Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Algis Budrys, F&SF November 1983

How can a structure of fiction limn reality more clearly than reality does? Ah, well, that's the magic in it, you see...

  R.A. Lafferty could explain it to you, and probably has. Raphael Aloysius Lafferty has thought more, said more, and written down more intricate thoughts than anyone else in SF -- possibly than anyone else in SF ever, past or future -- and his career alone would serve to terminally blur all the nice distinctions between sorts of literature and of genres within those sorts. There is no question but that the man is an SF writer -- all that he does all day, apparently, is to speculate, although the front of his mind may at times rest -- and equally no question that you could go mad attempting to define what kind of SF he writes.

  Well, scholars, your task has been made even more piquant, and certainly no easier, by the appearance of Four Stories, one of the most chapped chap-books it has ever been my pleasure to behold.

  Available at $2.00 postpaid from Chris Drumm, P.O. Box 445, Polk City, IA 50226, these are four stories copyright 1983 by Lafferty and hitherto unpublished. "The Last Astronomer" is relatively straightforward; it's about the life and the last day of High Rider Charles-Wain, the last astronomer to survive the shattering discoveries that the universe is really quite small, interstellar distances are ludicrously short, and that Terrestrial "astronomy fiction" has long been the favorite humorous reading matter on Mars.

  "In the Turpentine Trees," however, begins to take on matters of some weight. It raises the questions of how a person might go about becoming God, how often it might have been done, and why it's not done more often. Furthermore, it provides answers.

  "Bird-Master" either is or is not a recasting of certain American Indian legends, reflecting another interest of Lafferty's. Or rather reflecting that aspect of Lafferty's one interest, which is everything. It's fine, and besides being risible is haunting. The story which is in some ways the slightest of the four, but will be discussed more often because it has an easily encapsulated idea, is "Faith Sufficient," about a fake faith-healer who exposes faith-healing fakes, but at a crucial moment depends on the intervention of a mouse who can move mountains. (Say that line aloud three times quickly, and you will do to your tongue what Lafferty does to the mind.)

  There you are. You can't do a study of Lafferty without being conversant with this material; I would judge that "In the Turpentine Trees," at least in some ways crosses beyond the borders of what commercial SF media finds publishable, and so is an indispensible benchmark of just how much craziness we will indulge, and of what kind. So send Drumm the $2.00. I don't know how he got hold of this material, but I'm sure it's legit. Also available is his R.A. Lafferty Checklist, at $1.25: 32 pages, with notes.

  The pages, if other Drumm publications are any criterion, are covered with very small type, achieved by photo-reducing typewritten copy. It comes out 16 characters to the inch -- 25% smaller than elite. Four Stories has over 37 pages, each page 4 1/2" x 7', with very tight margins. The whole thing looks like something produced in a basement on 8 1/2" x 11" paper ingeniously folded, sewn (literally), and then trimmed by tearing the edges against a steel rule. The checklists -- there are four others -- are equally marvelous to behold. (The Hal Clement @ 50c, is eight pages on cardstock; the Mack Reynolds and Thomas M. Disch, at $1.00 each, are 24 pages; the Algis Budrys, at 75c, is 16 pages and even includes my crime fiction, plus running corrections of errata.) All this apparently began with book dealer Drumm's publication of a catalog ($1.00, refundable with purchase) and has since gotten out of hand.

  It seems somehow inevitable that the Laffertys of this world find the Drumms and the Drumms find the Budryses. But if we didn't have Lafferty to prepare our minds for that realization -- and if Lafferty didn't have SF preparing the ground for him -- we wouldn't be equipped to understand that inevitability.

Death to Everyone, or, 3 Suggestions for Masters Theses, or, "Any action in which I am prepared to lose my life resembles war."

"Electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of "time" and "space" and pours upon us instantly and continuously the concerns of all other men." -Marshall McLuhan

"It’s a border-town tale, a narrative of liminal spaces: the estranging distance between the relative safety of the town and the folkloric weirdness of the countryside, and beyond that the line of the border itself—possibly the Rio Grande between Del Rio, Texas, and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, if a real rather than idealized geography is in view. But it also exists within the liminal space between realism and fantasy: almost as if, at this early stage, Lafferty has to establish where that line might be, before he can charge directly across it."
                                                -Andrew Ferguson, on "Cabrito"

"Pope Pius II wrote frankly in his "History of Frederick III": "States cannot alter their borders except by war." Several years ago Prime Minister Kekkonen of Finland met with Khrushchev and tried to ask him if little Karelia (the border province between Finland and Russia, lost in 1939) which was sorely missed by the Finns, might not be returned to Finland. Khrushchev who liked Kekkonen very much (Kekkonen visited him in Crimea every year) smiled and answered: "Mr. Kekkonen, you ought to know from history that the borders between states can only be changed by war." People in the world today don't like to hear this, but I think that both the Renaissance Pope and the last Russian Czar are right."
                                                 -Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, from Planetary Service

I have just finished The Medium is the Massage by McLuhan/Fiore. I am currently several chapters into ERH's Planetary Service. I am always thinking of Lafferty. Specifically, right now, I am halfway through Archipelago.

Planetary Service is about a future of peace, of what it means to live in a world post-war, and how borders can ever be challenged and changed without war.

ERH does give honor to borders, to their historic importance, but it is also clear that he is ready for their abolition.

"This contradiction lies across my entire generation: we were all soldiers for the borders of our countries, and we were all already burned by the insight that many borders would have to fall. And these are the words about borders which Peguy left us before his death: "And must I, to rescue from eternal flames the bodies of the damned who despair in torment, give up my own body unto the eternal fire, then, God, throw me into these eternal flames: and need I, to save from the torment those souls damned to stay forever distant, and who despair in their estrangement from You, let my own soul stay estranged, then let my own soul move into the eternal distance, for we can only save our souls together." Here you have one of God's heroes who will not leave any borders standing, not even the borders of hell. And everyone should first pause, considering Peguy's battle, and this contradiction. Only then shall we become serious."

Thesis #1. Lafferty's work exists on borders and boundaries, often charging directly across them.


Archipelago is Lafferty's most explicit war novel. Yet, somewhere along the writing process he forgot to include the war in the novel. I remember reading that Lafferty acknowledged this somewhere. I don't remember where.

This afternoon, I listened to this podcast:

Philip and Carol Zaleski wrote a book about the Inklings. Listening to them in this podcast, I didn't learn anything that I didn't already know. BUT! I did take pause when they mentioned that Tolkien and Lewis and all of the other writers in the Inklings were War writers even though they are not often categorized as such. Again, nothing new. But it made me realize that not enough attention is given to Lafferty as a war writer.

Most of the Inklings were WWI vets. Lafferty was a WWII vet. ERH and others make the point that this entire period of world civil war was all a continuation of the same. Both WWI and WWII vets had to deal with many of the same struggles. A new world ensued.

Unfortunately, most of us engaged in any sort of lit crit (pro or armchair) don't know a thing at all about risking our lives for anything. Most of us do not know the sort of heightened fellowship and camaraderie of men at war.

"The disappearance of war threatens us with the loss of the ability to distinguish between play and seriousness. Let us admit openly: war is the prime example of deadly earnestness, absolute earnestness. Any action in which I am prepared to lose my life resembles war." -ERH

Thesis #2. Lafferty is a war writer. Losing life is just the beginning.


"World and soul join one another, that is they must join in order to provide meaning. For the world is meaningless. The world would just be uncreated chaos were it not for those who stood up with their lives to provide meaning; every time anew it would become an uncreated chaos in which speech decayed and every border became insurmountable. Chaos does not precede God's creation. No, chaos occurs when we little devils abolish God's word." -ERH

Thesis #3. Chaos occurs when we little devils abolish God's word.



I wrote all of the above a month or so ago. I never did return and shape it into anything more cohesive or convincing. Scratches and sketches. I present it here just the same. Blah.

I'm not sure exactly where I was going with the last one. I think maybe that I was grasping at instances in which Lafferty touches on ACTIVE world-building and that world-destruction is just as real an activity. Maybe.

Yesterday, I started reading E.M. Cioran's The Trouble With Being Born.

Cioran: "Unmaking, decreating, is the only task man may take upon himself, if he aspires, as everything suggests, to distinguish himself from the Creator."

Yesterday evening, a friend killed himself. And sure enough, I along with him am shattered, unmade.

So it goes.

"We'd just as soon drink whiskey tonight, and beer tomorrow," said Finnegan.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Finnegan had a bottle.

Doubtless, it is unnatural to be drunk. But then in a real sense it is unnatural to be human. Doubtless, the intemperate workman wastes his tissues in drinking; but no one knows how much the sober workman wastes his tissues by working. No one knows how much the wealthy philanthropist wastes his tissues by talking; or, in much rarer conditions, by thinking. All the human things are more dangerous than anything that affects the beasts—sex, poetry, property, religion. The real case against drunkenness is not that it calls up the beast, but that it calls up the Devil. It does not call up the beast, and if it did it would not matter much, as a rule; the beast is a harmless and rather amiable creature, as anybody can see by watching cattle. There is nothing bestial about intoxication; and certainly there is nothing intoxicating or even particularly lively about beasts. Man is always something worse or something better than an animal; and a mere argument from animal perfection never touches him at all. Thus, in sex no animal is either chivalrous or obscene. And thus no animal ever invented anything so bad as drunkenness—or so good as drink.
For in so far as drinking is really a sin it is not because drinking is wild, but because drinking is tame; not in so far as it is anarchy, but in so far as it is slavery. Probably the worst way to drink is to drink medicinally. Certainly the safest way to drink is to drink carelessly; that is, without caring much for anything, and especially not caring for the drink.

-From Wine When It Is Red

“You are such a nice boy, it's a shame you are always crocked,” Elena said. “Have you had troubles? Do you love one who is unattainable? Are you frustrated in the expression of your talents? Did one you loved greatly die tragically and young? Are you disillusioned by the perfidies of the governments and shapers? Are you dangerously fallen from grace? Are you look for a Paraiso? Have you neglected one and are ashamed? Are you in chemical unbalance? For these reasons you drink?”
“Nueve y uno,” Finnegan said. “Nine yesses and a no. I drink because it is good to drink, and I drink excessively because I have an evil streak.”
“Can't you stop?”
“Anyone can stop at any time. It is as easy as hacking off your hand or plucking out your eye, the matter of a moment. It is better to be maimed than to burn: but it IS a maiming; being weak, I hesitate.”

-From Archipelago

Bless, O Lord, this creature beer, that Thou hast been pleased to bring forth from the sweetness of the grain: that it might be a salutary remedy for the human race: and grant by the invocation of Thy holy name, that, whosoever drinks of it may obtain health of body and a sure safeguard for the soul. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

-From the Rituale Romanum

Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great....
He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart.

-From Psalm 104

The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.

-From the Gospel According to St. Matthew

Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

-From the Epistle to the Ephesians

Thus ends, in unavoidable inadequacy, the attempt to utter the unutterable things. These are my ultimate attitudes towards life; the soils for the seeds of doctrine. These in some dark way I thought before I could write, and felt before I could think: that we may proceed more easily afterwards, I will roughly recapitulate them now. I felt in my bones; first, that this world does not explain itself. It may be a miracle with a supernatural explanation; it may be a conjuring trick, with a natural explanation. But the explanation of the conjuring trick, if it is to satisfy me, will have to be better than the natural explanations I have heard. The thing is magic, true or false. Second, I came to feel as if magic must have a meaning, and meaning must have some one to mean it. There was something personal in the world, as in a work of art; whatever it meant it meant violently. Third, I thought this purpose beautiful in its old design, in spite of its defects, such as dragons. Fourth, that the proper form of thanks to it is some form of humility and restraint: we should thank God for beer and Burgundy by not drinking too much of them. We owed, also, an obedience to whatever made us. And last, and strangest, there had come into my mind a vague and vast impression that in some way all good was a remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin. Man had saved his good as Crusoe saved his goods: he had saved them from a wreck. All this I felt and the age gave me no encouragement to feel it. And all this time I had not even thought of Christian theology.

-From Orthodoxy


Lafferty's relationship to alcohol requires an entire book or at least a long essay for Feast of Laughter. Maybe I'll get around to that some day. A close reading of the Argo Cycle is a good place to start to get a full appreciation for Lafferty's multi-faceted love for strong drink. Like Finnegan, like Lafferty, maybe like Chesterton (see here:, and like so many others, I also have an evil streak. And so, if today I write a blog post and sip my cup of coffee to him rather than raise my glass, I hope he'll forgive me and understand as he splashes around in St. Brigid's heavenly lake of beer.

(buy a print of this image here: