The Academy Outside of Ingolstadt by Damian Murphy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If it's not apparent that I'm a fan of Damian Murphy's work, you've not been paying attention to my reviews. That said, I do believe that every work has to stand on its own merit, so I approach the work of those whose work I have liked in the past with what I think is an objective, although anticipatory, frame of mind. Consider this mind blown.
I absolutely adore the strange characters of Abyssinia. I am fascinated by the subterfuge of The Acephalic Imperial. I was swept away by the intrigue of Psalms of the Magistrate. But all of that left me unprepared for the epic journey that is The Academy Outside of Ingolstadt.
This is literature at another level: the level of the sublime. From the beginning, with Franz's holocaustic vision of angelic destruction (a prophetic waking dream of the future in store beyond the book), which propels him to return to The Academy, to the era before the beginning, where Franz discovers what true catharsis is, and back to the present, where past and future coalesce in a time that is not time, the sideslip alley of memory (or of memory of memory) and of prophecy, we sense, no, we know that one can never fully know. And there is comfort in that. There is strength in the unseen. But there is also strength in revelation, even if the veil never fully tears apart, or if we discover that beyond that veil is another.
Above all, in reading this book, I felt a sense of one-ness with the characters and their experiences. For instance, the notion of a map constructed wholly from memory resonates with me. I often dream of places I've lived (and I've lived in a lot, being an Air Force brat) and visited again in dreams. My oneiric wanderings always take me to impossible nooks and crannies, skipping gulfs in a few steps, folding and unfolding interstices that were never there (and I've proven they were never there by visiting again). The Academy Outside of Ingolstadt has pushed me to meditate (yes, literally) on those dream-visions. Good fiction causes one to think. Great fiction causes one to act. And I will act on this by doing a (near) future blogpost about my wanderings. Call my upcoming blogpost . . . an offering.
Franz's escape from his threat and his sense of utter, eternal freedom is something I've experienced, albeit under very different circumstances (mine involves a literal threat of prison sentence and banishment from the place I loved, but that's a different story). It leaves an indelible impression on the soul. It's not always easy to recall it and draw upon it for strength, but it's always there. Once you've experienced it, there's no going back. Oh, yes, there can be denial, but such things are carved on the heart, forever. It's the Three of Swords, stabbed through and hurt, but still alive and pyrrhicaly-triumphant. The wound has become a part of you, your bleeding has become your freedom.
I've also experienced the sensations that are described in the little red journal around the student, Una's experience with participating in a marionette theater. Una's transformation is a slippage from puppeteer to puppet, then from puppet to self-aware being. She is, with full intention, but without full awareness, becoming herself by denying her self, that she is becoming a doing by doing a becoming. "I AM that I AM," in full praxis.
Finally (for the purposes of this review - there is no "finally" to this book, as far as I am concerned) the following quote caught my eye, then caught my soul:
The intoxicating flavor of the past, so he reflected, was sweeter in his memory than it could possibly have been at the time it was experienced.
Now that I'm over fifty, I can say that this is true. The ephemeral is often the most beautiful. Nostalgia is a strong drug that can intoxicate your world, whether in your waking hours or your dream-time. The world says "seize the day". The world beyond the world says "seize your memory of the day past".
My cryptic ramblings have headed in no particular direction. And I don't intend on giving them any direction. This matches my feelings, now, about how to approach this book. Approach it from whatever angle you like. Read it from beginning to end or flip to a random page and read backwards. No, it's not a structurally fluid as, say, Finnegans Wake. But there is a spiritual breathing to the work that allows you to enter the story at any inhalation or exhalation. Where you enter doesn't matter, what matters is that you be in it. And I plan on being in it again and again and again and again. One does not read this book, one breathes it. One is it. This has been my experience. Profoundly moving, profoundly still, profoundly here. The story is the Academy.
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