Caliban's Filibuster by Paul West

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Caliban's Filibuster Summary

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

To speak of plot in Caliban’s Filibuster is to suggest that it adheres to a series of fictional conventions which simply do not pertain. Of outward action there is very little (three men are flying in a jet from California to Japan, where they meet other actors and a Japanese producer); it is the tortured musings of Cal’s consciousness which provide the basis for most of the novel’s activities.

The novel opens with the protagonist, Cal, rehearsing in his mind a film in which he functions as both actor and audience as he travels over the Pacific. As he dramatizes his relationships with his two traveling companions— Sammy Zeuss and Murray McAndrew—a host of voices begin interrupting, questioning, and even demanding that Cal explain, change, or otherwise amend his cinematic musings. While it is unclear exactly to whom these voices belong, the reader quickly discerns that these are parts of Cal himself or alternate selves competing with the self that appears in control.

What quickly emerges from these meditations is Cal’s overwhelming frustration with the course that his career has taken; instead of writing the novel he had always aspired to write, he feels forced to capitulate to Zeuss’s crass aesthetics and grind out endless hack work. Almost as a hedge against this commercial turn that his career has taken, Cal begins formulating the first of three interdependent, yet distinctly separate, scenarios, in which he and his two companions will play significant roles.

In the first of these, McAndrew appears as a fabulously wealthy Greek shipping magnate, P. D. Malchios, who invites three guests to his home for a feast at which each proffers a gift and holds forth on a subject of his choosing. The meal concludes with Malchios taking his guests to a laboratory, where he is injected with chemicals and frozen for later thawing. The scenario, however, ends with Malchios and a frozen narrator both being seized and unceremoniously dumped into the Red Sea.

In his second narration, the narrator appears as P. D. Maleth, whose pseudonyms are Cortex Me and Cortex To, a scholar of Elizabethan drama who offers a taped lecture (given by himself) which he violently interrupts. He is punished for his outburst by one A. Z. Zeuss, put on sabbatical, and eventually appears to have become divided from himself, as one part of him whiles away his time incarcerated in a place known as the Cain Lab.

With two-thirds of his journey over, Cal begins a third story, in which what appears...

(The entire section is 637 words.)