Antonio Moresco: Canti del caos [Songs of Chaos]
This is the second book in Moresco’s trilogy, the first being Gli Esordi [The Beginnings]. That book, while somewhat complex and absurdist, had more or less recognisable plot lines and, even if it was not always clear what exactly was going on, the plot normally arrived somewhere. This book is different.
At the beginning we again meet Il Gatto (The Cat), who was a priest and then a publisher in the previous book. However, our hero, the author, has now been given the nickname Il Matto (The Madman) by The Cat. Gatto and Matto are phonically more harmonious but I shall stick to my English translations. At the end of the previous book the Cat was not too happy about publishing our hero’s work and he is still not too happy. No-one wants huge books (this one is over a thousand pages long), he tells him. Moreover, what they really want is more sex. As he explains, you can now have sex anywhere and this is what people want in their books. The book has not yet been written but the publisher is still writing the preface to it.
To solve this problem, the Cat decides to take the Madman to The Muse. Not a muse, The Muse. When she opens the door to them, she is completely naked. It seems she specialises in helping writers with writer’s block and her tried and true technique is, of course, sex, though she calls it reinventing himself.
Writers are not her only customers, though they seem to be the main ones. She also helps a sperm donor who is also a video-game software designer, who will play a major part in the novel, as well as a priest. She has two assistants, Pompina and Ditalina, which might be translated as Little Pump and Little Finger though the former will remind Italians of the word pompino, which means blow job and the latter will remind Italians of the word ditalino which means fingering, in the sexual sense. We have more somewhat smutty names when The Cat’s secretary, Meringa (=Meringue) has disappeared and the policeman investigating is called Inspector Lanza (=Lance). He, of course, turns out to be a would-be writer.
So the plot we are reading is to become the plot of the book the Madman is writing. We follow the sperm donor and his children but also Inspector Lanza, whose first case this and who interviews The Muse, while he is sitting on the toilet and she is sitting opposite him, naked. We soon learn that Meringa has (allegedly, according to the Cat) been kidnapped by a terrorist group who do not want the traditional ransom but someone to write a great masterpiece. There is only one man for the job.
This book is not called Songs of Chaos for nothing. We get numerous decidedly strange songs, i.e. stories about the various characters that pop up, most of whom do not have names but, rather descriptions as their name. These characters interact with our main characters – The Cat, The Madman and The Muse and also with each other. All appear in conjunction with the main characters but, at the same time, they are part of the book that The Madman is writing, which we are reading. In many cases, they are engaged in various sexual practices. They will come and go throughout the book, sometimes only reappearing hundreds of pages later.
Here are just a few examples. Perhaps the most imaginatively named is the Foreskin Player. He actually plays a child’s toy trumpet which could, he says, seem to some people, to be like a foreskin. He has no idea where he got it from and the noise he makes could, he says, seem to some people like a sound. We also have the song of the woman who screams, the song of the mover, the song of the ejaculator, the song of the girl with the sanitary pad, the song of the spastic gynecologist, the song of the princess (who is a Bantu princess and is the love slave of the tamer, who has his own song and has a massive amount of tattoos on his penis, including a very detailed map of the world, which become apparent when he has an erection), the song of the woman wrapped in tin foil, the song of the Interface (a woman) and many more.
While this is going on, the Cat and the Madman are sparring. There is much discussion about the title of the magnum opus and a different one is proposed on a regular basis, from The Last Book to Shit and Light, from The Cat and the Madman to The Book of Titles, and many more.
Poor Meringa, who is also Leonarda and the woman wrapped in tinfoil, is still being held by the terrorists and they are now saying they have handed her over to an organisation that is involved in extreme porn.
As well as all the various characters with their songs and the Cat, the Madman and the Muse, we are also following the mechanics of the production of the book. They are three primary characters here and all have their titles given in English. They are Art, Account and Copy. They come from a story written by Inspector Lanza. Inevitably, not only do they deal with the mechanics of the book but they get very much involved in the plot.
These three find they have a new client. The Account Executive announces to them that the new client wants to sell the planet. The Art Director and Copywriter wonder who is going to buy it. The response is that that does not matter as long as the campaign is well-run. Now you only need to tell me who the client is. The Account Executive replies I believe it is God, as indeed it is.
Forces are mobilised, including the software designer, who will play a significant role, as he creates characters whom he also meets . God seems to take a back seat though he does appear, wearing a nylon toupee and a porcelain mask. They do finally meet him – at a fashion show. This plot line runs through the book and, not surprisingly, the result is that the financial markets essentially have to buy the financial markets, causing a certain amount of mayhem.
This is not his only mocking of religion. We have a pope, called Elvis I, who dies of an overdose and he is replaced by Pope Elvis II, who dissolves the Church.
Inspector Lanza has taken a bit of a back seat, only occasionally popping up, but now he gets more involved. We now learn that he is replaced by someone who calls himself Lazlo and has the Madman chasing the bad guys. We follow him around Europe. Each time he gets somewhere, Lazlo phones him up and sends him off elsewhere. Eventually, he ends up in the United States, where he also has to travel around at short notice. However. Meringa is finally rescued. Lazlo will be one of the ones who meets God. I am only God, God says.
One other key event happens. After numerous possible titles for this book, they finally come up with one, taken from another book (the manuscript by one of the characters with a song, called the old man with masturbatory paresis), and it is, of course, Songs of Chaos.
Part two opens with our stalwart team discussing the design and promotion of the book and, inevitably it is all over the top. The book should be, it is suggested an apology for violence, pornography, immorality, morality, romanticism, minimalism, maximalism, reaction, revolution, insurrection, ejaculation, transubstantiation… Obviously they have missed quite a few key elements.
The various plot lines move on and we now have various of the characters off on their travels. Once he has rescued Meringa, the Madman takes Meringa on a tour. At first they take a coach. They have no idea where it is going. Then they transfer to train. They have no idea where it is going…
Meanwhile another man with a song is the Mover. He and the Princess are having a passionate relationship. However, the mover is a mover So they go to a house, stop there, perhaps for a bite to eat and some furious sex, and then move to another house, with all their belongings. This continues till they reach the sea. At this point we lose them for a while but later rejoin them on a ship (with their lorry). Our mover is not about to change his ways. He goes to another cabin and persuades the woman in that cabin to move so he and Meringa can take her cabin. Eventually, the ship reaches Africa and they set off round Africa, meeting on their way, amongst others, Inspector Lanza and a sovereign who rides around on a bike and who will have a major influence on the economic chaos involved in the selling of the planet.
At the end of the second part, God comes and tells them your time is finished. Mine has begun.
We move on to the third part which is even more chaotic and madcap than the chaotic and madcap first two parts. The planet has been uncreated and immobilised. We do not even know any more if this world still exists, who it will belong to henceforth, who it belongs to now, what will happen in the future.
I have a theory that any worthwhile post-modern novel will at least dip into to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, Schrödinger’s cat and/or entropy. This book, albeit tangentially and without actually mentioning them, flirts with all three. From the reverse big bang to people being dead but not dead and born but not born to people being there but not there when observed. all three get a look in. We know that Moresco was very learned and had studied in great detail for this book, as he tells us in the afterword, and clearly quantum physics was not a topic he was going to neglect.
We now get a succession of ten characters named after cities (and not necessarily the obvious ones) at the opposite side of the world from Italy,starting with Sydney and then moving round the Far East. What happens is we see the world essentially falling apart physically, yet the characters still going on. Sydney 1 (each has a number from one to ten after his name) has the beautiful line sto hackerando il mondo (= I am hacking the world, which sounds really strange in Italian, yet works. (Moresco uses lots of anglicisms in this book.) These characters, as in the first two parts, link up and also link up with our other characters.
What is uncreated? It is not clear,except for some form of destruction. One character describes his house – Only the walls remained, naked, uncreated. Immobilisation is more than once described as violent. People and things merge: our genomes will merge says one character. People meet characters who are both their parents and children. Time and space get altered or, to put it in Star Trek terms, the space-time continuum is broken.
We do get a summing-up: Rivers and lakes, large dykes, turreted cities, in the dark night. All light has started to go out and uncreate. At which point ions and electrons will be indistinguishable and will form electronically neutral atoms that cannot disperse radiation.
One of the themes in this book is who gets to have their say. Finally, towards the end both the Madman and the Cat get their song, and therefore, their opportunity to have their say. Indeed, Moresco himself has a bit of a self-pitying outburst. I am not thirty six,as I was when I began Gli Esordi [The Beginnings], and not even forty-six, as I was when I wrote the first part of this book. I am fifty-eight, I have already told you (shit! fifty-eight) and my body is even more fragile than before.
The Cat, in his song, complains of a feeling of being left out. Even God has his turn, though in response to number ten of of our new characters, Uz, who argues with God. God can only be who he does not know who he is, and will be. Uz seems to be some sort of Lucifer character (Moresco has clearly read his Milton) and gives God a hard time. But of course the money markets can still reign supreme. After planet Earth what is next for them? Why, heaven, of course.
I have picked out a few bits of pieces of this book but omitted large amounts as it would be impossible to discuss all the different characters and plot strands in this book unless unless you wrote another book, which is not the function of this site. Partially, I am not ashamed to admit, it was not always clear what was going on and who was doing what to whom.
This sort of book is likely to attract two kinds of reactions. Some will love it. It is post-modern. It is complex. It is thoroughly original. It is very imaginative. You have no idea where it is going. It raises a host of complex issues. It is madcap. It is mocking (in this case of the publishing industry and of authors.)
Others will hate it. Some of the reasons they will hate it are for the same reasons others like it. Others will find it boring, repetitive, completely over the top. It is excessively scatological. Indeed, much of the book involves a wide variety of non-stop sexual activities. Bodily fluids of all kinds abound. For example the Italian word cazzo, which is the common slang for the male sexual organ but is also used as an interjection, the way we use Oh shit!, is used 311 times, while the word fica (=cunt) appears 282 times. (The word vagina, the same in Italian as in English, appears thirty-eight times.) I have no objection to profanity but this does seem somewhat excessive.
I suspect that this is the longest I have ever spent reading a single book – over two weeks and it really needs four weeks and, indeed, reading several times over to get some sort of idea of what is going on. I fully accept that it is a masterpiece. I also fully accept that even Italian readers will struggle with it and those who do not read Italian are unlikely to see it translated, not least because even if there is a translator brave enough to take it on, would a publisher? Feltrinelli is a fairly large Italian publisher but the chances of a US or UK fairly large publisher taking on anything this risky seem to me to be slim to none, though obviously I would be happy to be proved wrong. If you do read Italian, set aside a lot of time and be prepared to get thoroughly lost with what is going on. I am glad to have read it but…
First published by Feltrinelli in 2001
No English translation