You know how it’s a widespread phenomenon, the recurring dream where there is a class that you forgot you were signed for and then suddenly it’s exam day and you’re completely unprepared? I can’t provide a link from a phone post, but it’s a common experience, even decades after one has left college.
I too have those dreams, though they only ever apply to one class—a course on Arabic literature I signed up for near the end of my graduate program, then subsequently dropped because the professor was a genuine British imperialist expat who still lived as though he wore a white safari hat and dungarees. I only attended two sessions before discovering there was still time to drop it, and drop it I did.
That’s the class, though, that I keep dreaming I missed the entirety of; that I’m being tested on. Perhaps, in a knee jerk move of incredible ethnocentric vanity, my subconscious is insisting that had I only bothered I learn a damn thing about the Middle East, I’d feel less overwhelmed by the bullshit it enacts.
The Siege if Krishnapur is not about the Middle East. But the British Empire is a great black hole in my historical knowledge, and I suppose I thought that if I tried to come to terms with one instance where large numbers of foreigners were being slaughtered, perhaps the present state of affairs would…I don’t know. Maybe I’d feel less in the dark.
What I did not expect, though, was the biting criticism J.G. Farrell is able to bring to this in 1973, even while writing like a Bronte sister. He’s narrowing his eyes at the British Empire over the perfectly sculpted rim of a cup of darjeeling, managing also to say a lot about writing and what it’s supposed to be able to do for us (vs. what it can actually do) while he does it. He never drops his mask, never slips into artless jabs; but he speaks right through it without a blink. It’s hugely enjoyable, even if I suspect it will become grim in short order.
(Yes, I suspect. I do not know. To the one historically-minded person who reads this blog and has a way to contact me—please don’t tell me anything about Krishnapur. I imagine it will be Rourke’s Drift, but with civilians, and a failure. Don’t tell me anything though!)