Review by KEN KORCZAK
Reading MEMOIRS OF A GNOSTIC DWARF made me think of “The Uncle Charles Principle.” This is when an author slips out of his omniscient view as he writes, and instead adopts the view of the character itself.
For example, if the author creates a character who is uneducated, the author might use poor grammar when writing about the character, and not just in the character’s dialog, but even while describing what the character is doing.
The Uncle Charles Principle is considered an invention of James Joyce who used the technique for a character named Uncle Charles in his 1916 book, “Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man.”
Other authors, most notably Cormac McCarthy, is said to be a master (and perhaps an over-user) of the Uncle Charles Principle.
But did DAVID MADSEN employ the Uncle Charles Principle in his rendering of this novel? Was he choosing to embody his character Peppe, the gnarled dwarf, while abandoning his own omniscient view as he wrote this fictional memoir?
I say yes because this would explain a lot, especially this book’s naive notion of Gnosticism. The Gnostic creed is presented here as a simplistic dualism – the idea that everything in the physical, material world is created by Satan – with this set against the divine light of spiritual bliss represented by the eternal perfection of God.
If you are a Gnostic, you identify yourself with the eternal light as much as you can despite being entrapped in a stinking physical body; if you are “something else” you are mired within or even accept as natural the filthy delusion of materialism. So this basic black vs. white situation is offered, yet author David Madsen (a pseudonym) identifies himself as a “theologian, philosopher and therapist.”
And that’s why I bring up the whole Uncle Charles Principle thingy – because if Madsen truly is an accomplished theologian and philosopher, then he knows that Gnosticism is deeper or at least far more variegated than as it is portrayed in this book.
In other words, the Gnosticism here should be considered that as comprehended by the character Peppe the dwarf.
Furthermore, by invoking the Uncle Charles Principle we can also indemnify the author from a Freudian-like obsession with feces, urine, sweat, blood, flatus and sexual bodily fluids, as well as persistent representation of the sex act as a kind of primeval debauchery on par with a violent attack of diarrhea.
In these pages readers will confront an onslaught of hetero- and homosexual content. At worst the sex is often shocking and violent; at best it is depicted as a moral failing. Interspersed between these episodes of human-animal copulation are persistent references to defecation, urination, sweat, bodily odors, vomit, sundry oozings, obesity and perversions, such as when Peppe’s the dwarf’s alcoholic-whore mother attempts to have sex with him.
Another example: A remarkable scene depicting a Gnostic initiation rite during which the candidates are expected to drink from a cup containing the freshly ejaculated sperm of their leader. The reader is mercifully spared the denouement of this passage – but only because the substitute is an eruption of blood-spurting violence involving the hacking of heads and arms, guttings, and torture.
This is necessarily not a plot-driven work since it is fashioned as a memoir; although there are significant subplots that help drive the narrative and makes it more than a travelogue through Renaissance Italy. Conflict is provided by the tension between the corrupt Catholic Church of and the budding Protestant reformation. An evil agent of the Inquisition also provides a delicious villain whom our heroes must escape or plot against – and finally, there is a backdrop of the ever-ongoing wars between the dominant principalities of the day.
The final chapter of Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf is an inexplicable, almost bizarre departure from the always salacious, nasty, but erudite and baroque style of the rest of the book. The end reads like a smarmy Edwardian novel dripping with high-handed sentimentality and soaring proclamations of idealized commitment, along with a dedication to pursue a trajectory of philosophical purity.
Ken Korczak is the author of: THE FAIRY REDEMPTION OF JUBAL CRANCH