There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Celebrating Oliver Onions (1873–1961)

The Dead of Night: The Ghost Stories of Oliver Onions




Oliver Onions (1873–1961)


Oliver Onions has a reputation as a bloodless, psychologizing aesthete of pristine refinement. The sense seems to be that if you prefer the cooless and distancing of Henry James, Onions is for you. If you want danger, melodrama, and horrorpilation, look elsewhere.


This sentiment, whose cues in the horror community kept me steering clear of Onions for the last four decades, is at best inaccurate. More fool me.


Onions is a meticulous craftsman who takes infinite pains. His stories are spacious enough to let readers breathe, to become acquainted with characters and the lay of the land. There is real external horror here, not just the dripping accumulation of menacing atmosphere via pastel prose.


A few notes and excerpts from stories read so far. (I am not done reading Onions).


Credo

....What the writer has in practice to investigate is the varying 'densities' of the ghostliness that is revealed when this surface of life, accepted for everyday purposes as stable, is jarred, and for the time of an experience does not recover its equilibrium.

....somewhere between the ultra-violet and the infra-red of the ghostly spectrum.


The Beckoning Fair One • (1911)

There are echoes of Poe's great essay-tale "The Imp of the Perverse" here, as the protagonist struggles against himself and an annihilating supernatural force in his new flat. Onions gives us plenty of the economy of everyday life of a writer living hand-to-mouth.  Each step along the path to self-annihilation is accompanied by new heights of self-deception:

....He was in truth only now beginning to work. He was preparing such a work . . . such a work . . . such a Mistress was a-making in the gestation of his Art . . . let him but get this period of probation and poignant waiting over and men should see . . .


Phantas • (1910)

A story of nautical timeslip, brief and of great poignancy.


Rooum • (1910)

A body-horror story of supernatural assault.

The narrator and Mr. Rooum are civil engineers visiting a construction project.  The narrator has a degree; Rooum does not, but he has a sixth sense about the business, and is also a talented water dowser.

….for all the lateness of the hour, I wasn't sleepy; so from my own bag I took a book, set the candle on the end of the mantel, and began to read. Mark you, I don't say I was much better informed for the reading I did, for I was watching the Vs on the wallpaper mostly – that, and wondering what was wrong with the man in the other bed who had fallen down at a touch in the subway. He was already asleep.


Now I don't know whether I can make the next clear to you. I'm quite certain he was sound asleep, so that it wasn't just the fact that he spoke. Even that is a little unpleasant, I always think, any sort of sleep-talking; but it's a very queer sort of sensation when a man actually answers a question that's put to him, knowing nothing what­ever about it in the morning. Perhaps I ought not to have put that question; having put it, I did the next best thing afterwards, as you'll see in a moment . . . but let me tell you.


He'd been asleep perhaps an hour, and I woolgathering about the wallpaper, when suddenly, in a far more clear and loud voice than he ever used when awake, he said: 'What the devil is it prevents me seeing him, then?'


That startled me, rather, for the second time that evening; and I really think I had spoken before I had fully realised what was happening.


'From seeing whom?' I said, sitting up in bed.


'Whom? . . . You're not attending. The fellow I'm telling you about, who runs after me,' he answered – answered perfectly plainly.


I could see his head there on the pillow, black and white, and his eyes were closed. He made a slight movement with his arm, but that did not wake him. Then it came to me, with a sort of start, what was happening. I slipped half out of bed. Would he – would he? – answer another question? . . . I risked it, breathlessly:


'Have you any idea who he is?'


Well, that too he answered.


'Who he is? The Runner? . . . Don't be silly. Who else should it be?'


With every nerve in me tingling, I tried again.


'What happens, then, when he catches you?'


This time, I really don't know whether his words were an answer or not; they were these:


'To hear him catching you up . . . and then padding away ahead again! All right, all right . . . but I guess it's weakening him a bit, too . . . '


Benlian • (1911)

One of Robert Chambers' artist studio nightmares meets "Nadelman's God" by T.E.D. Klein.


The Ascending Dream • (1924)

A story composed entirely of history-punctuated slingshot endings


The Honey in the Wall • (1924)

Must-read for lovers of E.F. Benson, with a soupcon of L.P. Hartley. The declining fortunes of a once-wealthy family, now reduced to selling-off patrimony.


The Rosewood Door • (1929)

Antiquarian time-slip melodrama accumulates into a tragedy of real scope. A novella with the scale of a novel, akin to the best Gerald Kersh historical fiction.


"John Gladwin Says ..." • (1928)

A masterclass in narrative distancing and afterlife fantasy.

...nameboards of ancient wood with finials sticking up at the ends like prick-ears, John Gladwin says. As for the church – well, there it was, what remained of it, that wrecked and ivied hum­mock in the middle of the field. The gap into the field had no gate. John Gladwin imagines he must have stopped his engine, for this pink and silver bowl in the hills was filled with an immense quiet. He got out of the car. Picking his way among the tombstones he pushed through coarse grass to the ruin.


Hic Jacet • (1911)

A man believes he is writing the biography of his dead friend, a penniless artist graced with genius. But the writer, who gave up literature for bestselling detective fiction, comes face-to-face with ramifications of a different order entirely. 


The Master of the House • (1929)

The Peckover siblings versus black magic and lycanthropy. For real. Recalls Sapper, Wheatley, or Blackwood. Boarded windows, secret passages, sealed rooms. 


Tragic Casements 

A very accomplished supernatural horror story.

....From some­where inside the house there had come the squeaking scrape of wood on stone and a creaking as of wicker under a weight. The muffled jingling vibration that followed it resembled nothing so much as the dropping of a tray laden with crockery, and snatching a candle from the table, Eustace Corydon had disappeared by the uncurtained doorway.


Matt Cowan at Horror Delve has his own pertinent notes on Onions here.


I've excerpted a passage on Onions from James Machin's great recent book Weird Fiction in Britain 1880–1939 here.





Jay

18 October 2018





Thursday, October 10, 2019

Lovecraft on Hawthorne


….Poe represents the newer, more disillusioned, and more technically finished of the weird schools that rose out of this propitious milieu. Another school — the tradition of moral values, gentle restraint, and mild, leisurely phantasy tinged more or less with the whimsical — was represented by another famous, misunderstood, and lonely figure in American letters — the shy and sensitive Nathaniel Hawthorne, scion of antique Salem and great-grandson of one of the bloodiest of the old witchcraft judges. In Hawthorne we have none of the violence, the daring, the high colouring, the intense dramatic sense, the cosmic malignity, and the undivided and impersonal artistry of Poe. Here, instead, is a gentle soul cramped by the Puritanism of early New England; shadowed and wistful, and grieved at an unmoral universe which everywhere transcends the conventional patterns thought by our forefathers to represent divine and immutable law. Evil, a very real force to Hawthorne, appears on every hand as a lurking and conquering adversary; and the visible world becomes in his fancy a theatre of infinite tragedy and woe, with unseen half-existent influences hovering over it and through it, battling for supremacy and moulding the destinies of the hapless mortals who form its vain and self-deluded population. The heritage of American weirdness was his to a most intense degree, and he saw a dismal throng of vague specters behind the common phenomena of life; but he was not disinterested enough to value impressions, sensations, and beauties of narration for their own sake. He must needs weave his phantasy into some quietly melancholy fabric of didactic or allegorical cast, in which his meekly resigned cynicism may display with naive moral appraisal the perfidy of a human race which he cannot cease to cherish and mourn despite his insight into its hypocrisy. Supernatural horror, then, is never a primarily object with Hawthorne; though its impulses were so deeply woven into his personality that he cannot help suggesting it with the force of genius when he calls upon the unreal world to illustrate the pensive sermon he wishes to preach.

Hawthorne’s intimations of the weird, always gentle, elusive, and restrained, may be traced throughout his work. The mood that produced them found one delightful vent in the Teutonised retelling of classic myths for children contained in A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales, and at other times exercised itself in casting a certain strangeness and intangible witchery or malevolence over events not meant to be actually supernatural; as in the macabre posthumous novel Dr. Grimshawe’s Secret, which invests with a peculiar sort of repulsion a house existing to this day in Salem, and abutting on the ancient Charter Street Burying Ground. In The Marble Faun, whose design was sketched out in an Italian villa reputed to be haunted, a tremendous background of genuine phantasy and mystery palpitates just beyond the common reader’s sight; and glimpses of fabulous blood in mortal veins are hinted at during the course of a romance which cannot help being interesting despite the persistent incubus of moral allegory, anti-Popery propaganda, and a Puritan prudery which has caused the modern writer D. H. Lawrence to express a longing to treat the author in a highly undignified manner. Septimius Felton, a posthumous novel whose idea was to have been elaborated and incorporated into the unfinished Dolliver Romance, touches on the Elixir of Life in a more or less capable fashion whilst the notes for a never-written tale to be called The Ancestral Footstep show what Hawthorne would have done with an intensive treatment of an old English superstition — that of an ancient and accursed line whose members left footprints of blood as they walked-which appears incidentally in both Septimius Felton and Dr. Grimshawe’s Secret.

Many of Hawthorne’s shorter tales exhibit weirdness, either of atmosphere or of incident, to a remarkable degree. Edward Randolph’s Portrait, in Legends of the Province House, has its diabolic moments. The Minister’s Black Veil (founded on an actual incident) and The Ambitious Guest imply much more than they state, whilst Ethan Grand — a fragment of a longer work never completed — rises to genuine heights of cosmic fear with its vignette of the wild hill country and the blazing, desolate lime-kilns, and its delineation of the Byronic “unpardonable sinner,” whose troubled life ends with a peal of fearful laughter in the night as he seeks rest amidst the flames of the furnace. Some of Hawthorne’s notes tell of weird tales he would have written had he lived longer — an especially vivid plot being that concerning a baffling stranger who appeared now and then in public assemblies, and who was at last followed and found to come and go from a very ancient grave.

....But Hawthorne left no well-defined literary posterity. His mood and attitude belonged to the age which closed with him, and it is the spirit of Poe — who so clearly and realistically understood the natural basis of the horror-appeal and the correct mechanics of its achievement — which survived and blossomed.




Tuesday, October 8, 2019

James Machin on Oliver Onions

'this vague we know not what' 

Vernon Lee





....Another author of weird fiction associated with the Edwardian period is Oliver Onions (1873–1961), an erstwhile illustrator who began writing for the periodicals in the 1890s, publishing his first novel in 1900 (Kemp et al. 2002b, 301). His most well-known story, 'The Beckoning Fair One', is an example of the clear influence of Henry James on his writing, effective as it is in its own right. This, and several other of Onions' stories, is concerned with an artist struggling with the creation of their art, expressed through a supernaturally inflected narrative. Even though Onions was clearly drawn to psychic phenomena and ghost lore—explicitly referencing the Society for Psychical Research in 'Benlian' (1911) for example (Onions 1911, 177)—his oeuvre evades being subsumed within the ghost story genre proper, a fact not lost on contemporary critics:


The stories are by no means all to be dismissed as 'ghost' stories. They deal rather with various forms of supernaturalism which man does not profess, or is unable, to account for. (Athenaeum 1911, 274)


A good example of this weirder valence of his writing is the 1910 story 'Rooum', which concerns an invisible presence stalking the titular character, an itinerant construction engineer. Onions blends the traditional trope of supernatural persecution (a nineteenth-century example being Sheridan Le Fanu's 'The Familiar' (1872)) with contemporary scientific theory. In his attempts at explaining his strange affliction, Rooum speaks vaguely of 'osmosis' and 'molecules', which the narrator, although demonstrating greater scientific education, struggles to parse (Onions 1910, 1118). Typically, Onions never offers a definite explanation in terms of any specific supernatural agency (there is no ghost, as such), and never closes the door on the possibility that what is being described is a purely psychological affliction. Despite its brevity, Onions' execution of the narrative is compellingly suggestive: is Rooum's crisis over his identity, and the alleged threat to it, based on his own ethnicity (he is described by the narrator as mixed race and 'very dark' (1115))? Or is it connected with the liminal spaces of construction, and (again) the metropolitan suburbs in which the story is set (the 'eruption of red-brick houses' (1117))?


As I have discussed, this latter trope was a particular Edwardian hobby horse, but despite this, Onions' work refuses to conform neatly to retroactive periodization. Reviewing Widdershins—the collection that included

'Rooum'—the Saturday Review objects to Onions' alleged preoccupation with 'decay', leading them to place him with the 'decadent class of writers who, tired of the beautiful, seek only sensations and find them in the

study of all that is repulsive' (Saturday Review 1911, 214). The reviewer repeatedly criticizes Onions for 'taking the ugly theme of madness for so many of the stories', a preoccupation the reviewer again associates with decadence, 'the flowers of evil', and Charles Baudelaire (214–15). This reading of Widdershins as a series of investigations into degenerate psychological maladies sidelines any supernatural element to the work. For instance, 'The Beckoning Fair One' is described as 'a pitiless record of the various stages traversed by a man on his way from perfect sanity to the lunatic asylum,' though 'disguised as a ghost story' (the reviewer here echoing Max Nordau).


Indeed, this fin-de-siècle atmosphere is readily evident throughout the collection: the bohemian studio milieu of 'Hic Jacet' (1911) for instance, or the Classical Paganism of 'Io' (1911). In this latter story, which the

Saturday Review concedes to be a 'wonderfully clever piece of writing' (215), a woman is transported from her humdrum middle-class existence into a Bacchic frenzy; whether this is through actual invocation of a divine

agency or insanity is unresolved. The English Review said of the story that it was 'a masterly and beautiful conjunction of clerkly life and Dionysiac ecstasy', a description that could also apply to several of Machen's works, including 'A Fragment of Life' (English Review 1911, 755). Here again there is a through line between torrid fin-de-siècle paganism and what Carey identifies as the Pan-worship provoked by the quotidian suburbs:

the quiet external lives of their inhabitants, a stability interrupted, destabilized, and enriched by the resurgence of the romantic imagination.


Although it is certainly possible, as I have demonstrated, to identify various tropes and tendencies in Edwardian weird fiction, it is of course impossible to neatly distinguish fiction written after 1900 from that written before it. Onions in 1911, for example, was clearly being written about as an (unwelcome) outlier from the Yellow Nineties. In Chap. 4, I will discuss in detail the weird fiction of John Buchan, specifically in this context. Having acknowledged the possibility of an Edwardian weird fiction, therefore, I will once again subsume it within the more capacious ambit of the long nineteenth century.


___________________________________


James Machin

Weird Fiction in Britain 1880–1939

2018: Palgrave Macmillan









Monday, October 7, 2019

Reading: PARDON THIS INTRUSION Fantastika in the World Storm

PARDON THIS INTRUSION Fantastika in the World Storm JOHN CLUTE



Pardon This Intrusion 

Keynote address for Interstitiality Conference, New Paltz, New York, 1 May 2004. Revised for publication. Here further revised.


....We are so accustomed – as writers and editors and readers and critics – to studying and critiquing genre against an incessant flow of disparagement from the humanities industry that we sometimes ignore the obvious: that 90% of fantastika is indeed crap; that its grasp of the world can seem palpably and culpably naive 


....a critique of some of the precepts of interstitiality might focus on a sense that there are in fact no longer any real battlements to ride. The walls against which we have ricocheted our interstitial craft are fatally cavitated. 


....The genres are too old, and they have interjaculated all too promiscuously in recent years, for us, any longer, to derive from them rules to obey – much less rules worth breaking.




FANTASTIKA IN THE WORLD STORM 

Keynote address for Cultural Landscapes/Fiction Without Borders Conference , hosted by the Centre for the Future, Prague, 20 Sept 2007. Revised for publication. Here further revised .


....Horror (or Terror) is the most relevant of the three genres when it comes to adumbrating the dilemmas we face in 2007: because Horror is about our resistance to the truth: a resistance which lasts until we are left naked in the real world: which is where the story ends.


....Fantastika consists of that wide range of fictional works whose contents are understood to be fantastic.


....fault line was drawn between mimetic work, which accorded with the rational Enlightenment values then beginning to dominate, and the great cauldron of irrational myth and story, which we now claimed to have outgrown, and which was now deemed primarily suitable for children (the concept of childhood having been invented around this time as a disposal unit

into which abandoned versions of human nature could be dumped).


....This cleansing of the cauldron led of course to huge misprisions of the past.

mis·pri·sion1

/misˈpriZHən/

the deliberate concealment of one's knowledge of a treasonable act or a felony.


....not only Sigmund Freud who tells us that what is repressed will come back; the ancient tale of Antaeus, who returns redoubled in strength each time Heracles casts him to the Earth, says much the same thing.


....Before the end of the eighteenth century, stories begin to surface that consciously subvert the ordered world above; that contradict the closed mundanity of the work produced during the Apollonian Ascendancy; that manifestly represent the world as consisting of more than the dressage of proper measure.


....The Castle of Otranto ( 1764 ) is the first mature British Gothic – was obviously aware that he had created something new, a feverish scherzo of a text far more interesting than most of the Gothic novels which borrowed his deftly cartoonish apprehensions about the past as remora, the fascination he felt at the contemplation of the new discovered category of the Ruin, and his sense of the quite extraordinary precariousness of the civilized world: family, religion, tradition, hierarchy, authority: no one in the novel who speaks for the established world order – no priest, no sage, no father – can be trusted. 


....the overlapping categories which together make up the centipedal super-category which I'll continue to call Terror whenever possible – and which arguably incorporate the Gothic, German märchen, the supernatural tale, the ghost story, the weird tale, the strange tale, dark fantasy, some slipstream, the New Gothic, the New Weird, and even some of the waif biota that twenty-first century "interstitialists" hope to gather under their wing – the essential turn of mind and story is to uncover the true face of the world, to exudate the melodrama of the world. (In the end, of course, it is chicken and egg: since Time began to roll, just before Napoleon, it might be just as possible to say that the world has been acting like fantastika.) The difficulty and fustian of much horror/terror literature derives, I think, not from literary incompetence, but from some attempt to create a Body English of the tormented confusion of that changing world.



The Shape of Things to Come by H G Wells Introduction for Penguin Modern Classics in 2004. Here revised.


....From the beginning of his career, a convulsive doubleness of thought and imagination and affect governed the lines of his fiction, created deep fault lines in the presentation of his thoughts, dividing the world not only into the Is and the Should Be, but also into the Loved and the Despised. The first divide is simple: Wells was deeply impatient about engaging himself in any detail-work involved in describing the transition from the muddle of the present world to the sanserif hygiene of the desired Utopia; and his tales can indeed seem evasively convulsive when they reach the point of change. In a book like In the Days of the Comet ( 1906 ), for instance, when it becomes necessary for a new order to supervene, he simply reverts to magic: an exhalation of "air" from a passing comet transforms everyone halfway through the tale; and the muddle dissolves like the passing of a dream, and the world is clean.


The second convulsiveness is perhaps less easy to put. It is certain that Wells, who famously smelled like honey, knew and loved the world, and in novels like Mr Poll y ( 1910 ) superbly celebrated that world in all its "muddle" and incoherence. But it's also clear that he hated the world that so drew him, hated the congested filthy tangle of South-East England where he had been born to servants, the class-entangled England he destroyed more than once in his Romances, and which he dismissed, contemptuously, in his social tracts. With the exception of the Prig Novels, which are now close to unreadable, Wells only rarely permitted himself to inhabit an inherently mundane world, one that offered some resistance to the power of thought. The unusual, chastened adultness of Mr Blettsworthy on Rampole Island is touchingly revealed when Blettsworthy, after learning that human beings are Yahoos, witnesses then no magic transformation of our species, and remains trapped in the midst of us, and the First World War begins. But this restraint is rare. The Whig voice that hardens the first 200 pages of his Land Ironclad of 1933 is perhaps a necessary posture of thought for Wells, an ageing man caught between two dreadful wars. It is a proclamation of inevitable change cast in the face of a world seemingly destined never to learn how to cleanse itself. But it solves nothing. To speak of the inevitability of a World State in The Shape of Things to Come (where in fact a magic plague is needed before it can leap into being ) is, in a sense, to become incompetent with rage.


....The simple fact is that, after 200 pages of The Shape of Things to Come , chaos and muddle rule, and Wells is unable to make storyable his claim that the World State was seeded in the world of 1933, in the transfiguring intellections of his samurai.


....Many novels of disaster appeared in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s – notable titles include S Fowler Wright's recently republished Deluge ( 1927 ), and The World Ends ( 1937 ) by Storm Jameson writing as William Lamb – but The Shape of Things to Come may be unique in its lack of any expression of regret at the passing of the old world, the absence throughout its vast length of any sense that what was proclaimed to be disposable was worth an expenditure of love. A single example points the quite extraordinary contrast between Wells and his contemporaries. Though John Buchan would be nobody's first choice as a politically unengaged aesthete – he died in 1940 while still serving as Governor-General of Canada – he expressed....



Jay

7 October 2019





A surgery of the fall: SCORES: REVIEWS 1993-2003 by JOHN CLUTE


SCORES: REVIEWS 1993-2003 by JOHN CLUTE

This is a thick book with lots of book reviews. Clute's vocabulary and stylistic body English is by turns illuminating and repetitive: he has several operating assumptions, but there are only so many ways to rephrase them while bookchatting.


"What I Did on My Summer Vacation"
....Who are we writing what about when to whom and where?

A model of some sort of initial answer came to me a while back, in 1986, sitting in a veranda under the procreative radium winds of fallen Florida; an early version of this thought appeared in the introduction I was then composing to my first collection of essays and reviews, Strokes: Essays and Reviews, 1966-1986 (Seattle: Serconia Press, 1988).

When I try to model the creative process [As I said in 1986, and think now, in terms only slightly modified from those I used then. 2003], I often find myself coming back to Georges Simenon (1903-1989) who, in a career that began in 1920 or earlier and ended only shortly before his death, published way more than 1000 stories (no one has yet established just how many), about 500 novels (a rough total which includes an undetermined number of pseudonymous titles written in the 1920s), and a dozen or so volumes of memoirs which appeared after 1972, when he stopped writing fiction. Over and above its delirious fecundity, what has always seemed most interesting about Simenon's career lies in a distinction he made, after he started using his real name around 1930, between two kinds of novel he specialized in for the rest of his career – two kinds of writing which engaged him in two varieties of the creative act. The first category of novel, the sort he is most famous for, included the 80 or so books which feature Inspector Maigret; the second category comprised the 100 or so non-Maigret novels, which he always published under his own name after 1930 or so. It was these novels he was most proud of.

Most of the non-Maigret tales follow a similar pattern. We open the book and immediately enter the protagonist's mind; there is never more than one point-of-view in a Simenon novel, and that point-of-view is never omniscient: from the get-go, we are looking through the eyes of the prisoner of the book. This protagonist is caught at a life-summing point of frozen stress. The story begins. Everything stokes the stress. Then something external, or something that wells up within the protagonist, breaks the seemingly unending moment of uttermost stress, and he breaks or does not break; melts or does not melt; murders (or fails to murder) his wife or mistress or boss; flees or fails to flee. The novel (the simenon) then ends, often in a state of chaos or slingshot into nada: for the world when deranged, the psyche when liberated of the bondage of its life, crosses a borderline into the unknown, where habits no longer work, and reality, for an instant, may just possibly be seen entire, unendurable, profound and cold.

The Maigrets are completely different. We begin in chaos, in the aftermath of some terrible breakdown in consensual reality. We begin just after a "real" simenon ends. The Humpty Dumpty of the skull we row, upstream, against the dark, has fallen. A murder has almost always been committed. Maigret appears, for he is always subsequent to the fall. He senses the chaos and incompletion of the world, and within him something begins to knit back the raveled sleave of things that he has encountered raw. He finds (and in the act of finding he forgives) the murderer. Slowly, intuitively, implacably, he puts it all together again. At the end of the novel he leaves the world like an egg (to quote one of Philip Larkin's most extraordinary poems) unbroken.

For me, the process of writing a work of fiction can conveniently be modeled in terms of the rage for chaos exemplified by Georges Simenon's non-Maigret novels, which he always inscribed at great speed as though – like the characters portrayed within – he was walking the plank at a run. He would settle upon a character, and a place, and the nature of the bondage to be shattered; beyond that, nothing. If his character failed him, or if he failed to find a story to ride across the borderline, he would tumble off the plank. The novel would remain unfinished (none ever took more than a week or so to write), the protagonist would remain in prison, and the world unthreatened. Humpty Dumpty would never walk the plank off the wall, never reach the pavement to break out. The image of creation as walking the plank also draws on Morse Peckham's Man's Rage for Chaos (1965), where art is understood as that which threatens the prisons of order our human nature imposes on [that word again] raw haecceity.

So writing a novel is fall and suture.

On the other hand, the art of criticism is the art of Maigret: it is an art of reconstitution, but also of closure; for in the critic, as in Maigret, there is a rage for order. Accusations that the critic is inherently parasitical have always seemed to me fatally digressive. Both the rage for chaos and the rage for order, though one may be higher than the other and shake the world more profoundly, are impulses of the creative spirit; and it is in this sense that I feel, when I am acting as a critic, that I am acting as a kind of creator.

So writing criticism is a surgery of the fall....

....Creative writers, of course, might be inclined to think that high-flown mixed-metaphor talk like this (viz above) is nothing but squid ink designed to deflect attention from the fact that criticism of the sort I'm describing is a digression from the kind of criticism most writers think critics should concentrate on, a task which might be defined as gospel singing. For many creative writers, genuinely attentive criticism is akin to murder. Stick to the Good News, they say. Annunciate the name of the book and scram....

....The act of reading is precisely surgery. Reading retells what is read. Reading is opening the book. It must feel almost like death to be opened like that. Still, there is a gap. No matter how closely book reviewers may feel they approach the fire, there is ultimately no magic. The present is an asymptote, which the scalpel never quite reaches. The True Name of things is Boojum.

....the vast backward and abysm of our daily lives only makes sense when it is constantly reforged in the burn of that asymptote.



*   * *


"poshlust" 

….Vladimir Nabokov's inspired englishing of the Russian poshlost, a term of wide application, but which here can be used roughly to define the ersatz style and thought patterns of the unlettered (that is, most of us) who purchase – and who relentlessly misquote – culture they cannot themselves generate.








Jay
7 October 2019




The Jaw is open. May it close on meat: STROKES: essays and reviews 1966-1986 by John Clute



STROKES: essays and reviews 1966-1986 by John Clute


Forward//
....the art of writing criticism is the art of Maigret: it is an art of reconstitution, but also of closure; for in the critic, as for Maigret, there is a rage for order. Both the rage for chaos and the rage for order, though one may be higher than the other and more profound, are impulses of the creative spirit; and it is in this sense that I feel, when I am acting as a critic, that I am acting as a kind of creator. Accusations that the critic is inherently parasitical have always seemed fatuously self-serving to me, and it is with the countervailing sense that the critical act is a form of shaping....

3//FSF2//Barr/Harrison/Rossiter/Simak/Reynolds
....a deep appeal of the Golden Age, as of space opera, lies in the Lure of Homology: in the identity of self and world.

....the novel of mimesis died in 1914

....most significant non-generic fiction today deals in some way with that mutual opacity (or alienation) between self and world which killed off verisimilitude as a goal for adults, the only place mimesis still can be found au naturel being bestseller or roman-a-clef porn, where it lies bareassed.

....most generic fiction, whether written or filmed, seems to have taken over a job handled by the novel for 150 years: the acting out of the dream of mimesis that self and world are mutually comprehensible: the creation of a world whose fundament is visible, mainly through the actions of the kinetic hero (me) who wraps things up.

....our nostalgic intuition that the universe, now transparent through the sesame of the unravelled plot, is precisely the very same thing as that discovered self of his. This is the Lure of Homology.

....Enlightenment belief that energy is available.


4//FSF3//Haiblum/Boyd/Eklund and Anderson/Ellison
....At the very minimum, science fiction books should wear a style that resembles newspaper copy in its transparency to content; ideally, science fiction, like other forms of literature, should work towards a consciousness of the ultimate unity of form and content, a consciousness we on our side, as readers, do our best to tune out when we're trying to surrender ourselves to baroque, highly machined stories....

....Van Vogt Yaw being what happens when short stories are tossed into a novel and get seasick


6//FSF5//Varley/Hoyle/Van Scyoc/Ashley/Disch and Naylor
....No book whose argument assimilates progress with mastery over aliens can be really set after the Viet Nam War 

....Varley's characters are deeply competent with the world they know. And if Heinlein's Future History is a series of rewritings of 1935, and shocking at the time for fingering the inner bone so close, then Varley's deracinated urban exile from irrecoverable roots reflects the 1970s through the dance of clichés of genre

7//FSF6//Delany/Yarbro/McIntyre/Dozois
....The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes of the Language of Science Fiction (Berkley, 1978)
....clotted preciocity of his prose, the phrase quoted above being entirely typical of its uneasy condescension and agglutinative gumminess....
....the Rube Goldberg unworkableness of much of the writing in this book
....after you wipe the gouache out of your eyes there's nothing left but unbalanced and indecipherable assertion
....I will reiterate a confession. I have spent all this time in the bilgewater because I don't know how to describe the ship. All I can say is that some idiot savant has had this craft on the rocks somewhere, because the bilge is rising.
....The Jaw is open. May it close on meat.


9//FSF8//Reed/Schochet and Silbersack/Killough/ Benford and Rotsler/Malzberg
....If the world were Disneyland, who then could doubt the existence of God?

....Disneyland itself has become an honored part of the American nightmare of self-analysis, an immediately recognizeable emblem of a savage future in which we discover ourselves to be cartoon consumers locked into a sanitary totalitarian plastic tapeloop, our every move monitored, our every impulse predetermined by the invisible spider god.

....post-industrial quietism currently infusing modern youth's bosom with repressively-desublimated Orexis Rot, and the same signification must surely apply to those weenybopper theosophies more recently woven, with dank cabbalistic bootlicking and Art Nouveau cartoons....


13//NW2//James Blish
....post-industrial quietism currently infusing modern youth's bosom with repressively-desublimated Orexis Rot, and the same signification must surely apply to those weenybopper theosophies more recently woven, with dank cabbalistic bootlicking and Art Nouveau cartoons

....metonymy con ....a rhetoric of personalized response and simplified gesture will substitute for any attempt at rendering the complex (or expensive) action.

....traditional novel, as hypostasized by the triune hierophants, is in fact a roman — warm, plastic, representational, seamless, lacking any coarse " 'holes' in the fabric of time," as Dr Hernadi goes on to say — and that fictions in the recit idiom will read as being chilly, didactic, presentational, disjunctive, full of arbitrary lacunae in the quilt of space, will read in other words as deficient romans, and will be assigned to the charnel where Procrustes dumps his legs.

....Nabokov's Pale Fire (1962) is a "novel" whose tonal idiom might well be rendered as genuine recit pretending to be a fake recit pretending to be closet roman.

....maugre science fiction's general devotion to a shrill, streamlined mimetic parlance.

....the pointing of a lesson through exemplary catastrophes, exemplary discourse, through exemplary characters and diction and mise en scene 

...Menippean satire [says Professor Frye] deals less with people as such than with mental attitudes. Pedants, bigots, cranks … rapacious and incompetent professional men of all kinds, are handled in terms of their occupational approach to life as distinct from their social behaviour. The Menippean satire thus resembles the confession in its ability to handle abstract ideas and theories, and differs from the novel in its characterization, which is stylized rather than naturalistic, and presents people as mouthpieces of the ideas they represent .…

....James Blish, whose recit mind longs for a cold bath of Menippus to shape its grasp, or so we've been claiming. Unfortunately Mr Blish has immersed himself in a field — science fiction — whose generic forms are offspring of the heated iconicity of the romance, as stripped down for action, and his whole crabby yawing corpus demonstrates the cost of writing against the grain

....thematically naive topoi are being required — disingenuously — to illustrate far more than they could possibly mean to

....equipoise of assertion not narrative

....As a Menippean illustration of the hypothesis that black magic literally works, Black Easter (1968), one of the books this is all in aid of a review of, might seem altogether stripped to its skeleton, but in the event the emperor is dressed. Characters and plot are so closely and economically bound to their task of demonstration, and the narrative is so elegantly short, that there is a kind of paronomasia — a kind of "blessedness" — and a dystopic thesis laves us in the clothes of fleuve. Its sequel, The Day After Judgement (1970) is a disjointed, cack-handed anticlimax, and de-frissons the death of God in Black Easter by allowing that He might only be on vacation and be putting Satan on His throne pro tem, because Nature abhors a vacuum — which makes it the real shaggy God story. In its use of metonymy cons both of character and of narrative it's as miniaturizingly evasive as VOR; in its generic chuntering about it's as loopy as Titan's Daughter; and in the Malleus Maleficarum misogyny it shares with its predecessor it is thoroughly egregious.

....genres work (human perception works) not only through metonymy, the substitution of part for whole, of set for omniscience dreams, but also through the persistence of the image, time's body English.

....Icons are torsions in time, which heats them, and gives them pull through the work.



18//Robert Aickman/1914-1981
....the finest English writer of supernatural fiction of the past fifty years.

....his fiction is conceived from the other side of heroism

....conceived of his life as bearing anxious witness to the parent/son catastrophe

....the terrible secret meaning of the ghost-ridden world of Aickman's fiction lies precisely in its binding complicity, for by the sign that you fail to understand it (having failed to be glad to meet yourself) the world means what you have become.

....If you have failed to become chivalrous to the knowledge of the approach of death, then you will end up as much a ghost as that which haunts you.

....world may be too jangled for the reader easily to parse.

.....tales of failed transcendence, those stories whose protagonists are compelled by their sense of inward crisis to attempt to change their lives, perhaps utterly.

....hilarious vision of the aesthetic and human costs of living in the heat-death of modern middle-class de-industrialized England

....conviction that appearances are indeed terrifyingly true is manifest throughout the fiction, clearly underpinning the sense (previously argued) that the world, for an Aickman character, means what it says. Limned in a prose whose elaborate mandarin irony barely masks exorbitant disgust

...."I am…" Ruskin says in Praeterita (1886), "a violent Tory of the old school; — Walter Scott's school, that is to say, and Homer's."

....The voice is the voice of a Roman at the end of Empire, Claudianus's perhaps (d408). It is the voice of a man finally unable to direct his consuming rage at our loss of virtue into works of a scope ample enough to express it.

....disintegrate into sour skits, and the unremitting irony of their telling comes close to sanctimony and carping.

....In Mann's only major novel of supernatural import, Doctor Faustus (1947), a repertory not dissimilar to Aickman's undergoes a scouring ironical metamorphosis into an aesthetic shape so encompassing that we can descry within it — without cramping or piety or shortcuts into sarcasm — a full vision of the fate of Western man.

The Late Breakfasters (1964)  ....Firbank and water.

....demonstrate Aickman's intelligence as a craftsman. "The Waiting Room" (1956) adroitly traps a lost traveler in a waiting room built over a burial ground for hanged felons; he awakens with a bad crick in his neck.

....bulk of his canon (as we've said) speaks from the other shore: from the end of Empire and its heroisms.

....though we are left free to doubt — as with so many Aickman characters — that she will ever make a move to save her life.

....many Aickman stories present the failure to achieve an integrated world in terms of attempted transcendental journeys, as though into a better future. In a second broad category, usually signaled by someone's arrival at a meticulously described house, the attempted rescue has already failed by the time the tale begins, and within the house will be discovered an inverse ghost, a mummy, perhaps still breathing.

....As we near the end of Aickman's career, we find that his figures of horrific immobility, whatever their ostensible age or sex, become more profoundly estranged from human kind, more desperately caught into that clockwork of obsessive reiteration which disqualifies them from genuine being and from genuine death (it is remarkable how few of Aickman's trapped protagonists ever actually manage to die); more and more they come to resemble his dreadful father.

...."Meeting Mr Millar" and "Wood,"

....His wife suddenly leaves him for someone real, and the charade of his trivial existence collapses into a succession of unendurable ghostings. The world becomes a deranged and gloating nightmare, in which he must recognize his own shattered being, but from which he cannot escape.

....The most impressive of these stories is probably the superb "Compulsory Games," in which failed transcendence and mummification conjoin in deadly wedlock.

....His wife suddenly leaves him for someone real, and the charade of his trivial existence collapses into a succession of unendurable ghostings. The world becomes a deranged and gloating nightmare, in which he must recognize his own shattered being, but from which he cannot escape.

"The Stains" ....in the inexorable suffusion of staining through this tale, stainings of body and world, we recognize an irreversible and growing consanguinity with death.


19//Gene Wolfe
....stoolpigeon story — the kind of story you can paraphrase and catch the truth of.

....he reminds me just a little (I'm afraid this is going to sound pretty pretentious) of Johann Sebastian Bach. The central fact about Bach is not his originality (for in Romantic terms he was not very original) but his immense comprehensive grasp of the given. As Bach synthesized the Baroque just as it entered heat-death, so Gene Wolfe seems to be attempting to synthesize true stories out of the growing incoherence of our own genre.

....bringing out the internal human circumstances that have always monitored our flights to Mars, however tenuously they were dealt with by overworked "hack" writers trying to feed themselves at a cent a word.

The Book of the New Sun ....text is unnervingly and suavely coy.

Peace ....that deeply ironic tale of death and corruption

....briefed to attempt to read the text as though every word was intended to bear meaning

....Unless you are willing to take the book literally, it will never even begin to unfold into what may be its true exultant shape.








Jay
7 October 2019