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"You've Got to Sleep With Your Mum and Dad" is now available on Amazon. Childhood angst, marathon swimming, international exploitation and the threat of impending pinniped intimacy. on 2014-08-13
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Have a look at my page on Amazon. Still plenty of summer left for challenging literature. on 2014-08-13
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Check out my Amazon Kindle page. 'The Baby Who Killed People for Money' is now available. An utterly charming child with a unique and lucrative skill. A father with no defence against his daughter's impulses. Would you take your little girl around Europe for a spot of murder tourism? Of course you would. on 2014-06-30
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My story on the Tate gallery website on 2013-11-11
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A Thousand Natural Shocks An anthology that includes two of my stories. Available now at Amazon. on 2013-11-11
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The embryo of revolution writhes within the id. Striving for the memory of childhood freedoms, the subconscious awaits the movement that will regain that time when parent figures promised the world. The motherland and the father of the revolution can rekindle that vision of the unfocused paradise where desires are fulfilled and sin remains a discredited rumour.

The ideological basis of the 1917 revolution that made possible the formation of the Soviet Union resulted in only an exalted few gaining access to these freedoms. Freud offered the idea that a society in which leaders are revered while individual identity is suppressed will demand escalating aggression by ruling bodies to repress the dissatisfaction of the resentful majority engendered by this denial of an inborn need. (Freud 1930, chapter 5)

Theodore Seuss Geisel, writing as Dr Seuss a few years after Stalin’s death, provides a key in his frontispiece to this allegorical study of the progress of a nation following its revolution. A tiny, Stalinesque figure stands, radiating disillusion, arms spread in resignation. One winglike arm offering a vision of flight is out of balance with the other, a barely functional worker’s hand. The bristling moustache of the dynamic revolutionary is now a dropping mop. The star of communism masks the umbilical evidence of mortal origin. The attempt to replace god has stalled in a cul-de-sac.

Beneath this forlorn figure is written the recurring mantra of the story:

“From there to here,

from here to there,

funny things

are everywhere.”

The ruined leader shrugs and wonders how those for whom it was all done could have betrayed the revolution. He has failed to understand these funny things, the people.

However, the hope of the revolutionary movement is evident as the fish of the title are introduced. These are multifarious in political hue but united in the confidence of their power. The certainties of dichotomy pervade the adjectives. The initial descriptors emphasise unity (‘One fish…) and communist revolution (‘Red fish…’).

Black fish and blue fish, bruised footsoldiers of the revolution, support each other in the new spirit of shared power. The fervour spreads to those of all ages. Old fish is a bespectacled intellectual. New fish heralds the first generation to be raised in the post-revolutionary world.

However, inequalities appear amongst the revolutionaries. One gains the star, a badge of office and privilege. Another, bursting with glee, has requisitioned an automotive symbol of status. The right to punish follows.

An irresistibly powerful, red fish swats a dismayed yellow individual into a position of submission. The face of righteous satisfaction on the dominant party member contrasts with that of the blue counter-revolutionary as it bends for its punishment. Its expression indicates hope of redemption. Divisions in the people’s revolution have emerged to provide precursors for the injustices that will become the focus of this book.

We now concentrate on the figures of a small girl and boy who personify the revolution. These appear to represent the child at Freud’s phallic stage, in the grip of the so-called pleasure principle. ‘These are not yet conscious of gender differences; they are self-absorbed and ‘not even prospectively … citizen(s) who could be relied upon to do a hard day’s work’. (Eagleton, p134) In short, they are a manifestation of the id. In a previous Seuss novel, ‘The Cat in the Hat’, the superego, represented by a conscientious fish, was in opposition to an id figure, the eponymous Cat. (Seuss 1957) ‘One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish’ lacks a clear manifestation of the superego, allowing the id to rush joyfully and selfishly through this post-revolutionary playground.

In this first view of the protagonists, the boy and girl move onto the liberated motherland. From their new certainty, they gaze at a representative of the old order, still floundering in the watery mire in which fish first began their struggle for change. Contemptuous of this unevolved anachronism, they prepare to travel away from ‘HERE’. They move off across their new and solid playground to ‘THERE’ in search of those funny things that are everywhere.

They soon find some. Perched atop a pink phallic tree, they observe the enormous power of the masses, yet to be effectively harnessed. These workers ‘run for fun in the hot, hot sun’. (p10) The twin futures of the motherland sit beneath their parasol and plan their means of putting this underutilised source of energy to generation of state revenue.

On page 12, we see a further view of the dehumanised masses. This column of damaged citizens may be returning from one of the wars that characterised the genesis of the union. The prepubescent representatives of the new order speculate dismissively on the origins of these citizens, effectively indicating that the long history of the culture is now irrelevant. The children begin to classify their subject human resources. Some are fast and high, perhaps to be tagged for privilege; others are slow, or indeed low. The industrial proletariat and the rural peasantry are united abbreviatively as ‘pets’, avoiding the difficulties of the Marxist revolution which depended on the mobilisation of industry in an overwhelmingly agricultural society.

One particular society of pets is the ‘Zeds’ (page 54-55), apparently resident in an outlying republic. Blank and manipulable, the Zeds are reliant on another childlike representative of the revolutionary committee who single-handedly lops off their burgeoning protuberances in order to ensure conformity to externally determined standards. The elite are represented by humanity, the masses – the pets – by subhumanity.

Conformity is similarly enforced in the scene on page 34. Only the pet who quietly accepts the full duty of a citizen is permitted the privilege of citizenship. The dissenter will be moved to somewhere unpleasant. The shape of this exile becomes chillingly evident on page 48 where we see a pet, displaying signs of divergence from revolutionary norms, exiled to some Siberian hell. This chastised creature has been rejected by the motherland and is back in that foul water in which the struggle against backwardness began.

In the meantime, the happy manifestations of privileged id are busy innovating. Their experiments in animal husbandry lead to the existence of a cutting-edge form of cow. We see one of the scientific leaders on page 16. He has improved himself to the extent of having an extra finger. “I wish I had eleven, too!” exclaim the protagonists.

This may be a reference by Seuss to Stalin’s favour of the flawed Lamarckian science of Trofim Denisovich Lysenko (Hobsbawm p533). Officially rejecting Darwinian genetics, Stalin supported fruitless attempts by Lysenko to improve agriculture in the Soviet Union by attempting to promote the inheritance of acquired characteristics, an avenue long rejected in the west.

On the following page, the astonishing creatures serve as a reminder of the desirability of orthodoxy. Exercising individuality on the one-humped Wump may be appealing but it is nothing to the joy of being in line with Party ideology, achieved by joining the leader Mr Gump on his incomparable seven-hump Wump. The triumph of subsuming one’s identity in the shared warmth of official approval outshines all other temptations.

However, as privileged members of the Party our children have access to pets as status symbols. We are introduced to the massive Zans, the Gack and the comforting Zeep at the end of the book.

Several political cartoons portray the state of the relationship with the masses. In the first, the boy and girl pedal the machinery of the state while their enormous ‘Mike’ rides on a seat that supports him only if the machine is going downhill, that is if no effort is required to propel it. As soon as the going gets hard, Mike is tipped off and must push the protagonists up the metaphorical hill while they close their eyes and put their feet up. The message is clear: the pets do the hard labour; the intelligentsia do the steering (when they feel like it).

Later another massive figure features in a boxing match with the male central character. The boy is tiny beside the powerful Gox but there is no doubt that he will be allowed to win. This cartoon illustrates the inequalities in the distribution of power. The delicate nature of this balance is emphasised by the precarious balance of a vase on a rickety table. Things could easily go wrong.

The next page warns of the possibility of a further proletarian (or ‘pet’) revolution. The naked boy showers happily in front of yet another hirsute giant, this time a ‘Ying’. The Ying, mindful of the power of his master, slavishly copies every detail of the boy’s posture and action. However the presence of water, that treacherous pre-revolutionary medium, warns of reactionary thoughts. The Ying is armed with a bar of soap, insecurely clutched between thumb and forefinger, and a distinctly erect brush.

The reverse of this pet-owning luxury is shown in infrequent glimpses of the underclass. We meet a Nook who will starve because he cannot read the instructions that would enable him to prepare food. A member of the former aristocracy displays his gold teeth and absurdly outdated pet. His boots and hat are worn out. Failure to join the revolution has left these beings in unfortunate and meaningless lives.

Religion clearly survives in the post-revolutionary world. The enigmatic Ish, his name a suffix that diffuses meaning, is able to feed the masses by means of his swishing fish production. He maintains the ability to nourish his flock, presumably spiritually, despite the need to disguise his religious role in the community.

Another column of pets, sheep this time, walk ‘all night from near to far’. (page 32) These zealots are viewed with horror by the young protagonists, as they walk blissfully away from the guiding star of Communism, once that of Christianity. This may represent the Jews, ridiculed for their faith, and unconventionally mobile in the Soviet Union after Tsarist limits on their movement ceased to exist. Increasing repression after World War II forced further moves on the Jewish population and, although at the time of publication of ‘One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish’ migration to the recently formed Israel was not yet permitted, many Jews had doubtless begun their spiritual exodus. Small wonder that the watching citizens, seeing the traditional scapegoats approach an alien paradise, wonder who will be the next victims.

They will not have long to wait. In the penultimate scene, they lift the monstrous ‘Clark’ from moist obscurity and invite him into mainstream society. He will grow and grow. The bureaucracy of the Secret Police is now able to penetrate the homes of all citizens. “Will our mother like this?” muse the protagonists. “We don’t know.” (p61) The certainties expressed with polar opposites at the start of the book have lost that focus.

The developing but still infant ego has begun to develop boundaries and perceive a reality outside itself. While most of the entities and events throughout ‘One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish’ are directly related to the protagonists, the developing recognition of the world of the Zeds, for example, which the nascent state must administer without having any direct experience of the place, suggests that the post-revolutionary entity is developing beyond the pleasure principle.

At times, language proves unequal to the task of explaining what things are and why they happen. We are referred to the authority of unseen parent figures: dad, mother, pop. The id of the revolution is gaining some balance from a cultural super-ego. Freud wrote that the “…super-ego of an epoch of civilisation has an origin similar to that of an individual. It is based on the impression left behind by the personalities of great leaders…” (Freud 1930, par 8.11).

For the children of the revolution, a semblance of conscience arises from the words of the ideological creators of this new world order. Development of the super-ego in any other form is hindered by the lack of reality that imposes upon the lives of the childlike heroes who direct the destiny of this state. The way in which the Party deals with dissidents is not tempered by conscience, either fear of the consequences from society or an internal super-ego. Sacrifices by the masses are needed for the ultimate triumph of the revolution.

The final scene is one of deceptive peace and security. The citizens sleep under the protection of the Party behemoth that they have come to trust. But the warning is stark.

“Today is gone. Today was fun.

Tomorrow is another one.

Every day,

from here to there,

funny things are everywhere.” (p63)

Wrapped in the embrace of their huge, furry pet, the revolutionary leaders sleep. They seem secure, unaware of the incipient political power represented by the great mass of the pet by whom they are supported. The spectre of Clark lurks, ready to drag them back into the murky waters of pre-revolutionary chaos. The betrayal of the motherland is imminent.

Bibliography

Eagleton, T (1988) Literary Theory: an introduction (2nd ed). Blackwell, Malden MA.

Freud, S. (1930) Civilisation and its discontents. Extract at <http://www.mdx.ac.uk/www/study/xfre.htm>

Hobsbawm, E. (1994) Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century Abacus, London.

Minear, Richard H. (1999) Dr. Seuss Goes to War The New Press, New York.

Seuss, Dr. (1957) The Cat in the Hat Beginner Books (Random House), New York.

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