chapter  8
“circling and circling and circling . . . whirligogs”: A Knotty Novel for a Tangled Object Trauma in Will Self’s Umbrella
ByGEORGES LETISSIER
Pages 20

Will Self is renowned for his use of “dirty magical realism” (Coe and Self, 2003, 44-46, my translation), that is, the skilful delineation of quotidian details mixed with the fantastic, especially through transmogrifi cation conceived of as inherent in the human condition. His satirical representations of the body, combining the grotesque and the burlesque, partake of a Swiftian vein, which may be found in many of his early fi ctions and is blatant in his novel Great Apes. However, the naturalist reduction of humans to their organic or physiological functions, such as the species reversal between man and chimpanzee, does not merely work at the allegorical level. It also tells something about the intrinsic deprivation attached to the human condition; the utter disregard for the complex rituals of grooming and touch which places “chimpunity” (1998, vii) at a higher level of civilisation when, by contrast, humans are reduced to some kind of species neuroticism. Thus the weird and the grotesque ultimately serve an ethical purpose.