Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Denis Johnson’s Fiskadoro

Denis Johnson’s Fiskadoro avoids the pitfalls of many post-apocalyptic novels by rising above the demands of the genre to take a clear look at the prime force that forms and informs human society: memory. 

Fiskadoro takes place on Key West,  called Twicetown, roughly in the year 2060.  Not much remains of pre-war culture expect scraps and bits the characters try to fit together, often with alarming errors and misunderstandings.  In trying to resurrect the old world, the characters unwittingly create a new one based on superstition, folk religion, magical thinking and tribal fatalism.

In this sense the novel is fixated on both collective and individual response to trauma.  This fixation is most deeply personified in Mr. Cheung, the most urbane and intelligent of Key West’s residents.  But he feels the dull ache of forgetfulness at every turn.  Against the tide of a history wiped nearly clean, his efforts to revive culture are largely doomed. 

The protagonist of the novel, Fiskadoro, becomes a living monument to the power and even effectiveness of forgetting in the face of overwhelming loss. He seems better off not knowing.

In the end, Johnson appears to endorse forgetting as an effective way of moving beyond trauma.  In a world with no cultural resources, and with little to endorse the effectiveness of memory – forgetting seems like the best route.

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