Arts & Culture

8th November 2020

Methods Devour Themselves | Review

Methods Devour Themselves: A Conversation is a highly unique book, both in structure and content. Its chapters alternate between Sriduangkaew’s fiction and Moufawad-Paul’s non-fiction, acting as an exploratory conversation between the two authors. The book’s chief function is to illustrate the role fiction plays in inspiring philosophy and vice versa, operating in-line with the long-held philosophical tradition of ‘mining’ stories for analogical meaning.

The book’s first chapter is a short story entitled ‘We Are All Wasteland On the Inside’, in which the main character seeks to apprehend the assassin who poisoned an old spymaster. It takes place in Krungthep (Bangkok) after it has merged with a mythical forest called Himmapan, causing the city to disregard the regular laws of space and time. This merging has led to abnormal manifestations such as the ability for some to envision the dead and catch glimpses of futures that will not happen. The now mystical world of Krungthep is lushly constructed and full of rapturous wonder, yet despite its fantastical nature small knots of social issues mirroring those of the real-world are subtly revealed throughout the main character’s internal monologue.

Following the conversational format of the book, the next chapter entitled ‘Debris and Dead Skin: the capitalist imaginary and the atrophy of thought’ is Moufawad-Paul’s analytical response to the story. At one point in the first chapter the main character refers to the complexity of their society’s financial processes, how there’s no way to return back to a simpler time of bartering and exchanging labour, and that even the tribespeople native to Himmapan are slowly beginning to become entrenched in that system. Moufawad-Paul uses this moment among many others in the story to relate the world of Krungthep to contemporary living under late-capitalism, where even the most radical technological advancements and cultural developments are slowly subsumed by the logic of capitalism and integrated into its system (think Che Guevara on a t-shirt).

This is just one of many examples of the dynamic between Sriduangkaew’s and Moufawad-Paul’s writing – there are a total of three stories and three philosophical pieces in the book, each crammed with stimulating ideas and emancipatory ideation. In subsequent chapters Sriduangkaew also takes us to a cyborgian shipworld in the distant future and Kemiraj, a monarchical city hidden deep within the desert – each filled with colourful and compelling characters that capture the reader’s humanity even in the few pages we get to experience them.

Moufawad-Paul’s analysis mainly takes the form of Marxist critiques of 21st century capitalism, covering issues such as capitalist-realism (the idea that as a society we cannot imagine an alternative system to capitalism), problems surrounding the use of history as an ideological tool – for example, accepting the condition of the world today under the assumption that we as a society are continually marching forward towards a better future, and the importance of necessity – the necessity to fight for freedom, to advance scientific developments, and so on. Although the conclusions arrived at are acutely left-wing, this book is recommended reading for people of all political persuasions, even if just as a creative exercise in defending your worldview.

Sriduangkaew’s stories are vibrant and rich with detail, never once falling victim to dated sci-fi tropes or predictable plotlines – they stand up on their own without relying on the succeeding non-fiction analyses to retroactively fit meaning to them. Moufawad-Paul’s analyses are poignant and extremely accessible, even to readers less knowledgeable about Marxist thought or post-colonialism. Upon first hearing about the book’s unique structure, I began reading with the assumption that its structure would be overbearing and that the writing would suffer as a result, leading to an irrelevant avant-garde mess. I am however thoroughly impressed by the authors’ ability to pull off such an undertaking – the book works exactly as it should, a comfortable melding of the strengths of both fiction and non-fiction. I deeply recommend this book to sci-fi fans, the intellectually curious, and anyone looking for a unique adventure. At only around 160 pages in length, it’s also a great gateway book to get back into reading if you’ve fallen out of the habit in recent times.