Thomas M. Disch - Camp Concentration
Serialised: New Worlds. July 1967. Aug 1967. Sep 1967. Oct 1967.
a. London: Rupert Hart Davis. (Apr. 1968) First Edition. "First Published in 1968" on copyright page. 177 pp. Paper over boards. Dust jacket design by Ken Reilly. Note: title leaf is mounted on a stub.
b. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc. (Jan. 16, 1969) First American edition. "First Edition in the United States of America" on copyright page. 184 pp. Cloth over boards. Dust jacket illustration by Saul Lambert.
c. London: Panther 02846. (Aug. 1969) 158 pp. A paperback original.
Second printing 1973.
Third printing 1977. Cover illustration by Rickards/Vargo.
d. Paris: Opta, Club du livre d'anticipation; #27. as "Camp de concentration" with "Genocides. (1970) 410pp. First French hardcover. Limited edition of 6000 numbered copies. Translated by Marcel Battin. Cover Illustration by Lacroix
e. Holland: J.M. Meulenhoff, Msf 36. (1970) as "Kamp Concentratie". Translated by Fred Schmidt.
f. New York: Avon Books V2348. (Jun. 1971) First American paperback edition. Cover illustrator unknown.
g. Munich: Lichtenberg, SF fuer Kenner, 14. (1971) 195pp. Translated by Gertrud Baruch
h. Piacenza: Casa Editrice La Tribuna, Galassia #160. (15 Feb 1972) as "Campo Archimede".162pp. A paerback. Translated by Giampaolo Cossato & Sandro Sandrelli. Cover by Antonio Atza.
i. Piacenza: Casa Editrice La Tribuna, Bigalassia #16. (15 feb 1973) as "Campo Archimede" with "Terra all'infinito (Echo Round His Bones)". 154+162pp. A paperback. Translated by Giampaolo Cossato & Sandro Sandrelli.
j. Munich: Heyne SF & F, 3405. (1974) 187pp. Translated by Gertrud Baruch. Frontispiece: C.A.M. Thole
k. South America: Intersea, Azimuth. (1977) as "la Casa de la Muerte". 166pp. Translated by Andres Esteban Machalsky.
l. Paris : Laffont, Ailleurs et Demain/ Classiques. (6 Feb 1978) as "Camp de concentration". 246 p. Translated by Marcel Battin. Trade Paperback in gold wrappers. Note : This edition, though translated by the same person, differs slightly from the previous edition and is supposedly closer to the American text.
m. New York: Bantam Books 13117. (Feb. 1980) 164 pp. A paperback original. Cover illustrator unknown.
n. Japan: NW-SF #15-18, Feb 1980 - Dec 1982. Translated by Yukio Noguchi
o. Munich: Heyne BdSFL, 9. (1983) 222pp. Translated by Gertrud Baruch. Frontispiece: Karel Thole
p. Paris : J'ai lu ; Science-fiction et fantastique; #1492. (Jun 1983) as "Camp de concentration". 222 p. A Paperback. Translated by Marcel Battin. Cover illustration by Barclay Shaw
q. Spain: Adiax, Fenix" #38. (June 1983) as "Campo de Concentracion". A paperback. translated by Mirta Rosemberg.
r. Japan: Sanrio SF Bunko #22-C. (20 Nov 1986) First Japanese. Translated by Yukio Noguchi.
s. New York: Carroll & Graf, 368. (Jun. 1988) 175 pp. A paperback original. Cover illustration by Stephen Hall.
t. Milan: Arnoldo Mondadori, Classici Urania #147. (1989) as "Campo Archimede". 176pp. A paperback. Translated by Giampaolo Cossato & Sandro Sandrelli. Cover illustration by Oscar Chichoni.
u. Spain: Ultramar, Grandes Exitos Bolsillo Ciencia Ficcion #79 (June 1989) as "Campo de Concentracion". A trade paperback. Translated by A. Laurent. Illustrated by Antoni Garces
v. Greece: Ars Longa. (1989)
w. New York: Vintage Books (Random House). (May 1999) 184 pp. Trade paperback. Cover photography by Jana Sturbek.
x. Poland: Solaris. (2008) as "Oboz koncentracji". 196pp. Translated by Dariusz Kopocinski
Camp Concentration is told in the first person by Louis Sachetti (poet and Catholic).
Louis Sachetti has been jailed as a conscientious objector to the US's war against SE Asia. Louis Sachetti is moved to Camp Archimedes, an underground military experimental centre, where, in his diary, he is to act as an observer. Camp Archimedes is run by General Haast (aged and in thrall to supernatural delusions). Camp Archimedes's psychiatrist Aimee DuBusk (rational, antagonistic) explains that all of the other inmates are political and military prisoners who have chosen to be subjects for the testing of Palladine, a syphilis derivative that bestows enormous mental endowment, to the point of genius, but at great physical expense resulting in death within 9 months. Louis Sachetti has been brought to Camp Archimedes at the suggestion of Mordecai (cynical, disgusted) and discovers that the inmates, with Haast's encouragement, apparently are working on the Philosopher's Stone, an elixer of life. Mordecai and Haast test this experiment out but Mordecai dies. Louis Sachetti realises that he has been infected with Palladine.
The narrative is now told in 100 journal entries. Louis Sachetti struggles to find a means of expressing his expanding consciousness, skirting close to delirium. When he recovers he finds all of the other inmates have now died. They have been replaced by the scientist Skilliman (arrogant, contemptuous, anti-life) and his assistants, all of whom have chosen infection by Palladine. DuBusk has escaped and is infecting civillians, having had an affair with Mordecai. Skilliman feels threatened by Louis Sachetti - a passive protestor, dying but still adhering to his moral principles and so offering an alternative modus vivendi for Skilliman's technicians. Skilliman, now on the brink of a coup, tries to have Haast execute Louis Sachetti. Instead, Haast kills Skilliman. Haast reveals that he is really Mordecai, having exchanged bodies with Haast at the testing of the Philosopher's Stone, and that all the other inmates now reside in the bodies of assorted Camp Archimedes functionaries. Louis Sachetti's life is saved by Haast who swaps Louis Sachetti's mind with one of the guards, and it would seem imminent that a vaccine to Palladine will be created.
[Although the 1988 Carroll & Graff edition would rather that Camp Concentration was a hi-tech Central American espionage thriller:
"Thomas Disch here takes us into a frightening future world when Third World guerrillas are busy at work undermining the shaky foundations of Western democracies. Louis Sacchetti--a poet and conscientious objector--refuses to enlist in the struggle against these self-styled "freedom fighters." For such high moral principles, he is confined in a special camp--funded by the military--to carry out horrifying human experiments. What would happen, for instance, if a special drug-induced hyper-lucidity was devised--a sort of "concentrated intelligence"--capable of being used as an insidious weapon against the guerrillas? Sacchetti is the object of this "high tech" warfare. His fate is both frightening and illuminating."
Thanks to Eli Bishop. Can't you just see Christopher Walken and Bill Casey in the Oliver Stone adaptation?]
The great pleasure in reading this book is in its execution: the gradual dispensing of necessary information, the building of revelation upon revelation, the interaction and debate between characters, and most of all, Louis Sachetti's investigation of his environment and himself as he attempts to find some means of encompassing it all.
Although Camp Concentration draws upon the Faust legend it does not have its power. Faust is a tragedy because Faust chooses; Louis Sachetti has no choices to make, except for his conscientious objection - he is moved to Camp Archimedes, infected and saved all at the behest of external powers - party to great moral choices, involving imposition, good/bad etc raising larger questions about society but to all of which Louis Sachetti is only an observer . (Of course, it can be argued, in our modern age, we no longer have personal tragedies in the literary sense, rather we experience them on the massive scale, national disasters and calamities, holocausts, etc to which people are party, witnesses, or statistics thereof, but not individual tragedies in the old sense).
The importance that Louis Sachetti, our protagonist, should be a conscientious objector, rejecting the moral condition of Camp Archimedes and the larger world, finding strength in his Catholicism. [However in having the Catholic element Disch can also make reference to larger issues - how to live with evil, etc.] Louis Sachetti as an extreme case of the individual in society? Non-integrated (cf Dr. DuBusk June 6).
Hence the importance of Louis Sachetti as an individual - how much are to identify with Louis Sachetti: exactly, half-on, quasi-ironically: his character - his pride (Mordecai to Louis Sachetti June 16) and his retreat into prioggish superiority ("orthoepy") when meeting Mordecai;
In this respect are his failures to mention his family more, his sesquipedalianism, the dilettante element in configuring Louis II (which element Louis II, I would like to have seen used more) - are these failures on Louis Sachetti's part or failures by Disch?
- note the playing with tone and narrative progression in Sachetti's entries, addressed not only to himself but also his captors hence a variance in who is saying what to whom [the boundaries which are put upon what Sachetti is supposed to record - and in certain cases Sachetti's ignorance of what he is recording] and the interaction between the entries and the real world, where entries in certain instances not only record the plot but further it; even as an observer LS is implictated in his environs.
Louis Sachetti's own moral dilemmas (not just the practical ones of Camp Archimedes) but his faith, re. Louis II, Mordecai's extension of Camp Archimedes principles to the Universe (God as Eichman), and his tempting by Skilliman. Can Louis Sachetti be seen as a Faust who, though he follows the ostensible Faust narrative path, in never choosing never falls and is so redeemed from his condition?
Post The Bomb, the creations of the intellect - Technology (the whole matter of SF), the quest after sapience a la Faust and all the products and result of such, are no longer so innocent and delightful as they were in the Faust stories - Marlowe's Doctor Faustus is a tragedy of imagination's limits: at extremes of high and low comedy; when the uses to which they are put are at the disposal of a military government, so the relevance of the Faust theme to our age: Knowledge/ science can be a deal with the Devil (ta-da!);
"Disch has clearly recognised the centrality of the Faust myth to sf. The story of the scientist who is prepared to give up everything in exchange for a deeper knowledge, encapsulates the tensions between the scientist's intellectual striving and his moral responsibilies which have loomed so large in sf ever since Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein"." - Peter Nicholls
Relating to art after terrible moral choices and events - the Beauty/Terrible quotes, hence Louis Sachetti's trip to Germany and references to Concentration Camp composers, and the inmates own creative endeavours in the face of certain death
The ending is not as positive (or as glib) as it might appear - while aping/ in accord with Goethe's comi-grotesque redemption Louis Sachetti is ostensibly saved, but the terible moral questions remain, the choices and actions of the captors are now those of the inmates: "Why this is Hell, nor am I out of it". Survivor guilt becomes that of murder.
The novel/ plot is propelled by metaphor and analogy -
Faust is raised by demons to his knowledge -> demons/sylphs -> sylphs/spirochetes (though this imagery may originate with Mann); Alchemical terminology obscures the inmates scheme, but since it is their salvation from death they have genuinely effected a Philosopher's Stone; - Disch's expert ambivalence, his ability to eat his cake and have it
"Most criticism of the novel has centred on the mutedly cheerful ending, which has been read as flawing the intense tragic vision of the work. This is an incorrect interpretation; the tone of the book is not tragic. The language throughout appeals to the intellect rather than the feelings, in the mode of comedy. Its punning allusiveness is itself joking, in a black way. Sachetti, ignorant of the true meaning of events, can only impose a false order on them. The fat clever Sachetti, doomed to an almost perpetual lack of insight into the true nature of the situation, is the figure not only of the sensitive poet, but also of the vain and in some respects unworldly, facile litterateur: he is truly a comic creation. It is Disch who is responsible for the poetry of the book's structure. The price an author pays for irony is that his text can take in a certain coldness and remoteness. However this need not be seen as a limitation - its very chilling qualities, its startling but well-judged vulgarities, serve to alienate he reader from too close an emotional identification with the action and force him to keep thinking. If it is to be seen as a tragedy, then it must be the cruel, cynical tragedy arising from a corrupt society that we associate with Jacobean writers."
As further illumination and commentary I quote a small passage from "Stranger in the Sepulcher: Poe and the Gothic Tradition", Disch's introduction to Strangeness, 1977.
"Camp Concentration". Peter Nicholls. Survey of Science Fiction Literature, vol. 1. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Salem Press, 1979. p.277-82.
"Versions of the Faust story reinforce the point that an overriding drive for scientific knowledge can lead to the loss of one's soul. At the same time the heavy emphasis on poetry and literature suggests that there is a vast range of human experience that the traditional, scientific approach is unable to comprehend. This critique of science clearly echoes the Horkheimer / Adorno analysis of the Enlightenment, an analysis that grows directly out of the perception that the ultimate consequence of the ideology of Enlightenment science was Nazi ideology...And the Nazi concentration camps are themselves clearly employed as a metaphor for the carceral nature of modern life in general. This characterisation of the universe as a prison is further enlarged by suggested parallels between the Nazi concentration camps and the Catholic vision of Hell…This powerful condemnation of the ideology of Catholicism extends the critique of Camp Concentration beyond the arena of science to include religion as well, suggesting that the book's ultimate target is any discourse that would pronounce itself as an unquestioned authority for human conduct. Even literature, which seems consistently to sound as a counter to oppression in the book, is treated with a consistent irony (as in the continuous parallel between syphilis and artistic genius) that prevents the establishment of art as a simple substitute for the authority of science or religion."
- "Camp Concentration". M.Keith Booker. Dystopian Literature: A Theory and Research Guide. Greenwood Press, 1994. p.129-134.
"The microcosm of Camp Archimedes is a gruesome allegory of man's painful acquisition of external and internal knowledge...Disch sees the obstacles to salvation as far more difficult - perhaps his view is more realistic...For Disch in Camp Concentration religion is the Roman Catholic background and upbringing of his hero, which, though he has made his break with organized religion, is still the cornerstone of his intellectual foundations. Religion permeates every argument: the arguments are brilliant, both logically and theologically. And Sachetti wins. For me Disch's treatment of the religious obstacles to personal salvation is the more significant...The personal obstacles Disch sees in the way of man realizing himself are the ethical, psychological, and emotional problems of alienation that have plagued all the literature of the 20th century. And his examination of these problems is as incisive as one would expect from a writer with the battery of 20th century thought behind him...I cannot read a complete solution from Disch. Judith Merril, in a review, refers to his "erudite despair" , but when he does pose a solution, it is always buoyantly optimistic, if unfocused. Perhaps it is the contrast between this and the clarity of his opening vision that causes the less precisely presented optimism to be overlooked. What one does take away from the Disch model is that salvation lies in the direction of the acquisition of as much knowledge and insight as possible. However much he is called a charlatan, Faust must take the responsibility for the wisdom contained in his books."
- Samuel R. Delany, "Faust and Archimedes". The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. Dragon Press, 1978. p191 - 210
"Poe can profitably be compared w/ Kierkegaard. What they may be said to have in common is an expertise in the etiology of the hidden disorders of the soul, specifically that condition known as "alienation". However, for both writers the traditional term, "damnation," is more to the point.
"Poe secularized the idea of damnation. For all his paraphernalia, he seldom has recourse to supernatural explanations. In this he is following the Devil's own advise, as it has been presented through such able interpreters as Goethe and Baudelaire, who observes in one of his prose poems that "the Devil's cleverest wile is to convince us that he does not exist".
"Whether or not the Devil exists is a matter of opinion, Baudelaire notwithstanding. The existence of the damned, however, is a matter of observable fact, and Poe was one of that fact's best observers...The heightened awareness of his madmen is not different from the unholy knowledge ascribed to such earlier gothic protagonists as Faust, Manfred, or Melmoth. To the damned soul, sealed within its selfhood, the world can appear only as ridiculous or threatening.The damned are all, all alone: the Other is invisible to them in all is forms - in nature, in social institutions, in personal relations - except insofar as these forms have also been corrupted by evil, and then the vision of the damned is most acute.
"I say this not in disparagement of Poe, but by way of homage. Damnation - or, if you prefer, alienation - is the central theme of Romantic literature. It ties together such diverse works as Wordworth's "Immortality Ode", Blake's "Songs of Experience", Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner", and de Quincey's "Confessions". And these represent simply the first sounding of the theme, which swelled, by the latter part of the century, into pandemonium.
"Put it another way. Say the problem is how we are to understand our human destiny, in all its complexity and ambiguity, without the support provided by the theoretical apparatus of religion; especially, how are we to face the problems of evil, of death, of despair, in a world deserted by the friendly gods of its springtime. Simply to look the other way, denying the prioblem's existence, is (as Kierkegaard argues in "The Concept of Dread") to consine oneslf to damnation in its darkest (if also its most common) form. But to face the problem is a treacherous business as well, and the safest way to do so is vicariously, through the agency of art.
"An interest in diseases is necessarily a morbid interest, and this is - let us admit it - the nature of our interest in Poe, and in the Gothic tradition in general. That does not make it an unhealthy interest. Dualities must be studied in pairs. Health and disease are phases of a single process. The road to heaven, as mapped by Dante and many other expert cartographers, proceedes through the central avenues of hell."
Amazing Jan 70 (D.O'Neal)
Analog March 72 (P. Schuyler Miller)
Books and Bookmen July 68
Kirkus Review Jan 1, 1969
Kliatt Paperback Guide#5 Nov 71 (C.Ritchey)
Library Journal Feb 15, 1969
Luna Monthly Nov 71 (F. Fitz Osbert)
New World#185 Dec 68 (J.Church)
Paperback Parlour Dec 77 (Phil Stephensen Payne)
Publisher's Weekly, Nov 4, 1968
Punch Aug 7, 68 (B.A.Young)
Science Fiction Chronicle Sep 88 (D.D'Ammasa)
Science Fiction Weekly, 14 June 1999 (Craig E Engler)
The Times 29 June, 68 (J.G.Ballard)
Robert Bee, Worms Crawling Through the Apple, Internet Review of Sf, September 2005
M.Keith Booker, "Camp Concentration". Dystopian Literature: A Theory and Research Guide. Greenwood Press, 1994
Samuel R. Delany, "Faust and Archimedes", The Jewel-Hinged Jaw, 1977
Peter Nicholls, "Camp Concentration". Survey of Science Fiction Literature, Vol. 1. Frank N. Magill ed. Salem Press, 1979
David Pringle, "Camp Concentration". Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, 1985
Braulio Tavares, "Camp Concentration at The Reading Gaol", NY Review of SF #247 March 2009
In October 2008 there was a blog bookgroup discussion of "Camp Concentration. Here
is probably the best place to navigate the various blogposts and commentary.
email firstname.lastname@example.org with comments, suggestions, opinions and information.