Crumey begins with innovative ideas wrought by actual historical figures in arts, politics, and the sciences. He mixes multiple universes with political machinations, and ends up creating a brainy-sounding, vaguely threatening thriller. Unfortunately, he speaks entirely in generalities.
Planets where history goes differently, worlds created out of sheer envy and boredom, a universe where an alternative 1941 is happening right now to participants unaware of their genericity. Destiny, chance, fate: all are illusory in the magic-latern show of history, the eternal now that makes everything fell new when really it is unconscious repetition. Adorno hears this universe every time he turns on the radio and is subjected to the latest dance tune, no different from the last. Modern existence is combinatorial, a rearrangment of terms robbed of meaning and Walter was trying to reinvigorate meaning through intellectual montage; all he lacked was a coherent theory.Crumey's snippets of Adorno and Benjamin amount to no more than sounds bites. Minus their context, they come off as double-speak and Crumey comes off as a pseudo-intellectual tourist. Isn't Benjamin cool, his inclusion in this novel seems to ask. Is he? I don't know, because all you have given me in this novel are grand conclusions
"To be consistent is to exist, that is the law of mathematics, a single violation should be enough to make the entire edifice vanish into non-being. Yet we live in an age of paradox, science has demonstrated it. Time can be slowed or quickened, space is curved, light is neither wave nor particle, or perhaps is both. There are our new categories of thought."Blah, blah, blah. It is a shame, given their vibrancy, that Arendt and Benjamin aren't fully imaged characters and merely provide the set dressing for a parade of knowledge. My recently reading of Adjacent, a novel that mined the scientific idea of multiple universes, suggested how a creative mind might play with its potential to distort the timecourse of the conventional novel, or imagine how it might effect human emotion when past and future no longer adhere to their conventional rules. The Secret Knowledge seemed content to talk about paradox, where a more fully imagined work would have shown me the consequences in action, behavior, or feeling. It ultimately fails to put flesh on the bones of a clever concept.
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