Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Memoirs Found in a Bathtub [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Stanisław Lem, trans Michael Kandel and Christine Rose, book 2 in the From the Memoirs of Ijon Tichy series.
The twelve-page introduction is more overtly sfnal than the body text of this novel, which is a romp of epistemological ambiguity set in the dystopian Building. From the far-future documentary context of the intro we are led to understand that the Building contains a sort of continuity-of-government American microsociety in an underground site in the Rocky Mountains. And yet the exit from the windowless Building in the memoirs themselves is at the bottom rather than the top (185)–unless that “Gate” is merely a sham or a trap, as it may well be.
The narrator of the memoirs gives neither his name nor his origin. He begins in media res with an effort to “find the right room” (13) which quickly eventuates into his recruitment as an intelligence agent. Once he has achieved this status, the first parts of the book are concerned with his striving to acquire his “instructions,” which he accomplishes in a sort of tentative and temporary fashion. Later passages are more focused on determining the actual authority and allegiances involved with his activities, which tend toward the scripted and ritualistic, implying all manner of codes and betrayals.
I was already reminded of the Kafkaesque British TV series The Prisoner (1967-8) when Major Erms said, “Be seeing you” (58). I guess any intentionality there must be ascribed to the 1973 English translators, since the Polish original was written in 1961. Another comparandum for me was Jeff VanderMeer’s novel Authority.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I picked up this book, but I was surprised to find satirical theodicy skirting the edge of nihilism in an anti-fantasy of espionage and authoritarianism. It’s a short book and I would read it again.
“I only know that you told me what they told you to tell me.”
“And you wouldn’t believe me if I denied that, and you shouldn’t, because even if I did, it probably wouldn’t be the truth. Who knows?” (169)