WHEN THE MORNING COMES AND YOU DONT KNOW WHY, IT’S TRAGEDY – commentary on Michael Sussman’s novel “Incognolio”
Incognolio? It is not a thing. Or it is a thing, originless, that inspired the author, Michael Sussman (whoever that is?). Incognolio is a comic and psychological novel invented by Sussman’s multiple protagonists, or composed half by you, dear reader, if the author has his way. Following no formal dramatic structure, Incognolio, at its least perplexing, is a search for meaning, with meaning having deputized a variety of representatives passing with the nomenclature Incognolio.
At occasions in the novel incognolio is: a covert CIA investigation into people losing the ability to think rationally, a terrycloth headband allowing its wearer to rid themself of the myth of free will, the koan of an austerity cult, the quest of a technologically-advanced alien race who lack spiritual fulfillment, the titles of several novels within the novel being written by feuding authors, a psychedelic drug, a password, a lock combination, a cryptophasic language between twins, and the voice of an all-embracing maternal deity. The point being, incognolio not only resides in the realm of imagination, but also is imagination itself.
A review of a more orthodox novel would attempt to summarize the plot. Your obedient reviewer is not certain of the value of that approach. Incognolio starts humorous and metafictive enough with a protagonist writing a novel titled Incognolio. The protagonist struggles with several dead end crime subplots depicted simultaneously as narrative action in which he is engaged and subject matter he is composing in real time. The subplots, frequently hilarious, occasionally violent or morally problematic, are abandoned. Control of the novel is transferred among the protagonist’s villainous ghostwriter, his living or dead twin sister, an uncle from another dimension, the devil, God, and finally, after the protagonist is killed, to the character of a troubled writer named Sussman. Are you still with me? It is at this point Sussman’s stream of conscious writing begins to reach its true destination.
Dimension jumping and incognolio monikered MacGuffins are sufficiently intriguing until we arrive at a denouement stripped of false-start narrators and red herrings. When the author walks us out on a high, windy bridge to describe the forthcoming suicide of Sussman things get real. The reader discovers that all the narrators and abandoned subplots have been a series of screens intended to obscure the dysphoria of a persona – Author? Protagonist? We can’t say. – who is crippled by grief, failure, mental illness, rejection, and existential anomie. Like the book editor character brought in to fix the novel tells Sussman, “Despite its playfulness, your story’s a tragedy.” (Emphasis added.) Perhaps rowing merrily down the stream of conscious, searching for the meaning of a meaningless word, and peering into as many holes as it takes to fill the Albert Hall took the author to a much different creative plane then the one in which he began. Incognolio is a plotless novel, but it has a compelling emotional arc, and the ending transcends the middle.
The last scenes also happen to display the author’s most effective prose. The book editor critiques, “The author seeks union with himself. To achieve this integration, to cross that threshold into the dark and uncharted recesses of his subconscious, the Author would need to be willing to embrace his monsters, including the source of his self-loathing…The tragedy is that he can’t face his monsters, can’t find a strategy for confronting the things he’s most afraid of. Unable to successfully complete the novel, he self-destructs.” So, Incognolio, after many failed tests, is a laboratory inquiry into the emotional tension of the creative process.
The theoretician Andre Breton defined surrealism as, “Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express the actual functioning of thought…in the absence of any control exercised by reason exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.” Incognolio is both hard to read and hard not to read, because Sussman provides the amusing lies of his surreal dreamworld at a breathless pace, until the reader is exposed to a truth. The truth being that this dream has, in its way, been a controlled nightmare.