Dystopia in the Present

Posted: January 8, 2014 in Fiction, Literary Criticism, Reviews

by: Lynn Perretta

This week on Streetwraith DotNet, we are taking on dystopian fiction. While most dystopias focus on the future or other worlds, I wanted to highlight a work that explores some of the ideas of the dystopia in the present or more to the point the very recent past. Dystopias are, at their heart, psychological experiments that highlight our fears and, when they dream of their utopian counterparts, our hopes as well. Panos Nomikos’ Fateful Eyes Volume 1: the Puzzle and the Journey highlights this tendency of the dystopia to dream. For a little while, we are going to explore this present exploration of the dystopian themes of terrorism and upheaval, looking at Nomikos’ form for his novel, the dynamics between characters, and the use of some archetypes in characterization.

The Present
Nomikos makes an interesting choice in keeping his novel almost exclusively in present tense. The basic form of Fateful Eyes is the frame narrative. He opens the novel with Peter imprisoned on July 9, 2005. When he steps back in time four days, he ignores the temptation to change to past tense. Even when he moves the narrative back one more frame, to September of 2001, he still maintains the present tense. It is only when he speaks of Peter’s “past life” that he relents to the call of past tense. It is fitting here. While the narratives in these past life sections are necessary to the story they are also a break from the forward motion of the novel’s three frames.

Why does Nomikos use the present tense to tell his story? One might as well ask why he tells a story with dystopian issues in modern times rather than future times or fantastic landscapes. He uses present tense for the same reason that he uses modern times. These issues, war, terrorism, economic crisis, and upheaval, are present in the author’s lifetime. Like the post World War I novelists, he does not have to imagine what circumstances might bring these issues to bear on society. He watches them manifest repeatedly.

By keeping the novel in present tense, he keeps his reader in the psychological struggle of his protagonist. He is taking advantage of a little spoken of secret about tenses. Past tense is common in fiction because it is a relief. As we read The Stand there is a subconscious comfort. We are reading, no matter its time-period, an event that has occurred. Even though we may watch a character we have come to love die, we have made it through. We know this because we are reading it in the past. We are looking back upon it.

In present tense, this comfort does not exist. No matter the time-period of the work, we are experiencing it in the moment. As we watch the perils of the protagonist, we are faced, unconsciously, with a question: will we make it through with him? This works in Fateful Eyes because the hurdles that Peter faces, the aftermath of September 11, 2001, economic uncertainty, and war are all things that touch the lives of his readers as well.

Life and Dynamics
Terrorism is as present in Peter’s personal life as it is in the world around him. In Manila, 2001, a traffic jam is cause for fear as local gangs could, at any moment, hold them up, attempt to hijack their vehicle, or simply murder them in broad daylight. An unsolicited letter from the mysterious Kerguelen could be a plot with any number of motives. Even a terrorist strike thousands of miles away threatens his career as executives sit in an ill-fated breakfast meeting in a restaurant on the top floor of a Manhattan office building.

Upheaval is equally present. When Kerguelen makes contact, there is a threat to Peter’s still blooming life with his future wife, Leila. Throughout Peter’s past his life is tumultuous. His career is a path of spikes and valleys that move counter to his first marriage. His present in 2005 is no less chaotic. On July 5 he leaves to perhaps find the mysterious woman, Kerguelen, and on July 9, he is in prison. In between, we know through the lens of history, is a deadly terrorist attack in London on July 7; London, where he lives with Leila.

Peter’s reactions to the events around him are interesting. He is a complicated man. His masculinity and sexuality are important to him, highlighted in his life when his career is in a downturn. Infidelity, often used as a mark of masculinity, is not part of his programming. It is his first wife who finds another lover when Peter is married to his work. When a message with suggestive meanings appears in Peter’s inbox, he instantly turns to his girlfriend, Leila.

Leila finds herself in an interesting position throughout the story as Peter’s trusted confidant. She is his lover, later his wife, and must remain a faithful confidant, even though the situation causes her insecurity. A strong dynamic is formed between her, Peter, Kerguelen, who is quickly revealed to be Peter’s daughter, and the unknown mother.

This dynamic also plays on the id, ego, and superego identities. When Peter’s first impressions are that he has a sexual pursuer, or perhaps a threat, he is operating fully within his Id. This part of the dynamic also creates an interesting Oedipal complex. Peter worries that his daughter is a threat to him, though it is not apparent whose attention he is drawing away from Kerguelen. It hints at possibilities of abandonment or neglect, both of which can build powerfully complex characters.

Leila acts as Peter’s Ego, advising him how to handle the mysterious stranger who sends him messages. She is also the one who confirms Kerguelen’s story that she is Peter’s daughter. It is Kerguelen, however, who will come to represent his Superego when, in 2005, she embodies his hopes and fears, both conscious and subconscious. The Oedipal complex still remains in play in 2005, as the discovery and acceptance or denial of Kerguelen can still cause upheaval and threaten Peter and Leila’s lives.

The Maiden, the Mother, and the Trickster
While there are several archetypes present in Fateful Eyes, I wanted to focus on the archetypes present in two characters: Leila and Kerguelen. Leila’s archetype is apparent almost immediately: the is the Mother. Nomikos describes her as nurturing. She is also longsuffering, staying by his side through turmoil and an obsessive journey. Her archetype is also ironic. As the Mother archetype, she is the one thing she cannot be.

Kerguelen holds two archetypes. She is first, through the lens of suspicion and assumption, the Trickster. She acts outside of convention, spying on Peter and contacting him in secret. The archetype thrust upon her by her clandestine actions and the suspicions of Peter and Leila undermines Peter’s attempts to find her. He calls her a deceiver and in response, she wants nothing to do with him. Leila, in her role of Mother, delivers the only hope he has to find her when she makes an effort to bridge the divide between father and daughter.

Kerguelen also holds the archetype of Maiden, taking it upon herself. Her claims are that she only wants to meet Peter, to get to know the man who fathered her. By her word, her intentions are pure. She only turns bitter when Peter insults her, and then her bitterness is displayed only in her desire to stay away from him. Later, in 2005, it is through the ideal of her that Peter and Leila hold to that she maintains this archetype.

In Fateful Eyes, Nomikos weaves a psychological journey. He likens the journey to the Odyssey, and I don’t disagree with the likeness. Nomikos frames a story that takes us back and forth on a journey to locations and time periods. The dystopian themes present in the story, terrorism and upheaval, form both the backdrop of his main character’s journey as well as touching each aspect of the character’s life. Fateful Eyes highlights the fears that we all face in uncertain times of war and economic difficulty. Like a true dystopian work, it also draws attention to the hope and possibility that come from rising above the darkness.

About Fateful Eyes Volume 1: The Puzze and the Journey
Panos Nomikos’ Blog
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Purchase Fateful Eyes on Amazon.

  1. panosnomikos says:

    Reblogged this on Panos Nomikos Blog and commented:
    By far the best review of “Fateful Eyes”. Enjoy it!