Paul Clinton Corrigan reviews a book that engages with the darker side of life in the contemporary urban sprawl.
George F, Good Times in Dystopia (Zero Books, 2019), 191pp.
Starting to read Good Times in Dystopia reminded me of when I started to read Lolita. In a word, revolting. In the opening chapters of Lolita, Nabokov begins his sickening but compelling depiction of the mind of a pedophile in 20th century America. In the opening pages of Good Times in Dystopia, George F depicts human excrement, broken plumbing, and other nauseating features of the squats he and his mates occupy in 21st century London. “Good time”, F writes, means “time deducted from an inmate’s sentence” as much as it means “the right moment,” while dystopia is “a society characterized by squalor, oppression, disease and overcrowding.” Nasty, brutish and short fits his list as well. “Short” in the Hobbesian sense of lifespan, but also in the sense that F’s dystopian setting is more like purgatory than hell: unlike hell, these inmates will not be sentenced forever in their purgatory. Here, rent-free purgatory means savings for holiday escapes.
“Revolting” soaks the pages of Good Times in Dystopia like the blotter acid its characters ingest. The inmates of this purgatory revolt rather than atone. And there is so much to revolt against: private property, planetary destruction by consumer culture, injurious police tactics, and more. Reckless behavior, senseless suicide, and random violence sit opposite pages of orderly planning for mass protests. These are not old school anarchists and theirs is not a conventional purgatory. Unlike Lucifer’s deprived, eternal damnation in hell for his revolt against God, their own relatively short, purgatorial sentences are sensual ones, filled not just with revolt, squalor, and consciousness-raising, but with good times: international travel to France, Germany, Spain, Morocco, India, and Malaysia as well as the copious consumption of weed, speed, sex, ecstasy, LSD, alcohol, and more.
Does rent-free squalor, intercontinental adventure, and illicit consumption culture constitute the paradox of the Western subaltern? Is George F the voice of that globe-trotting subaltern? Despite the good times he describes in dystopia, he confesses his own nihilism. Whether the consumption of drugs is the fuel or the symptom of such nihilism is only faintly considered. What matters is that nothing matters. Life has no inherent meaning. And thus, we have Good Times in Dystopia, F’s attempt to create meaning amidst the dystopia he sees all around him by writing about it. It is through his detailed, copyrighted, creative nonfiction account about his internment in this Belly of the Beast that George F paroles himself from it and is able to offer other individuals ideas for a way out…
Paul Clinton Corrigan lives in Hong Kong. He has taught undergraduates and research students at the same university for more than 25 years, where he also provides faculty development. He has published in the areas of teaching, literature, and writing, and is an associate editor of Asian ESP Journal.