Back to the world through a nightmare

The Round Table Review

Published: Mar 2007
Reviewed by: Elena Kouttis
Review of book: THE FIRST DEATH

Back to the world through a nightmare: Some notes on Dimitris Lyacos' The First Death by Elena Kouttis
Dimitris Lyacos's trilogy Poena Damni ends with The First Death. The book starts in a desert rock where a cripple is slowly moving like "lava from beheaded rivers". His intentions become semi-unfolding visions of his intent to escape, or fight at best the very place he finds himself on, an island - though an island as sinister as any tormentor. Or is it only his intoxicated self, creating illusory surroundings,"unmixed visions of heroes leaning into the drunken veins of the light"? The protagonist, a seemingly self-proclaimed god, in his own wisdom, sees only cruelty in the natural world surrounding him - "and you ascend into the flowers of the tree where you were hanged"- and a profound need to meet this danger, and fight through to an escape. The character seems constantly on the verge of a profound illusion. There are no "others" beyond the border of his world. The First Death is no more and no less than a encoded autobiography of a consciousness fighting for life - a life always on the brink of being discontinued:"Final concept harbour which has broken there where it crumpled our faces." We behold an intoxicated abjected oneness gradually disintegrating. A man trying to keep together his own being, from a world outside himself, belonging to him as if in a nightmare. Against Dylan Thomas's "after the first death there is no other"- Lyacos is telling us that the world of the "First Death" is not the "decoded state of "un-happening", the obliteration of turmoil and anxiety. Only in the last act of the book, where we read of the "Slow ascent of the craft in the void, ignition of a monastery propelled like a razor, a course laid between the seed and the snare, marks of venerable syringes ordered, to excite the awareness of Transcendence"- a different - second - world, or a second death, is hinted at. Until then it would seem that the protagonist of the this book as indeed the Narrator of Lyacos' second book in the trilogy, "Nyctivoe", are indeed two sides of a coin. Just as the man in the "First Death" immerses himself in a tormenting illusion, the Narrator in "Nyctivoe"  leads the protagonists of his play in a state of intoxicated religious frenzy. And notwithstanding stylistic discrepancies, the reader recognises different parts of a broader conceptual "core", and is eager explore different paths in the development of the trilogy; perhaps in some barren state, whose offspring of music will make us wander through the marshes of a nightmare, generating a cohesive dream signalled by the title: Poena Damni. As with any dream, there is no moral waiting for us in the end; to cite from The First Death" which cites from the Bible: "He that is unjust let him be unjust still: and he who is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he who is holy, let him be holy still"(Apocalypse, 22, 11). It will seem that the paths that drive us are imprinted in memory, but we can go only as far as the mind can see, our selves will let us go no further; Lyacos's trilogy ends with a book in which such a trail is followed by its suffering protagonist; but the man goes further than that to paradoxically discover (or extend) himself in loss of identity, reach a limit and bounce back into the world again.

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