CEREBRAL CIRCUS: A PSEUDO-AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL

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It is not a coincidence that in the introduction to Expletives Deleted , a collection of her essays, Carter uses the image of the trapeze artist to characterize narrative: Consider Fevvers' first attempt at flight from the mantelpiece in the drawing room of Ma Nelson's brothel when for the shortest moment she hovers before falling flat on her face: That feeling of suspense, of being momentarily exempted from the laws of material existence, is the narrative effect Carter herself is attempting to achieve in this novel.

Narrative temporality usually involves a duality or opposition between story time and narrative time. Narrators use one time scheme in order to evoke another. What is the true significance of the sound of Big Ben striking midnight again and again while Fevvers and Lizzie are telling their story? In the Envoi to the novel Fevvers admits that she and Lizzie, her cockney step-mother, played a trick on Walser that night with the aid of Ma Nelson's clock But how could they interfere with the mechanism of Big Ben, at that time the time-keeper for the entire civilized world?

What she must mean is that they cast a narrative spell on him, made him think that the passage of time was put on hold when it really wasn't. For the duration of their story they maintain the illusion that time is suspended.

As Carter says elsewhere about the art of narration, "a good writer can make you believe time stands still" Expletives Deleted 2. Big Ben and the external world of normality that it regulates is made temporarily to conform to the perpetual midnight recorded on Ma Nelson's clock, which itself acts as "the sign, or signifier of Ma Nelson's little private realm," where the only permitted hour was "the dead centre of the day or night, the shadowless hour, the hour of vision and revelation, the still hour in the centre of the storm of time" Ma Nelson's realm is not just conjured up by an act of narration, but acts as a representation of the timeless fictive world created by narration.

But the spell is by its nature temporary. And Carter positively revels in such temporal disruptions, because, as she writes elsewhere, in this way the reader is "being rendered as discontinuous as the text" Shaking a Leg She embraces the postmodern to the extent that it forces the reader into an active relationship with the text.

In the third section of the novel Carter even manages to construct an internal double time scheme whereby Fevvers and Lizzie observe that in less than a week of their time Walser has managed to grow a long beard. Carter might well be parodying the most famous instance of a double time scheme in Othello , especially as she twice quotes from this play , Most critics agree that the contradictions between short and long time in the play are meant to escape the notice of the audience.

Carter, by comparison, has Lizzie draw attention to the discrepancy in order to demonstrate the power narrative has over our normal sense of measurable time in the external world. For a limited duration the imginative world of narrative can supplant the dictates of material reality. Imagined time coexists in our consciousness with measured time.

Neither is more real and each has its turn at preeminence. Narration, especially oral narration, needs an audience, just as a spectacle or performance does. And the audience needs to be kept in suspense until the end of the act. Will she reach the other end of the rope? Or, if she falls, will she really be able to use her wings to save herself?

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What's the news" 11? Who better to represent the audience than the sceptic, Walser? Just as the larger audience gets its kicks from suspecting that Fevvers the performer may be a hoax, so Walser reflects this attitude by suspecting that Fevvers the narrator may be a hoax. Like all readers of fiction, Walser has to be lured out of his sceptical frame of mind and induced to accept the improbabilities of a world of invention.

In fact Walser is the preeminent representative in the novel of the material world that relegates the stuff of fiction to a subordinate role - one of entertainment. An American reporter, he cultivates "the professional necessity to see all and believe nothing" A "connoisseur of the tall tale," he is questioning Fevvers "for a series of interviews tentatively entitled 'Great Humbugs of the World'" Fevvers, however, proves more than his match.

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For all his professional detachment, he quickly becomes "a prisoner of her voice. Her dark, rusty, dipping, swooping voice, imperious as a siren's" Half mythical, she shares with Homer's fabulous female creatures their hypnotic attraction - and their potential destructiveness. Indeed, Walser feels half stifled by Fevvers' overpowering presence: What he fears for is the loss of his fragile sense of self, which is also described in terms of the narrative pact between writer and reader: Notice that Walser suspends belief, not disbelief.

He adopts an atheistic attitude towards the power of the artistic imagination. He stands opposed to Coleridge's and most imaginative writers' desire to create "a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of the imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith" Coleridge. Walser doesn't believe in either Fevvers' narrative act or himself. As the representative of the sceptical materialistic world, he is shown from the start to be flawed by his failure to admit into his life the world of fantasy, dreams and invention--at least until he meets Fevvers.

It is his consequent lack of belief in himself that makes him vulnerable to her superior linguistic skills. Fevvers has to overcome his scepticism by the sheer power of her rhetoric. Or rather, Fevvers and Lizzie between them because the number of narrators in this novel multiply "unfolded the convolutions of their joint stories together" Lizzie is an interesting counterpart to Fevvers, a more realist - and Marxist - narrator compared to Fevvers with her risky flights of fantasy.

Walser feels like "a sultan faced with not one but two Scheherezades, both intent on impacting a thousand stories into the single night" Nights at the Circus aspires to be a miniature condensed version of A Thousand and One Nights, that classic quintessence of the act and art of narration. Fevvers knows as well as Scheherezade that to come to the end of her story is to face her own form of death - the death of the heroic persona she has constructed within her narrative. So she has to cast a spell over Walser with her voice. A defiant phonocentrist, for Carter "the really important thing is narrative" Expletives Deleted 2.

Where does she find the magic for her spell-binding use of narrative? Ostensibly she inherits it from Ma Nelson, the keeper of the brothel which was home to her as a child. She bequeaths Fevvers her ceremonial sword that she would "sometimes use as a staff with which to conduct the revels - her wand, like Prospero's" Where Ma Nelson conjures up the sexual revels that take place in her house of ill fame, Fevvers becomes a different kind of "Mistress of the Revels" 49 , conjuring up with her seemingly magical eloquence the spirits and baseless fabric of her vision, her story.

Her greatest gift is not her ability to fly off the solid ground, but to retell the story of her flights of fancy that leave the ground of fact to which Walser is bound by his scepticism.

However Walser undergoes his own seachange under the spell of Fevvers' narrative wand or sword. The relationship between Fevvers and Walser develops into something similar to that between an oral narrator and a writer of narrative. Walser becomes at once Fevvers' amanuensis and a narrator in his own right. As Part One draws to a conclusion he finds himeself turning more and more a recording instrument for Fevvers and Lizzie. His desire to shape her narrative to conform to his own ideas of narrative reliability gradually succumbs to the force of her torrential narration.

The distinction soon loses its clarity as it becomes clear that Fevvers needs to blur the two concepts in order to capture the interest of her audience in her performance - theatrical and narrative. As "a passionate amateur of the tall tale," he can only admire Fevvers' narrative power: But once he has decided to follow the circus to Russia, his role changes.

Fevvers and Lizzie are no longer the principal narrators of the story. The anonymous third person narrator who is present in Part One takes over the main burden of the narration in Part Two. Meantime Walser has himself become a convert to the world of art - both a performer an apprentice clown and a narrator of events as they unfold. His first attempts at imaginative writing are clumsy and stereotyped. His typed despatch back to his editor smacks heavily of the overladen style of the travel writer: Russia is a sphinx; St Petersburg, the beautiful smile of her face. Petersburg, loveliest of all hallucinations, the shimmering mirage in the Northern wilderness glimpsed for a breathless second between black forest and the frozen sea.

But even his use of language stresses the illusionistic element that characterizes all forms of imaginative narration, with its references to the solid presence of the city as the "loveliest of all hallucinations" and a "mirage. No matter who assumes control of the narrative, the story teller of the moment is immediately overwhelmed by the narrative's need to extend itself beyond the factual and the verifiable.

In Part One the mouthless Toussaint is forced to tell in written form the last part of the story of Madame Schreck which only he witnessed. The whole episode involving Madame Schreck, like that concerning Mr Rosencreutz, invokes and simultaneously parodies the genre of Gothic horror tales. Toussaint tells how he found the clothes of Madame Schreck but nothing in them, like "the shed carapace of an insect" He is the first witness "to find her - not dead, for who can say, now, when she died, or if she had ever lived, but.

No sooner are we caught within the fabric of this Gothic fantasy than Lizzie detaches us with her metafictional appraisal of his performance: He's a lovely way with words" Carter may well have acquired this narrative oscillation from her admiration for Poe's Gothic horror stories. Like Poe, she inviters her readers to exercize both their sense of fantasy and fear and their objective critical faculties simultaneously.

This alternation between immersion in the narrative and detachment from it is typical of the way Carter balances the claims of fact and fiction throughout the novel. The factual is invariably exposed as a flawed account of the totality of human experience. Yet once we, like Walser, have been trapped in the dark interior of a fictional world such as Ma Nelson's or Madame Schreck's, Carter lets in the light of day to reveal the cheap and sordid props that have been used to create the illusion that had us in its grip.

Just before the prostitutes abandon Ma Nelson's house they open the curtains for the first time since they've been there. We saw the stains of damp and mould on ceilings and the damask walls; the gilding on the mirrors was all tarnished and a bloom of dust obscured the glass. The passage from which this comes is not simply a symbolic representation of the passing of the Victorian age.

It is also one instance of the many occasions when Carter demonstrates to her readers the power of narrative. Look, she seems to be saying, like Fevvers, I've fooled you again. Then, before we know it, she is plunging us back into another strand of fictive narrative, transforming what has just been exposed to the light of day into a newly convincing fictive illusion: Even the solidity of the sofas seemed called into question for they and the heavy leather armchairs now had the dubious air of furniture carved out of smoke" An alert reader will note that the narrator's Fevvers' use of "smoke" neatly anticipates the action of the prostitutes that follows, which is to burn the house to the ground.

This is metafictional with a vengeance. As narrator, Fevvers naturally shapes her life into digestible fictional chapters. She is simultaneously referring to the end of her life in the brothel now that it is burnt down, the end of her existing means of living, and to the end of the first segment of her narrative, the veracity of which can only be vouchsafed by the two objects saved from the fire - Lizzie's clock and Fevvers' sword or wand , both items that appear to defy the normal laws of physics.

The fictive illusion lasts for as long as it is being narrated, after which it doesn't simply end; it is consumed and turns to smoke. Yet, like the phoenix, it is destined to rise from its own ashes. Well-told narrative is powerful enough to expose its own procedures to the light of day and yet be confident in its ability to plunge the reader back nito the nighttime world of fictionality. Carter seesm to be implying that neither the world of fact or fiction is sufficient unto itself. Epitemologically opposed to one another, they nevertheless require the other for completion, that is, for an adequate explanation of life as we know it.

It has been observed that the movement of the novel "toward increasingly foreign and remote places is accompanied by a movement away from any stable ground of reality and toward the ever more fantastic" Michael Carter has described Part Two: St Petersburg as "very elaborately plotted, like a huge circus with the ring in the middle. Inevitably many critics, like Paulina Palmer, have seen the circus ring "with its hierarchy of male performers" as "an effective symbol of the patriarchal social order" at the turn of the century But it is more than just that.

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Cerebral Circus: A Pseudo-Autobiographical Novel - Dewey A. Nelson - Google Книги

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Late that evening Harlow noted: I believe there is far more to be said about the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, but Lysiak is a good start. The young female narrator finds herself on an island meant to be idyllic. But thirty more pages left me wallowing, completely unhooked. When it comes, it shakes up many of the lives within the Museum, for the new woman is Iell, a beautiful bearded lady. In effect Walser now recognizes the inescapable ambiguity of the langauge he sought to tame and confine to the factual.

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