The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman by Angela Carter, pt. 1

In “The Realm Where Moral Judgement is Suspended” Milan Kundera writes that “If I were asked the most common cause of misunderstanding between my readers and me, I would not hesitate: humor.” There are books that make us laugh and books that make us laugh at ourselves, and I prefer the ones that do both. In The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman Angela Carter carries a dark laughter as the current flowing beneath the wild seas of her imagination and machinations. To actually read we must suspend moral judgement, we must suspend our notion of reality, and open ourselves to the possible.

To engage with Angela Carter is to live in a world with infinite possibilities, where no reality is any more real or less constructed than the next, and where the trite sensibilities of society are eschewed in favor of a deep exploration of
the possible. This happens with Dr. Hoffman breaking space/time, it happens with an immortal vampire who manifest its own desires, and it happens with Desiderio engaging in a quasi-romantic relationship with
a child. Carter engages these topics as they are, not as taboos in modernity, and thus we can suss out our own relationship to these situations with more nuance than we are allowed in school, with friends, or in supposedly radical spaces.

It is important to understand that we are engaging fiction here. We are engaging a world which is not forced to carry the burden of the real, for novels are the writings of outlaws and all outlaws live spiritually outside of society’s reality (or at least they imagine they do, and who is to say if that makes up a meaningful difference). To quote Kundera again, “suspending morality is not the immorality of the
novel, it is its morality.” The Count that Carter creates in this story, exists outside of all. He is a creature made nearly of pure will, with the extra bits being made out of spite and rage. He is particularly extraordinary in this:

‘He had a passionate conviction he was the only significant personage in
the world… He claimed to live only to
negate the world. “It is not in the least unnatural to assert that he
who negates a proposition at the same time secretly affirms it – or, at
least, affirms something. But, for myself, I deny to the last shred of
my altogether memorable being that my magnificent denial means more than
a simple “no.” Sometimes my meager and derisive lips seem to me to have
been formed by nature only to spit out the word “no”, as if it were the
ultimate blasphemy. I should like to speak an ultimate blasphemy, and
then bask in the security of eternal damnation, but, since there is no
God, well, there is no damnation, either, unfortunately. And hence,
alas, no final negation. I am the hideous antithesis in person and I
swear to anyone who wants the word of a hereditary count of Lithuania
for it that I am not in the least secretly benignly pregnant with any
affirmation of any kind whatsoever.”’

If your anarchy doesn’t relate at all this to passage, then our
anarchies probably don’t relate a whole lot to each other. As an
anarchist once wrote, the core is the negation, and Angela Carter’s
Count is solely the will to negate. There is no positive project, there
is no affirmation, and there is a certain beauty in that which speaks to
me and some of those I know.

Words by Rydra

Voiced, Edited, and Produced by September


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