It has been too long since the living had anything remotely original to say and so, instead of merely writing about the dead, Andriana Minou decided to enter into dialogue with them. She walked into paintings and scaled fish, she took a wee and made life-changing decisions with them, she became a friend to her dead companions and, like all good friends sometimes do, she did not spare them her damning judgments. Tempting as it is to understand this book as a piece of ‘un-historical fiction’– according to the book’s online description – I do not think it would make this year’s Waterstones ‘Essential un-historical fiction for the airplane’. Historians and the commoners who purport to care about history are famously incapable of letting go of their sense of self-importance and indulge in careless historically-inspired absurdity. History – and unHistory for that matter – is important, the dead are sacred and have serious faces, their problems are always more existential than our own, and fictionalised narrations of historical personages must finish with a sense of purpose. These important corpses did not depart this world without first teaching moral lessons with their dying breath.
In this sense, the writer’s musical background must have helped her break the mould (geddit?). Without taking her too seriously myself, as this is a book I foremost simply enjoyed, she appears to be carrying with her a valuable aspect of 20th century musical and literary thought. Life is not to be taken too seriously unless it’s literally fucking serious – genocide level – and forms exist to be broken. Perhaps for this reason, unlike Kundera or Barnes, she did not invite L.v Beethoven to her literary séance, she did not allow the backwater of Sturm und Drang to make it to the 21st century. She did not care to make philosophical statements and one of the philosophers she invited – T.W Adorno – she gently ridiculed for accepting her invitation. Isn’t it strange how Beethoven and Adorno usually make it as a pair in these kinds of texts? Maybe in the end she did invite Beethoven in a mask? Maybe she invited Beethoven’s death mask? She did not and this book is essentially simple in its literary complexity.
In the end the book is a trap for those begging to be finally ensnared. If your mind is inquisitive it will confuse you with obscure references, small pieces of inside knowledge, random quotes, absurd intertextual connections, it will have you listening to Cloclo and googling frantically about Marlene Dietrich’s number of heads. If you approach it with an open mind, in the end it will deliver you with enhanced abilities for sensory knowledge. Had you ever before felt Lully’s career dilemmas? Did you ever before sense what Glenn Gould’s music tastes like? Had you ever before nearly drowned in the murky waters of Whagner’s thoughts? Arguably useless information for a pub quiz but then again everything in a pub quiz is useless information. The kindness of the author’s writing voice in this instance is expressed in that she does not judge us for the million things we didn’t know before joining her party, she gently pushes us to enquire, to doubt, to reject, and finally to form our own opinions. Then she demolishes them. Because her own purpose is to be perpetually Fabulous.
Some of the stories are more esoteric and impenetrable, and even the author does not appear to have untangled them entirely. These stories we know better than to try and understand, we merely observe them as they unfold, and trust that somewhere in the world (or the underworld) someone is giggling with a small, private joke. Others are somewhat bitter and poignant, petulant and stubborn, and those we accept as a fragment of emotional realism in this miniature world of literary absurdity. Because these are the Fabulous Dead: extravagant and loud, sensitive and sensible, obnoxious and absurd, in love with themselves and their objects of desire, meek and confused, erudite and childish, plush and decadent. They’d love to continue playing with us but, sadly, they have long departed. And this is a book full of small, kind, rude, subversive and tender jokes; for one and for all at the same time.
Kernpunkt Press, March 2020 (forthcoming)
Artemis Ignatidou is a cultural historian working on 19th century European history, with a special interest in western art music, musical exchange in the continent, and the construction of reciprocal musical and national identities through the arts. She holds a PhD in modern European history, and she is currently unemployed but with great prospects (or so her mother says). Her academic work has been published in peer-reviewed journals including Nations & Nationalism, and her freelance research portfolio includes reports on human rights and anti-discrimination, history, and political science. She has received a number of research fellowships and residencies in esteemed research institutes in the UK and Canada, and has presented her research in international conferences in England, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, and Greece. She is also a notorious book-addict, trained pianist and part-time performer with a preference for the spoken word, but she will generally do anything for a place in the spotlight.
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