Carnal... to the Point of Scandal by Kevin Jackson - review by Jonathan Beckman

Jonathan Beckman

There’s Treasure Everywhere

Carnal... to the Point of Scandal


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Kevin Jackson – critic of literature, art and cinema, biographer, filmmaker, anthologist, conversationalist and connoisseur of the genus Alces (his nickname, Moose, has inspired a fascination with those animals) – is a Renaissance man. His affinity, though, is not so much with the traditional, suave exemplars (Erasmus, Raphael or Leon Battista Alberti, say) as with altogether weirder folk. His true kin are Paracelsus and Athanasius Kircher and the anonymous author of the Voynich Manuscript, those burrowers into arcane knowledge and votaries of occult flames. His interest in eccentricity has itself an eccentric bent, so that within his voluminous oeuvre, which covers voodoo worshippers, psychogeographers and vampires, lie two learned books on, of all people, John Ruskin.

Carnal is, according to the bibliography bringing up the rear, Jackson’s 34th book. It harvests exhibition catalogue essays, DVD liner notes, scholarly articles, Sunday-best journalism (the profiles Jackson wrote for the Independent on Sunday’s short-lived ‘Talk of the Town’ supplement are some of the most enjoyable things here), as well as a contribution to The Departmental Papers of the London Institute of ’Pataphysics. All are delivered with Jackson’s quintessential qualities: rubicund good cheer, a robust, perceptive, often self-deprecating wit and bibliophagic learning. There is a refreshing absence of snark, and Jackson’s enthusiasm for those he writes about is unabashed. He can tackle pillars of the canon when necessary – there is an astute pondering of the rise and fall of his infatuation with Sartre – but his true subjects are the neglected masterpiece, the intriguing failure, the prophet without honour and the frappant freak.

Jackson is a champion of the prewar avant-garde filmmakers of the General Post Office Film Unit and wrote a biography of Humphrey Jennings. In Carnal, he brings two others into shot: Len Lye, the New Zealand expatriate whose chromatic, globular animations made him one of the progenitors of British surrealism;

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