Today’s guest blogger is Engelbert J. Pumpernickel, the T. Cholmondeley Frink Professor of Comparative Literature at Northwestern Piedmont (NC) University. I sent Professor Pumpernickel an advance review copy of my first novel, The Clerk (available now!), since I’ve heard him speak several times and have briefly chatted with him about literature after one of his lectures. To my surprise, Professor Pumpernickel loved the novel, and asked if he could write up a blog post examining The Clerk from an academic standpoint. I was delighted, and agreed to let him guest blog.
So, without further ado, take it away, Professor…
My academic area of expertise is the functional semiotic discourse of temporal hagiography. Examining works such as David Copperfield, Tropic of Cancer, and Where the Wild Things Are, for example, we can see how temporal manifestations such as clocks, flashbacks, calendars, and kitchen timers are crucial to our understanding of the passage and ravages of time, especially when we also consider the Black-Scholes model of temporal conformity.
Matt Cowper’s novel The Clerk was thus an exciting read for me, as it’s a fertile field of chronal wonders. Nearly every page has a reference, theme, simile, analogy, assonance, onomatopoeia, or dialectical diorama dealing with time and its exalted nature. For a neophyte novelist to be so in command of the chronal cosmogony is astounding. Even more astounding is Cowper’s slightly tongue-in-cheek, subversive approach to this discourse. One could say he uses heretical heuristics to populate his novel with Kierkegaardian conundrums.
For example, the double flashback that occurs in Chapter Six is a masterwork of time manipulation and flashback semi-consciousness anal retentive Jungian archetypes. The chapter begins with Thomas Copeland walking in the rain, rain of course being the great reified symbolizer of the annihilative nature of time, as water will eventually wear down all molecular constructs, including steel and stone. Rain also symbolizes fertility and new beginnings; no plants can grow without rain, and rain can be used as an anti-malevolent motif to wash away past sins and disappointments, as seen as far back in literature as the Bible.
As the rain both erodes and rebuilds Thomas, he thinks about his co-worker, Orianna. One of Orianna’s etymological designations is “golden dawn,” and this is particularly fitting considering the contextual leavened mystical multiculturalism of this scene. Dawn is the start of a new day, when a certain portion of the Earth again sees the sun, and the time-based anti-stasis continuum begins anew.
Thomas then flashbacks to a conversation he had with a co-worker named Roy, with all its Hegelian hodgepodge of critical fecundity – for Roy remains essentially trapped in time, unable to improve his situation and unable to return to a more favorable situation at Oxendine’s Grocery. Thomas has no such constraints; he is unfettered from time, or more precisely, he exists in his own temporal bubble, free from linear lycanthropy and Darwinian mastiffs. One would think that this contradicts the erosion/rebuilding of the rain at the start of the chapter, but this is easily explained when one thoroughly applies the paradoxical paradigm of Precambrian pulchritudinousness.
During this flashback, Thomas descends into another flashback, in a daring bit of authorial ingenuity. Thomas remembers his experience at the International Leaders of Tomorrow Conference (ILTC), where he was matched up against centrifugal emblems of middle-class certainty – and where he rejected that modality. The “Tomorrow” in ILTC is paramount; for Thomas, that “Tomorrow” is a mirage compounded with variegated vassalism, much like Foucault’s description of prison cells.
After Thomas emerges from this ILTC flashback, he refuses to share his insights with Roy; his hoarding of his temporal bubble is similar to the Romantic idea of the cult of the self. Roy disappears from the story; he is not seen by Thomas again, and exists in a narrative black hole, similar to the proto-Marxist idea of communitarian incommunicado.
When Thomas finally returns to the real-time pseudo-diegesis of the story, he hasn’t had a Lacanian revelation of the interior-exterior self. He remains as he was, a man out of the bounds of time while still representing all-time. As Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message,” and here Thomas – like the novel itself – is a scintillating example of time-containerism with an abundance of cultural artifactism.
In sum, I thoroughly enjoyed The Clerk, not just for its shifting rhythms of en medias res combined with deus ex machinas and cogito ergo sums, but for the clarity of its presentation. It can be enjoyed by regular readers not versed in temporal hagiography as well as serious academics and critics.
Thanks to Professor Pumpernickel for guest blogging today. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure to check out his latest book, “Temporal Storms: Meteorological Musings on Time and Cross-Eon Essences.”
And of course, you can find The Clerk on Amazon, where you can read about Thomas Copeland’s temporal bubble and the chronal travails of the novel’s troubled cast of characters.