Review of Antkind by Charlie Kaufman
A literary apocalypse of compulsive cinematic ungendering.
More Kafkaesque than Kafka. More borgesian than Borges. Less Shakespearean than Homer. These accolades mean everything and nothing. Because accolades, in any form, tell partial half-truths, like any communicable piece of information, as Kaufman shows us ad nauseam, in this Rabelaisian charade of a novel of a singularity, of a Big Bang, of a black hole. Or is it a white hole?
Hilariously obscure references and arcane film and literature shaggy dog jokes were a few of the defining moments. Let me clarify: This is about the hollywoodization of real life. It is about externalizing the internal. The fetishization of film. Bringing filmic techniques into fiction, then bringing mental puzzles into fiction and merging the two. Atemporality, non linear time. Non linear narrative. It is about chronology and human relationships to time and other humans. Each human has their own point of access and mental timeline. The possibility of living in a film. Or never escaping it. The possibility that life is film and film is life, and vice versa. Visa versa.
It is a novel about film. Obviously.
The plight of the unseen. Also obvious. The unfilmed actors, not the extras. The ones who weren’t in the film. Those are the people who people this novel.
Literal manifestations of psychological aberrations and metaphorical concepts. The nature of genius, the excuses of the brilliant. The selfish pursuit of art. Gender, class, race. The macrocosm within the microcosm within the macrocosm. Hazy definitions of reality, blurring those edges, and crossing the line so many times the line takes on new dimensions.
An exploration of Outsider art, which is a pet obsession of many artists. The Darger-esque character, Ingo, is fascinating, even though characters in this novel are all reflected through the narrator’s lens. Rosenberger, the narrator, as separate from the character, Charlie Kaufman, who is also in the book, as a lampooned filmmaker, who made the exact films the real Kaufman made.
This book is Hyper-metafictional, as any Kaufman fan probably expected. Similar in spirit to Synecdoche, New York. But more far-reaching, dense, and neurotic than any other book I’ve read. It’s narrator shares many similarities with that in Adam Levin’s Bubblegum, but Kaufman’s fictitious persona is more readable and not simultaneously. He embodies countless dichotomies.
What allows me to control my annoyance at the constant backtracking, second-guessing, triple-guessing, and justification, qualification and inquisitive mania of Rosenberger is an appreciation for the style of excess, and a high tolerance for meta-fictional bullshit. It’s taken to an art form and then it’s overanalyzed on the page. Which is all fine, once you see how he does it.
The ideal love illusion. How characters constantly fall in love at the drop of a hat. This is a plot device in Rosenberg’s own life. Non binary double binds – there are so many of them that it goes far past political correctness into obnoxious self-reference. The sad lonely inevitability of aging, the so-described irreducible tragedy of old age and attendant biases. The symphonic loneliness and depression of Rosenberg is both poetic and infinitely self-inflicted. The recursive propagation of further complexities, the consistent appearance of competitors, the dramatic and cinematic tropes of rivalries, foils, and predictable outcomes. Character non-development. Rebels and conformists. The evolution of cinema. The evolution of inclusivity. Fascinating sub cultures which respond to social injustice and become cults. (These were extremely interesting, but will get on some peoples’ nerves, I expect – but if you have any functioning nerves left after finishing this book, they will be frayed.) The social justice inquisition. That is also what this book is about. The crusade of artistic abasement. Clandestine and overt pandering, pondering, wandering, intellectual masturbation, onanistic romance, infatuation both with art and unattainable true molecule-to-molecule contact. Social contracts, pet peeves, insurmountable personal obstacles.
Rosenberg succumbs to the same biases he abhors. The abhorrence of bias are everywhere, the inevitability of bias is omnipresent, the infinitude of biases… the differences between cultures around the world and their various standards. The all-encompassing impossibility of an inclusive America. Of course, it’s about that too.
The ethnic and economic injustice inherent in our culture. Exploring derangement and infinite regress. Social politics. The end and means and the never-ending, always mean suffering of any possible minority.
The only way it could be more meta would be if they made a film of the novel and then novelization of the film and then a film of the novelization and so on and so on, which Kaufman includes as a possibility, of course. This book contains its own macrocosmic universe, as I said. The whole universe can be extrapolated from its first few pages. The skeleton housing the set-pieces are all expertly in place from Kaufman’s inconspicuous method. With enough suspension of disbelief you can get away with just about anything. Keep increasing that suspension. Dangle unbelievable things in front of the reader long enough, and in the right way, and it’s almost brainwashing.
A dream within a dream under hypnosis inside a remembered film that could be a figment of his imagination. Are you bothered by dream sequences? Well, there are a lot of them.
Pointing out continuity errors in a film can be fun, Rosenberg does this but with his real life, and there are so many continuity errors that the director must have put them there on purpose. He knows this. He knows he is a fictional character. And it shows.
The function of memory. How many functions does it actually have? The function of false memories. The fallacy of memory authenticity. The curse of eidetic memory. The possibility of Total Recall. And not just the remake. The concept. Buried memories, Freud, Jung and the sub sub sub sub sub sub “et chetera” conscious and conscience and nescience and the aesthetics of neuroscience, neuroses, and the art of forgetting.
There are built-in excuses for anything which might be considered a flaw in this novel. Everything I could say about it could easily be refuted by a super-defensive ultra-qualified Inner Kaufman. It creates recursive intentionality. Everything is intentional because it can be explained within context, no matter how insanely absurd it is. Every. Word.
Escapism. The novel functions within its constraints and without them. The novel escapes. The characters are escaping, and so is the reader. They merge and then propagate downwardly.
The Deterioration of Reality. Capitalized. That is a big theme. Maybe The Theme.
Every film technique Kaufman ever used, he uses again in this book. He invents new ones. He even invents many film ideas he may or may not make.
All of Kaufman’s films are contained in this book in one form or another.
I read the screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for film class. At least that had human limitations. The limitations of this novel are almost superhuman. A proper analysis would requires theses. The thesis is contained in the novel, though. So no one will write it, except maybe Kaufman at a later date. And he will do so in the form of a film. Probably.
No one could have written this book except Charlie Kaufman. If I were given it without the author revealed I think I would’ve guessed even before the self references occurred.
This book has the capacity to take the pleasure out of reading.
Like, have a cup of tea. Settle down man. Super analysis of the environment is a rabbit hole we don’t need to always follow down. It’s rabbit holes all the way down to the edge of the universe. There are always more sub-atomic particles. I’m sorry. Our puny lifetimes are too short to maintain the hope that we can learn everything there is to know.
Polymathic. Maybe. Monomaniacal. Definitely. Maximalist. In extremis. Pynchonian. Sure. DFW-esque. Obviously.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind within eternal sunshine of the spotless mind etc. He constantly lampoons his own films. Which was appreciated. Eternal darkness of the clouded psyche.
Excess in a void. He lampoons other films too, which will be great for film buffs. You probably won’t get much enjoyment out of the book if you aren’t to some extent a film buff. Or at least film conversant. If not buff then built, or chiseled or comfortable with your self-image, I guess.
Obsessive compulsive disorder combined with molecular Legos in a sandbox of infinite dimensions. That’s Kaufman.
The book appeals to ocd if you have it and you likely won’t be physically able to stop reading because you will need to see what happens. But isn’t any good book putting you in the same boat?
The hilarious digs at Nolan and Inception. Well done.
Time reversal. Time extension, dissension, dissection, and general clowning. The literal clowns. Are they supposed to be symbolic? Everything is symbolic. That’s the first assumption you should have made. Time malleability, the marketability of memories, the market value of genius. The perception of genius. The mind-f– shenanigans are unconscionable as they pile up. And they keep going on long after you want them to stop. Kaufman is that kid in the back of the interminable car ride signing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, and he always starts over when he gets to zero and he has perfect pitch and tremolo and a megaphone, and you are too polite or considerate to ask him to stop, not that he would listen anyway.
I am disillusioned or heavily influenced or intoxicated. Yes there is a toxic quality to his brand of semantic overload. Over capacity synaptic sputtering. Shock treatment for your humor glands. Over medication, the book rewards binge reading and rereading and memorization. It is a perpetual positive feedback loop. A negative one as well. A heady doctoral thesis on human madness, on mad humanness. It contains our multitudes and eludes your grasp, it hinges on fringes of acceptability and outrage. It is prescient and analog. It is insensate and utterly nonsensical. It is uberdescript.
This book ruined Kaufman movies for me. At least until I recover a little of my sanity. The inevitability that art will always surpass itself. If it does not surpass its predecessors, is it real art? Is this a 720-page ruler by which all metafictional novels must be measured? Is it a ruler by which Kaufman is measuring his intellectual qualifications? Or is it a simple artistic experiment?
I think it’s more accurate to say that this is the absolute or near absolute expression of the genre, that the human heart, spirit, and mind can only tolerate so much meta before it projectile vomits miniature selves projectile vomiting miniature selves. See Kaufman, anyone can write weird metafiction. I just did. Metafiction for Kaufman may be a form of medication and he is most certainly addicted to it.
Fiction bleeding into reality in every conceivable way. This happens all the time in movies. It happens here too. A lot. I caught the subliminal Philip k. Dick reference. He put it in the book for me. I just know he did. As I am a PKD fan. He also put other things about paranoia in the book for me too. Because I have thought those things previously, and now I’m reading them in a book. I think.
I’ll leave it to you to find the reference. The constant contradictions between Rosenberg’s memories and factual accounts and reality. This is another Dickian trait. I’m assuming Kaufman read Dick, instead of just watching Blade Runner, like most people.
Philosophical conceptions of comedy and human dimensions of history. It’s nice that he decided to include those too. What didn’t he include? Humility? Humbleness. No that’s in there alright. I can’t think of anything actually. It does contain everything. One of the footnotes contains Infinite Jest. Wait that was a mismemory. All it needs is 800 footnotes to contain Infinite Jest.
Harlan Ellison or Descartes would say: I have a mouth, therefore I am a scream.
I have a brain, therefore I am a stream of consciousness.
Kaufman you should either be incredibly ashamed of yourself or incredibly proud. I’m not sure which.
Thank you to the publisher who provided an advanced copy through NetGalley.
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