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Thu, Aug. 6th, 2009 11:26 am
The lie factory and other negro oddities

My novel The Book of Jokes, due in a month, has collected its second review (the first was in Dossier Journal). On a page featuring reviews of Nick Cave and Thomas Pynchon's new novels, Publishers Weekly clusters the following adjectives around my debut: phantasmagorical, twisted, meandering, dark, absurd, funny, strong, short, crude.



Publishers Weekly is important because their reviews have a semi-official status -- being featured, for instance, on Amazon.com pages. Here's what the new review says:

The Book of Jokes Momus. Dalkey Archive, $13.95 paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-56478-561-9
Known primarily for his avant-garde music, Momus (aka Nick Currie) proves that he is no slouch as fiction writer either, easily translating his iconoclastic vision to prose. The novel is a phantasmagorical ride through dirty jokes that, in Momus’s twisted alternate reality, dictate the lives of a very unfortunate family. It’s all here: bestiality, incest, rape, murder and combinations thereof, as if related in the locker room of a junior high. There is no clear narrative structure; the action meanders through anecdotes told by the narrator—sometimes a young boy, and sometimes his hugely endowed father—who lives in a glass house and is sometimes imprisoned with a pair known only as the Murderer and the Molester. The humor is dark and absurd and genuinely funny (though not for everyone), and the style is reminiscent of Naked Lunch, with puns and coarse jokes instead of caterpillars and otherworldly creatures. This strong and short novel, despite its uncompromising structure and style, is delightfully crude and never ever dull.


I clicked across to Amazon to see if they'd added this review yet -- they hadn't -- and was intrigued to see that when you type "Momus Book of Jokes" into the Amazon search slot you get directed to The Bureau of Negro Oddities: Containing all the popular jokes, dialogues, stories, repartees, lectures, interludes, conundrums, of the leading Ethiopian artists of the day (Unknown Binding), by an author known only as Distinguished Son of Momus. The book, first published by Fisher and Denison in 1869, is out of print, and the internet can tell me nothing about its author ("Did you mean: distinguished son of moms?" Amazon asks me, blankly, blandly).



There are, however, lots of books about Momus. In fact, there's a connection between the most famous of them -- "Momus", the satire by humanist scholar Leon Battista Alberti -- and The Book of Jokes. In an interesting Bookforum essay about Alberti, Ingrid Rowland tells us that this multi-talented renaissance man (he could "parse a Latin phrase, tame a horse, or jump six feet in the air from a standing position" -- or so he bragged) finished the manuscript of "Momus" in 1450, at which time he was working as an employee of the papal Curia in Rome (he befriended Pope Nicholas V, according to Vasari). Alberti had also spent time in Florence with the Medici.

Now, it so happens that one significant influence on The Book of Jokes -- I use a couple of gags from it, as well as the title -- is the original Book of Jokes written by Poggio Bracciolini, who was also an Italian humanist scholar of the 15th century, also worked for the Medicis, and also worked for the papacy at the Vatican. Both men were fans of the lively Greek satirist Lucian, who wrote often about Momos, the Greek god of mockery. Poggio was writing The Book of Jokes (the Liber Facetiarum) in 1451, just a year after Alberti completed the book of Momus.



Jest Upon Jest, John Wardroper's history of comedy, tells us that most of the dirty stories which comprise the Liber Facetiarum were told in "a sort of club in the papal secretariat, a secluded room jokingly called the bugiale or lie-factory, 'where we collected the news of the day and conversed on various subjects, mostly for relaxation... Nobody was spared... Often the Pope himself was the first subject of our criticism.'" (That's Poggio himself speaking.)

I wonder if Alberti used to hang out in this irreverent Vatican club house with Poggio? Do the original "Momus" and the original "Book of Jokes" come from the same shit-shooting sessions at the same "lie factory"? A bureau of oddities indeed.

21CommentReply

channingkennedy
Channing
Thu, Aug. 6th, 2009 10:18 am (UTC)

Seldom in my life have I yearned so to know the hottest jokes of 1869 Ethiopia as right now.


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Aug. 6th, 2009 10:50 am (UTC)

But was "Ethiopian" just the way PC Americans in 1869 referred to African-Americans? I suspect this is a book of black jokes for white folks -- you know, people who like their humor "off-color" and "beyond the pale", if not "dark" or downright "black".


ReplyThread Parent
channingkennedy
Channing
Thu, Aug. 6th, 2009 11:01 am (UTC)

Hey, every misunderstanding creates an alternate Amazon 'unavailable' entry. The entry from which it is possible to be notified when the unavailable item becomes what I thought it was supposed to be in the first place.

At least I think that's what that Amazon page said, I skimmed it sort of fast


ReplyThread Parent
lana_sv
lana_sv
lana_sv
Thu, Aug. 6th, 2009 12:35 pm (UTC)

))))))) distinguished son of moms


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Aug. 6th, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)
Twit Opera

I parlay searches about myself on the net into another obscure for obscure's sake entry.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Aug. 6th, 2009 04:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Twit Opera

It was actually an email from the American publisher which alerted me to a Publishers Weekly review which ran fully a month ago, and I hadn't noticed. Clearly my Google Alerts are failing me!


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Thu, Aug. 6th, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC)

Yes, Momus, anyone who has even vaguely followed this blog will have had it hammered into their skulls that you have a book coming out. But these self-congratulatory posts never garner too many comments, do they?


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Aug. 6th, 2009 10:08 pm (UTC)

"Despite Freud's admiration for art, he viewed the artist as an introvert, not far removed from neurosis. The artist, he wrote in a well-known passage in the Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, "is oppressed by excessively powerful instinctual needs. He desires to win honour, power, wealth, fame and the love of women; but he lacks the means for achieving these satisfactions". Consequently, Freud argued, artists retreat from reality into the world of fantasy, where they attempt to make their dreams come true. While conceding that true artists manage to shape their daydreams in such a way as to find a path back to reality, thus fulfilling their wishes, Freud nevertheless theorized art as a substitute gratification." Reading Freud's Reading

In these terms, I think you can see why reviews -- and in particular the first two reviews of his career -- might be allowed to matter to a writer. They are the first glintings and glimmerings of the possible fulfillment of the artist's most ardent wish to be healthy; the first signs that his neurotic substitutions and compensations might, by some alchemy, turn into the real thing -- fame, power, honour and the love of women -- and that his high self-estimation might start to become, generally, more widely-shared.

But here you are -- like the voice of reality itself -- telling me that nobody really cares. Thank you, REALITY!

Edited at 2009-08-06 10:12 pm (UTC)


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Fri, Aug. 7th, 2009 06:35 am (UTC)
Freudalism

Deluze and Guattari (among others) have talked keenly about (among other things) the classist and sexist markers in Freud's work. Your above example is a, well, great example.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Aug. 7th, 2009 07:53 am (UTC)
Re: Freudalism

Of course Freud, by "he", meant us to understand "s/he", and by "honour, power, wealth, fame and the love of women" intended us to understand "radical equality between social partners, including lesbian splinter groups".


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Fri, Aug. 7th, 2009 06:25 pm (UTC)
Re: Freudalism

yer funny


ReplyThread Parent
lazy_leoboiko
lazy_leoboiko
Fri, Aug. 7th, 2009 08:50 pm (UTC)

That’s because Freud was born too early to analyze the curious mix of power trip, cowardice, and compensation we call “anonymous posts”.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Mon, Aug. 10th, 2009 05:24 am (UTC)

that's funny coming from someone with zero journal entries. you're a hair removed from an anon yourself, brother!


ReplyThread Parent
lazy_leoboiko
lazy_leoboiko
Mon, Aug. 10th, 2009 01:24 pm (UTC)

What does disliking livejournal have to do with anything? Anyone with half a brain can find my personal page with either two clicks or a simple google search (http://namakajiri.net , if that’s too hard for you). In any case, the presence or absence of a blog has nothing to do with the lame, coward, despicable habit of playing Internet Tough Guy and posting aggressive comments under the safety net of distance and anonymity. If you dislike someone, have some balls and go say it to their face. Useless aggressive comments are the diarrhea of the net.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Mon, Aug. 10th, 2009 11:30 pm (UTC)

You sound like you're full of some of the same "tough guy" bluster and aggressiveness, as well. Takes one to know one, I guess.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Thu, Aug. 6th, 2009 11:19 pm (UTC)

I'm looking forward to his novel, even more so in the light of the positive reviews. I don't much like commenting, that's all.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Fri, Aug. 7th, 2009 10:30 am (UTC)

i liked this entry


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Thu, Aug. 6th, 2009 11:11 pm (UTC)
carefull

cautionary note.
remember these reviews tend to be written by pseuds ...middle class guardian readers et all


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Aug. 7th, 2009 08:21 am (UTC)
Re: carefull

Of course, he's being reviewed by his peers.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Fri, Aug. 7th, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)

A nice review and curious lineage. Momus, why do you think you attract so many weakly hostile anons who follow you and invest (a modicum of, if only) effort into attacking you--and always in the same voice, interestingly enough, attempting to sound caustic and sophisticated, talking from a high ground they haven't established. Yours is the one comment section I read for the trolls, rather than avoid because of them.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Aug. 9th, 2009 07:17 am (UTC)

Just last week I was cut down with his favorite word: "pseud".
What a cuck.


ReplyThread Parent