophy of mind, which is the concept that we can change the way we perceive reality by metaphorically “hallucinating.”
I will discuss both of these concepts.
The first concept is interesting in its own right. If the idea is that language is not reality, what are we to make of our everyday abuse of language (and our misapprehension of reality)? At one point, the narrator laments that we come into contact with language all of the time, which is where we get the capacity for language, and yet these are merely blips in our overall experience of language: We become desensitized to our very vehicle for apprehending reality (a major contradiction in logic). The narrator argues that words are, in a sense, simply words, and he cites this by saying that we may understand a fact to be a fact via language (such as the idea that the Earth revolves around the sun), but this is not itself reality, as someone speaking Mandarin Chinese would say they are not hearing reality, but are simply hearing noise.
This theme is worth contemplating on its own, but it fits nicely with the other theme, and that is the idea that we must break down our notions of reality. The narrator implies that we must not only free associate, but disassociate. He uses the example of an American flag at one point. We automatically think of freedom. What we should do instead is break down the conventional notions of “the flag,” and think about what else the flag can be. Language becomes a vehicle for doing this, but even more so, our very notions of reality become a vehicle for disassociating.
Language, then, is an inaccurate guide to reality, and reality itself is an inaccurate representation in our mind, fixed representations.
These high concepts have an important place in this experimental novella, the implications being important. That implication is the idea that art itself must exist to transcend not just the mundane aspects of this world, but also to change our reality, to change our perceptions, and in doing so, change reality itself. As an avant-garde text, Elegiac Machinations must challenge our very notions of reality, allowing us to not just free associate, of course, but disassociate, or hallucinate. I can’t help but think of William Gaddis and his obsession with trying to uncover the nature of “true art.” While Gaddis’s conclusion was that true art is something that transcends reality by virtue of its greatness and grand ambition (and ability to avoid the herd), Daulton takes this concept a step further by pleading for our fiction and art to not only break away from tradition and convention (an expectation of the avant-garde), but actually disassociate our reality. It’s one thing to challenge our notions of reality; it is another thing altogether to completely change the way in which we view reality. The narrator’s way of achieving this is by recommending to the reader that they disassociate, they don’t cave in to the fake world of language, and they break down the conventional meanings of every day “signs,” as well as avoid being an automaton, a robot that just does what it is programmed to do (which seems these days to account for too many people, unfortunately). As a side note, I think Baudrillard would have been pleased with this novella: The problem Baudrillard pointed out was that signs have replaced reality, while the narrator implies that we must replace reality with the signs of our disassociation (and even free association). Essentially, the narrator has solved the problem of too much information.
I highly enjoyed this novella. It is ambitious, unique, experimental, edgy, fun, serious, entertaining, high art, and in all honesty, I consider it a fine work of literature and the mark of genius. I can relate to this novella on two fundamental levels. One, the need to not be “automatic thinking machines,” but intuitive and intelligent and truly thinking machines. I have trouble finding meaning in my life because of the ways in which society’s conventions stifle my creativity, but the narrator has offered many alternatives that are worth implementing.
Second, I relate to the strong idea of how we conceptualize reality, and more importantly, how we can actually, via disassociation, break down reality. I constantly, in my day to day life, work to break down reality, as I refuse to see it as the way we are “supposed” to see it, as I am, for the most part, not a realist, and I do not subscribe to the notion of naïve realism. Nothing can be more disingenuous than seeing reality how others tell you to see it, not how reality could be seen once you strip it of its fakeness and force yourself to impose “your” vision, not the vision of others. In this, I can’t help but think of Nietzsche and his idea of the idols, how we worship “mummies,” or “theories/ideas,” that are hollow and can be easily shattered with a hammer. We must let go of the conventional conceptions passed down to us through the generations and transmitted through our culture, and instead create our own reality.
On a closing note, then: Who says you can’t have authenticity in the avant-garde? Daulton has mastered high concepts while still remaining true to his unique vision. And in my opinion, that is what makes the novella worth reading. So, pick it up if you get a chance: You won’t be disappointed.
You can find the novella and where to get it here: http://www.amazon.com/Elegiac-Machinations-Daulton-Dickey/dp/0692459294/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1434917745&sr=1-1&keywords=elegiac+machinations