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Lidia Vianu –The Desperado Age

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

PREFACE ............................................................................................................................................................................. 6
I. THE DESPERADO AGE 7
I/1. POSTMODERN OR DESPERADO?..................................................................................................................................... 8
I/2. THE DESPERADO FREEDOM ......................................................................................................................................... 23
I/3. THE NATURE OF FICTION IN THE DESPERADO WORK ................................................................................................... 30
I/4. THE POST-TIME OF THE DESPERADO WORK ................................................................................................................ 36
I/5. THE DESPERADO AGE AND THE IRON CURTAIN ........................................................................................................... 44
I/6. THE FUTURE AS A MEMORY, IN DESPERADO LITERATURE............................................................................................. 61
I/7. THE DESPERADO NOVEL COMES OF AGE ..................................................................................................................... 78
3 II. DESPERADO OR NOT: FOR AND AGAINST 96 4
II/1. ALDOUS HUXLEY........................................................................................................................................................ 97
II/2. GEORGE ORWELL ..................................................................................................................................................... 102
II/3. ANTHONY BURGESS ................................................................................................................................................. 106
II/4. DORIS LESSING ........................................................................................................................................................ 110
II/5. PHILIP LARKIN.......................................................................................................................................................... 120
II/6. JOHN FOWLES .......................................................................................................................................................... 122
II/7. ALAN BROWNJOHN .................................................................................................................................................. 127
II/8. MALCOLM BRADBURY .............................................................................................................................................. 139
II/9. ALASDAIR GRAY....................................................................................................................................................... 141
II/10. DAVID LODGE........................................................................................................................................................ 146
II/11. JULIAN BARNES ...................................................................................................................................................... 151
II/12. PETER ACKROYD.................................................................................................................................................... 156

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II/13. MARTIN AMIS......................................................................................................................................................... 162


II/14. GRAHAM SWIFT ..................................................................................................................................................... 165
II/15. KAZUO ISHIGURO................................................................................................................................................... 170
II/16. DESPERADO POETRY .............................................................................................................................................. 178
BIBLIOGRAPHY................................................................................................................................................................. 288
BY THE SAME AUTHOR .................................................................................................................................................... 323

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LIDIA VIANU

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THE DESPERADO AGE
British Literature at the Start of the Third Millennium

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PREFACE

This book is an attempt at renaming literature at the start of the third millennium. It hopes to offer a bird’s
eye view of what was written during the last five decades of the twentieth century and what is being written in this
first decade of the twenty-first.
3 The book is just a starting point. More than offering a definition, it means to challenge those who read 4
literature today and, for one reason or another, write about it.
The project called Desperado includes a book of criticism (British Desperadoes, 1999), a monograph on the
British poet, novelist and critic Alan Brownjohn (Alan Brownjohn and the Desperado Age, 2003) a large selection of
British contemporary verse (Desperado Poetry, 2004) and volume of Desperado Interviews with the authors dealt
with in The Desperado Age.

Lidia Vianu

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I. THE DESPERADO AGE

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I/1. POSTMODERN OR DESPERADO?

There are two major directions in 20th century literature: the stream of consciousness and the Post-stream of
consciousness, the latter being known as Postmodernism (Post-Postmodernism and the rest). Considering that any
trend has its posterity, post-movements or post-trends have been known to exist as long as literature has existed.
Those which had a clear meaning attached to them also acquired a name that stayed with us. Quite a number of
critics have tried to formulate one Postmodern theory or another, and the so-called Postmodernist movement has
struggled for its life for a number of decades. At present, all the numberless opinions slowly dismember.
The specific feature of the period 1950-2004 in literature, maybe not only literature, in fact, is auctorial
individualism, the denial of group psychology. The word is ‘each for himself,’ everybody their own trend. This time
3 of utmost literary solitude and bravery, of everyone creating what and how they please and taking the audience
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their hostage, keeping the reader at their mercy, I have called the DESPERADO AGE.
I will try to outline the essential features of Desperado literature, dividing them into nine sections, but this
will be in no way an attempt at exhausting the field.

1. Plot (in all genres, but mainly fiction)

● The Desperado writer comes back to the story, focusses on plot again, relies heavily on suspense. After
Joyce and Virginia Woolf had flooded fiction with lyricism and imposed the rule of the word, reducing plot to the
adventures of the word or the lyrical trips into the self that remembers according to subconscious associations,
another generation follows. Alasdair Gray, Kazuo Ishiguro, Julian Barnes, Graham Swift, John Fowles and many
other writers understand that the novel was about to die, and reinstate story-telling. Had Joyce continued the path

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opened by Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, the novel would not have survived long. Terrified, Lawrence Durrell made
a passionate comeback to exciting incidents. The breathtaking story is back, but it must be added that the
Desperado suspense is much more than mere suspense: it is an emotional and intellectual grip that leaves the
reader helpless.

● The Desperado suspense has a peculiar nature, springing from the fact that the plot is fragmentary and
the pattern is not to be found. The plot, the story, is no longer a classical sequence of past, present and future.
This story is not even, as it used to be for the stream of consciousness, an amalgamated knot of events. Like
everything Desperado, plot itself is a puzzle: as we go along, we find fragments of time, and we have to make
them fit together in a larger image, unknown, unsuspected at first. From the first words, the work exhales its own
expectations, which, as far as time is concerned, could be named the confusion of chronology.
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● Whether the narrative is in the first or the third person, the story inevitably slips into the biography of a
character who narrates. Repeatedly, in Doris Lessing, David Lodge, Martin Amis, the story relies on the pattern of
one life. Not several equally important lives, as in Galsworthy’s impressive architecture, as in Dickens even. Just
one life, which swallows everything else. The peculiarity of the Desperado hero, the hold of plot on the reader
resides in the individualizing narrative. Incidents flow into the basket of one hero’s biography, and all the rest are
mere pretexts for the show to go on.

● Although the incidents that make up the plot reach our consciousness in a disorderly manner, there is a
sense of chronology and we cannot ignore it. The author does not basically violate chronology, he merely ignores
its traditional representation, the progress from past to future. The time sequence no longer is the support of
causality, it no longer rules the plot, imposing its logic on incidents and characters, on the reader’s perception of

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literature. Quite the reverse, the author painstakingly pieces together a dishevelled plot, a sophisticated
chronology. The main hero, the only one we are expected to understand – this effort is no lesser just because
there is only one important hero, it is actually more intense – , thinks according to rules his mind makes, and
these rules destroy all pre-existing patterns, all order, all attempts at clarification or final explanation by means of
ordering the flashes chronologically or according to any other law.

● The Desperado plot always has an open end. The author refuses to have any say as to where the
interaction book-reader should stop. He stops provisionally, having exhausted one set of incidents, unwilling to
go on for now. All Desperado novels end in a last indecisive page: some poetic symbol induces a meditative mood,
the reader may be overwhelmed with doubt as to the real meaning of what he has read, or an abrupt ending cuts
expectation short and actually heightens the desire to go on reading, sharing the newly found universe of the
3 book. Whatever the case may be, the open ending, by hook or by crook, is an insurance policy of the text, which
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survives in rereading. The Desperado author makes sure the readers will never forget, because they will never
leave the text. Creation becomes a timeless trap.

● The universe the author imagines is gradually revealed. The reader is educated in the spirit of growing
patience. The author imposes an ascetic reading. Joyce, Woolf, T.S. Eliot were elliptical, refused to explain, made a
deliberate plan to require the reader to piece up the work using its fragments. The stream of consciousness
mechanically did away with all connecting words and thoughts, but coherence and order survived underground. A
Desperado is a writer for whom order is meaningless. The reader no longer feeds on the creator’s plan, he no
longer reorders planned disorder. Desperado literature bars the reader from experiencing the joy of discovering at
the very last a logical, coherent whole. The Desperado denies the tyranny of logic and lives in alogicality.

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● Paul Valéry used to say, ‘An obstacle is a sun!’ The Desperado author finds his sun, his joy of creation, in
using all known conventions till they are exhausted. The novel smashes happy-ends, romance, emotional
involvement in the story, even accessibility, to a certain degree. Subconsciously, the text means to outsmart
already used devices, but that is not always possible. This kind of suicidal story, which kills its own reasons to
survive, makes the reader despair, but also gives him the strength to struggle and find out the source and flow of
this Desperado plot, which, as most interviews with the authors themselves state, only means to entertain,
although it actually intrigues.

2. Character

● After the stream of consciousness had smashed characters into tiny words (keeping them painfully alive,
3 all the same), splinters of thought, reflex gestures and cultured meditation, Desperado literature brings palpable
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characters back into the story. The author imagines somebody in flesh and blood. It does not matter that the
imagined person behaves oddly, has an intimidating past, entertains such tangled thoughts that nobody in the
text or outside it can order them. Tragic or funny, more or less energetic, the odd hero is very much alive, too,
apparently coherent, in fact all the more appealing as its enigmatic side keeps growing and growing.

● The Desperado author rejects explicit psychological analysis, possibly because it was the major discovery
of Henry James and then of the stream of consciousness. More than thoughts, which are there all right, it is actions
that speak. The hero is incident addicted. His inner monologue is rich, but it evolves from act to act more than
from one idea to another. Caught in the web of the plot, this one hero, since one is enough for a plot, appears as a
magnified memory. Inert and all puzzled, he is the ultimate witness. His inner and outer life are one. Life happens
to him, and he endures far beyond what his being can take. Reality devours him. Thought is his last resort.

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● Characterization relies heavily upon rememoration. The Desperado author repeatedly uses certain
essential moods: disarray, alogicality (or logic abandoned), abolished (un)happiness, false resignation
accompanied by existential malaise, irritation, in short all sorts of suffering. The hero himself exposes his private
life, or allows it to be exposed, almost masochistically. Compared to the flamboyant love of life of a James Joyce,
the emblematic experience of the Desperado hero, whether joking or in earnest, is existence as an ordeal, not as
joy.

3. Style

● The style of Henry James, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, the style of the stream of consciousness was heavy with
3 lyricism, exasperating readers with its elliptical secrecy. The reader’s major concern was to find the literal meaning
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first, and the symbols were investigated only after the text had been clarified. The Desperado style blinds us with
colloquial clarity. Julian Barnes and Alasdair Gray, for instance, state that all they want is to make themselves
understood. This shows us that Desperado authors have learnt the lesson of the stream of consciousness, they
have learnt from previous disastrous experience that the reader comes first, that creation should focus on reading.
The Desperado author affords a comfortable reading experience, although meaning is far from obvious. The
reader’s comfort is a consequence of the more than accessible language the writer uses, a language that rejects
sophistication, welcomes familiarity, cleans words from far-fetched associations or encoded symbols. Encoding,
ambiguity have lost the ground they had gained and kept for several decades. Difficulty is not lost. We find it in a
complicated order of detail, which is actually part of the plot, but is mirrored in style too, in the fact that
apparently understanding is free and easy, when in fact it is greatly slowed down by the imperative need to
remember whatever is written on the page. Every little word will sometime come in handy. To a large extent, the

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Desperado author creates the mnemotechnical reading. The Desperado novel trains our ability to activate words
we thought insignificant at a first reading, words which, a chapter later, turn out to be the key to an otherwise
inexplicable incident.

● Some authors plunge into lyrical effusion, poetry, reverie, sympathetic mood, and push the reader into
emotion. Desperado fiction may convey tenderness, nostalgia, compassion. This tender text is vulnerable, the best
prey for the sensibility of a reader exhausted by mysteries, ingenious demonstrations and intellectual triumphs.
Ishiguro is such a hypersensitive author. Ironical Barnes himself has one emotional novel. The excellent narrator
Graham Swift dives on and off into the soul of his hero and compels us to feel with him. These trips into the
turmoil of the soul are a sign that distant narration, blank fiction, mocking fiction (poetry) have had the revelation
that reading is complex and, just as it happens in life, it has its moments of sweetness.
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● The Desperado authors are is quite fond of four-letter words. They rebelliously rend shyness, defying the
previous bravery, upgrading it, so to say. Beyond the analysis of a mind in progress, Desperadoes instinctively slip
into a public confession of the darkest secrets. Whether we are faced with taboo thoughts which are unveiled with
masochistic brutality, or physical life is so bluntly conveyed that it borders on vulgarity, utter honesty is a
Desperado manner. In order to shatter and rape the reader’s understanding, the author breaks all interdictions.
The shameless style makes for sharpness of the text. Without an aesthetic motivation, shamelessness might turn
into pornography. As it is, the result of deliberate freedom from shyness leads to a firm text, which reaches
psychological depth by shocking propriety. Alasdair Gray states in an interview that he cannot reread his own
novel because, after finishing it, he became again the shy person he was before writing that particular novel. Other
authors are verbally very decent, but reveal shocking moral or emotional ugliness. Whether stylistically or
emotionally, the Desperado writer is in love with inciting, intriguing abnormality.

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● Every Desperado is painfully aware that language definitely cannot be an obstacle in his type of narrative,
which is not the easiest thing in the world to grasp, mainly because it resorts to the order of memory and
exaggerates, perfects what the stream of consciousness merely discovered. Superficial clarity is accompanied by
indirectness. Narration is far more than story-telling. Henry James inaugurated ambiguous narration, at the end of
which the readers hardly knew which hero they should side with, who was to blame and who was not. For
Desperadoes, all heroes are blameless to start with, they are all indisputably right. The most concrete incidents
cohere in a story of the mind, the hidden mechanisms of initial thoughts are unveiled. Unuttered feelings must be
guessed at. Desperado reluctance to verbalize the soul goes hand in hand with apparent verbal shamelessness.
Feelings merely hinted at show us how certainty is replaced by guessing. The author falls prey to the temptation of
hiding, because by being indirect he can complicate things and the text glimmers with life, even if all this takes
3 place behind the stage of a clear style, which becomes the only traffic sign in a maze of roads. The Desperado
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paradox is born out of the despair to complicate, associated with the determination to be accessible, easily
understood.

4. Relationship with the critic

The Desperado author is very much interested in being accepted, praised, and dislikes (who doesn’t?) being
found at fault, all the more so as he claims he could not care less. Julian Barnes emphatically states it is the easiest
thing in the world to ‘quit’ criticism. Sophistication of the work amounts actually to claiming the critics’ attention,
making sure the reader is a fan, not an enemy. All Desperadoes are addressing an initiated reader, who is far more
than a mere relaxed reader. The Desperado writer creates the challenging text. It is a deliberate challenge, its
effects are expected, planned, very much unlike the turmoil of revolt in the Stream of consciousness. The author’s

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ambition is both to manipulate emotionally the common reader and make the intelligent critic surrender, exhaust
his attack strategies. This may be the reason why most Desperado authors wish for commonsensical critics,
traditional, possibly thematic, fond of depth not deconstruction or technicalities. It is quite strange that the
challenging Desperado text has not yet created a Desperado critical approach. For the time being, creation has the
upper hand for a while.

5. Relationship with the reader

● The Desperado writer likes to think he is in close contact with his reader, that he is welcomed by an
involved reader. All Desperado devices aim at manipulating the reader’s emotions and intellect, despite the fact
that no Desperado is willing to subscribe to this guilty intention. Quite the reverse, the writers state with
3 determination they hate to manipulate their audience, the work writes itself, no premeditation involved. Actually,
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they attempt a deliberate involvement of the reader (triggered by the complication of the work). Consequently,
reading Desperado literature can be, actually is, exasperating, bewitching and, more often than not, disarming.

● The reader’s role is to decode. As he unravels devices, he becomes the author’s confessor. He accedes to
the story, by means of which the author traps him, but he is constantly intrigued, by every step forward, every
obstacle which bars a traditional approach. The reader has been promoted from the passive school to the active
school of reading (which process was started by the stream of consciousness). The Desperado reader is, in the
end, a shock addict. When a text looks too accessible, it most certainly hides something missed at first sight. This
reader can be defined thus: ‘Tell me how intrigued you are, and I will tell you if you really are a Desperado.’

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6. The author in his work

A Desperado is ironical above everything else. Irony overwhelms plot, characters, style and readers. Without
irony, which belongs to both author and reader, the Desperado work is nothing. Irony ensures the high quality of
the text. It supports the detachment of this author who complicates without getting involved, or not directly
involved, anyway. The author is discreet, he avoids sounding personal, refuses the intimacy of confession, replaces
it with an imaginary brotherhood. The Desperado author has a strong imagination, behind which he takes shelter
at all times. He hides what the reader finds out in the end, and the game is repeated over and over again, because
the Desperado work is an eternal beginning. It always leaves behind the bitter sweet taste of inconclusiveness...

7. Displacement
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● The Desperado author can be identified by his repeated attempt at leaving one space and moving into
another, leaving one age for another, or simply by leaving and then finding another fixed point (often much worse
than the previous, but refreshingly new). The passage, travel, departure and shipwreck, the discovery of the island,
are compulsory for these restless writers starving for the unusual.

● As a consequence of the fact that the authors travel, go on endless pilgrimages, the Desperado works are
pervaded by an acute need for a home, by a feeling of rootlessness. Some authors come to the English language
from other geographical areas (India, Japan, Africa), and their roots become inessential. The fact that they were
born elsewhere entitles them to feel they belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time, they exist in a literary
utopia, without borders such as space, language, time. The Desperado work aspires at being international,
although it focusses on the haunting fear that it can find no refuge anywhere.

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●The displaced hero complains of an inner void which menaces all coherence. This inner void explains and
supports the inexplicable side of his psychology, the maze of thoughts and feelings which the reader has to cross
when he tries to piece up the hero.

●All Desperado heroes are intensely solitary. Not even love can bring them together, and other feelings are
apparently mere shadows of traditional passionate turmoils. Which does not mean lack of intensity. Quite the
reverse. Intensity is exacerbated. Detached from reality, yet handcuffed to it, inert yet crucified to the narrative,
slashed into numberless captivating incidents, the people of these paradoxical books are paradoxical themselves,
contradictory beings who are finally unexplained and inexplicable on the whole, incomplete circles, mouths
opened to utter a last unheard word.
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●The authors are oppressed by the constant struggle for survival. Life is a burden, more than mere joy, even
in the humorous books. The heroes long for the peace and carelessness of childhood, they feel driven away from
an unknown paradise which they subconsciously long for incessantly. The Desperado hero is restless, his world-
wide sadness is lyrical in nature, and it projects a meditative halo around all characters.

●All displaced beings go through several basic experiences: the struggle to emulate natives, the fear of
rejection or despising attitudes, the risk of never being understood properly. These experiences result in a
nightmarish atmosphere (see Kazuo Ishiguro in The Unconsoled, Salman Rushdie in Midnight’s Children), a
nightmare of alienation. The heroes build themselves islands of familiarity, dreams, loves, sentimentality, but their
life mostly unfurls in an inimical world, a hostile universe. The displaced Desperado authors experience a subtle,
incurable frustration. Irony and tragedy join hands.

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8. Dystopia

●The Desperado author’s favourite space is dystopia, black, negative utopia. The long line of dystopians
actually begins with Huxley (Brave New World) and Orwell (1984), and continues with most contemporary writers.
Dystopia is more frequent than writing poetry in adolescence or than falling in love. Whenever a Desperado creates
his own world, it inevitably turns out to be a dystopia. Most novels since the 1950s to the turn of the millennium
have a dystopic air, which is unmistakable and must not be ignored because it is an essential, very significant
symptom of emotional estrangement.

●The list of dystopian authors is long. It starts with the stream of consciousness, with T.S. Eliot and his
Waste Land. Beginning with Huxley, we can talk about Desperadoes. Besides Brave New World, Huxley also
3 imagined Ape and Essence. Others follow: William Golding (Lord of the Flies), Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork
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Orange, Honey for the Bears), Doris Lessing (The Good Terrorist, The Fifth Child, The Memoirs of a Survivor),
Malcolm Bradbury (Rates of Exchange, Mensonge), Alasdair Gray (Lanark, Poor Things), David Lodge (Nice Work),
Julian Barnes (Staring at the Sun, The Porcupine), Peter Ackroyd (Hawksmoor, Chatterton, English Music), Kazuo
Ishiguro (The Unconsoled), Alan Brownjohn (The Long Shadows), and many more. We are not always faced with
science fiction. Quite the reverse, the surroundings are most often than not apparently common. The dystopia
begins insidiously, with a defamiliarization of the familiar. The familiar present, exaggerated and blackened, is
projected into future indeterminacy. Defamiliarization is accompanied by a maximized fear. In a nightmarish, yet
very real world, heroes live naturally. Gray even confesses that it was his aim to see how far he could go, how hard
he could stretch the hero’s rationality, and he placed his character in abnormal circumstances, boasting with the
character’s very natural reactions to the unusual.

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● The basic feature of Desperado dystopias (unlike Jonathan Swift, with his country of the Houyhnhnms, for
example) is the victory of imagination, which renders the terrifying appealing to us. Whoever reads Lanark by
Alasdair Gray feels very reluctant to leave the world of the novel, would rather linger there after the last page
spells ‘GOODBYE’, they all go back and reread, reconsider the first time around. Lingering and rereading are the
defining particularities of Desperado dystopias.

● The aim of Desperado dystopias is broader than before, because traditional dystopias merely warned that
nightmare could become reality. Contemporary dystopias are copiously inventive of non-experience. Desperado
authors imagine a wealth of details, worlds of all kinds. Desperado dystopias are: political (the most accessible and
obvious), science-fictional (the nightmare of technology, as opposed to the SF dream), moral and philosophical
(human nature, teenage violence), apocalyptic (the atomic threat), old age, the crisis of civilization (death used as
3 food for further life).
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● Terror has an opposite pole in Desperado dystopias: the author uses literature in order to rehabilitate
ugliness, and he does so much more efficiently than T.S. Eliot did in his aesthetics of the ugly, in 1922. The writer
imagines frantically, allows himself to be carried away by his own imagination, and this message of the joy of
living the dystopia is that whatever the imagination can hold is alive, consequently the dystopia becomes an
apology of life, a kind of life that knows no border between beautiful and ugly, a life in which mere existence (it is
irrelevant to call it good or bad) counts.

● Dystopia is the result of the Desperado instinct to intrigue and shock the reader at all costs. From
defamiliarization, through imagination, the reader comes to accept a multitude of alien worlds. The message is not
fear or despair; the reader learns to adapt himself to the dystopic world, whatever that may be, and his mind

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practises survival in this way. As so many times and in so many ways before, the Desperado author finds his way
across despair (despair of existence, or creation), towards hope. A Desperado never despairs of anything. A
Desperado hunts the unusual (and not only), he is a mind in progress, ceaselessly discovering new literary and
even existential modes.

9. The hybridization of literary genres

The mixture of literary genres became a major literary mode with the stream of consciousness, at the
beginning of the 20th century. It was the great invention of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, alongside with
the cultured text (intertextuality). The Desperado writes poetic novels and fictional poems, contaminated with
drama, essay, literary criticism and literary history. Any technique is good, all techniques must be combined, as
3 many as possible in the same text, no matter what age they belong to or what literary genre. Desperado literature
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is a merry-go-round of techniques: realism, oneirism, symbolism, stream of consciousness, absurd. The word is
handled with an eye wide open to preserving clarity, but to the one aim of making it proof of personality. A sum
total of all trends, devices he knows (whatever age they belong to), the author who could qualify for the Desperado
community flatly refuses being enrolled in any collectivity, group, movement, because he feels utterly different
from all the rest, so he proclaims himself his own trend.

A Desperado text is a composite text, a text within a text within a text, a multitude of texts in one. The
cultured text is also very pragmatic at the same time. Contraries meet. The Desperado rewrites all literature. He
deals with literature according to his own laws, doing everything in his power to go against the grain. If he makes
the law, he is his own and only ruler. What makes us discuss a contemporary Desperado community is that, true
enough, birds of a feather flock together: they are all unbelievably similar in their despair to be dissimilar.

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I/2. THE DESPERADO FREEDOM

I. Previous bondage to previous conventions

The stream of consciousness, which precedes the Desperado age (starting in the early 1950s) in time, was an
illusion of freedom. The desire to struggle free from 19th century realism, from traditional omniscience, from the
order of the predictable plot and characters, ended in a frenzy of defiance. The character was no longer a story for
Joyce, Woolf, Conrad: he was a stream (of thoughts, emotions, memories). Virginia Woolf’s famous essay on
Modern Fiction was an act of rejection. She turned her back on Galsworthy, Bennett and Wells, but she was not
really prepared for a substantial change. Many critics have noticed that she discovered denial, nothing else. I
3 should say she replaced the old convention of predictability, the old horizon of strong expectations, by a new
4
convention of defiance. If readers had grown too addicted and accustomed to peaceful, gratifying reading, she
decided to wake them up: she used symmetrical opposition and came up with the imperious need for
unpredictability. The stream of consciousness novel is what we do not expect to see on page, whether it is in point
of structure (plot, character, chronology, all shattered, reshuffled, different from what centuries of literature had
made them into), or, more confusing, in point of style. If plot, character and chronology had a gift of rearranging
themselves in the reader’s mind according to old patterns once he had done reading, the style slipped dangerously
into lyricism, made understanding arduous, and we can safely say that the novel suffered for fifty years from the
malady of the word.
The features of a novel such as Ulysses or Mrs. Dalloway are: complicated architecture of memories,
emotions and verbal associations, supported by a hidden intention, a concealed plan, the compression of all
meanings by means of a language which left the purpose of mere communication, straying into poetry. The

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encoded style led to an encoded meaning, and on the whole, the stream of consciousness text refuses
accessibility. This refusal began as an absence of incident, which was replaced by emotion and thought. More
emotion with Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot, more thought (etymology included, as a philosophy of the word) in
James Joyce. The destiny of heroes is no longer a body – which Woolf noisily refused – but a mind in progress. If
there is no story, then there is no sense of closure either. The reader who finishes a stream of consciousness novel
is left afloat in an open space of the soul. Reading is threatened, it will soon have to change. Briefly, in Woolf’s
own terms, love interest has to die. I must say she proclaims this but never manages to kill it right in her novels.
Once the reader has come out of the text, love and story are back in his mind, and he remembers characters who
are very much in love. Yet it is now, with Joyce, Woolf and Eliot that the idea of the couple, of family and loving/
loveless endings begins to fade. The horizon of expectation has to change, to accommodate these new, defiant
novels, apparently deprived of what was the basic food of literature for at least nineteen centuries. We used to
3 form an intimacy with the hero as we read his story and expected the suspense, the absolute end. We are no
4
longer supposed to expect anything. We form an intimacy with the author, who baffles us and confuses the text. If
the novel used to be a statement, it is a question mark now, and it is the reader who must find his own answers or
stay forever displeased.
20th century realism (Galsworthy is the best representative) still hopes to please the reader. Forsyte Saga is a
consummate architecture of conventional devices, from perfect chronology to plot and character. Its main rule is
logic. The reader’s guide is his own understanding, which passively travels across the incidents, all connected and
meaningfully built into a pyramid longing for an attainable future. The horizon of expectation in such novels has
been the same for twenty centuries and more: something begins and ends, and we see the interim. This is what
the Desperado refuses to do. He rejects both the convention of order (traditional novel) and that of deliberate
disorder (stream of consciousness). We could easily sum up the main moments of a novel by Dickens, Cervantes,
Petronius (to go backwards). The chronological sequence makes sense. The same attempt at restoring chronology

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to a Desperado novel leaves us in the dark. If we take Joyce and restore order to the planned confusion of his
whirling incidents (because something happens in all fiction, at all times), we find ourselves in the exhilarating
world of etymological genius. Before the Desperado, fiction was always in bondage to convention, and it accepted
the artificiality. The Desperado is the first to say, I am different and I am free.

II. What does it take to be a Desperado?

(1) Irony is the key to writing a good Desperado book. Joyce, Woolf and T.S. Eliot (all stream of consciousness)
went as far as denying previous conventions, using previous texts while belittling them, debunking other works
(see The Odyssey in Ulysses and Shakespeare, among a crowd of other writers, in The Waste Land). When Alasdair
3 Gray – just one random example – or Julian Barnes resort to other texts, they destroy those texts with their grin,
4
their irony tells us: Do not trust them do not trust me, no other text but mine can be taken seriously, and even my
text has to be viewed with a smile, with the love of game in your mind. Irony is the mother of the text as a
challenging game.

(2) In interviews, Desperadoes are fond of denying the question. You say they love to play with their readers and
they reply, I love my readers and want to impress them, not challenge. A Desperado is always in denial: he denies
statements, he denies first impressions, he builds his always present suspense on denying the reader’s horizon of
expectation. He even denies denials (see Ishiguro denying the denial of love in The Remains of the Day). A
Desperado states in the negative: the baffling hero, the confusing incident are his major means of communication.

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(3) Although writing No on every page, the Desperado expects us to fervently welcome him with a Yes. He needs
the reader’s approval and courts us, while apparently grumpy and eager to displease. The reason for their anxious
desire to be different and take us by surprise is to silence us into loving, amazed acceptance.

(4) When the plot is at its peak, it is ruthlessly suspended and the reader is left breathlessly hopeless. The
Desperado work never ends happily or unhappily, and never even considers an open ending. It ends unexpectedly.
The character in Lanark leaves no room for speculation, he dies, but he dies enigmatically, with a mere
‘GOODBYE.’ Ishiguro’s painter in An Artist of the Floating World ends the exam of his consciousness (which is the
book) by merely gazing at the new generation and shaking his head in helpless disapproval, after he has enjoyed a
certain kind of power and fame his whole life. We would not expect him to be that gentle. Fowles plays with his
endings in full view, in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Since the couple is discarded, the future looks useless and
3 the end is a dead device. Its only role is to create anxiety, which it amply does.
4

(5) Desperadoes pine for love, yet mistrust it as the pillar of any story. Lessing’s The Golden Notebook is all about
the absence of love, while proclaiming the freedom of women from men. Waterland is an image of old age and
faint reminiscences of the trouble caused by young love, now all but vanished. The stream of consciousness
discredited love theoretically, yet still clung to it (see V. Woolf, who would not breathe without emotion). The
Desperadoes snicker when they should sympathize, love is a source of fun. Their irony is dry, although they are
very much concerned with the reader’s emotional involvement in the work. Barnes, Swift, Lodge, Bradbury, Amis,
Gray, all of them, actually, deny their characters shared emotions. Since the hero is ultimately and mainly alone,
love is a forbidden form of communication.

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(6) A Desperado must be new at all costs. He must be new in the context of all literature, and he must also be new
in relation to his previous work. Being new implies surprising the reader, and the Desperado longs to catch us
unaware.

(7) A writer who aspires to the status of a Desperado should be advised: Be faithful to the Desperado dream,
namely be one of your kind, if possible the best, rise overnight and amaze everyone.

(8) Be clear in style and devious in thought. Use the mnemotechnic style, make readers responsible for their own
capacity of remembering each word, which may become the key to later developments.

(9) Make a clean breast of all the skeletons in your cupboard and do not mince words about it : be shameless.
3 4
(10) Be both sympathetic and arrogant, in a mixture known only to yourself.

(11) Be alive and kicking while talking about all kinds of mortifications.

(12) Be CONTRADICTORY: argue with yourself.

(13) Be FREE from everybody else’s words. Which brings us to:

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III. Desperado freedom above all

1. Where to be free
● Handle language irreverently, use words that did not use to belong to the written page, use them as a matter of
fact, not to shock, just to give an air of informal speech to your carefully planned linguistical traps.
● Innovate the structure of the text, do not reject plot, chronology and character, but use them in such a way as to
mystify whoever might claim has understood you or has access to your truth.
● Feel free to help yourself to hulks of the past, since intertextuality is an accepted practice and everyone is used
to that now.
3 ● Do not get all excited about what Martin Amis used to call the literary genres ‘bleeding’ into one another, be a
4
good surgeon of fiction and use the scalpel of hybridization in cold blood, because if you get all fidgety about the
least discovery (as the stream of consciousness did), you risk being thrown into jail on a charge of inaccessibility.
● From the most abstract idea of literature, from the text written out of and even about other texts, squeeze the
least drop of life, and claim this life is your major concern (even though it is convention that you covet).

2. How to be free
● Be different, no matter what. Be different from all other writers, and do not be ashamed to differ from yourself
(Eliot was the first who begged to differ from his own youth, and it took him a lifetime to do it. Do it sooner, do it
more often and to hell with readers who expect the Ishiguro flavour, the Barnes witticism, the Swift lyricism, the
Lodge fun, etc.).

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● Ignore all rules but those you make as you go along, and stick to them only for as long as it is absolutely
necessary. Italians have this saying: once the law is made, hurry to break it.
● If interviewed (which happens, what can you do), refuse stubbornly all affiliation, avoid flocking into groups,
proclaim your uniqueness, but do not leave aside the statement that all you want is to make your readers
comfortable (far be that thought from you, but do not let anyone know the tough truth).
● Resent critics, pretend to ignore their attempts at including you in a category. No theory must be valid but your
own.
● Write with both your soul and memory (especially literary). If you mean to appeal to emotions, to life (so you
always say), smash all intermediary conventions.
● PS. Do not forget, someone should write on your books, ‘Handle with care’, because with all this freedom, you
may turn literature into a time bomb.
3 4
3. Why be free
● Because you must find yourself by escaping all preconceived patterns.
● Because you need all your strength to allure readers.
● Because you are on the verge of the most wonderful discovery ever: the perfect work.
● Because you know better that to conform to older minds.
● Because you cannot find anything new and amazing by using old cannons: discard old tracks and set out for the
New World (Columbus did not come up with the right name for it, but you might, and if you do not, Desperado will
be a dead word).
● Because YOU CAN DO IT, whatever it is, and because you are worth it (advertisement is the soul of
communication, and we must never ignore Public Relations).

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I/3. THE NATURE OF FICTION IN THE DESPERADO WORK

1. TRUTH OR FICTION?

Henry James used to state that a work of art must approximate truth. Joyce, Woolf and Eliot restricted the
area to the truth of the mind. The basic contention would be that nobody can tell for sure what truth is. Actually,
our perception of the truth has changed so much that we read Dickens and do not see the life but the
old-fashioned convention in him. Which brings one possible answer: in literature, truth is just another convention.
The Desperadoes could not have been absent, since they delight in conventions of all kinds, as many as possible,
as varied and as different. Consequently, the Desperadoes claim today, All we want to do is give you the truth.
3 The Desperado imagination adapts to a new nature, a new reality. It always brings about confusion, and the
4
reader stops and wonders: Is this a new experience, or is it just a baffling of my old way of looking at things?
Defiance is in the nature of all conventions. The only difference is that for many centuries, since ancient times to
the realism of our own century, readers have been fed one pattern, that of chronological causality, of the couple
living (un)happily ever after. The couple and the ending are two outmoded, exhausted conventions. For the first
time, the Desperadoes defy the very basis of traditional fiction. The defiance is stronger than the stream of
consciousness hybridization of literary genres. Joyce, Woolf, Eliot merely played with the existing conventions, and
kept them whole, actually. Literature became a game. Desperadoes find this game and all they can think of is to
smash it to pieces. They claim they want truth, not just a game, but their truth is desperately confusing. It is very
hard to create a new convention when you start by smashing all components that could have been useful.
Imagination works hard, and here we are in front of a question which is in fact as old as the hills: Truth or fiction?

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It is quite obvious that what the stream of consciousness claimed to do, which was adjusting literature to the
truth, making it more capable of rendering life, was just another illusion of truth. Desperadoes no longer claim to
mirror life. They are more drastic, and their literature mirrors no truth, it just is life, truth, reality, whatever we
experience daily, outside the written page. Desperado literature takes a trip out of itself. The author steps into
unfamiliar surroundings and starts building a new house of fiction. No harm done, as long as the reader keeps in
mind that this will be a house, too, in the long run, not a forest or a meadow, no wild nature, but an artificial
shelter.
The author is very much aware of two things: first, that he wants to be truer than anyone before him;
second, that, being a Desperado, he must make his own law as he goes along. The first thing that must be secured
is the reader’s emotional involvement. Most Desperadoes confess in interviews that they want to be friends with
the reader, they want the reader on their side, and very much pleased by the work. They mean to say that they
3 need this reader to hold their hand, to trust and believe, wile they baffle, even ruin all his expectations. They claim
4
this is the immediacy of life, that they do not offer fiction but nature, and we must bear with the text, because the
war with old conventions is long and hard. The Desperado reader, steeped in intertextuality and other such fine
tricks, trots along the new book, disabused and snubbed, till suddenly a miracle happens and he changes. Reading
is no longer mere involvement. The reader learns defiance from the author, and Desperado reading is essentially
incredulous (is the truth in the work?) and dissatisfied.
The critic is more easily silenced. The contention that the work is the truth and not a mere image of it leads
to the idea that, since the truth cannot be changed, the work is above argument. Julian Barnes confesses he has
‘quit’ criticism. Other Desperadoes surrender and accept criticism, claiming that anyone can see in the text what
they please. If the author does not even fight for copyright of his fiction, it is easy to understand why the critic is
so cautious to approach the mine hidden in the Desperado text.

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The mechanism of Desperado fiction relies on untruth, in fact, because the definition of a Desperado text is
anti. If truth is tradition, untruth is innovation, so it must be explored. This is how the favourite Desperado space
is created, that of dystopia. The text outsmarts the familiar, it defamiliarizes, and instead of a place, which is a
traditional approximation of nature, it displaces, it shows the way out of nature, the departure from all known
space. Untruth does not deny, it exaggerates all realities and feelings, ending up in maximized fears. A text that
defamiliarizes, displaces and maximizes fears can only be grim, grudging, oppressive. Its only hope is inventivity,
so the only hope of untruth is fiction. No reader would linger in such scary places of the mind unless they knew
they were not for real.
Fiction it is, then. Fiction which does not mean to please, not in the way Jane Austen or Galsworthy pleased
the reader. Fiction which pushes the reader to the limit, making him a Desperado displaced reader of a dystopia.
This Desperado work has two extremes in it: on the one hand, it has peace, since truth is in it; on the other hand,
3 it is haunted by impatience, since what it does with the truth is fiction, and this fiction is the most ambitious so
4
far.

2. DIARY MAYBE?

The shape of Desperado fiction is varied, yet more often than not it has a diary-like quality. It records
incidents in the first or third person. The incidents are disparate and the author keeps them short, like daily
entries. The Desperado novel rarely has more than one main hero, so the book is easily seen as this one hero’s
self-revelation. The order of incidents is apparently dictated by hazard. In fact the hero postpones the
embarrassing, hides the key of our disapproval. Dickens, the Brontes, Galsworthy, had positive and negative
characters. There is no such thing for a Desperado author. The one hero he offers us is good and bad at once,

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likable and unlikable, we had better suspend judgment and go along. We shall be surprised yet, when we grow to
like the grumpiest, most arrogant beings ever. Desperadoes always court the displeasing.
These heroes have a haunting need to confess, yet confession is forbidden as such. The only thing they can
do is remember in a certain order, which order suggests to us what they feel, what they most want to hide. They
keep recreating past presents. The feeling of a permanent present invades memory, the past. These characters are
finally forbidden to hide anything: the text becomes a forceful revelation. They have the inner strength to reveal
the embarrassing at last, and this strength is rooted in the author’s hatred for romance: the Desperado will go to
any lengths in order to erase soap opera expectations, he will offer several simultaneous endings, no ending,
blank pages, a mere ‘GOODBYE’. He will discredit the future to the best of his abilities.
Desperado fiction always takes author, hero and reader by surprise, which explains why Desperadoes make
such an exacerbated use of suspense. The book is not a carefree diary, with a reliable past to remember, present
3 to describe and future to hope for. The book is a maybe diary, helpless to imagine tomorrow, but highly skilful in
4
playing with the past. Some authors write as if they were keeping a diary, and they are the introverts (Orwell,
Burgess, Lessing, Gray, Ackroyd, Swift, Ishiguro). Others talk, jump, attempt a traditional plot which looks
insufficient to a lover of tradition, and those are the histrionic Desperadoes (Fowles, Bradbury, Lodge, Barnes,
Amis). With some, lyricism softens the narrative rage. There are all kinds of Desperadoes: bitter, mocking,
compassionate. What keeps them together is the addiction to incident and the diary technique, which places the
plot in the indeterminacy of memory.
Since the fiction resulted is a diary, a day to day progress, the novel is inconclusive, commanding all those
who enter here to abandon all hope for happy endings. If the diary ever stops, it is only because the author needs
a breath of life to continue. We have here the first real open work (opera aperta) in the history of the novel, which
covers more than a millennium.

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3. GAME MORE THAN DIARY

There is an obvious symmetry in the Desperado work, a symmetry that reminds of a game which
ranges black and white pawns: themes always have or turn themselves into anti-themes, the plot becomes an
anti-plot (a diary), the heroes turn out to be non-heroes (‘You! hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère!’),
expectations are replaced by decisions that blur any future, and finally, truth and fiction fight for supremacy. The
game, more than the mere diary, involves a certain degree of artificiality: the author plays with bits of reality,
fitting them in a puzzle of the whole being. What he demands from his readers is a total reading, the committed
reading. If the work is a game, the reader has to be in dead earnest, to compensate for the author’s recklessness.
Unless reading takes the novel seriously, the Desperado work dies.
3 The Desperado author treats both writing and reading as a game. He flirts with his heroes’ and his readers’
4
reason, understanding, memory, even with the air of apparent simplicity. The Desperado work may look a piece of
cake, but it is in fact far from being simple. It is the serious game of a very resourceful writer, and cannot survive
in the absence of a suspicious reader. A novel like The Remains of the Day (Ishiguro) toys with the idea of
Englishness, which turns out to be an international air of everyone, everywhere, at most times. The writer is so
resourceful that we hardly realize what his real aim is. Which brings us to our own fault, that of not being
suspicious enough when we first read the novel, because we are in the habit of looking for what previous
traditions had to offer. We must expect what is the unexpected for us. We must surprise ourselves with our
expectations. If anyone stands to gain from this image of the work as a game, it is the reader by all means. He is
educated to thrive on complication. The strategy of the writer postpones understanding: the author teases the
reader’s relaxed frame of mind when faced with verbal clarity, and underground he builds a prolonged sense of

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suspense. In Ishiguro’s novels, we do not know exactly what we are waiting for, yet the waiting goes on
desperately, beyond the last page. The Desperado work is a game which plays with the reading-after-reading.
The reader of Desperado fiction reads as if he were speaking a foreign language with each new book. You
master a foreign language, but is it ever familiar? Don’t we all slip back into our mother tongue when we think to
ourselves? Meaning, don’t we go back to traditional conventions, expectations, plots, chronology, heroes, fiction
on the whole? The Desperado idea is to keep readers alert, breed in them a distaste for orderly, reasonable
narratives, for fulfilled expectations. Desperado fiction, game or diary or whatever we may call it, leaves us
breathless. If with the fiction of the stream of consciousness the reader focussed on decoding, the Desperado
reader gasps for breath while adapting to every new book, while learning to expect dissimilarity within similarity,
to discover nature within fiction.

3 4
4. BACK TO SQUARE ONE

Every new book, whether called Desperado or any other name, hopes to come closer to what we feel, to
reality, to the truth, to us. Yet every new convention – and this Desperado age abounds in imagination for new
conventions – is a more sophisticated degree of abstractization. With writers like Burgess, Lessing, Fowles,
Brownjohn, Bradbury, Gray, Lodge, Barnes, Ackroyd, Amis, Swift, Ishiguro, life is the pretext, fiction is the game.
The roots of Desperado fiction go through the stream of consciousness, and catch at every device ever used.
There is no literary movement so far more technical than the Desperado movement. An author is no longer
satisfied if he differs from another age, he wants to be different from: 1. other authors, and 2. his own previous
books.

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The result is neither truth/ ‘us’ nor pure fiction. The result is a chain of conventions which rush for a breath
of life every second page or so. We are, then, with this playful demonstration of the nature of Desperado fiction,
back to square one. The Desperado author has an obvious ( general) precept: be fictional unto your truth. His
birthmark is that he is in two minds about this truth and, if asked, he would certainly advise: GIVE YOUR READER
THE WHOLE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT FICTION.

I/4. THE POST-TIME OF THE DESPERADO WORK

I. REAL TIME

3 Real time, the concrete time of the Desperado work, the interval during which the plot begins and ends
4
(stops, rather) and the hero struggles with indecision (too little is clear and certain in such works), is the present.
Like any present, the Desperado present is under various threats. It steals from the pockets of the narrative or the
lyrical approach of the writer a kind of contorted, reversed and very confused chronology. Lessing’s heroines fall
on all fours, pushed by the story into this confusing present. Ishiguro’s heroes find themselves floating up in the
air, in a present that devours them, denies them, tears them to pieces. Alasdair Gray’s Lanark realizes it is time for
him to die. Graham Swift’s history teacher suddenly loses his profession, is not a history teacher any more.
Ackroyd’s heroes are also restless, escape into other bits of time, apparently more auspicious. The heroes of
Barnes, Bradbury and Lodge feed on irony in order to forget that the present is elusive, that real time never lasts
long enough. No present is perceived as a lasting state.
Since the Desperado work is a constant crossing of chronological directions, which are governed as much by
now as by then, mostly ago, real time feeds incessantly on imaginary duration, which, in its turn, breaks and

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reforms under our own eyes. Imaginary duration makes the past roots of the present bloom, while real time, when
the reader could try to sum up what he has been reading, is almost suffocated. A Desperado work can never be
summarized. We can state briefly the plots devised by Dickens, Austen, Galsworthy, even Conrad at times, but we
will find it impossible to utter a few sentences about what is really going on in the Desperado present. Ishiguro’s
butler in The Remains of the Day has a meager ratio of here and now, which he does not know how to use and his
powerlessness makes him cry. Alasdair Gray’s Lanark ends his race with the past just to die with a capitalized
‘GOODBYE’. The history teacher in Graham Swift’s Waterland runs away from his real life, from the concrete
present of his history class, in order to unveil the mystery of his whole life, to reveal his origins and his very
substance. This present of the page – which we can hardly put into words, as a matter of fact – springs from what
is now past (a past that can by no means be summed up with a critical eye, but which is fertile soil for stories,
author and heroes), while the future is inconclusive, open and never closed. The Desperado present is a ghost
3 present.
4
If we make up our minds to find this present, all the same, we find a time peopled by confused heroes, with
confusing stories. The doctor in Flaubert’s Parrot, whom Julian Barnes makes investigate Flaubert with almost
detective greed, is in fact an unhappy man, who has helplessly witnessed his wife’s death, his wife having been the
only woman he loved, while he was by no means the only man in her life, which the doctor very well knows. When
interviewed, authors such as Graham Swift, David Lodge, Alasdair Gray perform a subtle gymnastics of avoiding a
clear-cut statement. In their subconscious, if not otherwise, these writers need the freedom to keep changing.
Their own writing present, the same as their heroes’, is chameleonic. They answer enigmatically that life is
enigmatic, that there are answers nowhere, and therefore an author cannot afford to state. The Desperado author
guesses, fumbles within a present which he keeps rejecting, because his narrative strength lies in the past.
Galsworthy’s heroes were very busy knitting their present, they were constantly besieged by incidents. They had a
past, but this past kept changing according to what each new day might bring. Even Virginia Woolf, despite her

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intense need to change the novel (adapt it to her sensibility), does not neglect the present, no matter how often
she rushes into the past. She creates a present past. Half a century later, Desperado authors like Peter Ackroyd,
Doris Lessing, Graham Swift are obsessed with a past present.
The hero’s mind is a radar focussed on was. Unlike stream of consciousness authors, Desperadoes swim in
awareness. They are not so much interested in the subconscious teeming with monsters. The Desperado author
writes logically, provides clear explanations, avoids the confusion of the unuttered. If there is confusion in his text,
it is caused by the narrative manner, which is contorted, indirect and slow to find its words. The painter in An
Artist of the Floating World, by Ishiguro, thinks clear thoughts and is introduced in clear sentences. Confusion
stems from the order in which he brings up and comments on his memories. Only at the very last does he mention
the key-memory, which finally makes it clear why we have disliked him all along, why the book actually accuses
him. A while ago, in the times of Japanese imperialist dreams, he sent to prison a left-wing fellow-painter. Japan is
3 seen in the novel as submitted to the Americans, the former left-wing convict is now in what used to be Kuroda’s
4
shoes, when the famous painter was aspiring to a Japanese empire. The wheel has turned and Kuroda, in his small
present circle of reality in the novel, looks around in astonishment, out of place, apparently just a harmless little
old man now. Not so when he was young and famous, though. The narrator draws the line under all times and
gives a moral verdict. Ishiguro’s verdict is actually an intransigent one: however free the reader thinks he is to
interpret and rearrange present or past, in the end the author will not allow any other judgment but his. He does
not encourage creative reading. Reading must be careful, observant of every little word. The past detail is carved in
the present discourse. This present discourse, which does not aim at modifying the past, is dominated by a clarity
which imposes itself upon rememoration and (most often indirect) explanation. The clarity of the Desperado style
must by no means be overlooked. The narrative pattern may be exasperating, but the sentences that lead us to it
are crystal clear. The Desperado novel, the Desperado present is apparently accessible. In essence, it is a very hard
nut to crack for the reader’s memory and ability to put pieces together. This reader is exhausted at the end of a

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book, fed up quite often, discouraged at the lack of prospects: since there is no solid present, the future is even
more shaky, almost lost sight of.
The Desperado present is a past present, a second, even third degree present, according to the generation it
belongs to. The real present can be located elsewhere, in moments once present but no more so, which the author
prompts the reader to reenact. The book becomes a maze of past presents. This is Peter Ackroyd’s forte.
Hawksmoor, English Music, Chatterton are all landslides of the present into something else. The narrative opens
with something we are tempted to take for the present of the book, then it dives unexpectedly into previous
centuries, the perfume of the long gone by. The author watches us sink, and this trance of the man whose feet no
longer tread the solid ground is Ackroyd’s aim in point of narrative craft. Less aggressive, yet essentially to the
same purpose, Alan Brownjohn mixes presents in The Long Shadows and makes us wonder: is this a book within a
book, are these paper heroes or living beings? The border between present and past, however obnubilated, was
3 there for the stream of consciousness. James, Woolf, Joyce, Eliot, Conrad, and even more so Dickens and
4
Galsworthy, know exactly when they slip into the past and all this time the present of the work is allowed to go
ahead, slowly, all dressed in memories. To put it plainly, something happens in the present, no matter what.
Desperadoes choose two directions: either something does happen, but, with endless irony, the story is put down
(see Huxley, Orwell, Burgess, Lodge, Bradbury), or the present is annihilated as present (because it cannot change
the future in the slightest), and it becomes a past present, a perfect reenactment (see Ishiguro, Swift, Ackroyd,
Barnes, Lessing, Gray, Ondaatje, Rushdie). More clearly, classical authors write with a future in view, while
Desperadoes refuse to think of the future, unless they project it as a dystopia. The Desperado future withers
precisely because the real present is so faint. The Desperado present is, in conclusion, just a question mark.

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II. AUCTORIAL TIME

In the Desperado novel, the author’s time, the author’s source of inspiration is part and parcel of the past.
The author transfers on to the hero his need to feed on memory, to model memory. When the hero remembers, he
does so erratically, implicitly, almost independently, it would seem (but only seem so), from a concrete present,
when something might happen as a result of his rememoration. The Desperado hero experiences a perfect past, a
past within the past and for the sake of the past.
As the author sinks in this whirlpool which precedes reality, in what once was real and can only be
reenacted, remembered, he meanders among a number of narrative devices. He never gives up entirely the stream
of consciousness, and therefore we come across connections which look absurd to us at times, which are based on
a law of memory that goes deeper than the logic of the narrative. This invading lyricism is old fashioned and not
3 many authors now give way to it, but Peter Ackroyd, for instance, resorts with ostentation to unpredictable
4
associations, of thoughts or even of mere words. In Hawksmoor, a chapter ends with a sentence that opens the
very next chapter, the two chapters being situated, by the general narrative pattern of the whole novel, many
centuries apart. As a rule, though, the Desperado author is fond of wakefulness, which urges him to resort to the
diary (see Orwell or Lessing) or to intertextuality (see the trips into other texts in Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot, Gray’s
Lanark, Ackroyd’s English Music). When Lessing’s heroine wants to dissect the past present, she mentally writes a
page of a diary. It is her way of updating the past, of contaminating the present with past intensity. The author
imagines in reverse, he projects what was into what will never be, and this is the reason why the last page, the end
of a book no longer really matters. The consequences for the reading of such a book are of utmost importance,
mainly because the reader’s horizon of expectation changes drastically. We find the same refusal of an ending in
the dystopic mood of the Desperado author. Rather than imagine anything taking place in the future, he would
prefer to die, and so he does: he visualizes himself in a negative space, in dystopia. Huxley envisions the fatal

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culmination of technology and the atomic apocalypse (Brave New World, Ape and Essence), Orwell kills his heroes
by leaving them in the marsh of a generalized communism (1984), Burgess populates London with criminal
teenagers who speak Anglo-Russian slang (A Clockwork Orange), Lessing detects the absurdity of anticapitalist
protest (The Good Terrorist) or foretells the death of civilization (The Memoirs of a Survivor), Gray fights ageing
and chooses death before old age (Lanark), Ishiguro experiences the dread of losing memory (The Unconsoled).
Some imagine ironic dystopias beyond the iron curtain: Burgess (Honey for the Bears), Brownjohn (The Long
Shadows), Bradbury (Rates of Exchange), Barnes (The Porcupine). Whatever the mode, the heroes are dislocated
from the present and sent either into the past or into a hostile, half-real now. The Desperado author’s dilemma is
which to choose between realism and irony. He ends up using them both, of course, either in order to obliterate,
or to discredit the present, at least.
Under these conditions, uncertain as to how to move into the past without losing his present, his actuality,
3 the author escapes literary conventions before him, and creates his own convention (more or less new, but that is
4
of no consequence). Each author struggles free in his or her own way from realistic time, and narrates at his own
pace, in his own mode of rememoration. The past is invested with many values. Some heroes resort to reverie, and
from there to memory, which leads to the core of life. Others stand back from sentimental memory by creating a
rational past. Quite a number of heroes take refuge in uncertainty, not unlike Henry James. Many characters
withdraw into the past only in order to weaken reality, the present. In none of these cases do we find any ordering
of the past, even though this past looks accessible to understanding at first sight. The Desperado past is
dishevelled and lures readers like a swamp. The only one who is allowed to carry the key to this past, who knows
what really happened and when, is the author. This author chooses, however, a neutre stand: he offers the reader
incidents, feeds him narratives, all coming straight from the hero’s mouth. In this way the author might be trying
to demonstrate to the reader that the novel is being written under his own eyes, with his necessary help, that it is
unimportant if classical narrative (which was totally independent of the reader) self-destroys itself, because it is

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the experience that ultimately matters, not the literary convention. The novel is no longer a mirror of life, the novel
is life itself, and the author can claim no more than be its reporter. In reality, the reins of the narrative are well
hidden somewhere, the convention must be found out. And this is how the novel ceases to be a closure of a
chronological plot in an ending which usually implies the fate and future of a couple. It becomes a convention
hunt, at the end of which no couple, no future awaits, but a reality emptied of all expectations, a hundred percent
real, if we are to believe what Desperado authors claim.
Considering that the author is enigmatic and all explanations come from the past, the hero appears almost
absurdly helpless. The hero’s memory is in the hands of the narrator and this narrator hands it to the reader
himself. The only action the hero is allowed is rememoration. He does not act, can never object to anything. There
are two kinds of heroes in the Desperado novel: the helpless heroes (see Ishiguro, Lessing, Gray, Swift, Ackroyd,
Huxley, Orwell) and the cocky heroes (see Barnes, Lodge, Bradbury, Fowles). The helpless heroes bear the burden
3 of rememoration with resignation and some lyricism. The cocky heroes bathe in irony and sarcasm, only to end in
4
the same place: rememoration. Once in a while, some novel resorts again to classical narration, chronological
causality, but ends up mocking at it, after a breathless race in which nobody wins. John Fowles, for instance,
builds up an unbearable sense of suspense which is never gratified. Chronological narrative is dead, but the
author’s past keeps finding new conventions. Because the author cannot part with the past, the Desperado novel
loses even the slightest intention of chronology, the merest semblance even of an ending, the (un)happiness of the
couple, the very idea that a novel/ literature mirrors life in any way. The Desperado author does not create
literature: he claims – should we take his words at their face value? – that he overcomes all patterns (chronology
included) and creates the very essence of life.

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III. THE POST-TIME OF THE DESPERADO WORK – READING

Faced with the contradiction between the Desperado author’s wish to create reality and his need to stand
back from whatever has been used before (to reject the conventions of the real that have been used by literature
for twenty centuries), the reader learns to be cautious. The time of reading becomes a kind of post-time. Although
many authors ardently wish for emotionally involved readers (as Graham Swift declared in an interview he gave
me), the reader cannot help but feel an intruder. He did feel involved in the works where times mixed (Joyce,
Woolf, Conrad), where he managed to find an ordering clue in the end. In the Desperado novel, time is not only
complicated, but also illogical; the departure from chronological logic, from the structure of the hero and the plot
3 that relied on a past-present-future axis, creates the post-time of reading. The reader perceives the text as
4
atemporal, always the same. The Desperado work has a logic of irony and emotion that undermines the need for
chronological causality, freeing reading.
Post-time is, therefore, equivalent to a trusting reading. The reader’s memory must swallow everything
when the book is first read. No decoding is envisaged, consequently no active reading. What a Desperado requires
is an agglutinating reading. The effort comes after the feast. The reader proves himself in the re-reading. There he
becomes initiated in the post-time. The feeling of post-time comes up when the reader is left with a plot that has
no ending. The hero lives in a post-past, post-present, post-future, all independent from one another. Anything
can come next, we can interpret whatever, however we wish, so interpretation is useless in the end. We prefer to
take the writer’s word for granted. This is how the Desperado author disarms the critical spirit. Julian Barnes
confessed to me in an interview that he has ‘quit criticism’ because it did not help him write better. Here are the
roots of an absence: the absence of Desperado criticism. It does not mean that literary criticism has given up. It

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must be looking for new strategies, the same as reading. The only weapon of reading for the time being is re-
reading.
Re-reading does not clarify, it familiarizes. The Desperado work is an incessant defamiliarization, a
dislocation, a dystopia which the reader fights in a post-time – meaning after the work has been read and finished
– and he is well aware of that.
Re-reading is meant to help the reader adapt to abnormality, which is the natural result of all Desperadoes pining
to be different (the only feature, maybe, that brings them together). The reader follows each new book. Each new
reading is an unexpected initiation. The post-time of re-reading means that the reader leaves his self and enters
the Desperado self, the self of whatever author he happens to be reading at the time.

I/5. THE DESPERADO AGE AND THE IRON CURTAIN


3 4
I. Desperado, East and West: What is a Desperado?

To begin with, the Desperado mood is one of denial. Whatever you tell a Desperado author, he will reject the
statement, if it is about himself, or even more horrid, if it is an attempt at defining him/her. Some say it is not the
business of literature to pin down authors (is literary criticism not literature, I wonder?), others defer the whole
responsibility to the reader (no critic allowed on the premises), and someone like Julian Barnes goes as far as
stating point blank that he has ‘quit criticism’ because it never helps writing a new book. Obviously something
about contemporary literary criticism is very upsetting to writers today. If we take Malcolm Bradbury with his
Mensonge as a guide, scholarly criticism is the black sheep.
The Desperado author has nothing to do with despair. If there is anything desperate about him at all, then it
is his sharp need to be comforted. Many novelists state they mean to entertain the reader, and many poets assume

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masks in order to amuse the audience. They need the reader to hug them at the end of a text and say, ‘It’s all
right, I am on your side, you are the best and I shall always like you, whatever you may choose to do with your
words.’ And the Desperadoes do have a wide range of choices when it comes to words and devices. They need to
be comforted because they choose to trespass constantly, they mock at tradition in every possible way, and at the
end of it all they feel they have gone too far, but there is no turning back. Seeking comfort and reassurance from
the reader is the most they can hope for.
If comfort is welcome, sympathy may turn out to offend a Desperado. If readers as much as suggest they
share a common experience with the text and they might, in consequence find out the hidden author, the
Desperado has a very ambivalent reaction. He wants to share, but he hates being found out. Some novelists state
loud and clear they use their imagination and avoid personal experience in their fiction, others admit openly they
make use of their own biography, but completely deface it in the process of finishing a novel. With poets it is
3 much more dramatic than that: they completely move the idea of lyricism out of the realm of diary, privacy,
4
confession, even emotion. They deny the poet the right to make poetry out of autobiographical material. With the
(notable) exception of poets like Ruth Fainlight or Fleur Adcock, poets today clamour they need imagined stories
and masks in order to conjure up emotion. It is another way of showing that lyricism itself has been modified,
from ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’ to emotion imagined with indecent directness as an open challenge and
defiance of the reader.
The Desperado is a very private author. Whether obviously lyrical (see Peter Ackroyd, Graham Swift, or even
Julian Barnes in Staring at the Sun), or neuter (like the wonderfully balanced David Lodge, or like Alasdair Gray), or
bitingly humorous (see Malcolm Bradbury), or even worse, bitter (Doris Lessing), all Desperadoes enroll under the
banner of irony. They swear to produce irony and nothing but irony, but deep down, in their souls deprived of all
tradition, homeless and burdened by this avid hysteria of novelty, they fear their own irony and, more than that,
they are scared to death they might have taught the reader an attitude that may well put them out of business. A

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Desperado is entitled to mock at every aspect of life but God forbid a reader or – blasphemy – a critic were to
mock at his work. Writers like Barnes, Bradbury, Gray, Ackroyd, Swift, Lessing, Amis, Ishiguro make a livelihood
out of irony. If Dickens took his characters and readers very seriously, if Galsworthy had a candid relationship with
his audience although he never chose to speak in his own voice, Desperadoes reject whatever has already been
used once. Their rejection is irony. The trouble is that, knowing what they have done to literature in their works,
they hate the idea that anyone might reject them, too, in the long run. So, without admitting it, they fear their own
irony, yet cannot help using it.
The Desperado tools are the same as ever, yet more numerous than ever before, because the author is
obsessed with novelty. There must be a new trick (so many authors I have interviewed have been horrified by the
use of this word, claiming a ‘trick’, a mere trick that is, is something they would never even dream of resorting to
in something as serious as their ironical novels), but the devices – whether for fiction or poetry – are few and can
3 hardly be changed in any way. One can either accept or reject them. There is no fooling around with the reader’s
4
need for a story, characters or lyricism and confession. Fiction and poetry have created plots and heroes and
emotions confessed in tranquillity for at least two millennia now. Eliot, Joyce and Woolf were the first to realize
time had come for a change. They talked a lot (and did less) to impose a new pattern on literature. Woolf rejected
the traditional novel theoretically (Modern Fiction), but, when we have finished reading her own novels, we realize
they reform in our minds in the very pattern she rejected. Mrs Dalloway is remembered as a traditional story told
in fits. On the other hand, if we deny Joyce his main discovery, which is preverbal thought forced into words, his
Ulysses is lost. Had Joyce continued, though, preverbalizing, so to speak, the novel might have died. The only one
whose discovery created followers was Eliot, whose poetry of the disgusting and of mockery struck gold. Eliot’s
idiom – so much criticized at the time The Waste Land was written – has become a commonplace, a point to start
from for contemporary poets. I should say Eliot was revolutionary in a creative way. While after Joyce and Woolf
novelists had to run back to a well-told story unless they wanted to lose their audience altogether, Eliot’s bitter

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irony and delight in the opposite of beauty, in indecently direct shocks is still in use both in fiction and poetry. The
real innovator of literature, the guru of Postmodernism although he was a Modernist himself, is T.S. Eliot. A
Desperado would not know the first thing about novelty if it had not been for Eliot who taught him that lesson.
Consequently, after Woolf had preached a novelty she could not really make use of, here comes the
Desperado author and actually abolishes the idea of a couple as the centre of a novel. He disposes of love interest,
of family, of all the roots of shared emotion. He places himself between the reader and the text, as if trying to say,
‘No trespassing, I am keeping my soul to myself.’ His heroes are incident-addicted (a lot of things happen, after
the eventlessness of Joyce’s plots, where everything grew in the mind only, although the text literally drowned in
incidents). If we skip one little incident or memory, the chain may fail to make sense. The Desperado heroes are
also shock-proof: everything can be understood and accepted, no matter how ugly, horrifying or unlikely. The
more unusual the incidents imagined are, the crazier and the more baffling, the more Desperado they will be.
3 There is no limit to this isolation of the writer in his own independence from tradition, his desired uniqueness of
4
purpose and of tools.
The ambitions of a Desperado are many. First of all, he must be different at all costs. Second, he will do
anything to secure the reader’s approval. Third, he constantly tries to be deeper than depth itself. Fourth, he
hopes he can manage to be clear in complication. Fifth, he feels he can be chummy with his reader, yet in control
of the latter’s reaction to the text. In short, the Desperado Dream is to be the writer, to achieve instant and
constant success.
As for the actual relationship between East and West, we can talk about a real Iron Curtain in Desperado
literature between 1950-1990. During that time, the West was both repelled by and fascinated with the East. From
Orwell to Huxley, Burgess (Honey for the Bears), Lessing (The Golden Notebook), Bradbury (Rates of Exchange),
Barnes (The Porcupine), Brownjohn (The Long Shadows), Greene (The Human Factor), western writers kept probing
what was going on behind the curtains of communism. The East, on the other hand, had two choices: either to

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defect or to be politically correct from the point of view of the communist party and reject the West as the epitome
of exploitation and decadence. The books that rejected the West in the communist countries would be impossible
to count, as they all used this rejection either as a way of climbing the social ladder, or a device to fool censorship
and state indirectly a few frail truths about the communist system. Innumerable novels and poems took place in
Paris, London, Berlin, Vienna, mentioning this location just to avert attention from the description of a communist
capital. The communist Desperado author pretended to accuse the West, while he actually talked to his readers
about poverty, corruption, injustice and humiliation in their own country. In Censorship in Romania (Central
European University Press, 1998) I published a number of interviews and translations that explained this process.
If a poet wrote a poem about the despair of living under inhuman conditions and wanted to publish it,
communicating with his readers between the lines (direct messages of that sort were out of the question), he had
to fool censorship in some way, and he sometimes did that by placing an inscription at the end of the poem to the
3 effect that it had been written while the poet was visiting New York, and he described the evils of capitalism.
4
People starving, dressed in rags, deprived of any news from abroad, cut off from the whole universe, made to work
and eat and sleep only, these horrors could only happen in a Western country, where the state could not care less
about man and the regime was certainly inhuman. Actually it was a faithful description of the tragedy that went on
under communism, and all the readers perceived that at once, but since no words labelled that clearly, the censor
could ignore it (if he was bright) or even failed to notice (although few censors were stupid). The Desperado
freedom, therefore, had a remarkable counterpart in communist countries: it was the stolen freedom, the
would-be freedom, which had to be won inch by inch, by shrewd literary subterfuges. It was, for communist
countries, more a kind of resourcefulness and ingenuity than freedom. Actually, to set matters straight, it was
political bondage skillfully avoided by literary artifice. From that point of view, East and West are similar: both end
in literary artifice, although it happens for different reasons.

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After 1990 the fascination dies and a transition sense of confusion sets in. Imagination is no longer a slave
of silence and communism. Ex-communist literatures can plunge into freedom and do whatever they desire, but,
as it turns out, Desperado freedom is disenchanting. While the West went on a long march from tradition to
freedom from tradition, the East cherishes the liberation but mistakes it for politics. So, for quite a while
journalism took the place of literature in ex-communist letters. When new writers emerged at last and Desperado
eastern literature actually merged with that of the West, economic censorship took over: buying a book became an
act of courage, a gesture that endangered survival (meaning food and clothes again). One way or the other, the
East is still censored, while the West can safely rebel against a long tradition of freedoms of all kinds.

II. The Iron Curtain from Both Sides

3 Seen from the East, the iron curtain was dumb and frustrating. The official thesis was that communism was
4
the best and the West had to be reviled. While everybody thought the very opposite, even party officials, nobody
(or hardly anyone) stated openly an opposition. Sneaky hints were the most the system would allow. When
Romanians read Marin Preda, Augustin Buzura or Marin Sorescu, they invariably looked for the hidden ‘lizards’ (as
they were called) – slippery expressions of dissent, which could be read between the lines and which managed to
avoid the censor’s vigilance. The universe of communist books, however rebellious they might have been, could
only take the shape of a forbidden paradise. The literature of the East was all about inaccessibility, the forbidden
heaven and the supreme daring (defection, emigration – the impossible dream).
There was a forbidden connection between East and West, though: radio Free Europe, smuggled books or
films, foreign visitors. Seen from the West, this must have seemed unimportant, since, as a Romanian saying goes,
the man who has just eaten will not believe anyone can starve. Some books – those considered harmless to the
regime – were translated and widely read. This was the fate of John Fowles in Romania. The same holds true for

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Iris Murdoch. Orwell’s 1984 was out of limits. Unbelievably, as a student in the late sixties, I was required to read
Huxley’s Brave New World, and also Milton’s Areopagitica, which I did with enthusiasm, and felt exhilaratingly free.
A human being needs so little to be happy. If our common nightmare could be put into words and on paper, then
there had to be justice and a way out somewhere, some time.
The West perceived the eastern nightmare as tragedy and described it in dystopias. The political menace of
communism is the root of the Desperadoes’ dystopic mood. Few dystopias are unrelated to communism, but there
are some that feed on science fiction, such as Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor, Gray’s Lanark, Huxley’s Ape and
Essence. Dystopia did not begin as a political species. Even a writer like Jonathan Swift, who was extremely
politically minded, created his country of the Houyhnhnms from a philosophical stand. Golding did the same in
Lord of the Flies. Since a dystopia is a reversal of what is good and beautiful, meaning the most undesirable place
one would want to find oneself in, it was natural that Desperado writers should see it embodied in the communist
3 space, which was the ultimate torture of the essential human being. Not all Desperadoes who described their
4
incursions into communism perceived the essence of it, though. Each one had a point to make, a limited view, so
to say. Burgess was highly alert to the menace of communism in Honey for the Bears. Graham Greene enjoyed the
action, the spying flavour, in his The Human Factor, where he described an English spy ending up in the Soviet
Union, cut off from the rest of the world for what was left of his life; there was no way back from the communist
hell, in Greene’s view. Lessing’s The Good Terrorist is only one side of Lessing’s dystopic inclination, the political
one. There is also a philosophical one in The Fifth Child and Ben, in the World, and a more scientifically biassed
apprehension in The Memoirs of a Survivor, where she deals more with the material crisis of present civilisation.
Politically speaking, in The Golden Notebook Lessing sends a British teacher of history and member of the British
communist party to the Soviet Union, where he realizes that nothing he imagined about communism was true.
What most Desperadoes perceive right about the communist regime is the huge lie it was. Malcolm Bradbury
humorously recoiled from the enormity of this lie in Rates of Exchange. Something similar, with comic undertones

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created by the imperfect use of English by people who learnt it as a dead language (hardly ever able to actually
speak English to natives), happens in Julian Barnes’ Staring at the Sun, where the heroine visits China and briefly
notices significant slips, such as ‘The temple was repented. We grow ladies. Here is the sobbing centre.’
Bradbury’s examples are more numerous and more strongly focussed on: ‘...modern Slaka is a young nation
proudly on the march, its eyes firmly fixed not on the day after yesterday but the day before tomorrow!!!’ Creating
a space that is a menace to life, reaching out for the opposite of utopia (which was the way all communism began)
is the Desperadoes’ way of yelling, ‘Beware of totalitarianism!’
Running away from communism, defectors were shipwrecked into displacement. Bradbury describes a
Russian professor who loves America passionately for having offered him a home and an academic job. Burgess
invents a Russian common thief, who is turned loose into the pure Western world, having been mistaken for the
son of a well known musician and friend. The envoys of communism to Britain, whom Lessing depicts in The Good
3 Terrorist, are ruthless and scary. Many writers escaped from communist countries and found a home in the West. 4
Such are George Szirtes (who was taken across the border while he was a child), Nabokov in the United States,
Solzhenitsyn, Norman Manea, Andrei Codrescu, Nina Cassian, Matei Calinescu, Virgil Nemoianu, Thomas Pavel (the
last six from Romania). Displacement is sometimes the direct effect of the iron curtain. It exists both in reality and
fiction: Desperadoes can be displaced authors or often create displaced heroes, running away from their inhuman
homeland, and making it or losing the battle in the West. A symbol of material and intellectual freedom for the
East, the West finds the scenes behind the iron curtain picturesque and comfortably alien.
The appeal of communism to Western countries has never ceased to amaze those who experienced it in their
own lives. Lessing creates two heroines who grow disenchanted with the British communist party, but that implies
they were enthusiastic about it at one time. Lessing herself, while a young mother in South Africa, left two small
children in the care of her husband, in order to better the world. She explains in the first volume of her
autobiography (Under My Skin):

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‘I explained to them that they would understand later why I had left. I was going to change this ugly world,
they would live in a beautiful and perfect world where there would be no race hatred, injustice, and so forth.’

The mirage of utopia turns bitter, though, and Anna Wolf, just like Molly, her friend in communism and after
it, scuttle away under the roof of good old capitalism. The experiment hurt two children in the case of the novelist
herself, but it hurt infinitely more in the actual communist countries. If readers who have experienced
totalitarianism can read Orwell without resentment, accept ironic trips behind the iron curtain (Burgess, Huxley,
Bradbury, Barnes) in a pensive mood, rather sadly, they hardly find it in their hearts (if at all) to forgive infatuation
with a system that has crushed them. When Alan Brownjohn wrote The Long Shadows he was unspeakably careful
not to hurt those already maimed lives, and his image of Romania under communism and emerging out of it is
3 uniquely appealing, comforting even to a native of communism, so to say. Like all natives of a geographical area,
4
natives of communism feel they have the privilege of one who knows best and should be an authority in the
matter. They resent aliens teaching them. And western writers are aliens as far as communism is concerned. The
iron curtain operated drastically here. It separated the two worlds perfectly. Again, Alan Brownjohn is the only one
who was able to write a discreet and warm text about a reality he came to share though never know for sure, and
whose novel on Romania would not offend any Romanian reader.
Most books written in the West about the iron curtain hide awe behind a veil of irony. This is often perceived
at the level of language distortion, a mishandling of English. Bradbury is the master of such flashes of laughter (A
‘Dialogi’ is the great spirit of amity and concorde. >Dialogi= means the desire for true intercurse B an intercurse
where each partner is an equal and no one is on top!@). Speakers of English under communism are either spoilt by
the regime or rebels. Both categories are sadly out of practice as contact with foreigners and speaking English to
natives is strongly discouraged. Communism was a closed, stifling world. The mistakes recorded by Bradbury with

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half a smile imply the horror behind speech, the fierce isolation and the hidden slow death. On the other hand,
English-speaking writers are deprived of a remarkable weapon when they write about the iron curtain: they are not
in the habit of offering their readers bits to read between the lines. This could be done strictly on the communist
side of the iron curtain. Each word had a double meaning (at least) and it functioned, it transmitted an encoded
message until it was found out, recognized by censors and forbidden. Words like church, angel, God, minister
were slowly expelled from the page. The list is much longer. No western writer could possibly suspect how one
communicated inside the system. The ‘lizards’ were a preeminently inside matter, you had to be one of the
handcuffed to enjoy such a muffled message. Consequently, the main difference between eastern and western
writers is that western writers took great pains to express everything that crossed their hearts, while eastern
writers knew that, if they were to communicate at all, they had to suppress what crossed their minds and veil the
text in a mist of angelic utopia. This is one good reason why Doris Lessing, such a refined intellectual and an
3 intense writer, is hard to be forgiven by a writer whose very words were taken away from him in the name of a
4
utopia she chose to embrace. In simpler words, mockingly, as Bradbury would have done, one man’s meat is
another man’s poison.
Comparing a communist novel or poem to a western work, we can easily notice a distortion of human
nature, in two cases: when the East writes about man, man is the best possible creature in the world (the positive
hero) or the anti-communist retrograde (the negative hero); when the West writes, man is his old self, varied and
unpredictable. Unpredictability was stolen by censorship from the East. Communist heroes had to be simple
people who saw the light, or intellectuals who learned the beautiful philosophy of workers/ peasants. This is
somewhat simplistic, though, because – rarely as it happened – some good novelist (like Marin Preda) or some
good poet (like Marin Sorescu) managed to bend the rules, winking at the reader from between the lines. A young
man could be a dissident while thinking of the West in the middle of a party meeting, an old man could simply
remember the charm of youth (his youth having been spent before the communist takeover) and become a rebel

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because he involuntarily compared it to his pitiful old age under a distorting regime. On the other hand, when the
West wrote about eastern heroes, the heroes usually appeared to be primitive, one-track minds, who either wanted
to serve the reds or to defect. There were no other motives for the communist hero’s actions. Consequently he
was a distorted, hardly credible being. If unpredictability was stolen by censorship, credibility was kept alive under
communism by the so-called’ lizards’, by what everyone learned to read between the lines, by all those tricks
which were meant to fool censorship. As far as Desperado tricks are concerned, therefore, eastern writers are even
richer than western authors in search for success and quite often not much more. The communist writer needed to
go very deep and establish a solid bond with his reader, with whom he shared the pitiful condition of silence.
Literature is the opposite of silence. The West was free to speak. The East had to reinvent speech, and reinvent
literature altogether, for that matter.
In many novels written on the western side of the iron curtain, a western tourist finds himself, out of
3 curiosity, belief or by chance, in a communist country (Honey for the Bears, by Burgess, The Golden Notebook –
4
only a fragment – by Lessing, Staring at the Sun – only a small fragment, again – by Barnes, Rates of Exchange by
Bradbury, The Long Shadows by Brownjohn). In most cases, with the exception of Brownjohn, who visited Romania
time and again and came to understand part of the code, these tourists fail to take in communist everyday reality.
They are naive and feel left out, choosing to sulk and go back home. Displacement, estrangement, alienation from
the human beings on the other side of the iron curtain haunt the heroes who pluck up the courage to go and see
for themselves. Lessing’s heroine remembers going to East Germany with her second partner (when East Germany
was a communist country) and being attacked by old friends turned communist now, with aggressive accusations
of coming to advertise the material well-being of the West (The Golden Notebook). These intruders in the
communist world fail to communicate with the people they meet there, and it is not only because English is learnt
more like a dead language than a spoken one under communism. They fail to communicate because they are
totally unprepared to perceive lack of freedom and distortion of human nature under the yoke of utopia put into

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practice. They expect the best – according to the propaganda socialist countries populated the westerners’ minds
with – and complain they find the worst. Consequently they run away before they have had any time to digest the
information. They are afraid they might be engulfed, enslaved, too. Fear is the Western reaction versus the iron
curtain. Those under communism, on the other hand, are disenchanted with utopia and long for the jungle of the
West, which is their paradise. The westerners run away from the East as from a bad dream, while the easterners,
who are used to living in the nightmare, look at westerners as angels descended from a heaven of non-
communism, of non-utopia. The easterners are not aware, but they long for dystopia, actually. If the West
identifies dystopia with communism, it may also happen out of inadequate understanding of history. Orwell was
the only one who showed that nothing was dystopic unless perceived so. Dystopias were created by the West,
located in the East sometimes. No eastern writer would have dreamed of writing a dystopia located in the West,
unless he had had in mind a crisis of civilization. Even that was mostly done in the West about the West. As for the
3 iron curtain seen from both sides, that is a utopia in itself. The iron curtain can only be understood from the East
4
and misunderstood, but dreaded, from the West.

III. Desperadoes and the Iron Curtain

Eastern Desperadoes used to be either exiles or refugees in their own country. We shall focus here on the
good writers, as the bad writers, who compromised with the system and wrote its apology were no writers at all:
they were the worst kind of politician that ever was. The good writers who defected or – not very often, but it
happened – were pushed away by the regime (see Solzhenitsyn) either reached fame – again not very often, yet it
still happened – or became mere citizens of a country where life was economically more agreeable. Some came
back to their country after the fall of communism. They became very proud of their dissidence and claimed the
status of a hero. Some were recognized as such, others made friends with the communist remnants of the old

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system and supported the power which continued the old rule under the guise of restored capitalism. Naming
individuals would be reprehensible and a matter of taste. Obviously, though, there is today a divided society in ex-
communist countries (continuing old regimes still in power, and the opposition, slowly building a new face, still
relying on old practices and vices); the transition is hard and devious, as it usually takes longer to repair than build
anew. After fifty years of damage, both politics and literature are crossing a desert right now.
The writers who did not defect – could or would not (usually the former) – were the real Desperadoes. They
had to devise a kind of literature which resisted ‘socialist realism’ and managed to fool censorship, somehow
getting through to the reader the message that things were very bad, and he, the reader, was not alone in thinking
so. This was no easy task. It required a code. Communism is famous for the ‘wooden language’ everyone had to
use socially (which gave rise, though, to a very colourful mass of private jokes that have now lost all relevance).
The communist Desperado had to revive the code, which withered very quickly and was found out, had to be
3 replaced, so that censorship could be delayed again. Escaping official propaganda, wooden language and the
4
immense mass of forbidden literary tools led to an inevitable complication. This was one Desperado strategy
which, in the case of the
East, had political origins.
If eastern writers under communism could not read contemporary western authors – unless the books were
smuggled, or considered harmless to the system and translated, they invented (at least Romanians did) a term for
self-sufficiency: ‘protochronism’. Communist culture – some argued – did not need to synchronize because it was
better than synchronic, it was the very essence, the independent prototype of culture everywhere. Socialism could
recreate the universe without the help of a God or human race at large. Communism could exist all alone. The
books written in this environment were shouts of despair and feats of resourcefulness. The main refuge of writers
was the history of literature – dead centuries had not been forbidden yet – and this is how it happened that, while
a student of English, at only nineteen years of age, I found in my compulsory bibliography for the literature course

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two incredible books such as Milton’s Areopagitica (extraordinary essay on censorship) and Huxley’s Brave New
World (one of the worst dystopias that communism ever inspired). I read them with a feeling of victory, which
came back whenever a really good Romanian novel by a dissenter was published: if someone else shared my
revolt, I was not alone, there was hope. This is exactly what the western Desperado was doing in the West at about
the same time: trying to reassure the reader that Joyce and Eliot would not come back, that literature was so
accessible that it could be enjoyed again. What both western and eastern writers avoided to show was the
complication of this new accessibility, the deviousness that the new code of simplicity implied. Out of totally
different reasons (the West – literary, the East – political mainly, but not only), literature assumed an appearance of
simplicity which hid iron codes. The code – meaning imagination, after all – was stronger than ever. The difference
for the West was that is swerved from Modernist obscurity, and for the East that it had to veil itself in harmless
clarity of purpose, which actually brought about endless ambiguities of language.
3 Western Desperadoes have built a variety of images of the iron curtain. Here are some:
4

1. Imaginary reversals of the western welfare: Huxley and Lessing devise a crisis of civilization, where politics does
not come first. Alasdair Gray does not put politics first, either, resorting more to a crisis of nature (sunlight
becomes so scarce it is night almost all the time), which is, of course, symbolical for those who care for decodings.

2. Misunderstood echoes from the East: Julian Barnes writes The Porcupine from hearsay. He describes the fall of
communism but cannot capture the undertones, the human tragedy of an upheaval that can by no means repair
the damage done by fifty years of communism to a country that was beginning to build capitalism on the eve of
World War II. Burgess makes his Clockwork Orange a possible world of violence leaking from the Russian East, a
book which mingles English and Russian in a medley of crime and punishment. Honey for the Bears goes even

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more explicitly into the communist world of deprivation and solitude, bringing out the fear that, were the iron
curtain to lift unawares, hell might be turned loose.

3. The communist exile as a humorous character: Bradbury’s campus trilogy has several minor characters, who are
defectors from the East. They are all weird. When Alan Brownjohn brings a beautiful heroine on a trip to England,
she is suddenly clumsy, unfathomable, illogical. She has to run back home for fear of being suspected she might
want to defect (why should she not? we are not told). The communist exile is not entirely a tragic figure, since he
is spared the economic hardships his compatriots endure. He is a misfit, though, and has to work hard in every
way: social, professional, material, cultural. Making him a humorous character is not exactly a brilliant idea.

4. The touristic view of a communist country as a picturesque hell: Bradbury’s Rates of Exchange and Burgess’
3 Honey for the Bears, the small inkling of China in Barnes’ Staring at the Sun describe the chaos, the comic mask of 4
the unfathomable social, political, economic evil that communism might mean, but which the western heroes do
not understand. They mock at everything that scares them and scurry away. Once back, the feeling is that home
has never been sweeter, however many tragedies may be going on there. There is no worse tragedy than being
lost and never again allowed out of a communist country one made the mistake to visit out of sheer curiosity.

5. Communism seen as Dracula land and its innocent western prey: the violence imagined by A Clockwork Orange
and The Memoirs of a Survivor, the torture in 1984 are a spectre of the communist vampire sucking the blood of
capitalist peacefulness. The writer whose wife is raped and manuscript destroyed in A Clockwork Orange, the
author of the mental memoirs, the survivor in The Memoirs of a Survivor, the British writer in love with
Brownjohn’s beautiful heroine and translator, are all preys to beings who, they think, can harm them and actually
do, in one way or another. The harm is not lethal, but maiming. The fear is grounded, they all seem to say.

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6. Economic shortages within communism make the western reader exclaim, Long live capitalism, because we are
so right! Orwell’s 1984 is ample proof of how horrible communism can be: no food, no clothes, no love, no
privacy, no humanity left. Wrong theory. There may be very little of the material comfort capitalism so prides itself
on, but humanity is there all right, and if the writers on the west side of the iron curtain never notice it, never
suspect it (not even Doris Lessing in her autobiography), it is their loss. Eastern heroes, however encoded, rigid,
apparently politically correct but deep down bitter dissenters, are every bit as human as their western
counterparts, and sometimes more.

7. Humour and awe are the only approaches of communism in the West. Laughter and fear, comedy and tragedy.
Since in modern times they can hardly be separated, the image is inevitably superficial and unconvincing.
3 4
8. Usually the free to travel westerner meets the eastern slave bound to his land. This breeds another fear, that of
being trapped, which all dystopias are based on. Lanark is trapped in his own life, which becomes dystopic and he
dies there; Golding’s Ralph is bound to the island dominated by Lord of the Flies and is saved by the grown-ups;
Bradbury’s professor runs away from Slaka only to find out that he did not understand anything of the rites of the
land while he was there. The dystopic world, whether the iron curtain is political or of another nature, longs for
liberation. The iron curtain is a trap, a lack of freedom, a slavery to nightmare, a destruction of the hope for
freedom.

9. The western guest is constantly amazed at the perverted language, thought, freedom, humanity: in short he is
amazed at the prevalent lie. Here, at least, westerners go to the heart of the matter. Communism is a lie, and,

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unlike those involved in that inhuman huge joke, westerners see and say it in so many words. Communism is no
longer a utopia (or should not be – even Lessing grows disillusioned with it), it is a tragic lie.

10. Most westerners write their dystopias or read them with the feeling of relief that they have been born on the
right side. A woman who knew several languages and worked for a press agency in Romania, and who committed
suicide in her fifties, used to say: ‘What ill luck to have only one life and be born here.’ Westerners suddenly feel
they can do anything they please with their lives, they have so many opportunities. Communism does have a
revigorating effect on a westerner, even when he thinks he feels heart-rending pity for an eastern hero.

11. The western reader invariably develops a complex of superiority in this man-versus-puppet show. The
easterner is – or looks like – a puppet with no choice in the matter. This puppet, however, has the huge,
3 revigorating resource of dissent, and learns to create its own universe as it lives along.
4

The Desperado age has thus two political sides, the right and the wrong side of the iron curtain, but the
result reached is eventually the same. The West hides ambiguity in the cloak of accessibility; literature is fighting
for its audience and regains it all right, although the hidden sophistication is beginning these days to tire the
readers. The East is forced to use primitive words and struggles very hard to hide ambiguity behind the simplest
sentences. Both West and East express an imprecision, both do it in clear language. The difference is that in the
East one has to read between the lines or else all meaning is lost. The West reads, visits, hears about the East, but
fails to read into words the political torture of the compulsion to lie. Lying is, however, a form of ambiguity, too.
Especially if the author can instil doubt in his reader’s mind. Western readers are in no position to doubt eastern
writers. The reverse would not be true. If there is an iron curtain in literature, therefore, it certainly is one of
misunderstanding. Where politics failed, it turns out that literature was no help, either.

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The iron curtain is the great defeat of globalization in literature during communism. To put it in a nutshell,
where the East understands artfully between the lines, the West uses misunderstanding in order to reach the same
hysterical complication that characterizes both sides. Whichever the side, ingenuity is the feat. Desperado
literature, therefore, whether eastern or western, is devilishly resourceful, so resourceful that the reader leaves the
text feeling he could finally fool himself. The question is, will he not have enough of it all some day and,
exhausted by this game of games, try to change once again? Not even the resourceful Desperado author can tell.
Convention has died, long live convention: whichever, as long as literature wins.

I/6. THE FUTURE AS A MEMORY, IN DESPERADO LITERATURE

3 I. The Desperado Hero


4

The return of the hero


The stream of consciousness hero was more an emotional and thoughtful halo than a real life, although life
kept happening to him, life was all over him and he could hardly deal with its intricate twists and turns. Clarissa
Dalloway mixed ‘memory and desire’ (T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land), an elaborately remembered past, a minimal
present and a disturbing apprehension for the future. Virginia Woolf preached the abolition of love interest and
chronological causality, but stuck fiercely to them, all the more so as she was unable to build a classical plot and
perceived her inability. I suspect that she preached what she preached only to justify her lyrical narratives, which
limped but constantly fantasized about walking. That must also be the reason why, after reading them, we
remember her novels as chronological stories that would not exist if we deny them love interest. To put it in a
nutshell, after all, Virginia Woolf did stick to love interest and chronological causality.

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After Joyce’s heroes, to whom everything happened before happening, before the actual utterance, in the
area of preverbalization, the unutterable became the realm of fiction. Leopold Bloom exposes shame shamelessly
(Ulysses). Lord Jim (Conrad) reveals the unspeakable ‘horror’ which is mentioned even more insistently in Heart of
Darkness. Lawrence’s heroes grapple with a private hell of inexplicable impulse. James hopes for justice and
fairness in a crooked world whose only hope is the mind of his heroes, which switches the plot of the novel from
the incident to verbalization (meaning statement and understatement) of the act. Speculation and decoding are
stream of consciousness practices. Between lines, between words, there lies a meaning that has to be followed
closely and unmasked.
Modernism melted the hero into the effort of expressing him. The living being evaporated into words, and
the word was the absolute beginning of the world, it was light and it was life. It was both God and His creation.
The Desperado age reclaims the right of the hero to be flesh and blood. The word is still important because it
3 must be remembered, because, if forgotten, it can become an obstacle to the understanding of the whole book.
4
The hero leads a real life and the Desperado author prides himself on having brought the novel back to reality.
What he does not admit is that the life of the hero reaches us through his memory, via his mind. An Artist of the
Floating World (Ishiguro) has a palpable story, on the one hand: we learn that the hero was a painter who
supported the imperialist campaign, thus indirectly bringing the atomic bomb onto Japan, and in the process he
sent to jail another fellow painter who saw things differently. But the truth comes to us filtered by the artist’s
mind, and we take a while to wind our souls away from him and give the book the chance of a second, detached
reading. The second time round, the charm no longer blinds us and we see the ugly reality for what it is, and we
notice every little detail, every word apparently uttered at random, actually very significant in the construction of
the novel (such as ‘suicide’, which suggests the artist’s unavowed sense of guilt at having brought the bomb and
ensuing defeat and poverty onto his country). The Desperado hero has learnt from the modernist hero that he
must be a mind above all, but he refuses to leave his body behind. Clarissa Dalloway was a breeze of memories

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and emotions. Lanark describes the physical agony of every little incident. His mind is the key to the meaning, but
his body gives that meaning substance. David Lodge, Malcolm Bradbury, Julian Barnes mock at sentimentality,
record the defeats of the heroic body, only their very irony relies on a very concrete life: the hero’s mind mocks at
his expectations of happiness in love, career, family, society at large. There is no happiness. The past devours the
future. The mind (the past) gives birth to a life that is both true and hopeless (futureless). Life is back into the
novel, but governed by intellectual retrospection or (at times) intellectual projection of the present into a future
which is a multiplied suspicion of several roads that can be travelled at once.
Bringing back a hero with an eventful life, the Desperado novel is this hero’s diary. Winston Smith (1984)
dreams of a real diary whom beings-to-come (inhabitants of a future he cannot bring himself to expect) will read:

‘To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and
3 do not live alone – to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone:
4
From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of double
think – greetings!’

Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet is a mixture of diaries. Doris Lessing writes The Golden Notebook relying
heavily upon the idea of life as a daily business that does not exist until it is put down to paper. Desperado writing
is actually the recording of the daily ordeal. No Desperado hero is ever light-hearted or happy. Fowles does not
resort to a diary so much, but the ordeal and the daily ratio of frustration is always there. He places a diary at the
core of his Collector, but that diary is just a dead memory of youth, an impossible return. Other heroes, in novels
by Barnes, Ishiguro, Gray, Bradbury, Lodge live from day to day, even though they do not write down their
experiences. The diary is their own memory, which records patiently. It is a disabused recording, hopeless and
helpless. Ackroyd derives some power from his lyricism and escapes into other texts, other stories, the same as

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Graham Swift. Martin Amis advances through days with theatricality. What all these Desperado authors have in
common is the day. The unit of the novel is no longer a life with a past, a present and a future: it is a life made up
of days. Joyce and Woolf, even Eliot, invented the one-day novel/ poem (Ulysses, Mrs Dalloway, The Waste Land).
They meant to abolish (or wished they did) chronological causality. It must be added that they longed for it
anyway, and the reader perceived their sense of loss and reacted by bringing chronology back surreptitiously.
Desperadoes do not long for old patterns. Twenty centuries of epic (from Homer on) go down the drain. What was
and whatever will come out of what was no longer matters. We live on what is going on now, at this very moment.
No one – not even the author – can possibly know what will come up after this paragraph.
The Desperado hero, who has returned to the novel to live – not just to think and verbalize, differs from all
previous heroes when it comes to expectations. The heroes created by Homer, Fielding, Dickens, Galsworthy, even
Joyce, Woolf, Conrad expected something to happen to them and close the novel, even though the stream of
3 consciousness refused to express that expectation. Whether put into words or not, the novel had a closure. The
4
Desperado novel is confusing for those readers who expect the old pattern, because expectation is forbidden
these days. What are the expectations of Winston Smith, Justine, Anna Wulf, Alex, Charles, Oliver, Stevens, Lanark,
Robyn Penrose, Hawksmoor, John Self, Tom Crick (all heroes of the previously mentioned Desperado novelists)? All
the heroes Lessing ever created lived in and for the present, enduring the burden of futurelessness. Fowles’s
heroes struggle with the need for suspense which the expectation of a happy ending might fulfill, but they are
denied that happy ending and are left with the suspense, which in Fowles’s case is unbearable (just like the denial
of all expectations, which is not only deliberate but also worked into a famous device by now – see the famous
scene of the author looking at himself while facing his hero:

‘Now the question I am asking, as I stare at Charles...: what the devil am I going to do with you? I have
already thought of ending Charles' career here and now; of leaving him for eternity on his way to London. But the

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conventions of Victorian fiction allow, allowed no place for the open, the inconclusive ending; and I preached
earlier of the freedom the characters must be given.’

That is a general feeling, or rather justification of all Desperadoes: the hero must be free. The suspense of the
Desperado text does not in the least come from the hero’s expectations being fulfilled, then; it comes from an
endless complication of his real or suspected diary (his mind), which can easily ruin (and does so, really) all hope
for happiness. The Desperado hero bears the burden of his own inability to live.
Indeed, this hero is a passive and resigned being, very much unlike the energetic achievers of the realistic
novel, or of the oldest epics ever. All Kazuo Ishiguro’s heroes, for instance, bear what existence burdens them
with: a Japanese woman has two daughters who leave her (one commits suicide, the other leaves home without an
explanation) alone and empty, a Japanese painter loses his hour of glory and for a minute even wonders if he
3 would not be better off committing suicide, an English butler is unable to enjoy even the remains of a day he has
4
wilfully missed, a pianist cannot make sense of absurd reality (and that reality actually is absurd, Kafkaesque, or in
the South American vein), a detective fails to find the meaning of life. Five novels describe five failures, or rather,
mental recordings of the inability to use the freedom the author allows the hero. Where Ulysses, David
Copperfield, the Forsytes struggled and won or lost, the Desperado heroes merely endure. They do not even wait.
They simply are. Resignation to the present is the Desperado hero’s lot.

The charm of the Desperado hero


Peter Ackroyd told in an interview, ‘The mind is the soul.’ This answer explains the charm of the Desperado
hero. Although incident-addicted, although besieged with constant action, never reduced to the mere birth of his
words (as Joyce did, or Eliot), the Desperado hero is a mind within a soul, which means to say all his recorded
experiences turn lyrical at a certain point, and he becomes a huge poem. An enormous amount of incidents is

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confused by the hero’s mind in an exasperating (suspense-bound) narrative, rendered painfully vulnerable by a
sensibility always laid bare. All Durrell’s heroes are helplessly in love and helplessly hurt by their own feelings.
Barnes’ heroes are defiant, yet their wounds cry out loud: however ironical Barnes may be, his characters are no
less vulnerable and no less hurt, in spite of their witticisms and derisions. It is the revenge action/ the plot takes
on the heroes that used to ride it high and mighty. The plot is still there, but it refuses to be second best any
more. The readers no longer race through the plot, obsessed by the fate of the hero. In Desperado novels, the
hero has no fate, we might say. It is the acts that create a hero and leave that hero dangling when the author
decides he wants to stop imagining. Lanark swims in a sea of presents, experiences a mass of present incidents,
and cannot put them behind: he cannot conceive of a past. He is equally unable to see his future, to imagine there
is anything in store for him. Each new incident takes him by surprise and the book ends with a final ‘GOODBYE’
before there has been any time for anyone to react. Desperado heroes are inert. If they do anything, it is to charm
3 the reader by appealing to his love, sympathy, approval. Desperado novels are not about energetic achievers and
4
settled plots. They are all about the reader’s sharing and caring. Once we identify with the hero, the author rests
his case and the sentence no longer matters. ‘The mind is the soul’ has won: the writer’s mind has enslaved us to
his soul, we feel and understand at the same time. Joyce, Woolf and Eliot dreamed this hybridization of poetry and
fiction would happen, but it never came true for them. The Desperadoes win us over more than the stream of
consciousness technique, because they turn a device into a mood, the Desperado mood of identifying with the
written page till we can no longer see the difference, we are the page.

The technicalities of the Desperado hero


We can only understand the Desperado meaning if we memorize every little word on the page. There is no
knowing which word will come in handy and when. The stream of consciousness devised the recurrent image, the
idiosyncratic word, the word loaded with psychological revelations. No such thing for Desperado authors. Every

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word is just as good. The only prerequisite is its duration in the reader’s memory. It may be a word borrowed from
other texts – a dialogue with other minds (see Ackroyd) – , or a commonplace word, apparently dropped at
random. Such is the word ‘bantering’ in The Remains of the Day (Ishiguro). It appears on the first and last pages,
but is also referred to in between, in opposition to how the butler used to enrich his vocabulary in order to be able
to talk aristocratically to his former master, Lord Darlington. It seems an unobtrusive, insignificant, blunt word –
and yet it is the root of an upheaval. Stevens’s whole life has been turned upside down, he has changed masters,
and the American who bought Darlington Hall has bought him, too, and means business. He prompts Stevens to
go on a motoring trip, he goes right to the heart of the matter when he mocks at Stevens’s interest in Miss Kenton
(Mrs Ben, now), which is by no means purely ‘professional’ (another important word), but deeply emotional and
private. The whole novel is a battle between public and private meanings, between public and private words.
Ishiguro plans his key words carefully. Other writers dash down details, and words are not so loaded with
3 symbolism. Barnes fills Flaubert’s Parrot with random remarks, which prevent all understanding of what is going
4
on in case they are ignored by rapid reading. Eliot made much noise around his famous recurrent images (the
‘objective correlatives’), such as the sea, the garden, water, the yew tree, etc. The Desperadoes prefer the
unobtrusive. They sneak into the text and watch us rushing where angels fear to tread. We are the fools if we
ignore the least word, the least remark. Lanark is a mass of details that seem to be unimportant, but which we go
on reading nevertheless. They do not build a code, it is no longer the time of ciphers. They mass together and
create a mountain of recorded incidents. With Desperadoes, unlike the stream of consciousness, it is more a
matter of quantity than quality. The word – and this is the major Desperado technicality – need not be exemplary,
but suggestive in itself. With Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, the word created its system of reference. It triggered the
mechanism of decoding and it set the reader on the right track, helping him to unveil the author’s plan. The
Desperadoes also have a plan. It is hard to conceive of a work without a plan, unless we are talking about a bad
work. The difference between stream of consciousness and Desperado authors is that the plan was a hidden

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meaning with the former, and it is more of a complicated technicality with the latter. The Desperado author plans
complication and confuses deliberately.
Desperado heroes usually address the reader directly. Even when they do not speak in the first person, they
open up for the reader to look. The stream of consciousness had barriers, expected the reader to overcome an
architecture of symbols, hints, oblique statements. Desperadoes mainly rely on free access to interiority. This
inner life feeds on the daily incidents, which replace the previous chronological plot, rooted in the past and lived in
the light of the future. The Desperado lives mainly in the present and is not the achiever of the plot (closure of the
past in the future), but its life, its reality. Desperadoes experience a hysteria of the real. Virginia Woolf stated again
and again that life escaped realistic novelists like Galsworthy, and she meant to bring the novel closer to reality.
She merely stated what Desperadoes achieve: the novel is now a huge present, a day-to-day experience. The
heroes’ directness is equivalent to the stress placed on the present. The direct line running between reader and
3 hero, with or without the author’s voice in between (Lodge, Bradbury, Gray, Swift, Lessing use third person
4
narrative, while very few use first person direct address), is the best proof that the hero has come back to life, that
Desperado novels may have learned from the stream of consciousness technically, but have devised a whole new
soul of their own to match their minds. For the stream of consciousness, the mind was the main delight, newly
found and avidly explored. The Desperadoes bring back the old novel of the soul, but do not really go back to the
old tradition of writing it: they achieve a simultaneity, an identification of feeling and technique, and they conclude
just like Peter Ackroyd, ‘The mind is the soul.’

II. The Hero’s Past

In regular novels, the present uses the past, and the future uses the present. Eventually past and present
serve the future. David Copperfield uses his past to build a present and we constantly wait to see what is going to

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happen to him in the future. What happens next is the concern of all novels before the stream of consciousness.
Stories used to focus on what was going to happen in the end. When the novel closed in happiness or
unhappiness, the story had served its purpose and the novelist rested his case. Galsworthy is actually – far more
than Virginia Woolf realized – a danger to that regular novel, because he wrote a saga, which means he was
unwilling to close, to see one ending as final. Realistic as he may have looked, he was innovative in his own way:
his long cycles of novels actually demonstrated that life was a flow, an endless business. Virginia Woolf called it a
halo. Her stress was placed more on emotion than incident. Balzac saw the flow, too, but he focussed on an end
for each life. Galsworthy felt he had to offer his readers more than just a (social or individual) philosophy of
happiness or unhappiness: he suspected the novel could be moved from the realm of incident to the realm of
psychology. His short sketches reveal him an extraordinary stream of consciousness experimenter. By the turn of
the nineteenth century, writers had grown tired of what was going to happen next, and were already looking for a
3 new focus, whether they wrote in the old picaresque manner or invented new approaches. The future was losing
4
ground in favour of a prolonged present.
In Desperado novels, the present drags its feet, and the future never matters. The real power is in the past.
This past is a drug which benumbs the present into sleep. The hero does nothing but remember, and the past
entrances him, makes him discover all sorts of tricks of memory: from hazard (realism) to psychoanalysis (stream
of consciousness). The delights of memory are mixed with the joy of the present in Alexandria Quartet, and the
plot is very much alive, but governed by the perspective of the past upon the future. It does not matter so much
what is happening now, as long as the future can be seen in many colours, all of them mirrors of one image of the
past or another. To Lawrence Durrell, past incidents are the key and the God. Fowles’s present reconsiders the
past constantly and lives by this retrospection. The Collector, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Daniel Martin, The
Magus, all live by repeated meditations on the past. Something that happened haunts Fowles’s present, and is
turned in the hero’s mind over and over again, till a spark of present action shines and the plot advances one step.

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Fowles’s present is more a demonstration of technique than a pillar of the plot. He demonstrates how the author
can have a dialogue with both reader and hero (the gap of centuries in time never matter), or how he can use a
past diary to push the present into incident. Barnes plunges into Biblical or literary history (Flaubert’s Parrot, The
History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters), so his past is not even individual. Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled drowns in
past memories that never manage to connect, thus creating an absurd text, whose meaning is rather an under-
meaning, a guess, a mood. The Remains of the Day feeds on a complicated order of revealing memories, just like
An Artist of the Floating World. Ishiguro’s present is minimal. Its sap rises in the plot from what was lost, or, as
Eliot put it, ‘In memory only, reconsidered passion’ (Gerontion). Actually, more than Virginia Woolf in her Modern
Fiction, we find Eliot’s verse unwillingly theorizing on the future of the novel, on Desperado techniques, on the
sleepiness of the present and the poignancy of the past.
Since the present is so slow and deprived of the thrill of expectation, the only –exacerbated – suspense
3 comes from the order in which past incidents are recollected. Lanark, An Artist of the Floating World, Waterland,
4
Hawksmoor are just a few examples. Even Ishiguro’s latest novel, When We Were Orphans, relies heavily on the
value of recorded incidents reinterpreted in a confused present. It is not the present which is the guiding light of
the past, but the past which reinvents the present. Joyce made the mind analyse itself in the present. Bloom
dissected the way his present thoughts slipped from a pre-verbal to a verbal state, the way a thought came into
being, the way a word was born out of innumerable associations of languages, ideas, emotions, the way a text was
actually written. Joyce indirectly analysed the process of writing a text, and gave it the body of his heroes. The
stream of consciousness was more thesis than practice, and when it came to practice, it was rather a struggle with
tradition than a victory over it. Desperadoes reach a step farther, they make the order of memory the essence, the
tyrant of Desperado technique.
Whether it shapes the plot (The Remains of the Day, Waterland) or haunts an active present (Lessing,
Fowles), memory is the man. Apparently, Lessing, Lodge, Bradbury, Amis, Barnes write in and only about the

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present. In fact, their heroes are burdened with the sleep of what can no longer happen because it has already
taken place, and is past now. Anna Wulf is haunted by her dead love, dead belief in communism, lost childhood of
her daughter (who chooses boarding house). Robyn Penrose does not have a past burden and it maims her, she
seems unable to build a present precisely because she cannot claim a past loss; deprived of past pains, she lives
an empty present, in which irony reigns and nothing is expected of anyone. Things keep happening for Bradbury,
too, but they are all trifles, massed in the parody of a plot. Mensonge, the brilliant
anti-deconstruction little story, claims the death of the present, the non-existence of the main hero. The present
seems active for Amis (Money, The Information) and Barnes (Staring at the Sun), but it is informed by a
hopelessness that seems to say, There is nothing ahead, your only chance is to look back. Look Back in Anger was
a very good title for the beginning of this Desperado age. The angry young men were so because their present had
changed, had become void. The Desperado heroes are still amazingly angry, from Lessing to Burgess, Fowles,
3 Barnes, Ishiguro, Gray, Amis, Swift. Anger is a face of memory, we might say. What cannot be remembered hurts,
4
and very few memorable things happen in this Desperado present:

‘... innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent
falls differently from of old; the moment of importance came not here but there; so that, if a writer were a free
man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own
feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or
catastrophe...’ (Modern Fiction, Virginia Woolf, 1919).

The sentence does not ring true for Woolf’s own novels. The Waves hangs from the lips of the future, has love
interest written all over it, is deeply tragic, stamped by inner catastrophes. But Woolf’s statement describes the

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Desperado text perfectly. Memory is the hero, memory is the author, memory is the reader. We are all a huge
recollecting mood.
Relying entirely on the past for suspense (the appeal of the story), blocking out both present and future, the
hero becomes an introvert, which is a clear consequence of the stream of consciousness, but only comes true in
Desperado novels. Leopold Bloom, Clarissa Dalloway, Lord Jim, the hyacinth girl were theatrical and picturesque in
a new way; they wanted to impress the reader even more than Homer, Dickens, Galsworthy, but actually expected
to trigger the same emotional reading, or rather a much more intense one. The Desperado hero is not in the least
theatrical. He is modest, shy, keeps as much of his inner world to himself as he can. He keeps his distance from
the reader, as his author claims to be doing. Joyce’s heroes are free to tango with their thoughts. Desperado
heroes are diffident and shy. So are their authors, especially when interviewed. Some, like Julian Barnes or Fowles,
mock at the idea of an interview or at literary criticism, and, behind their irony, insecurity looms. Others are simply
3 modest, likable and tolerant of any questions (Gray, Lodge, Swift, Ackroyd). In both cases, the reader is perceived
4
as a threat.
The reason why the reader is perceived as a threat that must be propitiated by all means is directly
connected to the major difference between the Desperado age and the rest of the literary ages (stream of
consciousness included). In most texts, the past is crammed inside the hero, the story, the author: the reader is
invited to challenge the text and conquer the meaning. Dickens, for instance, was an extrovert, delighted at the
so-called independence of his heroes from him. He received letters from readers, begging for the happy fate of
one hero or another. His imagination ran wild and made its own rules. His inspiration was self-assured and
considered itself master of writing and reading. The Desperado hero, on the other hand, the same as the
Desperado author, is deeply dependent on the reader/ critic’s caring. Tom Jones was alive whether the reader
approved of him or not. Galsworthy’s characters are themselves and we can understand them all – psychologically
speaking, which bitterly questions Galsworthy’s separation from the stream of consciousness – , even though we

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may dislike Soames at first, or disapprove of many others. The Desperado hero goes the other way round. He
parades indifference as to the reader’s attitude. Lanark could not care less whether we approve of him. Robyn
Penrose feels she is strong and does not need anyone to commiserate with her. Tom Crick refuses melodramatic
responses, his words are calm and cold. But the truth is previous literary ages could afford being cold, while
Desperado texts cannot. The Desperado hero seems to be saying: Learn my past and approve of me, or I am lost.
The pianist in The Unconsoled is disagreeable but deeply in need of human contact with the reader. We feel much
more oppressed when we read a Desperado text. The other texts allowed us an intellectual and emotional freedom
which we have lost. And we have lost our freedom precisely because Desperadoes are emotional beggars, because
their heroes, unless comforted by the reader’s total addiction to the text, are insecure and use their past as baits.

III. The Hero’s Present


3 4
The Desperado present is sleepy and confused. John the Savage (Brave New World) cannot find his bearings
and commits suicide, which is his only action after the exclamation ‘O brave new world!’, which comes from
Shakespeare and ends in the fifth millennium, by Huxley’s standards. Simon and Ralph (Lord of the Flies) almost
die because the mob of hungry, cruel children need to kill and eat; killing is Golding’s major concern. The plot
illustrates it by the mere helplessness of the present versus the fierce instincts surviving from the past, haunting
the ‘hunters’, sacrificing Piggy, the ‘true friend’, and Simon, who finally understands who the ‘Beast’ and the Lord
of the Flies are. Lessing’s heroines see so much going on that their minds give in. Anna Wulf (The Golden
Notebook) is overwhelmed by the fear she is going mad – which means confusion stifles her – and it is a different
kind of lunacy from the theatrical disarray of Eliot’s heroes in The Waste Land, but the feeling of lost bearings
starts with him all right. Alex (A Clockwork Orange) does nothing but killing – or the next best to it – and giving up
violence is his only real act in Burgess’s novel. Actually he abandons violence because he is trying to have a family

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and knows that his son will carry it on, so Burgess’s view of the future of the world is not peaceful, even though
the present promises a short break. Burgess’s present is a nightmare which immobilizes all heroes involved,
aggressor and aggressed to the same extent. Ishiguro’s present is a motoring trip, a daughter’s short visit, plans
for a wedding, a nightmarish visit to an absurd location. When the novelist tries a more active present (When We
Were Orphans), the plot suffers, looks more superficial and the text is qualified as a ‘detective novel’, which it is
not; it is merely a plot with a plan, and many of his readers have already read novelists who are better at the
realistic game than Ishiguro. Lanark crosses the night of his adventures with no feelings at all; he is constantly
puzzled, and the reader is discouraged from any attempt at understanding. He dies with the same empty heart as
he had started, and even the realistic part of the novel, which describes his past in a real city, with real incidents
and real people, is monotonously lifeless. The whole novel is, to my mind (although the author states he meant to
amuse and engross the reader in adventures), a huge metaphor for the idea of growing old. It has the ageing
3 mood written all over it, the lack of passion and the loss of expectation. If it comes to that, in fact, all Desperado
4
novels are novels of old age. The romance of youth is not part of their authors’ charm or intention. When Eliot
called Yeats ‘pre-eminently the poet of middle age’, he meant to say that Yeats desperately wanted to stay young
and made a show of his losing battle with life. Desperadoes go very gentle into ‘that good night’, they do not
‘rage’ (Dylan Thomas), they do not even object. Tom Crick (Waterland) and Hawksmoor advance through their
lives, mixed with the past as they come, as in a dream of powerlessness. All these heroes’ minds seem threatened
by a madness of memory and they try to relieve it in the present by simply diminishing the importance of all
incidents.
The incident-addicted Desperado hero is in fact past-addicted (all meaningful incidents belong to the past)
because the present plot would be nothing without its past echoes. Even for the plots that do move in the present
there is a past scaffolding or a past explanation. Hawksmoor would be nothing without his past counterpart, with
whom he melts into a final lyrical symbol of picturesque, ambivalent evil. When We Were Orphans would not exist

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without the haunting bits of memories which finally bring to light a horrible truth (the plot is in fact too weak to
carry the intensity of the horror, and this is probably the major drawback of the novel). The Collector happens very
much at the time of narration, Miranda dies a prisoner and she truly dies in the present, as a failure of her attempt
at escaping from the dungeon devised by her abductor (who, once more, is insane), but her story would be
nothing unless it were centred on her past diary of youth and love. Actually, what makes The Collector Fowles’s
best novel (to my mind) is the perfecting of this device of juxtaposing past and present and letting the past win.
The Golden Notebook is also a book of the present, but once more it feeds on a diary recording the past, and even
more than that, it proves that the present cannot win precisely because of past failures. Anna Wulf loses both her
love and her belief in communism, and the present world makes no sense. She adapts to the system, replaces
belief in communism by belief in capitalism (or at least tries to), looks for another affair, but she feels utterly
confused and really sees no way out. Expectation is on fire and only ashes survive. These Desperado heroes pay
3 the price of their infatuation with the past. The English Patient, on the contrary, resorts to the past in order to
4
bring life to the present, but Ondaatje, just like Salman Rushdie (Midnight’s Children) has the Indian gift for story-
telling, and the situation is somewhat different from Waterland, for instance. Graham Swift, the same as Ishiguro
(Japanese as he may have been born), Ackroyd or Lessing, creates a present that would starve to death without the
crumbs of the past, while Ondaatje and Rushdie conjure up a past that needs a present to feed. In both cases,
whether the present or the past is stronger, they cannot exist separately, as successive moments in time. In both
cases there is a simultaneity of wisdom (the past) and confusion (the present), which makes life look like a future
building which is right now, at the time of reading, a past scaffolding for a present dark room. The real project will
only be seen clearly when rereading brings a faint light to the text. The effect is that the reader becomes insecure,
uncertain of the power of his memory, and incident-addiction turns into an addiction to an eternal simultaneity
with the past.

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The Desperado books which really live in the present are definitely inferior to classical realistic novels, to
George Eliot, John Galsworthy. Nice Work is redeemed by irony, The Fifth Child is emotional and mythical, The
Magus is uselessly but charmingly confusing, Lanark is a delightfully untrue nightmare (dystopia), Barnes waters
an emotional dryness with witticism (statement which does not hold true for his very sentimental Staring at the
Sun). This confrontation of techniques (the technique of the expectant present, which is the essence of fiction till
the twentieth century, versus the technique of past flashes flooding all time) shows the roots of Desperado
complication. Unable to build a present any more, Desperadoes take refuge in the past, in the mind (this is the
lesson of the stream of consciousness), and renew this device by imposing upon the past an ulterior/ present
motivation. We go backwards in novels like An Artist of the Floating World, which changes the past, while the
present is immovable. If we may say so, the Desperado author grafts expectation upon the trunk of the past and
only rereading can show the young buds coming out. Reading – concentration on the present, which actually leads
3 nowhere – is insufficient, deficient. Rereading is far from repetition of the first time round: it is the real beginning
4
of the text in the reader’s mind. The author holds out his hand. It is up to us to take it or fail to enjoy Desperado
literature.
The moods imposed by this view of fictional time are two. The present gets irony, the past gets lyricism.
Comedy and poetry mingle. The present may be ironical, humorous, but it is never merry or happy: it is slowed
down by a burden of past pain and the fact that the future is at most an apprehension does not help, either. There
is not much suspense in the present: there is only an uninteresting flow of common incidents, which do not
require emotional involvement from the reader. The caring is all for the past. The present is loveless both for
heroes and for the readers. Can that be the mood Virginia Woolf was dreaming of in 1919? She talked about the
absence of plot, love interest, catastrophe. The present consequently lost its livelihood. It used to be so well built
and enticing, but no more. In the third millennium, because of a hyperactive past (which floods the narrative in all
possible guises), the present is devitalized. The novel has indeed survived, but for how long?

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IV. The Hero’s Future as a Memory

It is by now fairly obvious why Desperado plots end in the present, with no expectation of future fulfillment.
Up to the stream of consciousness, the future was a construct of the present. The present was energetic and
decidedly on the go. The plot was built on the foundation of chronological causality (past causes present, and
present causes future, so suspense relies on what will happen next). The stream of consciousness rebels against
this convention of an ending in the future (of suspense as a result of love interest, of happy or unhappy closure of
the present in a gratified expectation of what comes next). Yet the emotional load of the stream of consciousness
works leads that way, lives on plot and love interest, and chronology. Desperadoes move emotionally from the
present into the past, so the future is all of a sudden empty: anything can happen there, but it is pathetically
unimportant. It is consequently mentioned in passing from the very beginning, as one of the many commonplaces
3 of the present. As an extension of the present, which it can still be, the future holds no promise, it is blank. No
4
Desperado hero, from Huxley to Golding, Orwell, Durrell, Lessing, Burgess, Fowles, Barnes, Ishiguro, Gray,
Bradbury, Lodge, Ackroyd, Amis, Swift is ever excited by the future or looks forward to it. Some authors fight the
happy ending with dystopia (Huxley, Orwell, Golding, Lessing, Gray, Burgess, Barnes), others merely produce
disenchanted tales (Fowles, Ishiguro, Lodge, Bradbury, Amis, Swift). The fairy tale tradition has at last died for
good. The best illustration is Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, which is wildly charming and picturesque, but
which self-destructs because the thirst for too many endings kills the reader’s interest in any ending at all. The
seducing Justine ends old and forgotten, and we almost feel rage at the end of a captivating novel that explodes in
our faces. Too many mirrors (Justine sees herself in several mirrors at once, this being the key metaphor defining
the technique of the novel) confuse and eventually kill all expectation. Lawrence Durrell shows best how the death
of the fairy tale can kill the joy of reading. What else is there to be added, than, ‘Desperadoes, beware’ ?

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The only future that appeals to the hero (but not to the reader – this is dangerous territory the Desperado
text covers) is that of past moments, the memory of expectation, the thrill which is baffled by present
unfulfillment. The axis of time in Desperado plots is from future to the present and from there, at long last, into
the past. The book ends in an ideal understanding of the past, and looks upon the future as a mere memory. We
remember something was going to happen to the hero, but, compared to the intensity of the past and the
desperate confusion of the present, the future fades precisely because it has not been internalized by memory yet.
The future is more the reader’s memory than the hero’s. The Desperado reader, for once, knows more than all
previous readers, because he does not have to scurry to the last page for closure. He finds it on the first page. Why
does he read then? Simply to see if the future can really be treated as a memory? Travels in time are still a matter
of science fiction. Desperado literature would not even dream of accepting such a status, yet it does precisely what
we see time travellers do in cheap novels and especially films. The novel is preparing for an arduous journey into
3 the unknown. It has conscientiously abolished plot, love interest, closure, chronological causality and the thirst for
4
a pacifying future. There is only one small matter left: Will the reader board such a book?

I/7. THE DESPERADO NOVEL COMES OF AGE

I. HERITAGE AND CHANGE

The first few decades of the 20th century, the years between Henry James (at the turning point between the
19th and 20th centuries) and Joyce, Woolf, Eliot – culminating in 1922, when Ulysses and The Waste Land were
published almost simultaneously, were an age of denial. Writers rebelled against established conventions, while
apparently challenging literature, trying to replace it with life itself, with absolute veridicity. They did not aim at

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replacing imagination with reality (true reports or lists of strictly authentic incidents), but at changing the face of
literature, which, for more than twenty centuries had been doing the same thing over and over again: telling a
story about a past which led inevitably to a present, which present expected a future. They also rebelled against
the old dependence of the plot on the life of a couple: the story revolved round the finding of a mate, love interest
was the main source of suspense. Beginning with the stream of consciousness, especially after Virginia Woolf’s
famous essay Modern Fiction (1919), which stated the denial forcefully, chronological causality (the chronological
order of incidents from past through present into the future) and love interest as a means to capture the reader’s
interest lose ground. They do not vanish, but yield to a dominating tendency to escape the narrative convention
which supported literary works from Homer to Henry James. Joyce and Eliot are not necessarily important as
representatives of the stream of consciousness; they are mainly initiators of denial.
The first step of this denial was the hybridization of literary genres. Writers refuse to view genres as
3 independent from one another and mix them indiscriminately, amalgamating fiction, poetry, drama, literary
4
criticism and psychology within the same text. This is how Virginia Woolf’s poetical novels were born, although her
novels are not the best illustration of denial, in spite of her being the ideologist of this denial; her novels do not
actually escape the tyranny of previous conventions. Once we have finished reading Woolf’s novels, their episodes,
whose order is complicated with sophistication, change their place in the mind of the reader and they take a
course which follows precisely the two principles that Woolf hates: chronology and love interest. The writers who
really escape traditional literature – the old idea of literature – and bring new meaning both to writing and reading,
are Joyce and Eliot. They consider literature in a mood which is not new but which becomes predominant from
there on: they mainly focus on irony.
This irony is aimed at what literature meant till the stream of consciousness. Joyce reworks The Odyssey in
his own manner, and Eliot writes a poem which, for the first time in the history of poetry, quotes innumerable lines
from numberless authors, changing, defacing them, from mere words to their very meaning, which is so often

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contradicted with a smile of satisfaction. Both Joyce and Eliot argue with the original works which they quote or
which they hint at in their own texts. Their intertextuality is not a homage, it is a demonstration. They seem to be
stating, I do as I please with my words, I can make them relate to everything I have ever read and yet stay myself,
be as personal as one can possibly be in this world, it does not matter that others wrote before me, it is what I am
writing now that really matters. For a long time I tried hard to decode an immense love of literature in these
imperfect, mocking quotations. What they show, in fact, is a denial of all other literature. It is a short trip from
denial to defiance. Joyce and Eliot were happy with mere denial. After the 1950s, when the first signs of what I call
the Desperado age (also known as postmodern) appeared, the denial becomes defiance.
The stream of consciousness produces emotional, affectionate texts. The incident, the act becomes so much
less important that it leads to inner analysis, actually to psychoanalysis, which isolates the hero and brings a
burden of solitude to the reader’s soul. Realism was the image of reality, it aimed at being its X-ray. Once the
3 thought is haunted to its pre-verbal stage, the social dimension no longer comes first, and it becomes much less
4
than real, it is mere imagination. Reality is somewhere in the mind of the hero, in a labyrinth of his words which
surface disorderly in the text. It becomes far more important to verbalize with the hero than to share his real life.
Which does not mean at all that we do not share his life. The experiences crammed in the text are more numerous
than ever. There are no more interdictions, all dark spots are placed in the limelight, nothing can be hidden any
more. Chronology, emotions or heroes do not disappear, as might be inferred. Nothing goes away. Everything is
intensified and the entry into literature, I think, is no longer the verbal, but the pre-verbal. The heroes, on the
other hand, have never been more alive and more appealing. The narrative is indeed broken by the stream of
consciousness, but the hidden plan of the author is finally decoded. The text is meant to be deciphered and
understood. Both Joyce and Eliot leave behind a trail of meaningful crumbs, verbal crumbs which end by leading us
to the meaning that the writers had in mind from the very beginning, the meaning they hid and taught us to
discover. The key was not thrown away: it was merely slipped under the rug. The elliptical text, mysterious

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because its words have slipped in all directions (from complicated quotations to monosyllabic thoughts), has a
key, an explicit meaning, which the author shares with his reader. He offers his meaning in an indirect way, in the
shape of a puzzle which the reader must solve, but, undoubtedly, the writer has a plan and he means the reader to
share it in the end. The author fervently wishes to be found out. Without successful decoding, the stream of
consciousness texts are not literature, they do not exist.
Consequently, the innovations inherited by contemporary fiction are those of the stream of consciousness:
hybridization, the cultured text, the focus on inner life, reversed (not abolished) chronology, denial of plot or of a
relieving ending, rejection of sentimentality (lovers live happily ever after), the fractured hero, and – last but not (at
all) least – a redirected, confused yet enlightened reader. We have so far touched upon hybridization, cultured
texts and the focus on the inner life.
Reversing chronology implies a contradiction of chronological causality. The past no longer causes the
3 present or the present the future. The present feeds on both past and future, scatters and gathers them. We learn
4
the future on the first page (if the reader wants to skip the middle part in order to read the last page and feel
relieved, enlightened, because everything has been settled in the end, he could not actually be more nonplussed),
and the past lives by every present moment and only through it, in every thought whose birth we witness right
here, right now. The hero’s past becomes the past of all literature, and is constantly mocked at by the present. The
capital passage of the 20th century is that from chronological causality (which had been an order imposed upon
imagination for twenty centuries, if not more) to the acceptance of hazard as a rule of reality. Logicality has new
rules beginning with Einstein and Freud, the human mind struggles free from the small steps taken so far by
literary trends, one at a time, it rejects the small rebellions and multiplies denial in geometrical progression. After
the stream of consciousness, the second stage of denial is the defiance of the Desperado age.
The denial of plot is in fact the denial of a classical story: this happened because... The incident is still there.
In its absence, in the absence of the narrative, there would be no literature. The difference lies in the fact that

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recent novels cannot be retold any more. Reading has become a much more solitary experience, since it can hardly
be communicated, it can only be analysed, decoded. Eliot hated the idea that his poems could be paraphrased and
explained in other words than his own. And yet, in the margin of his poems, as in the margin of Ulysses, heaps of
books of interpretation have been written. What Eliot meant was that the reader was supposed to feel, experience
the text, not comment on it coldly (‘poetry can communicate before it is understood’). Joyce, on the other hand,
was far more aware of the commenting industry his texts would give birth to. It is a fact anyway that to both Eliot
and Joyce incidents were the essential stuff: something happens in their every word, which can become maddening
to readers used to perceiving one incident at a time, narrated at length and explicitly in several pages at least. In
stream of consciousness fiction, the incident is implicit, yet all the more intense. This concentration of meanings is
a dangerous game and it almost killed the joy of merely reading a text. It is the Desperado authors who brought
literature back to the soul of readers who are in no haste to listen to a secondary, scholarly voice of the
3 commentator.
4
The denial of a clear denouement, the unwillingness to close the plot, is a result of the other denials, the
denial of chronology, of direct outer reality (not mediated by its inner perception). Considering the novels of
Galsworthy, Bennett, Wells and other brilliant traditionalists, Virginia Woolf lamented: ‘Is life like this? Must novels
be like this?’ Even before Ulysses, Joyce invented the epiphany (sudden revelation of the mystery of existence,
caused by a common object or gesture – see the famous madeleine episode in Proust), Woolf described the many
trifling daily experiences as a ‘luminous halo’ (‘life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding
us from the beginning of consciousness to the end’, Modern Fiction, 1919), and Eliot defined the objective
correlative (‘The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an 'objective correlative'; in other
words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of the particular emotion’ , Hamlet
and His Problems, 1920). The need to approximate reality in a new way appears simultaneously for these three
major representatives of the stream of consciousness. Part of this change is the denial of the (un)happy ending.

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Modernists feel they prefer a reader challenged by the absence of a closing point to a reader who knows all about
the future and can safely forget the book. In short, by rejecting the ending, the novel leaves the future. Time
becomes much smaller and it will soon be totally insufficient for the Desperadoes.
The rejection of sentimentality is part and parcel of the modernists’ irony. They are constantly in a mocking
mood. A mere loving couple – several decades of happiness – are nothing as seen against their feeling of absolute
solitude. The hero withdraws within, and love no longer is (or rather tries no longer to be – actually neither Woolf,
nor Eliot, not even Joyce can live outside it) a narrative tool. Experiences are boiling hot, they flood the reader,
pierce his soul with a red-hot iron, but they do not direct the story, because the narrative has other basic
principles – the peculiarities of the intellect, association and verbalization – so the incident becomes sort of an
Achilles’ heel. As a consequence of the fact that the essential narrative appeal of previous literature is abolished,
the hero is smashed into memories, becomes a puzzle-hero, which must be recomposed by mnemotechnical laws.
3 We understand the hero only insofar as we can remember his accidental associations and experiences,
4
amalgamated in an attempt to outline an intelligence at work rather than a being with a logical life, explainable by
a past or fulfilled by a future. The modernist hero is in love with confession, and he is also sworn to unhappiness.
He is equally sworn to transparence, since his inner life opens unconditionally. His soul is a wide open sea-shell
which is eventually killed by a text that refuses it the right to a future, to the illusion of good fortune. If literature
lost anything when the modernists came along, and were later on followed by the Desperadoes, it lost this very
illusion that there may be an ending to it all, a sense of closure. In short, the modernist novel will not end: it turns
into an endless expectation.
Under these conditions, the experience of reading is of course turned upside down. The reactions aroused
by Ulysses and The Waste Land were overwhelming. Conservative readers declared Eliot’s poem the ‘sacred cow of
English poetry’, ‘piece that passes understanding’ (the poem ends with the word ‘shantih’, which Eliot translates in
his Notes as ‘peace that passeth understanding’). Joyce’s novel was proclaimed obscene and exiled. The industry

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of comments, which is still going on, began only decades after publication. A novel by Fielding or Dickens needed
no decoding. They rejecting decoding, as a matter of fact. The modernists’ impressive innovation is that they
make the reader/ critic sweat. Consequently, the modernist text is the source of all scholarly critical trends we are
confronted with today. Innovation has its drawbacks.

II. DESPERADO – THE WAY AWAY FROM MODERNISM

The revolution in writing and reading the literary text is modernist above all. Its exacerbation,
misunderstanding, deviousness and complication are preeminently postmodernist or rather Desperado.
Contemporary British fiction is probably the best illustration of all. It relies on a dry text, which implies utter
3 detachment from one’s own narrative. Newly armed wit false indifference and resignation, the old modernist 4
defiance (whose blood boiled in its veins) turns sceptical. The innovating impulse becomes a propensity to
produce novelty on a conveyor belt, of patching up tradition with compulsory and unexpected bits of the utterly
unknown and utterly unseen. Desperado authors do not renew the tools. They just handle them differently, in a
medley (the text) which refuses absolutely nothing, no literary age ever. All tricks are allowed as long as the aim is
served. The aim is to be different at all costs, different from everybody else. To that purpose, the Desperado uses
whatever he can lay hands on, indiscriminately. All the spices are old, but the final taste is unmistakably personal,
inimitable. Eliot and Joyce could and were imitated (an undertaking that could have cost the life of literature
altogether). No more revolutions for the Desperadoes: just difference (this could easily be the cause of the strong
and often damaging appeal of deconstruction). The Desperado age is not a simple denial, it is a denial of denial.
From modernist introspection, Desperadoes take one step further and deny intimacy and shyness. Writers
like Julian Barnes, Alasdair Gray, David Lodge, Doris Lessing, Graham Swift, Malcolm Bradbury, Martin Amis (to a

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lesser degree John Fowles and Peter Ackroyd) tend to become extroverts, even exhibitionists. They use the stream
of consciousness, of course, but they resort equally much to an omniscient narrator, mingle inner life with
despairing suspense, and the story, the plot is back. Doris Lessing for instance (The Golden Notebook, Under My
Skin, Walking in the Shade, The Memoirs of a Survivor) makes a clean breast of everything. She hides nothing, her
heroes are ripped open, we finish her books with a feeling that we have learnt far more than we actually wanted to
know. With Joyce the hero’s inner life was a captivating initiation into mystery; we waited breathlessly to find the
hero’s next thought, we identified with this hero. Eliot quoted Baudelaire with ‘ ‘You! hypocrite lecteur! – mon
semblable, – mon frΠre!’ ‘ meaning to say that reader and writer were one. The Modernist text was Holy
Communion. For Desperadoes, the text is competition, it often is intimidation. Doris Lessing feels the joy of
creation only when she puts down exasperating sentences. We do not go gentle into the good night of her heroes’
(usually heroines, though) adventures. Lessing faces us with the opposite of the mood induced by Virginia Woolf.
3 She goes all the way from emotion to the defiance of all tenderness, from sensibility to lucidity. Modernists are
4
intellects/ words/ texts in love, while Desperadoes dissect intelligence in a murderous text.
If Joyce discovered the puzzle-narrative, the multiplied story that one could rearrange into numberless
pictures, according to more or less accessible rules (which explains the industry of commenting on modernists
texts), Kazuo Ishiguro, for instance, shows plainly his need for traditional narratives which feed on suspense.
When We Were Orphans is an exacerbated suspense from beginning to end. So is The Unconsoled. The Desperado
story is a unicorn: the body, stuffed with incidents lined up with great narrative zest, has a magic horn, which is
the mystery of the plot, its suspense. How will the story end? Surprise: the story hides something and, yes, we are
told what the mystery is, but things do not really stop there. Suspense is dead, long live suspense.
Consequently, we notice that David Lodge, for instance, does not really narrate: he kindles our appetite for
incidents. Desperado novels are apparently far more accessible than modernist ones; we often feel that, had a
second Joyce been born, we could have witnessed the novel dying as a literary genre. Graham Swift narrates in

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clear sentences, without games with the roots of the word, without pre-verbal efforts of understanding the mind.
Graham Swift means to be accessible. There is one thing, however, that he does not confess, namely that his
incidents are not logically connected. The narrative is a dance of memories. The future is definitely lost (process
thoroughly initiated by modernists). The past is not in the least logical. The present renders everything
complicated and ambiguous, because the present has no other power than to think. There are innumerable things
Desperadoes share with modernists, yet nothing is the same any longer. The foundation of the Desperado story,
its present, is a false clarity: if Woolf, Joyce, Eliot had a plan which could at last be decoded, the Desperadoes
exasperate the reader precisely because they have no plan at all. The narrative spreads at the mercy of the whims
of this pensive present which is always between the reader and the past of the heroes. We sail the sea of memories
belonging to the painter in An Artist of the Floating World (Ishiguro) without understanding clearly what the author
is after. Only when we reread do we understand that the present mixes up past moments according to a purpose,
3 that chronology is smashed for different reasons from the modernist refusal of it. Woolf rejects chronological
4
causality in order to free the sensibility, Joyce in order to reach the deep roots of words; Ishiguro abolishes the
logic of time for the sake of a demonstration (we learn from a complicated web of episodes that Masuji Ono is one
of those who indirectly brought about the atomic bomb, the devastating war against Japan). The thesis
Desperadoes want to demonstrate is that, in the absence of a unifying plan like that of Ulysses or The Waste Land,
only a perverted, devious, smashed past can engross the attention of the present, of the reader, because
complication alone can mirror reality.
The Desperado complication cannot be seen from at first. The text looks incredibly simple, the reader
relaxes, he is no longer on the lookout for codes and clues. As he goes along, however, he realizes he is getting
nowhere. The accessible text is in fact an indirect diary, the story of a life from day to day, with no further view.
The Desperado novel is usually a one-hero book, thus going back to the picaresque tradition, which was the true
origin of the present-day novel. This day-to-day plan turns the Desperado novel into an ambitionless narrative. To

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Anna Wulf, in The Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing), tomorrow is the greatest mystery, and she carries it on her
back gasping for breath, stifled by the burden of a pointless today and of a future which is unbearably hard to
take/ expect. The heroes, just like most of the Desperado poets, go about their own lives and will not allow other
beings in their vicinity, so whoever else comes along is part of the background, no more. The pianist in The
Unconsoled (Kazuo Ishiguro) is surrounded by a crowd of people but we get to know no one closely. They are
more or less lifeless masks. The technique of the diary is indeed (and apparently) a return to the realistic,
picaresque novel of adventures; it is a return to the narration for the sake of narrating. It is only half a come-back,
though, because it inevitably resorts to the stream of consciousness (after Joyce even the most rudimentary best-
sellers, focussed on adventure alone, cannot do without the words ‘he thought’ or ‘it occurred to him’ – which
words would have caused Dickens to bite his tongue). The Desperado novel is, thus, a diary of incidents that seem
to have no previous plan. But those who think that such a text, suffocated by the absence of a future (of any
3 ending at all), is easy to read, have not read enough Desperado literature. Verbal clarity can also be exasperating.
4
Since the ending is insufficient, since actually nothing ever comes to an end, the reader is confused and
feels the need to reread, to focus on the same text a second time round. For these novels that come after
modernism, the second focussing of the reader’s attention is essential. Only rereading can the reader unveil the
hidden complication, the reason of his discontent when faced with a text that appears to be so conventionally
clear. The ultimate truth the text inspires is the intensity of the Desperado reader’s loneliness. The heroes do not
share anything with anybody. What matters for them is not whom they exist with, but at what intensity. This is the
Desperado lesson: meaning is deeply personal. Each reader has his own ability to put the novel together, it is each
reader with his own novel in the end. That happens mainly because the Desperado novel is a constant
exasperation of memory. Alasdair Gray (Lanark) places a small detail in every sentence. If we could remember
absolutely everything, we could understand the novel at a first reading. Chased by suspense as we feel, though, we
ignore words which look commonplace, hardly meaningful, and we discover too late that we lost many keys and

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the true space of the novel can no longer be unlocked. We feel confused when we realize reading is in fact a
mnemotechnical exercise. Lanark has a large number of experiences which we race through breathlessly, haunted
by the dark fear we might land in what he is undergoing (dystopia is the slogan of the Desperado age, its favourite
mood). We do not stop for breath, for memory. When we read on the last page a mere ‘GOODBYE’, we start
wondering what we may have missed. We reread, make up the story all over again, word for word, but there is still
no end in view. That is when the Desperado lesson makes itself visible: tomorrow must always be different from
our expectations of it.
Parting with modernism brings about a relaxation but also a complication, a need for rereading meant as a
study of the text. We could read Joyce, Eliot, Woolf for the sake of emotion, we could believe Eliot’s words, ‘poetry
can communicate before it is understood’. It is not in the least the case of Desperadoes. The clarity of style brings
relaxation, but behind it, deep in the text, the ideas are all confused, the writer has misplaced the plan. Modernists
3 flirted ironically with the idea of scholarly reading, what they wanted was the opposite of intellectual joy; they all
4
bet on the tensest strings of our sensibility. Desperadoes live for the scholarly reading, which makes it even more
amazing to notice that no really adequate criticism of their works has come up yet. It is not for the first time
criticism is taken aback by the change of mood in writers and drags its feet behind, allowing impostors to voice
opinions. The Desperado critic is still expected on the stage by all those writers who might, just like Julian Barnes,
claim that they have ‘quit criticism’, when actually it is criticism that has disappointed them with its narrow
mindedness and slowness to perceive the change.

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III. DESPERADO PROFILE

1. Author
The Desperado author’s rule is to break all rules, even his own. Julian Barnes writes Flaubert’s Parrot
mocking at literary criticism, which he turns into a small detective novel, a semblance of retrospective love-story –
a farce, a failure of the feeling; mocking at academics – meaning to demonstrate exams examine nothing; also
mocking at literary history – the past is dead, we no longer need it, and if we persist in poking our noses, we end
up with a confusing crowd of Flaubert’s parrots, among which absolutely no one can point at the true bird.
3 The author writes gasping for breath, overwhelmed with amazement. He is taken aback by his own words,
4
the page acquires a life of its own, independent of the hand that wrote it down. In Mensonge (short polemical,
anti-deconstructionist novel), Bradbury starts from his discontent with academic criticism and ends creating a
character he did not seem to expect at first. Mensonge, whose only photograph is a bald head seen from behind,
the man who has never been seen by anyone, who has never written one line but whose work has been sold out,
whose teachings (despite the fact that there is no proof they were ever uttered at least) are essential, well, this
Mensonge is the very prototype of irony, an unspeakably humorous character. The incredibly short novel is read
with huge intellectual joy, which is caused, if not by its thesis, by the intense and liberating laughter it teaches.
Both author and reader are astonished by this feat of writing, no matter what their allegiances in point of literary
criticism might be.
The Desperado text means to be synonymous with life itself, so the author cannot make up his mind to
close it, pushing it into a continuous present. Robyn Penrose (Nice Work, by David Lodge) could easily go on with

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more incidents, as present as those described before, but Lodge stops short. Only his last page communicates
nothing final. The Desperado ending is mostly a matter of words, witticisms or shocking sentences, meant to
engross the reader’s whole attention for the coming void of the time he will not be reading the book any more.
Peter Ackroyd is, like most others, in search for the ideal recipe of mixing devices. The intention of novelists
and poets, as most of them state in interviews, is to ‘amuse’, which word should actually be replaced by ‘amaze’;
they all want to see the reader capitulate, accept all kinds of texts with delight. Desperado authors aim at the
reader’s unconditional surrender. The hobby of this alchemist is irony, and his literary family, as the author
himself claims, does not exist. Orphan and forsaken, the Desperado author discourages all attempts at being
adopted, included in a friendly group. Groups are hateful, individuals should live alone. They are however allowed
to use all the ingredients they can find in the kitchen of literary history, all devices will come in handy. We are not
witnessing denial, therefore, but agglutination.
3 4
2. Hero
If the author is in search of a recipe, the hero born out of his search is a loser. He advances gropingly across
the story, and the so-called ending leaves him agape and full of unfulfilled expectations. The Desperado texts only
have one, egocentric hero, who manipulates all the other literary beings around him in order to bring himself out.
He is confused, uncertain, burdened with incidents. Lessing’s heroines are all menaced by real life, helpless but
raging. Their rage cannot be tamed. Ishiguro’s characters boil with the same rage. These heroes become
aggressive because the novel is their desperate attempt at proving a point, their own point, and their
demonstration is too subtle to convince the reader. As never before, the reader grows to like a novel whose hero
he hates from the bottom of his heart, and whose plot is a huge question mark. Even the heroes of the stream of
consciousness, pre-verbal and cryptic as they might have been, were appealing, they captured the reader’s

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emotions. The Desperado age focusses on a disappointed hero, who fails, rages at life, the author, the reader, and
even at literature itself for being no more than literature.

3. Reader
The Desperado author has no idea where he is going, his hero bears the burden of tomorrow (a tomorrow
that refuses to happen), and the reader feels he has been blindfolded. The tone, the words of the novel are so
natural that the reader cannot help feeling he is reaching the starting point, something very unusual is on the
verge of happening, something worthy of literature anyway. But literature is no longer an event. The experience of
reading is a race which keeps beginning but in which there is no winner, a race abandoned by all conventions we
have grown used to. Virginia Woolf urged that authors should focus on a ‘common day’, an everyday hero,
rejecting the out of the ordinary incident or hero. Yet Mrs Dalloway, for instance, does not do what its author
3 preaches. Those who put into practice modernist theory to its furthest consequences are the Desperadoes. That is
4
why the Desperado reader leaves the text unwillingly (a text without an ending is hard to put behind), with one
question in his mind: So what? The Desperado author will not answer questions, so the reader is all ears all the
time, discontented, hungry, invited to dinner by a host that has no time for him.

4. Critic
So far, the Desperado critic has not declared himself. He is for the time being an intelligence conditioned by
a set of norms, terms handed in from one critic to another, terms that are used as reverently as one would use
figures, generating scholarly approaches which dream of becoming substitutes for the joy of reading, for the text
itself. Literary criticism is itself a form of literature (not linguistical mathematics), but the friendly critics (who are
creators themselves), whom Eliot was so fond of, are strongly disapproved of on grounds of lack of
professionalism. The critical jargon has reached a limit which not even Joyce dared imagine. Criticism is in serious

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danger as we speak, since contemporary works actually refute all explanations and mean business when they set
out to reach the reader without go-betweens. I should only venture to say at this point that that the Desperado
critic must take for granted and start from the supremacy of the author’s text. To put it more clearly, tell me more
about your judgment (your terms, your approach, your ambitions) and I can tell you what kind of a critic you are,
or if, in Desperado despair of being found out, you are a critic at all.

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IV. FROM COMING OF AGE TO AGEING

In the Desperado context, the British novel is represented by authors such as Aldous Huxley, 1894-1963;
William Golding, 1911-1993; George Orwell, 1903-1950; Lawrence Durrell, 1912-1990; Doris Lessing, 1919;
Anthony Burgess, 1917-1993; John Fowles, 1926; Julian Barnes, 1946; Kazuo Ishiguro, 1954; Alasdair Gray, 1934;
Malcolm Bradbury, 1932-1999; David Lodge, 1939; Peter Ackroyd, 1949; Martin Amis, 1949; Graham Swift, 1949.
More than the French novel, more than the American novel (eclectic though tremendously forceful), British fiction
illustrates rebellion and experiment. British fiction is in fact the most resourceful segment of contemporary
literature. The features which identify it are the following:
● The search for novelty at all costs: every device comes in handy and they can all be mixed together, to the
one and only purpose of finding the recipe of the absolute novel.
3 ● Free, clear, shameless style: the language of the novel opens up to all ranges of speech, from decent oral
4
approximations to uncensored outbursts of sensuality.
● The stumbling text, the loose, often interrupted narrative: the present cannot even hope for a future. It
advances gropingly, leaning heavily against a past which is brought squeezed into the present under the shape of
a multitude of devious, contorted paths.
● The random ending: the work does not end because the plan has come full circle. Quite the reverse, the
text closes the moment the initial plan is wide open, requiring stubborn, intrigued rereading.
● The reader is helpless: his expectations become so flexible that his only expectation is actually the denial
of the expecting mood.

This forceful novel generates a number of advantages for the reader:

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● The intriguing novel stimulates attention and heightens the reader’s resourcefulness. The reader is the
master of his own interpretation and can do without criticism. He reaches the work on his own. The Desperado
writer receives what Eliot ardently wished for but could not have (poetry that could communicate before it was
understood). He rejects criticism violently. He ‘quits’ criticism (Julian Barnes). He writes the novel as clearly as he
can precisely because he does not tolerate the reader to look elsewhere but at the author himself.
● The novel or volume of poetry is like a diary opened and closed at random, which exhales a comfortable
feeling of genuine life, something that Virginia Woolf desperately desired, but which she never created because
she stumbled over the stream of consciousness convention. The Desperado writers use all devices and conventions
ever, but do not take any for granted or an only love. Desperado freedom is the freedom from convention, but this
freedom becomes a convention itself once it generates literature.
● The text identifies with the reader’s own meditation in the margin of this text. The author’s voice steals
3 into the reader’s mind. This fusion does away with the heroes, the plot, the ending, as a matter of fact; they
4
become mere pretexts. The text places the direct connection author-reader above every other goal it might have.
More than ever before the Desperado age, these authors talk to their audience and are not in the least ashamed of
voicing their most intimate and private thoughts. The omniscient author, the points of view, the interior
monologues have vanished. The reader internalizes the author’s voice, thus acceding to creation himself.
● In spite of the fact that the style is more than accessible, the text is elitist: it relies on a refined joy of the
game for the sake of the game itself. We do not get in the end either the illusion of life, or at least the truth about
the game of the text. Even though they claim they merely try to entertain the reader with one face of reality,
Desperado authors feel reality does not exist, fiction alone matters.
● The confusion reality-imagination is obviously deliberate. Desperado fiction is a drug which develops
addiction. After reading a Desperado text it becomes very hard to read a one-convention text (Dickens,

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Galsworthy, even Joyce). The mixture of perspectives, the Desperado text as a Babel tower shapes a resigned
reader, willing to experience the frustration of helplessness. Desperado reading is an accepted weakness.

The one step ahead British fiction has made lately is precisely this new reading it creates. A sceptical,
cautious, versatile experience of reading, which tolerates to the point where all expectation is numbed, which
opens itself to all possibilities to such an extent that all wishes previous to the Desperado text are annihilated, and
the author prevails. The Desperado author is trying to cure from the disease of a unique convention a reader who
actually hides from this author how healthy he is. This reader feels (if he does not know it for sure yet) that this
chaos of conventions will lead to a post-Desperado age, when the very opposite of what we like now will win. In
literature, in art, there is always negation, and it is this negation that has this very minute come of age.

3 4

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II. DESPERADO OR NOT: FOR AND AGAINST


(Cronological order)

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II/1. ALDOUS HUXLEY


(1894–1963)

The features that make Huxley’s work qualify for the Desperado race, although the writer died in 1963, when it
may have been a little early to diagnose the symptoms, have a lot to do with irony. Huxley is the master of irony,
which lies at the root of everything he wrote, of all other features that were obvious in his work.

● His Brave New World was published in 1932, which is before the Desperado age properly, but it has been used
as a point of reference by all critics discussing dystopias, and, though it could not afford being realistic, finds the
3 perfect negative place of the mind, the spot that would fit anybody contemporary with this new millennium.
4

● The return to a coherent plot, with more or less suspense in it, is totally different from Joyce and Virginia Woolf,
who went as far away from the plot as possible. Huxley is a consummate narrator, whose narratives are impaired
only by his ironical view of his characters and their stories. Huxley would never plunge into a lyrical text, and
forget all about incident. Things must and do happen for him, and the narrative should involve the reader, who
must necessarily be able to understand. The lyrical burden of words is unimportant. Their incident-addiction
comes first.

● In the world Huxley imagines in his dystopia, which is both a hell and a paradise of SF literature, the mind is
discouraged from exploration. The text becomes confusing because the realm Huxley imagines represses

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understanding, while the book about these beings who do not need their minds is diabolically intelligent. Huxley’s
irony is a way of thinking, but also a literary manner and a mode of sensibility.

● The target of Huxley’s irony is mainly the love interest that Virginia Woolf was so sure she could do without
(which she never really did, in fact). He mocks at the idea of love (see Lenina, and the idea that ‘everyone belongs
to everyone else’, the ironical comparison with Shakespeare’s Miranda, which, among other ironical discrepancies
drives John the Savage to suicide, the image of John’s mother, Linda, as a ‘whore’, perceived as such by the
‘savages’ in the reservation, totally unlike the civilized visitors, who take the woman back to her death), of a family
(the few lines that describe a home are more intelligent than cold; the more Huxley denies feelings, the more
intensely they burn, even though in hiding), of giving birth (capital sin, since science has taken over and life is
governed by reason). Falling in love, belonging to only one partner, making a home, being a mother (‘M—’),
3 bringing up children, in short, the very basis of human society and its continuation, are shattered by the creator’s
4
mind, which denies the establishment. Huxley feels human sensibility must be thought all over again. The first
time round (the way we still live and feel) is totally mistaken.

● Solitude was a central mood for romantic poetry. It changed values along the history of the novel, from weird to
commendable. It is the basic prerequisite for any Desperado hero. Huxley’s characters, too, are desperately alone,
at a time when the novel still delighted in building communities and allowing the narrative architecture to rest on
pillars of society, and their families were brought closely around (see Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga). Bernard Marx,
just like Orwell’s Winston Smith, longs for solitude, and John, once taken out of the reservation (which is a perfect
description of life as we have it today), kills himself because of the pressure of a community that runs against all
his Shakespearean inclinations. Loneliness is a necessary time to think, and Desperado writers take it for granted.

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Huxley claims it is necessary at a time when it is suspected and neglected by novelists. Among other things, it
makes him a Desperado avant la lettre.

● Political imagination, not necessarily prophecy, is one activity Desperadoes are very fond of, and Huxley tried
this twice, in Brave New World and Ape and Essence. With his sense of humour and his intellectual courage, he
went very far in imagining a future for mankind. His sense of humour rescued him from melodrama. Instead of
complaining, impressing the reader with his negative feelings (see Orwell), creating an intimacy with future fears,
Huxley projects a dissection of psychology into a world of robots, a future mindless existence, which we learn to
mock at, and thus to reject. Instead of opposition to the nightmare or defeat by it, Huxley replaces tragedy by
comedy. When we laugh, we automatically disapprove and leave behind one direction which could destroy life.
With Orwell we suffer, with Huxley we smile and recoil.
3 4
● Destiny is an idea that crushed Orwell’s characters. It preconditions Huxley’s heroes, and, unlike Winston Smith,
Bernard Marx, Lenina, Linda are not even aware they have lost anything of their humanity. Ishiguro’s characters
have a destiny, too, and so do the heroes of Graham, Swift, Doris Lessing, Alasdair Gray. The creator’s will does
not allow ambiguity as far as the space of his characters is concerned. His world is his own, even though he
chooses to communicate it more or less at random. Huxley is not among those who complicate the story making a
puzzle out of it, but he does withdraw his sentimental support. We find ourselves in the very strange position of
liking characters whom the author has left on their own. Do we know if Huxley loves his Bernard Marx, John,
Mustapha Mond? Not any more than we find out if there is any communion between Ackroyd, Barnes or Burgess
and their characters.

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● Somewhere along the way of the story, the character is abandoned and becomes a limp puppet. It is strong and
appealing as long as the author uses it to prove his point. The Desperado is a writer with a point to make. Huxley,
too, is quite didactic in his use of irony. He discourages us to sympathize and pushes us into rational participation.
It is not the humanity of the heroes that matter, but what we make of them. We are slowly taught to create our
own companions in these books that struggle for desperate dissimilarity.

● Huxley’s ‘savage’, John, ‘claims the right to be unhappy.’ Bernard Marx, before being abandoned as a hero in
favour of John, did the same. The two make one, actually. Most Desperado heroes claim the same right. The
Desperado hero, however ironical or mocked at, has basically a tragic vein. Whether we call this destiny, soul, or
frustration, it is a matter of words. Man is made for tears and solitude, so these imaginary beings suffer alone. The
reader never fails to share this cold message of a deserted universe. Which brings us back to the idea of dystopia:
3 the future seen as a non-present, non-we. The Desperado author menaces the reader to replace him, nobody
4
knows with what. We read and never find out, because we leave when we feel we start to disintegrate. We give up
the work when we have had too much. We, the Desperado readers, desperately struggle to stay ourselves. The
Desperado work needs our proud independence in order to exist, so we have here a chain of paradoxes that keep
literature rolling.

● From the point of view of the narrative technique, Huxley chooses the SF nightmare, and the author of the story
is omniscient. The story is a warning against loss of all human attributes and joys. The mood is one of
hopelessness. The story itself is hopeless, and consequently has a disarming directness, lack of artifice, which is
very relaxing in Brave New World, becoming more complicated in Ape and Essence. The Desperado complication is
only beginning.

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● The future waste land (the atomic threat) can be found in many writers besides Huxley. It has even become a
gold mine for cheap thrillers and for bestsellers or top films. The monkeys replacing man (coming straight form
Jonathan Swift’s horses) are well known characters. The novelty has gone away, and there is no artistic support to
keep them alive. Where there is a mood to go with the imagination of disaster, we have a good novel. Such is Ape
and Essence. The future waste preoccupied Lessing, Gray, Golding. There is more to waste than just the loss of
material values. Human nature can become an inferno, too, and this is where Ishiguro comes in. In all cases, the
Desperado author fights a nightmare, never a sweet dream.

● Ape and Essence is a script within a story. Intertextuality begins with T.S. Eliot and Joyce. The novelty for
Desperadoes is that they do not feed on other texts as ideas any more, they feed on other techniques. This is what
makes the Desperado age a kind of revision of all ages, of many techniques. Huxley tries to find his own and
3 devises the point counter point, taking it from music. His trick has been used for decades by all soap operas and
4
all cheap novels, it has become that popular. Techniques take a short time to spread, so Desperado writers today
try to use another one in each book. Barnes says books get written as they come, but they actually come with a
new technical approach each.

● Dystopias start with defamiliarization. Huxley imagined a reversal of religious belief in both his dystopias. In the
second, dehumanization is more painful. This reversal is an exercise in irony. Gray tried the same thing in Lanark.
If Brave New World was a calm, graceful, smiling image, Ape and Essence is a horror film: radiations, living on what
can be found in graves (because civilization has been forgotten and cannot be reinvented), mating at random once
a year and killing most babies because of deformities, utter lack of love, belief in Satan. Total reversal is Huxley’s
trick. Ironic reversal of dissatisfying present reality is the source of Huxley’s peculiar variety of the hybrid called
novel.

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II/2. GEORGE ORWELL


(1903–1950)

Orwell died in 1950, when the Desperadoes were just being born, but his work definitely belongs to the Desperado
age, owing to several essential features:

● Orwell was born in Bengal, which makes him one of the displaced writers, who are familiar with more than one
geography, whose mind is open to many worlds at once. He also travelled extensively, which adds a broader
horizon to his internationalist spirit.

● His sensibility is fairly dry and his imagination mechanically defamiliarizes and overturns. He creates a profile
3 for dystopia as a wanted species. His plots and heroes do not expect sympathy, they mean to scare the reader into
4
taking refuge into his own sensibility, into a desire to stay away from the universe of the work. He makes the
reader feel happy he is not one of the participants to the book. The Desperado usually views in his mind such a
reader who can dissociate himself from the characters and examine them coldly. Unlike other, more recent
authors, Orwell does not aim at capturing the reader’s good will, he only wants to give warning. His 1984 is a
repelling dystopia, which impresses the reader’s sensibility by the strength with which it rejects his own emotions.
Dryness is used as a weapon against sentimentality, but also as a device to achieve defamiliarization and thus
appeal to the reader’s curiosity.

● Orwell’s novels are built by accumulation of detail, which is a Desperado technique. The order is crystal clear,
but the reader is supposed to remember everything if he is to make sense of the story. Orwell’s imagination is
matter-of-fact. He demonstrates by surrounding his thesis – Beware of totalitarianism – with a very concrete

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environment, which creates a dark mood. Winston Smith does not enjoy his dystopic adventures as much as
Lanark enjoys his. The joy of creation is replaced by Orwell’s reporting zest.

● Deprivation, the crisis of material civilization are Orwell’s main weapons in outlining his world. Lessing had the
same view in The Memoirs of a Survivor, and Huxley in Ape and Essence. Desperadoes try to change what could be
perceived as an end of life into the beginning of an unsuspected existence. They push it into the dark area of
dystopia, but gradually fall in love with their own imagination and the reader follows them enjoying the nightmare
more than any idyllic image. The writer imagines the worst, and the reader loves the negative image, which is the
substance of most books. Deprived of the usual emotions triggered by literature, the reader discovers a new way
of feeling: he loves the author’s lovelessness, he loves the heroes in spite of themselves. He argues with the
author, and, as the author expected all along, he wins: his sensibility is enriched by a new mode, the dystopic
3 involvement.
4

● In 1984 Orwell creates his own words in order to convey dystopic realities. ‘Thoughtcrime,’ ‘doublespeak’ and
many others have become popular, though never used in the real communist regimes, because they are far too
explicit. The trouble with these words are that they explain when they should suggest. Directness kills the
message and Orwell’s novel ends more like a thesis to be demonstrated than a novel which can capture our
emotions. Whether Orwell wanted his readers to side with him emotionally, we shall never know, as we shall not
know this about any of the Desperadoes, even about those who claim they want to amuse, to win the reader over.
All Desperadoes have a very strange way of showing their love for the reader, and were it not for their forceful
creative impulse, we might easily mistake their love of complications for a desire to destroy the pleasure of the
novel for us.

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● While reading Orwell, the reader constantly feels on the verge of tears. He feels the same in Ishiguro, Barnes,
Lessing and many others. The Desperado writer is not cheerful. He burdens his reader with his misgivings and
worst fears. He trusts us with his tensions, and expects us to make the best of it, to rejoice where he could only
mope. The Desperado reader must master a yoga of despair in order to accede to the serene core of the text,
which is, ‘You are safe, and I, the author, keep you unharmed.’

● The need for a diary, whether a real notebook (see the multiplied Golden Notebook by Lessing) or a mental
recording of life as it happens to the hero, is recurrent with Desperadoes. Orwell’s hero in 1984 longs for a diary
which he does not even know how to begin. This diary is a way of fighting daily fears, recapturing one’s intellect,
which the plot, the surroundings, the crowds of minor characters menace to stifle (see the missing schedule in
Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled). It is a crutch for memory. This real or imaginary diary (which is the novel itself in the
3 long run) relies heavily on the fact that any Desperado novel only has one, all-absorbing hero, while the rest are
4
just a mob around him, enhancing him. The diary is the Desperado character’s identity card.

● Orwell’s characters, like all Desperado heroes, are solitary beings. Solitude is the sea Desperado characters have
to cross while they remember, meditate, slip into nightmares. Even when they talk to another character, they do
not hear and are not heard. Their only interlocutor is their own mind, inside which the author lies coiled and ready
to unfurl his plot.

● Orwell’s hero, like other Desperado protagonists, creates his island of intimacy, where he feels at ease. The
room in the prole district, the cup of coffee, the forbidden love, the forbidden memory of the past, escape from
the telescreen (false, as it proves in the end), are the concrete elements Orwell imagines to make his character feel
happy, feel free. Other writers resort to memories (Ishiguro), tenderness (Swift), childhood (Lessing). All these are

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a moment’s refuge, soon overwhelmed by the turmoil of incidents. Yet we cannot decode the meaning if we do not
find these islands of privacy, which are the key to the author’s own sensibility, forbidden by the narrative, hidden
by indirectness, yet palpable to the soul of the intent reader. The author is there, and so is his lyricism.

● Orwell, like many Desperadoes, writes a


handbook of despair. He pushes the
nightmare to its outskirts. Lessing pushes
psychological analysis to the border with
insanity, Ishiguro pushes revolt to the
inaudible howl of the badly bruised soul. All
Desperado books are tenacious of suffering.
3 Whatever the Desperado author writes, he
4
feels cornered, exposed to the utmost
danger. He also writes dangerously, and we
read in the same way, or we do not read at
all.

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II/3. ANTHONY BURGESS


(7 September 1932-1993)

By 1993, when Burgess died, the Desperado community had become quite obvious, with clear features, and
they fit his work, although he could also be said to follow Joyce in many ways.

● Displacement can be invoked in connection with Burgess, as he worked between 1954-1960 in the Colonial
Service in Malaya and Borneo, and even the title of his A Clockwork Orange comes from that area, as the author
confesses. He also writes about persons away from home, or even about home being invaded by an alien universe.
In A Clockwork Orange the heroes talk a strange language, half-English, half-Russian. In Honey for the Bears, the
3 characters go to Russia, one even chooses to stay there for good, while another smuggles a criminal and turns him
4
loose in the West, thinking he is doing a good deed for both East and West. The real displacement Burgess’s work
deals with is the displacement of good and bad, in moral terms. They tend to change places, till the end finds a
way of going back to common sense. But the return fills the reader with doubts. Alex is maimed by the attempts of
justice at reforming him, the hero of Honey for the Bears is no better for choosing to go back to the capitalist
heaven. Wherever they go, Burgess’s heroes are displaced, they never fit in.

● The Desperado writer tries his hand at several genres or types of art, in a subconscious attempt at handling as
many devices as possible, at mixing them, too. Burgess wrote, besides novels, a history of English literature, a
musical version of Joyce’s Ulysses (Blooms of Dublin), a biography and critical study of Lawrence, a TV script (Jesus
of Nazareth) based on one of his own novels. Burgess is in constant search of dissimilarity, whether in style,
psychological analysis, environment. A Desperado par excellence, he is a lover of words built in puzzles.

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● A Clockwork Orange (title deriving from the Malayan orang, meaning man) is a dystopia of sorts, a future
country in which teenagers speak an inaccessible mixture of Russian and English, which discourages anyone from
reading on. This country is dominated by teenage violence, which is a common Desperado theme (see Lessing,
Golding). Honey for the Bears takes place in the model of all dystopias, Russia. The mixture of comedy and tragedy
ends in grotesque, which is often the result of Desperado mixtures. A Desperado hates to be either purely tragic
or simply comic, he has to complicate his case and be both, even more things at a time, so he is grotesque, and
the fool’s cap suits his very meaningful resourcefulness.

● A Clockwork Orange is a narrative in the first person, a self-description of a ruthless mind, the mind of a
teenager who lives a nightmare of murder and violence for which we can find no reason. Other books are third-
3 person narratives, but they focus on one hero alone, whose thoughts and adventures overwhelm all the other
4
characters, all minor and used as mere tools. The novel tends to be a biography of one person alone, not very
orderly or accessible, placing deliberate or accidental obstacles in the way of understanding. Burgess likes an
encoded text, but chooses the one-hero narrative to relieve the burden he places on the shoulders of the reader.

● Desperado heroes all complain of confusion. We find it in Lessing, Ackroyd, Ishiguro, Swift, Amis, Gray. The
baffled hero crosses the narrative without making head or tail of it, and the reader is expected to find the key, to
make his own rules for a chaotic world, which the author pours down out of his mind on to the page. What would
be logical is not valid. The heroes do without logic, causality is upside down: we have the most unexpected effects
following simple, apparently harmless acts. Ishiguro’s hero in The Unconsoled fights this imponderability of all
logic. Lessing’s Anna Wulf feels she is going crazy. With Burgess’s Alex, the reader feels that revolt, disgust,
horror, disapproval drive him out of his mind. The baffled hero reaches out to the reader, and his difficulty in

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understanding exactly what is going on, in drawing a final conclusion is not caused by ambiguity, as it happened
with Joyce, Woolf, Eliot. An inconclusive work can hardly expect more than an incomplete reading, fighting its own
fear of exhausted probing of the text, giving in to the laziness of ‘I cannot follow.’

● Irony is not absent from Burgess, as a major Desperado attitude. It filters everything. The crimes and bloodshed
in A Clockwork Orange would hardly be bearable in its absence. It accompanies the very gloomy realization that
mere children long for a taste of death. Death, violence are inborn. Irony makes their presence palatable, against
the reader’s will. With Burgess, as with many Desperadoes, irony is a refusal to explain. Lessing, Golding, Amis,
Gray, Ishiguro never explain, either. They step at a distance from the hero and watch coldly, almost mocking at
their suffering, but describing it all the same. With stubbornness, reality is recomposed in detail. What these
authors avoid is the merest suggestion of how we are to make sense of it.
3 4
● Desperado works are elusive. They do not end in the traditional way. They seem to open the way for a chain of
mirrors, of works within the work, endings within the end we are confronted with. The end of a Desperado work is
in its reading, but reading itself becomes rereading, and so on, till we give up. The Desperado author encourages
the reader to read again, but disarms him first, making sure he will not be able to change anything in the text. The
helpless reader accepts the new convention of the teasing text.

● The characters are viewed in an emotionless, dry way. They are victims of incident, the story keeps happening to
them, and they hardly have any time to play in it, let alone to think it over or express feelings. The hero is
overwhelmed by plot, and a plot from which sentimentality is banned breeds a defensive reader, a reader who
becomes as enigmatical and incurious as the author. Burgess, like Gray, Ishiguro, Lodge, Bradbury, refuses direct
psychological analysis. He conceals instead of revealing. The Desperado work is a secret, not between the author

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and the reader (since the author refuses flatly to explain himself, even confess in interviews), but between the
reader and himself.

● Dealing ironically with the iron curtain is something Burgess does as well as Lessing, Barnes, Brownjohn or
Bradbury. Where Orwell was dead earnest, Burgess treads without fear. The world of 1984 is entered by Burgess’s
hero with a smile and every confidence in Honey for the Bears. The same happens to the other Desperadoes.
Grimness does not suit them well. They debunk the fear of communism. The same writers, though, are very much
concerned with the future of their own country, with the menace of the faintest possibility of communism
spreading.

● Concern with technique, both in fiction and poetry, often brings a shallowness of treatment, a use of devices for
3 their own sake, without a supporting meaning. Many poets chase after shockingly unusual rhymes, and forget to
4
fill them with a coherent statement. Many novelists look for unique angles and, in the process, forget about
character and plot. The Desperado, in spite of his constant denial of devices (conventions), is a slave of how to
approach reality. Even the Desperado critic is undecided, as there seems to be no particular critical approach/
convention that favours the Desperado work.

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II/4. DORIS LESSING


(1919)

● Born in Persia in 1919, and living in Southern Rhodesia until she was thirty, in 1949, when she came to England,
Lessing can be said to reflect displacement in her work, especially as she wrote her first novel, The Grass Is
Singing, before she left Africa. All her heroes are displaced in one way or another, though not always
geographically. Some live in a political belief that does not suit them (The Good Terrorist), others in a time they
reject (taking refuge in Victorianism, for instance, in The Fifth Child), or in a society they cannot change (The
Golden Notebook). From displacement to dystopia there is one short step. Lessing makes it when she starts
3 imagining a future world full of teenage violence (The Fifth Child; Ben, in the World) and a crisis of civilization (The
4
Memoirs of a Survivor). Wherever she is, whatever world she inhabits, whether real or imaginary, Lessing is not at
ease. She is restless by definition. Her books are restless, inquisitive, migrating from world to world. They are
written by an eternally displaced mind, in search of more and more pretexts for minute dissection and analysis.

● When Ulysses and The Waste Land were published, in 1922, Lessing was only three. She wrote her first novel in
1939, when whatever devices Joyce and Eliot had discovered had started to wane. Lessing is in fact a reaction to
experimentalism. She has the sharp feeling that, if the novel is to survive, it must go back to narrative at once. She
is totally aware that the author stands to gain nothing by withdrawing from his text, so she boldly steps on stage
and speaks in the first person. When she speaks in the third person she is never afraid of omniscience. In short,
she is not afraid of anything, whether the devices are well-known or of her own concoction. She is against by
definition, but feels free to make ample use of whatever comes her way.

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● If Joyce, Woolf, Eliot planned their fragmentariness, Lessing’s piecemeal narrative flows just like life, surprising
both author and reader. She does not have an elaborate plan for the arrangement of incidents, the plot grows out
of heaps of detail that come naturally. The final impression is one of life witnessed as it goes by.

● Lessing’s novels hardly ever end. They are hesitant as to where they should stop, they drift into
inconclusiveness. We seem to leave the characters and plot just for a short break, only to return and reread with
new curiosity, renewed participation. They are endless novels in the traditional way. Just like the other
Desperadoes, she devises her own plot, which advances at the pace of a consciousness recording or remembering,
and which has no intention of desisting as long as the creative mind can continue the game. It may be improper to
call Lessing’s novels games, as she is very much in earnest in everything she writes, and that may be the real
3 source of her stubbornness to go on, even beyond the last page, in the reader’s mind.
4

● Lessing’s characters, even when most rational, seem on the verge of insanity. Intensity damages their safety,
and their experiences are very intense. Confusion is carried to its utmost limits. The world outside seems to attack
the inner being, bewildering it with lack of meaning, of direction, and mainly with hopelessness. Lessing’s women,
since they are usually the filtering conscience, never fear the worst, but never expect the best, either. They live the
intensity of the day. When their days gather in years of memories, they panic. Ageing and death are taboo words
for this vital author.

● As with other Desperado heroes, Lessing’s women have a laziness of body that does not seem to keep up with
their alert mind. We never get to know much about their physical appearance. The main hero, who is usually the
only important one, can be anybody, can look like any of us. This physical indeterminacy broadens this hero’s

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appeal. We can imagine this character as we please. The peace of the body, awkward as it may seem at times
(because of the lack of beauty, guilty neglect), is frantically opposed by the agitation of the mind. Out of the
precipice between the two, the ghost of unhappiness rises like a cloud that darkens all moments. The beauty of
what Lessing writes does not rely on relaxed enjoyment of the moment (or of the text), but on the pang of loss.
The characters lose everything – time, hope, love, beauty, peace, happiness – and learn to enjoy their loss. They
make a victory out of defeat. They contradict the traditional. closed, whole hero, who ceases to exist on the last
page of a book. Lessing’s heroines haunt us forever with their unfulfilled lives.

● There is no love lost between the author and her heroines. Lessing is not a compassionate writer. She records
faithfully, yet not sympathetically. The eye of the novelist is deliberately cold. The reason might be found in the
autobiographical source of her narratives, and in the fact that she hates self-pity. Most Desperadoes avoid
3 sentimentality, even when they fall in love with their heroes, as Ishiguro does with his butler, painter, pianist.
4
Lessing feels she is not called upon to write in appreciation or to show emotion for her imaginary beings. She has
a critical eye that sees everything and forgives nothing. Her scolding mood makes her characters even more
vulnerable, and the reader is overwhelmed with apprehension. Apprehensive reading is what she gets in exchange
for her tense writing.

● Lessing loves stories and makes them up continually. She does not escape into lyricism like the stream of
consciousness writers. Her narrative is vigorous and bushy. She writes as she lives, tortuously, in complicated
sequences, defying the chronological causality past-present-future. This is the inheritance of the stream of
consciousness, but she takes it even farther. She smashes the deliberate

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non-chronology by simply ignoring the idea of evolution. Inner life does not grow. It travels. The departure and
destination do not matter in the least. Every book is a spiritual pilgrimage. Life is a lonely trip, but one full of
colourful incidents, worth retelling.

● The style of Lessing’s novels is not choosy, delicate or adorned. She tells her stories bluntly, in sentences that
gasp with the quickness of thought. She does not linger inside a phrase to make it more appealing. The words
have to be apt. Lessing never courts language for her effects.

● Lessing claims in an interview that she is no feminist. Her heroes are all women, but they are strong and defy
themselves. Their freedom from men is burdened with a painful bondage to ageing, solitude, confusion. They may
be free from the convention of marriage, but they are slaves to life. The beauty of Lessing’s women is their
3 indomitable determination to stand up. Love comes and goes – love interest is secondary, but is there, even when
4
concealed – yet awareness of oneself builds constantly, no matter who is next to the heroine or if there is anyone
at all. Most often than not, she is heroically alone.

● Political belief plays an important part in Lessing’s fiction. She is rather concerned with misbelief, and she
remonstrates with her heroines indirectly, for their mistaken beliefs. During her youth in Africa, Lessing confesses
to having been a communist. She does not repent. She merely changes her mind. Anna Wulf does the same. Alice
does not even stop to think what or if she believes in anything. Although she does write dystopias, Lessing does
not provide a political background. Her negative view overlooks politics, and delves into human nature. Politics is a
stage long left behind, which the author will not consider any longer. When she does, she is disgusted with former
involvement. Wrong causes take up too much of our lives, Doris Lessing seems to say.

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● Lessing’s attitude to communism, like all Desperadoes’, is unsympathetic. She does not explain, she does not
complain. She notices the drawbacks that are accessible to her from the outside: the lies, the human failures. She
does not care to envisage the fall of communism, or to follow anyone inside the system. She merely discredits it
thoroughly.

● Desperado irony is Doris Lessing’s forte. Cold irony, which deconstructs a character into bits and shows why he
cannot function right. This irony is, paradoxically, tragic. It examines all beings under the microscope. They all
have deformities, are partly, at least, heartily disapproved of. Some people deserve their sad fate (Molly’s son,
Alice), others are unaware of what they did wrong. In both cases, the writer dissects them carefully and shows us
the defect. She watches her heroes fail and enjoys the fall. She knows from the very beginning there is going to be
a fall, and makes her readers anticipate it. Anticipation of disaster is Lessing’s favourite mood.
3 4
● As is the case of all Desperadoes, the relationship parents-children is at least awkward, if mentioned at all, and
the idea of a family is discredited. Ishiguro discards the family feeling with sadness, Barnes with irony, Lodge with
melancholy humour, Lessing with bitterness. Families are made to be broken. We see them breaking (The Fifth
Child), or find them broken (The Golden Notebook). Lessing’s heroes need to be free from matrimony, though not
from emotional bonds, which they desperately cling to. Women leave or are left by their husbands with no regret
whatever. Children leave their parents, become estranged with cruelty, hating the family that gave them an
unhappy childhood, although Lessing makes it pretty obvious that any growing up is a misadventure, and it is not
the fault of the family. She seems to be unable to convince herself of that, because she keeps blaming parents for
the children’s malformations of the soul.

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● The diary-like quality of the Desperado text is extremely obvious with Doris Lessing. The stream of
consciousness writers meant to come closer to life in their books, by breaking tradition and deliberately devising a
new technique. Lessing takes that intention a significant step further: she pretends there is no technique. She
conceals all conventions and pretends she is using none. She resorts to an artful simplicity. She no longer uses the
subconscious to order her novels, she no longer withdraws from the text in order to allow the mind of the hero to
reach us. She claims she has a right to disorder, and does not need the theory of subconscious rememoration to
support her deliberate divagations, which have become the substance of writing. She does not care about our
perception of the thoughts she has, she means to make us face life, so she comes back to the text and is not
ashamed to state flatly: I am here, I am true, I am myself. If she is simple, so is the text. But, frankly speaking, like
any Desperado, again, simplicity could not be farther away from her. She is a web of complications. A maze of
thoughts. New thoughts and approaches, but a maze nevertheless.
3 4
● Motherhood is a guilty theme with Lessing. Mothers are no happier than their children. One of them breeds a
monster, another a child who tries to commit suicide, a third is thoroughly hated by Martha Quest. Whether this
somber view of mothers has autobiographical reasons or not is hard to speculate. We do get a possible idea from
the first volume of Doris Lessing’s autobiography, Under My Skin. Her own parents were distant and she was an
isolated, distant child. Later on she left two children for the sake of communism, or in the process of being a
communist, which she later on realized had been a mistake. There is never any tenderness where mothers and
children are concerned. Anna Wulf tries and fails; her daughter prefers going to a boarding school and put an end
to her mother’s emotional reliance on her. On the whole, the relationship is always dry and bitter.

● The lonely illusion of love is the major theme of The Golden Notebook, but not many other novels analyse it that
cruelly and carefully. In most texts by Lessing, in most Desperado texts, love is taken for granted and shyly left

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unexpressed. We have to guess its presence in Ishiguro, Barnes, Gray, Swift. Love interest has not disappeared, as
Virginia Woolf suggested should happen. Woolf herself could not do without it. What has happened is that plots no
longer focus on (un)happy endings in marriage or separation. Matrimony is no longer the pattern, as in Austen, for
instance. Love is no longer a source of stream of consciousness interior monologues, either. Love is a part of life,
not all of it, so it cannot be the star of the book. It shares the plot with many other themes, from politics to a
philosophy on life. Silent, reticent and awkward, love interest brings Desperado books closer to the texture of real
life, while it used to take Victorian novels farther away from it. Consequently, it does not need to be perfect. Quite
the reverse, the more unfulfilled, the more painful, the better. Lessing’s Anna Wulf and Ishiguro’s butler are
equally denied love. It turns out that love denied is a much more appealing and impressive asset than love
fulfilled. Lessing, actually, is very good at denying love.

3 ● We learn from Lessing, as from all Desperadoes, the lesson of hazard. The narrative is not a coherent statement.
4
It is a source of disarray, just like everyday life. We have many stories in one, yet few meaningful incidents, few
stages in view of a traditional plot. Moments keep accumulating till the time comes for the book to end. The
decision of ending the book looks arbitrary to the reader. It would not have made any difference if the book had
continued for a few more pages, as nothing would have been resolved anyway. Life happens and Lessing hates to
impose a pattern on it.

● Doris Lessing creates her own reader, who is totally different from the reader of her predecessors, whether
traditional or experimentalist. She needs a disabused reader, who can take anything, who never complains yet
never hopes, who, in short, can keep up with her. A reader for whom no surprise can rise again from whatever
literary device. A reader so used to literature that he is ready to mistake it for life. Not life assimilated to the book,

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but the book re-integrated into life. This is, in the end Lessing’s, and all the Desperadoes’, lesson: read as if you
were living. Literature is not the faithful mirror of life. It is life.

● Subconscious violence finding good soil in communist theory is a typical Desperado idea, present in dystopias,
comical trips to East European countries, novels about the iron curtain (Rates of Exchange, Honey for the Bears,
The Long Shadows, The Porcupine, The Good Terrorist). Lessing analyses the prolonged childhood of the mind in
the case of primitive beings embracing totalitarian ideas. The heroes are dehumanized. Hideous ideas rise out of
their apparently harmless, naive heads. They imitate the communist behaviour and language (using ‘comrade’ and
other Stalinist slogans), start hating the capitalist society that feeds them, go to meetings, marches,
demonstrations, place bombs, even get killed inadvertently. From communisn to terrorism (IRA) there is one small
step. The persons involved are not only dehumanized, but also different from the vast majority: they live in
3 ‘squats’, some are homosexual, one is a hysterical female who gets killed by her own bomb, they steal from the
4
rich, thinking they are entitled to everything. This concern with an explanation of violence, whether in children or
childish adults, is a major Desperado concern.

● Irony and sarcasm reveal absurd elements of life, whether it is foolish belief in communism when you are lucky
enough to have been born outside it, or other forms of inadaptability. Lessing saves her sarcasm for all the kinds
of hatred in The Good Terrorist, from private, to social and political. The author even handles her words with
hatred, and hates her characters, too. She allows the reader no refuge from hatred, either. The heroes are
estranged from their own lives because of their
all-pervading hatred. They become dangerous atoms of violence, and the warning implied in Lessing’s sarcasm is:
Stay away from utopias.

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● Failure is an obsession of the Desperado hero, who cannot escape it. Each fails in his own way. Lessing’s
heroines fail emotionally (they fail to find or keep love) and in their political belief (they are naively trapped by
communism). Lessing is a recorder of human failure. Her characters undergo a private ordeal. Her work is, most of
it, a primary on how to ruin a life. Strong yet not optimistic, her personality steals into her heroes, lending a few
autobiographical data here, an emotion there. This sensibility stifles the heroes and leaves them no choice but to
head for disaster. The inconclusiveness of her novels is not liberating, as it is in Gray, Ishiguro, Swift. It is
oppressive, discouraging. Yet, these dark novels have a halo of energy, a fearlessness that teaches the reader how
to survive the worst, never to give in.

● Desperadoes are uncomfortable novelists, and Doris Lessing is preeminently so. In all her books, she teaches
her readers that dystopia is in fact inside themselves, which means they will never be able to escape it. Whether
3 communism, terrorism or the ‘goblin children,’ darkness is the lot of human beings. It is amazing how, after
4
feeding us on despair and hatred, Lessing manages to make us feel so very much alive. Even though
uncomfortably so. Faced with characters who brim over with emotion but deny their own sentimentality, who are
very much in earnest but react with irony or self-hatred, the reader is confused and feels lost.

● Apparently, Desperadoes are pure realists. Everything they write about is true, the hero lays bare his own life, we
could not doubt it. We go along, details start to accumulate, suddenly nothing makes sense, yet everything is a
hundred percent true: we are trapped in verisimilitude. Martha Quest is such a narrative that claims to be as
commonplace as narratives can get. Martha resents her parents, the man she marries, and even herself. Lessing
predetermines her to lose her way and Martha does so conscientiously. Short of a miracle – which always takes
place at the end of a Lessing volume – she may cease to exist. The novel narrates continuously, yet we find it hard
to retell what happens. This is the secret of the Desperado vanishing plot. Everything happens, yet the plot is void.

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Read by, the novel says. All life is a journey, and literature an imperfect window. Behind which Doris Lessing will
not wave to us.

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II/5. PHILIP LARKIN


(1922–1985)

● Born in the peak year of the stream of consciousness (1922), Larkin was, unlike Eliot’ pride in innovation, a shy
poetic voice. His major Desperado feature is irony. He is reticent to inscribe words on paper, a preeminently
sensitive poet who is unwilling to commit himself to literature.

● Where emotion does not put too much pressure on the lines, the poem resorts to prosaic clarity, as a weapon
against confusion, which comes naturally to Larkin, direct follower of Yeats, Eliot and Auden. More often than not,
3 4
Larkin refuses to use language as a code. He wants there to be no barrier between reader and text. Consequently,
his words are commonplace, the sentences blankly correct. He seems to be writing blind poems which make us
see.

● Larkin’s poetic manner, like many Desperadoes in fiction and poetry, is frailty. Helplessness is his style, and he
works hard to refine it. It expresses a constant disappointment. It applies to Larkin’s faithful and clear probing of
privacy, which becomes his main concern. Larkin discovers the virtues of ostentatious, yet blank confession. He
attempts an X-ray of everyday life, clothed in everyday words.

● The poem is informal. It begins and ends casually. The style is oral. Familiar and gentle, Larking gives in to
lyricism. He writes without verbal fireworks, in a

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low-keyed style, a gentle poetic voice that hates Eliot’s zest for innovation and returns to the clear text unafraid,
glad to be there, meeting the reading eye.

● Like all Desperado writers, Larkin is solitary. There is a private narrative coherence of the volume, which Larkin
is restless enough to devise, yet too reticent to make clear. The characteristic Desperado volume of verse is the
volume that makes sense only if read entirely, because it hides a narrative. The poem builds a story in a volume,
so anthologies are hard to make, as the poem should never be taken out of its assigned place. Fiction thus steals
into poetry more than lyricism into prose. It was the other way round with the stream of consciousness.

● As he grows older, Larkin teaches his reader to breathe in despair and bitterness. Poignancy grows. Words, used
as catharsis before, seem to become useless. Speech refuses poetry. The poem refuses the poet. In the end, we
3 stand close to a poet who has been banished out of his own words and moods, we hold his hand and we share his
4
despair. Paradoxically, just like Eliot, Larkin grows more energetic and more fond of life, of a poetry of reality, as
he grows older. What spurs him into writing well is the sense of loss. If, as Eliot said, Yeats was preeminently the
poet of middle age, Larkin is preeminently the poet of the last age, an age that he was spared by an untimely
death, at fifty-two.

● Having written little and published even less, Larkin is nevertheless a major voice in Desperado poetry. He
devises the relaxed carelessness with which fiction steals into lyricism. The Desperado poetic attitude is the
disobeying of poetry. Speech needs no artifice. Larkin uses it as he finds it. Words cannot alleviate the painful
poems of this poet who is unable to come to terms either with himself or with his poetry.

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II/6. JOHN FOWLES


(31 March 1926 – 2005)

Some of the features that make Fowles a Desperado are:

● The all-invading use of irony in all the novels. His irony is directed at the heroes, the reader and the author
himself, at the very craft of novel-writing.

● The use of a variety of story-telling tricks, such as the luminous core of Miranda’s diary in The Collector.
3 4
● The creation of baffling characters, such as Sarah in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. The mystery of the heroes
is enhanced by the tantalizing plot, ending in a tough choice for the readers. The initiator of this answerless mode
was Henry James, but Fowles upgrades the model and tops all expectations. The reader is persuaded to give up
asking, and provide his own answers, recreating the novelist in his mind, so we have as many John Fowles’s as
readers.

● The novelist is never ashamed to speak in the first person, just like Dickens, but adds to his composite of all
tricks the flavour of humour, which Victorians never imagined could be used. The reader is subtly challenged to
defy the author’s smile.

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● Surprise, defiance of previous narrative manners were characteristic of the stream of consciousness, which
smashed plot, chronology, characters. Fowles, in his turn, defies the defiers. He offers a plot, but he gives more
than one ending and never makes up his mind which to choose. He hates encapsulating his audience within his
intelligence. His characters have at least two faces, and the reader’s doubts storm. In The French Lieutenant’s
Woman, his chronology is allegedly placed in the Victorian age, but he often addresses us from our own time, even
makes us cross paths with the novelist in person, claiming, ‘How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot’ (Fowles). On the
whole, Fowles is disconcerting – and utterly irresistible because of that – because he has a diabolic
resourcefulness.

● While allowing his heroes a large share of ambiguity, Fowles holds the reader’s hand, he claims solidarity with
whoever chooses to follow him. The novelist secretly states, ‘I am on your side’, so the reader can hardly object to
3 the mystery. Any baffled irritation or resisting mood is annihilated by the writer’s (false) confession of innocence.
4

● A wonderful professor of literature, Fowles mixes teaching with novel-writing. He chooses the Victorian
quotations most apt to stir the student’s interest in Victorian fiction, essay and poetry-writers. The mottos are a
perfect guide to choosing quotations.

● Since Joyce might have killed the novel if he had written a third word-focussed opus, Fowles realizes the return
to the story is imperative. He goes back with ostentation, handling suspense irreverently, exaggerating it beyond
all expectation. The reader’s breathlessness could cause a heart attack of his intellect. Take away the reader’s
cooperation and Fowles’ novels die. His unwillingness to commit himself to a single, unambiguous story requires
readers willing to live with his Jamesian, secretive mood.

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● Unlike the stream of consciousness writers, who relied on an atmosphere of the mind, Fowles takes great pains
to create a real atmosphere, very true-to-life heroes, all credible, interesting and rich in suggestion. He
recomposes not only the story, but also the heroes, although ambiguity still keeps heroes and plot in the shade.

● Psychological analysis, bequeathed by the stream of consciousness in its direct, obvious manner, is exciting,
refined and highly intellectual. Fowles recreates the character, but it is not Dickens’ untouchable destiny that he
imagines, but a long line of debunked masters of their fate, with whom the readers can play at will.

● The source of a Desperado reader’s pleasure while reading is the author’s mind, therefore it is entirely
intellectual, although Desperadoes sleep on emotions, so to say. The charm of Fowles’ thoughts mesmerizes,
overthrows and ‘ravishes’ the reader’s much battered heart, as it happens in John Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV. The
3 earnest thoughts bathe in overtly humorous interludes, such as the scene of Mrs. Poulteney’s descent to Hell, after
4
high hopes of Heaven. First-hand irony joins hands with affectionate treatment of all heroes, in a composite,
contrasting attitude, which hardly knows its own mind, thus subscribing to the Desperado confusion of moods and
tricks.

● The Desperado author wants to eat his cake and have it: he wants to gratify the reader’s taste for romance (see
the first ending suggested for The French Lieutenant’s Woman), but at the same time he mocks at the same reader
fond of cheap happy ends. The only way out of this is to push the reader over the precipice, apparently offering
him a choice, actually confronting him with a baffled consummation of bliss. Happy ends are shameful for
Desperadoes. They flee for their life whenever the sense of closure threatens to mortify a plot.

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● A Desperado obsession is that of other texts, other literary minds. Intertextuality became legal with Joyce and
mainly Eliot’s Notes to The Waste Land, but, just as the stream of thoughts, of associations, interference with
other writers is also a Desperado tradition. Fowles places his Sarah in the house of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and
leaves her there, compelling our imagination to linger on the man’s surroundings.

● Desperadoes have a science-fiction inclination. They choose devices, atmosphere, moods that defamiliarize,
threaten with alienation. The novels provide maximum pleasure while they are read, but tend to wane when the
final curtain falls, if they pronounce and end (see Lawrence Durrell). Fowles manages to keep up suspense even
after the last page of the plot has been read. He breathes suspense, an impatience of the mind, which is his major
achievement in the novel.

3 ● Another inheritance from the stream of consciousness, the hybridization of literary genres is a major device,
4
used now with less earnestness, with irony, as a game, but a very challenging one. Fowles mixes fiction with
drama, lyricism and essay. He starts with a constant dialogue with his reader, as a prank, continues with lyrical
outbursts of emotion (he will never be divested of the heart of fiction, which is shared emotion, after all), and
often ends in the form of a concentrated essay on a new type of creation. He does not define the novelty, but
definitely aims at it. One of the ways towards innovation is the fact that borders between literary genres vanish,
and the novel becomes a recycle bin.

● If Joyce flirted with the idea of literature becoming a game of words, a concentrated lyrical history of mankind,
Fowles’ novels are games that toy with the idea of game, which is pure Desperado inventivity. The work has a
delightful flexibility that compels rereading. Once the act of reading stops, we remember the author’s mind, the

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flow of our intellectual reactions, our pleasure of the mind or of the soul, but not so much the incidents that led to
it. The solid Victorian plot is replaced by an intriguing web of minds and somersaults.

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II/7. ALAN BROWNJOHN


(28 July 1931)

Poetry

● Paradoxically, Brownjohn can be included among the Desperadoes mainly because he is different from them all,
because he is always on his own. Being dissimilar is his major feature, whether desired or not. He is his own trend.

● Alan Brownjohn’s favourite word is ‘blank’, and it applies to his poetry, which is treacherously monotonous,
3 hiding in fact a turmoil of emotion, a discreet despair that can never be tamed, not even by the poem.
4

● The music of Brownjohn’s poetry is present but discreet. The poet seems to be mocking at poetic musicality,
while working hard at it. Experimentalism is replaced by oversimplification. The Desperadoes never bite their
sensibility to the quick. They hide it behind a blank, dispassionate text.

● Love is no longer exquisitely painful. It is frustrated, wasted in isolation, deeply doubted. Brownjohn, like all
Desperadoes, is a highly cautious poet. The text is steeped in secrecy. The secretive poet teaches his readers to
find him out. The poem becomes a challenge, just like fiction.

● Words become insufficient, mistrusted, emptied, which is the opposite of what Eliot was doing when he was
loading the word with all ambiguities he could think of. Even rhymes are no longer complete, they become

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frustrating, imperfect, and also highly ingenious. The poet claims to be talking to us, telegraphically, almost
deliberately ignoring our expectations of a show. Brownjohn discovers the stating poem, which operates like a
black and white photograph.

● Brownjohn has quite a number of dystopic poems describing a grim future. With him, life is never safe. The
poem refuses to please the reader or even to appeal to him. The reader feels repelled by the displeasing
Desperado poem.

● Eliot was talking about cutting out all the poetry. This is what Brownjohn and all Desperadoes do. There is a
suspense based on silences in Brownjohn’s poems. He avoids finishing sentences, he breaks them and spreads
them over many lines, barring coherent understanding. Rhymes often occur between a fraction of one word and
3 another.
4

● Though direct, the Desperado poet is never explicit. He is unambiguous, yet vague. He avoids committing
himself to a credo, because his world is desecrated. What he does hold sacred is the idea of game. Every poem is a
game. Writing is a game, and reading invites, compels rereading, reentering and winning (understanding) the
game.

● As far as the feeling is concerned, whether love (see love interest in fiction), fear of death, joy or despair, it is no
longer a shock in the Desperado poem, it is a burden. It has to be conveyed by everyday words, as if it did not
change anything in the lives of writer and reader, when in fact in does change our sensibility. The Desperado poet
willfully ignores his own sensibility.

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● The hybridization of literary genres is continued and even intensified in Desperado poetry. It becomes a game of
recognizing the voice. With Joyce, the novel gulped down all genres, and not many people talked about stream of
consciousness in poetry. With Desperadoes the game is present in every written text. Brownjohn’s poetry is
flooded by fiction, drama, essay, encyclopaedia, even a kind of psychotherapy. Each poem is a psychological
analysis and a point of view at the same time.

● Brownjohn refuses ambiguity in the Eliotian sense. He resorts to an insufficient clarity, which leaves us
incredulous: Can it be that simple? Is that all he had to say? Why bother? And we are taken by surprise: we do have
to decode, but we did not even realize from at first that there was any complication. The poet has stolen behind
our minds and is teaching us the sophistication of simplicity. In short, Clarity is back, beware of clarity.

3 ● Emotion is debunked until the skeleton of naked poetry dangles before our eyes. Eliot dreamt of a poetry with
4
bare bones. Here is Alan Brownjohn kindly obliging both Eliot and post-Eliotian readers. Brownjohnism finds
poetry exhibitionistic and leaves it a prude.

● Descriptions of nature are anything but romantic. Sentimentality is dead, and so is its natural landscape. The
Desperado is casually antagonistic to lyricism. The question is no longer Eliot’s ‘Do I dare? ‘, but , Am I there? Am I
anywhere? Brownjohn feeds on the unimportant. Obvious intensity is avoided. The poet recites his thoughts like a
bad actor. He respects the reader’s privacy. Poetry has become the public place of a very private soul. The
Desperado is a mistrustful poet who debunks all feelings and desecrates the heart.

● Most poems are long Haiku: they are repeated odes on Grecian urns. Brownjohn includes images within images,
in an endless line, until the infinite ‘nearly’ hurts. Eliot’s lesson has been well learnt and is now taken further into

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Brownjohnism: we stealthily learn from these blankly despairing poems how to be ashamed of our own sensibility.
Which is highly uncomfortable and piercingly effective. The Desperado is always on tenterhooks.

● Brownjohn can hardly be included in a group of poets, being usually on his own, whether in poetry, fiction or
criticism. His individualism makes him qualify for inclusion in the family of the utterly dissimilar. All these writers
have in common is the fervent wish to be different, strangers from one another.

● The (apparently) blank words, mood and meaning he confronts us with are ample proof that he wants to hide
his concrete presence, while manipulating the reader with his thoughts. A monstrous mind, in which the writer
crams his whole being, the poet is a cyclop staring at the reader with one, desperately anxious eye: Is the reader
going to obey?
3 4
● Brownjohn’s inertia can be connected to the inertia of all the other rememorating writers, from Ishiguro to
Lessing, through Swift and Larkin. There is plenty of action going on in these writers’ texts, whether poetical or
lyrical, usually both, in their dramatic perception of the world. The trick is that this action has a layer of
carelessness spread on top of it: it is as if the writer were saying, Like it or not, you will have to find your own
pleasure, enjoy what you can find. The author will not help, but expects his audience to solve his enigma to the
bitter end.

● Behind Brownjohn’s possibly serene or at least dispassionate images, there is despair. The blank despair of his
words is the despair of all other Desperado artists that their medium is not enough, and they have to resort to
neighbouring fields, actually to whatever trick literature has invented since it has been known to exist. Nothing is
off limits, and despair is joined by greed, or maybe the explorer’s instinct. The Desperado rediscovers America, so

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to say, and is very disappointed when he is pinned down as a one-track intellect, which is mainly technically
minded, since the narrative cannot be his invention alone.

● Eliot lectured at large about the music of poetry, and used it, mockingly or very much in earnest. With
Brownjohn and Peter Porter, Larkin and Ted Hughes, there is
half-music. Music is concealed, the rhymes delight in shrinking to half-rhymes, which we may even overlook, but
which the poet painstakingly arranges so as not to hinder the meaning of the words. With Eliot, a rhyme could
charm or kill. With Brownjohn, rhymes are so matter of fact that you are not sure whether you are supposed to
notice and talk about them. They match the apparent tameness of clear sentences, whose ambiguity lies much
deeper than earlier verbal obscurity. Difficulties in understanding are not welcome, Brownjohn harshly rebukes
them in his criticism. The reader must understand the words and be left in the dark about the other side of clarity.
3 Because the Desperado poem always has a hidden face, a pole opposite to simplicity. They all want to be
4
uncomplicated and limpid, but inevitably end up in a complexity that was from the very beginning and totally
within their scope.

● If irony is the defining Desperado attitude, bitterness cannot be far behind. In Brownjohn’s poems it is not. Every
experience is open to after-thoughts that weigh like a burden on the reader’s soul. Whether lost childhood or lost
love, solitude or fear of pain, the innuendo is that no experience is free from poignancy, from exquisite denial.

● Shyness protects the puzzle. The Desperadoes are very cautious writers, always in hiding under the veil of a
monotone, behind the shadow of a denied sensibility, which we are challenged to reconstruct. Deconstruction is
the wrong approach in their case. Reduced to words alone, the texts die, the reader starves. This proves the

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underground very strong connection author-reader, in which the writer tempts, beckons to us to follow him from
afar, not promising revelations, just helping us to find ourselves, the Desperado readers, always in thrall.

● Secrecy brings suspense. The word was everything to Joyce and Eliot, but it has lost its universality. A word used
to encompass all history, philosophy, mythology; it used to be an epitome of the mind. A word was an
etymological adventure into consciousness. It is a comfortable pillow, in a Desperado text. It has an obvious
meaning, which soothes the reading eye, and an agglutinating meaning, that requires good memory and patience
for the puzzle. The text used to be word-addicted, but now it is the word that is
text-addicted.

● A Desperado is not an optimist. Quite the reverse, he is disabused. The stream of consciousness writer expected
3 the best and the utmost from his writing. The Desperado tempers down his own, implicitly our, expectations.
4
Actually he expects the worst. The words may or may not make sense, it all depends so much on the reader’s
willingness to bricolate. The mood may or may not come through, in direct connection with the reader’s patience
to reread and re-interpret over and over again. The characters may or may not come to life, the plot may or may
not cohere, and the reading mind bears the burden of making this whole edifice work. The Desperado writer
trusts, yet bitterly mistrusts his Desperado reader.

● The reader’s expectations of a show are baffled. The Desperado work, in its Brownjohnian variant, is a black and
white photograph, which needs to be filtered by a reader’s eyes, and then it turns the colours of the rainbow.
Apparently, Brownjohn talks about nothing going on. In fact, the whole world revolves on the axis of his poetry. He
is just trying hard to hush up the betraying noise. Brownjohn’s poetry is the quiet before the big bang.

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● Alan Brownjohn does not try to please. He wants to make a point, to be exact, to use words, not be used by
them. Consequently, he divests his lines of Eliot’s fireworks, imposing a grey austerity. If the reader finds the joy,
he has the clue. If he does not, he should not be disappointed, because the poet did not mean him to feel elated.
He just wanted his reader to comply with the text. Whether emotionally or otherwise, that remains to be decided at
some later point.

● Brownjohn, a true Desperado poet, does what Eliot wanted to do but did not manage: he ‘cuts off’ all the poetry.
He disconnects from traditional lyricism, he pulls the plug of imagery, he is verbose, thus shunning the lullaby.
And, on top of that, when he speaks he wants to be heeded with lucidity, not in a trance. Poetry is like
mathematics: calculate your strategy and work for results, which the reader must reach after solving the text as a
problem.
3 4
● For Brownjohn, love is not the joy, but the daily burden. Love interest is despicable. Virginia Woolf claimed the
novel was not supposed to provide it, yet could not do without loves and lovelessness in her novels. Coming later,
like all Desperadoes, Brownjohn feels poetry should not rely on the inner carnival of emotions. The intellect comes
first, like a censorship of the soul.

● As far as hybridization is concerned, we find in Brownjohn’s poetry fiction, drama, essay, encyclopaedias, letters
and, above all, a reassuring psychotherapy. He sets things right by viewing them with the iron fist of reflexiveness
in the velvet hand of imagery. Whenever an image menaces to get romantic, the poet forbids rhyme to enhance it.
On the other hand, in the middle of a prosaic verbosity that might seem irrelevant, a cluster of emotional
illuminations sparkle. The reader’s sensibility is slowly, yet safely cured of the taste for tragedy, for the show.
Joyce’s epiphany has dwindled into an icon of commonsense.

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● As a consequence of purging intensity, the poem Brownjohn writes is, at first sight, dry. The naked bones of
poetry, which Eliot wanted to see but did not manage to X-ray, are sketched by Desperadoes out of the force of
habit. The flesh on the bones is added by the reader. A Desperado reader feels part of the birth of the poem. He
has to lend it his soul.

● Violating the language, which was a must for the stream of consciousness, is forbidden. Clarity is back, beware
of clarity. Can it be that simple?, we should wonder. That easy to understand? It usually is not. Although
Brownjohn is extra careful with punctuation and correct word usage, ambiguity sneaks in and we learn to do more
than just decode it: we also have to detect it, almost (half?) invent it ourselves. Having the reader manufacture his
own ordeal is a feat of resourcefulness only a Desperado could have thought of.
3 4
● As a Desperado, Brownjohn is terrified of any invasion of the reader’s privacy. He hates to dictate what the
reaction of his audience should be. He gives no clues, he recoils from making his presence felt. The poems are
promontories of meaning. He stretches out a hand, an idea, and the emotion waits patiently to be dug out, far
behind. The reader is not overwhelmed, as he was by all previous writers. For the first time in the history of
literature, the author is genuinely discreet and quiet. It is up to the reading eyes to peer till they catch a glimpse of
him, and decide whether they enjoy the sight or not.

● The conversational tone of Brownjohn’s poetry is essentially Desperado, too. He works hard on his technique,
but surrounds it with words that suggest he is not declaiming, but merely talking at ease, whispering actually. Eliot
used to shout, Joyce was no less agitated. Brownjohn looks like a man handcuffed to the page. No great gestures,

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no final words, no decorousness. The incident is the core of the poem, and the meaning concentrates in it. The
images help along, but are not essential. Lyricism trips into fiction again and again.

Fiction

● The addiction to dystopia, both in poetry (where he builds dystopic incidents, short negative plots that generate
fear because they defamiliarize) and fiction, makes Brownjohn a Desperado, too. Two of his novels, The Way You
Tell Them and The Long Shadows, envisage a world which is not the author’s, and which he dreads. The Way You
Tell Them was published in 1990, but describes the 1990s, ahead of time. It ends in the death of a writer. The
Long Shadows tackles communism before and after its fall, as a space that Brownjohn feels very insecure in, and
would like to keep as far away as possible. Travelling into the communist land is all right, but leaving it is best. In
3 the meantime, he gets to know and understand it, but, again, the book turns around the death of an English
4
novelist that dared cross the border. Brownjohn’s dystopia is deeply and subtly connected with his well concealed,
muffled fear of the future, which might be said to be the fear of the century.

● The Desperado characters are usually non-characters. They live in an apocalypse – whether future or present, it
does not matter – which tears them apart, so coherence and logic would be false for them. They scatter their
memories and emotions at random, leaving the narrative as enigmatic as they entered. The exit of the novels is a
dark pit where unborn personalities sleep till a reader fishes them out and makes an emotional map. We can only
vaguely guess what a Desperado hero looks like (we usually have absolutely no idea), but we know exactly what his
soul is made of. The inheritance of the stream of consciousness is strong and also contradicted. We are inside an
imaginary soul all right, but we look outside, we never try to dissect. We swim to the surface, using it to rearrange
the puzzle of the plot. Incident comes before thought, the novel returns to the outer world.

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● The Desperado’s forte is the bitterly disappointed hero. Brownjohn’s characters never end happily. Happy
endings are strongly discouraged by Desperadoes, as unlikely to happen in an apocalyptic world. The major
achievement of all heroes is the fact that the reader figures them out. After this communion with the readers, they
can, and usually die. When a hero is left by the reader at the end of a narrative, he is twice doomed: first by the
plot ( he dies or is too old to enjoy life), second by the revolving force of the reader’s mind leaving him, upon
which he disintegrates. A hero is not an idyllic refuge from life, but the burden of reality weighing heavily on a
deeply disappointed reader, whom the writer persuades to fall in love with his own disappointment.

● Delicately ironic in his poetry, Brownjohn resorts to bitter irony in fiction. His heroes are half serious, half
destroyed by the author’s mocking suggestions. We are not meant to laugh, we are not meant to commiserate,
3 either. The Desperado merely warns us to keep our distance. Which we can hardly do, since we are also meant to
4
identify with the character as we reconstruct him. In the end, we find ourselves in the paradoxical situation of both
approval and disapproval. Do we love the hero? We do not. Do we hate him? We cannot. Desperado irony results in
fact in a huge sense of helplessness.

● Displacement, another Desperado major concern, is present in Brownjohn’s poetry and fiction, too. Whether
lyrical or narrative, Brownjohn’s beings do not feel at home in their bodies and souls. Their minds keep fluttering,
like the broken wheels of an old watch out of use, making our heads spin with the fury of finding the map of a
plot. These minds reveal stories that bruise the souls of all heroes involved and leave no serenity. Every story is
the story of an exile.

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● Interpreting a Desperado writer, Brownjohn included, is a very lonely task. Besides the fact that loneliness is the
very essence of all characters, the reader feels utterly on his own when he tries to formulate a conclusion which
the author refuses to state in as many words. The poem or novel is meant to gape open for ever, like a sentence
without a full stop. The predicate makes the meaning quite clear, only we are denied any sense of closure. The
Desperado wants his haunting text to live on and on, beyond the experience of the written page. He writes directly
in the reader’s soul.

● The Iron Curtain has slowly been replaced by trips into communism, so the western Desperado is characterized
by a curiosity that makes him partake of communism. Some write dystopias imagining communism in their own
countries (Burgess, Lessing), others merely go on a brief, terrifying pilgrimage and come back a better man
(Bradbury, Brownjohn). Crossing the border into dictatorship used to be a rich mine of plots before communism
3 fell. It is now slipping into science fiction nightmare. If communism is no longer the fear, despair has to find
4
another spring. If not politics, then economy. If not economy, human nature. And we come back full circle to
Jonathan Swift.

● The communist dissident was, similarly, a major figure in the novel before the fall of communism. It appeared in
Burgess, Orwell, Huxley, Lodge, Brownjohn. The new political situation has made him obsolete. The same writers,
or others, create local dissent to replace the former, foreign revolt. Going against the crowd, against the wrong
tunnel of time has become a pattern of the Desperado hero.

● The Desperado makes a point of creating unlikable heroes. The character must be loaded with meaning, not
agreeable. Consequently, the reader is angry, he leaves the narrative in a frenzy of un-attachment.

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● Desperado books, whether poetry or fiction, are defeated books. They do not plan to conquer, to succeed, they
merely give in. Brownjohn’s novels end helplessly and depressingly, Ishiguro’s novels weigh us down with the
burden of bruised souls that find no comfort. Desperadoes are uncomforted and highly uncomfortable writers.

● Physicality is a bone of contention with Desperadoes. Many are unspeakably bold. Some are both bold and shy.
Brownjohn is desperately decent. Alasdair Gray confesses he shocked himself in 1982 Janine. Whatever the
outcome, physicality is not so bad with literary Desperadoes as it is with other kinds of Desperado creators or
mere Desperado audiences.

3 4

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II/8. MALCOLM BRADBURY


(7 September 1932-2000)

● Malcolm Bradbury is basically an ironist, which makes him a Desperado. Irony is the key to plot and character.
He appears to entertain, when in fact he analyses, dissecting with his irony. His characters are academics and
writers, touching upon an idea more obvious in poetry than prose, namely that literature and criticism, poetry
mainly, are practised inside the walls of universities, are academic achievements. In this direction, we could name
David Lodge, Alan Brownjohn (more or less, as his activity is broader than teaching), John Fowles.

3 ● Comedy lies basically in the approach to character. Bradbury laughs kindly, though, he never bites with
4
bitterness. He avoids being sucked into emotion. His characters are funny, but the author forbids us to
sympathize, because our sensibility must not be involved. We must keep our thoughts free to laugh.

● Humour focusses more on the language than on character or plot, but humorous situations come up all the
time. Names and titles show comic genius. The comic perception of society leads to relaxed, comfortable reading.
Behind the serene mockery, each character has a skeleton in his cupboard, and Bradbury allows us to catch a
glimpse at it, so our laughter is not exactly light-hearted in the end.

● Bradbury seems to be fascinated with the iron curtain, but not so much in order to create dystopias, as to find a source of
irony in it. He always has at least one character fleeing from communism. Rates of Exchange is a description of a communist

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country, with dystopical elements which are comically introduced, but do not fail to scare and sadden the reader, who sighs
among peals of laughter, wondering how bad it really can get.

● The novel is a small, confusing world devoid of any rules. The author himself describes contemporary literature
as a constant polemic with other works, which means he is aware of the Desperado attempt to be dissimilar at all
costs. He himself argues with other manners of writing, tacitly, in his novels. Mensonge is a brilliant annihilation of
structuralism, of Deconstruction, of criticism that tends to outsmart the work. Nobody is involved with anybody
else, and nothing leads to anything. The bushy plot, if it can be called that, kills suspense. Bradbury tries to write
uneventfully, and to make us follow stripped of all expectation. He creates the uneventful text.

● Bradbury finds one Desperado theme which we could also find in Ishiguro, Swift, Lodge: he sees England trotting
3 to America, with the same zest that Henry James’ characters put into defecting to Europe. The direction has 4
changed. Europe is now the ugly sister. Although Europeans view America tongue in their cheeks, the New World
certainly offers better conditions to writers and academics. It is also much trickier, and Bradbury notices all the
ropes behind academic benevolence. He laughs at human nature, but is not happy to unveil the skeletons they
have hidden. All his characters are ultimately destroyed by the writer’s psychology, which pulls just a corner of the
veil, and we do not get to see ugliness entirely, but one glimpse seems to be enough. The writer stops at the point
where we can still laugh.

● Bradbury’s heroes are all enigmatic. He does not reveal their psychology, deliberately building them passive and
blank. Mensonge is his ideal hero, practically non-existent. He is a dystopian of criticism. His description by
Bradbury proves in the end the uselessness of incomprehensibility. All that the author wants and strives to achieve
in everything he writes, is to make sense.

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II/9. ALASDAIR GRAY


(1934)

● Both a writer and painter, Alasdair Gray combines forceful imagery with inventivity in words, so his books are
necessarily visualized. It is a Desperado feature to rummage all arts and come up with all possible devices in order
to achieve uniqueness. Gray is unique in his blend of visual and verbal.

● When the reader finishes Lanark, he has already got used to terrifying imaginary ordeals, which Gray invents and
makes his character go through. This reader resents the author for making him leave. He would like to linger on
indefinitely in this repelling universe (at first), which has slowly grown on him. He has learnt to accept the
3 unacceptable, to enjoy what at first depressed, even horrified him. Feeding on death, living in darkness, loneliness
4
exacerbated, lovelessness everywhere, are only a few elements we learn to share. Apparently, Gray carries on
Eliot’s aesthetics of the ugly. Actually, he just sticks to the ugly, and could not care less about its aesthetics. He
does not mean to make ugliness beautiful, as Joyce and Eliot did; he wants to make fear inhabitable.

● The dystopias Gray imagines are not discouraging. He invents the hopeful dystopia, he fights old age and death
with imagination as his weapon. He goes beyond what is thought to be the final human threshold, teaching his
readers that nothing is final, not even the end of his book, which requires us to prolong his universe by rereading.

● The order of the plot is deliberately complicated and time dislocated. Lanark names its books ‘3, 1, 2, 4’,
defying our need for a sequence, for chronological causality. The same hero dies and is reborn into another world.
Imagination can move from one universe to another, which makes us incredulous of the final ‘Goodbye’; it cannot

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discourage us from continuing the adventures, the construction of new worlds in our minds. Gray teaches us to
explore our sensibility and never desist, so reading becomes more than sharing, reading becomes experience of
the unthought of.

● The moments of time are amalgamated with irony. We start with the future, then Lanark desperately clamours
for his past and learns about it, and at last we get used to a present we might have rejected if it had come first. We
are trained to do away with prejudice, taboo, preconceived ideas. Gray debunks the novel. We might have expected
a story where the past of the character is given from at first, and where we know nothing about the future till it
happens. Gray chooses to demonstrate that the past is unimportant. He describes it as a dark, depressing pit of
memories, all forgotten. The future promises nothing good, either. It is a future of ‘mohomes’ (houses in cars) and
deprivations of all kinds. But the present, menacing though it is, engrosses our attention. Gray makes a point here:
3 the story is unimportant. The reader’s involvement is all that matters. And we can get involved in the most
4
unexpected areas of imagination.

● Gray finds his heroes do not need happiness. The happy end is an obsolete tool. The end became an obsolete
tool with the stream of consciousness. Now the pleasure of reading is outdated, too. The reader moves into the
opposite of traditional fiction. He is displeased, repelled, humiliated, his expectations are deliberately baffled.
Lanark could be an anagram of carnal, but fact is Gray’s heroes are anything but bodies. It is their minds that take
over. The novel is a constant torment of understanding.

● Gray’s novels, though apprenticing us to a new way of thinking fiction, live on incidents. The recurrent incident
in Lanark is death. Unthank is the beginning of forgetfulness. Gray’s beings are almost all the time ‘on the lip of a
horrible pit,’ on the verge of something close to death but not quite it. The real hero’s mother dies, he himself

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commits suicide after possibly killing the girl he loves, Lanark (Duncan Thaw’s alter-ego in the dystopia) saves
Rima from death by ‘dragonhide’ ( a strong image of the body growing old and suffocating the soul), and dies
himself in the end. If real death (Duncan Thaw) is final and even comes as a liberation from asthma, imaginary
death does not make sense. We have been misled so many times that we have learnt to consider nothing final, so
we expect Lanark to find another life and begin another story. Gray has taught us that fiction begins with the
author’s lesson and, once the reader learns that lesson, it can only end when the wizard’s apprentice realizes he
can ruin it by too much interference. Gray creates this meddling reader, and then complains that his meaning was
much simpler than readers claim it to be.

● Gray’s illustrations to his own works are overcrowded with faces, and his novels are overpopulated with minor
characters and all sorts of incidents. Gray’s imagination never has a moment of dull rest. There is no logical order,
3 no rule. Nothing looks familiar. Like all Desperadoes, Gray defamiliarizes, and the space he creates is alogical,
4
makes its own rules, the same as the characters make their own soul, not obeying concrete emotions, inventing all
sorts of incredible incidents, from ‘intercalendrical zones’ to ‘Ozenfant’s Institute’ and ‘dragonhide’. The text may
look dry, because emotion is denied, but we soon realize that Gray’s basic mood, which we share, is despair of
literature.

● In a strange way, with many Desperadoes, language is forced into four-letter words, without fear or danger or
pornography. They talk about sex dispassionatley. While sex seems to be a major topic, love is not, or rather, the
largest issue at stake is the absence of love. From Ishiguro, through Barnes, Lessing, Lodge, to give a few names at
random, love is hidden behind the text, in the reader’s dark area of interpretation. We guess there is love in the
soul of the hero, we find the signs, the pain is very intense, but love interest, as Virginia Woolf preached (though
she could not do it), is dead. It does not matter whether Lanark happily joins his beloved, or Ishiguro’s butler

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brings Miss Kenton back into his life. What matters is that the reader should be painfully aware that the hero’s life
is deprived of a happy end, for the simple reason that there is nothing that can end. Love is not there. If we choose
to unearth it from the heap of broken images, we do so at our own risk, and the author will not endorse what we
find.

● Gray’s text has an air of science-fiction nightmare. It happens in Lanark, Poor Things, 1982 Janine. The author’s
dark inventivity arouses our curiosity in a sick way. People turn into dragons and die. Corridors open into night
and time. Whatever happens is unfamiliar, never experienced before. Gray’s books are a continuous slip into the
unknown.

● The torment of forgetfulness extends to language, as well. At some point, in the beginning, ‘Lanark tried to
3 think of other words.’ Gray’s style is parsimonious. His approach is uncommitted, neutre. No sentence suggests
4
sympathy or pity. No Desperado would commit himself in this way. They all fake indifference.

● Morbidity is the weapon to fight death in most Desperado works. Lanark chases the sun, which he can only see
for two minutes a day, in a desperate attempt to restore a sense of time. The result is that he plunges into even
harsher unreality, which brings about dehumanization. Everything vanishes from the hero’s life: love, happiness,
order, logic, rigid rules. They learn to thrive on the hideous, which is a typically Desperado direction of sensibility.
The books are traps: once we have shared them, our perception of life is changed. We may be gloomier, but
definitely stronger.

● Gray’s Lanark can be associated with a number of other books, hinting at intertextuality, though Gray is far from
being bookish, and even mocks at literary scholarship in the creator’s list of plagiarisms. The novel has elements

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in common with Brave New World, The Divine Comedy, Kafka’s Trial, Sartre, Wells, Jonathan Swift. With Desperado
irony directed against the finality of a text, the last part of the book introduces an author within the author. Gray
hints here at the very process of creation, coming close to Fowles’ Mantissa. Desperadoes like to talk about the
way they write, even when they state in interviews they are not qualified to do it. They like to split personalities
and peer at themselves in a mirror. The truth is the Desperado novel feeds on literature, the text devours other
texts. Gray escapes that exacerbated awareness of past texts, though, as he combines the nightmare of his dry
style with the freshness of painting.

● With Desperadoes, Gray included, the


stream of consciousness has become
useless, psychology is hidden behind
3 incidents. Loving reading has to adapt to a
4
new approach, and it probes the author’s
secrecy. The chronological order of a
personality is no longer needed. To prove
this, Gray offers us a short chronological
summary of Lanark’s evolution, right before
his death. It sounds pointless, we are not
interested. We are no longer the same
persons who read Woolf or Joyce. We have
gone farther ahead towards ‘the age of
alienation and non-communication.’

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II/10. DAVID LODGE


(28 January 1935)

● In his first novel, The Picturegoers (1960), published when the author was
twenty-one, two Desperado features are already visible: the love of incident (there are several stories, and they all
converge in the end), and the irony that mocks at our expectation of an end, whether happy or not, while
apparently fulfilling it.

● One of the characters in The Picturegoers touches upon the theme of teen-age violence, connecting Lodge to
3 Burgess, Lessing, Golding. Harry travels from attempt at rape and brutality of reaction to finding a mate and a
4
place in life, just like Burgess’ Alex.

● Ginger, You’re Barmy (1962) reminds the reader of Lessing’s The Good Terrorist, but an ironical version of the
issue, although the IRA is present in both. The difference is that Lessing is bitingly bitter, while Lodge resorts to a
relaxed irony. Mike, the character swallowed by the IRA, is the bad student who ruins his own life, yet becomes the
ideal hero. Lodge does not miss his chance to mock at the traditional reader’s fondness of the brave hero riding
his white horse into happiness.

● A true Desperado, Lodge writes for fun. A less usual turn for a Desperado, though, he is not obsessed with
being unique or complicating the puzzle. His story is linear, his novelty very well hidden but definitely there.
Lodge blows the traditional narrative up from inside it. He mocks at the story while feeding it to us. We feel fooled,

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and he leaves us, smiling at our credulity. His last lesson in each novel is, Be cautious, things have changed,
literature has changed, your tastes are old-fashioned.

● Lodge himself calls his novels ‘comic’ (see The British Museum Is Falling Down, 1965), mentioning the influence
of Malcolm Bradbury, his old friend and collaborator, as he says. Both writers are also critics, so they definitely
realize which way they are going. Mocking at other texts, textual irony, is clearly present in Lodge’s confession
that he tries to mimic Conrad, Greene, Hemingway, Joyce, Kafka, Lawrence, Snow, Woolf.

● Americans returning to their English origins is a theme that Ishiguro touched upon, too, and Bradbury, among
others. The Jamesian defection to Europe is replaced by the mock-heroic ode to the greedy American, who thinks
everything cultural should belong to his space alone, and tries to move Europe there, positive that American
3 culture is at the top.
4

● The real hero of Lodge’s early novels is humour. People matter less. The author hates to confess, he tries to
invent, rejecting autobiographical texts. Out of the Shelter(1970) has certain personal notes, though. The hero of
this novel embarks on a constant progress out of the shelter of family, geography, childhood, even the concrete
shelter against bombs, which is blown up at the very beginning. This novel has more symbolical force than those
before. The shelter is oppressive, and this feeling of the world closing in on his hero is what Lodge wanted to
convey, probably. Fear often corners this brilliantly ironical writer, who never gives in to sentimentality, but
betrays here the need for a good hug, for the sympathy of the reader. Which he amply gets.

● Out of the Shelter deals with American subtle (or not so subtle) invasion in many ways, from the military
presence in a defeated Germany, to an envied welfare, and to emigration. The theme haunts Lodge, who taught at

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Berkeley himself (1968). Exile is guilty, though, and, in Nice Work, it is avoided altogether. In spite of their avowed
internationalism, Desperadoes are desperately national. The more loudly they clamour they believe in the universal
man, the more closely bound to geographical peculiarities their characters are (see Ishiguro, Rushdie, Ondaatje,
Lessing).

● The trilogy Changing Places (1975-1989) focusses irony on the academic world in England (Birmingham, alias
Rummidge) and America (Berkeley, alias Plotinus, in the state of Euphoria), being ‘A Tale of Two Campuses.’ An
American academic, main hero, too, is driven by the urge to write the absolute book, to exhaust an author (he
starts with Jane Austen, preeminently British). Incidents flow incessantly, and with Lodge they are all hilarious,
intelligently built so as to make us see the irony of the world, not just laugh at superficial jokes. Lodge works with
humorous patterns of his own creation. He identifies essential features, and coins situations to express indirectly
3 what otherwise might sound like a tedious report or faults. The academic world is Bradbury’s target, too. Barnes
4
does not spare it, either. Swift touches upon teaching school, but he is lyrical, not ironical. Lodge frees us from all
obligation to side with anyone, by keeping emotion at bay. Although a sensitive, easily-hurt author, Lodge gets
the better of his lyrical impulse, by wearing the shining armour of a smile.

● Hybridization of literary genres is pushed to its comical extreme by the end of the first novel in the trilogy,
Changing Places (1975). After parody, used before, Lodge resorts to combining devices of drama, script mainly,
ending the novel with an argument among characters, followed by a parallel between a book and a movie. The
mobility of Lodge’s mind allows him to be at ease whatever somersaults he chooses to attempt in his many-sided
novels. Apparently they are just fun, but a closer inspection reveals a moral system, an aesthetic set of rules, a
participation of the narrator to the narrative in a thousand obscure ways, which we have to find out. Finding out
the author’s point is the real suspense of Lodge’s novels. What we find is less interesting, though, than what we

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learn about the act of reading, which is a constant search. In contrast to what other Desperadoes do, this search is
not tense and grim, but serene and fulfilling. The reader learns how to know himself, and Lodge helps him all the
way. Helping the reader across the maze of Desperado fiction is more precious to Lodge than actually building a
maze of his own. He is a critic even when he thinks he is only a novelist. And in his criticism, he is a novelist, too,
which shows how much of a hybrid the Desperado author has become.

● Displacement could not be absent from Lodge’s arsenal of Desperado major issues. Nice Work (1989), a truly
remarkable novel for its plot, characters, irony, involvement, social view, aesthetic choices, relies upon a heroine
who was born in Australia and almost emigrates to America, but thinks better of it, in the end. Possibly without
realizing, Lodge also builds a bit of a dystopia in it, too. In communism, pupils used to be forced to spend a day in
a factory every week. Robyn Penrose is assigned to be the ‘shadow’ of Victor Wilcox, ‘Managing Director’ of a
3 factory. Although she has written a dissertation on 19th century industrial novel, she feels lost in Vic’s factory,
4
which may remind a lot of former pupils under the communist rule what it felt like to waste six hours among
workers who could not care less about schools and education. The pattern of the novel relies upon displacement
(from the academic world to that of industry and vice-versa) and dystopia (defamiliarization of the usual, everyday
environment makes the heroes see their world with better awareness). Robyn begins as an academic without a
prospect, and ends with a steady job and a published book, giving up love-interest altogether (another ironical
hint at traditional narratives which chose to end in the happiness of the couple). Vic begins as a well-off, stable
capitalist, who loses his world and is rescued by an Australian inheritance Robyn invests in his plan to find another
foothold. Literature helps out hard fact. Woman backs man, while refusing romance flatly. They both end up
displaced (bewildered by their new positions), but rescued from dystopia (end of the previous way of life, menace
of nightmare coming true sometime). The architecture of the book is perfect. Its Desperado author combines every
device he can think of, with such good mastery of the form of the novel that it takes us a while to become aware of

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the complexity of this apparently tame, traditional story. Lodge hates to shock. His Desperado zest for uniqueness
is cushioned in a layer of soft inertia. He allows his reader to take his time, wake up, drink his coffee, and finally
get to work. It takes rereading, re-thinking, actually, to unveil the hidden intention of complication.

● Souls and Bodies (1990) is another confrontation of Catholicism with sex. This is a theme Lodge can claim as his
own among Desperadoes, who are free from all restrictions as far as their love-life is concerned. Lodge’s discreet
treatment of characters, his unwillingness to reveal their thoughts, make him a Desperado. He pushes the reader
under a shower of stories, is always hungry for humour, always narrates tongue in his cheek. After the stream of
consciousness, writers are excessively aware of inner revelations and are no longer content with mere facts. A true
Desperado, Lodge forgets about the stream of consciousness, and dives into whirlwinds of incidents.

3 ● Paradise News (1991) mixes third-person narrative, letters, diary, intertextuality (echoes, in Bernard’s mind,
4
from literature). Catholicism and the vocation of the Church are pushed aside. The inner life wins the battle. Love-
life replaces faith. Against all recent rules, the novel ends in the promise of a happy couple, though this serenity is
bitter, coming quite late. Lodge manages here to smash everything, the idea of smashing everything included. This
can hardly be a return to tradition, though. After so many twists and turns, we stand and stare at a David Lodge
who now poses as a Desperado of simplicity. In this contest of Desperado versus Desperado, literature wins.

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II/11. JULIAN BARNES


(1946)

● By stating that the novelist’s job is ‘to explore all the available points of view,’ Julian Barnes places himself
inside the wave of revolt against the stream of consciousness. He chooses to return to the pleasures of a well-told
story, restoring plot, and a sophisticated sense of chronology to the novel. He does so while claiming he does not
belong to any particular trend, which places him in the Desperado age, as his own trend.

● To prove that the story is a sine qua non, Barnes has written three thrillers under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh.
3 He claims those are books of atmosphere more than action, but they would not be thrillers if nothing happened,
4
so we might safely conclude that Virginia Woolf would be horrified at this. The point that Barnes is the first wave of
dissenters against experimentalism is proved again.

● Barnes develops a religion of the novel, which must tell ‘the most truth about life.’ He admits he loves words,
too, but not to the point of using his plot as an etymological adventure, or a tortuous observation of the self. He
tries his hand at all these, psychology is important, yet not essential, witty words are indispensable to his basic
irony, but the novel is a story before everything else. And this story which is the novel will ‘outlast even God,’
however many changes it may undergo.

● Hybridization and humour are Barnes’ main resources. Talking It Over mixes fiction with incomplete drama,
which is what Barnes does in most of his novels, as he is a histrionic creator of characters. His heroes are restless

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and keep talking. Their discourse offers a deep insight into their inner world. These heroes chat to the reader
mostly, but hardly ever engage in a dialogue. They take the reader into their confidence. The author keeps silent.
Their fate is therefore inconclusive, incomplete, lasting them for as long as they can keep talking to us. The novel
ends when they stop, but it only begins in the reader’s mind at that point. Like all Desperado novels, Barnes’
books are inconclusive, to be followed in our mind.

● Barnes views academic life with irony. Oliver, in Talking It Over, teaches English as a foreign language,
occupation which is a source of irony in itself. Flaubert’s Parrot ends with students’ papers on the story of the
book, the facts of Flaubert’s life and work.

● Broken families abound in Barnes’ novels, loneliness after the breaking of the couple being a theme we amply
3 find illustrated in Lessing, Ishiguro, Gray, Lodge, Bradbury, almost every Desperado author. Three of Barnes’
4
novels (Talking It Over, Flaubert’s Parrot, Staring at the Sun) describe people left by a spouse, who either died or
just got a divorce. Marital bliss is not the Desperado’s cup of tea.

● Desperado books seldom dive in obvious love affairs. They either obliquely suggest intense love interest,
without putting it in as many words, or take refuge in tenderness. The author deliberately denies us closure. The
heroes float in their secret soul, they think, talk, remember, yet never reveal. Secretive authors, Desperadoes are
misers of sensibility. They weigh lyricism by the ounce, and offer us masks to chase the feeling of emptiness away.
Barnes is a lover of masks. His heroes seem haunted by emptiness precisely because of his reluctance to share
their soul with us. Yet, Desperado characters are not deprived of a soul. They are just unusually slow in putting it
into words. Unwillingness to voice feelings, shyness leading to silence, are a natural reaction to Woolf’s, Joyce’s
raging psychological revelations. Who can blame a Desperado like Barnes for keeping his feelings to himself?

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● Solitude is an attribute of every character. Barnes, along with all Desperadoes, sees life as a lonely race, and
feeling as a bottomless pit. All Desperado characters are significant solitaries, beings who cannot inhabit an
already inhabited world, because they need space to be different. They would even be different from themselves if
they possibly could.

● The character and the author address the reader directly. It happens with Barnes, Graham Swift, Fowles, and
other Desperadoes. They feel free to overstep the boundaries of traditional fiction. What could not be done before
is welcome now, in this age of daring discovery. The author finds out how far he can go, even though this may
happen too late, when he has already written a novel that shocks the reader. Shock is the Desperado lesson,
anyway.
3 4
● Hybridization is best illustrated by Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot. It mingles narrative, essay, fabulation, literary
criticism (which is turned into a thriller), literary history, emotional reactions, examination papers. It is done with a
grudging tone, which is Barnes’ favourite. He refuses to entertain. He may shock, impress, irritate, but never wants
to merely please. The reader is dislocated into meaning.

● Though clear in expression, Barnes is intricate in intention. He is enjoyable, though impossible to pinpoint to
one genre alone. He is real, although his novels debunk reality, disobeying every novelistic convention and mixing
them all together. Barnes uses bits of rules in a conventionless text, and demonstrates that freedom can be
enjoyed, both in writing and in reading. There is only one major condition for Barnes: the text must be sparkling in
order to exist.

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● Staring at the Sun is a novel which, like many desperado works, puts us in a blessing mood. It resorts to
lyricism, sympathy, metaphor, and mainly to postponed understanding. In Barnes’ other novels, we understand
every little pun. In this novel he teaches the reader to take his time. As Eliot used to say about poetry, Barnes
seems to be stating, the novel, too, can communicate before it is understood.

● Staring at the Sun ends in 2016, at a dystopic time, when people are solitary beings who talk to computers
about life and its possible termination at will. Barnes flirts with the idea of the all-powerful computer, coming
close to Orwell, Huxley, Ray Bradbury. Hybridization brings lyricism into action, and we no longer wait for the story
to end, but for the dystopic mood to be completed. As it turns out, Barnes is not fond of dystopia, so the mood is
one of tenderness, in the end.

3 ● Desperado heroes, Barnes’ heroes, often suffer from a kind of emotional mongolism. The author refuses to
4
allow them the right to confession. As the author is silent himself, and his heroes are not much more talkative
when it comes to their inner world, the reader is left to his own devices. A suspicious reader, who can create his
own image of a sketched hero and furnish it with his own soul, an involved reader, is the ideal Desperado reader.

● The iron curtain is a theme Barnes treats in Staring at the Sun and The Porcupine, and which he shares with
Desperadoes like Orwell, Huxley, Burgess, Bradbury, Greene, Lessing, Brownjohn. Translation from a communist
language into English is usually hilarious. In China they explain: ‘The temple was repented. We grow ladies. Here is
the sobbing centre.’ Outside dystopias, the Western authors do not understand much of communism, satisfied
with the irony directed at the use of language, which they realize is the famous ‘wooden language’ of ready-made,
politically correct statements. The Desperado insufficient characters fail to deal with communism in depth, even

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when they are as much in earnest as Lessing. Communism is off limits to British Desperadoes (Orwell excepted),
and their dystopias are imaginary speculations of their worst expectations. The iron curtain is merely a pretext.

● A genuine Desperado, more than other contemporaries of his, Barnes defies: he defies everything, from
literature to life. Unlike Lodge, who only smiles, Barnes defies religion. Unlike Gray or Orwell, he defies dystopia.
Unlike Swift, he uses lyricism only in order to defy it. Unlike Ishiguro, he defies tenderness, intimacy. Unlike
Bradbury and Lodge, he defies humour, preferring biting mockery. And, in conclusion, being so much unlike
everybody else is what makes him a true Desperado, all alone, his own trend, refusing similarity.

● In Metroland (1980), his first novel, Barnes touches upon the theme of teenagers, just like Burgess, Lessing,
Golding, Brownjohn (To Clear the River, a first novel as well). The outlet for teenage energy is not violence here,
3 but the use of French in English sentences. It is a mild outlet, as compared to Alex in A Clockwork Orange, or the
4
gangs in The Memoirs of a Survivor and The Fifth Child. Barnes stresses the teenagers’ defiance, more than their
potential for violence.

● Julian Barnes’ irony and lyricism coexist. They feed on the feelings he hides. He defies both the tradition of
sentiment and that of realism, building his own devices as he goes along.

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II/12. PETER ACKROYD


(1949)

● A Desperado author is not happy until his reader gives in to the novel as to a trance. Ackroyd moves back and
forth in time, between centuries, or between minds, confusing the reader, who ends by living in a perpetual
present, which includes all times, all thoughts, all sensibilities. The highly narrative style is mingled with a lyrical
suspension of disbelief. Although full of suspense and palpitating stories, his novels are preeminently lyrical
experiences.

3 4
● Ackroyd creates his own reader, the sharing reader, who has to do much more than take the author’s words for
granted. He has to lend himself to the author’s expert hand, and this author is never satisfied till he reaches
absolute communion. He leads us, readers, to the point where we become him, the author. We partake of a sacred
rite (the novelist’s imagination). The novel is like holy communion with an overwhelmingly creative mind. Ackroyd
is a stream of imagination, and the reader becomes creative himself, in a natural, soft way, quite new to the
Desperado stiffness.

● Ackroyd, who wrote a remarkable critical biography of T.S. Eliot, works with leitmotifs, just like Eliot. His images
are repeated at intervals of centuries, and we feel above time, which is again quite un-Desperado. Exultation at the
power of imagination is uncommon to the Desperado reticence, the Desperado commonsensical view of the
supernatural. Even dystopias are practical, realistic, as true to life as possible. When Ishiguro places The

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Unconsoled in the dream world, he makes sure it is a nightmare, no joy involved, although his nightmare turns in
the end into a captivating reading experience. Unlike other Desperadoes, Ackroyd is willingly an exile from reality.

● Ackroyd travels in the bookish, cultured space of the reading mind. His plots float in written texts, spring from
other plots, stumble into other authors’ characters. Ackroyd thrives on literature. He writes Eliot’s biography, and
also makes St. Mary Woolnoth (the church in The Waste Land) part of his Hawksmoor. He masses together authors,
composers, painters, in English Music and Chatterton. Minds meet beyond ages, above time, and literature
becomes a space of communion.

● Death is a recurrent theme, which burdens all Desperado sensibilities, from Graham Swift (Last Orders) to Barnes
(Flaubert’s Parrot), Lessing (The Memoirs of a Survivor), Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient). Ackroyd treats it
3 like a sweet mystery. It is present in all his novels as a physical state, not as an incident. There is a life in death, a
4
life after death, life and death are woven together. Ackroyd uses his imagination and lyricism to make us see death
as the courage to live beyond. Crossing the border, crossing all borders, is Ackroyd’s lesson, the reason why his
books are strong and invigorating.

● The aesthetic value of the ugly, the scary, the depressing and the unhealthy is an influence of Eliot again, but
Ackroyd does something old Eliot would never have expected. He restores beauty to those states, whose
hideousness appealed to Eliot precisely because it was something else than harmony. A character believes in Satan
and builds churches to evil, another has brief moments of relapse into the frightening literary common
subconscious. Fear is hope, feelings storm. Ackroyd’s literature emanates spiritual strength.

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● Ackroyd is a great lover of narratives, and he finds new narrative modes in an easy, natural way. Hawksmoor
ends one chapter and begins the next with the same sentence, in a new context, and the mysterious connection
between alternating times becomes obvious. English Music plunges the main hero into trance chapters, going as
far back as several centuries. Ackroyd uses parallelisms as often as they can be invoked. He has a critic’s mind,
which sees hints to be decoded in every corner, and the soul of a novelist, which fills those hints with magnetic
lyricism. We are drawn to the past, we are drawn to literature as if it were real life, our life. We share the story with
the narrator. With Ackroyd we never feel excluded, challenged, an outsider. He urges us to witness creation from
the inside. We appropriate the text.

● Ackroyd uses bits of poetry in all his novels. Usually poetry opens for him the door into the out-of-time, into
imagination, which is all powerful. Most Desperadoes are not that lucky. They are dry and refuse access to the
3 beyond. Ackroyd has an uncommon gift of phrase, which shows he is a poet, not just a novelist. He loves words,
4
and he is good at making them cohere harmoniously, in sentences which are, in fact, short poems in themselves.
He is not so much direct as evocative of moods. He reaches the reader via the reader’s ability to be impressed
emotionally and aesthetically. Peter Ackroyd manages to combine the love of striking, memorable words of his
stream of consciousness predecessors with the matter-of-fact narrative of the Desperadoes. He is a hybrid of two
authors: one who means to enslave the reader, the other one, who sets the reader free to find his own way, and
watches him enigmatically. More a slave to words than his contemporaries, Ackroyd takes us into his confidence,
using all the devices he can think of, confident the reader will always approve. His approving reader is, indeed,
right by his side.

● Chronology is ruined in a subtle way. All time feels like the past, and we feel privileged to share it. Ackroyd is
not a matter-of-fact narrator, like Lessing, Lodge, Bradbury. The others have their own colours, too. Lessing is

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bitter, Lodge and Bradbury humorous, Barnes bitingly witty. Ackroyd takes refuge in tenderness. His sensibility
ruins the line of the story, diving into oceans of is and was, reminding us they are all a primordial sea, wherefrom
we all come and into which we shall one day return. History swallows chronology, and whatever the moment, we
only know we are still alive, ready to live more, willing to read more.

● Unlike most Desperadoes, Ackroyd is preeminently quotable, like Graham Swift. This comes from the care with
which each word is loaded with lyricism. Incidents become symbols, while carrying the story on; they support both
story and its interpretation. Reason is not enough for a reader. He must reach beyond understanding, the book
pushes him outside himself. Ackroyd is a striver for the limit of understanding, and his readers must actually
accept more than can be logically explained, which brings lyricism back into the picture once again.

3 ● Not trying to be witty, humorous, or even ironical, the only refuge left for Ackroyd is to be in dead earnest. He
4
builds his plots in good faith, meaning what he says, and never implying disparaging parallels, never talking about
characters tongue in his cheek. Ackroyd’s narrative good faith makes the reader devour the incidents without
wondering how real they can be, as long as their burden of poetic mystery motivates him to look for emotion,
more than meaning.

● Typical for a Desperado, Ackroyd mixes fiction, poetry, drama, history, music, thoughts and dialogue, and keeps
the reader interested although he provides no romance, no love interest. The interest of the Desperado novel
obviously moves from the couple to the lonely individual facing life. The author does not feel at liberty to inform
us about this character’s life in the traditional, chronological way, the past caused by the present, and the present
triggering, causing the future to happen. The character rejects chronological causality, as a matter of fact. Life is a

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mystery to him precisely because it loses the line of time. The novel ends in a huge question mark, a communion,
in Ackroyd’s case, with the unspeakable.

● Writing about very humane heroes, Ackroyd is in the habit of debunking history. The Royal Architect Nicholas
Dyer melts with a Scotland Yard detective. Chatterton the literary forgerer who created a whole trend is a confused
youth who desperately wanted to live, although literary history thinks him to have committed suicide. His death
melts with Charles’ very real and depressing, common death. As it happens, Chatterton is a book of fakes. A poet
fakes his death, a painting fakes Chatterton’s image by using Meredith as a model, a painter fakes his master, a
novelist fakes a good novel by copying the plot of another novelist, in conclusion nothing is reliable any more.

● Ackroyd creates the dreamy novel, perfectly illustrated by English Music. The plot of this book is our mind itself.
3 It is written both in the first and third person. Real life and dreams or trance alternate. The moments of trance sink
4
deep into old music, old literature, old painting. The further back our mind takes us into the past, the stronger the
plot. The plot is our own thought, we identify completely with the text. We share the ever after and ever before.
The book is private, and reading it is a private experience, too.

● A Desperado work, whether poem or novel, has many layers of imagination, reminding the critic of South-
American fiction, such authors as Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Ishiguro did very much the same as Marquez in The
Unconsoled. Eliot came also very close in The Waste Land. Cultured fiction, cultured poetry, are very common with
Desperadoes, while it was an innovation with Eliot. The Notes to The Waste Land were like a manifesto, while
Desperado works are cultured as a matter of fact, like breathing in and breathing out. Among waves of literary
memories, the unwilling narrative winds among mysteries af all kinds, which we are required to absorb as they

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come, thus humouring the novelist. Besieged by thoughts of other writers, Ackroyd hands us the very substance of
his haunted mind.

● Ackroyd is both a novelist and a scholar. Many Desperadoes need previous work of documentation before
embarking on a novel. They use their critical ability to assume a Victorian air (Fowles), the air of Greece (Fowles
again), the atmosphere of communism (Orwell), French literature (Barnes). Ackroyd chooses T.S. Eliot for a critical
biography, which becomes a novel in his hands. At the same time, it is illuminating for Eliot himself. Ackroyd
creates Eliot as a character. He reveals Eliot’s soul, on the basis of the circumstances of his life, which are the bare
plot. As he says in an inteview, ‘The mind is the soul,’ which means idea and feeling are one, plot and emotion
melt in the intensity of the experience of reading.

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II/13. MARTIN AMIS


(1949)

● Martin Amis writes oral novels, in which people talk a lot, as it happens in Barnes’ Talking It Over, Burgess’ A
Clockwork Orange, or in most novels which are a monologue whose hero addresses the reader, directly or in an
oblique way. His language abounds in four-letter words, as a verbal tic. These novels are noisy, but point to a
feeling of sad inner emptiness.

● Just like Fowles, but in a more extensive way, Amis is his own hero. Not only do we find the author in the book,
we also find his biography to be the biography of Amis himself.
3 4
● Like Gray in 1982 Janine, Martin Amis’ Money and The Information reveal dirty minds, dirty sex-life and foul
language. The heroes could not care less whether they are alive or dead. Life is wasted on them, which is a form of
irony on the author’s part, tending more to become bitterness, actually. They are not sane minds, either. Everyone
is or seems to be neurotic, crazy, driven out of their minds by the absurd life around them. Absurdity enforces
mental insanity on author, heroes and even reader. The atmosphere is stifling.

● John Self, in Money, states, ‘My life is getting less memorable all the time.’ Unmemorable characters is Amis’
ambition. The plot itself is bushy and unmemorable. The reader has a hard time remembering what the book is
about, the incidents are inessential. What is essential is sharing the hero’s fantasies, which Amis has in common
with Gray again, and also with many of his contemporary American novelists. The same character confesses, ‘I am
a pornographic addict.’ This addiction rules feelings out.

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● Amis aims at a kind of novel-vérité. Orality debunks suspense, yet something must keep us interested, must
keep us reading on. Amis resorts to something he carries to a peak, which is the aesthetics of the repelling. The
author is very direct, the characters do not intend to win us over. They love their lovelessness.

● Martin Amis does not take himself seriously, and his heroes also mock at themselves and everybody else. They
con themselves and whomever else they can, they are eager to outsmart. The reader, on the other hand, sees
through the hero’s (the author’s) deviousness, and is not amused. He is disabused. The reaction Amis stirs in his
reader is one of escape: whoever reads him feels like running to the nearest life other than his, and renting it.
Running away from themselves is what heroes do best in these books.

3 ● Amis writes from everybody’s point of view. He creates a need for privacy in his books. It feels as if the readers,
4
millions of readers, were the heroes, and Amis had to flee for his life, not give himself away, hide whatever he can.
The readers devour the author, this is the major fear in Money.

● Amis feels language to be very important, which makes him highly quotable at times. He also has a reversed cult
for America, which means he admits there are advantages, but he feels that Brits going that way are wrong. Puns,
pilgrimages to America and hatred would be an adequate summary of The Information, and a good description of
Amis’ main obsessions. Adding to it sex, of course, emotionless as it may be. The trick which makes us go on
reading is Amis’ successful attempt at making us share creation: he makes us the writers, takes us as his
accomplices, treats us as his equals, who know everything he knows.

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● Aside from the themes already used by Desperadoes – pilgrimage to America, love of pornography, emptiness,
the suggestion of plagiarism (see Lanark, Chatterton) – Amis has his own voice, too: he mocks at literature, at his
own book, at the novel as such. He notices that the literary genres ‘have all bled into one another.’ Hybridization,
in Amis’ case, drains fiction of its vigour. The novel is limp.

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II/14. GRAHAM SWIFT


(1949)

● Desperadoes are more or less Faulknerian novelists, and this is more obvious with Graham Swift than many
others. Details woven in a puzzle trigger a later revelation each, postponing the end of he book. Actually, like
many Desperado novels, Swift’s books end unwillingly. Between words and incidents, Graham Swift fights the
waters of silence, and reclaims every inch of a bewitched land of memories.

● Waterland (1983) is one of the best examples of the Desperado version of hybridization of genres: it mixes
3 fiction, poetry, history, essay, diary, teaching. It is less of a deliberate plan of thoughts than Joyce’s Ulysses, and it
4
advances stealthily among ever new environments.

● The plot itself is uncomplicated, but narration is baffling. A history teacher addresses his pupils, and we soon
find out we could be the pupils, and history could easily be the plot. We read smoothly, though breathlessly, but
the overall impression is one of frustration. Unlike Virginia Woolf, who meant to smash the plot, but only achieved
novels which we easily rearrange along the chronology past-present-future, which she so hated, Graham Swift is
free from temporal causality. His novel feeds on incidents (and lyricism), but these innumerable fragments of the
narrative float independently from any temporal determination. We rearrange an emotional puzzle, not a temporal
one. Virginia Woolf did not go as far as changing the foundation of her characters, and these characters forced us
to rearrange their lives chronologically. Graham Swift achieves what she aimed at, yet had no idea how to get: he
splits the hero into feelings. When we have done assembling this enigmatical being, under the pressure of the

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story, of the painful suspense our curiosity creates, we are exhausted, and only the author’s lyricism can soothe
our unrest.

● Swift’s universe, like most Desperadoes’, is one of obscure guilt. This guilt is only guessed at, in contemporary
comments on past mysteries. Ishiguro uses the same tactics, and Lessing, Gray, Ackroyd. This guilt is a good
source of lyricism, which these authors need in order to infuse feeling into an otherwise dry novel.

● Most Desperadoes have a liking for one, even more, slightly crazy heroes. The minds that we join in their pages
are confused, along the line opened by T.S. Eliot. Madness is an impossibility to accept the outside. The
Desperadoes are all overwhelmed by a complicated reality (see Lessing, Ackroyd, Gray, Amis, Barnes). Their heroes
are slowed down, in panic over incidents which nobody, not even the author, can control. Confusion replaces
3 explanation.
4

● Waterland follows the stream of Tom Crick’s memories, but it could not be farther away from the stream of
consciousness. We are not invited within the minds of the characters. Swift sketches their outside story, even that
is done fitfully, and also breathtakingly. We are shocked into remembrance of things past. The author flatly
replaces sentimentality with sentimental horror, which is very different from Woolf’s decision that the novel needs
no love-interest. It is much more general and profound than the modernist mere revolt against realism. It is a new
trend. The Desperado age is not against previous trends, as modernism was. The Desperadoes are outside trends,
devices, fashions. They change the meaning of literature. They adapt literature to the mind of a reader surrounded
by visual stimuli and in danger of forgetting how to read. They reinforce the reading experience at a time when the
screen threatens to take over. No film made after a very good novel (The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Nice Work,

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The English Patient, 1984, The Remains of the Day, Lord of the Flies, The Collector, Sophie’s Choice – after the
American William Styron) is as good, as rich, as maddening as the written text.

● Swift uses every conceivable way out of the story, leaving us alone with his characters and their private hell.
Happiness is not of interest. Desperado heroes are only happy in their unhappiness, meaning that they enjoy life,
although to the reader their life does not appear enjoyable in the least. Again, Swift and the other Desperadoes
teach the reader a new view on life.

● Love is for the Desperadoes a vain, haunting, desperate wait (see Lessing,
Ackroyd, Ishiguro, Swift, Gray, Orwell, Huxley, Amis, Lodge, Barnes, practically everyone). It leaks into parent-
child, teacher-pupil, friend to friend, superior to subordinate relationships. There can only be surrogates for love.
3 Love as an experience is denied. The couple is a topic non grata.
4

● The Desperado narrative is ostentatiously informal. The hero speaks naturally, the reader strives to follow. The
main trick to make this monologue interesting is to run the movie backwards: the details are lined up from end to
the very beginning, the truth is delayed, and finally merges with its future, which is the narrator’s old age, as a
rule (sometimes his death, as in Lanark).

● The informal narrative is interrupted by poetic sentences, relying on metaphor, images, haiku-like thoughts.
With many Desperadoes, some paragraphs are blank verse poems (see Ackroyd, Barnes, Ishiguro, Swift). Fiction
resorts more and more to the poetic arsenal in order to get through to the reader. When the author wants to grab
his readers’ sensibility, he writes a poematic thought, and this is the signal for the reader to use sympathy, to feel.
This signal used to be the story of a love, of a couple, but the world has changed, and key experiences are no

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longer what they used to be. Death is a Godless state, the birth of a child is rather sad (see Lanark’s child, the
children in Ishiguro, Lessing, Swift). The Desperado author lives in and writes about a grim universe, which tends
to slip into dystopia, even when the aim of the book is not to view the future.

● In Waterland we read: ‘As long as there’s a story, it’s all right.’ Again and again, though baffled by the oddity of
incidents and characters, the reader cannot escape the narrative, yet cannot decode it completely. Insufficient
decoding, carefully arranged by the author, leads to a planned reconsideration, rethinking, rereading. The reader
comes back to the same incidents again and again, with the same curiosity to find the key to the puzzle. Although
the plot is known, the story is every bit as interesting the second time around. The author writes directly with the
reader’s hand, uses the reader’s mind to continue the story, then return to it and find the hidden points of
suspense, which can make sense only when put all together. Treat the reader as yourself, is the slogan Desperado
3 authors carry in their march.
4

● Unlike most Desperadoes, Swift loves the sweetness of the picturesque. Beauty cannot exist unless in accidental
islands, but they are even more piercing as they are rare. The lack of beauty explains why a novel like Waterland
ends with all kinds of departures: Mary leaves sanity, Tom Crick leaves his classes of history, Dick goes away, and
we leave the text, relieved that we can breathe out of the captivity Swift planned for us.

● Swift’s novels have something Jamesian about them, but he goes farther than the father of the stream of
consciousness. He abuses half-statements, double meanings, incomplete thoughts. Confusion is often overdone.
The plot refuses to lure us by revealing psychology. All in all, we seem to be keeping company with an insufficient
Henry James. It takes a while for the reader to find his bearings in Swift’s stories, to realize what he should be
looking forward to. Strange heroes undergo half-revealed experiences, and all along they wonder (we wonder, too)

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whether life is worth living. No excitement, no promise, no future. This is the Desperado feat: the novel (Swift’s
included) abolishes the future. A book like The Sweet-Shop Owner takes us to the North Pole of love.

● Like most Desperadoes, Graham Swift tries his hand at many varieties of the novel. In some novels, nobody
changes and the future is preordained. In others (see Shuttlecock) we get the very psychology of change under our
own eyes. Themes are also played upon: emigration to America (Out of This World) and return of Americans to the
Old World, psychoanalysis (Shuttlecock), death all over, parents estranged from children (The Sweet-Shop Owner),
books within books (Shuttlecock), memory playing tricks on the hero, voices crossing swords, interruptions
storming. Some novels, by Swift and Ackroyd mainly, look like a book of poems arranged to make up a narrative.
Some books of poetry look like novels, on the other hand, when we look at the poets. So, it goes both ways. The
author never wants to stop, and when he does, the reader is angry, and feels like shouting, with Eliot’s words: Why
3 have you stopped thinking? THINK!
4

● Desperado novels are endless goodbyes. Ever After is such a book. Characters keep dying, coming back to life in
person or in diaries, memories. Swift is concerned with history of all kinds (World Wars, natural history and
prehistory, individual history). A hero-writer’s sentence exclaims: ‘The struggle for existence? Ha! The struggle for
remembrance.’ A writer within a writer finds it more important to discover himself by means of writing, than to
address posterity. The Desperado writer is constantly in search for himself. The novel is a constant question mark.
The reader is pushed between the lines. Like the others, Swift writes an insecure text, using memory as its fragile
foundation. We find Graham Swift, as we find the other Desperado authors, struggling ever after with the dragon
called myself.

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II/15. KAZUO ISHIGURO


(1954)

● Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Japan, and came to England at the age of five. His books are the perfect image of
displacement. Either he pictures Japanese heroes displaced (sent to England or to an unfamiliar time), as it
happens in A Pale View of Hills, An Artist of the Floating World, or he finds a way of displacing English heroes (The
Remains of the Day). He also creates an ideal environment for displacement, actually building a dystopia (The
Unconsoled). Displaced heroes are silent, not voicing their unhappiness, which is however there. The mother in A
Pale View of Hills remembers in such a way that her whole memory becomes a question mark. She silently wonders
3 whether her older daughter committed suicide because she was brought from Japan to England. She keeps
4
thinking of her Japanese friend who wanted to emigrate, yet possibly never managed to. America is the third
Desperado theme which Ishiguro brings up. The new owner of Darlington Hall is American, and his friends look at
his new possession as at a bargain with local colour, the ‘real thing.’ Americans are also present in defeated Japan,
and described with resentment. When civilization collapses, the Desperadoes see Americans invade, with next to
no education, but with obvious welfare. America is the promised land for many after-war individuals, who have
had enough of English, Japanese or German poverty. Very sensitive to three major Desperado themes,
displacement, dystopia and America, Ishiguro is highly representative for the turn of the millennium.

● Dissimulated emotion is Ishiguro’s main feature in everything he has written so far. His characters may seem
empty, they are incredibly shy, reluctant to verbalize. To hunt and shoot feelings is the main pastime of Ishiguro’s
reader. Annoyed because he cannot share what he is never told exists, this reader goes back to the text again and

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again, looking for the least word which could betray sensibility. Some books are colder (An Artist of the Floating
World), others are however highly endearing (The Unconsoled), or at least exquisitely loving (The Remains of the
Day). Unlike Graham Swift or Ackroyd, yet very much like Barnes, Gray, Amis, though in a totally different manner,
Ishiguro holds emotion prisoner in a castle of ice. Japanese lace surrounds every gesture. Each incident is perfect,
a haiku in movement. Climbing each step of the soul, while seeming to tread a flat road, the plot reaches
emotional intensity blindfolded.

● The characters are unwilling to unveil their names. Very often they do not even have a first name (see Stevens,
the butler), and when they do have a full name, it is not important, since very few use it. Which proves that the
novel is a dissimulated monologue of the one main hero, surrounded by secondary characters, all carefully
outlined, yet totally unimportant for their soul. The only character with a soul is the main one, who takes his time
3 to unveil some of his experiences. Ishiguro is a
4
one-hero novelist, like all Desperadoes.

● Decency and restraint govern Ishiguro’s writings. Apparently his words are unemotional, matter-of-fact. The
faces of his heroes are impenetrable, their figures hieratic, prone to immobility. Inner movement cannot be
hidden, but Ishiguro would rather the reader discovered that on his own. He will not give in to outspoken lyricism,
although the substance of all his writings is unbelievably tender. Each main hero loves and is hurt, every incident
must be viewed carefully. Ishiguro wants to look like a gentle author, sparing his characters the pain of unwanted
revelation. Actually, he leaves all the signs behind, for the reader to find out suffering. This Desperado author
does not know the meaning of happiness. The painter denied by Post-War, Americanized Japan, the butler of a
dead master and a past great time, the Japanese mother living in an alien, lonely country, the pianist who does not

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even get to play, are all tragic masks behind which it is the reader’s task to guess the blood boiling. Ishiguro is not
less intense than other writers; he is merely more cautious with showing intensity.

● Psychology is minutely dissected, although there are no traces of surgery in Ishiguro’s novels. It seems he has
no idea what can go on in his heroes’ minds. His language never uses ‘he thought’, ‘he remembered’, ‘he thought
to himself.’ This is one more proof that we always get the point of view of the main character alone, even though
the narrative may be written in the third person. If compared to the stream of consciousness, Ishiguro’s fiction is
another direction altogether. The Desperado manner can best be demonstrated in the works of this quiet, self-
contained author, whose work rages with unuttered passion. He analyzes minds by carefully selecting incidents,
memories that lead to a certain conclusion. The reader gets to judge the order of the arguments more than the
emotional quality of each separate incident. We read a mind, discover the way it works, where it fails, and this
3 failure of the mind is the real cause of the tragedy in the book. All characters are peculiar intellects. They are also
4
very stubborn, and stick to their direction. No character in Ishiguro changes, they are all static and revealed in the
order the author carefully plans. If we manage to decode the order of thoughts, we are faced with a fanatic mind,
which is bitterly defeated in the end. The end of each novel is a defeat, and the author, the reader too, can only
accept. Nothing doing.

● Ishiguro’s major device is understatement. Although after a second, third reading it becomes fairly obvious that
the painter is an ex-fascist, who dreamt of imperial Japan and sent to jail a left-wing colleague, Ishiguro never
says a word against him. The book is not very much in love with this tyrannical, resentful old painter, dreaming of
his youthful mistakes, which to him are still the right way. Stubbornness is a general feature of all these
characters, who never change, not within the space of Ishiguro’s mind. They may decline from favour, but their
dignity is untouched, they never repent or amend. Ishiguro’s main heroes are never likable persons. We learn to

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put up with them. Our irritation grows as we read one more incident, as we discover that the trajectory of their
memory is aimed at hiding exactly what we are expected to find out and condemn. Ishiguro is a determined writer,
whose judgment of character is not to be argued with. He has a firmness of the soul, which he uses to teach us to
like unlikable beings, to overcome our disapproval. Like the wooden shoes that imposed a certain shape on the
Japanese girls’ feet of old, his novels silence our sensibility into conforming to his decision, which usually is, This
character is doomed. Ishiguro’s beings are all doomed, and we have to scour his texts in order to find out why.

● Ishiguro’s main characters are all might-have-been’s. This is how the reader perceives them. Stevens is a
might-have-been day, the Japanese painter is a
might-have-been success, the pianist is a might-have-been husband and son. All Desperadoes dislike happiness
as a way out of the novel, as a direction to be followed by the reader. They resort to this might-have-been
3 happiness, much more effective than a clear recording of a happy-end on the last page. If we think of it, the
4
Desperado novel has no end at all. It merely stops, while the reader feels the underground stream actually goes on
and he is denied access. This frustrated reader turns creative, rereads, decodes, writes about the book, in short,
he will not let it go.

● The American Mr. Farraday, who buys Darlington Hall with the butler in it, is no longer Henry James’ American,
who would defect to Europe at any time, or a T.S. Eliot, who felt America was stifling him as a poet. This American
does not complain about his country in the least. He has a complex of superiority. He advises and judges Stevens
by his own standards. He imposes his outlook, is totally blind to Europe. Like all Desperadoes, Ishiguro also
notices that America has come of age.

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● Ishiguro’s characters, whether a butler, a painter, a Japanese mother or a pianist, are all in a mild, yet
irrevocable state of shock. This confusion accounts for their inability to lead us to the root of the evil, their
inability to see the damage they themselves have done. They are all guilty, and they feel it in their bones, but their
minds try to prove them innocent, and this is the trick of all Ishiguro’s novels. The reader is caught between the
characters’ determination to be right and his own suspicion that something is rotten in the state of the
Desperadoes.

● Ishiguro’s characters, like most Desperadoes’, are unable to adapt to change. Some change occurs, and it sets
the novelist going. The butler has to learn the ‘art of bantering’, when all he cared about in his life were the
intellectual conversations with his master, ‘improving’ his vocabulary, being very much in earnest. The painter has
to accept the Americanization of Japan, down to something as basic as the cartoons watched by his grandson: not
3 samurais, but cowboys. The pianist is set to change the world with his music, yet his own private life is destroyed
4
precisely because of it, because of the tours on which, we have reason to believe, he does not even have a chance
to play. The heroes cling to whatever it was they were doing when the change came upon them and the reader has
no choice but disapprove. The disapproving reader is a natural consequence of this strategy of change and
inadaptability, which Ishiguro, and most Desperadoes, use.

● Ishiguro’s main heroes, like Gray’s, Barnes’, Lessing’s, suffer from a secrecy of the mind. If we are to find the
logical way out of the maze of incidents, the order in the puzzle, we have to break a door, violate the author’s
silence. Stevens does not like to be found out, on various occasions: he denies having served his master when
some villagers denounce him as an ex-fascist, declares he needs a good housekeeper when he goes in search of
his real love, Miss Kenton. The painter does not want the reader to realize that he actually threw another painter in
jail because the latter was

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left-wing, so he postpones remembering the exact circumstances, until it becomes indispensable for the plot to
go on. The pianist’s memory is a set of holes, which are filled in turn, one by one, but he opposes his being
understood, refuses to voice connections, keeps incidents as separate as he can. These heroes refuse to talk to the
reader. Honesty is never the Desperado’s best policy. Deviousness is.

● Irony is, for Ishiguro as for all Desperadoes, the only possible creative attitude. The author waits somewhere,
behind his hero, and shows us his smile from time to time. Some Desperadoes are bitingly ironic (Bradbury, Lodge,
Barnes, Fowles), others mildly so (Gray). Some are bitter (Lessing), others dreamy (Ackroyd, Swift). Ishiguro has an
ironical pattern. His novels are structured on irony. He deliberately mocks at found secrets. His heroes are both
endearing and ridiculous. Since Ishiguro will not allow sentimentality – which is, for him, a grievous sin – , his
energy finds an outlet in debunking loves of all kind. Did Virginia Woolf even imagine love could be so harshly
3 treated by a writer, when she wrote her Modern Fiction, against love-interest? Ishiguro contemplates the remains
4
of Stevens’ wasted love and, while tears run down the butler’s cheeks, the author smiles at the perfect pattern of
his book. Love does not even enter the equation. The hero is perfect, and Ishiguro could not care less whether
what he has lost is love or hatred. The main thing is he has lost it. Since all Ishiguro’s main heroes are losers,
there is always something to smile at. This Desperado irony shows us we live in a cruel world, where dryness
corners sympathy, and art (the game) supersedes emotion. The reader has to fill in the feeling, and this was
unheard of in literature before the Desperado age.

● Ishiguro, like many other British Desperadoes, decides upon a set of rules for Englishness. His butler is the
essence of Englishness, the same as The English Patient of Ondaatje, a Hungarian hero by birth, conforms to the
same English character. It took a displaced Japanese and a displaced Indian to describe the typical English hero.

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● Many Desperado authors are concerned with history, the two World Wars mainly. Such are Swift, Lessing, Barnes,
Lodge, Ackroyd, Ishiguro. Even writers born after the two World Wars write about the war. Almost every Desperado
has one novel about the past (The Remains of the Day, An Artist of the Floating World, Out of the Shelter, Martha
Quest, Lanark, Staring at the Sun, Waterland, Hawksmoor, Shuttlecock, Out of This World, Ever After). Ishiguro
writes about Japan immediately after World War II, England before World War II. It seems more dramatic to a
Desperado to place his plot during a time of deprivation and death. Those who do not use the war to that purpose,
write dystopias. In one way or another, Desperadoes manage to find the uncomfortable.

● It often happens to Desperadoes to write about artists: writers (Swift, Lessing, Barnes, Lodge, Bradbury, Amis,
Ackroyd), painters (Gray, Ackroyd, Ishiguro, Fowles), actors (Swift). They also write about politicians, and politics is
very important to the Desperado character (see especially Lessing, Ishiguro, Swift). Whatever is connected to the
3 mind, less to the heart, appeals to them, especially if it means examining a creative mind in progress. Ishiguro
4
also likes to see things from above, to offer a generalized image of society, human condition, art. There is a lot of
subtlety in the way Desperadoes deal with these very traditional, almost exhausted themes; Desperadoes hate
being in a crowd, so they look for a peculiar approach to issues they will not give up. Ishiguro fakes humbleness.
His painter is a past glory, and his politician, dead now, is a memory of the butler. His pianist is a fake VIP, an
empty, confused personality, who hardly knows what he is supposed to do. Claiming confusion, Ishiguro debunks
politics and art, reducing them to human, everyday size.

● As Desperado novels roll the film backwards, they are slow progresses. Ishiguro uses memory in his first three
novels, and invariably the plot goes from end to start, making use of the least detail, and revealing much later the
importance of each. The plot may be delivered in fragments, though, but the pain is continuous. The tragic mood
of Desperado novels makes the incidents remembered at random cohere in a brotherhood of the weak. These

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characters for whom life goes backwards are totally helpless. They burst into our minds, make us unbearably
curious (suspense is the major Desperado device), explain fitfully, and withdraw whenever a page ends, an author
runs out of sentences, a reader is bored and shuts the book. The end is inessential. The hero’s helplessness when
confronted with his own fate, which he cannot change in any way, is a sign of the Desperado depression. The
Desperado novel is resigned.

● The Unconsoled is Ishiguro’s dystopia. It could be anyone, from the writer himself, to the common passer-by. It
is an amnesiac, nightmarish world, which Ishiguro probes with intent sense of observation. Whether epic, lyrical,
comic, dramatic, tragic, grim, nostalgic, all Desperadoes are in search of a refuge, they all need an escape. More
often than not, whatever the literary genre (which is usually a medley), they end up in an uncomfortable future.
Wherever they are, whatever they may be writing, Desperadoes feel fragile, threatened and doomed. Which makes
3 their struggle to survive and be unique even more endearing, in a literary world of uncertainties. A world where the
4
fate of the book needs to be fortified again and again.

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II/16. DESPERADO POETRY

What does Desperado poetry do differently from other kinds of poetry? Why the name?
Poets are governed today – as are novelists – by one great fear: the reader might not get the meaning.
Clarity pushes Modernism to the back of the stage. Concentration is no longer the tool. Conversationalism is. The
music of poetry – sacred to Eliot even when he was changing, defacing it (though never giving it up) – is dead. This
music is replaced by another convention, of course, since as long as poets jot their words down on paper there is a
rule, an artificial common ground, a convention. The new convention is scared to death by the difficulty of Joyce
and Eliot. It simplifies where Modernisms complicated, and it reveals where Modernists hid, encoded, asked to be
3 found out.
4
Desperado poetry is like a stretched out hand. You take it and it grabs you, you are trapped. You find it easy
to read and slip further, but in the meantime the poet’s tentacles work upon you and the octopus which is the
poem moves. You begin by a simple reaction, such as, So what? By the time you finish a volume, it is too late to
take refuge in indifference. The difference between Desperado poets and their forerunners is one of degree: the
degree of deviousness. A poet was usually supposed to impress. Desperadoes are casual. They seem to say, Do
not look for ulterior motives, my poem is just words, paper and my life – so common. So accessible.
Accessibility is the big change. No plan, no cipher, no concentration. The images flow, the story – if there is
one – begins and ends, the rhymes are noiseless, as if ashamed, hiding behind very small words (a syllable, a
preposition, a pronoun, an imperfect match). The poet seems to be intimidated by the drums in Eliot (haunting
musicality, intense images, raging pain). He is the quiet passer-by, whom we may easily overlook. Poetry has
acquired a modesty it never used to possess.

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The paradox is that this quiet, shy poetry dreams of wild gestures, behaving like a Desperado. The poet’s
sensibility defies all accepted borders, even the boldest lighthouses of Modernism. A Desperado feels he is free to
rush anywhere his poetic mood takes him. If he writes about love – not very often, though – he makes a clean
breast of absolutely everything. If he writes about death, he digs a grave under our own eyes. He exhausts his
themes. He attacks poetry gun in hand, robbing it of all mystery. He may be modest, but his tools are obvious. His
weapons, rather. He conquers the reader and, when he does not, he will try again. He is the bandit who is never
tried. Pointing a gun at us, he will never take no for an answer. Afraid or intrigued – sometimes we tend to identify
with the criminal – , when the poems are good, we give in to this bullying Desperado. Violence and modesty are
his hallmarks, and the two hardly go along together. Thence the paradox. A Desperado is a constant contradiction.
He teases and (dis)pleases.

3 *
4

DANNIE ABSE (b. 1923) was born one year after the publication of Ulysses and The Waste Land. If Eliot – the
real father of Modernist poetry and criticism (and more) – was the banker poet, Dannie Abse is the doctor poet. He
has the delicacy of feeling of William Carlos Williams, though not at all his poetic diction. Dannie Abse is much
more natural and conversational. But both are, as Abse calls himself, ‘gentle’ (The Moment).
Nostalgia is a feature that is typical for Desperadoes. Modernists cherished burning intensity where
Desperadoes fear to tread. Return to Cardiff speaks about home, ‘first everything’, about childhood and youth
vanishing like ‘smoke in the memory’. The poet conjures up an imaginary moment when

the boy I was not and the man I am not


met, hesitated, left double footsteps, then walked on.

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This sadness caused by the death of the might-have-been (so different from Eliot’s flamboyant experience of the
same notion) reminds us of Paul Valéry, who once wrote that we were born many yet died one. In the same way as
the French poet and essayist, Dannie Abse has a passion of ideas and clothes them in poetic images. But it
becomes more and more obvious as the poet advances in age that the idea comes first, that the mind rules the
sensibility and that for Dannie Abse, ‘in the beginning was the word.’
Melancholy thoughts are pretexts for poems. A married man catches a glimpse of a pretty girl on a train
bound for the unknown and, when the train has safely left, which means they can no longer be accused of flirting,
he waves at her and she smiles back. A might-have been (Not Adlestrop). A funeral, a priest, grieving relatives, all
‘emotional as opera singers’ (Two Small Stones). The poet cannot share the drama. He picks up ‘two small stones
/(bits of broken sky trailed on the gravel path)’, drops them in his pocket and refuses both epitaph and
3 valediction. We wonder, but he will not put it more plainly than,
4

Why didn’t I cry,


and why won’t I throw these stones away?

The emotion is exasperatingly modest. Alan Brownjohn’s word for the Desperado modesty is ‘blank’. Dannie
Abse’s word might be ‘gentle’.
One poem seems to have been written by William Carlos Williams (Portrait of the Artist As a Middle-Aged
Man), though very different from him formally and in tone:

Pure Xmas card below – street under snow,


under lamplight. My children curl asleep,

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my wife also moans from depths too deep


with all her shutters closed and half her life.
And I? I, sober now, come down the stairs
to eat an apple, to taste the snow in it,
to switch the light on at the maudlin time.
Habitual living room, where the apple-flesh
turns brown after the bite, oh half my life
has gone to pot. And, now, too tired for sleep
I count up the Xmas cards childishly,
assessing, Jesus, how many friends I've got!

3 Written at ‘3.30 a.m., January 1st’, the poem reminds one of several poems by William Carlos Williams at once:
4
Waiting, This Is Just to Say, Perfection. Here are the last two:

This Is Just to Say


I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which you were probably
saving
for breakfast
Forgive me

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they were delicious


so sweet
and so cold

Perfection
O lovely apple!
beautifully and completely
rotten
hardly a contour marred –
perhaps a little
shrivelled at the top but that
3 aside perfect
4
in every detail! O lovely
apple! What a
deep and suffusing brown
mantles that
unspoiled surface! No one
has moved you
since I placed you on the porch
rail a month ago
to ripen.
No one. No one!

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W.C. Williams is more dramatic and his use of words is more histrionic. Exclamation points, repetitions, shouts,
the myth of the apple which goes the way of all flesh. The second poem by Williams is quite the opposite of Abse,
but the first drowns in tenderness, as does the one by the British poet. Hard to draw the line. Reading all of Dannie
Abse’s poems, I should say he is more reticent, a shy voice uttering modest words. Conversationalism means more
to him than theatricality, and this is different from the half-Modernist, half-Postmodernist mixture in W.C.
Williams. It is a pure Desperado feature.
A New Diary is a memento. The hero – the poet (the autobiographical note is such an endearing
characteristic of Abse’s poetry) – on ‘this first January’ transfers names and telephone numbers to a new diary.
Names are ‘computer-changed into numbers’. Some are crossed, ‘cancelled’,

‘one man dying, another mind in rags’.


3 4
Death and computers are a theme often combined by Desperado poets in their seventies today. The computer
screen dehumanizes poetry, depersonalizes the act, the sacred ritual of writing. Virtual words kill the soul
captured on paper by a hand and a pen scratching letters. The poem concludes in resignation:

who, perhaps, is crossing out my name now


from some future diary?

As Williams does, Abse draws upon his doctor’s experience when he writes and many poems cry out the
pain of powerlessness in front of a sick fellow being (The Case, Miracles). In Miracles a priest is ‘my incurable
cancer patient’ and he claims to have dreamt of seeing ‘a rainbow in the black sky’ at midnight. The dream is a
miracle, recovery would be a miracle too, and both are equally impossible. Dannie Abse, unlike W.H. Auden (with

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his Miss Gee), comforts his reader with the little power he has. He may not be able to cure but he can definitely
help us hope. Dannie Abse’s poetry is an endless hope.
The Silence of Tudor Evans is another poem about old age and death. Compared to W.B. Yeats’ ‘fastened to
a dying animal’ (Sailing to Byzantium), Abse’s poem is a tame story. Gwen Evans is dying and asks her husband
Tudor to bring Professor Mandlebaum, ‘ex-tennis player’ whom she ‘had once met on holiday’ in 1941.
Mandlebaum

doodled in his hotel bedroom.


For years he had been in speechless sloth.
But now for Gwen and old times' sake he, first-class,
alert, left echoing Paddington for
3 a darkened sickroom and two large searching eyes.
4

She sobbed when he gently took her hand in his.


'But, my dear, why are you crying?'
'Because, Max, you're quite unrecognizable.'
'I can't scold you for crying about that,'
said Mandlebaum and he, too, began to weep.

The doctor-poet’s rending sympathy is obvious everywhere, just as much as William Carlos Williams’s, but less
obtrusively, more decent and withdrawn. The story speaks more than the images. If Williams relied on landscapes
and myth and mostly poetic paraphernalia, Abse refuses the background, even the tool of rhyme and rhythm, and
professes speech. If Modernist poetry declaimed its revolt against tradition, Desperado poetry in the case of Abse

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whispers a story and avoids awkward drama, replacing it by pedestrian sentences, which the end of a line
interrupts and the next continues naturally, like a pause in speech, for the reader to catch his breath and his
thought.
Cousin Sidney tells the story – indispensable to a Desperado poet – by monologues. ‘Dull as a bat, said my
mother/ of cousin Sidney in 1940’, ‘duller than a bat, said my father,’ and cousin Sidney goes to war after having
lied about his age. ‘Missing, not dead please, God, please’, his uncle said. His aunt cried. And then ‘uncle and aunt
also went missing’ and no one waited for Sidney any more, while the poet muses in his own little monologue:

till last year, their last year,


when uncle and aunt also went missing,
missing alas, so that now strangers
3 have bolted their door and cut the string
4
and no-one at all (the hall so dark)
waits up for Sidney, silly ass.

The difference between Williams and Abse is obvious in A Winter Visit. The poet walks with his ninety-year
old mother, who is ‘so aged and so frail’. Like Eliot’s Sibyl in the motto to The Waste Land, the mother says ‘I
would die’ and also ‘This winter I’m half dead, son’ while the poet wants to cry ‘because it’s true’. Williams was
taking his grandmother to hospital and was extremely sensitive to the dramatic despair she experienced in front of
death (The Last of My English Grandmother):

There were some dirty plates


and a glass of milk

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beside her on a small trable


near the rank, disheveled bed –

Wrinkled and nearly blind


she lay and snored
rousing with anger in her tones
to cry for food,

Gimme something to eat –


They’re starving me –
I’m all right I won’t go
3 to the hospital. No, no, no
4

Give me something to eat


Let me take you
to the hospital, I said
and after you are well

you can do as you please.


She smiled, Yes
you do what you please first
then I can do what I please –

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Oh, oh, oh! she cried


as the ambulance men lifted
her to the stretcher –
Is this what you call

making me comfortable?
By now her mind was clear –
Oh you think you are smart
you young people,

she said, but I’ll tell you


3 you don’t know anything.
4
Then we started.
On the way

We passed a long row


of elms. She looked at them
awhile out of
the ambulance window and said,

What are all those


fuzzy-looking things out there?
Trees? Well, I’m tired

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of them and rolled her head away.

Abse does not choose the very moment of death and he does not show any opposition on the part of the dying
mother. He is, just like Williams, the doctor, the man who knows, but he rejects the noise of pain. He merely
muses:

Yet must not (although only Nothing keeps) for I inhabit a white coat not a black even here – and am not qualified
to weep.

He is the man in a white coat, never ‘qualified to weep’, always there to comfort mortals when they fall prey to
their mortality. Williams burns his fear of death in fireworks. Abse is more soft-spoken and more Desperado at the
3 same time: he just speaks of ‘small approximate things’, which does not take anything of the strength of his
4
poems away from them. It simply makes them more believable to a 21st century reader.
It is hard to say who is more the poet and who is more the doctor, Williams or Abse? Definitely, Dannie Abse
draws more on his experience. He finds in it the poet’s main gift, that of comforting:

Now, coughing, the patient expects


the unjudged lie: 'Your symptoms are familiar and benign' – someone to be cheerfully sure, to transform
tremblings, gigantic unease, by
naming like a pet some small disease with
a known aetiology, certain cure. (The Doctor)

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He treats his reader as he would treat his patients, with infinite care and pity, with a desire to alleviate the burden
of everyday tragedies. He is not one of those ‘Men who’d open men’ (X-Ray): he looks at his mother’s X-ray and
does not ‘want to know’. Williams was using death as a source of poetry, of dramatic show. Abse, typical
Desperado, hates the show and takes refuge in pity, shyness, silence, unobtrusiveness. Today, Dannie Abse is the
more convincing of the two, which is a sign that this new Desperado movement has made a difference.
The poet, like many other poets of his generation and the generation after – now in their thirties – , loves
debunking. The instinct to mock is inborn in humans, but the pejorative use of tradition/convention is mainly a
feature of Modernism. It existed before as well, only not to the same extent. Eliot and Joyce revelled in debunking.
All myths and all literary forms were fair game. Abse is far more discreet, because Desperadoes are wary of
Modernists and their sound and fury. He muses, ‘The lies of Once-upon-a-Time appal,’ and ends his poem with
‘All the rest is fiction.’ With his medical insight he reveals that Sleeping Beauty ‘married the Prince out of duty/ and
3 suffered insomnia ever after’(Pantomime Diseases):
4

When the fat Prince french-kissed Sleeping Beauty her eyelids opened wide. She heard applause, the
photographer's shout, wedding-guest laughter. Poor girl – she married the Prince out of duty and suffered
insomnia ever after.

Snow White ‘suffered from profound anaemia’, ‘The Babes in the Wood died of pneumonia’, then

Shy, in the surgery, Red Riding Hood undressed – Dr Wolff, the fool, diagnosed Scarlet Fever.

The nimble idea makes us smile, but it is a sad smile, which seems to say, Nothing is true any more, and noticing
it does not make us any more privileged; quite the reverse, we have lost so much since the beginning of time. No

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Desperado is as vigorous as the Modernist theatrical writer. He is just the man behind the scenes, the hidden face,
the language of sleep and dream. The Desperado text is so much dreamier than the keen psychological incision of
the Modernist.
Some of the poems Dannie Abse has written deal with his Jewish identity (though not many): Red Balloon, A
Night Out, Of Itzig and His Dog. He feels at ease and very much at home in Jewish humour and Jewish wisdom.
Phew! is such a poem, uttered by a husband to his wife. No noisy words of love, no oaths of forever and a day, no
grandiloquent reason for the encounter, just ‘because this, because that,’, because

you looked to the right, luckily, I looked to the left, luckily.

Each line breaks at the precise moment we need to catch our breath, and as we go on breathing so does the poem
3 continue, apparently in a monotone, actually saying things that could send shivers up our spines if it were not for
4
the soft tone of the lines. The poet imagines he might have missed the moment he was united with his wife:

Do you know that Sumerian proverb


‘A man's wife is his destiny'?
But supposing you'd been here,
this most strange of meeting places,
5000 years too early? Or me,
a fraction of a century too late?
No angel with SF wings
would have beckoned,
'This way, madam, this way, sir.'

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Soft-spoken and tender-hearted, Dannie Abse writes on and smiles. The reader cannot but feel at ease.

PETER ACKROYD (b. 1949) is a more than prolific novelist and author of monographs and books of literary
criticism (which is more literature than criticism but carries all the weight of erudition and intelligent interpretation
of texts). His poems are a tiny part of his creation, but they reveal his peculiar lyricism, which fills his fiction to the
brim.
If he does not have a sense of humour – which would have been very ill at ease by the side of his intense
lyricism – , Peter Ackroyd has an immense hunger for other texts, which he rewrites in his own. The poem among
school children ought to remind us of Yeats’ poem with the same title, but the technique – and the mockery at
3 convention – is a totally different one. Ackroyd’s text is a dialogue of the teacher with imaginary schoolchildren,
4
who first read a poem:

my terrific love-cries
are probably for sale (...)
if I smile will she smile
no one smiles, your eyes
are like broken glass are
you unemployed?

The next stanza is a set of questions for these children:

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What do these words mean? (a) love-cries


(b) quantum (c) unemployed.
Have you ever met anyone with eyes
like broken glass? If you have, write about it.
If not, would you like to? Why?
Read the poem again, and think about
the last lines. Why was nobody smiling?
Try to explain in your own words how
the writer felt when he saw the girl
with eyes like broken glass.

3 The questions are at the same time very serious and ironic (they makes the reader see their ridiculous
4
stubbornness in treating literature as mere information that can be studied). The whole poem expresses Ackroyd’s
dilemma: Is literary criticism to be trusted? He must have decided for the negative answer, since his own books
avoid it carefully, preferring to recreate moods rather than dissect meanings.
Ackroyd’s novels are all dreamy texts, just like the explanation in the poem on the third... The poet sees his
dreams meeting him ‘half-way’. They are ‘stunned and incomplete’, just like his fiction. None of his novels is
without lyricism or poetry. These poems are just a proof of the poetic nature of Ackroyd’s writings. Except that the
poem is such a slow progress, compared to the turmoil of fiction, which Ackroyd definitely prefers, it seems:

the poem is made of sleep


speech slowed down to the nth degree

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the storm in my head


will not reach its point

It is true. The mind of the writer stirs innumerable meanings as the novel progresses, and lyricism is only a trick to
slow the speed down, to allow the reader to breathe. These poems are a similar interlude.
Ackroyd’s novels are a collection of doors opening into one another, and the poem opening... is another
description of this confusing world:

a hundred miles up
a world
is constructed
3 and then burns
4
you wear my coat

and I'll take yours


we'll face the brightness
together
opening the gate
for one another

Reader and author ‘face the brightness’ and the experience (of reading Ackroyd) is a unique instance of
togetherness. No other Desperado can melt his sensibility into the reader’s so well, so insidiously. When Ackroyd

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writes it seems the reader writes, so reading is more creation of meaning than reception of it. Ackroyd has this
incredible gift of making any reader feel it is he who has created the world.
These poems meander between spirituality and physicality. Ackroyd’s fiction ignores physicality, unless the
body is uncommon, devious, and hampers the soul, thus stirring it, making it more intense (crooked people,
affected by disease, falling an untimely prey to death). Love between man and woman is not an issue. It is there all
right, only what really matters is love between soul and soul. Ackroyd has such a keen sensibility that a mere
breath of air could make it crumble down, grow and fall again. Foolish Tears makes love into a proposal for a
poem. The poet does not give us a poem about love, but his own presentation of a poem we never get to see. He
begins by stating the theme: ‘People today are always having problems and difficulties within their own personal
families. Foolish Tears is somewhat about family problems...’ It seems to be a narrative poem about a man falling
in love with another man’s wife, and so on. The story is actually a joke:
3 4
When David's friend found out David liked his wife he didn't seem to mind; he even tried to get David and his wife
together. David was embarrassed for a while but not for long.

Foolish Tears is a confusing poem and it was hard to keep the people straight. Who was married to whom and so
forth. Even though it was confusing I still enjoyed writing it, and I think I am a good writer.
194 words including title.

Ackroyd may not show a sense of humour when he writes fiction – he is so busy weaving meanings and other
texts, myths into his own – but he certainly uses it here. The poem ends with a word count, which tells a lot about
computers and their effect on the mind of writers (so many authors fear computers might simplify their
thoughts...).

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The poems have no poetic technique except the abrupt advent of lines, which could easily be arranged as
prose. The rhythm is the only one that reminds us this is poetry, we must slow down to ponder on the words and
not rush in pursuit of incidents. These poems are a warning:

there are so many emotions to get through


that I dream continually of slipping backwards
while the day spins ahead of me like a kite
although its string leads precisely nowhere (there are so...)

Fiction is a slope and the author feels he might slip backwards and reach ‘nowhere’. An immaterial passion or
rather a passion for immateriality haunts Ackroyd. He dreams of ‘some great plot/ which will encircle all of our
3 feelings’, which he calls ‘a definition of madness.’ There is in him a madness of intensity, of which these poems
4
are an only and ‘complete statement’.

FLEUR ADCOCK (b. 1934, New Zealand) is a woman poet who is not afraid of her biography or her
womanhood. She confesses that she uses her own life as a story, she describes her own emotions openly, without
needing to hide her identity. Considering that Desperadoes usually – and more so recently – hide behind stories,
protect their private lives jealously, we must view Fleur Adcock as a paradox: she is harsh on herself (and the
reader) but she is also generous, she gives the reader hulks of her life. We actually get to know her from her work.
Know and admire the human quality, once her words have taken effect upon us. Her lines are secretive, though.
Her poetry works with hidden rhymes, disguised musicality and, mainly, rhythm, the rhythm of speech combined
with a staccato of drama, a suspense of feeling until it turns out that the feeling was all wrong. A tough sensibility
in tough words, this is how Fleur Adcock could aptly be described.

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Love is and is not real. Incident imagines a ‘you’ and an ‘I’ lying in the warm sand. She falls asleep and –
typically Desperado – has a ‘dream of falling’. She converses in her waking memory of sleep – ironically and
Desperado, again – with ‘all the cave myths’, ‘all/ the myths of tunnel or tower or well’, with the intimation and
fear of death. And when she wakes up, death is an inch away: the tide is on the point of swallowing her, while he
watches, lights a cigarette and waits for her end. Cruel thought in lines cruelly exact, apt to the last drop of blood:

When you were lying on the white sand,


a rock under your head, and smiling,
(circled by dead shells), I came to you
and you said, reaching to take my hand,
'Lie down.' So for a time we lay
3 warm on the sand, talking and smoking, 4
easy; while the grovelling sea behind
sucked at the rocks and measured the day.
Lightly I fell asleep then, and fell
into a cavernous dream of falling.
It was all the cave-myths, it was all
the myths of tunnel or tower or well —
Alice's rabbit-hole into the ground,
or the path of Orpheus: a spiral staircase
to hell, furnished with danger and doubt.
Stumbling, I suddenly woke; and found
water about me. My hair was wet,

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and you were lying on the grey sand


waiting for the lapping tide to take me:
watching, and lighting a cigarette.

Death happens to children as well as grown ups, though. For Andrew gazes at a child who asks innocently
‘Will I die?’ and the poet answers ruthlessly, ‘Yes’. She knows the child expects to ‘live for ever’, shares his
‘childish optimism’, but will not hide the truth from him, even though he may be her own son. She feels obliged to
tell him the whole truth:

'Will I die?' you ask. And so I enter on


the dutiful exposition of that which you
3 would rather not know, and I rather not tell you.
4
To soften my 'Yes' I offer compensations —
age and fulfillment ('It's so far away;
you will have children and grandchildren by then')
and indifference ('By then you will not care').
No need: you cannot believe me, convinced
that if you always eat plenty of vegetables
and are careful crossing the street you will live for ever.

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The language of these poems is as sharp as prose and as breathless as the last words of a novel, which solve an
unbearable suspense. Fleur Adcock is never game for happy endings, but her poems do cultivate a sense of
ending, which sometimes – as in this case – softens the snarling lines.
Adcock is proud of her sharpness. Advice to a Discarded Lover describes a ‘dead affair’ in terms of rotten
body and wriggling worms. ‘In you/ I see maggots close to the surface,’ the ex-lover is told, and the poet admits
that in comparing the dead love to a dead bird, ‘full of maggots’, she has chosen a ‘rather gruesome –/ too
unpleasant a comparison’. Gruesome and unpleasant are favourite Desperado attitudes. It is more a matter of
language than attitude, actually. They are as sentimental as any poet ever, but they choose words previously
rejected, which happens whenever poetry revolts against the previous convention. Desperado poetry has by now
created its own convention, of blankness and stiffness and impersonality, which is slower to die than previous
fashions probably because Desperadoes are nimble poets, who are always ready to contradict themselves. This
3 self-contradiction they must have learned from T.S. Eliot, who cherished his changes of mind and of mood. So,
4
once more, modernist Eliot opened the way for what is known as postmodernism. Usually a new literary movement
eats the previous one, trying to be different: Desperadoes are different in that respect, because they rewrite,
redigest the whole of literature with fresh appetite all the time (which makes the movement so various,
paradoxical and hard to pinpoint).
Afterwards talks about the ‘kingdom’ of two lovers as being ‘A nothingness, a non-relatedness’, ‘silence’
and ‘unknowing’. Solitude is the main Desperado banner. Once the reader agrees to share the unloveliness of the
poet, the poem is rescued from silence. Here is how Adcock apologizes for her own bristliness:

She was indeed my grandmother. She did not choose


to be dead and rotten. My blood too (Group A,
Rhesus negative, derived exactly from hers)

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will suffer that deterioration; my much


modified version of her nose will fall away,
my longer bones collapse like hers. So let me now
apologise to my sons and their possible
children for the gruesomeness: we do not mean it. (Grandma)

She feels displaced all the time. There is first her departure from New Zealand, probably, as in Stewart Island:

'But look at all this beauty,'


said the hotel manager's wife
when asked how she could bear to
3 live there. True: there was a fine bay,
4
all hills and atmosphere; white
sand, and bush down to the sea's edge;
oyster-boats, too, and Maori
fishermen with Scottish names (she
ran off with one that autumn).
As for me, I walked on the beach;
it was too cold to swim. My
seven-year-old collected shells
and was bitten by sandflies;
my four-year-old paddled, until
a mad seagull jetted down

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to jab its claws and beak into


his head. I had already
decided to leave the country.

Fleur Adcock never feels at home. In her lover’s house she is unhappy. On the beach with him, she feels she is on
the verge of death, dreams of falling and wakes up to find herself almost immersed in the sea, where, as Eliot once
put it, ‘human voices wake us and we drown’ (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock). Her own children are on their
way to death, love is a dead bird, and, finally, her poetry apologises for the ‘gruesomeness’. Is it true that she
does not ‘mean’ it? When this question becomes too uneasy and threatens to reveal Fleur Adcock’s real feelings,
she leaves and becomes displaced – displacement being a major Desperado feature and source of delight, whether
in prose or poetry.
3 Another face of displacement is separation, and Adcock is very good at giving up:
4

Half an hour before my flight was called


he walked across the airport bar towards me
carrying what was left of our future
together: two drinks on a tray. (Send-off)

She builds renunciation into courage and her consequently lonely and displaced self professes to cherish dignity
more than attachment. Poem Ended by Death calls it ‘my laconic style.’ It is in fact a Desperado determination to
do away with conventional romance.
The Soho Hospital for Women is an Audenesque view of cancer, a battle with death which the poet wins, for
once. She is ‘giddy with freedom’, after she has witnessed radium-treatment, tests, doctors and students, the

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‘practised smile’, courage and cowardice. God has allowed her more years on earth and Adcock’s poetry becomes
almost human in tone. The Chiffonier is even more than human, it is tender and soft. The sound is sweetened with
incredible rhymes:

How many more times can I hope to come


to Wellington and find you still at home?
We've talked about it, as one has to, trying
to see the lighter aspects of your dying:
'You've got another twenty years or more,'
I said, 'but when you think you're at death's door
just let me know. I'll come and hang about
3 for however long it takes to see you out.'
4
'I don't think it'll be like that,' you said:
'I'll pop off suddenly one night in bed.'
How secretive! How satisfying! You'll
sneak off, a kid running away from school –
well, that at least's the only way I find
I can bring myself to see it in my mind.
But now I see you in your Indian skirt
and casual cornflower-blue linen shirt
in the garden, under your feijoa tree,
looking about as old or young as me.
Dear little Mother! Naturally I'm glad

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you found a piece of furniture that had


happy associations with your youth;
and yes, I do admire it – that's the truth:
its polished wood and touch of Art Nouveau
appeal to me. But surely you must know
I value this or any other treasure
of yours chiefly because it gives you pleasure.
I have to write this now, while you're still here:
I want my mother, not her chiffonier.

The distonance between pleasing and displeasing verse is strong. Fleur Adcock is a grumpy poet, who will not
3 admit her voice can be sweet. She scolds the reader and writes each line as if it were the last – which means,
4
bracing herself for the last poem, banning superficiality by means of sharp intentness.
The Keepsake somehow reminds of Eliot’s Portrait of a Lady, with its final line, ‘And should I have the right
to smile?’ Adcock forgets about the grin, and she confesses she ‘can’t stop crying.’ The poem is also an escape
from Eliot’s haunting musicality. There is rhyme (a-e, b-d, c-f), but the words upon which the rhyme falls are
deliberately common, ironically insignificant. One word is separated from its ‘s (genitive) in order to rhyme well,
other rhymes merely approximate suitability, and, on the whole, rhyme is deconstructed while it is being used.
Here is the example of inventivity with the split genitive:

' ‘Colonel, what mean these stains upon your dress?’ '
We howled. And then there was Lord Ravenstone
faced with Augusta's dutiful rejection

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in anguished prose; or, for a change of tone,


a touch of Gothic: Madame la Comtesse
's walled-up lover. An inspired collection...

Eliot revolted against rhyme, mocked at it, but built it in his own way. Adcock merely scorns it, while showing that
it is no big deal, anyone can do it. This technical mockery does not at all rhyme well with the idea of the poem – a
dear friend dies (death again) – but Adcock loves shocking her reader, giving him precisely what he never expects.
Fleur Adcock rejects sympathy, either hers for her heroes or the reader’s for her text. She wants deep
communion, but that is a different matter. She gets it by very devious ways, while deconstructing rhyme, feeling,
tenderness, expectations. The Telephone Call is a very good description of the poet’s role, in Adcock’s opinion.
The poem is a lottery which offers not the million pounds but the experience of getting it. This is not the first time
3 that the poet seems to whisper we are better off with the hope of the poem than with the mortal joy of a common
4
life, that reading is better than living:

They asked me 'Are you sitting down?


Right? This is Universal Lotteries,'
they said. 'You've won the top prize,
the Ultra-super Global Special.
What would you do with a million pounds?
Or, actually, with more than a million –
not that it makes a lot of difference
once you're a millionaire.' And they laughed.

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'Are you OK?' they asked – 'Still there?


Come on, now, tell us, how does it feel?'
I said 'I just ...I can't believe it!'
They said 'That's what they all say.
What else? Go on, tell us about it.'
I said 'I feel the top of my head
has floated off, out through the window,
revolving like a flying saucer.'

'That's unusual,' they said. 'Go on.'


I said 'I'm finding it hard to talk.
3 My throat's gone dry, my nose is tingling.
4
I think I'm going to sneeze – or cry.'
'That's right,' they said, 'don't be ashamed
of giving way to your emotions.
It isn't every day you hear
you're going to get a million pounds.

Relax, now, have a little cry;


we'll give you a moment...' 'Hang on!' I said.
'I haven't bought a lottery ticket
for years and years. And what did you say
the company's called?' They laughed again.

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'Not to worry about a ticket.


We're Universal. We operate
a Retrospective Chances Module.

Nearly everyone's bought a ticket


in some lottery or another,
once at least. We buy up the files,
feed the names into our computer,
and see who the lucky person is.'
'Well, that's incredible,' I said.
'It's marvellous. I still can't quite...
3 I'll believe it when I see the cheque.'
4

'Oh,' they said, 'there's no cheque.'


'But the money?' 'We don't deal in money.
Experiences are what we deal in.
You've had a great experience, right?
Exciting? Something you'll remember?
That's your prize. So congratulations
from all of us at Universal.
Have a nice day!' And the line went dead.

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There is in this kind of Desperado poetry – the witty poems – a distance between the language of poetry and the
language of conversation which the poet deviously claims to gap. In this poem in particular, Fleur Adcock uses
only conversational clichés. The poetic part is the structuring of these clichés on a poetic axis of growing intensity
of experience. The emotion builds up and is contradicted. The suspense is the interval while emotion builds up.
The end of the poem is the moment when the reader’s expectation is burst like a bubble: ‘Experiences are what we
deal in.’ In Eliot’s words, ‘After such knowledge, what forgiveness?’ (Gerontion). The hero of the poem – and the
reader for her – expected a fortune and a lifetime of whims and luxury. What she gets instead, in the last line, is a
‘nice day. And the line went dead.’ The poet falls silent. We may share the hero’s frustration (actually it is more
like pain, pain for all the missed opportunities in life), but the poet refuses to commiserate. If we do – and she
fervently wishes us to – we take a risk. Adcock’s poems are all such lonely risks or rather solitary feats of courage.
More and more Desperado novels deal with middle age, relying for plot on growing old rather than on falling
3 in love and expecting happiness ever after. It is a Desperado sign in poetry, too, to redeem age and make it sound
4
good, to tell the moment, Stay, you are so beautiful. It could be called the Faustus complex of Desperado poetry,
and with Fleur Adcock it becomes obvious in a poem such as Kissing:

The young are walking on the riverbank,


arms around each other's waists and shoulders,
pretending to be looking at the waterlilies
and what might be a nest of some kind, over
there, which two who are clamped together
mouth to mouth have forgotten about.
The others, making courteous detours
around them, talk, stop talking, kiss.

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They can see no one older than themselves.


It's their river. They've got all day.

Seeing's not everything. At this very


moment the middle-aged are kissing
in the backs of taxis, on the way
to airports and stations. Their mouths and tongues
are soft and powerful and as moist as ever.
Their hands are not inside each other's clothes
(because of the driver) but locked so tightly
together that it hurts: it may leave marks
3 on their not of course youthful skin, which they won't
4
notice. They too may have futures.

Maternity – in fact both being a mother and a grandmother – is a great theme with Fleur Adcock. She always
tries to be matter-of-fact about it, to divest it of its sentimentality, to behave as if nothing could melt her, but the
truth is, if anything, children do make her feel. In Counting she remembers giving birth. The words are blatantly
flat, even humorous. The drier the tone, the funnier the description of the new born baby, the more endearing this
poem becomes, and Adcock must have been aware of this deviousness: claiming to be detached when in fact her
language all but caresses. She uses a flat present tense, she carefully avoids poetry in its traditional sense of
intensity, she ends with two ridiculously common short sentences: ‘He grows up. He has beautiful children.’ And
the feeling comes full circle. The doting mother becomes a grandmother, the child a father in his turn. Counting is
a spiteful poem about a woman who cannot help loving her new-born boy, in spite of the fact that she knows this

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is just a repetition of innumerable experiences, of a whole history – human and animal. It is a poem by a poet who
looks at herself and disapproves yet triumphs at the same time:

You count the fingers first: it's traditional.


(You assume the doctor counted them too,
when he lifted up the slimy surprise
with its long dark pointed head and its father's nose
at 2.13 a.m. – 'Look at the clock!'
said Sister: 'Remember the time: 2.13.')

Next day the head's turned pink and round;


3 the nose is a blob. You fumble under the gown
4
your mother embroidered with a sprig of daisies,
as she embroidered your own Viyella gowns
when you were a baby. You fish out
curly triangular feet. You count the toes.

'There's just one little thing,' says Sister:


'His ears – they don't quite match. One
has an extra whorl in it. No one will notice.'
You notice like mad. You keep on noticing.
Then you hear a rumour: a woman in the next ward
has had a stillbirth. Or was it something worse?

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You lie there, bleeding gratefully.


You've won the Nobel Prize, and the VC,
and the State Lottery, and gone to heaven.
Feed-time comes. They bring your bundle —
the right one: it's him all right.
You count his eyelashes: the ideal number.

You take him home. He learns to walk.


From time to time you eye him,
nonchalantly, from each side.
3 He has an admirable nose.
4
No one ever notices his ears. No one
ever stands on both sides of him at once.

He grows up. He has beautiful children.

Some poems have a story and the language is more matter-of-fact, as if it were a novel, as if intensity did
not matter, we could relax for a few pages and then pick up where we left. Other poems concentrate more
meanings in fewer words and dispense with the narrative. From the Demolition Zone is a poem with such a thesis.
It compares literature to a doctor performing all the routine acts, dressing wounds, diagnosing, holding the
stethoscope ‘to our hearts’, scanning us, taking our pulse, in short being ‘the skilful presence checking our
symptoms.’ This doctor must help us. This is how:

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You know what we're afraid of saying


in case they hear us. Say it for us.

The fear comes from the wound. Witty Desperado poems end in witty closing lines. This poem has its meaningful
lines almost at the beginning, where we least expect them:

We're injured, but we mustn't say so;


it hurts, but we mustn't tell you where.

Literature, then, is about pain. This poem must have escaped the censoring eye of the poet. It should never have
3 been written because it betrays her too totally.
4
Smokers for Celibacy is a rhymed poem. Its rhymes are noisy (kill-ill, NSU-two, wrecks-sex, upset-get, five-
arrive, fact-tract, insist-list, gonorrhoea-idea, pox-cocks, brain-Insane, stands-hands, shape-rape, packs-relax,
threats-cigarettes, life-wife, clean-machine, drag-fag). The rhyming words are in fact a good summary of the
poem. The language is bold. It is full of irony and the desire to shock. The message is cigarettes are less life-
threatening than sex. It is an obvious message, no one needs interpretation to get it. The whole poem is an
exercise in rhyme (Alan Brownjohn did the same in his long poem 2001). Desperadoes like to recuperate rhyme
and debunk it at the same time. In this poem, Fleur Adcock uses it to make a plain, shocking, shameless
statement. She defies the reader to say it is not poetry. It rhymes, does it not? It is ironical, which is so much in
fashion these days. It uses all the trivial or merely common words a doctor could think of in relation to sexual
diseases. Desperado poetry is very much about daring. But this poem may have gone a bit too far for poetry to
survive.

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It’s Done This! is an ideal combination of irony and earnestness, of poetry and prose, of emotion and idea.
The image of the computer as the huge trouble maker – which it is for beginners – and also as the incredible
enhancement of the old pen and paper brings about ‘the end of an age’, as the poet puts it, and it announces, the
poem ends, ‘the great roll-over.’ The advent of the computer has made some poets change from paper to screen,
while others stubbornly reject virtual letters and cannot force their brains to give up the old connection of words
to the right hand in handwriting. T.S. Eliot typed most of his lines and felt it made his poetry better. Alan
Brownjohn types but refuses the computer. A new reflex has to be born and it will be a totally different situation
for those who were born in a computer-tamed house. Contemporary Desperadoes are still the poets who have
grown into computers later in life, so they feel safer with paper and stable signs. Fleur Adcock describes this need
for peace and safety very clearly:

3 Help! It's hidden my document,


4
and when I try to get it back,
tells me it's already in use.
It keeps changing the names of my files.
Why won't the Edit Menu appear?
It takes no notice of me. Help!

'You have made changes which alter


the global template, Normal. Do you
want to save them?' Oh, please, no –
what have I altered? The ozone layer?
Help! But Help refuses to help;

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the message goes on glaring at me.

There are some things you can't cancel –


or, if you have, you wish you hadn't.
'This may damage your computer.'
What may? 'Windows is closing down.'
But Windows isn't. Who can I ring
to rescue me, at nearly midnight?

Somehow, between us, we survive,


even though I've lost page 4
3 and all the margins have gone crazy.
4
What if I've bought the wrong scanner?
What if my printer's rather slow?
I'm getting rather slow myself.

It's nearly midnight once again,


and Windows isn't closing down —
nor do I want it to, just yet.
We're in it together. So be it.
I’ll sit here, at the end of an age,
and wait for the great roll-over.

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As the volume of Poems 1960-2000 draws to an end, the tone becomes more acid, the emotion dries and
tenderness (the image of the poet as a grandmother, mostly) is rarer and rarer. A Goodbye announces that ‘Poetry
goes to bed’:

Goodbye summer. Poetry goes to bed.


The scruffy blue tits by the Long Water are fed
for the last time from my palm – with cheese, not bread
(more sustaining). The chestnut blossoms are dead.
The gates close early. What wanted to be said is said.

Fleur Adcock seems to have had enough of emotion in rhyme or without it. She is probably ready to try something
3 else, because her gift is definitely still there. Stopping deliberately is not a Desperado act. Most Desperadoes are
4
tenacious writers, for whom one life is not enough to rewrite all the techniques, tricks and words ever used. In
spite of the fact that she has all the features that characterize a true Desperado, in this last poem so far, Adcock
may easily have escaped the label.

JEAN BLEAKNEY (b. 1956) is a poet of melancholy questions. ‘At the hottest August of the century’ she
stands on the beach, under the stars, thinking of history and the beginnings of civilization (By Starlight on Narin
Strand). The poet is a botanist and Confessions of a Garden makes it very clear. She is a poet of the earth and
seasons, of plants and their poetic tentacles. Even love is a floral matching, with the purity of petals and the
solidity of roots (The Physics of a Marriage):

Well matched, they say of us. To me it's clear

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that symmetry was just the half of it.


Same wavelength I suppose. Yes darling, we're
the ripple tank experiment that worked
and even though the floor got soaked
the pattern somehow held. We knew it would.
Those corrugations clinched. But oh the debt
to synchronicity and amplitude.

But plants are not the only theme of Jean Bleakney’s extremely delicate poems. She has a cosmogony of her
own, which governs both plants and humans. Backspin shows us the poet in ‘Mid-60’s... Nine or ten’, riding home
from ‘the Sunday run (Warrenpoint)’ in the back seat of the car, dreaming, and having a moment of epiphany, I
3 should say:
4

I had a sudden notion of infinity


that filled my head or emptied it.
I can't remember which; can't remember
the notion; what's etched is how
the pleasure of the moment left me goosebumped,
hugging the memory of it... something like
the rainbow embarkation point of love
—you can't get under it, you can't dissect it,
you just accept it as the bridge from rain to sun ...
all of which makes me think:

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I don't sit in the back seat


half enough these days.

The feeling of infinity, of endlessness, is what the poet experiences every moment in her garden (reminding
emphatically of Voltaire’s Candide) – which is also her profession – and which she transfers to paper very aptly.
She writes meditative poems about the universe and builds a sentimental philosophy of life.
Sometimes love is an open-ended hope (Dangerous Driving, Why?, On Going without Saying) on which the
poet happens too late, or at the wrong moment. Philosophizing does not help, then, real life is needed, and the
unrhymed lines become very intense, like a child’s wish:

We'll stand there, basking in irony


3 —shortsighted-you and stargazer-me.
4
We'll talk about more than the weather;
and maybe, so lit, I'll remember
what it was I wanted to say,
something relating to constancy ...
But just for now, here I sit,
stoically inarticulate.

‘Basking in irony’, the poet is the ‘stargazer’ who complains of being ‘inarticulate’, forgetting that she is doing it
at a moment of perfect articulation, at the end of a splendid poem.

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ALAN BROWNJOHN (b. 1931) is the exemplary Desperado poet. His sensibility is intensely shy. His words are
accordingly used with an economy of beauty which Eliot himself did not foresee. He writes apparently flat lines,
using only one word denoting emotion in a whole poem, but around that word he builds a scenario of slow
revelation. ‘In this city...’ is a perfect illustration. ‘In this city, perhaps’, the poem starts: perhaps a street, a house,
a room, a woman in the darkness, a woman crying. Why?

For someone who has just gone through the door


And who has just switched off the light
Forgetting she was there.

Between ‘perhaps’ and the –ing’s (sitting – repeated three times, crying, forgetting), the poem is elliptical. It does
3 not say anything has actually happened. The key to the mood is the very last –ing: ‘Forgetting she was there.’
4
Silent solitude is Brownjohn’s forte. His poems are all solitary races in which the flat word wins and manages to
shoot at the reader’s soul.
Peter Daines at a Party is the opposite kind of poem. It rhymes obviously and places an apparently silly
stress upon the rhyming words, a stress which faintly reminds of Eliot’s lashing irony in The Love Song of J. Alfred
Prufrock (‘In the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo’), as if the rhyming were everything that
mattered, the meaning were not even there. Alan Brownjohn loves this kind of fool’s rhyming. One stanza rhymes
names with nouns (Justinian’s-The Virginians, Stevens-evens, Amanda-thunder). Another stanza uses half-
rhymes: both-Ruth, Dad-said, familiar-Pamela. The third and last stanza, at last, has perfect rhymes: knowledge-
college, gaps-chaps, population-conversation. This last stanza comes very close to Eliot’s destructive refrain (go-
Michelangelo):

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Still, here were these women with items of knowledge


Picked up in one and another college
– And here am I with not quite all their gaps
In my knowledge of all these high-powered chaps,
Doing well with the female population
And their limited but charming conversation.

The poem proves that Alan Brownjohn is a master of rhymes, and while we could hardly say that rhyme is not
significant, we have to admit that the significance he gives it is totally different from that in Romantic, Victorian or
even Modernist poetry. Brownjohn mocks at the predictability of rhyme and uses it unpredictably, tearing down its
pedestal of gravity, dragging it into the gutter of commonsense.
3 Ballad for a Birthday is a poem made of common gestures and common words, of a dazzling linguistical 4
clarity – which is a Desperado feature in itself. For each stanza, the poet uses three perfectly rhyming lines
(telephone-grown-own, hooks-books-looks, page-stage-age, bell-tell-well, meet-street-complete, door-more-
sure) and the same unrhyming refrain: ‘I feel the same but I wouldn’t want to call it love.’ Besides this lesson in the
uselessness of music in poetry – the meaning never goes hand in hand with the perfect rhyme: there is more
meaning where there is no music of words – , Brownjohn also uses grammar to convey his message indirectly. He
relies on modal verbs (v. Yeats’ Byzantium), and conditionals (v. Eliot’s La Figlia Che Piange). The stanza with the
modals is the following;

I wanted coffee, so I marked the page;


It should have been over when it got to this stage;
Can I be the same girl at a different age?

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I feel the same, but I wouldn’t want to call it love. (the emphases are mine)

Each verb expresses more than a whole sentence. We learn the girl’s feelings from them: what would have been
better if it had happened (‘It should have been over’), the change she must get used to (‘Can I be the same girl at a
different age?’), the conclusion that love has not died and this is the source of the intense pain this poem
expresses so flatly apparently (‘I feel the same but I wouldn’t want to call it love’). The conditionals are
symmetrically present in the last three stanzas, on the pattern ‘if he phoned/wrote/drove round’, followed by
‘should I answer it?’, ‘would I answer?’, ‘could I tell him?’ Even more than a past tense replacing the present
conditional and the main clause with a present conditional or a modal verb in the past tense (with a conditional
meaning), the poet adds a direct object clause with a past tense, which shows unreality more clearly:
3 4
If he drove round here and knocked on the door,
Would I answer his questions, let him ask me more,
Or could I tell him I was absolutely sure...?

The aim of this enumeration is to prove that Alan Brownjohn puts his grammar to the best use. He means to say a
girl has been left and wants to forget but cannot, while the man is (characteristically for Brownjohn) absent. The
attitude echoes clearly Eliot’s The Waste Land with the hyacinth garden, where the man is inert. The difference is
that with Eliot the intensity was mutual, both man and woman feel the pain, even though they failed to
communicate. With Brownjohn – with all Desperadoes – intensity is a lonely experience. The girl is supremely
alone, the man is silently accused. The poem manages to make us feel exactly that without making one definite
statement to that effect, while being crystal clear, posing no obstacles to understanding.

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Repetition – a major element of clarity – is Brownjohn’s favourite tool. The Packet is a static versus active
poem, is versus does, -ing versus the present tense. The first part of the poem repeats obsessively ‘is’, as if the
poet were explaining a painting which is in fact a painting within a painting within a painting... in a long line. Until
the line ends, everything ‘is’ (meaning nothing much moves):

In the room,
In the woman’s hand as she turns
Is the packet of salt.

On the packet is a picture of a


Woman turning,
3 With a packet in her hand.
4

When the woman in the room com-


Pletes her turning, she
Puts the packet down and leaves.

On the packet in the picture


Is: a picture of a woman
Turning, with a packet in her hand.

On this packet is a picture: of a woman,


Turning, with a packet in her hand.

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On this packet is no picture.

— It is a tiny blank. (the emphases are mine)

In the middle of this static part, the woman ‘com-/Pletes her turning’ and leaves. Significantly, the important act
here, the decision of the woman to go away for good, is separated into syllables by the end of the line, which is
only done to underline the meaning of the word. Significant words in a poem by Brownjohn are not rhymed, but
defaced. The more unusual the end of a line, the surer we can be that it leads to a meaning.
The second part of the poem focusses on the man, who slowly understands the woman has left him. He
draws her leaving, closing the line of pictures within pictures (an image of the future, maybe), locks the door (end)
and goes to sleep. Part two is full of verbs:
3 4
And now the man waits,
And waits: two-thirty, seven-thirty,
Twelve.

At twelve he lays the packet on its side


And draws, in the last packet in the last
Picture, a tiny woman turning.

And then he locks the door,


And switches off the bedside lamp,
And among the grains of salt, he goes to sleep. (the emphases are mine)

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The simple sentences the poet builds make the poem easy to read. Separating a word into syllables and placing it
in two lines at once is a way of drawing our attention, in this context of clarity. If the first part repeats the static
‘on’ four times, the second part repeats ‘and’ four times, as a connection between actions. The simplicity of
Brownjohn’s technique in this poem, as in most, is a proof of shyness, of the author’s delicacy versus the reader’s
understanding. He seems to say, Your guess is as good as mine; whatever the poems means to you, it means to
me too. He only points to his version of the story; the reader is encouraged to find his own.
Palindrome reminds us of Yeats’ Two Years Later:

Has no one said those daring


Kind eyes should be more learn=d?
3 Or warned you how despairing
4
The moths are when they are burned?
I could have warned you; but you are young
So we speak a different tongue.

O you will take whatever=s offered


And dream that all the world=s a friend,
Suffer as your mother suffered,
Be as broken in the end.
But I am old and you are young,
And I speak a barbarous tongue.

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The difference lies in the use of language. While Yeats needed melody – at that stage of his poetic career –,
Brownjohn writes as he speaks. Naturalness is a must with Desperadoes. They seem to think rhyme prevents
thinking. Monotonous musicality is not Brownjohn’s favourite. He makes the lines as rugged as he can:

We used to be some self-absorbed people living


In a compromised age about twenty years ago. We hated it, it
Was a terrible age, and underneath we liked it in a way, it
Was because it gave us the chance to feel like that.

Palindrome is a poem about young and old, just like Yeats’ poem, but much more relativistic. Every new
generation knows intensity and loss, and ‘all the time the ages are getting worse and worse.’ It seems that
3 Brownjohn is less passionate – from the language of the poem, not half so flamboyant and tragic – but the truth is
4
he is very intense in his quiet, ‘blank’ way. He devises a Desperado intensity, which delights in tricks borrowed
from everyday speech, from conversationalism.
Ruse is an unrhymed poem, whose main tool is rhythm. Alan Brownjohn’s rhythm is the main device for
intellectual suspense in the poem. Each thought/line is interrupted at the exact moment it menaces to spell itself
out, to be resolved in a complete statement. Sometimes he separates the subject from its predicate (‘The other
children instantly/ Scattered among the scrubland grass), at other times the attribute from the noun (‘the orange/
Street-lamps), the auxiliary from the verb to be conjugated (‘I was/ Expected home from this game), the attributive
clause from its noun (‘There were so many ruses more/ I wanted to devise), the conjunction from its clause
(‘Before/ They counted out my time), the verb from its direct object (‘Turning today/ A tower-block corner’), the
verb from its adverbial of place (‘I saw them/ In the gathering dark’), the adverb from its verb (still/ Searching’).
This strategy of interruptions clashes with the predictability of each line beginning with a capital letter, which

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somehow reassures the reader that this is a poem, he need not worry, these are real lines, the convention of the
poem is there. Actually the poetic convention is contradicted, slowly but surely. Broken sentences, broken
meanings, broken poetic idiom. Brownjohn breaks poetry into pieces of feeling and mainly of ideas. He manages
to conjure up intensity from an inferred little story behind the poem. He does not confess – he probably hates
confessional lines because he always keeps his own life as private as possible – and replaces personal revelation
by intellectual puns so to say. He plays upon an idea, he builds a fable, some situation half absurd, half very real
and sad usually. He is not an optimistic poet. His poems are deeply moral and, even though they never frown, they
brood. Ruse describes a child playing hide and seek, leaving his mates while they are looking for him and coming
back to them forty years later. They are middle-aged, dressed in tattered children’s clothes, all confused. They
missed on his whole life but he has not missed on theirs, because they have not changed. He, on the other hand,
is totally different. His life left the track his friends followed. He is – we infer – the poet, and he has created, while
3 his friends have not. Creation has made all the difference to the poet’s existence. The ruse was to turn the
4
childhood game into a game of creation, which his childhood friends never did. And this is how a poem about
hide-and-seek turns into a statement of plenitude. It seems nostalgic, but the message is not ‘I miss my
childhood, I am back to remember,’ but one of difference. The trick implied in the title is the discovery of poetry
writing, which gives a certain sense of balance to the author and reveals the emptiness of other lives in its
absence. Apparently a nostalgic poem about a lost age, about growing old, Ruse turns out to be an enthusiastic
praise of poetry writing, which can defeat age and aimlessness. Poetry gives a meaning to life.
A Witness is an enigmatic poem based upon the form of a question. It begins with the past tense (did...) and
ends in a question mark. Something definitely happened, but it was ‘No cinematic gloriousness and hope.’ The
‘falling’ on a ‘blank’ day ends in a last tentative meaning: ‘An Icarus landing on sand, getting up and running.’
Possibly, because the line ends with the question mark. The poem is one of failure, of repeated failure, actually,
because it is about only one out of who knows how many Icaruses. The interesting part is that Brownjohn avoids

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the tragic, theatrical tinge by making it an uncertainty. Maybe Icarus failed, but maybe he did not. This may be a
repetition, but we cannot be sure we have seen it indeed. Uncertainty is a fertile device with Brownjohn. He is such
a shy poet that he would hate to pass judgement or present his ideas as final. He will accept the reader’s ideas, all
his readers’ interpretations are welcome. He will not impose a meaning but will not write a poem which is empty,
either. Between the poet’s and the reader’s meanings, falls uncertainty. It is the uncertainty of all of Brownjohn’s
poems, desperately shy, yet unbelievably firm in their need to signify, to make a point.
He is a Desperado in the sense that his clarity hides a forest of ideas, all to be unveiled by the reader’s
understanding as he walks in a maze of indecision: Can the idea be so clear? Is it the only thing the poet meant me
to see? Well, as with all other Desperadoes, it usually is not.

CATHERINE BYRON (b. 1947) is one of the poets ‘trapped’ as she says ‘in the wrong dream’ (Night Flight to
3 Belfast). A poem shrieks ‘There is no way home’ (There Is No Way Home), and in By Ampney Crucis a husband 4
(presumably the poet’s) leaves his wife and two young daughters in order to ‘move in with your lover.’ It is an
inimical world. The poet flirts with Disappearance, goes to hospital to ‘drink down the end’, but wakes to pain and
his face, and tells him:

I won’t be around
for either you or cancer

The body comes back to life and life is more important than pain of the soul, for a moment at least. Maternity,
breast-feeding (Let-Down) change the focus from love for a man to love for the child. Then other loves follow
(Coco de Mer) and poetry goes on, highly personal and yet creating an impersonal universe which any reader can
inhabit. This is the Desperado paradox: be so much yourself that nobody else will recognise you. Catherine Byron

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gives us her innermost experiences (Allowing the Animal) but she is nowhere in sight because confession would be
a sin: poetry is an official recording of only signs of the private hidden hell.

JULIA COPUS (b. 1969) shares Catherine Byron’s tragic vein:

Is it
my destiny to wander this dark
forever, getting lost on the way? (Little Red-Cap)

She writes just like her, conversationally, with artful poetic devices hidden behind everyday speech. Her poetry
communicates an absence:
3 4
it seems best now just to sit tight and not
open the door to anyone (from the poem one day my heart turned bad)

Maternity is the only communion allowed (Child). Love is as heavy a burden to bear, and the poet prefers

the sort of men


whose smiles I can endure without
surrendering my all to them (Hymn to All the Men I’ll Never Love)

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In Defence of Adultery reveals a younger self, though, than the heroine of Catherine Byron’s poems. Julia
Copus gazes at life with marvelling eyes and tastes it with a seasoning of words. A defining line might be, ‘We
don’t fall in love: it rises through us...’

We don't fall in love: it rises through us


the way that certain music does –
whether a symphony or ballad –
and it is sepia-coloured,
like spilt tea that inches up
the tiny tube-like gaps inside
a cube of sugar lying by a cup.
3 Yes, love's like that: just when we least
4
needed or expected it
a part of us dips into it
by chance or mishap and it seeps
through our capillaries, it clings
inside the chambers of the heart.

Possibility defines the poet as one of the ‘vessels of the possible’. Her poetry refuses older devices and relies
mainly on rhythms and values of common sentences. She claims to be artless and supremely natural, which she is
to a certain extent. Considering though that it is the major Desperado achievement to turn the unconventional into
convention, Julia Copus is a nonconformist who works hard at her revolt, who builds a house of verse for her need
to be different from everyone else, just in the tradition of a good Desperado.

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PETER DALE (1938) writes with naturalness, too. His work is a record of a lifetime. His voice is even, his
stories are not unusual, he is only uncommon in his use of the commonplace word for the most private and
unutterable experiences. He refuses to be pigeonholed, he claims, but he certainly is a Desperado poet in this very
refusal to belong with anybody else. Profoundly sensitive and endearing, his poetry is a diary in many ways. It
records, among other things, the birth of his first child:

For nine months


I watched my speck of love
enlarge and grow enormous
in the great lens of your belly
3 till your sleep was broken
4
by the burden in your lap.

You wanted me
to watch you giving birth;
you said it was a bond between us
your body labouring.
But I knew my work would take me
two hundred miles away that week.

Unable to help
watching pain cram your loins

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I'd stand by
cornered in our cramped room
taking your pulse in the doctor's way
and clear you softly as you choked
for gas, not air.

Your fingers
in their pain clutching my wrist
would gain a hold on me
I could not wrest away in dreams or rows.
The butting head that splits you
3 bears features I once had.
4

Initiate
of a secret society now
you murmur parturition rites I cannot know,
the breaking of the waters.
And tonight you rest these miles distant;
your time about my wrist. (The Rites)

Dale’s love is both eager and pouting (Retrospect requires ‘I want my time back’). Vigil peers at the sleep of the
woman ‘to catch the drift of your dream’. His tenderness is always obvious. He creates in his poems moments of
emotion, short several-stanza plays which the reader enacts at ease. Peter Dale’s universe is homely and he never

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tries to shock, like most Desperadoes. He is calm and balanced in his certainty that he can turn his experience to
good verse, whatever the device used.
Besides the lines that do not want to rhyme, there are also those lines which do rhyme, in a quaint way
though. The rhymes seem to defy poetry. Envoy is a perfect example:

Fare well, old love, old innocence.


We hadn't much going for us,
except the inexperience.

The guilt, too, was ingenuous.


It happens to anyone.
3 We never were synonymous.
4

But we gave it a good run.


There's nothing more to be said.
It was all a bit homespun.

But now I hear that you are dead,


I look out this dog-eared snap:
you with that tilt of the head.

And after that lifelong gap


I'm thinking again of you.

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It's only a bit, a scrap,

but it happens to only a few.


And, though it isn't much now,
it's something you make me do.

I'll leave the picture out.

Words match, such as innocence-inexperience, us-ingenuous-synonymous, anyone-run-homespun, said-dead-


head, snap-gap-scrap, you-few-do. The music – not shocking at all – and the direct statements (‘It happens to
anyone...’) could easily remind of an older generation of poets, if it were not for the last, unrhyming, inscrutable
3 line: ‘I’ll leave the picture out.’ Peter Dale may well reject all classification, since his half mocking
4
half-earnest tenderness, his half-desired, half-derided rhymes place him in the group of poets who do not really
know what is happening to poetry. Something is changing at the very core of his willingly quiet poems. Language
is changing masters. The poet is no longer the master of music but the stripper of music from words. Whenever he
finds himself musical, he is utterly embarrassed and does not know what to do with his ideas
—so he builds a tentative Desperado poem.

MICHAEL DONAGHY (1954-2004), like most Desperadoes, has a good knowledge of prosody. He uses
rhymed and unrhymed verse and in both the intensity is the same. He has a unique gift of making rhyme sound
unconventional and natural (The Present). His poems have the diary-like quality most Desperado literature has,
and confession is replaced by stories, which are supposed to render the text somewhat impersonal (Cadenza). The
American world is present mainly in the conversational, informal aspect of his lines. He writes as he talks:

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staccato, elliptical at times, careless of verbal beauty. Beauty is replaced by life-like, photograph-like
communication. Donaghy’s language is mainly true and only then poetic.
The technique Donaghy favours is an accumulation of incidents and details, and also an accumulation of
informal words. It is the technique of American fiction writers, who connect authenticity with free speech and
endless enumerations, unplanned lines of incidents. The key to Donaghy’s lines would be this deliberate lack of
planning. The trick is to start and keep on talking till life gushes out and you are surrounded, engulfed. It is an
effect by accretion.

MAURA DOOLEY (b. 1955) is a desperately sensitive poet. What Every Woman Should Carry is a description of
a woman’s heart by analysing the content of her purse:

3 My mother gave me the prayer to Saint Theresa.


4
I added a used tube ticket, kleenex,
several Polo mints (furry), a tampon, pesetas,
a florin. Not wishing to be presumptuous,
not trusting you either, a pack of 3.
I have a pen. There is space for my guardian
angel, she has to fold her wings. Passport.
A key. Anguish, at what I said/didn't say
when once you needed/didn’t need me. Anadin.
A credit card. His face the last time,
my impatience, my useless youth.
That empty sack, my heart. A box of matches.

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She is a discreet love-poet. Her moments of love are sharp and on the dangerous edge of pain:

At the door
the love we want to offer
gathers itself.

Safe Home, Take Care, Good Luck, God Bless, a rabbit's foot.

Nothing saves us
from the boat tossed over,
a leaf in storm,
3 4
like my heart turning now, as darkness takes you,

and somewhere
a door slams,
long, long into the night. (Pathetic Magic)

Her language is abrupt, she hates explaining what can be suggested. This Desperado need to tell stories rather
than describe emotions (which would be too dull nowadays), to drown in small narratives – each line can be a story
in itself – indicates that poets need a refuge from sensibility into fiction, from personal to impersonal. From
confession to other people making a show of themselves. Michael Donaghy and Maura Dooley, though with very
different actors, stage the same busy desire to hide behind a busy cardboard world. This is not me, they say
ostensibly. This is you. See yourself. Some readers may wonder though, Do we?

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Maura Dooley is both factual and emotional, which saves her poems. Flood solves the enigma of her
simultaneous personality and impersonality. A line states: ‘Each time we meet there is more to say,/ fewer ways of
saying it.’ Desperado poetry experiences a crisis of the word, indeed. This does not happen for the first time. Each
new movement starts from a different crisis of the word. Maura Dooley fights the colourless words, dulled by
common speech, and intersperses them with lines made up of sheer intensity:

You look in from the other side


of carriage windows. You disappear in
the crowd at ticket barriers. I see
your cycle leaning in the guard's van.
I need you in the empty seat beside me. (Backwards into Wakefield Westgate)
3 4
In their hurry to speak quickly and say everything at once, without confessing anything directly, Desperado poets
find new ways for intensity, and Maura Dooley’s own device is combining incidents that happen to everyone but
herself with disarmingly personal statements. She fights the general disapproval of autobiography in the poem
with lines which describe her naked, with her life and soul on the page.

NICK DRAKE (b. 1961) also illustrates the Desperado tradition with his film-like poems, which capture the
atmosphere in past tenses loaded with emotion. His images are all perfect images, shot by a professional camera.
The incidents arrange themselves in an order of the soul which leads to an unconfessed but easily guessed feeling.
The poems are mainly images and mood, like history films which must recompose the moment.

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IAN DUHIG (b. 1954) is a juggler of rhymes and stories. Imagination and rough music, mock-music rather,
build a background which is the very opposite of fairy-tale. Crude reality, a menacing world, lives wasted, destiny
playing tricks on everyone. In this context of failure despised, the poem is a triumph, whatever its topic.
Apparently incredulous the word has any power to conjure beauty, Duhig writes a poetry which restores the marvel
of life.

RUTH FAINLIGHT (b. 1931) is one of the major figures of Desperado poetry. The meaning of her poems lies
in the intensity of each story, not in the fact that this story of a life happened to the poet herself. She never claims
the experiences described as autobiographical because it does not matter whom they belong to as long as they
exist as poetry. Her poems create life as much as they record it. Ruth Fainlight is the perfect Desperado poet, who
mingles fiction, poetry and drama, who speaks clearly about deep meanings (which are never spelled out in full),
3 who impresses sharply and has the readers’ souls in thrall. We disapprove as we read, and the more we
4
disapprove, the closer to the text we feel, because the text defies sympathizing. Ruth Fainlight is a difficult nature,
both tender and harsh, both endearing and tantalizing.
The poet has a taste for debunking (A Fairy Story), which applies both to imagination and reality. There are
always two sides to the truth, or, as the poet puts it, happy endings have ‘unexpected consequences.’ The prince
who kills the dragon and rescues a princess will not be satisfied with only one maiden, so he will go forth again
and again, while

The rescued princesses compared


Sad stories, boasted of their sufferings,
Exaggerating the ordeal.
They dressed each others’ hair, changed

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Robes and jewels, waited impatiently


To see the girl who next would join them.

This kind of discourse, half mocking and maybe a little more than half in earnest, does not go well with rhyme. I
should say rhyme sometimes does not suit Ruth Fainlight’s need to contradict everything, including our
expectations of the right word. Rhyme is too predictable for this poet who has her heart set on frustrating her
reader. The end of this poem uses rhyme very much in Eliotian manner, with destructive irony:

A splendid tomb must be constructed:


Memorial to those princesses,
Obedient victims of his destiny.
3 The monument still stands, although
4
The castle fell to ruins long ago.
The knight died on a battlefield.
Their legend: fatalistic, gory,
Fit matter for a fairy story.

The poet is Vertical to the bitter end. Her poems betray strictly vertical morals and a totally uncompromising
sense of values and relationships. Honesty is carried to its most absurd limit. Honesty to the word has the same
fate:

I am released by language,
I escape through speech;

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Which has no dimensions,


Demands no local habitation
Or allegiance, which sets me free
From whomsoever's definition:
Jew. Woman. Poet.

The order of words in the last line is the order in which Ruth Fainlight describes the important elements of her life:
race, gender, craft. I tend to say that, knowing her, the importance goes backwards, in fact. Poet comes first and
Jew comes last. Womanhood is the middle support which brings a sense of balance and endurance, keeping the
bridge of the being functional.
The Other mentions ‘pushing against the grain of my nature.’ Ruth Fainlight is a constant striver. She pushes
3 the word to the limit of its meaning, she burdens the poem with as much mood as it can carry. If anything, she
4
cannot be accused of superficiality in any of her lines. Or of conversationalism. She is clear, but every word has a
part to play. Each line has a perfect economy of words and no letter is set down to paper at random.
The Fall is a poem which ends in an enhancing rhyme. It begins with ‘Once you start falling, you fall forever’,
which faintly reminds of John Donne’s ‘Love is a growing or full constant light/ And his first minute after noon is
night’ (Lecture upon the Shadow). The end uses rhyme in exactly the same way as Donne, to enhance intensity:

Into the plunging vortex of your fall:


Dark path you hope will lead furthest of all.

Other Rooms follows the fall into an afternoon sleep, when the mind relinquishes its grip on life and

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I never remember, with my eyes closed,


Which room, or where it is. So many rooms.
So many sleepless nights, tired afternoons.
This feeling of weakness, of bleeding to death...

The confusion of to be with not to be, the feeling of roots stirring to life out of the winter earth (Eliot, ‘stirring/
Dull roots with spring rain’) dispels, though: ‘I know I shall get up’. Ruth Fainlight always gets up and defeats fear.
She is one of the most fearless poets today, even though fearlessness is a modernist mood. She has this
toughness in common with Sylvia Plath, her friend once. Like most Desperadoes, she prefers the surprise of the
very common next word, the word without any strings attached, the free and at the same time the only acceptable
word. Because she never settles for the next best word. Her poems look like a chase after the word.
3 Deadheading the Roses is a plea against old age, against death. When she cuts off the flower, the poet feels 4
she is fighting ‘destiny’, which turns the ‘glory’ into seed, ‘disdaining beauty/ for the sake of the future.’ The
simple gesture of cutting a few roses from the garden becomes a parable of existence. Ruth Fainlight often
reinvents myths, instead of merely debunking them. Innocent automatic acts suddenly reveal a hidden pattern of
the universe. This need to attach philosophical meaning to the incident is not exactly Desperado. Firmer with her
message, Fainlight rejects random conversation and constructs her argument rigorously, poem by poem, thought
after thought, until we realize we have been reading more than a sequence of poems: her volumes put together
are an X-ray of her understanding of life, of man in the universe.
T.S. Eliot called Yeats ‘preeminently the poet of middle age.’ A generation later, Ruth Fainlight inherits the
concern and, far less theatrical than Yeats or even Eliot for that matter, she brings death down to the ground so to
say. She talks about growing old in an informal way:

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Friends, sisters, are you used to your face in the mirror?


Can you accept or even recognize it?
Don't be angry, answer me frankly, excuse
the question's crudity. I can't – no matter
how often I take the little square of glass
from my bag, or furtively glance into shop-windows,
the face reflected back is always a shock.

It Must is a conversation about losing youth and not making a tragedy out of it. There even is a poem which views
it with irony: Divination by Hair. The heroine of the poem pulls out her grey hairs in front of the mirror. The poet
sees the gesture as ‘paltry and ridiculous’ (‘paltry’ reminds of Yeats again, with his Sailing to Byzantium: ‘An aged
3 man is but a paltry thing,/ A tattered coat upon a stick...’).Trying to keep young looks is a ‘losing battle’, and the 4
poet snickers:

I know it can be nothing but a losing


battle, paltry and ridiculous.
Sooner or later I'll have to choose whether
to be bald or white.

Where Yeats raged and Eliot moaned, Fainlight smiles. Not without sadness, of course, but the core is the thought,
not the emotion, and the thought knows the mind will never grow old. From Modernism to Desperado, tragedy has
left the poem and fear has become a constant companion:

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Because death always seemed a mother —


or a grandmother, someone
familiar – now I come near
the time of greying hair, I fear
the mask more than the skull beneath.

Again is another game Ruth Fainlight plays with fairy tales. The ‘prince who once had been a toad’ and
ended living happily with the princess (ever after is a notion Desperadoes abolish) becomes a toad again. The
poem is a question mark: what will the princess do? The answer is not to be found in the fairy’s power to make
things right all over again. The reader feels from the inner strength of this poem that the answer lies in the tender
smile. As the poet ends, ‘Let it all begin again.’ When age crept near, Yeats did what Dylan Thomas later advised,
3 namely he did not ‘go gently into that good night.’ When the hair turns gray and the body comes closer to the
4
skeleton, Fainlight gathers all her strength in a ball of fire inside her ribs, which is the poet’s soul. At the light of
that fire, her hand goes on writing long after life has ebbed away, or at least this is the impression these poems
about approaching death leave.
Love may not be the major theme of Ruth Fainlight’s poems – it never is with Desperadoes, actually – but
tenderness is indeed. In Ruth Fainlight’s view – as inferred from her images, because she never openly
philosophizes in verse – tenderness is a more general love, which includes all beings and all ages. In this way, the
poet can fall in love over and over again, with anyone, at any age. She loves her brother, her parents, her husband,
her children, her friends, her work, her myths, literature, history, practically everything she can think of. Whatever
can be understood must be loved – this is probably her credo. Animal Tamer brings the image of the husband
(Ruth Fainlight is married to the novelist Alan Sillitoe) feeding a stray, wild cat:

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You would have made a good animal tamer – I can tell by the way you're taming the wild black cat that appeared
last week at the bottom of the garden. Every morning she comes a little further. You go outside with a half-filled
saucer of milk and put it down as if you didn't care, but each day move it an inch nearer the door.

The man and the cat end up by giving in, both conquered by tenderness. Tenderness and loss mix desperately in
My Rings:

On my right hand since then


I've always worn the ring
my father and I chose
as my twenty-first birthday present.
3 On my left, these months
4
since her death, my mother's ring:
the engagement ring he bought her
half a century ago,
and gave to me,
after the funeral.

If we stop to examine the language of this – or any other – poem, it is supremely clear, not stifled with incidents or
the flow of speech. It is an aristocratic language, with its fair share of stories and memories, with strong images,
but also with fearless use of the scary, the painful, the irretrievable. Ruth Fainlight makes poetry out of simplicity
by infusing it with the intensity of a soul always on the watch. She makes it her business to feel for everyone she

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can think of. Once part of her poetry, they are part of her tenderness. She feels responsible for the entire universe
and she contains it in herself:

I spread my hands on the desk.


Prominent tendons and veins
on the back, like hers;
red worn skin of the palm
that chaps and breaks
so easily, inherited
from my father. Even without
the rings, the flesh of my hands
3 is their memorial.
4
No need for anything
more formal. Not gold
nor platinum and precious stones
can serve as well
as these two orphaned hands.

The pain is always there – intensity and pain are equal for Fainlight, who is more a poet of the moon than of the
sun – but it is a pain contained, a pain that stabilizes, that lends the reader the strength to go on.
In some ways Ruth Fainlight is an angry poet. She probably sees herself as tough and harsh, when she is in
fact supremely tender even in anger. But anger is necessary to her in order to stay vertical and fight. She is a
fighter: for life, for poetry, for herself. Usually Dry-Eyed talks about tenderness at first:

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'Do you cry easily?' At times. Always


at what is called the cheapest sentiment.
Especially when lovers are reunited,
brothers reconciled, son safe and well
at home with his mother, husband and wife
smiling together. Those are the basic tales.

Yet the poem ends in ‘dry-eyed’ anger because one must do more than sympathize, one must also fight
‘arrogance and cruelty.’ There is a certain anger in the way she treats words, too. An anger directed at babbling
poems, which cannot communicate because they cannot use language properly. Anger against poets who despise
3 the reader’s need for clarity, for accessibility of the written page. Fainlight has a huge respect for her readers.
4
Before the tenderness she feels for them, there comes the anger directed against poets who debase poetry by
making it a puzzle. While always open to interpretation, Ruth Fainlight will not despise a reader because he wants
to be told in plain words what to think. Her lines are for all tastes: both simple and intricate. Her poems hide and
explain simultaneously.
Marriage is a theme Fainlight holds dear. The union of her parents, her own union to her husband (To Break
This Silence). The peace comes first. The ‘mutual isolation’ comes next. Husband and wife are ‘the other’s fate and
climate’, they share a house, a landscape, a life but are two minds. And the two separate minds make all the
difference. Not even tenderness can bring the organ of poetry into communion with another being. Obviously, the
organ of poetry for Ruth Fainlight turns out to be the mind after all.
The familiar landscape of Fainlight’s poems is the town. Observations of the Tower Block has us contemplate
the multitude of windows of the modern abode of hundreds:

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Different patterns of lights. No matter how late I go


to bed or early I wake, there are always lights burning.
Nights of insomnia, when I look out the window, someone
else who lives in that building is also not sleeping.

The world of her childhood is New York. The world of her mature life is London. She lives in London even though
she escapes to her country cottage very often. She is not a rural spirit. Her past and present are bound to the city.
Author! Author! reveals her ‘project’, which is ‘the story of myself’. Her poetry is written because she wants ‘to
understand what happened and why it happened.’ She sees herself wandering amid stores, parks, streets, and
being ‘one more character/ in this extravagant scenario,/ the story not yet finished.’ The natural question that
3 comes to mind is, ‘And who’s the author?’ Is it the city? Do buildings change our minds? This kind of philosophy is
4
never explicit in Ruth Fainlight’s poems, but it is always there, to be dug out if a thoughtful interpreter should care
to do so.
Handbag is a remarkably built poem, at once incredibly direct and totally indirect. It begins with the mother
figure, so compelling in Fainlight’s poetry. It is her handbag, and it is full of trifles that smell like her: mints,
lipstick, powder. But mainly there are these letters. And we learn very slowly: letters from her father, during the
war, read over and over again, with worn edges:

My mother's old leather handbag,


crowded with letters she carried
all through the war. The smell
of my mother's handbag: mints

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and lipstick and Coty powder.


The look of those letters, softened
and worn at the edges, opened
read, and refolded so often.
Letters from my father. Odour
of leather and powder, which ever
since then has meant womanliness,
and love, and anguish, and war.

This small object smells of three crucial things in the poet’s life: womanhood, love and history. A sense of all three
she got from her mother. The poet’s mother is the pattern of life. This is probably the explanation why she
3 sometimes appears distant and implacable: Fainlight feels that she is governed by her gift, which is a power
4
stronger than her own understanding, a power that has been handed down to her by her mother. At some point
she stated in an interview I took that she was a feminist. I think this is the meaning of her feminism: the significant
core of her life comes from the source of life, and that is the mother. The father is the light of that source, the
luminous tenderness that makes it work.
Poetry, just as Yeats used it, is a triumph of life for Ruth Fainlight. In a different way from Yeats, Fainlight
asserts existence by means of words:

I shall not meet my dead again


as I remember them
alive, except in dreams or poems.

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The poem is a prolongation of reality. The poet muses,

So much happened,
I could think about it forever.
I run the action through again
and listen to those voices from the past.
There is always something new
to alter. And my dreams get better.

The story is in the poet’s mind, for the reader’s mind. And it is definitely a story more than a mere mood. The poet
is supremely aware of her need for an audience and of the imperative to be clear in order to be accepted:
3 4
Like music on the page
which has to be played
and heard, even if
only by one person,
this word, this phrase,
this poem, does not exist
until you read it. (Until You Read It)

This strong communion with her reader is what keeps Ruth Fainlight apart from Desperadoes. She is more than
clear: she makes sure that the triumph of life in her poems – the triumph of her story, her life – is conveyed. She
does not encode and we do not decode. We must merely take the time to hear her well and feel her every word,

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because each word has a taste, a mood, a thought in store for us. The English Country Cottage reveals Ruth
Fainlight ‘the alien’ (Jewish in an English cottage), My Mother’s Eyes shows the poet a grandmother in her turn,
after having been a child once, Those Days brings recollections of lost youth. Stranger is the one label that Ruth
Fainlight would never accept but which suits her best:

Meeting strangers
I lack discrimination
become too familiar
as if greeting a lost relation.

I don't know how to keep my distance


3 or not feel rebuffed and rejected —
4
exposed, foolish, pathetic — when
by the second or third occasion
it is perfectly apparent
there is nothing else to say.

I often wonder which one,


in a bus or train, if
disaster came, would pass the test
and save me. Another stranger.

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In spite of the intense participation her poetry requires on the part of the reader, Ruth Fainlight fears she
might find out she has been a stranger all along. It is the reader’s turn to step in, read and reassure her. A
possessive poet, a firm iron fist in a velvet glove (as a line puts it), an impatient sensibility, easily hurt, desperately
perceptive of every little anxiety, Ruth Fainlight writes with the stuff that dreams are made of.

U.A. FANTHORPE (b. 1929) has a tight grip on poetry. Not My Best Side is the perfect example of her mixture
of wit and tenderness. She loves debunking and she also loves playing with ideas on the page. She uses language
in its most recent clothes. She handles myth as if it had been born yesterday and could be altered at will. She lives
in a mythical age of poetry. Sisyphus is a perfect description of her craft:

Apparently I rank as one


3 Of the more noteworthy sights down here.
4
As to that, I can't judge, having
No time to spare for tourists.

My preoccupations are this stone


And this hill. I have to push
The one up the other.

A trivial task for a team, an engine,


A pair of horses. The interest lies
Not in the difficulty of the doing,

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But the difficulty for the doer. I accept this


As my vocation: to do what I cannot do.
The stone and I are

Close. I know its every wart, its ribby ridges,


Its snags, its lips. And the stone knows me,
Cheek, chin and shoulders, elbow, groin, shin, toe,
Muscle, bone, cartilage and muddied skinprint,
My surfaces, my angles and my levers.

The hill I know by heart too,


3 Have studied incline, foothold, grain,
4
With watchmaker's patience.

Concentration is mutual. The hill


Is hostile to the stone and me.
The stone resents me and the hill.

But I am the mover. I cannot afford


To spend energy on emotion. I push
The stone up the hill. At the top

It falls, and I pursue it,

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To heave it up again. Time not spent


On doing this is squandered time.

The gods must have had a reason


For setting me this task. I have forgotten it,
And I do not care. (the emphases are mine)

Trying to do what she cannot do, Fanthorpe stifles the feeling, hides it, is ashamed of emotion. Her lines are sharp
and telegraphic. The mood is heavy and burdens the reader’s soul. The landscape does not matter, the
background is a dark screen. The word goes straight to its meaning. A firm poetry with steep ideas.

3 ROY FISHER (b. 1930) is an alert gambler with poetry. He places the mind on top of the soul, and his irony is
4
pierced by roots of emotion growing out. His lines are deliberately non-conventional, he threatens the old trade of
poetry like a Homer with two huge eyes and a very sharp tongue, who chats with us on the porch.

DAVID HARSENT (b. 1942) is the lyrical Desperado. He strikes theatrical poses and writes for the music of
emotion. His love is eloquent and his stories overwhelmed by image. As After Dark puts it,

I close my eyes
and invent arrivals.

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His lines are dreamy and exquisitely musical, in spite of the fact that rhyme is not his favourite tool. There is in
David Harsent a dramatic music of the human voice and the human soul which he gets across to the reader in
every word.

SELIMA HILL (b. 1945) writes pomes which constantly marvel at the world and the more they learn, the less
they seem to know. Her open soul seems to be saying, Do not fear to tread, just do not be the fools who rush in.
She has a passion for disguising cruelty as candid irony. She speaks in stories told from the point of view of a
persona, a child, a woman in love, a jealous ex-wife. She is not afraid to be her own persona, she does not ban
autobiography even though she never confesses. If we are to know anything about her real life, we must read
between the lines. She does not hide, but does not tell us about herself either. Her small fables are food for the
soul.
3 Selima Hill’s poems are short and exasperatingly clear. No rhyme, no poetic lace or fireworks, just a twist of
4
the tongue and the whole one-stanza long poem changes colour. She writes chameleonic poems which turn red in
the last line. Her smile is catching and although her topics are all painful – sadness would be too mild a word to
characterize her – the poems laugh:

Please can I have a man who wears corduroy.


Please can I have a man
who knows the names of 100 different roses;
who doesn't mind my absent-minded rabbits
wandering in and out
as if they own the place,
who makes me creamy curries from fresh lemon-grass,

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who walks like Belmondo in A Bout de Souffle—,


who sticks all my carefully-selected postcards —
sent from exotic cities
he doesn't expect to come with me to,
but would if I asked, which I will do —
with nobody else's, up on his bedroom wall,
starting with Ivy, the Famous Diving Pig,
whose picture, in action, I bought ten copies of;
who talks like Belmondo too, with lips as smooth
and tightly-packed as chocolate-coated
(melting chocolate) peony buds;
3 who knows that piling himself stubbornly on top of me
4
like a duvet stuffed with library books and shopping-bags
is all too easy: please can I have a man
who is not prepared to do that.
Who is not prepared to say I'm 'pretty' either.
Who, when I come trotting in from the bathroom
like a squealing freshly-scrubbed piglet
that likes nothing better than a binge
of being affectionate and undisciplined and uncomplicated,
opens his arms like a trough for me to dive into. (Please Can I Have a Man)

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Master of understatement, she manages to tell a whole life’s story without naming one single real incident.
She replaces the sad negative (I do not have a man, I do not have a mother, I do not have a sister who loves me) by
the childish prayer that she may get them one fine day. She hopes for it with all her soul, although she knows very
well it may never come to pass.
Selima Hill’s clarity is bewitching. She draws you into knowing things you would never suspect anyone would
dare tell you. Her conversationalism is both extreme and exquisite. Her words are the simplest, the least
pretentious ever, and with her arsenal of simple words she manages to convey the most complicated feelings. This
is the real Desperado use of clarity. It can be found in Kazuo Ishiguro or Graham Swift in fiction, and in Alan
Brownjohn in poetry.
In a way, Selima Hill’s poems are like the fantastic in Gabriel Garcia Marquez. They step on to the pavement
of common words and suddenly they fly up into memory and conjure the most intense feeling. Then becomes now
3 under our own eyes and, although we see it happening, we are musclebound, we cannot make a movement. The
4
poet has a peculiar way of being personal, of telling us the most intimate things about herself while she seems to
be chatting along down a country lane with animals and birds. Her universe is unbelievably familiar, yet incredibly
uncomfortable. We are buried under her pains and frustrations. Her soul engulfs us before we have realized what
is happening in her lines.
Although we side with the poet at the end of every poem, she does not feel sorry for herself. Her irony is her
courage. She mocks at the worst of pains and teaches us poetry with open arms:

I have fallen in love with the Gobi Desert, O Lord.


I have fallen in love with arms in the shape of hair.
I have fallen in love with lips like bible lands.
I have fallen in love, O Lord.

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Wish me well. (Portrait of My Lover as My Ex-Lover)

KATHLEEN JAMIE (b. 1962) writes in an apparent monotone which hides the intensity. She is a disguised
theatrical poet. She sounds perfectly composed and calm, but the truth inside her poems is a whirlwind. She
masters it by using her clarity and her reticence.

ALAN JENKINS (b. 1955) writes an unrhymed poetry of memories, in which he uses mostly past tenses and
past perfects. Parents, loves, past incidents. The poem is an exploration of what was. Each memory is accurately
invoked and images outline incidents, combining in the hybridization of lyricism and fiction. The poem is
burdened by colourful images and weighed down by a sense of loss. Poetry begins where reality/hope ends.
3 4
MIMI KHALVATI (b. 1944) is a warm poet. Her major topics are parenthood and love. She talks with equal
fondness about her parents, her son and daughter, her friends, her lover. She was born in Tehran and remembers
it with love, but she is not a displaced poet even though she lives in London now and has done so for most of her
life. She is a richer Desperado than those born in England to begin with. Her map is bigger and her mind has more
images in store. She knows how to exploit the picturesque side of her native culture, but fits perfectly into
Englishness.
Solitude is permanent with Mimi Khalvati. Even her lines are alone, meaning rhymeless, each on its own. One
poem has a P.S. like a letter, written in solitude to the reader who reads alone, too. Her background is full of
flavour and she loves to take refuge in dissimilarity, calling her reader to the magic world of Scheherazade, which,
since it was first told has acquired political implications, too:

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Have you ever been to Isfahan? Tabriz, or Shiraz?


The roses of Shiraz! Or were they only in Sa'di
on a shelf in Hornsey library in bad translations?
Where are the roses of Shiraz? I asked, long
before the revolution. Shiraz is not what it was, my mother said,
but there were rose gardens there, yes, I remember when we were children
Baba Sayeed used to take us. Beautiful! Of course, nothing like Regent's Park.
(Christmas Greetings)

Belonging to two worlds at once makes her feel more at home in both. She loves to hear herself utter words in
both languages, Arabic and English. She likes to render speech, too (Whittington Hospital, March 1990, The
3 Promenade). Conversationalism combines with theatrical exclamations and decorous images which are meant to 4
suggest fairy-tales.
Irony is not the poet’s forte. Mimi Khalvati prefers tenderness. Having grown up in a boarding school, she
has the cult of friendship and is swept off her feet by any token of affection. Darling has a stanza in which the
poet describes herself thus:

There I am, small, dark, wordless


but something bright and shining
in me wanting to be heard.

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Mockery or caricature, or even incidents without emotion, plain stories, are not right for Khalvati. She cannot live
without warmth. When for once she uses rhyme, it is to stress the inborn need to be loved, the childish instinct to
belong:

I miss you — let me count the ways —


morning, noon and night;
I miss you on my darkest days
and when things for once go right.

I miss you in the inbetweens,


in shades of grey and gaps,
3 like bowling-alleys miss their greens,
4
lost mariners their maps.

I miss you like the tide its mark,


a church its congregation,
Londoners a place to park,
refugees their nation. (Just to Say)

The central mood of Mimi Khalvati’s poetry is the need to be safe. She wants to feel at home, accepted,
protected, loved. What she gets in her life is to be the one who gives all those things, or so her poems seem to
say. Song is this sentimental poet’s invitation to all her readers:

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I have landed
as if on the wing
of a small plane.

It is a song I have
landed on that barely
feels my weight.

Sky is thick with wishes.


Regrets fall down
like rain.
3 4
Visit me.
I am always in
even when the place

looks empty,
even though the locks
are changed.

MARY MICHAELS (b. 1946) is a poet of the margin of dream or the borders of reality. She writes about ‘the
border/ of my seeing’, ‘the verge/ of sleep’ (Candle). She feels that a mere look from her has ‘brought the pigeons

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down’ (The Square). She sees love before it has become reality, or without necessarily becoming so: a man comes
into the room while she is typing at the computer and wants to try her jacket on, he likes it. He puts it on and
hands it back:

Italian, well-made, an expensive jacket


it'll feel different after he's worn it

he slips it off
and I put it on again

that's a seductive sequence


3 akin to his entering and then enfolding
4
me

(and I accept it). (Unrealized)

Life gently slips into non-life (The Tin), while the poet and her mother laugh over the phone at trifling instances of
loss of memory. They laugh at the passage of time and the brain growing old:

Life never seemed to be so hilarious


when we felt sure there was more of it to come.

Mary Michaels is a poet who sees with her soul, or, as she puts it,

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my eyes
are closed

but I see everything. (Music)

As she states in Sea Road, ‘I am ready to walk the sea.’ Her poems sleep-walk,
soul-walk, tenderly and gently revealing a bit of an arm or a leg dreaming of flying. She chooses to be a poet of
the impossible longing.

JOHN MOLE (b. 1941) is an incredibly affectionate poet. His poetry is sharp and worked with precision, but it
3 hides such a warm core of feeling:
4

Welcome to the cherry


So unequivocal,
So full
Of itself, so utterly

Not you, not me, with our same


Questions,
The old stones'
Word game

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Of this year
Last year
Next year
Never...

Of Do you love me
As much as...?
Or Who was
He or she?

Or Do you love me less


3 Than I love you? 4
Or Tell me something new.
Haven't I heard this?

Welcome to the cherry,


Its white silence,
Its common sense
Its letting be. (The Cherry Tree)

Two lovers sleep and sigh ‘with what is never now’ (When), they shift ‘between dreams’, and

it is like

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When the dead awake


To find it true this time
Despite their lying accidentally
Beside each other and by habit almost
In each other's arms...

Love goes a long way beyond. The candles of half-rhyming words light the way. The poem is both shy and very
bold. The key to Mole’s poem is understatement, because he is not like the bold Desperadoes who need to shout
on the page to wake themselves into a poem.
Even dreams of a dead father turn into dreams of love more than loss. The poet dreams A Different Dream
3 of a place for fathers. It is getting cold in that dream and they slip into a different, darker dream, in which they
4
find themselves standing ‘beside each other, loving, lost/ And very tired.’ Then he feels caught inside the dream
calling ‘Father!’ and running to him again and again,

Across the lawn, beyond my life,


My wife, our children, yes,
For a moment as the two of us
Look once towards the house
Then disappear between the cypresses.

The interesting part of John Mole’s poetry is the double value of the word, the simultaneity of sharpness and
vagueness, of precision and dreaminess. His poetic idiom is both clear and encoded. He combines Modernism with

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whatever came after it, and creates a poetry which belongs nowhere but fits the Desperado age precisely in its
huge craving for something else.
The Present is a rhyming little song – all Mole’s poems are words for music, but a very personal music –
about one of the first memories of the poet as a child: a rocking horse. The whole poem is a rocking horse,
rocking between the child’s and the
grown-ups’ worlds, between affection and disaffection. Nothing saddens Mole more than disaffection. Nothing is
more like him than the subtle music of these rhymes which sometimes deliberately limp (recess-was, bow-show).
His is a poetry of the sad smile and the constant feeling of loneliness, ‘the loneliness/ You still remember’ (The
Toy Box).
The pattern of rhymes differs from poem to poem. Wind-Up rhymes b-e, c-d. The rhymes are obvious, just
like the feeling of loss which comes out clearly. The short poem is perfect, built on a gradation of emotion that
3 leads to the poet’s own loss of childhood, of time, in fact. A Christmas bird ‘has lost its song’, reminding the
4
literary-minded reader of Yeats’ golden bird in Sailing to Byzantiun and Byzantium. The memory is brought down
to earth, rendered common and therefore all the closer and more piercing:

And there it looks down from its branch


With empty throat and beak ajar
While underneath the glittering tree
A child who might have once been me
Winds up his brand new car.

Not About Roses offers an explanation of Mole’s secret:

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I have never written


A poem about roses

He has never looked for ‘the easiest word’ (which for love would be rose), or the ‘exact’ rhyme. His words are
willfully graceless and weigh the poem down:

Harder than that


To say I love you
With the words still earthed
In a dusty soil

3 4
So, what choice does a different poet like Mole have other than to write ‘a loving poem/ Not about roses’? The
Desperado need to be different at all costs takes its toll on poetry with John Mole, it makes it much clearer and
infinitely sadder.
Grammar is a remarkable tool, too, in the hands of John Mole. Going On (with its multiplicity of meanings,
from going ahead to continuing, growing old, and finally going to bed, to sleep, to death). The poem has a longer
stanza and a much shorter one. The first stanza is made up of descriptive lines, no predicative verbs, no subject. It
is almost unclear if taken alone:

Scotch and water, warm,


Medicinal, two tablets
On a little tray, his Times

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Tucked underarm, a dignified


But frail ascent, prolonged
Undressing measured out
By heavy footsteps, coughing
Gently not to worry us, as if
A mere polite reminder, then
The silence of the grave.

The second stanza has a subject and the subject’s memory is the key. The once young son, a father now, hears his
own son think. The son sees death coming and is not aware he is pronouncing a sentence on his father, as his
father had pronounced one on his in his own young days:
3 4
And why must I recall this now
As half-way up the stairs
I hear my grown son calling
Going on, then, Dad?
An early night? Sleep well.

The economy of the poem is perfect and its elliptical first part is balanced by a second stanza which lacks nothing
in point of grammar. It does not state anything of the real meaning, though, in spite of its crystal clear words. Like
all Desperadoes, Mole traps us in his clarity and then leaves us alone – as any good poet should – to figure out
what he will not say (which is what he means). He is the poet of the ‘silence/ that nobody but myself could hear’
(When did you start writing poetry?)

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The same as Ruth Fainlight, UA Fanthorpe and a number of others, Mole likes debunking, but even there his
irony is dreamy, sad. Grandmother’s Advice is a good example of twisting Red Riding Hood’s story into a loveless
loss of the Biblical apple (love). Last Look is more direct, describing the memory of the dying father:

He weighed so little. They carried him out


for a last look at the garden.
It blazed with autumn sunlight.
Gently they put down their burden.

Grief, not flesh, was the heaviness.


He asked to be left there.
3 ‘Troops, dismiss!'
4
A flash of the old order.

Nothing to do but obey.


The family mock salute.
At ease. Stand easy.
Go inside and wait.

So little. They watched from the house


for as long as it took
(which was hardest, they told us)
then carried him back.

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Some Desperadoes flirt with disdain, indifference, aloofness. Not Mole. He is the most involved poet one could
imagine. His feelings are always at hand and we know he owns them all. Why does a Desperado reader need to
hold the poet’s hand, and make sure he is looking at the real thing, that the life in the poem is the poet’s indeed?
We did not expect that of Browning or Shelley. Whatever the reason, Mole is sure to gratify that expectation. He
offers his own world, his sensibility, his universe. His poems are a real, limpid space, where we feel safe, even
though hurt to the core of our feelings.
Self-Portrait in Middle Age finds Mole describing himself after thirty years of happy marriage and love:

To have hitched a ride with fortune,


picked up two bright children,
3 learned a different language over thirty years.
4

His images of love are all fulfilling, balanced, like a fire glowing on and warming the reader. The Good Husband is
uttered by the wife, this time, reminding of Yeats again, with his Chosen, even though the register is totally
different. Yeats was desperately intense and driven crazy by the loss. Mole is calm and ironical. The woman
giggles and invents her dreams for her husband’s pleasure to interpret them. They make love and have children
who in turn have dreams for the husband to interpret,

explaining their dreams at the family breakfast


which started them giggling over the cornflakes
until he felt sure they'd begun to invent them.

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The chain of love goes on. The poet is the dream interpreter. Indeed, this is what John Mole’s poems are: dreams
rendered in clear words for the reader to start giggling. This is a brief summary of the mood Mole induces.
The Mobile Rag is a proof of the poet’s sense for music and contemporary technology all in one. The rhythm
and rhymes build an amused image of our world, invaded by computers e-mail and mobile phones, but haunted
by the music from past times. The contradiction is reconciled in the poem, by the reader’s smile. Times is lost and
loses us in the process, and

Even a poem
takes time to be written, spoken...

The poet is in that time and is lost with it, but then so are we. The communion, in John Mole’s case, is perfect.
3 4
SEAN O’BRIEN (b. 1952) writes poems stifled with incidents, poems ‘with no way in’ (Kanji). He is a shy
sentimental. He poses as the rough poet who can take everything that comes his way. His reader has to take the
burdens with him. In his poetry we witness a time when ‘all the world rewrites itself’ (The Grammar School Ghost),
when the poet records everything with a conversational vocabulary and very concentrated images at the same
time. The contradiction in Sean O’Brien’s poetry – Desperado from that point of view – is that cold, frowning
images conceal a warm, frightened sensibility.

BERNARD O’DONOGHUE’s (b. 1945) vacillating sensibility is best defined by The Fool in the Graveyard. The
little dumb boy whose father dies finds himself in the centre of attention at the burial:

Every eye

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Fixed on him! It was like being loved,


And he'd always wondered what that was like.

Bernard O’Donoghue’s poetry is mostly like this little boy, holding its breath, hoping to be loved. He empathizes
with the least known moments of history, and one of them is the death of Ceausescu and Romanian communism:

We were terribly lucky to catch


The Ceaucescus' execution, being
By sheer chance that Christmas Day
In the only house for twenty miles
With satellite TV. We sat,
3 Cradling brandies, by the fire,
4
Watching those two small, cranky autocrats
Lying in snow against a blood-spattered wall,
Hardly able to believe our good fortune.
The picture wasn't all that clear,
But the reporter told us how
The cross woman's peasant origins
Came out at the last, shouting
At her executioners ‘I have been
A mother to you and this is how
You thank me for it’. We switched over
To join in with the carols

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On the blockbuster Christmas special


On the other side, thanking
The stars that had saved us, with no
Effort on our part, from such tyranny. (Carolling)

The end of the poem, describing Christmas in a place ‘saved’ by geography from ‘such tyranny’, suggests painful
guilt. The poet witnessed helplessly. Could he have changed anything if he had taken active part instead of just
watching life like a show? These dreamy poems all watch rather than act, but, in absence of the incident – so
familiar to Desperado poems – O’Donoghue’s lines are a breath of fresh lyricism.

DON PATERSON (b. 1963) is a poet of the present tense. Unlike most Desperadoes, who enjoy staging the
3 past, he places his incidents, even the past ones, in the present and the future. The effect is remarkably unsettling:
4

the bus will let us down in another country

with the wrong streets and streets that suddenly forget


their names at crossroads or in building-sites

and where no one will have heard of the sweets we ask for
and the man will shake the coins from our fists onto the counter

and call for his wife to come through, come through and see this
and if we ever make it home again, the bus

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will draw into the charred wreck of itself


and we will enter the land at the point we left off

only our voices sound funny and all the houses are gone
and the rain tastes like kelly and black waves fold in

very slowly at the foot of Macalpine Road


and our sisters and mothers are fifty years dead. (11:00: Baldovan)

3 The same effect was achieved by Alan Brownjohn in Ruse, but he used the past tense. Don Paterson’s sense of the
4
past as present is his main Desperado claim.

PASCALE PETIT (b. 1953) is a waterfall of images, all strong and contorted, all desperately clear, and her
story is one of rape and lovelessness. Her poems read like stains of violent colour making up an unknown
alphabet. She could not care less about being or not being autobiographical, she is too preoccupied to express the
whirlwind of emotion that is at the core of her lines. On the whole, Pascale Petit is a poet with a huge baggage and
a language that she invents and that suits her perfectly.

PETER PORTER (b. 1929) is an uncomfortable poet, whose irony pierces the text and fights his sensibility.
Your Attention Please is a description of life after the last atomic war, a dystopia similar to Huxley’s Ape and
Essence. The whole poem is a radio broadcast which instructs its listeners to follow instructions in very technical

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words, very knowledgeably, impossible to doubt. A nuclear rocket has been fired ‘by the enemy’ at all major cities.
The professionalism of the language means to insinuate that there is no doubt this will happen, and when it
happens,

Do not
Take well-loved pets (including birds)
Into your shelter – they will consume
Fresh air. Leave the old and bed-
ridden, you can do nothing for them.
Remember to press the sealing
Switch when everyone is in
3 The shelter. Set the radiation
4
Aerial, turn on the geiger barometer.
Turn off your television now.
Turn off your radio immediately
The Services end. At the same time
Secure explosion plugs in the ears
Of each member of your family. Take
Down your plasma flasks. Give your children
The pills marked one and two
In the C.D. green container, then put
Them to bed. Do not break
The inside airlock seals until

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The radiation All Clear shows


(Watch for the cuckoo in your
perspex panel), or your District
Touring Doctor rings your bell.
If before this, your air becomes
Exhausted or if any of your family
Is critically injured, administer
The capsules marked 'Valley Forge'
(Red pocket in No. 1 Survival Kit)
For painless death. (Catholics
Will have been instructed by their priests
3 What to do in this eventuality.)
4
This announcement is ending. Our President
Has already given orders for
Massive retaliation – it will be
Decisive. Some of us may die.
Remember, statistically
It is not likely to be you.

The end of life on earth is in the line ‘Death is the least we have to fear.’ A superficial reading might say Porter
uses irony to describe this world sick with violence and technology. Actually, it is more than irony. A huge
bitterness, a coldness of heart, a remarkable courage to face the end.

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A Consumer’s Report runs in the same vein. Peter Porter answers a ‘consumer’s report’ on the product
called ‘life’. The language is as technically minded as before:

The name of the product I tested is Life,


I have completed the form you sent me
and understand that my answers are confidential.

As can easily be seen, double meanings bring irony into play this time:

I had it as a gift,
I didn't feel much while using it,
3 in fact I think I'd have liked to be more excited.
4

After questioning various attributes such as the high price, the fact that it does not keep, that it is very difficult to
get rid of, that it is delivered even when you say you do not want it, there comes the question about life being a
‘best buy’, and this is how Peter Porter ends his poem:

But the question of a 'best buy'


I’d like to leave until I get
the competitive product you said you'd send.

Desperado in his cold irony and discouraging mood, Porter writes consummately and manages to get along
without lyricism in poetry.

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PETER REDGROVE (1932-2003) writes with deep warmth about long lines of lives, parents, children and
grandchildren. His lyricism is delicate, considerate and full of limpid images that haunt the sensibility.

CAROL RUMENS (b. 1944) is a Slav sensibility in the Desperado vein. She is British – born and bred – but her
soul must have been able to speak Russian in another life, if we go by her unique compassion and understanding
for life under communism, especially in the Soviet Union, where she travelled and about which journey she wrote
at length. A Moscow Wife, Waiting reminds the reader of Solzhenitsyn and the political concentration camps. The
poet is one of the very few who, although totally strangers to Russian realities, can identify at once with the harsh
reality of communism, conveying an insight that even Russians might find it hard to summon. Her eye for the
essential lyrical feature of the incidents she writes about is impressive:
3 4
Husbands wait sometimes, too:
But when I think of waiting,
I think only of you,

As if you were the true


Symbol of all waiting
And all who wait are you,

Larissa. And I see The blackish lumps of snow


Surging to your dark porchway,

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The flats in rows, the stairs


In hundreds, and I climb
Praying you'll be there,

Praying you won't be there.


I hear the clattered chains –
It's like a prison-door.

You peep an inch. I'm scared


I've scared you – and just scared.
But then – I've stepped inside.
3 4
You sit and listen, pale
Distracted. You look ill.
The message falters. No,

It isn't much. I can't


Say much. And there's a word
Which you repeat and which

Baffles me. That it means


The most important thing
For you is all I know.

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‘I’m sorry.' I bring out


My pocket dictionary.
The word is amnesty.

'You said 'I think there's hope.'


You didn't smile. I said
'I'm glad.' The words seemed small.

I took your hand, I went


Into the sleety cold.
3 And now I learn that hope 4
Was simply one more way Of torturing you: they've sent Your husband back to camp.

And yes, he's waiting, too;


But when I think of waiting
Somehow I think of you

As if you were the true Symbol of all waiting, And all who wait are you.

Love, with Carol Rumens, is a full, deep glow, total communion, happiness unuttered but definitely there.
She is a fulfilled poet, both verbally and emotionally (even when she writes about absence or dead love), and her
reader feels immensely at peace. Housewarming describes the man the poet is waiting for by his absence:

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it's a strange thing, a soul:


A kind of hollow shining, a choked cry.

Love is an ageless feeling, always there and always shared. Pietas is ample proof of Rumens’ rich, voluptuous
peace:

Failed curls, limp breasts, no waist – and I'm trembling, because


I'm seventeen and everything's possible.
Then, in an after-flash, I see my flesh unchosen.
Your eyes tell me I'm lovely, so nobody else's can.

3 Swedish Exchange does not even bother with the convention of lines or rhymes. It is true that there is an 4
unmistakable Carol Rumens rhythm in the sentences. Lyricism comes out of the angle from which the incident is
retold – with exquisite obliqueness – and from the details chosen, which are all suggestive of love again, and of
age, of becoming an alien from oneself as time goes by. Unlike poems written in stanzas, this poem with
paragraphs is impossible to sum up, prosey as it may look. Nothing more than a departure is retold, but so much
more is understated. Perfect communion is Carol Rumens’ greatest image, with a hundred faces, from a hotel
room to the door of a Russian prisoner’s wife. We can safely say that love is the synonym of life for this poet.
Portrait of God as a Creative Writing Student, besides the irony which is not Carol Rumens’ forte, describes
rhymes as ‘loud self-mockery’. Whether rhyme is used by God – whom Carol Rumens imagines herself teaching
how to write – or by a mortal poet, it is equally undesirable for this poet who finds her effects in a music of feeling
rather than sounds. She has a gift for the loving word, for the word-of-the-soul which most Slav poets are born
into.

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In spite of the fact that we learn all about the poet’s soul, Carol Rumens is the shyest of poets: she never
utters ‘I love you’, she never crushes the emotion by labelling it with words. In Letter she can only bring herself to
say that ‘the heart’s room (...) may have no end’. Love for the mother is described in The Fitting Room in very
unexpected rhymes for this most musical poet who rejects classical tools, who rejects the obvious music in favour
of the inner harmony of the heart. The first stanza rhymes a-c, b-d, e-g,
f-j, h-i. The third stanza changes the pattern to a-c, b-i, d-g, e-f, h-j. The rhymes are sometimes perfect, at
other times half-correct, but their matching does not affect the meaning much. The intensity of the feeling of loss
and yet endurance by far surpasses the faint glimmer and games of words.

EVA SALZMAN (b. 1960) is a poet of love and writes with a novelist’s ease. She is not narrative in poetry, but
her language betrays the ear of a writer fond of telling her stories at ease, conversationally, informally. Her
3 intensity stems from the apparent carelessness for poetry, from the poet’s mood, which constantly flirts with the
4
reader’s fancy.

FIONA SAMPSON (b. 1963) writes with exquisite delicacy of feeling and image. Her love is poignant and
strikes deep, painful roots. Her imagery covers the page like ivy, and the poem is all a lace of sensibility:

It doesn't matter what I say or do,


You don't love me. That's the end of it.
Doesn't matter that I loved so well
I lost myself in keeping sight of you.
No gifts, no words, no tendernesses prove
Truths that you untell, the proofs you fell

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Blind to logic, making stories fit


The way your shoulder used to, or the tender groove
Between your thumb and palm that once clipped mine
Neat as a file, holding knowledge tight:
That you were mine. You're not tonight.
Instead I travel on, through dark so fine
You might think that was what got in my eyes:
And not the strain of saying these goodbyes. (The X File)

The lyrical beings in Fiona Sampson’s poems have tentacles of emotion and seem on the verge of drowning. The
only rescue is the reading of these poems which constantly walk the rope between sense and soul, not wanting to
3 admit which is the abyss and which ecstasy.
4
Fear of Drowning is a poem written while ‘waiting for my dreams to pass’. Like most of Fiona Sampson’s
texts, it is a poem of fragile loss and yet of indomitable, stubborn victory. The poet is stronger when she seems
most helpless. Hers is a tragic vein, lit by the wings of her feelings, all ready to fly far away, to a country of love
and grace. A country of words for music perhaps.

ANNE STEVENSON (b. 1933) writes about parenthood, love and death in the most natural tone of voice
imaginable. She rewrites love into the Biblical myth of man and woman:

Adam: Lady,
I've not had a moment's love
since I was expelled. Let me in.

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Eve: Lord,
I've not had a moment's rest
since I was a rib.
Put me back. (After the Fall)

She is haunted by the need to be whole again, avidly adding to herself children, old loves, ages. Motherhood is one
favourite theme. Intensity relies on emotion rather than thought, while the poem shuffles across the universe in
search of a better mood.

MATTHEW SWEENEY (b. 1952) forges stories in his poems. There is no lyricism outside the narrative for him.
He mixes details and incidents, outlining shocking stories. It is not so much the story-telling as the thrill of the
3 narrative that matters. His poems are in fact short thrillers. His imagery also makes them short films, carefully
4
directed to achieve a mood. He starts writing a poem – possibly – by imagining a number of incidents which (like
T.S. Eliot’s objective correlative) conjure up a feeling. The poems are consequently warm and agitated. The reader
is attacked by numberless faces/ characters but he sees beyond them, he manages to figure out a common soul,
which connects all the poems and gives coherence to a volume.

GEORGE SZIRTES (b. 1948) reenacts history. His poems dream the past all over again. Into this dream of loss,
horror and forgetfulness, love steals and lights up the rooms with bright fires. A warm feeling of well being reigns
in the couple. The lines are all image. The music comes from inside rather than from the sound of the words. The
poet is first and foremost an introvert.

ANTHONY THWAITE (b. 1930) writes more directly than most. Simple Poem is a credo, maybe:

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I shall make it simple so you understand.


Making it simple will make it clear for me.
When you have read it, take me by the hand
As children do, loving simplicity.

This is the simple poem I have made.


Tell me you understand. But when you do
Don't ask me in return if I have said
All that I meant, or whether it is true.

3 The poet hates theorizing in the margin of the text, in the same way that Eliot felt paraphrasing a poem was a
4
sacrilege. Reading is an intimate experience which has nothing to do with highbrow debates about the quality of a
poem (Essays in Criticism):

I like this more than that.


That is better than this.
This means this and that.
That is what this one wrote.
This is not that at all.
This is no good at all.
Some prefer this to that
But frankly this is old hat.

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This is what Thissites call


Inferior this, and yet
I hope I have shown you all
That that way lies a brick wall
Where even to say 'Yes, but . . . '
Confuses the this with the that.

Instead, we must ask 'What is this?'


Then, 'Is that that sort of this,
Or a modified this, or a miss
As good as a mile, or a style
3 Adopted by that for this
4
To demonstrate thisness to those
Who expect a that-inclined prose
Always from this one – a stock
Response from readers like these.'
But of course the whole thing's a trick
To make you place them among those
Who only follow their nose,
Who are caught on the this/that spike
But who think they know what they like.

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The whole poem is a splendid lesson taught to those critics who feel they can make or mar a text. The rhyme is
destructive and so are the deliberately clear words, which leave no ambiguity on the page. Criticism has, or ought
to have better things to do than legitimize ‘Thissites’.

JOHN WHITWORTH (b. 1945) is a master of rhyme and tender irony. His rhymes are not only very obvious but
very resourceful as well. The strong music does not bore and does not urge the reader to mock at the meaning,
either. Whitworth’s rhymes are a breath of fresh air in Desperado poetry, where rhymes are a cumbersome matter.
Poets usually do not know how to treat them, and hide them in shame. John Whitworth parades his ability to match
ending syllables and does it laughing full speed ahead.
The ideas are as much a game as sounds. The irony is not accompanied by Eliot’s heavy bitterness. It
prances with joy and hurts no one, whether heroes or readers. Whitworth’s nature is warm and gentle, he likes to
3 laugh but hates stabbing anyone with his meanings. Parenthood is a major force of his lines and his poems about
4
childhood are incredibly rewarding:

Now daughter, hear your father. He


Is wise. At least he ought to be:
No money, lots of books, a lit-
tle beard, you may be sure of it.
So heed the advice he offers you.
It is the best that he can do.

Too soon you'll go to school, and for


A dozen years and maybe more,

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You must be educated—what


Is what and who is who. Do not
Believe them much, but all the same
Be courteous. They are not to blame.

Be speculative, dreamy, kind,


Impractical. Don't speak your mind.
For your opinions, hold as few,
As it seems reasonable to do.
Hold them but do not be afraid
To bury them when they are dead.
3 4
Don't pick your friends with too much care
But such as happen to be there.
Trust—if you must—a pretty face.
There lies disaster, not disgrace.
Love soon, love easily—the fact is,
Like most things love improves with practice.

Don't weigh your conversation—talking


Should be as natural as walking
To take the Sunday morning air,
Not just because of getting there.

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Watch trash on television. Read


Old books, not new. Do not succeed.

Try not to preach, try not to plan,


Try not to take the Guardian.
Tolerate spiders, snakes and bats.
Be on the best of terms with cats.
Love gardens, garlic, sunset, lambs,
Church weddings, babies in their prams,

Fairgrounds and Mozart, Keats and ... oh dear,


3 I said I wouldn't and there I go, dear.
4
It's only daddy rabbitting.
Same old daddy, same old thing.
My love, if you contrive to be
Just what you please, that pleases me.

And yes, p.s. do not believe in


Words. Their business is deceiving. (Poems for a Very Small Daughter, 8)

The Complete Poetical Works of Phoebe Flood is the most satisfying book written through the eyes of a child
since A.A. Milne. Each new poem is a wonderful experience. It shows technical skill, endless sympathy with the

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child’s psychology and gloomy fears – small as they may seem to grown-ups – , disarming gentleness and
tenderness.

I’m dead bored


bored to the bone.
Nobody likes me.
I’m all alone.
I’ll just go crawl
under a stone.

Hate my family,
3 got no friends.
4
I’ll sit here till
the Universe ends
Or I starve to death.
It all depends.

Then I’ll be dead,


dead and rotten,
Less than a blot that’s
been well blotten,
Less than a teddy bear
that’s been forgotten.

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Then I’ll go to heaven which is


more than can be said
For certain persons
when they’re dead
They’ll go you-know-
where instead.

Then they’ll be sorry,


then they’ll be glum,
Sitting on a stove till
3 kingdom come.
4
They can all go
kiss my bum.

Bum’s a sort of swearing.


People shouldn’t swear.
I won’t go to heaven but
I don’t care.
I don’t care.
I don’t care.
I’ll sit here and swear.
So there!

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Except that it’s boring! (Boring)

Playful, serene, generous, John Whitworth is a poet of light, one of the very few in this Desperado age,
consumed with the desire to be different and at a loss how to be so.

3 4

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

PRIMARY SOURCES

DANNIE ABSE (22 September 1923)

After Every Green Thing, Hutchinson, 1948


Walking Under Water, Hutchinson, 1952
3 Ash on a Young Man's Sleeve, Hutchinson, 1954 4
Fire in Heaven, Hutchinson, 1956
Some Corner of an English Field, Hutchinson, 1956
Tenants of the House: Poems 1951-1956, Hutchinson, 1957
Poems, Golders Green, Hutchinson, 1962
Poems! Dannie Abse: A Selection, Vista, 1963
Modern European Verse (editor), Vista, 1964
Medicine on Trial, Aldus, 1967
Three Questor Plays, Scorpion, 1967
A Small Desperation, Hutchinson, 1968
Demo, Sceptre Press, 1969
O. Jones, O. Jones, Hutchinson, 1970
Selected Poems, Hutchinson, 1970

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Funland and Other Poems, Hutchinson, 1973


A Poet in the Family, Hutchinson, 1974
Collected Poems 1948-1976, Hutchinson, 1977
My Medical School, Robson, 1978
Pythagoras, Hutchinson, 1979
Way Out in the Centre, Hutchinson, 1981
A Strong Dose of Myself, Hutchinson, 1983
Doctors and Patients (editor), Oxford University Press, 1984
Ask the Bloody Horse, Hutchinson, 1986
Journals From the Ant Heap, Hutchinson, 1986
Voices in the Gallery: Poems and Pictures (editor with Joan Abse), Tate Gallery, 1986
3 The Music Lover's Literary Companion (editor with Joan Abse), Robson, 1988 4
The Hutchinson Book of Post-War British Poetry (editor), Hutchinson, 1989
White Coat, Purple Coat: Collected Poems 1948-1988, Hutchinson, 1989
Remembrance of Crimes Past: Poems 1986-1989, Hutchinson, 1990
The View from Row G: Three Plays, Seren, 1990
There Was A Young Man From Cardiff, Hutchinson, 1991
The Gregory Anthology 1991-1993 (editor with A. Stevenson), Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994
Intermittent Journals, Seren, 1994
On the Evening Road, Hutchinson, 1994
Selected Poems, Penguin, 1994
Twentieth-Century Anglo-Welsh Poetry (editor), Seren, 1997
Welsh Retrospective, Seren, 1997

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Arcadia, One Mile, Hutchinson, 1998


Encounters, Hearing Eye, 2001
Goodbye, Twentieth Century: An Autobiography, Pimlico, 2001
New and Collected Poems, Hutchinson, 2002
The Strange Case of Dr Simmonds & Dr Glas, Robson, 2002

PETER ACKROYD (1949)

Ouch, London, 1971


London Lickpenny, London, 1973
3 Notes for a New Culture: An Essay on Modernism, London, 1976 4
Country Life, London, 1978
Dressing Up. Transvestism and Drag: The History of an Obsession, London, 1979; New York, 1979
Ezra Pound and His World, London, 1980; New York, 1980
The Great Fire of London, London, 1982; Chicago, 1988
The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, London, 1983; New York, 1983
T.S. Eliot, London, 1984, published in the U.S. as T.S. Eliot: A Life, New York, 1984
Hawksmoor, London, 1985; New York, 1985
The Diversions of Purley and Other Poems, London, 1987
Chatterton, London, 1987; New York, 1988
First Light, London, 1989; New York, 1989
Dickens, London, 1990; published in the U.S. as Dickens, Life and Times, New York, 1990

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Introduction to Dickens, London, 1991; New York, 1991


English Music, London, 1992; New York, 1992
The House of Doctor Dee, London, 1993; London & New York, 1994
Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, London, 1994; published in the U.S. as The The Trial of Elizabeth Cree: A
Novel of the Limehouse Murders, New York, 1995
Blake, London, 1995, published in the U.S. as Blake: A Biography, New York, 1996
Milton in America, London, 1996; New York, 1997
The Life of Thomas More, London, 1998; New York, 1998
The Plato Papers: A Novel, London, 1999, published in the U.S. as The Plato Papers: A Prophesy, New York,
2000
London. The Biography, London, 2000
3 4

MARTIN AMIS (1949)

The Rachel Papers, Cape, 1973


Dead Babies, Cape, 1975
Success, Cape, 1978
Other People: A Mystery Story, Cape, 1981
Invasion of the Space Invaders, Hutchinson, 1982
Money: A Suicide Note, Cape, 1984
The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America, Cape, 1986
Einstein's Monsters, Cape, 1987

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London Fields, Cape, 1989


Time's Arrow, Cape, 1991
Visiting Mrs Nabokov and Other Excursions, Cape, 1993
The Information, Flamingo, 1995
Night Train, Cape, 1997
Heavy Water and Other Stories, Cape, 1998
Experience, Cape, 2000
The War Against Cliché, Cape, 2001
Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million, Cape, 2002

3 JULIAN BARNES (1946)


4

Metroland. London: Picador, 1980.


Before She Met Me. London: Picador, 1982.
Flaubert’s Parrot. London: Picador, 1984.
Staring at the Sun. London: Picador, 1986.
A History of the World in 10½ Chapters. London: Picador, 1989.
Talking It Over. London: Picador, 1991.
The Porcupine. London: Picador, 1992.
Cross Channel. London: Jonathan Cape, 1996.
England, England. London: Jonathan Cape, 1998.
Love, etc. London: Jonathan Cape, 2000.

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As Dan Kavanagh:
Duffy, 1980. Fiddle City, 1981. Putting the Boot In, 1985. Going to the Dogs, 1987 (All in The Duffy Omnibus,
Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991.)

JEAN BLEAKNEY (1956)

The Ripple Tank Experiment, Lagan Press, 1999


The Poet’s Ivy, Lagan Press, 2003

3 4
MALCOLM BRADBURY (7 September 1932-2000)

Eating People Is Wrong, London: Secker & Warburg, 1959


Phogey! or How to Have Class in a Classless Society, London: Parrish, 1960.
All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go: The Poor Man's Guide to the Affluent Society, London: Parrish, 1962
Evelyn Waugh, Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1964
Stepping Westward, London: Secker & Warburg, 1965
Two Poets, Bradbury and Allan Radway. Nottingham: Byron Press, 1966.
What Is a Novel? London: Arnold, 1969.
Contemporary Criticism, edited by Bradbury and David Palmer, London: Arnold, 1970
The Social Context of Modern English Literature, Oxford: Blackwell, 1971

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Possibilities: Essays on the State of the Novel, London & New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.
The History Man, London: Secker & Warburg, 1975
Who Do You Think You Are? Stories and Parodies, London: Secker & Warburg, 1976.
The Novel Today: Contemporary Writers on Modern Fiction, edited by Bradbury. Manchester: University of
Manchester Press, 1977
Saul Bellow. London & New York: Methuen, 1982.
Rates of Exchange, London: Secker & Warburg, 1983
The Modern American Novel, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1983; revised edition, 1992.
Why Come to Slaka? London: Secker & Warburg, 1986
Cuts: A Very Short Novel, London: Hutchinson, 1987
No, Not Bloomsbury, London: Deutsch, 1987
3 My Strange Quest for Mensonge: Structuralism's Hidden Hero, London: Deutsch, 1987 4
The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories, edited by Bradbury. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987
The Modern World: Ten Great Writers, London: Secker & Warburg, 1988
Unsent Letters: Irreverent Notes from a Literary Life, London: Deutsch, 1988; revised edition with new material,
London & New York: Penguin, 1995.
Doctor Criminale, London: Secker & Warburg, 1992
The Modern British Novel, London: Secker & Warburg, 1993
Dangerous Pilgrimages: Transatlantic Mythologies and the Novel, London: Secker & Warburg, 1995
Inside Trading: A Comedy in Three Acts, London: Methuen/Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1997.
To the Hermitage, London: Picador, 2000

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ALAN BROWNJOHN (28 July 1931)

Poetry
Travellers Alone, Heron Press, 1954
The Railings, Digby Press, 1961
The Lions’ Mouths, Digby Press, 1961
Sandgrains on a Tray, Macmillan, 1969
Warrior’s Career, Macmillan, 1969
Brownjohn's Beasts, Secker & Warburg, 1970
The Little Red Bus Book, Inter-Action, 1972
A Song of Good Life, Secker & Warburg, 1975
3 A Night in the Gazebo, Secker & Warburg, 1980 4
Collected Poems, (re-issued 1988) Hutchinson, 1983
The Old Flea-Pit, Hutchinson, 1987
The Observation Car, Hutchinson, 1990
In the Cruel Arcade, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994
The Cat without E-Mail, Enitharmon Press, London, 2001

Fiction
To Clear the River, (as John Berrington) Heinemann, 1964
The Way You Tell Them: A Yarn of the Nineties, André Deutsch, 1990
The Long Shadows, Dewi Lewis, 1997
A Funny Old Year, Dewi Lewis, 2001

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Criticism
Philip Larkin, Longman, 1975

ANTHONY BURGESS (1917-1993)

The Malayan Trilogy, 1956-1959


The Doctor Is sick, 1960
The Right to answer, 1960
One Hand Clapping, 1961
3 Devil of a State, 1961 4
The Worm and the Ring, 1961
The Wanting Seed, 1962
A Clockwork Orange, 1962
Honey for the Bears, 1963
Inside Mr. Enderby, 1963
Nothing like the Sun, 1964
Tremor of Intent, 1965
Enderby Outside, 1968
Urgent Copy, 1968
MF, 1971
Napoleon Symphony, 1974

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The Clockwork Testament (or Enderby’s End), 1974


Beard’s Roman Woman, 1976
Abba Abba, 1977
1985, 1978
Earthly Powers, 1980
The End of the World’s News, 1982
Enderby’s Dark Lady, 1984
The Kingdom of the Wicked, 1985
The Pianoplayers, 1986
Any Old Iron, 1989
The Devil’s Mode, 1989
3 Mozart and the Wolf Gang, 1991 4
Long Day Wanes: A Malayan Trilogy, 1992
A Dead man in Deptford, 1993
Byrne: A Novel, 1997

CATHERINE BYRON (22 August 1947)

Settlements, Durham: Taxus Press, 1985


Samhain, Leicester: Taxus Aril, 1987
Out of Step: Pursuing Seamus Heaney to Purgatory, Bristol: Loxwood Stoneleigh, 1992
The Fat-Hen Field Hospital, Bristol: Loxwood Stoneleigh, 1993

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Settlements & Samhain, Bristol: Loxwood Stoneleigh, 1993


The Three Shes, Dusseldorf, Germany: Verlag der Handzeichen, 1994
The Getting of Vellum, Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare, Ireland: Salmon Publishing, 2000

PETER DALE (1938)

The Storms, Macmillan, London, 1968 Mortal Fire, Macmillan, London, 1970
Mortal Fire: Selected Poems, Agenda Editions, London,1976
Cross Channel, Hippopotamus Press, Frome, 1977
One Another, Agenda Editions, London/Carcanet New Press, Manchester, 1978
3 Too Much of Water, Agenda Editions, London, 1983 4
A Set of Darts: Epigrams for the Nineties (with W.S. Milne and Robert Richardson), Big Little Poem Books, Grimsby,
1990
Earth Light, Hippopotamus Press, Frome, 1991
Edge to Edge: New and Selected Poems, Anvil, London,1996
Da Capo, Agenda Editions, London, 1997

MICHAEL DONAGHY (24 May 1954-2004)

Slivers, Thompson Hill Press, 1985

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Machines, Circle Press, 1986


Shibboleth, Oxford University Press, 1988
Smith, Triangular Press, 1989
Errata, Oxford University Press, 1993
Wallflowers: A Lecture on Poetry, Poetry Society, 1999
Conjure, Picador, 2000
Dances Learned Last Night: Poems 1975-1995, Picador, 2000

MAURA DOOLEY (1955)

3 Ivy Leaves and Arrows, Bloodaxe, 1986 4


Turbulence, Giant Steps, 1988
Kissing A Bone, Bloodaxe, 1996
Making for Planet Alice: New Women Poets (editor) Bloodaxe, 1997
Sound Barrier, Bloodaxe, 2002

NICK DRAKE (1961)

Chocolate and Salt, Mandeville Press, 1990


The Poetry of W.B. Yeats, Penguin Books, 1990
The Man in the White Suit, Bloodaxe Books, 1999

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IAN DUHIG (9 February 1954)

The Bradford Count, Bloodaxe, 1991


The Mersey Goldfish, Bloodaxe, 1994
Nominies, Bloodaxe, 1998
The Lammas Hireling, Picador, 2003

RUTH FAINLIGHT (1931)


3 4
Cages, Macmillan UK; Dufour Editions, USA, 1966
To See the Matter Clearly, Macmillan UK; Dufour Editions, USA, 1968
The Region`s Violence, Hutchinson or Century Hutchinson, Hutchinson,UK, 1973
Another Full Moon, Hutchinson or Century Hutchinson, Hutchinson,UK, 1976
Sibyls and Others, Hutchinson or Century Hutchinson, Hutchinson,UK, 1980
Fifteen to Infinity, Hutchinson or Century Hutchinson, Hutchinson,UK, 1983
Selected Poems, Hutchinson or Century Hutchinson, Hutchinson,UK, 1987
The Knot, Hutchinson or Century Hutchinson, Hutchinson,UK, 1990
This Time of Year, Sinclair-Stevenson UK, 1994
Selected Poems, Sinclair-Stevenson UK, 1995 (updated new edition)
Sugar-Paper Blue, Bloodaxe Books UK, Dufour Editions USA, 1997

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Burning Wire, Bloodaxe Books UK, Dufour Editions USA, 2002

U.A. FANTHORPE (29 July 1929)

Side Effects, Peterloo Poets, 1978


Standing To, Peterloo Poets, 1982
Voices Off, Peterloo Poets, 1984
Selected Poems, Peterloo Poets, 1986
A Watching Brief, Peterloo Poets, 1987
Neck-Verse, Peterloo Poets, 1992
3 Safe as Houses, Peterloo Poets, 1995 4
Consequences, Peterloo Poets, 2000
Christmas Poems, Enitharmon Press, 2002

JOHN FOWLES (31 March 1926-2005)

The Collector, Cape, 1963


The Aristos: A Self-Portrait in Ideas, Cape, 1965
The Magus, Cape (revised edition 1977), 1966
The French Lieutenant's Woman, Cape, 1969
Poems, Ecco Press, New York, 1973
The Ebony Tower, Cape, 1974

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Daniel Martin, Cape, 1977


Islands, Cape, 1978
Mantissa, Cape, 1982
Short History of Lyme Regis (editor), Dovecote Press, 1982
A Maggot, Cape, 1985
The Tree, Sumach Press, 1992
Wormholes: Essays and Occasional Writings, Cape, 1998

JOHN FULLER (1 January 1937)

3 Fairground Music, Chatto & Windus, 1961 4


The Tree That Walked, Chatto & Windus, 1967
The Art of Love, The Review, 1968
Herod Do Your Worst, Novello, 1968
The Labours of Hercules: A Sonnet Sequence, Manchester Institute of Contemporary, Arts, 1970
A Reader's Guide to W. H. Auden, Thames & Hudson, 1970
Squeaking Crust, Chatto & Windus, 1970
The Wreck, Turret Books, 1970
Boys in a Pie, Steam Press, 1972
Cannibals and Missionaries, Secker & Warburg, 1972
The Sonnet, Methuen, 1972
The Spider Monkey Uncle King, Novello, 1972

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Epistles to Several Persons, Secker & Warburg, 1973


Hut Groups, Cellar Press, 1973
The Last Bid, André Deutsch, 1975
The Mountain in the Sea, Secker & Warburg, 1975
Lies and Secrets, Secker & Warburg, 1979
The Extraordinary Wool Mill and Other Stories, André Deutsch, 1980
The Illusionists, Secker & Warburg, 1980
Selected Poems 1954-1982, Secker & Warburg, 1982
Waiting for the Music, Salamander Press, 1982
The Beautiful Inventions, Secker & Warburg, 1983
Come Aboard and Sail Away, Salamander Press, 1983
3 Flying to Nowhere, Salamander Press, 1983 4
The Adventures of Speedfall, Salamander Press, 1985
Selected Poems, Secker & Warburg, 1985
Partingtime Hall (with James Fenton), Salamander Press, 1987
The Grey Among the Green, Chatto & Windus, 1988
Tell It Me Again, Chatto & Windus, 1988
The Burning Boys, Chatto & Windus, 1989
Look Twice, Chatto & Windus, 1991
The Mechanical Body, Chatto & Windus, 1991
The Worm and the Star, Chatto & Windus, 1993
The Chatto Book of Love Poetry (editor and introduction), Chatto & Windus, 1995
Collected Poems, Chatto & Windus, 1996

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Stones and Fires, Chatto & Windus, 1996


A Skin Diary, Chatto & Windus, 1997
W. H. Auden: A Commentary, Faber and Faber, 1998
The Oxford Book of Sonnets (editor), Oxford University Press, 2000
The Memoirs of Laetitia Horsepole, by Herself, Chatto & Windus, 2001
Now and for a Time, Chatto & Windus, 2002

ALASDAIR GRAY (1934)

Lanark, Canongate, 1981


3 Unlikely Stories, Mostly, Canongate, 1983 4
1982 Janine, Cape, 1984
The Fall of Kelvin Walker: A Fable of the Sixties, Canongate, 1985
Lean Tales (contributor), Cape, 1985
Old Negatives: Four Verse Sequences, Cape, 1989
McGrotty and Ludmilla, Dog and Bone, 1990
Something Leather, Cape, 1990
Poor Things, Bloomsbury, 1992
Why Scots Should Rule Scotland, Canongate, 1992
Ten Tales Tall and True, Bloomsbury, 1993
A History Maker, Canongate, 1994
Mavis Belfrage, Bloomsbury, 1996

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Working Legs: A Play for Those Without Them, Dog and Bone, 1997
The Book of Prefaces (editor), Bloomsbury, 2000
Sixteen Occasional Poems, Morag McAlpine, 2000

ALDOUS HUXLEY (1894-1963)

Crome Yellow, London: Chatto & Windus, 1921


Antic Hay, London/New York: Chatto & Windus/Doran, 1923
Those Barren Leaves, London/New York: Chatto & Windus/Doran, 1925
Point Counter Point, London/Garden City, N.Y.: Chatto & Windus/Doubleday, Doran & Co. Inc., 1928
3 Brave New World, London/Garden City, N.Y.: Chatto & Windus/ Doubleday, Doran & Co. Inc., 1932 4
Eyeless in Gaza, London/New York: Chatto & Windus/ Harper & Brothers, 1936
After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, London/New York: Chatto & Windus/Harper & Brothers, 1939
Time Must Have a Stop, New York: Harper & Brothers (London: Chatto & Windus, 1945), 1944
Ape and Essence, New York: Harper & Brothers (London: Chatto & Windus, 1949), 1948
The Genius and the Goddess, London/New York: Chatto & Windus/Harper & Brothers, 1955
Island, London/New York: Chatto & Windus/ Harper & Row, 1962

DAVID HARSENT (1942)

A Violent Country, Oxford University Press, 1969

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Truce, Sycamore Press, 1973


After Dark, Oxford University Press, 1973
Dreams of the Dead, Oxford University Press, 1977
Mister Punch, Oxford University Press, 1984
Selected Poems, Oxford University Press, 1989
Gawain (libretto), Universal Edition, 1991
Storybook Hero, Sycamore Press, 1992
News from the Front, Oxford University Press, 1993
The Potted Priest, Five Seasons Press/Snickersnee, 1997
A Bird’s Idea of Flight, Faber & Faber, 1998
Marriage, Faber & Faber 2002
3 From an Inland Sea, a novel, Viking, 1985/Penguin, 1986 4

SELIMA HILL (13 October 1945)

Saying Hello at the Station, Chatto & Windus, 1984


My Darling Camel, Chatto & Windus, 1988
The Accumulation of Small Acts of Kindness, Chatto & Windus, 1989
A Little Book of Meat, Bloodaxe Books, 1993
Trembling Hearts in the Bodies of Dogs: New & Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, 1994
Violet, Bloodaxe Books, 1997
Bunny, Bloodaxe Books, 2001

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Portrait of My Lover as a Horse, Bloodaxe Books, 2002

KAZUO ISHIGURO (1954)

A Pale View of Hills, Faber and Faber, 1982


An Artist of the Floating World, Faber and Faber, 1986
The Remains of the Day, Faber and Faber, 1989
The Unconsoled, Faber and Faber, 1995
When We Were Orphans, Faber and Faber, 2000

3 4
MIMI KHALVATI (28 April 1944)

I Know a Place, Dent Children's Books, 1985


Persian Miniatures/A Belfast Kiss, Smith/Doorstop, 1990
In White Ink, Carcanet, 1991
Mirrorwork, Carcanet, 1995
Entries on Light, Carcanet, 1997
Selected Poems, Carcanet, 2000
Tying the Song: A First Anthology from the Poetry School 1997-2000 (co-editor with Pascale Petit), Enitharmon,
2000
The Chine, Carcanet, 2002

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PHILIP LARKIN (1922-1985)


The North Ship, The Fortune Press, 1945
Jill, Fortune Press, 1946
A Girl In Winter, Faber and Faber, 1947
XX Poems, Self-published, 1951
The Fantasy Poets, Philip Larkin, No. 21, The Fantasy Press, 1954
The Less Deceived, The Marvell Press, 1955
The Whitsun Weddings, Faber and Faber, 1964
All What Jazz: A Record Diary 1961-68, Faber and Faber, 1970
The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse chosen by Philip Larkin, Oxford University Press, 1973
3 High Windows, Faber and Faber, 1974 4
Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces 1955-1982, Faber and Faber, 1983
Collected Poems edited by Anthony Thwaite, Marvell/Faber and Faber, 1988

DORIS LESSING (1919)

The Grass is Singing, Michael Joseph, 1950


This Was the Old Chief's Country (Collected African Stories Volume 1), Michael Joseph, 1951
Martha Quest (Book 1: The Children of Violence Series), Michael Joseph, 1952
Five Short Novels, Michael Joseph, 1953
A Proper Marriage (Book 2: The Children of Violence Series), Michael Joseph, 1954Retreat to Innocence, Michael
Joseph, 1956

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Going Home, MacGibbon & Kee, 1957


The Habit of Loving, MacGibbon & Kee, 1957
A Ripple from the Storm (Book 3 The Children of Violence Series) Michael Joseph, 1958
In Pursuit of the English (a documentary), MacGibbon & Kee, 1960
The Golden Notebook, Michael Joseph, 1962
A Man and Two Women, MacGibbon & Kee, 1963
African Stories, Michael Joseph, 1964
Landlocked (Book 4 The Children of Violence Series), MacGibbon & Kee, 1965
The Black Madonna, Panther, 1966
Particularly Cats, Michael Joseph, 1967
The Four-Gated City (Book 5 The Children of Violence Series), MacGibbon & Kee, 1969
3 Briefing for a Descent into Hell, Cape, 1971 4
The Story of a Non-Marrying Man and Other Stories, Cape, 1972
The Summer Before the Dark, Cape, 1973
The Sun Between Their Feet (Collected African Stories Volume 2), Michael Joseph, 1973
The Memoirs of a Survivor, Octagon Press, 1975
To Room Nineteen (Collected Stories Volume 1), Cape, 1978
The Temptation of Jack Orkney (Collected Stories Volume 2), Cape, 1978
Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta (Canopus in Argos series), Cape, 1979
The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five (Canopus in Argos series), Cape, 1980
The Sirian Experiments (Canopus in Argos series), Cape, 1981
The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (Canopus in Argos series), Cape, 1982
Diary of a Good Neighbour (as Jane Somers), Michael Joseph, 1983

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Documents Relating to the Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire (Canopus in Argos Series), Cape, 1983
If the Old Could... (published as 'The Diaries of Jane Somers'), Michael Joseph, 1984
The Good Terrorist, Cape, 1985
Prisons We Choose to Live Inside, Cape, 1987
The Wind Blows Away Our Words, Pan, 1987
The Fifth Child, Cape, 1988
A Doris Lessing Reader, Cape, 1989
African Laughter, HarperCollins, 1992
London Observed: Stories and Sketches, HarperCollins, 1992
Under My Skin, HarperCollins, 1994
Spies I Have Known and Other Stories, CollinsEducational, 1995
3 Love, Again, Flamingo, 1996 4
Walking in the Shade: Volume II of My Autobiography 1949-1962, HarperCollins, 1997
Mara and Dann: An Adventure, HarperCollins, 1999
Ben, in the World, Flamingo, 2000
The Sweetest Dream, Flamingo, 2001

DAVID LODGE (28 January 1935)

Fiction
The Picturegoers , MacGibbon & Kee, 1960
Ginger, You're Barmy , MacGibbon & Kee, 1962

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The British Museum is Falling Down, MacGibbon & Kee, 1965


Out of the Shelter, (revised edition 1985) Macmillan , 1970
Changing Places, Secker & Warburg, 1975
How Far Can You Go?, Secker & Warburg, 1980Small World, Secker & Warburg, 1984
Nice Work, Secker & Warburg, 1988
Paradise News, Secker & Warburg, 1991
The Writing Game (play), Secker & Warburg, 1991
Therapy, Secker & Warburg, 1995
Home Truths (play), Secker & Warburg, 1999
Thinks…, Secker & Warburg, 2001

3 Literary criticism
4
Graham Greene, Columbia University Press, 1966
Language of Fiction: Essays in Criticism and Verbal Analysis of the English Novel, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966
Evelyn Waugh, Columbia University Press, 1971
The Novelist at the Crossroads and Other Essays on Fiction and Criticism, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971
The Modes of Modern Writing: Metaphor, Metonymy and the Typology of Modern Literature, Edward Arnold, 1977
Working with Structuralism: Essays and Reviews in 19th and 20th Century Literature, Routledge & Kegan Paul,
1981
Write On: Occasional Essays 1965-1985, Secker & Warburg, 1986
After Bakhtin: Essays on Fiction and Criticism, Routledge, 1990
The Art of Fiction, Secker & Warburg, 1992 The Practice of Writing, Secker & Warburg, 1996
Consciousness and the Novel, Secker & Warburg, 2002

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JOHN MOLE (12 October, 1941)

Poetry
The Love Horse, E.J.Morten, 1973
A Partial Light, Dent, 1975
Our Ship, Secker & Warburg, 1977
From the House Opposite, Secker & Warburg, 1979
Feeding the Lake, Secker & Warburg, 1982
In and Out of the Apple, Secker & Warburg, 1984
Homing, Secker & Warburg, 1987
3 Depending on the Light, Peterloo, 1993 4
Selected Poems, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995
For the Moment, Peterloo, 2000

For children
Once There Were Dragons: A Book of Riddles in Words and Pictures ( with Mary Norman ), Deutsch, 1979
Boo to a Goose, Peterloo, 1987
The Mad Parrot's Countdown, Peterloo, 1990
Catching the Spider, Blackie, 1990
The Conjuror's Rabbit, Blackie, 1992
Hot Air, Hodder, 1996
Copy Cat ( with Bee Willey ), Kingfisher, 1997

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The Dummy's Dilemma, Hodder, 1999


The Wonder Dish, Oxford, 2002

Criticism
Passing Judgements; Poetry in the Eighties, Bristol Classical Press, 1989

SEAN O’BRIEN (19 December 1952)

The Indoor Park, Bloodaxe, 1983


The Frighteners, Bloodaxe , 1987
3 Boundary Beach, Ulsterman Publications, 1989 4
HMS Glasshouse, Oxford University Press, 1991
A Rarity, Carnivorous Arpeggio , 1993
Ghost Train, Oxford University Press, 1995
The Ideology, Smith/Doorstep, 1997
The Deregulated Muse: Essays on Contemporary British and Irish Poetry, Bloodaxe, 1998
The Firebox: Poetry in Britain and Ireland after 1945 (editor) Picador, 1998
Downriver, Picador, 2001
Cousin Coat: Selected Poems 1976-2001, Picador, 2002

BERNARD O’DONOGHUE (1945)

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Razorblades and Pencils, Sycamore Press, 1984


Poaching Rights, Gallery Press, Dublin, 1987
The Weakness, Chatto & Windus, 1991
Gunpowder, Chatto & Windus, 1995
Here Nor There, Chatto & Windus, 1999
Outliving, Chatto & Windus, 2003

GEORGE ORWELL (1903-1950)

3 Animal Farm; a Fairy Story, London: Secker & Warburg, 1945. 4


Burmese Days: a Novel, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1934.
A Clergyman's Daughter, London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1935.
Coming Up for Air, London: V. Gollancz, ltd., 1939.
Keep the Aspidistra Flying, London: V. Gollancz, ltd., 1936.
Nineteen Eighty-Four, a Novel, London: Secker & Warburg, 1949.
Down and Out in Paris and London, London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1933.
Homage to Catalonia, London: Secker & Warburg, 1938.
The Road to Wigan Pier, London: V. Gollancz ltd., 1937.

PASCALE PETIT (20 December 1953)

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The Zoo Father, Seren, UK, 2001


Heart of a Deer, Enitharmon, UK, 1998
Icefall Climbing, Smith/Doorstop, UK, 1994

PETER REDGROVE ( 2 January 1932-2003)

The Collector and Other Poems


The Nature of Cold Weather and Other Poems
At the White Monument and Other Poems
3 The Force and Other Poems 4
Work in Progress
Dr Faust's Sea-Spiral Spirit and Other Poems
Three Pieces for Voices
Sons of My Skin: Selected Poems 1954—74
From Every Chink of the Ark
The Weddings at Nether Powers
The Apple-Broadcast and Other New Poems
The Working of Water
The Man Named East and Other New Poems
The Mudlark Poems & Grand Buveur
The Moon Disposes: Poems 1954— 1987

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In the Hall of the Saurians


The First Earthquake
Dressed as for a Tarot Pack
Under the Reservoir
The Laborators
My Fathers Trapdoors
Abyssophone
Assembling a Ghost
Orchard End

3 CAROL RUMENS (10 December 1944)


4

A Strange Girl in Bright Colours, Quartet Books, 1973


Unplayed Music, Secker and Warburg, 1981
Star Whisper, Secker and Warburg, 1983
Direct Dialing, Chatto, 1985
Selected and New Poems, Chatto, 1987
From Berlin to Heaven, Chatto, 1989
The Greening of the Snow Beach, Bloodaxe, 1990
Thinking of Skins: New & Selected Poems, Bloodaxe, 1993
Best China Sky, Bloodaxe, 1995
Holding Pattern, Blackstaff. 1998

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The Miracle Diet, Bloodaxe, 1998


Hex, Bloodaxe, 2002
Plato Park, novel, Chatto, 1988

EVA SALZMAN (20 April1960)

The English Earthquake, Bloodaxe, 1992


Bargain with the Watchman, Oxford University Press, 1997
One Two, Jones Press, 2002
One Two II, Wrecking Ball Press, 2002
3 4
FIONA SAMPSON (1963)

Birth Chart, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1993


Picasso's Men, Phoenix Press, 1994
The Self on the Page (with Celia Hunt) Jessica Kingsley, 1998
The Healing Word, The Poetry Society, 1999
Folding the Real, Seren, 2001
Building a Wall with Words, University of Nijmegen Press, 2002
Creative Writing in Health and Social Care, Jessica Kingsley, 2003

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MATTHEW SWEENEY (1952)

A Dream of Maps, Raven Arts Press (Dublin), 1981


A Round House, Raven Arts Press (Dublin), 1983
The Lame Waltzer, Raven Arts Press (Dublin), 1985
The Chinese Dressing-Gown, Raven Arts Press (Dublin), 1987
Blue Shoes, Secker & Warburg, 1989
Cacti, Secker & Warburg, 1992
The Flying Spring Onion, Faber and Faber, 1992
The Snow Vulture, Faber and Faber, 1992
The Blue Taps, Prospero Poets, 1994
3 Fatso in the Red Suit, Faber and Faber, 1995 4
Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times (editor with Jo Shapcott), Faber and Faber, 1996
The Bridal Suite, Cape, 1997
A Smell of Fish, Cape, 2000The New Faber Book of Children's Verse (editor), Faber and Faber, 2001Up on the Roof:
New and Selected Poems, Faber and Faber, 2001Selected Poems, Cape, 2002
Fox, Bloomsbury, 2002

GRAHAM SWIFT (1949)

Learning to Swim and other stories, New York: Washington Square Press, 1986
Out of this World, London: Viking Press, 1988.

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Shuttlecock, New York: Washington Square Press, 1985.


The Sweet Shop Owner, New York: Washington Square Press, 1985.
Waterland, New York: Washington Square Press, 1985.
Last Orders, Vintage, 1996
The Light of Day, Hamish Hamilton, 2003

GEORGE SZIRTES (29 November 1948)

The Slant Door, Secker & Warburg, 1979


November and May, Secker & Warburg, 1981
3 Short Wave, Secker & Warburg, 1984 4
The Photographer in Winter, Secker & Warburg, 1986
Metro, OUP, 1988
Bridge Passages, OUP, 1991
Blind Field, OUP September 1994
Selected Poems, OUP, 1996
The Red All Over Riddle Book, Faber, for children, 1997
Portrait of my Father in an English Landscape, OUP, 1998
The Budapest File, Bloodaxe, 2000
An English Apocalypse, Bloodaxe, 2001

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JOHN WHITWORTH (1945)

Unhistorical Fragments, Secker, 1980


Poor Butterflies, Secker, 1982
Lovely Day for a Wedding, Secker, 1985
Tennis and Sex and Death, Peterloo, 1989
Landscape with Small Humans, Peterloo, 1993
The Complete Poetical Works of Phoebe Flood (for children), Hodder, 1997
From The Sonnet History of Modern Poetry, Peterloo, 1998
The Whitworth Gun, Peterloo, 2002
Writing Poetry, A&C Black, London, 2001
3 4

CRITICAL BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bradbury, Malcolm, The Modern British Novel, Penguin Books, 1993


Bradbury, Malcolm, ed., The Novel Today, Fontana/ Collins, 1977
Bradbury, Malcolm, Mensonge, Arena, London, 1989
Bradbury, Malcolm, Possibilities, Essays on the State of the Novel,

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Oxford University Press, 1973


Brooker, M. Keith, Dystopian Literature: A Theory and Research Guide, Greenwood Press, USA, 1994
Călinescu, Matei, Rereading, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1993
Eliot, Thomas Stearns, On Poetry and Poets, Noonday Press, New York, 1961
Eliot, Thomas Stearns, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism, Methuen, London, 1972.
Eliot, Thomas Stearns, The Use of Poetry & the Use of Criticism, Faber & Faber, London, 1975.
Eliot, Thomas Stearns, To Criticize the Critic, Faber and Faber, London, 1965
Lodge, David, The Art of Fiction, Penguin Books, 1992
Lodge, David, The Novelist at the Crossroads, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1971
Lodge, David, The Practice of Writing, Penguin Books, 1997
Lodge, David, Working with Structuralism, Routledge, 1981
3 Lodge, David, Language of Fiction, Routledge, 1966
4
Lodge, David, After Bakhtin: Essays on Fiction and Criticism, Routledge, 1990

Martin, Wallace, Recent Theories of Narrative, Cornell University Press, 1986


Morrison, Blake, The Movement, English Poetry and Fiction of the 1950s,
Oxford University Press, 1980
O’Brien, Sean, The Deregulated Muse, Essays on Contemporary British & Irish Poetry, Bloodaxe Books, 1998
Rabkin, Eric S., ed., No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction,
Southern Illinois University Press, 1983
Richard, Jean-Pierre, Onze études sur la poésie moderne, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1964
Richard, Jean-Pierre, Etudes sur le romantisme, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1970
Sollors, Werner, ed., The Return of Thematic Criticism, Harvard University Press, 1993

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Stevenson, Randall, The British Novel since the Thirties, B.T. Batsford Ltd, London, 1986
Todorov, Tzvetan, The Poetics of Prose, translated from the French by Richard Howard, Cornell University Press,
1977
Vianu, Lidia, Censorship in Romania, Central European University Press, Budapest, 1998
Vianu, Lidia, British Desperadoes, Editura All, Bucureşti, 1999;
http://editura.liternet.ro/click.php?id=153&ver=pdf
Vianu, Lidia, T.S. Eliot – An Author for All Seasons, Editura Universităţii Bucureşti, 2002
Vianu, Lidia, Alan Brownjohn, The Unwilling Desperado, Editura Universităţii Bucureşti, 2003;
http://editura.liternet.ro/click.php?id=160&ver=pdf
Waugh, Patricia, Harvest of the Sixties, Oxford University Press, 1995
Whitworth, John, Writing Poetry, A&C Black, London, 2001
3 4

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LIDIA VIANU, Professor of Contemporary British Literature at the English Department of Bucharest University

E-mail address: lidiavianu@yahoo.com


Internet address: http://lidiavianu.scriptmania.com

BY THE SAME AUTHOR

LITERARY CRITICISM

1. Modern Lyrical Scenarios (From T.S. Eliot to Paul Valéry), Bucharest University Press, 1983
3 2. T. S. Eliot – An Author for All Seasons, Bucharest University Press, 1984/ Paideia, 1997 4
3. British Literary Desperadoes at the Turn of the Millennium,ALL Publishing House, Bucharest, 1999
4. Alan Brownjohn and the Desperado Age, BUP, 2003
5. The Desperado Age: British Literature at the Start of the Third Millennium, BUP, 2004

HANDBOOKS

1. English with a Key, West Publishing House, Timisoara, 1993, revised and reprinted by Teora, Bucharest, 1996-
2003
2. English with a Choice, Teora, Bucharest, 2001
3. English in Style, Univers Enciclopedic, 2002
4. English with a Key, 2, Teora, 2005

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INTERVIEWS AND TRANSLATIONS

Censorship in Romania, Central European University Press, Budapest,


1998
FICTION

Prisoner in the Mirror, novel, Porto Franco, Galati, 1993

POETRY

1. 1, 2, 3, Integral, 1997, Bucharest


3 2. Moderato 7, Orient-Occident, 1998, Bucharest
4
3. Very (Foarte), Cartea Românească, Bucharest, 2001

ANTHOLOGIES WITH LONG INTRODUCTORY ESSAYS

1. The Quicksands of Criticism, Bucharest University Press, 1980


2. Later 20th Century British Poetry, BUP, 1984
3. Modern British Short Fiction, BUP, 1987
4. 29 Postwar American Poets, BUP, 1989
5. An Anthology of English Literature. The Modern Age, BUP, 1984, joint volume
6. Desperado Poetry– A Selection of Contemporary British Verse, BUP, 2004

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TRANSLATIONS

1. Joseph Conrad: The Mirror of the Sea, translated into Romanian, Amarcord, Timisoara, 1994

2. Eugen Simion: The Return of the Author, translated into English Northwestern University Press, Evanston,
Illinois, 1996

3. Marin Sorescu: The Bridge, Bloodaxe, UK, 2003, with Adam J. Sorkin, winner of the London Poetry Society
biennial Prize for Poetry Translation Corneliu M. Popescu, London 2005

4. Marin Sorescu : The Past Perfect of Flight, with Adam J. Sorkin, The Romanian Cultural Institute Publishing
3 House, 2004
4

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