Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman brings to prominence elements that were undertones in her earlier, more realistic works, such as Heroes and Villains (1969). She has been compared with such contemporaries as Thomas Pynchon and Gabriel García Márquez; she uses the philosophical, surrealistic, and erotic to create predominantly imaginative yet familiar landscapes.
The fantasy war between the minister of determination and Dr. Hoffman dramatizes the philosophical question of the relationship between reason and imagination, the real and the illusory, the objective and the subjective. The drama has faint traditional structures: Desiderio’s linear journey is a quest and a love story. A strong additional textual element is gender: Women are totally and complicitly victims of violent sex.
Carter’s dramatization of a philosophical debate succeeds as narrative first because of its familiar elements of linear time, quest story, and romance, and second because of Desiderio’s first-person narrative voice. Through these, the writer succeeds in keeping the reader in the story itself rather than in the philosophical debate it dramatizes. At the same time, the story makes the complexity of the issue come to the fore in two ways. First, Desiderio is, paradoxically, unaware until late in his journey that what he experiences—and thus what the reader experiences—are manifestations of his own unconscious,...
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