Luke's Reviews > The Jokers

The Jokers by Albert Cossery
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it was amazing
bookshelves: idlers, read-this

A primer on anarchy and the Revolution of Everyday life. Cossery argues for idling, leisure, indolence, and humor as revolution, not eye-for-an-eye spartan uprisings. This is one of the Egyptian writer’s works set in a nameless Middle Eastern police state which here is reframed as an idyllic world for our absurd heroes. There is Karim the former revolutionary, Heykal, his compatriot and a businessman whose desk holds only a phone; Khaled Omar the court jester filling the book with ridiculous laughing outbursts, and Urfy the anarchist school teacher beloved by his students, tortured by his mad mother, and the brains behind the movement’s tracts.

Albert Cossery’s own life is an amalgam of these guys— he published 9 books, about one per decade and most around 200 pages, as a leisurely anarchist living in France. Anyone having read this far should go read Henry Miller’s pre-Jokers essay on Cossery and his works from Stand Still Like the Hummingbird, but basically Cossery’s books are scathing indictments of power in his native Egypt written in populist fashion. The narrative moves along despite the languorous characters; pages break within chapters to jump to new ideas or reactions minutes later in the scene,
though perhaps Cossery ended writing for the day and indulged in characteristic laziness for a time (maybe weeks?) before returning to writing.

The book’s real power is in Cossery’s observations of the machinations of bothersome oppression and discussions of ways to escape it. Our heroes are bums, idlers, or criminals, but they are in league with members of the elite, daughters and mistresses mainly, or of the middle class, like Urfy the teacher or various merchants who help (somehow) with Heykal’s import/export stuff. They always have something to lose, and have to resort to hard decisions, trickster tactics, or sacrifices of their time and possessions if need by, but regardless the story always seems to have them putting in little to no effort toward their enterprises in comparison to the state. This includes enterprises relating to relationships with women, which turn out very Beat-like and, hence, somewhat backward-by-modern standards. Regardless, the heroes end up having loads of fun in the process. Each taking time off to conduct inner dialogue about their lot or the lot of their oppressors which serves as doses of popular anarchic philosophy in the language of the street.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
July 4, 2017 – Shelved
July 4, 2017 – Shelved as: idlers
July 4, 2017 – Shelved as: read-this

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