1. 2.On the Nature of Literary Genius in Thomas M. Disch’s Camp Concentration

2.On the Nature of Literary Genius in Thomas M. Disch’s Camp Concentration

Ian Stuart Garlington 大阪大学(院)


In this presentation I will demonstrate how, through an overwhelming number of classical literary references in the novel Camp Concentration (1968), American New Wave SF author Thomas M. Disch effectively places both science fiction and the American counterculture of the sixties within the larger framework of literary history. Despite the lack of critical attention Disch has received up until now, Harold Bloom has included him in his Western Canon, and Fredric Jameson has stated that he would like to see more research on Disch’s works. This book is set in the near future in a secret underground U.S. research center which is conducting experiments whereby genius is induced in human subjects through injecting them with a specially engineered strain of syphilis. The narrator is a poet who has been brought there specifically to interpret the statements of the genius subjects into terminology which the scientists there can understand. Within the book’s 184 pages there are hundreds of references to several of the big names of literary history including Joyce, Rilke, Mann, Goethe, Marlow, Shakespeare, Bunyan and Aquinas. In terms of narrative structure, SF author Samuel Delany points out that the first half of the book is based on Marlow’s version of the Faust story and centers on how men of letters deal with the relationship between man, God and the universe. The second half is based on Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, which explains where Disch obtained the theme of inducing genius by intentionally infecting a person with syphilis. This section considers arguments of how men of science deal with the same issues of man, God and the universe.

In his exploration of the nature of genius, Disch follows Mann’s suggestion that true genius is demonic and not dictated by logic or reason. Thus when the experiment’s subjects attain brilliance, they take interest in alchemy and traditional literary works which offer access to other worlds not subject to the limitations of the modern scientific worldview?one that only allows for the possibility of a single fixed reality governed by measurable scientific laws. There are strong parallels between the setting of Disch’s story and the actual LSD experiments carried out in the fifties and sixties by the CIA under Project MKULTRA. I argue that through his literary references, which demonstrate the abilities of his syphilitic geniuses, Disch symbolically represents the insights relating to the existence of multiple realities, something commonly associated with the experience of LSD.