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Guest Post: Cultural Espionage

Micheal Laverty writes about his soon-to-be-published satirical first novel, about a “21st century troupe of court jesters – a collective of artists dubbed Apollo’s Army.”

Micheal Laverty graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Windsor and completed the School for Writers program at Humber College. His writing has appeared in various journals including The Fiddlehead and The Windsor Review. Hands of the Tyrants is his first novel.

Cultural Espionage

By Micheal Laverty

And yes, I recognize the irony that the very system I oppose affords me the luxury of biting the hand that feeds. – Propagandhi, “Resisting Tyrannical Government (it’s a dirty job—but somebody’s gotta do it).”

Let me begin with a confession: I am a dilettante, not an artist.

The protagonist of my novel, Hands of the Tyrants, is an extension of my own (mis)conceptions of the art world: an emotional composite of admiration, wonder, bewilderment, and contempt, depending on which piece I’m experiencing. In the name of research, I patrolled art galleries with the discriminating gaze of a CSIS intelligence officer. This rational assessment often gave way to impressionistic appreciation. Like a hostage victim suffering from Stockholm syndrome; I exalted my captors, artists who hijacked my aesthetic sensibilities.

Hands of the Tyrants is a work of ekphrasis: in this case, writing inspired by art. Among the most significant examples are the playful, revolutionary spirit of Istvan Kantor, the fantastic inventions of Christopher Burden, and the grandiose visions of numerous avant-garde movements. I fabricated an artist collective, drafted their manifesto, and depicted their creations from the perspective of a naïve outsider. These words are an invitation for artists to realize my sketches of sensory-saturation tanks, Inukshuks made of disposable products, and guerrilla street theatre.

This novel is also pure satire; character development and emotional depth are sacrificed to fully entertain ideas and concepts. The premise of the novel springs from the exaggerated absurdity of anarchic artists desperately dependent on government grants. I wanted to explore how the relative obscurity of the art world to mainstream Canadians results in the heavy subsidization of the arts. This collusion between state and artist is intensified through the portrayal of a CSIS officer successfully infiltrating an artist collective. Strangely, my requests for surveillance reports from CSIS and SIRC (the Security Intelligence Review Committee) were denied. However, my subsequent use of literary surveillance reports matches the subject matter and satiric approach of this novel quite well.

My allegiance remains with the artists, but my vicarious job-stint as a cultural spy compels me to close with some advice I received from a (fictional) high-ranking CSIS intelligence officer: “Always remember that an artist is just a bureaucrat in disguise. They crave order and formulas like no one else.”

Hands of the Tyrants is released on October 15. You can buy it HERE.

This post contains passages previously found in the author’s statement for Micheal Laverty’s graduate thesis from the University of Windsor.

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