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Time out of Joint Pt. 4: Intertextuality and Simulation in A.L. Kennedy’s Day

A version of this essay was originally submitted in partial fulfilment of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester in 2009.

Please note that if you quote or cite this work that it is  © Karl Hodge 2012. The correct form of referencing is:

Karl Hodge. (2012). Time out of Joint Pt 4: Intertextuality and Simulation in AL Kennedy’s Day.  Available: http://www.brokenenglish.co.uk/simulationday/ . Last accessed DD/MM/YYYY.

Postmodern theory suggests that late 20th and early 21st Century culture is a system closing in on itself; one with limited memory capacity. This foundation feature comes from the zero day text on late capitalism, Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.

Every product of culture is absorbed into the memory of this system; every film, painting, novel or building is a frame of reference for the production of future texts.  The condition of postmodernity is one where innovation has ceased and everything old is new again.

History becomes multiple choice, a composite of texts amalgamated into a compound eye viewpoint.  The real is replaced by a recording, a recantation or a reconstruction.

In turn, these texts become the source for the structure of other texts.  Texts with meanings that are remembered rather than decoded. A.L. Kennedy’s Day is not only complicit in this, a micro-thin layer in a stack reaching sky-high, it is cognisant of it.  It comments on its own simulated nature.

We’ve already identified two chronologies at work here; that of the novel and that of the reader.   There is the world of the story, the fragmented chronology of character and setting; a narrative that reveals its secrets not chronologically, but by shifting focus across fractures in time.

This, in turn is a historical pastiche, assembled from film dialogue, other novels and recorded reminiscence.  Born in 1964, Kennedy has no direct experience of the period she writes about other than fiction and documentation.  As readers, our own reference is these texts rather than any lived experience. This is the second level of reading.

And then, there’s a third level of meta-reading; the level of pure simulation – of realising that you are no longer suspending your disbelief.

The protagonist, Alfred Day, returns to a fake prison camp as a film extra four years after his war is over.  Kennedy’s commentary on this as she describes the simulated prison camp is a third narrative; the self-referential acknowledgment that this is simulation.

Day refers to himself as ‘fictional’, for example, ‘The trouble was, after a while tucked up in the Luftwaffe bag, you had truly felt fictional and afterwards it didn’t leave you’[1].  The film he is taking part in appears to be The Great Escape, and some of his fellow extras confuse the fake camp with the real, and tunnel out…

We can pick out several instances like this[2], but the sequence where Alfred Day faints on set is particularly instructive and representative.

 

‘The director had liked the look of the whole palaver, and wanted to work it in, so some poor bastard (…) then spent the next two hours being required to crumple up and hit the deck; with arms flung out, with arms tucked in, with head back, with head dropped, head lolled sideways, left and right, with every variation you might think of and more besides and then just one time for luck, please, thank you. It was a fine game, filming’.[3]

 

Day faints, and then the history of that is replayed and re-recorded over and over.  He watches it – watches the moment simulated again and again, until a kind of perfection is achieved. Not the perfection of verisimilitude, but of fictional authenticity; a perfect faint that is better than life. It is Baudrillard’s ‘immanent surface of operations unfolding’, without transcendence or depth.

While Kennedy’s representation of the time period is as authentic as she can make it, in this scene and others she calls attention to the fact that the fiction can only ever be a construction. In acknowledging this openly, Day leaves us in an uneasy position as a reader.  While a pastiche of scene, dialogue and events places us in an identifiable time period – Kennedy’s deliberate revelation of the constructed nature of the text makes us aware that we are contemporary readers reading a contemporary narrative.  

In Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas this isn’t just an effect, it’s a central theme.



[1] A.L. Kennedy, Day, (Vintage, 2007) p. 42

[2] I am particularly fond of Day’s description of ‘Klim’, the milk powder Alfred has not seen since the end of the war: ‘Bloody Klim, from bloody herds of swoc, eating bloody fields of ssarg’. Mirroring the infinite regression of simulation in the text. A.L. Kennedy, Day, (Vintage, 2007) p. 18

[3] A.L. Kennedy, Day, (Vintage, 2007) p. 30

 <part 3 | part 5 >

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