"drowning in an ooze of language, sex, politics, theatre, and disease": review of Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate

by on Aug.19, 2012

Just found out about Lorian Long’s very thoughtful review of my book Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate over at Bookslut.

I could not sleep with Johannes Göransson’s Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate close to my head. I dreamt the characters coming to life inside my studio apartment, competing as contestants in an ultimate horror show, which is what happens in the book’s hundred brilliant, nasty pages. Despite the tiny size of Colonial Pageant, it contains a gore so massive you will either shower or move the book to the other side of the bedroom upon opening its cover. The cover itself terrifies with black and white drawings of decapitated, charred flesh pageantry winners. The smeared eyeholes, the sashes labeled “BEWARE BEWARE” “I HAVE BEGUN A KING” “A JACKLIGHTING KING” are awful in their grimaced beauty. What’s inside is even more. There is no narrative to speak of, and so the only way to write this review is to write it messily, to spew forth what I recall from drowning in an ooze of language, sex, politics, theatre, and disease.

Göransson’s Colonial Pageant is a production that would make the Viennese Actionist performances look like preschool plays. Characters like Little American Girl shoot a gun at the audience; Charlotte Brontë is set on fire; a stagehand castrates himself with a box cutter; a birth is performed onstage using a live horse, hammers, and unsharp razor-blades. No walls could contain such mess, though there are explicit instructions for two stages to be “an abandoned factory in downtown South Bend, IN” and “a mall.” These everyday stages are asylums, showrooms for the pageantry of psychosis that disguises itself as humanity. I thought of Burroughs’s Penny Arcade Peep Show from The Wild Boys, where boys look up at the ceiling to see four screens projecting images of colored pinwheels, fireworks, murder, phalluses, pyramids — a spectacular kind of viewing, and perhaps similar to the way it might feel to experience a performance of Colonial Pageant, a sense of vertigo as you watch things happen so quickly, so atrociously, you feel sick with sight.

Language falls from the mouths of characters like loose teeth as monologue after monologue of proclamation, confession, and damnation shatter any pretense we might have when considering if this is a work of poetry or fiction or whatever. It is a dangerous language, a murderous kind, both aiming and exploding with chaotic precision. The Passenger delivers the first monologue as he is interrogated and tortured for his otherness as “threat to the children,” according to Nurse Marble. From then on, we’re introduced to a slew of monologues performed by killer person-things like Flammable Mothers, Father Literature, Iconophobic Daughter, and Miss World, who is introduced by The Passenger in one of the book’s best paragraphs:


(the outfit glistens, he can’t remember anything about reproduction)

In the ashes of the afternoon, midst the rubble of the latest attack, I came upon a 4-year-old boy walking down the middle of the street. Naked except for a small basketball jersey. I asked him where his parents were, where his house was, why was he naked. He just groaned a reply. After a couple of minutes an SUV pulled up. Brakes screeched. A fat woman jumped out of the car and asked me: ‘Who is he? Have you called the police?’ I said, no, no. She pulled a tattered American flag up from the ground and wrapped him up. Her fat husband called the police on his cell phone. This twitchy child was Miss World.”

Miss World is the picture of decrepit glamour. Faggy, deathly, anorexic, Miss World’s appearance is explicit as he twists and shakes his way to the front of the pageant stage. His fabulous monstrosity is inflated by the fact that he is a child and made threat. Children have always been prioritized as figures of innocence and purity by a world determined to uphold this ideal as it benefits the production of a collective morality, or patriotism. “Think of the children!” “He’s just a child!” “We are all God’s children” — these sentiments are expressed every day by politicians, religious zealots, and mothers across the globe, and could easily make their way into the mouths of Göransson’s characters, but they would be uttered by the twin girls from The Shining as blood rushed forth from theater doors. Göransson’s playful manipulation of the child as “good” acts as a mirror reflecting a world in which a six-year-old Jon Benét Ramsey’s body was found strangled in the basement of her parents’ home, her last impression on this earth as a pinup ragdoll. Like Ramsey’s hyper-sexualized child contestant aesthetic, Miss World’s sexuality is ornamental:

“Thanks to the massacres exhibited by the Prom Queen I now have several penises. They are interchangeable! It’s capitalism! I trade you a lesbian penis for your disgusting penis. It reminds me of home. The penis I still love the most is the one that flapped out of a soldier’s pants as he was dragged through the street. I have a copy of it. It’s my true penis. I’m Miss World. An impossible prince. Pun. Instrument. I’m missing child.”

Body parts, body styles. Genitalia as fashion, as construct, as exploit. Göransson takes Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity and blasts it with skin-made dynamite. He creates such a mess of appendages, desires, and impulses that the taglines of Queer Theory or Gender Studies seem antiquated compared to the blurring of binaries to be found in this work. It is a new thing. Göransson has managed to produce a discomfiting, filthy, hilarious, and ecstatic piece of literature that is cocked and ready.

2 comments for this entry:
  1. Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle

    PUSSY RIOT: In a disconnect I post an unrelated link supporting Russia’s Pussy Riot.


    While I don’t contribute to Hyperallergic I did work with several of its writers before distancing ourselves radically from the Brooklyn Rail.

    G C-H