Lock’s weapon is words, and he uses them well … like a nightmare that wakes you up shaking, forcing you to reassess your life.
A History of the Imagination
A History of the Imagination is a postmodern tale of adventure that reshapes the parameters of time and space, thought and action. In a metaphorical Africa, replete with nostalgia (but no dimensions), anything can happen and usually does, from raising the dead to wrestling with God. The narrator defends his magical departures, saying his is a history of possibilities, where fiction is “no less real for [its] being so.” But when Darwin’s corpse begins to lust after Colette and the African porters go on strike because the author hasn’t acknowledged the important role they play, we are left to wonder: just how far is reality from dreams?
Norman Lock juxtaposes remote times and places, historical facts and literary fictions, to create an absurdist collage reminiscent of Guy Davenport and Donald Barthelme. In this world it is not impossible to sail from Mombasa to Cinncinati, or to set out from the City of Radiant Objects, where “things are free of the obligation to signify,” hunting icebergs, in a quest to avenge the Titanic at last. Borne aloft by Wilbur Wright, Jules Verne, Ziegfield, and Houdini, we find ourselves lost again in a “seam in the world … between History and Imagination.”
Lock’s ideas lend tangy new flavor to an old form.
Lock’s genius is how he plays the edge for uneasy laughs.
In truth, Lock writes it, Lish reads it! Which is a damn sight more than Lish will say for Proust.
This book may be called a novel, but a more correct designation might be narrative-as-heaped-mirror-shards … Everywhere lurk stilletto asides, snappy puns, buried quotations … the fickle dalliances of this History make for a skillful and distinctly unnerving funhouse reflection of our own “present action.”
The writing is engaging, sly and frequently hilarious, and Lock provides passages of genuine beauty all the more enjoyable for having emerged from farce.
Although it closes — morally — with a defense of immorality, the conclusion cannot be taken seriously at so obvious a level or allowed to spoil the extravagance and ingenious riot of the rest of the novel. As a venture of the imagination it is a brilliant success and makes a thorough exploration of the expressive possibilities of conjoined incongruities. Here is a book that will always surprise and never disappoint.
Lock’s History is both Modernist and post-modern: wry, witty, dour and even silly in a very contemporary way; and yet as wide-eyed, incisive, erudite and open to the world of dreams as the Modernists and surrealists were. There is an archness, a deliberate overplaying of vocabulary and emotion that recalls the most intelligent aspects of contemporary popular culture, but in a setting and with characters that popular culture wouldn’t touch, characters full of ideas and an eagerness to discuss them, often using their sly and sardonic manners to disguise (or heighten?) the earnestness of their intentions and emotions.
A History of the Imagination is a novel, but reads more like a series of frame stories than a tale of intrigue or high adventure structured on conventions of plot. A narrator, whose identity remains tantalizingly vague throughout, continues a single thread through each story, acting as a thinly disguised voice of the author, an endocrine system to the book’s hormonal conundrums, as the chief luminaries and icons of the twentieth century are introduced in stimulating situations.… Lock’s language, though basically sleek and minimal, combines the high gloss and perspicuity of the Edwardian age with the robustness and vigor of American inventiveness, leavened by a facility for maximizing to marvelous effect the dichotomy between the sign and its object.
A strange, unforgettable book.
Wise up — and get all you can get of Lock. His writing was written by a writer exquisite in the singularity (read for this “genius”) of his utterance.
A History of The Imagination reads like a collection of short vignettes that are each able to hold water on their own … but when collected together in such an imaginative faux-historical context, we really see the holistic brilliance of Lock’s mind.
… It is Lock’s gift for concocting eccentric characters and devilishly comic situations …
Émigrés is a fine piece of writing … genuinely poignant and moving.… Like Cornell himself, Joseph Cornell’s Operas remains in the realm of the mysterious and fanciful.
I just read Émigrés all in one gulp — it’s a phenomenal piece of writing.
There are the fictional fictions in Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. There is the fictional encyclopedia, which refers to the fictional Uqbar, in Borge’s wonderful story. And now, in that great tradition, there is the fictional non-fiction of Marco Knauff’s Universe.
One can only stand in awed astonishment that these “Notes” which in truth cannot be said to exist at all, are there in one’s left hand.
A compact set of lyrical declarations, metaphysical in ambition and sublime in their effects … a book of gnomic and exquisite sentencecraft … a wonderwork in miniature, reperplexing infinitude.