The Doom of Clowns
The novel brings together the Speculative Fiction genre and Autoethno-Satire. Autobiographical material is comically exaggerated and hybridized with both hegemonic and marginalized discourses to challenge implicit understandings, using multiple first-person narrators. This intentionally subversive and double-voiced (Bakhtin 1981) writing process explores ambiguous utopias and dystopias, critiquing a neoliberal cultural hegemony from the margins and aspiring to suggest ‘other ways of knowing and being’ (Contemporary British Autoethnography, p. 7).
Set partly in Glastonbury’s alternative community and at a South Coast University, the narrative voices include a sheep, revolutionary humans, extra-terrestrials and a PhD researcher. Vernacular, ‘lived’ dialogue often contests cultural space and its political or mythic meanings within the Glastonbury community. The dialogic and sometimes carnivalesque presentation of the novel and research aims to remain consistent with aspects of ‘Alternative Glastonbury’ and to create or reclaim a different cultural emphasis from the satirically portrayed bureaucratic, apparently neutral and ‘scientific’ neoliberal discourses. Rational, technical voices are hybridized and juxtaposed with other worldly and mythic narratives that play upon apocalyptic themes. The novel therefore follows in a tradition of speculative or science fiction that warns against the possibly dystopian and dehumanizing effects of scientific progress.
The uses of satire, sarcasm and particularly irony in social research in the academy are supported by Watson (2011) and Grant, Turner, Short (2013). Using theoretical perspectives on the role of satire and clown in the polyphonic novel, the accompanying critical essay examines Bakhtin’s ideas of the dialogic and chronotope in relation to the novel’s development. The role of the clown and the mother or maternal are also examined with reference to the psychoanalytic and philosophical perspectives of Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva. The novel’s cultural context is then explored in relation to Glastonbury, its resurgent Goddess movement and a wider holistic debate.
My own experience of living with a mother who was a comic performer informs my interest in the role of the clown, satire and humour. I have also performed on occasion. The novel uses humour to bring together discourses that might otherwise be difficult to put in dialogue. The comically exaggerated alternative paradigms have been developed after living in Glastonbury for two and a half years and after being involved in various aspects of the holistic movement for over twenty years, as a facilitator and participant in the UK and various other countries East and West, where I have also been an English and Community Education teacher.
By using humour in a way that allows for an appeal to what Bakhtin calls a ‘folk time’ that precedes any particular cultural or hierarchical arrangement, the research aims to open up other spaces and suggest possibilities for different cultural practises, by exposing the cultural contingency of apparently rational and neutral processes and discourse.
I presented an excerpt from the preface to the novel at the ‘Autoethnography, Learning from Stories’ conference at Brighton in May 2015