Comment on Nicholson Baker on Wikipedia

Rourke Thu, Apr 17, 2008
Where to start?

Ah, the bliss of the small writ large, the absolute certainty that life has infinite folds, countless ribbons curling out and off into ever more intricate, Möbius strips of pleasure.

I read 'The Mezzanine' almost a year ago now, shortly after I had read mention (and praise) of it in David Lodge's marvel, 'Consciousness and The Novel'. The Mezzanine's context for me sticks in the mould Lodge carved for it, i.e. that its representations of the nuances of consciousness were, and still are, revolutionary for the solipsistic act of readership.

How 'the novel' as a medium evolved to reflect and perhaps contain the form modern, western minds tend to posit for consciousness; inner consciousness; the homunculus of self - is a fascinating subject in itself (read Lodge for more delights). Yet what Baker seems to have succeeding in doing in 'The Mezzanine' is to show that novels are actually not very good narrative mediators of this inner realm. By over emphasising a conscious perception which is so completely enraptured in the detail of qualia, Baker brings the reader to the realisation that all fiction, all protagonist fiction, is equally parodic of the very concept it espouses to replicate.

The evolution of the form of the novel brings up all sorts of 'chicken or egg' questions, most obviously was readership's personalisation (a novel is something rarely read socially) partly responsible for the supposed separation of mind and body (a Cartesian ideal that still lingers in the language we use to express what 'selfhood' and 'mind' are at all) or was it the other way round?

I'll answer not.

To my great pleasure, since reading Nicholson Baker I have come across other examples of extreme qualia literature (I'm sure there's a better title, but the whole 'genre' is so subjective in its limits that naming it seems silly anyway). I'm currently reading 'The Voyeur' by Alain Robbe-Grillet, a member of a 1950s French literary movement called 'Nouveau Roman', who I am positive Baker must have taken severe influence from. I recommend it highly.

'The Mezzanine' is more than a book that 'redefines reality' for the reader, for me it re-defined readership for the reality. A much higher praise n'er can I find.

Thanks for reminding me of it with such wit and similitude of form...