Saturday, November 28, 2009

Matthew Reilly: Theorizing Among The Cacognoscenti

Matthew Reilly is widely recognized as a total asshole - but surprisingly little theoretical work has been done to elucidate the variegated determinants of this fact.  I will here briefly offer one (of undoubtedly many) explanations of why he is such a jerk.

Bremselhäcker, (in press) during the 2009 meeting of the International Association of Neurosymbologists proposed an extremely fecund formalist approach to the subject of symbological knowledge.  Previous work had generated the categories of orthognosis (typified by characters like Professor Kent or Peter Solomon), mythognosis (the position of Langdon, Rutherford, Miguel, etc.) and cacognosis, (Mal'akh, Teabing, Bezumov, etc.) but these had been inadequately related to one another.  Bremselhäcker's elegant solution was the so-called Generative Grammar, a simple table which produces subject postions based on binary choices in ontology and epistemology, as follows:

                            Onto             Epi
Orthognostic       O                  O

Mythognostic      X                  O

Cacognostic         X                   X

For ontology, one can read something like "status of the Code's referent" and for epistemology, something like "significance of ontology;" for each, there are two possibilities, metaphoricity and literality.  Thus, for example, Peter Solomon in Brown's The Lost Symbol is ultimately resolved as an orthognostic, since he knows that the object of the code is metaphorical (the Bible in TLS is simply metonymy for the Ancient Wisdom) and that the significance of whatever is implied by the actual referent (in this case the text of the Bible) is also metaphorical.  Langdon always exemplifies the orthognostic; he believes in the literal reality of the object of the code, (say, the Illuminati in Angels and Demons,) but he is forever incongruously convinced that its only significance can be metaphorical.
Mal'akh, in TLS, is a perfect cacognostic: he believes in the literal reality of the code's referent, and in its literal significance - as he incessantly says, "it's buried out there somewhere," and he cannot imagine an alternative to "it"s literal transformative power.

This schema is immensely powerful for understanding the action of the classical symbological novel, which, it is seen, consists primarily in the trajectory of the symbologist from a position of stable mythognosis ("it exists, but it doesn't really matter") to a dialectical struggle with cacognosis ("it exists, and it really matters") which is ultimately resolved by his transition to orthognosis ("it doesn't exist, and it doesn't really matter").

The general significance of this framework for the critique of symbology will be discussed in later posts.  For the moment, I want only to point out how it can revitalize exploration of how Matthew Reilly can possibly be such a total fucking douche.

In Reilly, there is one class and one position, that of the male cacognostic.  The female characters are vapid sources of sexual contamination, and the orientals are comprehensively primitive basically mute.  The position of the mythognostic is empty, as is the position of the orthognstic.  There are no Catherines in Reilly, no Poimandres.  All the characters are cacognostics who believe in the literal significance and relevance of the code.  Because of this, there is no progression from mythognosis through cacognosis to orthognosis - i.e., there is no plot, and no cop-out.

Instead, there is merely an endless blood-bath.  The Reillyan world is a perpetual agon of cacognostics who are only really morally distinguishable by their physiognomy, since their practices and motivations often clearly commensurate.  In Temple, for instance, the motivations of the "Nazis" and the Americans are completly identical.  This explains Reilly's fascination with terrorism (domestic and otherwise) and his apparent belief that the world is saturated with highly organized terrorist groups that operate at approximately the level of complexity of small nation-states.  There is, for him, actually just a continuum of size between the terrorist group and the state, and the state often contains sub-units which operate exactly like terrorist groups. 

For the same reason the Oedipal dimension of the conventional symbological novel is missing from Reilly.  The Father and Daughter functions disappear with the categories of orthognosis and the feminine, leaving only the symbologist who now has no reason to range between mythognosis, cacognosis, and cultivated orthognosis, and therefore collapsing all characters into a boring pleroma of violent cacognostics.

This poverty of subject-positions also determines the ideological commitments of the Reillyan universe - there is no cop-out, and thus no re-containment - merely a momentary lull in the unending storm of violence between groups of cacognostic terrorists.  The only recognizable arc in the novel is that of the hero from symbologist to soldier: the mythognostic starts out as a sweater-vest wearing academic who eyes the bulging muscles of the Green Berets jealously, resents their confidence with the ladies, and thinks of them as elementary school bullies.  This would be par for the course in setting up for a rapprochement between the ISA and the RSA where he realizes that actually many of them are quite sensitive and they had his best interests at heart all along, but this is not where Reilly is going: his symbologist does have these realizations, but only in parallel with his own evolution into a gun-toting, body-armor wearing, plane-hijacking, tank-driving foul-mouthed macho-man.  The effect, then, is not the denoument of the ostensible Ideological State Apparatus/Repressive State Apparatus opposition, but the actual transformation of the ISA into the RSA.  This makes sense, since once the possibility of being a mythognostic is foreclosed, it isn't clear what conceivable role the ISA could have in Reilly's world.

It has been said (Twinglebrook-Hastings, The Lost Symbol Midrash, 2009) that "the symbological subject is divided between differently stupid characters."  The Reillyan subject, I have argued, is concentrated in a single subject-position, effectively amplifying the stupidity of any given subjectivity in his "novels."  I intend this observation as no more than a prolegomenon to the study of Riellyan idiocy - further work is obviously demanded by such an expansive subject.

This entry presumes some familiarity with my plot summary of Reilly's Temple (presuming familiarity with the actual text would be...unfair) which is available upon request.