"This is the end, my offence, my word-bomb, disturbing the populace. My poem starts with everything and ends in nothing. I need some sort of skin. I'm all out of my own."
My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts is the landmark African novel (by Amos Tutuola) that fused folklore with sci-fi and created a blueprint for a specific version of modernity that might be described as "ancient to the future". But, instead of a literary parody of the classic Tutuola work, the title of Paul Wessels' debut novel(?), My Ghost In The Bush Of Lies, seems to be referring to the Brian Eno-David Byrne sonic collaboration that took its name from the Tutuola novel, and in transposing his medium of reference from the written word to the ghostly dub echoes and shimmering electronic soundscapes of the 1980 post-new wave classic, Paul Wessels has done his readers a great service.
"Dad comes into my room speaking Egyptian, which I don't understand. He is saying that he's come to narrate my history. I'm sitting on a bench in the city, he says, and I'm with this other guy. We light up. It's Jean Baudrillard. Hello manno, he says. Fuckit, I say. So we get up and walk through the deserted streets. Take a short cut through the Carlton Centre. Walk up the escalators. On the landing is a beautiful woman, luminescent blue. She's lying in a pool of water, dressed in a ballerina's tutu. It's cherry, says Baudrillard. Yes we've got to get that train, I say. So we pick her up, and carry her back to Baudrillard's place. Walking across the fields, I try to do flips but I keep dropping Cherry, so I stop trying."
The second difficulty concerns Paul Wessels' use of masks. Navigating his literary masks can be exhausting and can produce a feeling of falling through his texts (the text suddenly flipping into the opposite of its apparent sense). This can occur within the pages of a single chapter, or even within a paragraph. "People who think deeply feel themselves to be comedians in their relationship with others because they have to simulate a surface in order to be understood." These masks, or "simulated surfaces" occur throughout Wessels' novel(?). Deep thinkers, according to Wessels, not only need and love masks, but "around every deep spirit there continually grows a mask."
Three masks that Wessels wears while listening to himself playing My Ghost In The Book Of Lies: The mask of Paulus Nomad, a providential idler, drug addict, whore, terrorist, madman, farmer, philosopher and writer. The book starts with his arrest and detention. The mask of the literary critic. Nomad (or Wessels) reviews from his prison cell three works of philosophical literature, by De Sade, Baudrillard and Nietzsche. These three reviews comprise a large chunk of the bulk of this 94 page novel(?). And the mask of the literary game player. The text of Wessels' book is continually interrupted by lengthy italicised "interventions made up of the first complete sentence on page 15 of some books in my possession at various times of writing."
Whilst wearing this third mask Wessels unfortunately falls prey to some snobbism perhaps inherent in using this technique and we are given tantalising clues as to what sort of books were in his possession – lots of literary theory, Hegel, Kant, Raymond Quenau. These "interventions" would perhaps have worked better if the source material of the samples was less high-brow, Louis Lamour westerns for example, or Wilbur Smith.
If everything I've written thus far give an indication of a tough, obtuse, opaque, difficult to read text then I've failed miserably. Wessels' great service to his readers is that he has brought a media savvy jouissance to South African writing, one I've not yet encountered elsewhere. His writing is an invitation to read quickly, to skim, its density of texture doesn't slow the reader down but actually accelerates the pace of reading. In this sense My Ghost In The Book Of Lies is a hypertext, a mask of literature that would fit more readily on a computer screen, or a cell phone – SMS it in compact bursts to your entire mailing list, a work to be spread virally – that he has chosen to present the work as a novel(?) might turn out to be a mistake. It's so furiously "post-modern" a work I can't imagine many "novel" readers taking to it.
The truth is that Paulus Nomad doesn't go anywhere and has absolutely nothing to say. The more he speaks the less he says. Whilst studying at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, he was forced to go into hiding for planting a word bomb. In prison he recognised chunks and phrases of theory, philosophy, prose, his own dreams. Some he did not recognise. "I suppose that's more rubbish from the rubbish". Paul Wessels and his literary alter ego Paulus Nomad fuse. When you wear the mask of a lie for long enough it becomes the truth. "Life is political."
Paul Wessels should not be taken seriously, that is, literally. We should spare him the indignity. He is far too important for that. He can not stop himself from believing that "every word uttered has a purpose". And that purpose is to be unmasked! Every artist, every great artist, wants to get busted, to be revealed.
"I am deep in the bush. I am a double agent. We are under fire. My comrade in a red overall is shooting at us. He does not know that I am here. The bullets zip past my head. My cover is blown. They see through my eyes and see how I deliberately fire off-target, and now force me to take straight aim before firing. DO I GET OUT OF THE BUSH ALIVE, NOW THAT MY COVER IS BLOWN?"
The concept of My Ghost In The Bush Of Lies is to cut through the ossified notions of culture that belong to the analogue period. We're in the digital future now and our literature should reflect that, our cinema should reflect that. Paul Wessels' book is a model of this new digital awareness that is medium specific in an entirely novel(?) way.
Check out the web site of the publisher, Deep South Publishing.
Kaganof was born again in 2001. He used to drive a Toyota Corolla but that got stolen. He shoots Glock. He has three books available from Pine Slopes Publications.