“Much that is terrible we do not know. Much that is beautiful we shall still discover. Let’s sail till we come to the edge.”
There is something about books with shitty protagonists that I love and find compelling. Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim usually comes to my mind first with Bron from Delany’s Trouble on Triton entering my mind second with a nod to Dostoevsky’s lead in Notes From the Underground. These are incredibly flawed and weak characters with Dostoevsky starting his novel with “I am a sick man…. I am a spiteful man.” Sometimes these characters are insecure and sometimes they are full of braggadocio such as Bron. Thomas Disch’s novel Camp Concentration is in large parts the journal of Louis Sachetti(think Sacco and Vanzetti of anarchist fame) who is a peak liberal basking in his self-righteousness. Louis is a conchie(conscientious objector) very satisfied with his righteous imprisonment and his poetry. Disch is bold enough to write poetry for Louis throughout the novel, which some of the other characters take hilarious jabs at. Reading a novel with a character such as Louis forces a reader to either become a good reader(reading closely and several times over) or to miss all of the beauty and depth within the novel. When I read Camp Concentration I must find empathy and understanding for Louis, a person who if I met in real life I would find completely repulsive. But, the truth is that there is much I dislike in Louis that I dislike in myself. I have been self-righteous, I have written shitty poetry, I have thought of myself as the smartest person in the room. There is so much more to Camp Concentration, but this first and most basic issue, the shitty protagonist, sets the stage for the discussions of beauty, life, death, and freedom that follow. Disch’s novel is a prison novel, it is a deeply physical novel, and it is a novel against death. A novel that seeks out anarchy in the fight against biology, the fight against anything that is put onto me or told is necessary for me. It is an exploration of agniology(the study of ignorance) and knowledge. What happens when we bite from the fruit? As we chew and digest how are we changed? Discussing Camp Concentration is discussing these questions.