4 July 2011

Amélie Nothomb: Acide Sulfurique (2005)

Acide sulfurique is probably the strongest social criticism Amélie Nothomb has so far made, and it is significant - bearing in mind that she is so suspicious of the internet that she doesn't even have a connection - that this criticism should involve modern technology.

The date is uncertain, but definitely the future, and probably the near future, when reality TV has almost exhausted any new permutation to stimulate viewing figures. Until, that is, television executives, with the complicity of the government, invent Concentration, the program that will make viewing figures hit the ceiling: in this, they kidnap people off the street to play out the role of victims of Nazi-style concentration camps. But there's a vital extra factor involved: the television studios are real concentration camps, and the victims are starved and beaten by paid fascist guards, and sent to their death.

There are similar themes in this book to Nothomb's others: the juxtaposition of good and evil, beauty and ugliness, monsters and saints; the (mentioned or unmentioned) metafictional references - Sartre's Huis clos yet again, but also Maupassant's Boule de suif; and there are prolonged crucial dialogs between the two main characters.

We are also implicitly reminded - probably via Michel Foucault, or George Orwell's telescreen - of Jeremy Bentham's panopticon, the ever-present eye in the totalitarian world.

In Acide sulfurique - for the viewer - Kapo Zdena is the most hated pyschopathic employee, and Pannonique (now known as 'CKZ 114') the most loved prisoner. We sense that Pannonique will soon meet her death, but it is made perfectly clear who the real murderers are: not the television executives, not the government, but the ordinary viewers, the ghouls who perpetuate this system by continuing to watch.

Slowly, Kapo Zdena - who doesn't even possess a TV - comes to share the audience's sympathies and loves the beautiful CKZ 114, slipping her chocolate, merely pretending to beat her, but it's not enough for Pannonique, as the same rules should be applied to all the prisoners, and she will not submit to the sexual blackmail of Kapo Zdena under any circumstances.

And eventually, Pannonique's intelligent but hair-raisingly risky tactics pay off and Kapo Zdena is in her magnetic power, which is strong enough to change the nature of reality. Or at least reality TV. By sheer bluff - forget the sulphuric acid.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for another greet post. Keep rocking.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Thank you. :-)