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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Condition of Muzak

Michael Moorcock

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To purchase The Cornelius Quartet

Title: The Condition of Muzak
Author: Michael Moorcock
Genre: Novel
Written: 1976
Length: 292 pages
Availability: in The Cornelius Quartet - US
in The Cornelius Quartet - UK
in The Cornelius Quartet - Canada
in Les Aventures de Jerry Cornelius - France
  • A Jerry Cornelius Novel
  • With three appendices
  • Available in The Cornelius Quartet (also: The Cornelius Chronicle, see our review)
  • The Condition of Muzak was first published in its revised form in 1979
  • Illustrated by Richard Glyn Jones, title page by Jill Riches

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine summing up of Cornelius and his saga

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Moorcock begins this novel with a quote from Pater:

All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music. For while in all other works of art it is possible to distinguish the matter from the form, and the understanding can always make this distinction, yet it is the constant effort of art to obliterate it.
       Throughout the Cornelius-tetralogy, Moorcock works towards obliteration, trying to meld matter and form, often quite successively. The Condition of Muzak, the summa, is the final, and most successful part of the tetralogy, with Moorcock going the farthest and the deepest.
       By the time of The Condition of Muzak civilization -- particularly English civilization of the 1960s and 70s, out of which Moorcock writes -- is dead, and Moorcock translates this spiritual deadness into a full-blown apocalyptic vision in his novel. Culture and art, of course, don't fare much better. Hence the artist can't even strive for the "condition of music" but only the condition of muzak. It's a clever idea, and Moorcock handles it deftly.
       Harlequin dominates the book, Jerry Cornelius' alter self. The final programme of the first novel in the series created the "first all-purpose human being", but by now the duel has been lost. Aspirations are much lower in the devastated world of The Condition of Muzak too: "There might be room for a brother and sister act in our final programme" impresario Auchinek suggests. It is all a harlequinade after all: the characters are finally reduced to mere play-acting on a stage, dancing the Entropy Tango, performing parts.
       Cornelius is still trying to find himself in this novel, still trying out different looks and guises. As almost always he believes: "He needed a complete change of identity."
       The world around him barely hangs on, with devastation all about -- but the usual cast of characters show up and make the best (or worst, depending on one's point of view) of things. Temporal shifts complicate matters, but that's the kind of world it has become, with nothing fixed. "Standards change", Cornelius notes miserably. Or, as Miss Brunner tells him: "Everything's fluxed up, thanks to you."
       Jerry tries to ground himself again in his London, but London is nothing like what it was. All of Europe has devolved into "a vast conglomeration of tiny city states, primarily based on an agricultural economy."
       It's all one giant game, on an immense scale, for the players (Moorcock's merry band of characters). Cornelius can handle himself -- he always has -- but satisfaction is hard to come by.

       The Condition of Muzak is all post-apocalyptic vision, but that past isn't that easy to wash away, even with destruction on such a grand scale. Even death hardly ever amounts to finality in the Cornelius-books. At the end Jerry once again goes in search of beloved Catherine, his lodestone. "Past, present, and future."
       The Condition of Muzak is suffused with meaning, but Moorcock presents it with a fairly light, nice touch. The occasionally even elegiac philosophizing fits with the overall tone, and with both content and form. It's a decidedly odd novel, surreally warped, but not unpleasantly so. A fine, fitting end to this series, an appropriate farewell -- for now -- from Jerry Cornelius.

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The Cornelius Quartet: Michael Moorcock: Other books by Michael Moorcock under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Michael Moorcock is a prolific British author.

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