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B. S. Johnson.


Writing from 1959, at the age of twenty-six, until his suicide in 1973, B. S. Johnson completed seven experimentally and ideologically intriguing novels. (1) They prefigure by over twenty years the recent phase of critically explicit and reflexive novels of British writers such as Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie and arguably in terms of technique are significantly more radical. Yet despite his formal prescience, Johnson's work is almost never taught and is rarely included in work on Anglophone literature. By contrast, during his short lifetime he threatened to emerge as a significant literary and critical figure. Certainly, his oeuvre for such a short career is surprisingly substantial and varied, as will be seen in the ensuing exposition and analysis of his novels. Additionally, I will outline below the major themes found in his life and work, drawing from Johnson's own critical introduction to his narratives found in his collection of essays, Aren't You Rather Young to Be Writing Your Memoirs? (1973), and from his other scattered explicit and implicit theoretical fragments, often found even within the novels themselves.

In 1964 Johnson published jointly with Julia Trevelyan Oman an enigmatic book, Street Children, consisting of Oman's photographs adjacent to a series of epigrammatic and yet ironic textual narratives by Johnson. This provides an intriguing entry into his world. tie writes, "The photographs and text attempt a penetration of the enclosed world of the child, revealing the solemnity of young children who are puzzling out why people do things, why people are, trying to place the new within their own experience, failing, and thus enlarging their experience.... The characters of these working-class and immigrant children are seen in relation to the conditions which helped to create them" (n.pag.). Johnson's writing insists that humans are subject to this kind of conditioning, a combination of attitudes, treatment, and surroundings. The book's synthesis of images of postwar Britain shot in grainy black and white together with Johnson's stark narrative of childlike thoughts and comments, offer a glimpse of an environment Johnson found both familiar and representative of his own experience. For one waiflike child of around three Johnson writes, "They don't have to tell me about this human condition: I'm in it. They don't have to tell me what life's about, because I know already, and it's about hardness. Hardness and being on my own, quite on my own. You understand that much right from the beginning, from the first time the pavement comes up and hits you, from the first time you look round for someone you expected to be there and they aren't. Oh, I know you can get close to people, but that's not the same. In the end you're just on your own" (n.pag.). The book centers upon a stark urban setting with few cars on the streets; the buildings and pavements are patched, scratched, and chalked upon; the children playing possess the quality of urchins, swallowed by the immensity of a monochrome Victorian past; and yet amid this uncertainty persists a sense of community. Opposite a group of boys hanging from outside window ledges of the Church of the Nazarene, Clapham Junction, Johnson writes, "The good thing about being a London kid is that there are always other kids around you all the time, living in the same flats or next door or even in the same house, who will be your mates, and there's always something to do if you've got mates ..." (n.pag.). Trawl confirms this kind of street life as Johnson's own, describing how it offered him both his working-class identity and yet a sense of social subjection. Johnson rejects what he saw as an unrepresentative elite class, with both social and intellectual power. This stance won him many readers in his lifetime and recognition from fellow writers, but few plaudits in academic or critical circles.

His very public attack on what he regarded as Britain's privileged and complacent class structures had been initiated in Travelling People. In one of the "Interruptions" that are interspersed among a range of other different presentational styles of chapters, the narrator is clear in his dismissal of a certain British character type: "Dunne is about six feet four, heavily built, thirtyish, with straight black hair generally flopping in a trite public school manner over his right eye; loudmouthed in the extreme, rather slow-witted ... and controller of a business fortune involving the lives of nearly twenty thousand workpeople" (159-60). In The Unfortunates Johnson dismisses "crass businessmen, [and] their ideas of the artistic" ("Cast parapet" 3). He is ambivalent about the intellectual traditions of the middle class. Of literary study Johnson recalls telling his academic friend that "the only use of criticism was if it helped people to write better books" ("The opera singer" 1), (2) and Johnson objects even to this friend's academic pedantry ("That was the first time" 4). Together such attacks appear to have limited his appeal among middle-class British intellectuals and critics. He writes to his friend and future novelist Zulfikar Ghose of his antipathy toward "the ponces who feast off the dead body of literature, the carrion who feed on the dead corpses of good men, writers, pay us fuckall and go out to lunch every day of the working week etc, you know the syndrome" (27). This is evident in his analysis of conditions at football grounds in The Unfortunates. He notes "an enormous amount of money in football ... the directors, the owners, who just siphoned off all the money ... they still don't have to spend money on buildings, they see, the swine, still have these corrugated iron sheds, and charge extra for that, let the men on the terraces, their chief supporters, the sixpences of the masses, stand out in all weathers, and they do, the stupid bastards!" ("Time!" 5). Even years after Johnson's death, one self-proclaimed friend and supporter, Giles Gordon, dismisses him summarily with a loaded put-down: "Bryan Johnson was a working-class lad who had the singular fortune to marry a beautiful middle-class girl, Virginia Kimpton, who had knees that I lusted after. He was extremely aggressive, and quarrelled readily, unnecessarily with those who wished him well as much as with those who couldn't have given a hoot. His working-class chip could hardly have been more blatant" (150-51). Johnson's anger is frequently personalized in similar fashion by critics, thus trivializing his protests; nevertheless his argumentative analyses do far more than articulate simply the personal resentment and the implied inadequacy of which he stands accused. In Christie Malry's Own Double Entry the narrator desists from detailing the apparent facts of Christie's life, facing the ontological fear that "All is chaos and unexplainable." Yet he toys immediately with a very specific contextual generalization and opines, "Lots of people never had a chance, are ground down, and other cliches. Far from kicking against the pricks, they love their condition and vote conservative" (82). Some "facts" remain relevant to Johnson despite any notion of an existential maelstrom. Notice the use of the vernacular (and arguably biblical) term pricks for the establishment, and that, despite his apparent overall existential despair, a very specific sociopolitical context resurfaces in his narratorial jibe aimed potentially at his readership. This typifies Johnson. As Andrew Hassam concludes, Johnson undertakes "an Orwellian engagement with political reality" (4).

Exposition: Johnson via His Work

Johnson used his own life as an essential source for his fiction and the grounds of his ideology; its coordinates and his awareness of the exploited subtexts of culture's narrative supply both the backdrop and substance of his narratives. Midcareer an interviewer describes Johnson's insistence that "All writing is autobiographical, because he believes that one should tell the truth and that the only true knowledge is oneself" (Depledge 13). All his primary experience is determined by a class-consciousness and sense of dislocation of the self when matched against the conventional narrative codes and practices of history. Johnson's dislocation was literal as well as existential. He was born in 1933, soon after the Great Depression, of the respectable London working class. As Ghose explains in a 1999 tape-recorded interview with me, "I met his parents and they were very modest people; they were overwhelmed by the fact that they had this brilliant son who was being noticed so widely by the press, by winning prizes and so on. And so every time I went there, his mother would make tea and sit there, and she would just stare at us, you know, at her wonderful son. His father was a very quiet person at the best of times and I don't even know what he did. I think it was some kind of a working-class position." In fact this blue-collar tradition is central to his sense of identity, and Johnson regards his as an underprivileged beginning. One can retrieve a sense of much of his life from the novels.

At four, Johnson attended Flora Gardens Primary School in Hammersmith. His education was disrupted both by two periods of evacuation and the German bombing of London. In 1939 he traveled with his mother to live on a farm in Chobham, Surrey, arranged privately by his family. In Trawl he marks out the class dynamics of this existence, specifying such significant minutiae as the choice of newspapers, aspects he sees as part of a scheme of social placement. One senses a seminal time:

Sarah was the daughter of two other refugees from London who were on the farm as guests of Jack, or the old couple, whichever. They did not like my mother and the two children she looked after, Timmie and me, and I see now that this was something to do with class. We were working-class, my mother and I, and the boy Timmie, as the son of a publican, was scarcely better. The newspaper these people, Sarah's parents, read, which had a column in it called "London Day by Day," I now know to have been the Daily Telegraph. Their dislike of us, their bare toleration of us, was certainly shared by Jack: my mother was in fact or virtually a servant. Let me think through that again, clearly: not a servant paid by him, not a servant to him unpaid, but just of the servant class, to him. At least, that is what my memory and my instinct insist to be the truth: to him my mother was to be treated as a servant. (51)

During the "phony war," Johnson and his mother returned to London. Later in 1941 during the Blitz, Johnson was sent officially to High Wycombe. Both episodes form the basis of numerous segments in Trawl, of which Johnson said in an interview with Alan Burns published in 1981, "I explored my sense of isolation, my failure to make lasting relationships. I wanted to define this isolation and thereby understand it and ease it, in the classic way" (85). In High Wycombe, as the war moved to its close in Europe, after his local London school had returned to the capital, Johnson suffered an increasing sense of isolation, which may have had a profound effect on his future and his self-regard. While absent from his family, he sat and failed the crucial eleven-plus examination which at this time decided what level of secondary education a state pupil would receive, part of Britain's selective education (in place until the 1970s). As a consequence Johnson "failed" and he went to the most basic kind of school, a secondary :modern, in High Wycombe, where he was impressed by at least one teacher named Proffitt who features in Trawl. On return, Johnson was sent to Barnes County Modern Secondary School where most; of the pupils appeared to Johnson to accept the inevitable fate of dead-end jobs. The more personal feelings of the post-High Wycombe period are reflected and memorialized in his early story "Clean Living Is the Real Safeguard." He describes returning from evacuation in High Wycombe at Mrs. Bailey's, using the genuine name for his character. Johnson plunges the reader into his emotional trauma: "My mother was coming to see the Head because I had slashed my wrist during a History lesson, and she looked very smart" (Corpses 19). Johnson has been stopped from seeing a middle-class girlfriend, Jo, by her parents. For Johnson this is not simply an issue of difference in religion and class, but an epiphany. The moment crystallizes his realization of his subjection, his lack of autonomy.

"If I was very ill, desperately ill," she said to me that last day, "they'd have to let me see you wouldn't they?"

Her house had a drive, whereas ours did not even have a front garden. She walked away from me, shuffling her feet in dead leaves, small and lovely and unmadeup, her hair wild.

"I'll send for you if I have pneumonia," Jo had turned and called. I watched her out of sight. For the first time I knew there were forces stronger than me and over which I had not the slightest control. Surely this was not how it would always be? (20-21)

Despite this crisis at school, Johnson passed an examination to transfer to Kingston Day Commercial School, and, he details in the Burns interview, here "they taught me shorthand, typing, and bookkeeping. Useful" (90). He qualifies in his final graduation examination for "Matric Exemption," theoretically enabling university entrance. However, at this time no one from his school or many from his background had ever attended university, of which he was very conscious. Rejected for military duties during national service on medical grounds due to sinus difficulties, in the following five years Johnson worked in various accountancy posts of the kind described in Trawl and Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry. "Clean Living Is the Real Safeguard" records the parameters of his life. It centers around one girlfriend's father, Chicker Mills, who keeps racing greyhounds, a quintessentially lower-class activity. Chicker races a female runt of a litter of four after disasters with all three brothers: "I went and put ten bob on Chicker's Sweetheart with the least villainous bookie I could see. At this time I was seventeen and earning three pounds for five and a half days a week at the National Provincial Bank in Hammersmith: ten shillings therefore represented the best part of a day's pay to me" (25). The bank clerk narrator, much like Johnson and Christie Malry, earns very little. Even in his youthful naivete, Johnson records a dislike that transcends the immediacy of the individual relationships concerned, exploring his objections to the middle-class aspirations of his girlfriend and her family, their obsession with conventional success that he despises: "I liked her father, in a grudging sort of way, for he was really resentful of his daughter loving me and took every chance of humiliating me, of showing up my immaturity. He told Betty that she'd have dozens like me before she settled down; he was wrong in that, she had only one after me, she married the first one with money after me, who never had money in my life" (Corpses 26). This antipathy recurs in "Everyone Knows Someone Who's Dead."

In his evenings during his final clerical post, with an oil company on Kingsway, Johnson studied Latin privately for a preliminary examination. He undertook a year of Intermediate BA studying English, Latin, and history at Birkbeck College, University of London, to qualify for degree entry. At twenty-three he enrolled for a B.A. in English at King's College from 1956-1959, another constituent college of London University. Johnson had a significant love affair alluded to frequently in Albert Angelo, in "Everybody Knows Somebody Who's Dead" with the comment "My moll had cast me off in favour of a sterile epileptic of variable temperament" (Memoirs? 131), and in The Unfortunates with the characterization of Wendy. At Birkbeck he was befriended by two of his tutors, Barbara Hardy and Geoffrey Tillotson, well-regarded scholars of their period. He ran the college's literary society and such events as a visit to and discussion of the first London production of Beckett's Waiting for Godot. He graduated with a Lower Second Class Honours degree. Even at university level Johnson felt a continuing neglect at the hands of the education system. In rejecting Alan Burns's suggestion that he could learn from other contemporaneous English novelists, Johnson responds in their interview, "No. I did that at university, studying The English Novel and reading hundreds of them. I've done that bit and come to a position where I am right. If they can't see it then the strength of my case is such that that they haven't properly understood" (93). Throughout his student experience, he seems to have been relatively unaffected by the surge of youth culture in the late 1950s that continued in the 1960s. "Perhaps It's These Hormones" attempts to evoke the youth cultural voice of the record industry insider and remains Johnson's most unconvincing published piece. His teaching deepens his sense of separation from both the young and his own class. In "On Supply" he reflects, "They think you're not human if you're a teacher, like as if you were a copper, only without the power. In the same class as coppers, that is, to be avoided if you're not looking for bother" (Corpses 76).

On graduation, Johnson aspired to write professionally, attending courses in the area of film. He can be seen trying to suggest some appropriate credentials to which his unsuccessful appeals for work or commissions from the BBC testify. In a typewritten letter dated 11 November 1959 from his parents' residence in Barnes, Johnson presents himself to a Miss Pughe, giving us a glimpse of this transitional period of his life:

As I am completely unknown to you, perhaps you might be interested in some autobiographical details. I am twenty-six years old, and I graduated from King's College, London, this summer. At King's I edited five termly issues of the College magazine, Lucifer, raising its literary standard higher than ever before, and attracting the favourable attention of John Lehmann and the New Statesman. I also edited Thames, an anthology of London University poetry, in 1958, and this year I was the London editor of Universities' Poetry Two, which was published last month and has been favourably reviewed (to date) in the New Statesman and the Times Educational Supplement.

Whilst at King's I also wrote, produced, and acted in plays and revues; my production of Jean Genet's The Maids (the first non-professional one in England) won an alpha rating at the 1958 British Drama League Festival. Also in 1958 1 produced and acted in a production of Much Ado About Nothing which toured Germany and Denmark during this summer vacation.

At present I spend most of my time writing (I am working on a novel) and support myself by private coaching. I am extremely interested in writing for radio and television, and I am attending the course on writing for television at the National Film Theatre. (BBC Caversham Archive n.pag.)

Ghose met Johnson during these times of struggle, aspiration, and insecurity. Recording his memories of their first encounter late in the summer of 1959, Ghose recalls their first encounter after graduation:

The first thing I saw of him when I opened the door was his eyes. Not their color, which in the shadow of the threshold appeared a greyish blue, but their look that struck me as sad and afraid. Perhaps it was merely the apprehension of meeting someone for the first time with whom previously he had only corresponded; perhaps it was fear of a door opening to beckon him to enter an unknown world. From that moment we were friends for fourteen years, and I never saw that look in his eyes again.... My second impression was that he was rather large. In height, perhaps no more than two or three inches taller than my own five feet eight, but there was a bulk about him; a lot of blond hair, the cheeks fleshy and convex, the lips full, a well-proportioned head on a potentially corpulent body. (23)

There followed five years as a supply teacher in innumerable schools in both west and north London, the career anticipated reluctantly in Travelling People and outlined in graphic detail in Albert Angelo. In 1961 Johnson moved away from his parents in Barnes to a flat in Islington (Ghose 23), a shift confirmed by his correspondence to the BBC recorded in files at Caversham. Johnson worked unpaid on a variety of his own projects including his first novel, while attempting to gain institutional support. In a second letter to Miss Pughe on 15 December 1959 he complains: "It would help me if you could tell me some reasons why this [script proposal] was considered unsuitable. As I realise you must be very busy, a brief indication will be quite sufficient. For instance, was my treatment not good enough? Or was the subject-matter of the novel unsuitable? Or was the whole thing not good compared with other material you have available? Since I spent some time on this adaptation, I would be very grateful if you could indicate where I was at fault so that I might try to avoid wasting time in the future" (BBC Caversham Archive n.pag.).

Johnson's next short letter to Miss Pughe is from 34, Claremont Square, London, N1. on 9 April 1961; the address alone indicates a stage in Johnson's developing independence. Significant is its closeness to the center of artistic avant-garde London in Soho, Camden, and the still cheap and bohemian Angel, Islington. Here he lived within a stone's throw of other struggling writers such as Joe Orton. Through networking, Johnson became a friend and confidant of older novelist Rayner Heppenstall, who identifies Travelling People's indebtedness to Tristram Shandy and records Virginia Johnson's good French, polished by time spent previously in Paris. Significantly, he specifies Johnson's attendance at a lecture in English by Nathalie Sarraute (to whom Johnson refers at the beginning of his introduction to the Hungarian edition of The Unfortunates) on the Charing Cross Road in 1960 (Goodman 67-68, 120). Heppenstall explains both his own meeting with and influence upon Robbe-Grillet as well as the latter's joint visit with Sarraute to England in February 1961 (Goodman 198-99,209-10). Heppenstall is accompanied to these lectures and readings by Johnson, the latter driving a group of people there in his old Bedford van. Such experiences and people suggest themselves as conduits or contact points, establishing the influence of postwar French thought and the nouveau roman in particular upon Johnson. In "From Realism to Reality" Robbe-Grillet concludes, "The discovery of reality can only continue its advance if people are willing to abandon outworn forms" (Snapshots 154), a sentiment echoed by Johnson's writing in its practice. Fellow novelist Eva Figes confirms this influence when she recalls an informal grouping of writers including herself, Ann Quin, Alan Burns, and Johnson rejecting "mainstream `realist' fiction at a time when, in England, it seemed the only acceptable sort. We were concerned with language, with breaking up conventional narrative, with `making it new' in our different ways. We all used fragmentation as a starting point, and then took off in different directions. Bryan concentrated on a kind of literal honesty, on the author as central character, and on the format of the book itself.... It is a measure of English conservatism and insularity when one remembers that this was the prevailing atmosphere in the literary establishment at a time when, abroad, writers like Beckett, Robbe-Grillet, Grass, and Borges were doing their best work" (70-71). For Johnson this meant revising the novel form and thus readers' expectations. This became something of a crusade, alienating those committed to more traditional views. B. S. Johnson responds to a hostile Bernard Bergonzi in an unpublished BBC radio interview broadcast on 26 March 1968: "I'm not interested in the slightest in writing fiction. Where the difficulty comes in ... where [there exists] the misunderstanding over terms is that `novel' and `fiction' are not synonymous. Certainly I write autobiography, and I write it in the form of a novel. What I don't write is fiction" (12). Johnson's stance reflects Robbe-Grillet's assertion in Towards a New Novel: "Man is no more, from his own point of view, than the only witness" (82). As Johnson elaborates to Bergonzi, "Yes, I prefer to call invention lies--I distrust the imagination--I don't think that anyone can invent anything in the sense that they make something out of nothing. At best what they are doing is combining two things" (10). Johnson both uses and concurrently subverts narrative's implicit voice of authority; the purpose is not primarily ludic, but to counter the traditional social conservatism that the narrative voice came to represent. In so doing, Johnson also variously resists, critiques, and challenges the sorts of exploitation he saw as inherent in the society that relies upon such elevated and constraining voices. In a rather glib fashion (ignoring the sophistication of modern theory and class politics) many commentators have accounted for Johnson's approach as a "Platonic" position, prioritizing classicism and failing to fully theorize Plato's suspicion of poets. There is a more contemporary context of comparison. Robbe-Grillet insists on the phenomenological nature of the nouveau roman's narrative description of things: "The objects of our novels never have any presence outside human perceptions, whether real or imaginary; they are objects which are comparable to those of our everyday life, objects like those upon which our attention is constantly fixed" (Snapshots 138). The perceptual insistence of the world evoked by Johnson draws upon a very similar critically inclined worldview.

On a personal level, Johnson saw his earlier life as being disfigured by romantic and emotional loss. In Albert Angelo he hints at the reality for him of such experiences in "Disintegration" by specifying the apparently genuine name of a girlfriend, Jenny, as the source for characterizing Albert's ex-lover, Muriel. This offers an authenticity and accuracy of the emotional referent of Albert by insisting that his loss and anguish represent Johnson's own. In Trawl he anguishes over various traumas, but in doing so also explores his defects in such relationships. Of Joan, an unmarried mother he has dated, he admits:

.... It is now easy to see and to understand that I was too selfish: that is, I did not know at the time about enlightened self-interest, that everyone gives in order to receive, that all actions are invariably for selfish motives however much self-delusion there may be about them: and that the enlightenment is all. I took from Joan, and gave little in return. And I did not see at the time--how I could not see it is now difficult to understand--that obviously what she was looking for was security, economic and emotional security, and that I offered her nothing that she wanted, being to her only someone who came from an address he was unwilling to have known, took her for a few drinks, and then screwed her, sometimes when she did not particularly want to be screwed ... That is clear. (21)

According to Ghose, "Touched by deep personal tragedy, Bryan carried an enormous quantity of sadness within him. Life had betrayed him, and he was constantly on the guard against fresh betrayals, suspicious of anyone who could not love him wholly. Some time before I met him, he had suffered the worst betrayal of his life: a woman with whom he was deeply in love left him for another man" (24). Later, as he succeeded as a writer, he married and had two children, yet long-term, the happiness and contentment that he desired eluded him. This haunts the fringes and themes of his novels and is not their substance. He reveals an intensity of emotion and judgment, hinting at periods of unhappiness and depression. He was forthright and needy. Ghose recalls a jealous lover: "Once at a dinner party, a male guest greeted Virginia on entering the flat by kissing her on the cheek. Bryan, who was just then coming to the hall and had seen only the end of the perfectly innocent greeting, glared angrily at the man and said in a harsh, accusing voice, `Did you kiss my wife?' The man made a joke of it, but Bryan's evening was ruined. He could never disguise his feelings; if he felt rotten, his face showed it" (25).

In 1973 the underlying conflict within the marriage hinted at in the last novel became an inseparable gulf. There were a number of factors. The initial rejection of his last novel depressed him, and as Gordon Bowker writes, "He then told me that he was unable to get a commission for further novels and talked gloomily of having to return to supply-teaching" (51). He was becoming difficult, confrontational, and threatening. As the breakup of his marriage seemed imminent, he appears to have combined a changed set of obsessions with an irretrievable despondency. Bowker comments, "I heard later, in his last months, Bryan had fallen in with an occultist, who seemed to exercise a strange power over him. He might jump up in the middle of a family meal and leave the house saying that he `knew' this man wanted him. His behaviour had become increasingly bizarre, and he had even started talking to Virginia about their committing suicide together. It was at this point she had taken the children and fled" (52). There are hints in the fiction that this revived an earlier preoccupation. As Johnson saw matters, he had been abandoned and betrayed again. He was inconsolable. He took his own life alone on 13 November 1973.

Development: Critical and Methodological Contexts

In the literary context Johnson is a thinking, exploratory writer. In one of his first interviews, "Anti or Ultra?," Johnson defines the process of writing as requiring more than the contraction of narrative to verisimilitude and an act of record, and more than any naive realism. He knows narrative must include "the conflict between illusion and reality" (25) and that "my basic problem was that of all novelists: how to embody truth in a vehicle of fiction. Truth, that is, as a personally observed and experienced reality, and not of course autobiographical literalness" (25). Such a notion of complex truth both problematizes and characterizes Johnson's work. He understands writing's potential paradox, which he turns into critical or theoretical one-liners. In "These Count as Fictions" he says of his method of narrative, "I occupy my mind with statements the truth of which interests me, such as Form follows function, or it might be on another occasion Everything is merely or exactly the absence of its opposite. Or sometimes I will tell myself You can't have it all ways: at least at once" (Memoirs? 116). The dialectical undertones are open for anyone to read, but the little Johnson criticism that exists mostly refuses to do so.

Johnson looks back to his earlier years for the bulk of his narrative raw material: to childhood, school, adolescence and clerical work, early sexual experiences, student days, and, of course, young adulthood when he was forced into teaching by financial needs. Only The Unfortunates and See the Old Lady Decently are focused in any concentrated fashion on other significant periods. In the latter he offers several oblique and tantalizing glimpses of his domestic world. Johnson's novels incorporate a number of recurrent themes common to both his fiction and his life: failed or failing relationships with women, an ambivalent, often hostile attitude toward work and authority, and a need to derive truth from such instinctive doubts.

Certainly his work is neither slight nor lacking in critical and/or textual density; as I explain in my article "Chaos and Truth: B. S. Johnson's Theoretical and Literary Narratives," "The reflexive and biographical elements of his work are self-evident, yet there are subcutaneous theoretical aspects to his work that extend this view of narrative. Yet, despite evidence of this scattered throughout his writings, interpreting his significance and evaluating the more profound qualities of his work appear to have eluded the majority of academics and critics. In the decisive struggle of exegetical commentary, until recently Johnson has been almost erased from the literary-cultural field" (38). Johnson's aspirations to theorize his role as writer are self-evident. In Albert Angelo Johnson explores the task of writing while accepting this project's innate difficulties:

--And also to echo the complexity of life, reproduce some of the complexity of selves which I contain within me, contradictory and gross as they are: childish, some will call it, peeing in the rainfall gauge, yes, but sometimes I am childish, very, so are we all, it's part of the complexity I'm trying to reproduce, exorcise.

--Faced with the enormous detail, vitality, size, of this complexity, of life, there is a great temptation for a writer to impose his own pattern, an arbitrary pattern which must falsify, cannot do anything other than falsify; or he invents, which is pure lying. Looking back and imposing a pattern to come to terms with the past must be avoided. Lies, lies, lies. (170)

Most critics of Johnson squirm at his central concept of truth, parodying his stance by simplifying it almost out of existence. Such analysis falls into the trap described by Jurgen Habermas in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, where he explains a reduction of vision caused when "critics commit the error of still starting from the expectation that reality could ever take on a rational shape" (74). His rejection of such basal rationality helps explain why Johnson has failed to attain any "critical mass," and why he is most often dismissed as either derivative or prosaically mundane. He is neither. Poignantly, this reaction is most common in his homeland, exactly where his own critique was directed and where its relevance could still be argued to hold true. In contrast, Morton P. Levitt declares in "The Novels of B. S. Johnson: Against the War against Joyce," "We are struck in each of Johnson's novels not by his veneration of Joyce and the Modernists but, following their example, by his imaginative use of technique and his ability to move us" (575). However, in concluding his observations, Levitt both narrows a notion of truth to literal correspondence, by which he questions Johnson's project, and yet apparently redeems him as Joycean and representing "the one serious novelist of his generation who has been fearless of `experiment' and of being linked with the Modernists" (585). This is double-edged praise. Johnson, obsessed with truth, simply continues the modernist project. Thus Johnson is denied his own attempt to contextualize the novel, his ambition to supersede "literariness" and its convenient epistemic boundaries (away from "real" life contexts).

Johnson's critical neglect will be reversed only as both his novels and published commentary upon them appear in the marketplace of literary discourse and academic study. Clearly neither Johnson's position nor that of those responsible for literary canonization and textual availability has ever been neutral. Inevitably within the literary-aesthetic and critical fields one can apply as a reservation to any canonical evaluations Pierre Bourdieu's concept, outlined in The Rules of Art, of "social agents" and his analysis that "The field is a network of objective relations (of domination or subordination, of complementarity or antagonism, etc.) between positions ..." (231). Winners in criticism involves neglect of many potentially significant writers and the criteria for these choices are never pure. Judith Mackrell comments, "For much of his writing career, B. S. Johnson regarded himself as one of the very small and embattled minority of writers who were showing any signs of resisting the conservatism of the British literary establishment" (42). What remains notable in this respect is that Johnson's neglect often includes a lack of recognition by middle-class, apparently avantgarde, intellectuals. The question remains why. Addressing the issue of both the textual and nontextual identity of this almost forgotten voice may at least partially explain his neglect. Throughout his work, Johnson expresses multiple aspects of his own identity, paradoxically as both a quintessentially British and yet a countercultural novelist. He knew of this contradiction as a characteristic of his society's definition of what constitutes acceptability and saw that narrowing chiefly in terms of the culture's class prejudices. Johnson is notable because he represents a rare combination in British literary narratives. He typifies possibly one of the most representative of voices from the nation's culture, one rarely heard in fiction until very recently, that of an author expressing his own indigenous working-class, everyday experience.

His texts are never straightforward, often appearing contradictory. This is intentional. Johnson questions, almost in frustration, the assumptions of bourgeois narrative and critics: "But why should novelists be expected to avoid paradox any more than philosophers?" (Memoirs? 18). Clearly, he approached the task as if it mattered. This is the stuff of life and analysis. The texts offer an interpretative model woven into the simple "facts" of the plots. There are a number of crucial modes or patterns to his narratives. First, the plots are neither elaborate nor tightly focused as expositions of events. Second, his radicalism and socialistically inclined class-consciousness contend with traditionalism; they do so by raising critically the issues of gender relations, notions of honesty, and the possibility of an aesthetic consciousness. Third, he is committed to experimentalism and challenge both as a literary method and reality and as an agent of the ongoing change that is life. "Whether or not it can be demonstrated that all is chaos, certainly all is change: the very process of life itself is growth and decay at an enormous variety of rates. Change is a condition of life. Rather than deplore this or hunt the chimaerae of stability or reversal, one should perhaps embrace change as all there is. Or might be. For change is never for the better or for the worse; change simply is" (Memoirs? 17). Together all these elements create a remarkable mix: realistic ambitions, experimental structures and styles, moral honesty, radical class awareness, a notion of an almost ethical "truth" or authenticity, a sense of history in a material rather than narrative sense, and a romantic urge in terms of friendship and bonding. This extends beyond his solipsistic concerns, right from the first tentative novel.

(Resisting) Disintegration: The Novels

Travelling People won for Johnson the 1963 Gregory Award for best first novel of the year, with T. S. Eliot and Henry Reid among the judges. Its protagonist, mature student Henry Henry, remains a barely disguised portrait of Johnson. The plot charts an episode based upon the author's, a postdegree summer when, like Johnson, Henry works in a country club in Wales. On Henry's travels to Dublin (not featured in the narrative present, but alluded to in letters to his friend, Robert), he meets the manager of a country club, Trevor Tuckerson. On his return, jobless Henry takes up the offer and spends the summer in among the intrigues of the staff, dividing into two camps. He falls in love with Kim, a student involved with the owner, aging Maurie Bunde (named as pun). The denouement involves Maurie's death, Henry's consummation of his passion with Kim, and their joint sacking by Trevor, influenced by his appalling girlfriend, Mira.

The opening "Prelude" places the narrator in Shandean fashion in Tristram's chair, a telling literal and symbolic positioning of the narrator/author figure:

Seated comfortably in a wood and wickerwork chair of eighteenth-century Chinese manufacture, I began seriously to meditate upon the form of my allegedly full-time literary sublimations. Rapidly, I recalled the conclusions reached in previous meditations on the same subject: my rejection of stage-drama as having too many limitations, of verse as being unacceptable at the present time on the scale I wished to attempt, and of radio and television as requiring too many entrepreneurs between the writer and the audience; and my resultant choice of the novel as the form possessing fewest limitations, and closest contact with the greatest audience. (11) (3)

The Sternean reference and influence can be seen in the graying and black pages indicating the losing consciousness and death of Maurie Bunde. As Mackrell says, "the underlying intention is always deadly serious" (45), but she concludes, "The last device is obviously a deliberate lifting from Sterne and reminds us of the latter's wonderfully playful exploitation of the technological potential of the printed page, but it lacks inevitably, the originality and indeed the wit of Sterne's remorseless exposure of the novel's limitations, and like the rather clumsy sound words, succeeds only as a gesture rather than a radical subversion of our expectations ..." (47). For David John Davies, "the use of innovation is still uncertain and confused ... at times like the exuberance of a late student's enthusiasms" (73). To respond, firstly, Johnson's allusiveness is not random; it is always directed toward innovators or those concerned with the critical and technical difficulties of relating to reality in a constantly changing culture. Secondly, the chair is far more significant than has been commented upon critically to this point, since it derives from Laurence Sterne's "The Author's Preface" (202ff) where Tristram reflects upon his hatred of "set dissertations" (208), and the chair itself is compared to "wit and judgement" where the parts are seen "to answer one another" (209) as part of Tristram's recommendation of "dialectic induction" (206). Hence Johnson's preface outlines by its Shandean allusions the methodological and ideological approach to his fiction adopted by Johnson that would lead to him developing his own experimental forms. In the text the Shandean critique continues. While hitchhiking, Henry introduces himself to Trevor Tuckerson, later his boss at the Stromboli Club. Johnson reflects of Henry, "He paused at this perpetual social hurdle to see if he had to explain his parents' Shandean fixation with economy in nomenclature" (21). In the novel's world of commodification, dead dogs in transit to be boiled down for glue, and unemployed uncertainty, the Stromboli Club initially offers a symbol of paradise, but its realities negate its Edenic possibilities and, as Kanaganayakam notes, the "image of Paradise dissolves" (92). (4)

Later Johnson rejected Travelling People, refusing its republication, but it remains striking, with its melange of various styles and effects, its collage of methods and structures, and the multiple cultural references drawing from both the literary past and present. This includes gestures toward Joyce, explored by Mackrell (45), for she cites Joyce as motivation for Henry's visit to Dublin. The novel introduces many of the elements that would come to characterize Johnson's writing. He includes comic one-liners: "Henry judged that Crewe station was obsolete about fifty years before the railway was invented" (48). There are reflections which are observationally and morally instructive: "The people most to feared after a row or a crisis are those who behave, often after a very short interval, as though nothing had happened" (122). The text is self-reflexive (or referential), declaring its textual status, as when Henry travels on a train to Wales with a soldier and both are awakened: "The incident which awoke them is rather complex in the describing, so it would perhaps be as well if you paid very careful attention to the next paragraph" (49).

Johnson makes evident the boisterous and ultimately quarrelsome nature of the privileged class (not mentioned by Gordon in his commentary on Johnson's class resentment) in Henry's letter to Robert (62-63). The text offers no attempt at impartiality: "The blueblood sport here is pushing people into the pool, fully clothed: once one person is in, of course, the whole party goes in. This is the main function of the pool: swimming appropriately clad is almost a misuse of it. How wonderful it must be to have so much money that one can afford to disregard clothes so! They hold races across the pool on lilos, lying down, still clothed, and paddling with their hands" (63). Johnson's instinct concerning the presumptions of English class society was both acute and active. Despite his dismissive class placement, Gordon concedes that Johnson "was the archetypal professional writer in the most discriminating way" (157), but "was like a raging bull, a whale out of water, ultimately floundering fatally in the slightly cynical, very superior, oh so sophisticated literary world of London" (158). In contrast Bowker recollects Johnson's account of an "editor, a product of one of our grander universities, [who] began politely to explain to him why his book had been rejected. `I leaned over the desk and grabbed the little bugger by the throat and hauled him across the desk,' Johnson told me, `and I said, "What the fuck does a little cunt like you know about literature?"' He laughed with delight at the memory--it was the Cockney Bard versus the Oxbridge Philistines" (50).

The events of Albert Angelo (1964) are even more complex, concerning the social, emotional, and workplace traumas of a London supply teacher who moves to Islington after a failed love affair. Johnson contextualizes his own supply work in north London schools as both exterior and interior setting, but, in doing so, adapts the classroom and schoolyard ephemera and setting from Michel Butor Degres (1960). (5) Some themes or contexts are prefigured in a story in Statement against Corpses, "Statement," where the unnamed protagonist articulates a sense of himself as in crisis, between youth and adulthood. It is written from the viewpoint of a character being interviewed by the police after a road accident, with only his side transcribed. He attempts to explain his nocturnal meanderings with a friend in similar circumstances, between classes and dislocated. Significantly, almost exactly the same context and situation is reiterated and developed for several sections of Albert Angelo.

--I'm trying to tell you. I know you don't believe I went to college. But I'm a London boy, mate, I'm talking like this to you because you din't go to university. See? I can put the right accent on for the right people. Makes you so's you can talk to everybody but be accepted by nobody. That's also why it was good for me and Terry to go down west tonight, like the old times, only there was two of us now and we went in the Minor Terry runs, and the girls ain't on the streets any more.... (Corpses 41)

Like both Johnson himself, and the eponymous protagonist of Albert Angelo, the short story's narrator works as a disillusioned teacher in a Secondary Modern school, the lower part of the two-tier system under the selection system in Britain that lasted into the 1970s. Each of these teachers (particularly Johnson himself) seems ill at ease with his role. Despite Albert's apparent qualifications as an architect (a complex issue in terms of this detail's later significance in the text), he too works as a supply teacher. Johnson's move from his parents' in Barnes to Islington is a real-life experience explored by Ghose (23) and echoed in Albert's own move and the initial decision-making by Albert about the pattern of his life, such as mundane details as when he plans to meet his parents. He fills his life with a synthesis of existential inquiry and Beckettian angst, the latter being politicized by the former. Coming after a failed relationship, about which Albert mopes and the narrative reflects, the plot explores an ensuing transitional phase, a rites of passage and a recovery of bachelor life. Albert trawls through the city with another young friend, Terry (these scenes are also a development of the story "Statement"); significantly both are suffering intensely from a period of postrelationship angst that creates a kind of male camaraderie and bonding. Superficially, although these might appear to be angry young (white) men figures, more occurs in Johnson's characterization. These men establish the potentially threatening alterity of women, but in their nocturnal meandering they face the diasporic realities of another form of alterity, the colonial (or postcolonial) presence in the underprivileged quarters of London of Cypriots, West Indians, and Africans, among others. The very technical complexity of the novel's form renders more than a naturalistic account or a notion of liberal intervention. Its viewpoint is various. Its interrogative structure suggests a broader intersection with these everyday realities of urban existence. London is narrowed to the mundane consciousness of various inter-subjectivities rather than any grand narrative.

The novel advances Johnson's sophistication and experimentation. The narrative offers many variations and perspectives. A number of semiliterate essays from Albert's pupils, invited to offer their opinion of the hated temporary teacher, break down his viewpoint, offering a glimpse of his violence and anger in response to their unruliness. One pupil outlines an ongoing feud with another where: "I was sent to mr. Harrison and he made us be friends and from that day on we were friends. Next day we had a friendly fight and I busted is nose. FIN" (63); and in "The Killer Master" another pupil records: "Suddenly the boy behind me says something to the boy next to him. The Master in a deadly rage got hold of the boy by his hair, and dragged him to the front of the class where he brutally hit him the boy fell to the floor moaning then the master kicked him, the class by then were shouting their heads off. With that he walked out of the class and that was the last we ever saw of him" (65-66). (6)

Johnson includes holes cut in his text, parallel columns of print representing simultaneous thought and action in the classroom, cartographic battlefield symbols to indicate the conflict between two teachers in a class debate (138-39), and the found object of a spiritualist and medium's card from Chapel Market (120-21), a real street adjacent to Johnson's actual home in Myddleton Square, posing similar questions to the Victorian novel of health, romance, inheritance, and fate. Johnson plays with the central assumption of the found object. The proleptic holes cut into two pages appear to offer a reading of the future, as a textual segment that can be anticipated. On its first encounter after a sectional division, one reads "struggled to take back his knife, and inflicted on him a mortal wound above his right eye (the blade penetrating to a depth of two inches) from which he died instantly" (from 149, reading in advance 153). This is shocking on first encounter. After turning the page, one reads "Terry" as the apparent subject of the sentence, pointing to an appalling outcome of the street confrontation in which he and Albert are involved (151). On turning the page one discovers that this is "Frizer" in his barroom brawl leading to the death of "Christopher Marlowe, Poet, February 1564 to May 1593" (153). This device offers a sense of bifurcation, paradox, and plural possibilities of reading, but also a historical perspective. The parallel columns represent a synchronicity of action, speech, and internalized narrative thought from various viewpoints. Most famously--often the sole feature for which the author is both remembered and dismissed--Johnson emerges into the text, breaking the frame of the literary device, fragmenting the separation of narrative and real-life identifications with "an almighty aposiopesis" (167). The explosive phrase, "OH, FUCK ALL THIS LYING!" (163) is followed by a ranting confession of authorial intention. On first reading this is still shocking. Through this strategy of disrupting readerly expectations and normative structures, Johnson can create the conditions for a critical awareness. As Bhabha says, "The image is only ever an appurtenance to authority and identity; it must never be read mimetically as the appearance of reality. The access to the image of identity is only ever possible in the negation of any sense of originality or plentitude ..." (51). Johnson appears to negate both in his text as if to dissociate it from the authority and fixed identity, the movement away from both of which is arguably the central dilemma for Albert.

Subsequently, Johnson admits openly that the architectural profession was an "objective correlative" for poetry (and Albert a device for representing himself) and the need for the poet to work outside of his commitment to art while admitting "this device you cannot have failed to see creaking, ill-fitting at many places, many places, for architects manques can earn livings very nearly connected with their art, and no poet has ever lived by his poetry, and architecture has a functional aspect quite lacking in poetry, and simply, architecture is just not poetry" (168). If such characterization is imperfect and the whole paradigm of creating other identities is prone to error, nevertheless things may be said obliquely and Johnson does observe closely social contexts and the ideological bases of human interaction. This is his other "objective correlative." His textual dismissal of failed parallels is not significant in terms of ineptitude, unless artists are committed to art for its own sake, because what is significant for Johnson are wider realities such as people being forced by labor and capital requirements to conform. Artistic struggle does not potentiate itself in narrow plot features, but within the text's political reality. Johnson's failings are a device to draw attention elsewhere. Once he has abandoned the characterized mediation of Albert's identity, Johnson uses the revelation as an opportunity to hector his reader in irritation as if engaging in a one-sided ideological harangue with the intellectually resistant:

--So it's nothing to you that I am rabbeting on about being a poet and having to earn a living in other ways: but what about your own sector of the human condition then? Eh? Eh? Eh eh eh!

--It is about frustration.

--The poetry comes from the suffering. (169)

Although the apotheosis as an extreme aesthetic act is well noted by critics, the novel's broader contexts and range of elaborations of ideological motifs pass unnoticed in the main. The break in the fiction is taken as an act of critical apoplexy or frustration, and the nuancing of world conditions that has led to this rupture has been effaced or made marginal. The condition of being within social contexts is both structurally and thematically foregrounded so that Johnson's novels balance the personal reflection with a sociological account of urban living.

Arguably, Albert Angelo remains Johnson's most experimental work. He writes after his aposiopesis, "--A page is an area on which I may place any signs I consider to communicate most nearly what I have to convey: therefore I employ, within the pocket of my publisher and the patience of my printer, typographical techniques beyond the arbitrary and constricting limits of the conventional novel. To dismiss such techniques as gimmicks, or to refuse to take them seriously, is crassly to miss the point" (176). Glyn White concludes this is "the novel of his which we can least afford to forget since it contains a full complement of striking experiments, offers its own bludgeoning response to conventional criticism and can be seen to prefigure many of Johnson's later developments" (143). Yet, there are further subtleties often elided by commentators. Far less commented upon than the almost infamous apotheosis is the plural, conflictual, and transitive society in which Johnson locates his characters of various origins and cultures. From recounting his own working-class west London origins in a quasi-Beckettian pastiche, failed architect Albert conveys impressionistically the trauma of imposing in his role as a supply teacher an authority in which he cannot believe. Perhaps significantly for contemporary critical sensibilities, in terms of a sustainable grounds for his recovery, of all white British writers, Johnson, as I detail below, seems acutely attuned to recognizing and critiquing the power and hegemony of the imperial/colonial narrative and its collapse in the postwar world, rather than its narrativization. He offers no trace of nostalgia for the lost bourgeois stability of imperialism that to some degree permeates even supposedly radical novelists touching upon similar contexts or even cultural motifs, often marking the coordinates of a novelistic bourgeois self-identification both familiar and repulsive to Johnson. Albert confronts the conflicts of a classic inner-city London school setting, with absconding adolescents between cultures. In describing the problems to a friend, he opines his fate and negates the romantic portrayal of ethnic presence, doubting the veracity of To Sir, with Love:

"I told you the sods pinched my pen a couple of weeks ago? I was reading this novel recently about a teacher in the east end who won over the kids by love and kindness, morality and honesty, against tremendous odds--talk about sentiment and wish-fulfilment! I can just see my lot coming to me at the end of term with a present--or even my pen back--addressed to sir, with their love! These things just don't mean anything to these kids in this school: that's what so frightening, and I've not been frightened in a school before. Not frightened by their violence, though that's bad enough, but just by these unknown forces of character." (130)

He rejects Braithwaite's notion of the imposition of cultured values. Braithwaite's own narrative says, "On my way home that evening I walked to the bus with Miss Blanchard, and told her about what I had done. She was dubious about the wisdom of imposing unfamiliar social codes on the children, yet, as I had already committed myself, she hoped it would work" (58). His protagonist gets his girl. Albert is toyed with and rejected by Miss Crossthwaithe (alluding to and a pun on Braithwaite, surely). In a class debate about the children's speech, Johnson records, "The offence to Miss Crossthwaithe's lovely ears, Mr. Albert suggested, came about because these children were not speaking as she spoke herself, these children were not imposing the same pattern on their worlds as she imposed on hers; for who approves, Mr. Albert quoted Petronius without attribution, of conduct unlike his own?" (138).

Underlying Johnson's critique of the world is both his recognition and avowal of a cycle of violence and oppression, and his indication of bourgeois complicity in maintaining this pattern, a framework from which they profit. This applies to the apparently polite, but actually sarcastic and indifferent headmaster who oversees this degeneration. Johnson in his engagement with the reality of playground violence and immigrant cultural self-identification attempts something of "the enormous detail, vitality, size, of this complexity, of life" (170). Johnson records the transitions from colonial to postcolonial realities in their culturally explicit and marginalized contexts. His postcoloniality is complex, a social and ideological space that can convey both a critical awareness of those imperial/ colonial structures and their problematic continuation in social relations and identity formation.

Early in his classroom duties, Albert faces practical difficulties in the classroom. His first obstacle is to integrate into his classes four Greek Cypriot children who have no English language skills or knowledge. His response is to "Give them games to play with in the formal lessons, books to look at, and personal coaching, ha, and try to give as many lessons as possible that do not involve reading or writing without depriving the other children. Like painting" (33). Albert calls the register in real time, his words and actions displayed in double columns, with thought-responses italicized alongside the curt, realistic exchanges; this allows Johnson to mark this process of naming and response, the cultural location and preference within which the teacher is implicated. In a textual, physically represented sense Johnson conveys a dialectical interplay that Freire summarizes when he says, "The word is more than just an instrument which makes dialogue possible; accordingly, we must seek its constitutive elements. Within the word we find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is sacrificed--even in part--the other immediately suffers" (75). Johnson radicalizes the interaction of these dimensions graphically on the page in Albert Angelo in the mundane and habitual act of taking the class register. Ideological permeation and interplay is thus implied subtly and obliquely:

"Eray Mustapha"

"Yes, sir."

"Eray? Which one's Eray? Can you understand any more English,


"Yes, sir."

Accent like any other North Londoner,s. must have been born here.

"Good. John Nash."

John Nash and Regent Street and the Quadrant and All Souls' and the Prince Regent and the Haymarket Theatre and bits of Buckingham Palace, you think, John Nash.

"Yes, sir."

"Andreas Neo ... Neophytos."

"Yes, sir." (36)

Albert's commentary set beside the verbalization provides by its interrelationship several crucial responses: the acknowledgment of language as the prime factor in subjugation, the cultural density of environment, and the concept of history, and in his final hesitation and uncertainty, he divides the literal approval, the marking of presence of the pupil, and so his ability to redeem his presence. Johnson, by this juxtaposition of the spatial sense of the page and his architectural motif, demonstrates the inscription of power upon a culture, the appropriation of naming by royal and privileged discourses, the hegemony of the familiar, the barriers to interpenetration that culture and authority create. The architectural reminders of the imperial expansion and its profits are overlaid onto his consciousness and his value system. The primary conflict is between himself as an albeit-unwilling agent of those cultural forces and the children themselves. Disruptions of authority and subjugations are central characteristics of the novel against which Albert charts the potential for collective, plural dimensions. Responding to the headmaster's correction of table manners, Albert reflects, again rejecting Braithwaite's model, "these children and their manners are the product of their environment, and therefore suit that environment. You are not sure enough of your own standards to take the responsibility of imposing them on these children for whom they would probably be quite inappropriate" (40).

Albert's contradictions delineate the ground of his growing awareness, the limitations he feels as to transforming his responses and the limitations of transcending them that come up against his own prejudice and incomprehension: "You set the rest of your class to read, and have the Cypriots out as a group. Eray Mustapha, whom you had hoped to use as an interpreter, you find speaks Turkish and can no more communicate with the Greeks than you can" (44). In one boys' school with a predominance of Afro-Carribean pupils, Albert comments that they are "Blacker than you would think possible, starred by teeth white as the weathered western face of Portland stone, eyes brown as brazil nuts." He teaches in a classroom with "A lean budgerigar in a rusting cage making untimely interruptions" (45). By the very paucity and cliched nature of Albert's metaphoric comparisons, Johnson highlights the protagonist's unfamiliarity with such figures and the very Western range of coordinates that create both his aesthetic and everyday understanding. The boys are objectified, appropriated to natural elements of a prerational presence, a move that serves as a reductive ratio of understanding for their blackness, their otherness, a familiarizing process that has an implicit trope of Western, Eurocentric placement. The budgerigar reminds one comically of the piracy involved in the colonial process, both as an imported product of that process that domesticizes the exotic, and as an ersatz, scaled-down version of the filmic convention of a parrot and pirate. It also evokes Braithwaite's first view of his teaching room, which appears to him like a "menagerie" (12). Also, in Albert's classroom literally the bird's comments both mock and subvert his assumption of authority. In the unruliness of the situation, the apparently liberal Albert reverts to a violence that depresses him, but he reflects, "You feel guilty, but suppress the feeling" (46). The emotional and intersubjective response is subordinated, nevertheless, "Even when you try to entertain you evoke little response from the boys. Yet you like them. You hate yourself" (46).

Albert moves on yet again and has to confront the limitations of his liberal concern and perception. Albert's third school in a week is off Holloway Road, in a run-down north London where "The five-and six-storey schools in this part stand above the three-storey streets like chaotic castellations" (47), and the allusion to power structures is evident. His own powerlessness contrasts his part in "trying to help to teach to take places in a society you do not believe in, in which their values already prevail rather than yours. Most will be wives and husbands, some will be whores and ponces: it's all the same; any who think will be unhappy ..." (47). Conventional roles, patterned hegemonic behavior and the limitation of its subversion are key to Johnson's and Albert's notion and thematizing of power structures. The school, and its educative process, like the image of the castle Johnson uses, symbolizes itself as a paradigm of modernity and the colonial urge. After the weekend break he talks of religion, the human condition and "How can you think that God is good when you learn in History lessons about terrible wars which have killed thousands of people, and made thousands more, and even millions more, suffer?" (55).

After this initiation into the inner-city school system, the narrative follows Albert on his nocturnal, chthonic meanderings that chart the new subterranean city as if ironically to negate the Victorian philanthropic charting of the underclasses. From all-night cafes in Cable Street that evoke the stand against fascism and where "There must be cafes for ten or a dozen nationalities--Maltese, West Indians, Somalis, West Africans, Turkish and Greek Cypriots, and so on ..." (51). In contrast to Albert's feelings of commonality, the children describe their lives in terms of racial prejudice and violence in ill-written essays incorporated in the narrative but which culminate in the violence of the teacher figure. Ironically in ark atmosphere of growing conflict, where a band of boys from different cultures who call themselves corps drill militaristically, Albert reenacts this descent into control and victimizing others by adopting violence himself, adding to an ongoing spiral of subjection and objectification. The control of the past and history is essential in this process of domination since, as Albert ruminates, "The past of a man's life could always be controlled in this way, be seen to have a fixed order because it was passed, had passed: almost always, that is, for when it could not be controlled then madness was not far away. When something was passed, it was fixed, one could come to terms with it; always the process of imposing the pattern, of holding back the chaos" (133).

In reacting to the migrants he encounters, Albert's irritations are social ones, but the school context confirms that in Albert there is art undercurrent of a need for authority and order despite his liberalism. Of his pupils' unruliness he concludes, "You have to establish your own set of rules, let alone your own obedience of those rules, your own discipline. Which takes all the time, and an incredible amount of nervous energy. It's like I'm working at the frontier of civilisation all the time" (132), and it is clear this is a social process that absorbs and entails all cultures and identities although the rhetoric of blame is evident, a factor explored far more comprehensively in his last novel.

Trawl attempts a version of autobiography, relating the facts of a voyage Johnson undertook on a fishing boat in the Barents Sea with the intention of writing such a book. For Hassam, Johnson writes "diary fiction" that characterizes the author where he is loosening "the autobiographical pact within the novel, or rather its potential, [which] is framed by a fictional pact with the reader" (35). Aboard the trawler the protagonist reviews his life's hurt, betrayal, and failure. His seasickness and confinement to his cabin create the conditions for self-analysis. There is a dominant theme that informs this accumulation of personal, often obsessive minutiae. For me, it becomes clear the character's coordinates are those of Johnson himself. The business of the sea journey intrudes at first peripherally as noises into his cabin: "CRAANGK! the towing block goes against my head, it seems, even inside my head, sometimes, it seems ... the pills I have do nothing for me, do not work, for me ..." (8). Moving from the perceptually constricted interrogative definition of the Cartesian ego, with which he begins tentatively, Johnson moves to long passages of self-interrogation about the past in a quasi-stream-of-consciousness style, with lacunae representing sleep, doubt, and so forth marked by variable lengths of midline points. As Hassam notes, Johnson's narrator is equivocal about either facts themselves or their meanings (111). The past acquires narrative complexity and the reflection of others. Gradually, contemporary external perspectives reemerge as the narrator recovers and ventures from his psychic cocoon. There, Johnson discovers within the patterns of otherness, a continuation of the sense of almost irredeemable isolation and severance that ties together his reflections and thus the text: "On the whaleback men are busy: when I try to find a place amongst them, I am for the first time cursed for my idleness, the first expressed resentment of my pleasure-tripping. Just when I want to be, think of myself as being, one of them, up and around, there is no place for me, no place, I am replaced in my isolation yet again. At least my bunk is my own, I'll go back there, who only an hour ago rose, from my new non-isolation" (179). Johnson's own language and that of the sailors, even in their jocularity, reconfirm his exclusion. The patterns of past minutiae reassert themselves in the apparently insignificant detail of the present. In this self-obsessed circularity and pathological drama of a return to fragmenting identity, the reader is reminded of Louis-Ferdinand Celine and more broadly the nouveau roman as intertextual precursors. As present, past, and reflection intermingle around the pervasive seasickness induced by the voyage, a general unease relates all of these intersecting narrative times at least tangentially to Johnson's frustrations at and responses to the human condition. Intertextually, Johnson develops the motif and substance of the isolated voyager from both Michel Butor's La modification (1957) and Alain Robbe-Grillet's The Voyeur (1959).

There are central themes and motifs to the apparent meanderings of his mind as he recalls his experiences in the war as a child, early romances, and a traumatic university drama tour in Europe, where another relationship founders. Two thematic clusters are crucial to properly evaluating the text. First is identity formation and second is a sense of underlying ideological contexts. Using the terminology of the literal war that had waged during his childhood, in Trawl Johnson positions himself polemically. Rather than seeing him expressing empty and dull rhetorical flourishes, I see in his perspective the suggestion of a sociological critique underpinning many observations: "I now realise the point at which I became aware of class distinction, of differences between people which were nothing to do with age or size, aware in fact of the class war, which is not an outdated concept, as those of the upper classes who are not completely dim would con everyone else into believing it is. The class war is being fought as viciously and destructively of human spirit as it has ever been in England: I was born on my side, and I cannot and will not desert: I became an enlisted man consciously but not voluntarily at the age of about seven" (53). What still makes Trawl uncomfortable reading for many is his idea of a class attrition and unfairness directed at the dispossessed by the very class embodied by most readers and potential critics. The mundane material forming Johnson's narrative, so often attacked as inconsequential, contributes to a weighty variant of a retrospective bildungsroman if one accedes to the possibility of a quotidian radicalism from reconceiving the apparently inconsequential. These are the patterns of everyday existence of the victims of such oppresive social dynamics. For Johnson sees some purpose emerging against the odds, unexpectedly. "Nothing there to precipitate it ... But everything, building up on this voyage, all the thinking, collectively, accumulatively, must have led to this sudden freedom I feel now, relievedly, relieved of all the thinking" (166). The material works upon him as a mass of perceptual and emotional processing, and in what is almost its dialectical negation, a clarification occurs, albeit a temporary and fragile one. Certainly as Hassam says, Johnson is "questioning at the thematic level but ultimately demonstrating at the level of structure the instability of those generic boundaries by which a culture legitimates and privileges certain forms of discourse" (160). Such discourses for Johnson are mostly embodied in institutions and particular kinds of individuals.

The specific, localized raison d'etre for confronting his failed romances and sexual encounters is that Johnson anticipates a significant new relationship and wishes to avoid past error. This is derived from his real-life experience: "this is the best thing she has done for me, Ginnie, that I am more natural now, whatever nature is, but I know what I mean, and for any of the earlier ones, others, I would not have felt this, she releases me, Ginnie" (169). His thoughts are of Virginia Kimpton (later Johnson) who becomes his wife and is also referred to in See the Old Lady Decently. Both transition and desire are the underlying motifs of the novel. Johnson maps, coordinates, and charts past failings onto his present narrative of the voyage, offering the reader Johnson's own parallel inner voyage of self-discovery almost as an aesthetic act of contrition.

The aesthetic rendition of everyday life continues in The Unfortunates and has attracted similar critical dismissal to that applied to Trawl. Of The Unfortunates Johnson explains straightforwardly and simply in the Burns interview, "I used to rely on this man, Tony Tillinghurst. He looked at the first two novels and improved them by his suggestions, he acted as a rein of my self-indulgence. He died of cancer and it's all recounted in The Unfortunates" (91). However, the most striking issue is the nature of this text as an object. As I explain in B. S. Johnson: A Critical Reading, the novel consists of "twenty-seven unbound sections (paginated separately) contained in a box (from which one can infer a reference to funereal rites) that can be shuffled at will (apart from the `FIRST' and `LAST' sections, which are fixed points much like birth and death) according to the wishes or choice of the reader. Moreover, it is the first of Johnson's books that concedes a significant other as the focus and axis of both structure and thought. In this sense it can be seen to initiate a new phase and suggests an aesthetic nuance. As a formal object the novel draws attention to itself, intensifying its own presence as if creating a Situationist moment, something seen partially in the devices in previous novels such as Albert Angelo" (37). The response to this so-called "book-in-a-box" is hesitant even from his closest associates. Ghose says he argued on the issue with Johnson: "All right, I say, so the loose sheets in the box mirror the idea of randomness but after I've shuffled them and shuffled them and closed the box what there is in my mind is a biography whose form is really no different from David Copperfield because after I've read David Copperfield what I have in my mind is not a chronological life but a group of random images. Bollocks, he says ..." (33). Some are hostile. Mackrell concludes that "neither the form nor the material of the novel offers more than a superficial experience of indeterminacy ..." (55). Nevertheless, perhaps as Tredell indicates "rearrangement and rereading can constantly produce fresh surprises and juxtapositions." (35)

The Unfortunates records an epiphany of sorts during a visit to Nottingham to report on a football match, a mundane experience for him at the time of writing. The text is about memory and guilt, recalling his promise to a dying friend to memorialize him, but until the apparently unconscious and unexpected reminder of past times shared, he has shirked his task. He invokes the initial relationship, Tony's research, his family life, his illness, his death, and the return to selfhood that all these memories entail for Johnson, facing one's egocentric nature. The alternative is an image of death:

But I know this city! This green ticket-hall, the long office half-rounded at its ends, that ironic clerestory, brown glazed tiles, green below, the same, the decorative hammerbeams supporting nothing, above, of course! I know this city! How did I not realize when he said, Go and do City this week, that it was this city! Tony. His cheeks sallowed and collapsed round the insinuated bones, the gums shrivelled, was it, or shrunken, his teeth now standing free of each other in the unnatural half yawn of his mouth, yes, that mouth that had been so full-fleshed, the whole face, too, now collapsed, derelict, the thick-framed glasses the only constant, the mouth held open as in a controlled scream, but no sound. ("FIRST" 1)

The anonymity of the city and Johnson's work pattern are shattered by the specificity of Tony's death. The past is reinvoked by the moment of emergence, a transition; like the city which triggers his memory, his conscious understanding is vulnerable to disintegration marked by the lacunae of whiteness, passages without words or symbols which characterize many of Johnson's works. Clearly, the exit from the station offers both a literal emergence into the urban reality, but represents much more than simply a physical act. Johnson passes through a spatial symbol of constricted (or suppressed) emotion into a literal environment where he must reconfront his past loss and fears. He seeks to defer his unease by patterning his behavior, by identifying a series of signs, which invoke notions of familiarity and constructive solidity. He begins the reconstruction of the present through that of the past itself, which reinvokes the human agency of death, reflecting the mood of the narrator rather than the presence of the city or the past existence memorialized in the narrative of Tony himself with his illness: "Covered courtyard, taxis, take a taxi, always take a taxi in a strange city, but no, I know this city! The mind circles, at random, does not remember, from one moment to another, other things interpose themselves, the mind's [Text incomplete] The station exit on a bridge, yes, of course, and the blackened gantries rise like steel gibbets above the midland red wall opposite" ("FIRST" 1). At the exit, as from birth, he is faced with what can be read as symbols and reminders of death.

Johnson memorializes Tony by recording his words on a newly acquired tape recorder, on the pretext of requiring assistance with an article. This deception conceals a reversal of Tony's role, its negation, since these words, once recorded, retain no intersubjective or genuine purpose. In themselves they convey an awful reality, but less through their literal meaning than through the change in Tony's body and physical abilities. Both the words on the tape and those in Johnson's book preserve the contextual truth of Tony's death and confer upon it an awful recognition for the narrator. Haying recorded the detail of human frailty, their recovery redefines his memory, constituting an objective record of decline. Through Johnson's mediation, Tony's become a bleak promissory note, a self-negation:

His fingers tampering with the mike, and he kept switching it off, perhaps it was too much for him, the thought I won't be here, perhaps he had this thought inside him, insistently, by now, all hope gone, saying, I won't be here to see this, or that, or whatever, even to see this article we were talking about, perhaps I was too ghoulish, in wanting to have his voice, the reason I had brought the recorder, though I did genuinely want his help with the article, too. Ghoulish, but not now, no, I have the man's voice still, the shake in it that was not there before, the sippings, the pauses, long sighs, I remember so clearly, have played it enough times, his voice, or the last vestiges of it, it's not that clear, a new slur, too, but his voice, his voice I still have, yes, and what he said, what he was. ("Then they had moved" 7)

As if to confirm and emphasize that things can be said in a nonverbal and nonliteral fashion, the narrator reminds himself constantly of the inconsequentiality of most of their shared words. He tries to recall their joint conversations and specifically Tony's utterances. He cannot, even though he recalls that Tony exemplifies the role of literary advisor and appeared happy in his own roles of man of letters, fellow poetry editor, wit, thinker, and critic. All are essentially verbal. Ironically, the substance of the words is lost apart from the bathos of the tape recording. This paradox of the text's relationship with the world of our expressiveness is a chief thematic concern. The loss of words traumatizes Johnson; he is overwhelmed by the recognition of the common desolation of approaching death, a passing away of the power of language. The assertion "what he said, what he was" about Tony thus is unconvincing, trailing from the specificity of the incident, of the suppressed emotional responses.

The collapse of discursive form results from the physical effects of Tony's illness, graphically detailed:

His face appeared dry, the skin as if carelessly powdered, in places, his hair had grown suddenly thinner, there was dandruff in great yellow-grey flakes and his teeth were slightly more noticeable, for he had lost weight, a stone or more. His breathing, too, was affected, there were now great pauses in his conversation as he sighed to the limit of his lungs, unnatural pauses, unsyntactical, which gave his words curious emphases and dramatizations, bathos, together with these other pauses when he had to take a drink to moisten his mouth. ("Then they had moved" 3)

The pauses are symptomatic and expressive of life conditions and are not syntactical. Curiously these symptoms satisfy the function of the identification of Tony in a more enduring way than all the words exchanged between the two men and make the impediment of Tony's language capability curiously appropriate despite their representation of personal loss. Embodiment, disease, and death reassert the fundamental boundaries of the material. The box does a similar thing for the text. Words fail them both. For Johnson, the rigmarole of the match report is habitual, stripped of passion, emotion, or any continuing relevance apart from money. It erodes his own creative presence, revived only by this act of memento mori.

Of the relationship with Tony, Johnson records domestic settings to ritualize and solemnize Tony's death. He refuses to sanctify and symbolize any allegory of passing, preferring to create a kind of textual and materialist version of cryptal art. On the occasion of Tony's first London visit, Johnson reflects being unable to resist going beyond the actual to create characterization that distorts the occasion. He refutes this fallacy, parading his own textual transgression to display how the aesthetic urge can deviate from a truthful reflection:

And he would heave himself from that black divan, and wash as much as he thought appropriate, how can I know how much he washed, and he little ate if at all for that breakfast I had prepared for us. I sentimentalize again, the past is always to be sentimentalized, inevitably, everything about him I see now in the light of what happened later, his slow disintegration, his death. The waves of the past batter at the sea defences of my sandy sanity, need to be safely pictured, still, romanticized, prettified. ("I had a lovely flat then" 2)

The aesthetic tradition and such "prettified" memories represent an aspect of his inability to confront death or understand its nature and significance. Johnson catches himself trying to invest his memory with significance from a reading of the mundane, conjuring a belated wedding present to himself from Tony and June on the occasion of Tony's last visit before his debilitating illness to the Angel, Islington in London. He finds he is unconvinced by his own responses, highlighting a novelistic trap: "It was good, yes, though we did not use it until our electric one failed, but for some uses, in some ways, it was better than the electric one, that's true, handier, as well, how I try to invest anything connected with him now with as much rightness, sanctity, almost, as I can, how the fact of his death influences every memory of everything connected with him" ("At least once he visited us" 1).

The bulk of the text thematizes or supplements the initial transitional movement, with its rupture of the pattern of normality, fractured by Johnson's recognition and reassertion of the past. Johnson as a figure and his memories emerge from the station as if from Tony's mouth, terrified at its own impending dissolution, offering a synthesis of periods of traumatic suppressed emotions. Johnson explains that "the dead past and the living present interacted and transposed themselves in my mind" (Memoirs? 24), and the box and sections of the novel rehearse and repeat that movement. Understanding death involves mapping a vast landscape, both of the past and an uncharted territory. Johnson has only the interiority of his present consciousness and a chronicle of past events, a series of transformations in both his own life and that of Tony and his family.

The past is not simply concerned with Tony; as I say in my article "(Re)-acknowledging B. S. Johnson's Radical Realism, or Re-publishing The Unfortunates," "Death runs parallel (something accentuated by the technical trick of these moments passing through each other) with other transitions: of publication, Tony's PhD success, childbirth, and Wendy's infidelity" (47). The implicit guilt in Johnson's narrative is both offset and yet deepened by the nostalgic repetition of the opening movement and feelings. Johnson does this because it is as close as he can come to retrieving Tony, while accepting that his focus still centers on his own past and emotional loss, as it did in his time of knowing Tony. This recurrence displaces periodically the narrative he promised his friend, and yet by doing so, repeats the pattern of their engagement with each other. Johnson recalls the triviality of Tony's illnesses and his suspicion of Tony's hypochondria. Johnson's realization of the severity of his friend's illness offers a paradigm of the guilt underlying his attempt at his friend's recovery in literary terms. Johnson recuperates his own limitations and self-absorption:

The first thing that brought it home to me, was that he was too ill to come down to London for the publication party of my novel, in my flat, the novel which was so much better for his work on it, for his attention to it. It was dedicated to them! This shocked me, I was annoyed, angry even, that he, that both of them, should find any excuse whatsoever for missing something so important, that its importance to me should not be shared by them, it made me think almost that he was backing out of his support for the book, my paranoia again, yes. But they sent a telegram, and a letter the next day, very apologetic, he was ill, but he still had faith in the book. ("Just as it seemed" 4)

Faced with his self-centeredness, Johnson finds that only the physical presence of the city appears to partially unify all elements of his ego, Tony, and the physical conditions of their lives: "Used to go shopping there, underneath the Town House, it is called, with Tony and June, sometimes, could go there again now, on my walking way, in this way, up there, it starts on rising ground, on ground having risen, rather, ha, make my way there, it's an object, it's an objective, it will pass the time" ("Cast parapet" 3). The objective change in people can be charted, but not retained as social space apparently can. Tony loses the power of sustained language and concentration. Tredell notes astutely the transformation in Tony, away from a position where, as an English literary academic, "A large part of his discursive identity is provided by literary criticism" (37). Ironically, of course, this is a position that Johnson scorns.

There is a sense of greater forces. In the novel, nature, which he declares as chaotic, seems to defy the moment of funereal celebration and mourning, to resist the chaos of its own arbitrariness; the narrator recalls the departure from the mortuary:

Someone gave us a lift back to the house, I forget who, but it was packed, three or four of us in the back, the car, and as we went away up the hill, over the shoulder of the hill, I looked down and back at the crematorium, sunny but there was still a blue haze, perhaps from the sea, and there was a straight column rising from the chimney of the crematorium, it went straight upwards, as far as smoke can ever be said to move in a straight line, into the haze, the sky, it was too neat, but it was, it was. ("We were late for the funeral" 1)

Johnson's idea of nature and of being seems negated by the regularity of a monumental image reflecting what might be interpreted as a pathetic fallacy. (7) As a narrator he adheres to factuality in a manner that is undercut by his unnecessary repetition that marks the end of the passage above. The factuality of the experiential validates narrative integrity and authenticity, for as Nathalie Sarraute says, "The `true fact' has indeed an indubitable advantage over the invented tale. To begin with, that of being true. This is the source of its strength of conviction and forcefulness" (63).

The emphasis upon the physical presence of the book reemphasizes the physical presence and effects of language and its failings. The aleatory presence of nature is subverted to provide the partial form of the novel--the shuffleable chapters--resisted by the designated first and last chapters and moreover contained in the box. Here we conceive of life, death, burial (coffin) in the form or object of the novel, itself a form that absorbs life into the containment of the death it represents metonymically. The box resists the act of narrative and yet opens the way for it; nature involves decay and rebirth. In the process of the limited choice of placing the unbound chapters of the book, passing them into one another, the reader participates in the reenactment of a choice that suggests the transformations by which man attempts to assume a responsibility for his fate. Each can shuffle them about and achieve his own random order. In this way the whole novel reflects the randomness of the material: it is itself a physical tangible metaphor for the randomness and the nature of cancer. "Now I did not think then, and do not think now, that this solved the problem completely. The lengths of the sections were really arbitrary again; even separate sentences or separate words would be arbitrary in the same sense" (Memoirs? 25-26). To shuffle is to pass the objective through itself and reorder not only its meaning, but its occurrence. Words and sentences can be set together in different ways. One senses Johnson hopes, but doubts, that they are defined by their place in the currents of space and time, which pass through them. The denial of the reader's possibility of absolute choice in the book's reconfiguration is intentional and significant. It offers a process by which control and order are anticipated and yet frustrated, mirroring the relationship of the subject with nature (of which cancer is an indifferent part multiplying within the subject). Life remains contingent. He describes Tony's move as a postgraduate to a rented house where his research and lifestyle seem ordered, but the surroundings have their own trajectory and disorder. The idea of growth in the garden is both natural and yet uncontained, like the cancerous growths, which destabilize Tony's intellect and Johnson's sanguinity:

The house itself was perhaps mid-Victorian, with a bay window, small, two up and two down, kitchen and bathroom built on half-width at the back, so that there was a common concrete area with the next house and a shared garden, their garden had shoulder-high shrubs and growths of some kind, or higher, unkempt, and Tony and I laughed at the idea of him gardening, as I remember, at the idea of him wanting to impose some order on this overgrowth. He worked in the front room, had his books around him, did he say for the first time all his books were with him, now they had a house. ("Then he was doing research" 1)

On one level Johnson reminds us that man and thought exist within nature as integral, uncontrolled elements. Rationality and control through knowledge represented by Tony's books offer only an illusion of framing the disorder of nature and its resistance to man, but, like the garden, an ontological truth is undiminished and unmediated by such epistemic thinking as Tony's.

Following his period of confessional prose Johnson ditched the self-evidently autobiographical basis and began what almost constitutes a paradigm shift with House Mother Normal. That novel and Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry inscribe a world as if painted with broad brushstrokes, verging on comic-book perspective, with exaggerated and yet apparently simplistic characterization. This is a landscape of comic desperation with its sense of human absurdity and helplessness. Nevertheless, as Johnson explains when interviewed by Burns, these narratives were planned while writing his first novel in September 1959: "During that time I had ideas for two more novels which became House Mother Normal and Christie Malry" (85). The first, House Mother Normal, plays with a sparse presentation, turning to dark comedy by narrating successively events at an old people's home from various viewpoints. Johnson explains, "What I wanted to do was to take an evening in an old people's home, and see a single set of events through the eyes of not less than eight old people" (Memoirs? 26). The text can only be fully understood on completion and much of the novel's meaning is deferred until that point. Apart from the House Mother, the mischievous and malign matron of the establishment, who introduces the text and concludes with twenty-two pages, each geriatric is featured for exactly twenty-one pages. The narratives--for in a multiperspectival sense they must be regarded as plural in that they are simultaneous experiences of the same episode--of an hour in an evening in an old people's home, are each paginated separately but also sequentially in their bound progression. There is a short introduction and final section of twenty-two pages for the House Mother herself. Together they build and convey both through words and the very pattern of expression on the page surface a contextualized view of the bizarre activities and cruelties of the home, although Mackrell comments that the pensioners "all appear to be concentrating far more on their own past memories than on what is happening around them, and thus to some extent are locked in their own private worlds. These worlds, however, are portrayed with vivid and convincing detail" (56). Bare white lacunary sections represent various conditions: forgetfulness, inattention, sleep, and various stages of senility. Thus Johnson conveys the blankness of their existence. Age awards gravitas despite the present indignities suffered by the elderly inmates: "The dignity of the old people in House Mother Normal is partly theirs as members of the generation that fought on the Somme, and who have survived only to face death again in the modern equivalent of the workhouse" (Parrinder 125).

All of the pensioners sing a peculiar song of the House Mother's devising and this appears with alterations (apart from those contingent upon memory lapse or senility and therefore deficient in some form) on the same page in each first-person account. Similarly the accounts end with a reference to the manipulative manager of the home--apart from the case of the accounts of the most senile pair of George Hedbury and Rosetta Stanton--with slightly variable typographical placement indicating real time:
 Listen to her!
 No, doesn't matter. (27, 49, 71, 93, 115,137)

Each pensioner recalls the particularities of his or her past. Sarah Lamson recalls a First World War Christmas, "Knowing he was for the Front made him depressed, then suddenly he'd be so cheerful, such good company, he made it a wonderful Christmas for all ..." (12), and life as a widow when she was raped by her master in service, "I might even have enjoyed it, it was two years since Jim had gone, but he was so rough and arrogant with it, he seemed to think because I was a servant he could order me about in anything ..." (18). Charlie Edwards reminisces of his life as a musician in London: "Like the famous or notorious Mrs Marshall's All-Up Club in Frith Street. All that dust-up in the papers over bribing a police sergeant. They were all taking" (38-39). Ron Lamson, in great physical pain, struggles against memory loss: "I shall try again to remember my first fuck. The first is the one you never forget, they say. They are not right in my case, not for the first time, either" (88). In terms of the present, Charlie ruminates on the menial work he is obliged to undertake and the indignities of sometimes having to be changed like a baby. His belief in reason is almost completely marginalized by his dependency.

The framing tone of voice of the House Mother is insistently comedic and dark. It echoes in the other accounts. So does the gradual emerging picture of her oppressive regime. She makes the pensioners work for her profit, forces them to clear up, conduct a jousting tournament with mop and wheelchairs, and play pass the parcel with "shit" from her dog, Ralphie. She strips before them, and as a finale fornicates with Ralphie, the dog. Surely Johnson takes us beyond recognizably the "liberal" or covertly universal themes such as those Levitt identifies--"the effects of old age, the continuity of memory and experience, the human persistence in the process of dying" (581)--and Johnson moves the novel into a parody of both managerial and bureaucratic expediency that is generated by ego and yet justified on quasi-rational grounds. Society redeems itself by power and practice. As Johnson says, "At the end, there would be the viewpoint of the House Mother, an apparently `normal' person, and the events themselves would then be seen to be so bizarre that everything that had come before would seem `normal' by comparison. The idea was to say something about things we call `normal' and `abnormal' and the technical difficulty was to make the same thing interesting nine times over ..." (Memoirs? 26-27). The sexual detail is in part to challenge presuppositions about the elderly that desexualizes them and their past. Gloria Ridge recalls, "Careful, I'm always careful, never let them stick it up me without a rubber on, very careful all my life, never had no kids, never!" (100). This contrasts with the virtual blankness of the senility-influenced pages of George Hedbury and Rosetta Stanton. Rosetta's words are particularly painful, offering a glimpse into a version of solipsism and existential despair of quotidian poignancy. In the middle of random Welsh words from her childhood and a silence of five completely blank pages, she summons her complaint:
 I am
 Terrible, Ivy

 Now I can every
 word you say! am a prisoner in my
 self. It is terrible. The movement agonises me.
 Let me out, or I shall die (175-76)

What might be the point of Johnson's devices and form? Certainly, the collective supersedes the individual in the frame of the text and its account of the brutal, revealing, funny, and grotesque experiences at the home. As Ronald Hayman observes, "it is sometimes hard to construe the first eight monologues until their meaning is clinched by the ninth, which comes from the House Mother ..." (8). Only at the House Mother's prompting is the composite or overall picture of the novel completed. She confirms our suspicion with her sneering account, offering a tableau of ritual humiliations, cheap labor and beatings, all truly Dickensian and yet reconfirmed as contemporary scandals of abuse of the elderly are recognized as not uncommon. Parrinder claims that the House Mother "is an ordinary person and therefore combines various more or less understandable forms of corruption with an energetic habit of self-justification" (123). Certainly passing shit (a detail commented upon by Hayman but elided by most other critics apart from Mackrell) seems a metaphoric pun for the mess of life and its disgust. House Mother says, "I disgust them in order that they may not be disgusted with themselves. I am disgusting to them, in order to objectify their disgust, to direct it to something outside themselves, something harmless" (197). As Parrinder concludes, "Her monologue has a rhetorical purpose; she is an inveterate liar because she is a deliberate storyteller using her fantasies as a means of subduing and imposing on others. These fantasies have become an adequate substitute for reciprocal human relationships" (124).

In advance of her pornographic act, she explains the kind of apparently perverted game that she imposes upon her charges: "Sometimes for a change I have them doing Travel in the form of bizarre sexual antics" (199). At the end House Mother chides both the reader and, by implication, her creator when she concludes:

And here you see, friend, I am about to step outside the convention, the framework of twenty-one pages per person. Thus you see I too am the puppet or concoction of a writer (you always knew there was a writer behind it all? Ah, there's no fooling you readers!), a writer who has me at present standing in the post-orgasmic nude but who still expects me to be his words without embarrassment or personal comfort. So you see this is from his skull. It is a diagram of certain aspects of the inside of his skull! What a laugh! (203-04)

One can't quite go as far as Parrinder in concluding that for Johnson "These satisfactions must be perverse because a healthily sensual individual would not have taken on her job in the first place; this, at least, is what Johnson seems to imply" (123). Nevertheless, human indignity and the grotesquery of power are assembled almost graphically on the page as intertwined themes. The individual stories reinforce the performative present of the evening at the home, adding cultural and individual resonance: Charlie Edwards's memories of the First World War slaughter; Ivy Nicholl's memory of a murdered servant and her titled master; Gloria Ridge's incoherent uncertainty as to whether she had either no children or eighty; Sioned Bowen's recollection of a Factor who cheats his way to a fortune; and the almost total absence of significant consciousness from George Hedbury.

Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry offers a further sparse and playful text based upon another scheme, this one shared by the protagonist. It provides Johnson's most overtly political text. It is simultaneously comic and serious, both analytical and epigrammatic in style. The tension of these overlapping elements and their very incongruities provide a sense of transformation. The novel spatializes itself and the city, using lacunae and italicized thoughts already familiar as typical of Johnson. His constant reflection becomes a commentary on the architectural and spatial significance of the social subject. Even Christie's apparently most ridiculous outburst offers a critique of his environment and social conditions. Using another device, Johnson italicizes all of Christie's internalized thought. Christie quizzes himself:

Who made me walk this way? Who decided I should not be walking seven feet farther that side, or three points west of nor-nor-east, to use the marine abbreviation? Anyone? No one? Someone must have decided. It was a conscious decision, as well. That is, they said (he said, she said), I will build here. But I think whoever it was did not also add, So Christie Malry shall not walk here, but shall walk there. If he chooses. Ah! And there I have him/her/them! If I choose so. But my choice is limited by them, collectively.... (23)

The almost slapstick characterization helps the polemical intention, as the reader is not drawn into identifying with the paradigms and identifications inherent in conventional narrative realism. Johnson seeks to disrupt inappropriate epistemic identification.

Concerning his protagonist, the narrator addresses his implied reader in a tone of cultural and ideological admonishment: "Nor are his motives important. Especially are his motives of no importance to us, though the usual clues will certainly be given. We are concerned with his actions. A man may be defined through his actions, you will remember. We may guess at his motives, of course; he may do so as well. We may also guess at the winner of the three-fifteen at the next meeting at Market Rasen" (51-52). Clearly events, characters, and things can be reread. Essentially, Johnson evokes Sarraute's insistence that character or personality is a diversion from true relations (8). This strategy prioritizes events, actions, social relations, and political consequences, issues elided by most critics. Hence, the familiar may be reconfigured and imply different interpretative possibilities of the real. The reader recognizes the overall dynamics of Christie's squeeze or repression by very mundane elements, like having a wage increase swallowed by increased social payments. Both the bizarre dimensions of his pathological revenge and the pared-down narrativity are mapped discursively and polemically against the ground of the apprehensible and real. In the novel, in the mouth of the protagonist's mother, Johnson indicates that his narrative dialecticizes (a word that is evident from his practice even without its appearance in this novel) in a manner parallel to the tradition of the radical thought influencing this period and which was busy thematizing social and metaphysical process. (8) The brief reference is instructive.

In Christie's scheme of overturning ideas, a negative dialectics, Johnson inverts Nietzsche's placement of justice as responding to the violation of a commonwealth of communal pledge and contract which leads to punishment of the individual; Christie in reverse perceives collective incursions on individual needs expressed by property and appropriation of space (Nietzsche 203-04) as requiring not only an individual demand for freedom, but anarchic action. Note the social, intersubjective constitution of individual rights that Christie sees as constrained. Christie's extreme contestation relies partly on understanding the city critically, with the sort of penetration conveyed when Merleau-Ponty conceives the external world of space as always already constituted, resisting its revision by man's habitual wordless perception (251-52). Christie articulates mostly such unspoken objections. He critiques the positioning of his subjectivity within the power relations, expressed as limited access and choice. He inverts the normal power relations as described by Nietzsche which attach themselves in spatial terms to the relationship of justice and retribution, being celebrated in the further monumental space of the court and prisons, through the medium of constructed objective space.

Christie prioritizes, however pathologically, communal rather than individual infractions and slights of the individual. Collectivity becomes a matter of culpability, one that reaches its vengeful climax when the protagonist poisons thousands of Londoners for their complicity in the systemic abuse of his rights. Thereby Johnson evokes a series of dialectical qualities and observations that permeate every level of the text itself. Christie's deviance reconfigures the nature of subjectivity in its traditional role of characterization. This cipher demands equivalency, account of value, and free access to the natural world unconstrained. These themes in Nietzsche evoke the origins of modernity and its adaptation of law and subjectivity from the classical mode: "To the question how did the ancient, deeprooted, still firmly established notion of an equivalency between damage and pain arise, the answer is, briefly: it arose in the contractual relation between creditor and debtor, which is as old as the notion of `legal subjects' itself and which in its turn points back to the basic practices of purchase, sale, barter, and trade" (195).

Exchange itself is a spatial praxis with outcomes. Christie articulates this in his thoughts. He recognizes that he cannot confront a dead planner or speculator, but he sees a genealogy or succession of culpability and responsibility which defies the facelessness of capitalism, thereby refusing its retreat into facelessness through bifurcations of responsibility, lost in the diffusion of time and successive generations: "But his successors, heirs, executors, administrators, personal representatives and assigns certainly are, or they would not be here, in business. They are not averse to taking responsibility for all the money they/he/she left them, so they may conveniently take responsibility for standing this building in my way, too, limiting my freedom of movement, dictating to me where I may or may not walk in this street" (24). Christie cannot perceive his problem in anything but causal terms; most Johnsonian protagonists connect feeling and pain to environment and perception. Spatiality possesses historical roots, as does Christie's predicament. Christie is insistent he inherits rather than either deserves or provokes his containment at the hands of such a viciously indifferent society. As Merleau-Ponty notes, "My personal experience must be the resumption of a prepersonal tradition. There is, therefore, another subject beneath me, for whom the world exists before I am here.... Space has its basis in our facticity. It is neither an object, nor an act of unification on the subject's part ..." (254). Through Christie, Johnson recuperates a sense of individual dislocation as a significant act, rendered as a spatialized "facticity," so that the apparently ordinary, essentially intramundane, environment of city life is transformed into something hostile and fascinating. Everyday things can be reconfigured. Revolution might be suggested in the most familiar of objects, as when Christie learns to make a Molotov cocktail in the satirically entitled chapter 16, "Keep Britain Tidy; or, Dispose of this Bottle Thoughtfully":

Glass bottles are obtainable in their millions.... No, by far the best bottle on the market for them has been provided by the soft drinks companies: half an imperial pint capacity, a screw cap of light gauge metal, glass walls of the very minimum thickness, a circumference so snug to the hand as to make accurate throwing relatively easy, and, being non-returnable, of such ready availability as to provoke ironic comment that the forces of conservatism are unwittingly providing the very instruments of their own discomfort. (133)

In practical and symbolic terms, the seeds of revolt are available to subjects who perceive both the injustices and the opportunities for disruption. He posits the personal malaise of any individual as having the potential to reveal the duplicity of accepted norms and experience. Christie goes on to poison hundreds of thousands via their drinking supplies. This reflects in narrative terms an irony implicit in much of the critique of the period offered by thinkers such as Marcuse, who says, for example, "Basic to the present form of social organization, the antagonisms of the capitalist production process, is the fact that the central phenomena connected with this process do not immediately appear to men as what they are `in reality,' but in masked, `perverted' form" (70). Christie's account is one form of multiple examples of such "unmasking." Christie heightens such reworking of relations until it becomes a pathological process, thus revealing culture's own underlying and ongoing antagonisms. Despite their extreme nature, Johnson's themes evoke Sarraute's idea of an "emotional commotion that made it possible to apprehend all at once, and as in a flash, an entire object with all its nuances, its possible complexities, and even--if, by chance, these existed--its unfathomable depths" (16-17). His overall position appears to be that alienation derives from its historical circumstances, an outcome of ideological narratives and practice. In a dialogue with Christie, the novel's narrator comments polemically "Politicians, policeman, some educators and many others treat `most people' as idiots" (166). Christie's campaign is their worst nightmare, but is caused by their attitude toward the mass.

By the stage of his last novel See the Old Lady Decently, Johnson transforms the dialectic of the disorganized and of reduced potential explored in Albert Angelo; such reductions or contractions determined by the shift toward order and control in the later novel are extended beyond their impact upon the immediacy of the individual or the specific group and are now perceived in terms of quite how such epistemological tyrannies shape the cultural and social process in a broader context of language and discourse. Much of his mother's experience is woven into the enigmatic, complex, and yet fragmented narrative, originally intended as the first part of the planned Matrix trilogy to be based on their relationship. The titles were to read across the spine of the books: See the Old Lady Decently, Buried Although, and Among Those Left Are You.

Johnson develops multiple parallel themes that are represented or intertwined in a formally complex manner. The novel is the most apparently informal, deconstructive, and experimental of novels. Yet the book depends upon an elaborate process or organizing principle, one that defers and partially reroutes the conventional narrative form and process. Johnson brings together a series of fragmentary elements using a both random and erratic schema, combining different periods and themes represented by different kinds of lettering as titles. The scope is various: he reflects on the process of attempting to write, the central narrative of recovering his deceased mother's life, but there are some striking sections that chart the creation of a narrative of empire and power that he fragments and undermines, literally. Using the example of the First World War, he attacks the process of order and domination, but the curious power of narrative is expressed through his BB (or Broader Britain) sections. These appear to be imperial narratives reflecting places and environments under imperial rule. However, Johnson bowdlerizes them, removing both place names and whole sections of sentences, making the narratives oddly formal and incomplete. From what should or might suggest itself as nonsense, the hegemonic qualities and assumptions of superiority of cultural voice come through, vaguely absurd, yet threatening. In "BB4,"

The largest of geysers a native close to riddled with thermal of various cook your in one, take a delicious in and be scalded to in the third throws up it, column of steaming from a cone of siliceous all about seethes and hisses under your head foremost into a mud-hole or boiling if you in the vicinity you feel the rising from the ground your finger beneath feels hot enough to boil and they even bury their dead in a life of ease and luxury on the income derived from Government rents this marvellous land from the natives and a fixed scale of charges for showing has been drawn. (61)

The foreign, the Other, becomes objectified by the passage as a site of wonderment and strangeness. The Eurocentric eye and voice creates cultural and literal capital; it appropriates the scene, its signification, and literally possesses both the land and the experience despite its clearly incomplete and partial nature reflected in the style and structure of the passage itself. The more impressionistic and fragmentary, the more dismissive of Otherness the voice becomes: "Perhaps the most situated town in all the, how is it that it is clearly not further? It is due to the mixture of. They are lethargic and unprogressive. The descendants of slaves brought by the are without energy and leave as much work as possible to be done by the women" (62). By not naming in specific terms, through using lacunae and imprecision, Johnson conveys the effectiveness of the male discourse of colonialism, its resistance and adaptability, and its contempt for variation. Michael Bakewell quotes Johnson in his untitled introduction to the novel, "The GB and BB bits are intended to involve the reader--he has to supply information himself--what he knows of the Empire" (10); they make clear Johnson's disapproval of these ideological and historical influences. The excisions serve much like the disruptions within the type of postcolonial poetry described by Bhabha and categorized through its effect on the reader that could be equally applied to Johnson's novel: "That disturbance of your voyeuristic look enacts the complexity and contradictions of your desire to see, to fix cultural difference in a containable, visible object. The desire for the Other is doubled by the desire in language, which splits the difference between Self and Other so that both positions are partial; neither is sufficient unto itself" (50). Johnson foregrounds what remains unsaid by a strategy making evident the invisibility of absent words. This makes evident the inadequacy of the partiality that a centered egocentric, traditional literary narrative depends upon and its broader applications in language's broader political contexts. In these sections fragments rework the efficacy of language, because what is unexpressed often reveals with clarity the imprint of concrete historical oppressions.

Johnson moves from the traditional discourse of his mother's time, her own early experiences from school to work as a skivvy in a hotel where she is distressed at an encounter--"there she saw her first black man, there he was, in the washing-up galley, his back to her, what fierce features he must have, she thought, a black man like one of those in the Glorious British Empire books we had at school!" (18)--on toward his own ironic critique of the process in "BB1": "Greater, ever greater, broader too, not Empire, not Imperial, but by linguistic extension part of ourselves, our Broader Britain" (32). Of an unnamed place, Johnson demonstrates the coordinates of linguistic and spatial patterning and appropriation:

Was named in after by Governor, and laid out and the streets named at the same period. The streets are built at right angles to one another, and the principal thoroughfares are intersected by smaller streets bearing the name of the great thoroughfares with the prefix "Little." On two hills. Along its course stand the chief clubs, insurance offices, banks, and the Town Hall. In eighteen there were thirteen buildings: three weatherboard, two slate, and eight turf huts. (33-34)

The anonymity suggests the replication of the ordering, the ideological core at the heart of the process itself. The aestheticization and its traditions are neither immune to nor separate from this discourse and symbolic and literal configuration. Johnson creates the image of responding to natural forces, which are then coerced into the vision of value, worth, and purpose by which nature is suborned: "Generations of enthusiastic have left few expressions of admiration worth. Mankind is dumb before such a. Not only are words inadequate to, but is the last thing anyone thinks of turning the mind away to abstractions, to God and articulate expression, the roar of cannon too convincing to be inspiring, a feast for the senses and a source of dumb awe, always something besides a sublime" (47). That the aesthetic can appeal to a supposed dumbness or quality of the sublime makes it suspect. As Freire says "Self-sufficiency is incompatible with dialogue. Men who lack humility (or have lost it) cannot come to the people, cannot be their partners in naming the world" (79). Naming cannot be imposed since it ultimately must be continually re-created and depends upon collectivity rather than coercion. Moreover, as Freire insists, "Dialogue requires an intense faith in man, faith in his power to make and remake, to create and re-create, faith in his vocation to be more fully human" (79). In every sense this is completely opposite to the dynamics that emerge in Johnson's novel in terms of another nameless environment that is featured in the lacunary style of "BB3," where in spite of the lack of specificity and reference, one senses the power to subvert faith both within the subjected themselves by denying faith in them as a categorial notion: "Long since ceased to live according to their lawless fancy, placed under the charge of superintendents appointed by the authorities of the, and amply supplied with all the modern machinery of education, nothing but their inherent incapacity prevents their attaining complete equality with the. But the disability exists, and all that the most philanthropic can hope for the natives is their gentle diminution, followed by their peaceful extinction." (50-51).

Johnson knows well how to convey the inhumanity of the imperial/colonial processes, incorporating a critique or critical intervention similar to Freire's comment on a class that refuses dialogue because it "start[s] from the premise that naming the world is the task of an elite and that the presence of the people in history is a sign of deterioration, thus to be avoided ..." (78-79). By extracting the signifiers of any particularities, in this last novel Johnson savages the generalizing rhetoric of colonial destruction through its own assertive vocabulary and voice, its appeal to "Englishmen who had founded their idea of the upon the romances of and his followers ..." (51), being a cultural dynamic and ideology. Colonialism is a world of claims such as "A successful experiment in culture was made in the Municipality, from English spawn. Four members of the House are Natives, attracted by Nicholson, as the fort used to be called ..." (71). Nevertheless, both his text and the historical realities from which they implicitly draw, in order to represent some level of comprehensibility, serve to determine quite how liminal the process of power can appear, powerful enough to articulate its threat without naming or detail or historical rootedness. Language can, as a fringe activity, evoke subliminally a discourse that is effective and threatening. Its appeal and efficacy is demonstrated in parallel by Johnson's horror at the stupidity of the appeal to war and the mass killings of the First World War. Reality haunts the rational concept of things as an often unwritten, obscured form.

The collocation of the BB commentary is increasingly incoherent, its fragmentation showing the centrifugal quality of power, but implying the persistence through timelines of its effects. Power, ambition and oppression persist. The passages could be of any period, quaint in phraseology, destructive in effect, and myopic. "BB7" commences with a typical Western dismissive colonial voice: "The natives are very low down in the scale of humanity, and yet they use a which has puzzled the wisest mathematicians of. The is not such a mysterious engine as the, but the skill with which they use it is astonishing" (81). Without the specifics, together the BB sections imply the totalizing quality of colonial discourse, the separation of cultural values from factuality. Imperial force and the colonial impulse constitute an ideological force that is a cluster of effects and attitudes that subvert both legitimate meaning and freedom. In his strategy Johnson demonstrates how removal of content markers leaves the coordinates of a mediating structure that in some senses stands alone, formally and ideologically, as an incursive frame. This is similar to what Habermas outlines as a method for an effective ideological critique of modernity, "a `decentered understanding' in an environment, an `unscrambling' of `contexts' of meaning and reality, when internal and external relationships have been unmixed ... cleansed of all cosmological, theological, and cultic dross [revealing] ... that the autonomy of validity claimed by a theory (whether empirical or normative) is an illusion because secret interests and power claims have crept into its pores" (115). This serves to describe Johnson's demythologising of imperial/colonial discourse through its own words in numerous BB sections, those literary and cultural processes that Johnson parodies and invokes. This formal conception of lacunary expression serves as much more than a structural or generic device. For on one level, in a narrative sense, Johnson challenges any autonomy of validity that might have been understood to have somehow attached itself to imperial/colonial theories and structures, or crucially in their residuum in texts and accounts; and on another level Johnson reminds his reader of the danger of the palpably absurd appeal to the prejudicial and conspiratorial secretions of power. His critique is indicated by the realization that a central truthfulness can be recovered from such accounts themselves once, in Habermasian terms, this "unmixing" and "cleansing" by Johnson has been undertaken. Significantly, the BB sections conclude with an admission of their own genocidal tendencies, which provides the reader the moral necessity for critical readings of social discourse, a moral pricking of consciences. Johnson's strategies leave these colonial, hegemonic discourses with the baldly disingenuous and yet plainly disturbing declaration toward the end of the novel: "There are no aborigines now left in the island" (116). Sense and structure that have been confused, deconstructed, and mixed together reassert themselves in an admission of the full horror of method and intention. Johnson demonstrates in narrative something that resembles Bhabha's recognition that "Postcolonial critical discourses require forms of dialectical thinking that do not disavow or sublate the otherness (alterity) that constitutes the symbolic domain of psychic and social identifications" (173). As Levitt comments, "The technical complexity and inventiveness of See the Old Lady Decently undermines the customary line between subject and object. In its self-reflexive use of author as character, it is intensely personal; yet the apparatus of reflexiveness serves as a screen against subjectivity: author and character remain separate as long as the author can keep them separate, as long as we recognize that life and art, however interconnected, are not quite the same" (585-85). As I have argued repeatedly, Johnson's ambition for life and art is dialectical, for everything is concurrently universal and disparate, not bound by any division between fictional and life-world categories.


The 1985 Review of Contemporary Fiction featured Johnson, including a variety of readings of his life and work. A handful of other scattered academic papers exist, but overall critical appraisal of Johnson is still patchy. Often his writing is misinterpreted or undervalued. My monograph, B. S. Johnson: A Critical Reading, is in part both intended to challenge and expand previously underdeveloped aspects of the analysis. In the literary tradition of Woolf and Beckett, Johnson continues a highly innovative and often unique form of development of the novel. For this alone he deserves fuller attention. As I have demonstrated, his thematic and critical originality ought further to confirm his reputation in his own right. Johnson suffers from a regressively class-bound critical establishment in Britain, and it seems that it is time to set aside such prejudices. I find grounds for optimism in the ongoing publication in the United States by New Directions of his novels and this journal's commitment to his oeuvre. Hopefully, the growing body of critical work on his novels will give academics the confidence to include his books on course lists and in their own scholarly work. I have merely scratched the surface. Concerning Johnson there is so much more that needs to be said. Perhaps America can find more words.


(1) The major prose work consist of an early joint collection of short stories with Zulfikar Ghose, Statement Against Corpses; a section of Penguin Modern Stories 7 also featuring Anthony Burgess, Susan Hill, and Yehuda Amichai; six novels published over approximately ten years: Travelling People (1963); Albert Angelo (1964); Trawl (1966); The Unfortunates (1969); House Mother Normal (1971); Christie Malry's Own Double Entry (1973); the once influential semitheoretical prose collection Aren't You Rather Young to Be Writing Your Memoirs? (1973); and, the final posthumous, highly fragmentary seventh novel, See the Old Lady Decently (1975). This last was published apparently in unaltered form from a completed manuscript, about which his publisher had expressed reservations.

(2) For The Unfortunates since each section is paginated separately, the first few words of each section is included for identification of any quotations.

(3) For these allusions to Tristram Shandy's chair and the use of blackening pages to signify Maurie's initial illness and later death, see Travelling People 11-12, 211-13, 224-26.

(4) For this counter paradisical theme also see Kanaganayakam 91; and Tew, B. S. Johnson 18-20, 93-94.

(5) Interestingly, Butor's novel shares some of the postcolonial consciousness and commentary that I perceive in Albert Angelo, and this has been noted. See Spencer 83-85. Clearly both novels intervene into the school context with a strong notion of the ideological form of all levels and phases of society.

(6) Authorized B. S. Johnson biographer Jonathan Coe revealed to me in conversation in the British Library on 27 January 2000 that his archival research had revealed that the pupil essays that constitute part of Albert Angelo are almost unchanged transcriptions of the actual material from weekly essays--of the type referred to in Brathwaite's To Sir, with Love--collected from the pupils Johnson himself taught in north London while a supply teacher. Only the names have been altered in the main. Johnson was apparently not the most successful of teachers.

(7) Identifying emotion in inanimate objects, as if some harmony of subject-object were available aesthetically; Johnson scorned such a position in the main.

(8) Much in the manner of figures such as Vaneigem, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Lefebvre, Marcuse, and so forth in texts far too numerous to cite. Nevertheless such discourse is rare as the primary and conscious function of a novel itself, particularly a British one.


Bakewell, Michael. Introduction. See the Old Lady Decently. By B. S. Johnson. London: Hutchinson, 1975.7-14.

Bergonzi, Bernard. Unpublished transcript BBC radio interview broadcast on 26 March 1968, "B. S. Johnson: Interview by Bernard Bergonzi: Novelists of the Sixties" [Study Session on Radio 3]. Caversham: BBC Written Archives, 1968.1-17.

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field. Trans. Susan Emanuel. Cambridge: Polity, 1996.

Bowker, Gordon. "Remembering B. S. Johnson." London Magazine October-November 2000: 45-54.

Braithwaite, E. R. To Sir, with Love. London: Four Square, 1962.

Burns, Alan. "B. S. Johnson: Interview." The Imagination on Trial: British and American Writers Discuss Their Working Methods. Ed. Alan Burns and Charles Sugnet. London: Allison & Busby, 1981. 83-94.

Butor, Michel. Degrees. Trans. Richard Howard. London: Methuen, 1962.

--. Second Thoughts. Trans. Jean Stewart. London: Faber & Faber, 1958.

Davies, John David. "The Book as Metaphor: Artifice and Experiment in the Novels of B. S. Johnson." Review of Contemporary Fiction 5.2 (Summer 1985): 72-76.

Depledge, David. "Author with a Bold Device: Interview [of Johnson] with David Depledge." Books and Bookmen June 1968: 12-13.

Figes, Eva. "B. S. Johnson." Review of Contemporary Fiction 5.2 (Summer 1985): 70-71.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum, 1970.

Ghose, Zulfikar. "Bryan." Review of Contemporary Fiction 5.2 (Summer 1985): 23-34.

Goodman, Jonathan, ed. The Master Eccentric: The Journals of Rayner Heppenstall 1969-81. London: Allison & Busby, 1986.

Gordon, Giles. Aren't We Due a Royalty Statement? A Stern Account of Literary, Publishing and Theatrical Folk. London: Chatto & Windus, 1993.

Habermas, Jurgen. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures. Trans. Frederick Lawrence. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990.

Hassam, Andrew. Writing and Reality: A Study of Modern British Diary Fiction. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1993.

Hayman, Ronald. The Novel Today 1967-1975. London: Longman, 1976.

Johnson, B. S. Albert Angelo. London: Constable, 1964; New York: New Directions, 1987.

--. "Anti or Ultra?" Books and Bookmen May 1963: 25.

--. Aren't You Rather Young to Be Writing Your Memoirs? London: Hutchinson, 1973.

--. Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry. London: Collins, 1973; London: Penguin, 1984.

--. House Mother Normal. London: Collins, 1971; Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1984; New York: New Directions, 1987.

--. See the Old Lady Decently. London: Hutchinson, 1975.

--. Travelling People. London: Constable, 1963; London: Transworld, 1964.

--. Trawl. London: Secker & Warburg, 1966; London: Panther, 1968.

--. The Unfortunates. London: Panther, 1969; rev. ed. Intro. Jonathan Coe. London: Picador, 1999.

--. Unpublished typewritten letter: Johnson to Miss Pughe, from his parent's residence in Barnes. 11 November 1959. Caversham: BBC Archives.

--. Unpublished letter: Johnson to Miss Pughe, from his parent's residence in Barnes. 15 December 1959. Caversham: BBC Archives.

--. Unpublished letter: Johnson to Miss Pughe, addressed 34, Claremont Square, London, N1. 9 April 1961. Caversham: BBC Archives.

--, and Zulfikar Ghose. Statement against Corpses. London: Constable, 1964.

--, and Julia Trevelyan Oman. Street Children. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1964.

Kanaganayakam, C. "Artifice and Paradise in B. S. Johnson's Travelling People." Review of Contemporary Fiction 5.2 (Summer 1985): 87-93.

Levitt, Morton P. "The Novels of B. S. Johnson: Against the War against Joyce." Modern Fiction Studies 27 (1981-1982): 571-86.

Mackrell, Judith. "B. S. Johnson and the British Experimental Tradition: An Introduction." Review of Contemporary Fiction 5.2 (Summer 1985): 42-64.

Marcuse, Herbert. Negations: Essays in Critical Theory. London: Allen Lane, 1968.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals. Trans. Francis Golffing. New York: Doubleday, 1956.

Parrinder, Patrick. The Failure of Theory: Essays on Criticism and Contemporary Fiction. Brighton: Harvester, 1987.

Robbe-Grillet, Alain. Snapshots and Towards a New Novel. Trans. Barbara Wright. London: Calder and Boyars, 1965.

--. The Voyeur. Trans. Richard Howard. London: John Calder, 1959.

Sarraute, Nathalie. Tropisms and The Age of Suspicion. Trans. Maria Jolas. London: John Calder, 1963.

Spencer, Michael. Michel Butor. New York: Twayne, 1974.

Sterne, Laurence. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. New York: Penguin, 1967.

Tew, Philip. B. S. Johnson: A Critical Reading. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2001.

--. "Chaos and Truth: B. S. Johnson's Theoretical and Literary Narratives." Focus: Papers in English Literary and Cultural Studies. Ed. Maria Kurdi, Gabriella Hartvig, and Andrew C. Rouse. Pecs: U of Pecs P, 2000.38-54.

--. "Contextualizing B. S. Johnson (1933-73): The British Novel's Forgotten Voice of Protest." Anachronist (Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest) Winter 1998: 165-92.

--. "(Re)-acknowledging B. S. Johnson's Radical Realism, or Republishing The Unfortunates." Critical Survey 13 (2001): 37-61.

--. Unpublished interview with Zulfikar Ghose (Tufnell Park, London). 5 January 1999.

Tredell, Nicolas "Telling Life, Telling Death: The Unfortunates." Review of Contemporary Fiction 5.2 (Summer 1985): 34-41.

White, Glyn. "Recalling the Facts: Taking Action in the Matter of B. S. Johnson's Albert Angelo." Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 5.2 (Autumn-Winter 1999): 143-62.

A B. S. Johnson Checklist

Travelling People. London: Constable, 1963; London: Transworld, 1964.

Albert Angelo. London: Constable, 1964; New York: New Directions, 1987.

Statement against Corpses. London: Constable, 1964 (with Zulfikar Ghose).

Trawl. London: Secker & Warburg, 1966; London: Panther, 1968.

The Unfortunates. London: Panther, 1969; rev. ed. Intro. Jonathan Coe. London: Picador, 1999.

House Mother Normal. London: Collins, 1971; Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1984; New York: New Directions, 1987.

Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry. London: Collins, 1973; London: Penguin, 1984.

Everybody Knows Somebody Who's Dead. London: Covent Garden Press, 1973.

Aren't You Rather Young to Be Writing Your Memoirs? London: Hutchinson, 1973.

See the Old Lady Decently. London: Hutchinson, 1975

PHILIP TEW is Course Director for the M.A. Program in Literary Studies at the University of Central England in Birmingham and an Honorary Reader in English & Aesthetics at the University of Debrecen, Hungary. He published the first monograph on B. S. Johnson with Manchester University Press, B. S. Johnson: A Critical Reading (published in the U.S. by St. Martin's, 2001). Other publications include essays in the collections After Postmodernism: An Introduction to Critical Realism (Athlone Press, 2001) and Beckett and Philosophy (St. Martin's, 2001) and the journals Critical Survey, the Anachronist, and About Larkin: The Newsletter of the Philip Larkin Society. A collection on contemporary British fiction, co-edited by Dr. Tew, will be published by Polity Press in 2002. He is joint founder and Director of the London Network for Textual Studies.
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