Literature & Philosphy of Dynamo Island

The eight regional universities of the Federal republic of Dynamo reflect in their names the eight philosophers who have shaped Dynamoan thinking since the seventeenth century: Jake Russet (Arcadia), Charles Derwent (Campana), Alfred Onestone (Maurice Island), George Hagel (Olympia), Frederick Netshow (Pugilia), Charles Symbol Purse (Sparta), Jack Derider (Spokane) and Blair Pastel (Velox County). Deeply attached to the physical recalcitrance of their homeland – a rugged island in a vast sea with high mountains and fertile plains – Dynamoans have always been deeply suspicious of metaphysics. Profoundly shaped by their ancient pantheistic beliefs, their deities were first and foremost related to the material aspect of the world, only secondarily as agents inspiring spiritual or conceptual values.

Their great seventeenth-century philosopher, Blair Pastel, gave modern expression to this outlook with his conception of the rational element as being only one aspect of human mental make-up and his affirmation that knowledge was acquired also through the senses (through scientific observation), the emotions (moral and aesthetics values) and through belief – whether in a deity or in the first principles on which conceptions, language and law were based. This view was amplified in the eighteenth century by Russet who, like European thinkers of this period, emphasized the importance of subjective desire in human knowledge and belief, and emphasized the creative role of the imagination as both a synthesizing and an analytical agent. This intuition was subsequently submitted by George Hagel, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, to a systematic analysis in which the dialectical relation between spirit and matter was argued for, establishing a plausible model of the way the mind absorbs, transforms and yet still retains elements of the material or sensual world it both institutes and undergoes.

The power of matter as a fundamentally irrational and self-transforming agent was radically demonstrated in the field of biology by Charles Derwent who showed that the millions of species that constitute the natural world survive purely according to the chance adaptation of some of them to their environment, these species, over time, tending to survive where others die off. Twentieth-century understanding of the genetic process in biological development would confirm aspects of Derwent’s evolutionary thesis. At about the same time, in the realm of philosophy, the radical and eccentric figure of Netshow was to demonstrate that religion, philosophy and morality were equally arbitrary as values or constructions of the human mind, and that the values that would ultimately prevail would be those most in tune with a will to survive, fully in the knowledge that there was no absolute necessity for them, or indeed for human life. Netshow’s critical interrogation of language was shared by another great Dynamoan, Charles Symbol Purse, who established that the ultimate real of matter and feeling was probably unknowable since humans could only communicate – knowledge, sentiment, belief – through representation. Thus semiology, drawing on the insights of Hagen and Netshow, became an established discipline within the human sciences.

In mathematics and physics, the question of the relationship between matter and the dynamic principles operative in the universe – energy, movement, time – was radically clarified by Alfred Onestone who in a celebrated algebraic formula showed that time, space and energy were all part of a homogeneous complex whose apparently different manifestations were merely a function of the relative position from which they were viewed: once again, as with Derwent, the human position was viewed as being a chance development, inadequate to grasping let alone commanding the situation in which it found itself. In the realm of language and philosophy, the great late twentieth-century thinker Jack Derider, elaborated this principle in relation to writing which he showed to have no logical beginning or end, to be constantly in a state of movement and transformation, and yet beyond which it was impossible to move since humankind are condemned to inhabit an epistemological world of symbolic (mis-) representation.

As a result of this, twenty-first century Dynamoans broadly share a belief in their existence in an irrational world, one that has no organizing principle other than that of chance and the laws of physics – insofar as these latter may be construed to be knowable. This realistic appraisal of existence has not led to nihilism or despair, but, on the contrary, to an enthusiastic acceptance of existence as it is offered to humankind and to a commitment to understanding and enjoying the miracle of it to the fullest degree. The fact that the beauty of the rose is purely a matter of chance, and that symmetries in human appearance or in their artistic creations have no intrinsic meaning, does not prevent the estimation and celebration of these phenomena. There is therefore a strong element of Epicureanism in the Dynamoan philosophy, coupled with a marked sense of community: since all humans depend on each other to survive within it, Dynamoans celebrate their shared fate and the beautiful if irrational environment in which they evolved. This does not mean that Dynamoans give themselves up passively to the destiny which has been meted out to them, but on the contrary strive constantly to question and interrogate the physical and moral laws of their universe, seeking no final or absolute solution to the problems it poses, but merely endeavoring to enhance their understanding, and therefore acceptance, of it.

The integration of the human and the natural world that is intrinsic to the Dynamoan cultural tradition is reflected in the country’s literary tradition. Although since the time of the Romans, European classicism has strongly marked Dynamo’s culture, it has always, like England, also exhibited strong Romantic tendencies in which powerful individual or communal feelings of interaction with the natural world have led to an organic and imaginative approach to literary creation. The strong pantheistic tendencies of the country, along with the continuing vitality of local traditions and mythologies, has resulted in a highly imaged and sensuous poetry. In drama, the preeminence of comedy perhaps reflects the humorous acceptance of difference nurtured within a country with strong regional variations in customs and traditions. The national poet, William Bird, like Shakespeare in England, combines in his poetry and his plays (mostly comedies) a powerful lyrical propensity with brilliant and witty word-play. The epic tradition, vital in the 17th and 18th centuries, gives expression to the conflict between Romano-European influxes from around AD 200 and the older Celtic traditions of the preceding half millennium. Whereas in Britain Miltonic epic was magisterially synthesizing Christian and Classical mythology, in the work of Dynamo’s greatest epic poet, Gilbert Moth, it was the fusion of Roman and modern mythologies that came to the fore.

The country’s greatest lyric poets, Andrew Wonder and John Donwell, writing in the 17th century, explored the tensions between urban and civic values and those of a more traditional rural and pastoral tradition, a preoccupation renewed and rejuvenated in the 19th century by Romantic poets such as Robert Rose and Patrick Horizon. The following poem, written by the latter, a native of Arcadia, gives an idea:

A Song of Rural Obscurity

Out of the thicket a bird – a partridge
Beats its wings laboriously into flight
In a heavy diagonal climb cross the furrows.
Under the bank, through the hemlock and mallow,
A rabbit bobs towards the burrows of the warren.
A sparrow flits through the orchard’s
Fawn confusion to the barn:
Oak beams bending under a heavy sky;
Thatch collapsing beneath
Invisible pigeons’insidious cooing.
Guttering hanging precariously over
The lichened timbers of a decaying water butt
Cracking like nut, hollow of kernel.
A broken ladder’s rungs climb to a vacant gable.
A gate swings open into a barren yard;
Windows blinded with ivy through a long absence of eyes
Squint from inscrutable brickwork,
Whilst through a warped frame a blank doorway gapes.

Grass grows out of the hayrick’s hat
And moss is carpeting the scullery;
The clatter in the dairy is caused by the rat
And the loft is the bat’s dark gallery.

What trace remains here of a human domain?
What consciousness lurks among the cracks in the plaster?
Whose eyes observe this leisurely disaster?
Is there an old man snoring in a ditch of vetch and dandelion
Who will wake and relate the history of hereabouts?
Or is the mystery sealed
In the hieroglyphs of wheeling birds forever?

The fragmentation and cultural diversity that characterise European and American modernism is also present in 20th-century Dynamo culture in which the generically problematic texts of poets such as Alexander Box and David Detroit explore the complex interaction of different linguistic and cultural traditions. Their (respective) poems Walking round the Square (1922) and In the Boxing Ring (1936) express the profound tension in modern life between rationalist symmetry and irrational urges, the Apollonian and the Dionysiac, the intellectual and the visceral, as in the following poem, ‘Unidentified Boxer’:

Whose is the body, identified only
By a gum-shield grimace,
Lolling rapturously backwards,
Gloved fists helplessly akimbo,
Limbo-dancing to oblivion
Across the ice-rink of the canvas?
His is the dream and the nightmare
Of every man of average mettle
Channeling intermittent currents
Of fantasy and adrenaline
Into the alluring danger of the ring
Where a camera’s black box flash
Captures with a shutter’s snap
The slow rush to unconsciousness.

The question of national identity in the face of immigration and globalisation is an important theme in later 20th-century writing, as in Kevin Kapor’s highly acclaimed novels Strangers to ourselves (1984) and Vive la différence (1998). Women writers have played a central role in the development of literature in Dynamo from the 17th century, with Emily House (Duty Calls, 1666), Charlotte Craft (Marriage à la mode, 1792), Isabella Strand (Home Truths, 1854) and Flora Dine (The Matchmaker, 1924) in successive centuries exploring the changing role of women in the domestic and public spheres. In the 1950s and 60s, the Modern Crisis movement of post-war poets was concerned to explore the moral and political issues at stake in relation to the catastrophes of 20th-century history, in particular the Second World War – as in David Mark’s poem, ‘At Todtnauberg (Some time) after Paul Celan’ which strives to engage with the moral and philosophical ambiguity of the contemporary position:

Colt’s-foot, wind-flower
We follow dubious
Among tracks still snow-bordered
On the schattenseite

And approach the hütte
From behind

We try to see the view
– Fir-lined ridges against further ridges –
As Heidegger might have

But much intervenes

– New buildings, ski-lifts, old prejudices –

The draft from the well with the
Star-die on top
Is still pure

The air is still pure

And the hope, today,
For a thinker’s word
To come in the heart

But being (knowing, judging)

– Despite snow hieroglyphs on the north-facing slopes –

Is still


a rock-fall.