April fish and other hoaxes

A Sultan in Palermo is the fourth novel in Tariq Ali's Islam Quintet, published by Verso.

April hybridity

An innovative critique of April Fools' Day is, to say the least, problematic. The anguish and antinomy confronting much of English culture clearly manifests itself in the lacunae of this particular oeuvre: to discuss April within a specific conjuncture poses real problems within the framework of the contradiction between informative analysis and analytical information. Could the vulgar English obsession with All Fools' Day be treated simply as a lapsus in a larger epistemological crisis? Or as the late great Italian Marxist philologist Sebastiano Timpanaro addressed the problem in his astute critique of Freud's psychopathology: why exoriare ex nostris ossibus ultor rather than the original text? It is a good question, whose underlying verisimilitude is incontrovertible and which sharply illustrates the dichotomy between Kant and Hegel that Marx was grappling with in April 1843.

The origins of the term "April" are unclear. Could it be derived from "aperire" (to open) or from "Aphrilis", itself derived from "Aphrodite", from whom "to open" is also derived? Why? One has to return to treasured days of youth and boyhood for an answer and for that a Proustian memory is critical. So let's try another possibility.

April could have been the Roman imperial response to Ostara, the pagan Saxon goddess, who gave Easter a special tingle. Hegel or Kant? Aphrodite or Ostara? To be trapped within this post-modern paradigm is no longer necessary. We now know that Aprilochus was the day of the penis in Byzantium. References to the related sport and reconstructed penii can be seen in the Reykjavik Penis Museum, one of the key attractions of Iceland; after a visit to which a dip in the snow becomes essential for both gay and straight visitors. (A practice which locals refer to as "April Showers".)

In medieval Egypt, one day was set aside for the populace to elect its own Sultan, who would then ride on a donkey to the palace of the real Sultan and speak his mind. This was also an April event and hugely popular. As a special treat, the fool playing the Sultan was allowed to play with the donkey for one night. This passion for donkeys, a direct result of gender segregation, later spread to Persia. In the 20th century of the Christian era, believers in the Islamic Republic of Iran were severely reprimanded by the late Ayatollah Khomeini, who was shocked on his travels through rural Iran to encounter so many disoriented donkeys. Imagine a donkeys' chorus at the Royal Opera House: "Please Cry for Us, Ayatollah".

[This is an extract from a longer article first submitted to the New Left Review in April 1977, but rejected on grounds of taste by the Editor, a certain Mr Robin Blackburn. It was subsequently rejected by Le Temp Moderne in Paris, Kursbuch in Berlin and Rinascita in Italy. Its first publication in The Drawbridge is a sign that we have at last the realm of freedom.]

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