Review of Adam Thirlwell, Lurid and Cute

We’re All Moral Monsters

A few pages into Lurid and Cute, which has, to me, a unique style of writing, the best I could do to get a handle on it was to associate it with other writings I’ve experienced. My first thought was that Lurid and Cute is a sort of updated Naked Lunch. Drugs are central in both and each has a heterotopic vision—but in Thirlwell’s novel there are only a few interjections of stream of consciousness, so there’s a minimum of Burroughs’ disjointedness in Lurid and Cute. A less flowery and much brighter Faulkner also came to mind while reading Thirlwell: both authors present characters who behave shamefully; people who are grotesque, tormented, and repulsive.

Thirlwell’s main character, although drugged, abnormal, and misbehaved, is extremely so in all conventionally bad attributes, a “monster” and, moreover—and here’s where Thirlwell more than surpasses the realism, modernism, and postmodernism of Burroughs, Faulkner, and the like—he’s a monster and he’s moral. It’s not that his monstrosity is other than his morality but, rather, these two contradictory attributes are united in thought and deed: what’s known to be wrong and acted out as such are also simultaneously and sincerely “regretted”. Lurid and Cute is fiction as might be written by Adorno, Marcuse, or Žižek; what is asserted is, at the same time, modified into something else, negated, denied, or contradicted. Only opposites capture reality; our morality is our immorality.

The central social/political message I take from Lurid and Cute is that if those of us in contemporary, western, liberal, affluent nations are honest with ourselves (assuming that’s ever possible), we’ll recognize that we’re all moral monsters; that is, we know what’s right and we continue to sincerely and regretfully do wrong: exploitation and oppression of others (individually and collectively), “colonizing power”, “occupying powers”, poverty in the midst of plenty, perpetual war for perpetual peace—the list is quite long.

Some moral monsters, including the protagonist and many of us, are also “cute” in that they/we are “lurid . . . in imagining [the] suffering [of others]”, “care so much about people far away”, while actually—although protesting otherwise—they/we put their/our interests and pleasures first: “Most of life . . . is like being in the restaurant of your dreams, where the waiters are attentive yet invisible. That’s basically how we want our world to be run, and it’s amazing to what extent it really is. You are always being spared the oil extraction and other tasks . . . . For the problem is that to live in this way is totally delicious. That’s why, I think, to abdicate your power is so much harder than it seems. However much you might have beliefs and consciences . . . they’re very easy to ignore”. This is, as Thirlwell insists on virtually every page, a “sad” state of affairs, but, “sadly”, that’s just the way it is.

About georgebeam

George Beam is an educator and author. The perspectives that inform his interpretations of the topics of this blog–-as well as his other writings and university courses -–are system analysis, behaviorism, and Internet effects. Specific interests include quality management, methodology, and politics. He is Associate Professor Emeritus, Department of Public Administration; Affiliated Faculty, Department of Political Science; and, previously, Head, Department of Public Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago
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