Music & Madeleine


Since I appear to be on an LCD Soundsystem & Madeleine L’Engle kick… remember the LCD Soundsystem song that goes, “New York, I love you, but you’re bringing me down”?

No? Here’s Kermit the Frog singing it:

I’m feeling that way about Switzerland right now. The country is absolutely gorgeous, but my goodness the bureaucracy and rigidity.

I’m not going to enumerate current woes, but last week something clicked, and I posted the following excerpt to Facebook:

“You mean you’ve had your entrance papers processed and everything?” the boy asked. “You must have if you’re here,” he answered himself. “And what are you doing here if you don’t know about us?”

“You tell me,” Charles Wallace said.

“Are you examiners?” the boy asked a little anxiously. “Everybody knows our city has the best Central Intelligence Center on the planet. Our production levels are the highest. Our factories never close; our machines never stop rolling. Added to this we have five poets, one musician, three artists, and six sculptors, all perfectly channeled.”

“What are you quoting from?” Charles Wallace asked.

“The Manual, of course,” the boy said. “We are the most oriented city on the planet. There has been no trouble of any kind for centuries. All Camazotz knows our record. That is why we are the capital city of Camazotz. That is why CENTRAL Central Intelligence is located here. That is why IT makes IT’s home here.”

An ex-pat responded, “this sounds a little like Switzerland! Wonder if M. L’Engle ever lived here….”

I burst out laughing. (1) It ISN’T just me! and (2) YES. L’Engle went to boarding school just outside of Montreux, and she was the out of synch child who had to be re-processed all the time. She set two of her realistic novels at Swiss boarding schools, and the protagonists of both fought to be accepted on their own terms. (Yes, that’s also a large part of the usual adolescent struggle, which reinforces my feeling too old for this nonsense.)

I’ve been reading so much Swiss-inspired literature, from my Romantic poets to L’Engle and Creech’s realistic fiction set here, but it never occurred to me that I might recognize this setting in speculative fiction. But one of the most accurate descriptions of Swissness is, in fact, Camazotz. Conformity and uniformity are prized, people do what they’re supposed to and are good citizens, they’re generally pleasant but hard to get to know, and I feel perpetually processed. Sure, predictability offers comfort (complacency?), but give me the rebels and nonconformists, the creative and the weird. They may not be on time, but they keep life interesting.

© 2016 Anindita Basu Sempere. 
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