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Camp Concentration is a vital meeting of several forces. Thomas M. Disch, though living in the United States, was much influenced by the British New Wave writers who were exploring the inner space of human consciousness through literary experimentation. Camp Concentration is a conscious variation on Thomas Mann’s monumental Doctor Faustus (1947), in that it deals with the price of genius and is set against a background of wartime tyranny, which sharpens the novel’s moral aspect. The novel is set during a war in the future, but it is a very near future (attested by the presence of President McNamara, presumably the 1960’s secretary of defense). This is clearly a novel about the illegitimacy of the war in Vietnam and the methods of the military research establishment.

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The novel’s most important aspect is its experimentation with literary style. Sacchetti is a poet and litterateur from the start (he cites Fyodor Dostoevski’s The House of the Dead [1915] on the first page of the text), but his literary allusions become far more pronounced as his intelligence and reading accelerate as a result of the syphilis. Others, like Washington, bring in Arthur Koestler’s definitions of genius, and there are extensive references to the alchemical masters and great writers who have had syphilis. As Sacchetti’s illness advances, his journal disintegrates into a literate, allusive stream of consciousness in which he quotes or mentions such diverse figures as Heinrich Himmler, Saint Augustine, Hans Yost, André-Georges Malreux, and John Milton, along with citing the Bible. The texture gives a rich, complex speculation on disease, genius, and death.

The text has an overriding tone of moral confrontation. Sacchetti, an intellectual Catholic, has become a conscientious objector to the war and is aware of the issues surrounding what is happening to him and the other subjects. Skilliman, who seems at first to be injected into the latter part of the text only to fill the void created...

(The entire section contains 500 words.)

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