Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Syndic

C.M. Kornbluth The Syndic (1953)
Unfortunately my once high regard of Kornbluth has been somewhat jeopardised since reading whichever of his efforts I last enjoyed. It turns out that he supposedly battered his wife with a metal bar during a domestic dispute - although I can't seem to find any reference to this online - in addition to The Marching Morons constituting an argument in favour of eugenics. Somehow I failed to notice this when I read and very much enjoyed said short story, taking Kornbluth's tone for the more innocuous combination of a head shaken at finding oneself surrounded by idiots and gags about dummies walking into walls or falling over, such as you might find in a Laurel & Hardy short. Revisiting the tale I realised that the revulsion expressed for simpletons was something unfortunately stronger than an indulgent sigh. Kornbluth was clearly a little odd in certain respects, but I'm unsure as to whether whatever misanthropic views he may have held can really be parcelled up with harmless eccentricity. I've continued to ignore the work of Orson Scott Card for what might be deemed less, although on the other hand I still have all those Death in June albums.

I suppose the argument is over whether one is able to divorce a piece of art from the beliefs of its creator, although I guess I've been doing just that for most of my life, at least since I went nuts for the Italian Futurists back when I was a teenager. If that which I appreciate in a piece of art is a combination of technique and some nebulous quality I'll term emotional truth, then I can look past the artist having been quite so fulsome in his support for Mussolini where neither technique nor emotional truth are specifically reliant upon less palatable aspects of the artist's personality or views, meaning I'm better able to appreciate Enrico Prampolini's portraits of Marinetti than I am his depiction of Mussolini's Blackshirts trampling a red flag - although I suppose I can appreciate the technique of the latter, and even the strident tone up to a point; but some juggling is involved, or making excuses if you prefer. On the other hand, no such juggling is required when considering the art of Arno Breker, for I find his aesthetic of supposed Aryan supremacy so unpleasant and ludicrous as to render his sculpture worthless, regardless of considerations such as the dull, sterile efficiency of his blandly muscular forms depicting humanity reduced to a distinctly lumpen functionality.

I'm still undecided over Kornbluth, given that he could clearly write, but it probably doesn't matter in this instance given that The Syndic is ropey and already difficult to love without worrying over the psychological life of its author. I should have been put off by the bloody awful cover, the work of Howard Chaykin whom older readers may remember from that comic he drew about women with big tits who wear lingerie, carry guns, and like to have it off; but I bought it anyway. The Syndic - and I don't know why it should be that rather than the less annoying syndicate - are some sort of organised crime deal which has taken over America, and yet which isn't the Mafia because the Mafia are running all the states where the Syndic aren't in charge. I've seen online claims for the Syndic as either an anarcho-capitalist or anarcho-syndicalist society, and whilst the latter would at least account for the name, nothing in the book seemed to leap out at me in support of either. Meanwhile the American government has been declared an outlaw organisation and as such now resides in exile in Ireland*.

Our story follows some Syndic guy going undercover so as to infiltrate those naughty government forces. In this novel of a world turned upside down all your prejudices will get stood on their heads, promises the back cover before adding you're going to find yourself rooting for the Syndic! Not me, though. I didn't like any of them and I was bored for the most part. I'm not even sure why. It's well-written in so much as Kornbluth, as ever, has a wonderful way with words, but otherwise there was nothing to care about. His depiction of an Ireland returned to the wilderness and populated by witches seemed momentarily promising but never went anywhere, and the novel as a whole seems to constitute a pean to Libertarian principles, but never really sung so clear as to give me an idea of why it should matter, or even what any of those principles might be beyond an unquantified distrust of the Government.

Oh well.

*: Iceland according to Wikipedia, so either Wikipedia is wrong or I am in having read a third of the book as being set in Ireland. Unfortunately, even though I have the novel right here in front of me, I can't be arsed to check.

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