Terminal Café

In Lighter Vein

A note on the Jerry Cornelius Tetralogy

© 1976 Michael Moorcock

Part of my original intention with the Jerry Cornelius stories was to 'liberate' the narrative; to leave it open to the reader's interpretation as much as possible - to involve the reader in such a way as to bring their own imagination into play. This impulse was probably a result of my interest in Brecht - an interest I'd had since the mid-fifties.

Although the structure of the tetralogy is very strict (some might think over-mechanical) the scope for interpretation is hopefully much wider than the conventional novel. The underlying logic is also very disciplined, particularly in the last three volumes. It's my view that a work of fiction should contain nothing which does not contribute to the overall scheme. The whimsicalities to be found in all the books are, in fact, not random, not mere conceits, but make internal references. That is to say, while I strive for the effect of randomness on one level, the effect is achieved by a tightly controlled system of internal reference, puns, ironies, logic-jumps which no single reader may fairly be expected to follow.

Thus, in a scene in Condition of Muzak (the end of the section called 'Outcast of the Islands'), there is a short discussion about the Japanese invasion of Australia and Jerry makes a reference to big egos and Hitler. Shakey Mo then asks if he was a character in a children's comic and then immediately asks if Hitler wasn't a police chief they'd met in Berlin. The first reference is to Big Ego (a cartoon ostrich in The Dandy or The Beano); the second reference is to an earlier story of mine (a 'key' story, in my view) called The Pleasure Garden of Felippe Sagittarius (where Hitler was a rather pathetic police chief in an imaginary Berlin), leading to a reference to the fact that the historical Adolf Hitler doesn't exist in this world.

All this happens in a couple of sentences or so and should give the effect, among others, of time in a state of flux, men in a state of introverted confusion, close to fugue, and so on. But its internal logic is straight forward: the two characters know exactly what they are talking about. To 'explain' this, to editorialize, would be to break the mood, break the dramatic tensions, and ruin the effect I was trying to achieve. The apparent obscurity should not confuse the reader because the narrative should be moving so rapidly that they shouldn't care if they don't understand every reference. Similarly, if they were watching a richly textured film, they would not expect to perceive consciously every detail of every scene, music, etc. They are maintained primarily by a complicated series of prefiguring images which are developed as the book progresses.

(Note to bibliography)

Sojan. London: Savoy, 1977. p156-157.
back