“…Just like the rhinos you see in the wild on T.V, she has a bird that lives sitting on her back. It’s called Betty Pritchard.”
Comedy in ‘Vernon God Little’ is the twenty-first century notion of sharing a consensus on the demystified incongruity of life. Comedy as a genre is seen as relating to the ordinary, mundane businesses of life – life in its sheer routine. Laughter in this text is beheld at an authoritative stance, wherein a sense of liberation is pre-supposed for mutual enrichment to emanate from a time-tested sense of the incongruous. The incongruity is indeed the lapse that lies between what ought to be and what is. That it is not a moral diagnosis of the predictable possibilities of the ordinary events encumbering life but a flabbergasting demystification of the social and civil conditions, has rendered scope for comedy.
The protagonist breaks out of the ordinary and ventures into the unknown, voyaging through the incongruities of life, spewing sarcasm over them. His anti-heroic stance rests entirely in his steep sense of realization of the self.
“Life’s simple when I’m angry. I know what to do…”
On the one hand, his demystification of his puny self reveals the insignificance of his position and purpose, while the projection of his pomposity on the other hand as the heroic is the reiteration of the modern day notion of ‘self-knowledge,’ where the claim of enlightenment is the seemingly highest act of human nobility but adversely leading to a form of disillusionment.
The tyrannical sense of humour leveled at all time-tested notions of like God, man-woman relationships depicts the dismal endeavor of human beings of shrinking within the cocoon of reality. The frame of reference for laughter that the present day world has indiscriminately broadened has been adopted for the cause of liberation. The comic in this has been located in the crumbling down of idealism of life. Owing to the circumstances, the periphery is centralized and the centre is further decentralized, which in turn have many centres, with peripheries of their own. Laughter thereby is the sense of demystification in irreverence that grants ease with tremendous liberty, based on a consensus that is universal. This is in stark contrast to laughing at one’s own self that is edifying, ennobling and curing. It is however in this context that desensitization of life also has emerged. An apparent narcissistic obsession with death, owing to fascination of death lends itself to the surfacing of the juxtaposition of life and death. Comedy is treated in the presence of death. Life that seemed strong has at once become fragile and death alone is permanent.
“You’re killing me like God… I die knowing this is barely the germ of an infection for a thousand miserable deaths…”
DBC Pierre identifies with Albert Camus’ notion of permanence as an illusion. Like Ciciphys as the metaphor of sense of fulfillment enacting the absurd, man’s achievement as the final culmination, is meaningless. There is no euphoric ecstasy in achievement. The experience of going through the act of fulfillment holds permanence because the ends are removed. All that is real, is the enactment of the ‘absurd’ alone. According to Camus, it is the lover, the actor and the adventurer alone, who seek permanence in the ever present now, their merit is entwined in the perfecting of the recurring present, which though brief, is lived fully. This absurd is encapsulated in the novel as a miniature of life that we are living today.
Pierre’s comic stance is humourless laughter of burden and anguish. Laughter here is used a defense mechanism against the obtrusive reality. This explains the anti-confrontational stance of Vernon, his public life pitted against his private life.
The entire work is a perspective of the teenage boy, whose miniature journey’s encounters are inferred, rather than directly referred to. In order to ward off vulnerability, the boy has assumed the norm of a defensive stance, also thereby guarding his private self. The text is jerky, depicting the language as the ‘sight’ of the ‘self’, which is violated, assaulted intermittently by the society. The sloppiness in character also establishes his incapacity and unwillingness to disclosure. He breaks all bonds of compassion. The narrator, omniscient, doesn’t disclose but withdraws and conceals. This lends to the fragmentation of the narrative, allowing the reader to become suspicious. Though the reader is taken into confidence initially, there is withdrawal eventually. This stance of the twenty-first century helps establish the misplaced logic of cause and effect of the reality of the situation Vernon is trapped in.
All characters of this work are caricatured. His mother, the ‘spooked deer,’ Georgette Poekorney, ‘a dry ole buzzard with hair of lacquered tobacco smoke,’ Ricardo moltenbomb, ‘who makes a flourish like a bull-fighter,’ amongst others, are all commented upon with the intention of bringing to the fore, the life of the contemporary reality. Comedy here does not tickle one’s funny bone, does not compel one to roar with laughter but is seen as the absurd that is neither a triumph nor a defeat – it’s only laughing at the pomposity of the adult. Also present is the utter, brutal dehumanization of the characters – a subtle suggestion of his innocence, perhaps. His retort could also suggest, to a greater degree, the treatment he receives for his ‘insanity’, ‘irrationality.’
Fixated in the course of the child’s initiation into the adult world, is the dogmatic classification proposed by adults, which are conversations of parody. The idealism of the adult is a contamination of the child’s mind and this propels Vernon’s initiation into the adult world and forms the rest of the story.
The comic of this work visibly rests in the recurring images of God, quoted with a sinister connotation, mostly in relation to his school, which is no more a place of progress and is drolled off its significance. This makes for the signature stance of the writer, as he introduces the character Vernon in first person, in the first paragraph of chapter one.
“God knows I tried my best to learn the ways of the world, even had inklings we could be glorious but after all that’s happened, the inkles ain’t easy anymore… feels like a Friday at school or something…”
Including the punning on ‘Friday’ for euphoria as the weekend approaches to school children and Christ’s crucifixion, DBC Pierre has carried images of ‘music,’ ‘powerdime shift,’ besides numerous others, capturing in itself, the pomposity of the adult world, through an interior monologue oscillating in a confessional voice. The constructing first person narrative vividly dramatizes the external scene.
The sinister, criminal aggression of the narrator, Vernon is juxtaposed with his innocence while caricaturing all his relationships with an impertinent pre-occupation with the physical. Deeply embedded in the satirical description of events, is the irony of pathos and brutality. The comic elements of the novel are very well the same elements that render the tragic features of the present as well as the impending events of the twenty-first century.
Vernon’s caricature of the elemental characters of the society bound to perform their duties, is a portrayal of the stark socio-economic reality, openly misplaced in its logic of ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ on the mind of the child, symbolizing decadence and corruption of the society. Even the most soothing and classical elements such as music acquire a gruesome stance, where the child, whose tastes are adulterated, craves for liberating music and aggressive poetry, to successfully cope with the ‘powerdime shifts.’ Another overbeating image weeping across the novel is the urban topography, intentionally highlighting the economic deprivation of the suburbs. This is the ‘new reality.’ Chapter 15 describes the suburbs giving the reader a picturesque image that which is so naturally the characteristic, prominent and visible of the Mexican.
“… the clean concrete highway roads… tall, small people flow around me like tumbling store-displays, chubby types in denim carve them, with all the confidence of home… Mexicans…”
Having graduated after initiating into the adult world, the little boy grows out of his naiveté and simplicity. In retrospection, he views the sophisticated adult world that is convincingly a parody. Here, the perceptive takes over knowledge. Ultimately, intuition becomes his sources of knowledge, which is why the narration renders in the comic and the ironic. The protagonist is not bitter, for it is his laughter that liberates or intensifies the serious. This grim humour decries idealism of all time. With associations of discordant words, and blatant metaphor, the protagonist oscillates between despair and hope throughout. He comes through his phase of trial and humiliation successfully. Physical excrement alone saves him in the end. In retrospect, again, he has parodied the adult world of trial, holding the adult as much guilty as he is. Out in the forefront is the adult’s ignorance of the issue of contention and the unscientific modes of approach to the truth that finally emerges.
The contemporary reality of death, annihilation and the absurd has been marvelously portrayed. The text is apparently a parallel sequence of the media. Vernon observes his mom, himself, the neighbourhood and all the encounters of his life as being shot by the media. The real is transformed into surreal. The ‘media’ is the mesmerizing element that the world in the contemporary has submitted itself to. It is the satire of the new reality that projects in the monopoly of the few. Interpretations rendered through the visual media, monitored, rather capitalized over the few insignificant few of the society holds the fulcrum of the ironic paradox. A pseudo sense of glamour projecting a larger than life image provokes the mental faculties to doubt the extent of enlightenment. The clichéd images of the hero, villain as the warrior and the rapist, have not been shed at all, for they offer psychological comfort. This seeking, however, is in turn not consistent, an inversion emerges almost consecutively, for it is ultimately fiction embossed on life, a curt fantasy of paradox.
Popular writing is caricaturing on the ethical, the factual, the scientific, all of whose stances of wrong and right are clear. The ‘media’ here is a blatant violation of the ethical acting as an intruding force committing ‘brutal assault.’ This function of the media as an encroacher into the private lives of people today have impact fully enamoured the ‘mom’ and the girlfriend, who both betray truth and fall prey to superficiality.
Pierre’s wimpering within is at the American urban. The parallel lifespan of media is embossed on actual reality. The image becomes more significant than the real. Media serves as the key factor responsible for the shift in reality, where the search for truth gets distorted. This is the new reality, which nurtures the upcoming of the illiterate, merging within itself all along, the semblance of economic welfare – comprising the bureaucracy of the legal, the educated and the psychiatrists. Their impersonal, dispassionate and the execution of the duty dilutes the ethical human behavior. Compromises made in the sanctity of relationships are alarming. Depravity projects itself in a dehumanizing manner.
Comedy in this text is an instrument implicated to present disregard for the acceptable, through causal utterances that are appallingly fixated on the banal, the carnal instincts of human beings. Terminology adopted is not that of the public sphere but that of a private individual at the core of the new reality that is ‘broken,’ rebellion’ and ‘anti’ to the system we are breeding in, today. The new America is concealed beneath. He is the semi-literate, confused, dehumanized element, a veracious personification of squalor and decadence. The ugliness of the system is not obviously directed to the face of the reader, it is seen through the eyes of an individual, who is a true American. There have been scores of instances, where the narrator’s notion of the comic as an exemplification of the sapping off of human nature cull our practical ideologies and philosophies of life. The narrator, himself in a vulnerable, transitional period of his teenage years, primarily as an American, is alike the moth that is confused between the moon that it is genetically programmed to fly by and the neon-light that it gets conditioned to fly by, which eventually slaps it with death. Such is the pitiful pathos of human existence – visibly aggravating in the American society.
Even romantic elements like music and poetry, whose effect on man liberating for a constructive goal is here seen as a purpose of fulfilling the carnal fixation that gratifies and liberates the aggression within, the mounting pressure from the bureaucratic hierarchies crashing down on the budding mind invites mechanisms of defense, to shelter the incapabilities and shoulder impossible responsibilities.
It is a way of his life – having experienced sexuality and lost all innocence, he fluidly adopts sexuality. He is the man of the house, though an innocent, young teenager. He experiences a supreme euphoric sense of power in sexuality in this confessional tone and vivid dramatization. The body acquires the prime focus of which he knows no notion of chastity. A woman’s anatomy is very spontaneously described. The focus almost always and immediately shifts to the contours, in and out, of a woman. Language too is twisted and turned, squirming in its seat of the mind. Contemporary idioms of the American slang fixates today’s notion of the comic, parodying the social, intellectual status and identity of man. The comic is centre-staged in its anti-authority, anti-confrontational stance. The human predicament of seating deeper into the mind a times of jeopardy is all the time expressed in it’s grotesque, not so elevating or refined form.
Pierre’s language as a tool to propose the metaphor of life in the urban reality is a deliberation towards that sense of repulsion and morbidity. Herein, is the crashing down of the human spirit in an urban condition. Sexual indulgence, obsession with the physical, of the sensuous, the carnal, human excretion are the collective codes impinging in shaping communication of the self, of the narrator.
The abysmal result of one’s actions and thoughts in the American psyche, as a representative of the contemporary identity is a caricature in itself. The anti-confrontational stance is shed unknowingly, and the truth is spilled away.
This deliberated, anti-canonical deliberation into limited vision, as the signature statement of the culture and a reflection of the id of the author places the viewer, the reader, the visualizer in a state that’s with the ‘philosophical headfucks to whom the dirt on the sneakers matters more than the sneakers themselves’; ‘the pessimist who has a New York accent’; and the ‘powerdime shift’ which ‘the child can’t face, if he does not get a man’s hand that he needs most’, and so, in the case of which, fate tunes would instill a sense of learning that , only the ‘dumb are safe in this world, the ones who roam with the herd, without thinking about every little thing!’