Sunday, September 10, 2017

Harpo Marx and Albert the Alligator

I've been inspired by Bill Rogers' recent artwork. Not inspired to do all of the work needed for something great, but inspired enough to put up a brief poking, plodding blog post in the hopes that someone else will run with the idea and write the essay I want to read, but don't want to write.

Bill's art:

"I found that there are more mysterious creatures inside of every person than there are persons in the world."

I'm no Greek scholar. Not even a Greek amateur. It's all Greek to me. But I am able to find my way around Greek "study tools" such as dictionaries and concordances.

Lafferty's "ktistec" is an obvious derivation of the greek verb "ktizó" (I'm going to be using transliterations instead of copying and pasting the actual Greek here). Specifically, Ktistec is from the noun "ktístēs": Creator.

After his birth, Epikt the machine is immediately baptized in wine and named by Valery (one of Lafferty's greatest characters).

“Epiktistes!” Gregory crackled. “That can not be its name. That means the ‘creative one,’ and it is ourselves who are the creative ones. This thing will be a mere receptacle and reactor.”

In Greek as in English (following the Latin), there is a closeness in the language to describe two very distinct things. Ktistes is the creator. Ktistis is the creation. Lafferty very clearly uses the 'e'. Our favorite machine is indeed the created Creative One.

With this naming begins one of the key themes of Arrive at Easterwine, that of creating, creation, new creation, and creatureliness.

A search for "creat" in the digital text of Easterwine reveals that the root "creat" appears 54 times in the text. It's often Epikt referring to others as creatures. Epikt never forgets that he is a created being, a creature, and he relates to others as such. "Creature" stresses the created reality of each.

Also, from his beginning Epikt is given a fundamentally creative objective:

“It is necessary now that we state our purpose,” Gregory insisted (horrendous blasting and that urbane maniacal laughter at the front door again!), “that the mechanismus should become the paragon of group-man, I have said; and that it will attempt the next steps in man that man himself is incapable of taking. But this fine-honed machine (though you do seem a little rough yet, Epikt) must now be set to three primary tasks. These may be the types of all tasks and problems there are. The three tasks (and I will outline them as briefly as possible, no more than an hour to each) will be to establish or create—” “A Leader,” said Valery. “A Love,” said Aloysius. “And a Liaison,” said Cecil Corn.

Besides the creation talk, there is some related "generation" and "generating" talk throughout the book.

And probably the most obvious connection to all of this creation talk is that Lafferty begins Chapter 1 with the powerfully resonant phrase, "In the beginning," echoing the book of Genesis (and maybe perhaps also an echo of the Gospel of John's own echoing twist on Genesis; Lafferty does also play with the language and idea of Logos as well as the "central terminal" of Easterwine).

That's all I've got. I haven't actually re-read the book or put any work into this idea. I'm just rambling as usual. I'm hoping that maybe my rambling post will lead to new posts from Daniel and Kevin on anything. I know I came late to the blogging party. But I'm here insisting that the party is NOT over!! I've also been eagerly awaiting Andrew's next Archipelago post. Please, Andrew, come back to us! More Archipelago! Even better than hearing from any of those guys, maybe I'll convince someone else to take up the task of blogging about Lafferty. "Hey, if that idiot John can do it, I can do it better!" Yes, you can! Do it!

 I confess that I've been in a dry period of Lafferty reading myself. Besides re-reading a few of the essays a month or so ago, I haven't read any Lafferty since reading Not to Mention Camels (which is a very bad book. I shouldn't have used it). I've been reading Wolfe's Book of the New Sun (my first time tackling more than the first novel, which I read nearly 20 years ago) and the usualy stack of non-fiction (most notably for Lafferty-related thought, I'm re-reading Augustine's Confessions and see plenty of connection between Augustine's descriptions of the dis-integrated self and Lafferty's work). When I'm finished with that, I'm hoping to tackle either More Than Melchisidech or East of Laughter. There's an essay that's long been bubbling inside of me about the Argo trilogy and Lafferty's alcohol use and abuse, so I need to, you know, actually finish the trilogy(!) before I can re-read it and then finally start to intelligently comment on it. But I'm currently leaning towards a first read of East of Laughter. The recent passing of Robert Jenson had me re-reading this essay: The same day had me searching Daniel's blog for something I half-remembered, that the Jenson essay had stirred in me:

They also learned that they themselves were outside of reality, that they had never touched it at even one point, but that sometimes they came close. They were imbrued, all through their happy suppertime and into the night hours, with an almost-happy philosophy. They hadn’t yet come to the centrality of the philosophy, but they found themselves more and more on the near fringes of it as they discussed and reveled and studied. They learned that a quest for reality is possible.’


  1. I'm working back into it! =) Just acclimating to a new job, among other things.

    The (world-)creative impulse in Lafferty is obviously very strong, and I think you're right to seize on "ktisis". One thing that struck me in a cursory look (unfortunately no time to follow up just now): the form "ktistes" is used only once in the Bible, in I Peter 4:19— "Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to doing good, as to a faithful Creator." The epi- will change it a bit, but I still find it fascinating first that it's rough Peter who Lafferty pinches from here, rather than any of the more literarily polished apostles; and second that it's in the specific context of divinely appointed suffering.

    As to the rest, I don't at all think Not to Mention Camels is a bad book (not my favorite but really remarkable in its look at media and celebrity culture), but it is one that was meant to speak more directly to an audience of science fiction readers than any other, and in that perhaps it was destined to fail.

    The Argo cycle will be great for a treatment of alcohol used and abused, although none of it will surpass The Devil Is Dead. If anyone ever gets around to publishing In a Green Tree, there will be a surplus of material there.

    East of Laughter is a magnificent novel, one of my favorites. Of course, I tend to think his early '80s run of novels (composition date not publication) is probably his best: EoL, Serpent's Egg, Sindbad, Klepsis.

    Your First Things article is 404'd; fortunately there's an extensive Wayback:

    I find the Jenson article, like much commentary Christian and otherwise on post/modernism, to be almost willfully obtuse and as or more despairing than the caricature of the modern he decries. There's plenty of other takes (including Catholic! Bruno Latour to name just one!) on postmodernism that sees a lot more room in which to work; Lafferty is obviously among that ilk——he's indubitably as or more cranky as Jenson, and yet his works sing with hope and constructive purpose (if after a bit of judicious dismemberment). That's an aesthetic we need even more today than when Lafferty was writing; may we all find it resound in our own lives and work!

  2. What a great post. I'm glad my art could inspire someone in any way. But frankly, I'm blown away by how well you convey your thought even if you describe it as only poking and plodding. Thanks for posting!

  3. Also, your Albert the Alligator reminded me of another Epikt picture I made, which is loosely based on Albert.

  4. Andrew,

    A few brief responses....

    The only difference between this post as is and as it originally was in my phone's text editor (where I wrote it during a slow moment, using a bluetooth keyboard) is that I deleted 1 Peter 4:19 from the top of it when I copied it over! Re-reading before posting, I realized that I intuited a relationship between suffering and creation being present in Easterwine, but I couldn't remember anything clearly from the novel (my one and only read of it was already over a year ago) to support a reading of those who suffer. Neither did I want to spend any time developing an idea of "the will of God" or "committing one's soul to doing good" in relation to the novel. So, yeah, very, very rich stuff there, and connections to be made. I was too lazy to do any of it.

    Not to Mention Camels has actually wormed its way into my head as one of my favorites. It is a fierce book. What I wrote above was supposed to be slyly funny and I had meant to include a hyperlink on my own text linking to Chris Merle's excellent find:

    You might have missed my recent post on NtMC (and some more discussion in the comments with Daniel). I'd love it if you added any thoughts there.....

    As for the Jenson article, I probably agree with you. I'm sympathetic towards the narrative vs. nihilism thread of it, but I do think that he's sometimes simplistic in his engagement with literature (treating realism and ignoring fantastika) and history. Besides a basic LitCrit course in college with a handful of introductory readings, my knowledge of PoMo theory is mostly secondhand. But in that regard, I've been most influenced by guys like Peter Leithart (my favorite living theologian) and James Smith (whose Desiring the Kingdom was a breath of fresh air to me), both of whom have been much more friendly toward and embracing of (select strains of) Postmodernism(s). I haven't read any Latour, but I do know a little of his work from the times that Leithart has mentioned him on his blog.


    You know I love your work! You are definitely an inspiration in the way that you deeply, personally connect to the text, especially in the way that you re-read and re-read, allowing the text to transform you, and then engaging with it in your own outburst of visual creation.

  5. Bummed I missed this post back when it was written! Great thoughts all. One contribution: the theme of suffering in Arrive at Easterwine is perhaps broached in the appearance of the saint character (or whoever he is) Easterwine himself that comes in toward the end asking if some sick world can be brought to him for healing. (Roughly. Not gonna look it up right now.)