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This review is taken from PN Review 63, Volume 15 Number 1, September - October 1988.

UTOPIA REVISITED John Ash, Disbelief (Carcanet) £6.95 pb.

John Ash has always adopted a particular line in aestheticism. In his works, the world is present but estranged, not so as to make that strangeness terrifying or alienating, but to make it delightful and pleasurable, which surely must be a more difficult, if also a more necessary, transformation. It is also more dangerous, in that the impedimenta of melodrama, pastoral silliness and campness must be used. Some poems in Disbelief, Ash's latest and, in many ways, best volume, repeat the strategies of earlier books. (See the review of The Good-byes, PNR 37.) The operatic staginess ('These are steps we will descend in sleep / like echoes of ourselves, each singing / in our different ways, without dull repetition...') does, in fact, seem to have been repeated too many times to remain effective; all defamiliarizing gestures have an entropy towards the familiar, a danger Ash must be aware of, given the range of this new book. When not concerned with individual aesthetic consciousness, Ash creates imaginatively playful utopias, which he then describes, images of a possible non-alienating social freedom. It is precisely the question of description in this project which now disturbs me. The idea that an image of a possible utopia might be produced by defamiliarizing and aestheticizing the world alone, by making it fictive - which still seems to me a necessary first step - seems unwittingly complacent. Lyotard in 'The Critical Function of the Work of Art' (in Driftworks) questions art which remains 'a representation of ...


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