Tuesday, September 15, 2015


I finished The Annals of Klepsis last night.

Here's an excerpt from the last chapter:


  The Tarshish storyteller was there with us on the top of the mountain.
  "Story-man, what is a good ending for the present story?" Titus asked him.
  "I get most of my stories from my dreams, and from old legends. I have dreamed, many times and oft, everything here exactly as it has been happening. I dream it up to the point where the slave-mathematician is struck by lightning, and then my dream will stall and go no further. I only hope that the world won't stall and go no further forever. The old legends on it are pretty much the same. The endings of them are very weak and contrived. I just don't know how this episode is going to end."


Now, I wouldn't ever say that Lafferty's novel endings are "weak and contrived." They are, however, always startlingly unsatisfying and abrupt. Instead of giving closure, they announce that dangerously new beginnings have arrived.

This morning, I was reminded of Chapter 6 of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy's The Fruit of Lips. The chapter is titled "End Begets Beginning." In this entire work, Rosenstock-Huessy argues that the Gospel writers were aware of one another's work, that the Gospels were written in the canonical order in which they have been received, and that there is a very real unity amid the diversity. At the beginning of Chapter 6, Rosenstock-Huessy argues that the end of each Gospel feeds into the beginning of the next.

"Do they give evidence of mutual dependence beyond the "material" used? Yes, they do. They beget each other. Every Gospel begins exactly at the point to which the previous Gospel has progressed on its tortuous path. The last word of the one is the overture and sets the tone for the next......
  If this is so, then the Gospels continue each other, each beginning to think and to speak where the previous evangelist had ended, and turning his final word into the opening of a new drama."


Anyhow, I got to thinking again that this is true of all great literature. Certainly, the rest of the Bible has this kind of character. Often, it's more general. Reading one book is enriched by reading another and on and on until you're back to reading the first and understanding it all the better and realizing what you've missed. So there's this rich intertextuality. But it's also common for the biblical books to end on a note of pointing toward something that will happen NEXT.

Genesis ends pointing to the Exodus:
"And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence. So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt."

Exodus ends with the glory of the LORD filling the tabernacle and Israel on the move:
"Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys: But if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys."

And so on. I think that most of the books in the Bible do this in some way or another. Very often, even within books, there is an end which begets a new beginning.

Also, many of the biblical books end abruptly, in some way concluding its own story, but always pointing beyond itself.

The very last book of the bible, in its own way, is an extreme example of this. It does not end with the Return of the King and the "conclusion" of the story. It ends with a plea for the Return of the King and a promise of this coming. But it is still essentially open-ended. It's not quite a To Be Continued; it is most definitely an announcement of a New Heaven and New Earth because the old has passed away. That is a biblical pattern and it's one that I think that Lafferty either consciously or unconsciously adopts. I suspect the former.

I don't know if I'm up to the task, but what I'd like to eventually do is synthesize Lafferty's world destruction/renewals with Rosenstock-Huessy's insights on time and speech and James Jordan's biblical theology. The three are already in conversation in my head, but it's all intuitive grasping. I need to buckle down eventually and start taking notes on each.

Finally, while writing the above little bit and thinking about how Lafferty's non-endings relate to Biblical non-endings, I remembered N.T. Wright's 5-act play analogy. There's a similarity (and dissimilarity) between the way in which Wright describes the Bible's pushing toward reader-participants finishing the "play" and the way that Lafferty's work pushes reader-participants into finishing the "play." I think that these parallels become a bit clearer as well with a preterist understanding of the importance of the 70ad destruction of Jerusalem being a real (NOT a literary metaphor, as ERH would say, despite its beings poetic) destruction of a world, marking the end of an entire cosmos (see any treatment of temple as cosmos) as a new world becomes fully birthed IN the death of the old.


There are various ways in which stories might be thought to possess authority.  Sometimes a story is told so that the actions of its characters may be imitated.  It was because they had that impression that some early Fathers, embarrassed by the possibilities inherent in reading the Old Testament that way, insisted upon allegorical exegesis.  More subtly, a story can be told with a view to creating a generalized ethos which may then be perpetuated this way or that.  The problem with such models, popular in fact though they are within Christian reading of scripture, is that they are far too vague: they constitute a hermeneutical grab-bag or lucky dip.  Rather, I suggest that stories in general, and certainly the biblical story, has a shape and a goal that must be observed and to which appropriate response must be made.

But what might this appropriate response look like?  Let me offer you a possible model, which is not in fact simply an illustration but actually corresponds, as I shall argue, to some important features of the biblical story, which (as I have been suggesting) is that which God has given to his people as the means of his exercising his authority.  Suppose there exists a Shakespeare play whose fifth act had been lost.  The first four acts provide, let us suppose, such a wealth of characterization, such a crescendo of excitement within the plot, that it is generally agreed that the play ought to be staged.  Nevertheless, it is felt inappropriate actually to write a fifth act once and for all: it would freeze the play into one form, and commit Shakespeare as it were to being prospectively responsible for work not in fact his own.  Better, it might be felt, to give the key parts to highly trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearian actors, who would immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and who would then be told to work out a fifth act for themselves.

Consider the result.  The first four acts, existing as they did, would be the undoubted ‘authority’ for the task in hand.  That is, anyone could properly object to the new improvisation on the grounds that this or that character was now behaving inconsistently, or that this or that sub-plot or theme, adumbrated earlier, had not reached its proper resolution.  This ‘authority’ of the first four acts would not consist in an implicit command that the actors should repeat the earlier pans of the play over and over again.  It would consist in the fact of an as yet unfinished drama, which contained its own impetus, its own forward movement, which demanded to be concluded in the proper manner but which required of the actors a responsible entering in to the story as it stood, in order first to understand how the threads could appropriately be drawn together, and then to put that understanding into effect by speaking and acting with both innovation and consistency.

This model could and perhaps should be adapted further; it offers in fact quite a range of possibilities.  Among the detailed moves available within this model, which I shall explore and pursue elsewhere, is the possibility of seeing the five acts as follows: (1) Creation; (2) Fall; (3) Israel; (4) Jesus.  The New Testament would then form the first scene in the fifth act, giving hints as well (Rom 8; 1 Car 15; parts of the Apocalypse) of how the play is supposed to end.  The church would then live under the ‘authority’ of the extant story, being required to offer something between an improvisation and an actual performance of the final act.  Appeal could always be made to the inconsistency of what was being offered with a major theme or characterization in the earlier material.  Such an appeal—and such an offering!—would of course require sensitivity of a high order to the whole nature of the story and to the ways in which it would be (of course) inappropriate simply to repeat verbatim passages from earlier sections.  Such sensitivity (cashing out the model in terms of church life) is precisely what one would have expected to be required; did we ever imagine that the application of biblical authority ought to be something that could be done by a well-programmed computer?


Andrew F.:
"Lafferty is always seeking, through his fiction, to reach out and find those who will join him in creating and sustaining new worlds. Most of his books reach their peaks not in moments of intense action, but in moments of extreme connectivity, with two or more people coming into sudden rapport, a mutual understanding strong enough to resonate throughout the multiplicity of worlds. Thus in Archipelagothe climax comes not at the end—and how could it? As Lafferty notes in his essay, there aren’t any endings—but instead at the St. Louis Conclave, with nearly all of his characters gathered together and drawing sparks off one another."

[Sorry for any wonky formatting errors. I started this on my laptop this morning and finished it in my phone. And the usual apologies for the general rambling incoherence.]

Friday, June 12, 2015

'the musics'

Excerpts from Lafferty's review of the anthology Some Things Dark and Dangerous:

"All are suspense stories, wonder stories; all are mystery stories, in a sense, though none is a conventional detective story and certainly none is a formula story. Three of them might be called Science Fiction (at the name of which all honest hearts must leap with pleasure!); all are pretty much Blood and Thunder (“as simple as the thunger of Heaven and the blood of men” as Chesterton once defended the type). 

At this point, from the covert enemies of the Lively Arts, there come two automatic protests, and we must answer them.

Is there any real importance in producing another collection of old stories even if it is ‘good material sunk out of sight’?

Is there any importance at all (while the eschatological things are standing up tall and crying for attention) to be found in the inferior and trivial art form of the suspense story, a surrogate or life-escapist device?

(Really, it is no more life-escapist than are any other cultural accretions since the breechclout and the fist-axe; and it retains more of the clout and the axe than do most other forms.)

The first answer is that there may be importance in collections of old and valid fact and fiction. No great book has ever come about in any other way than this. It was the mechanism of Scripture, of all the Epics, of the Arabian Nights, of the works of the Bard and of the Comedist who produced no more than superior collections of old material. Not that this is a great book, but it would be a great book if it stood alone of its kind. And the Iliad would not be a great book if it stood with a dozen others of like sort.

The second answer is that there may be intrinsic importance in the suspense story. The whole life affair is a suspense story, and this cannot be said about any other sort of literature. And it can itself be eschatological."


"And the suspense story has had noble practitioners. A writing acquaintance (an unbeliever) once gave me the opinion that God the Father, on the basis of some hundred striking narrations in both Testaments, would have to be classed as one of the three greatest masters of the suspense story. And I have it on peculiar authority that He enjoys these things Himself, and that there is much in literature that He does not enjoy.

God the Father, however, is not represented directly in this collection."


"If man is the only creature who laughs (this may be argued; poltergeist and several animals snigger and chortle; likely all the higher creatures laugh; certainly the Creator does), man is not the only creature who experiences suspense. All the animals, all the creatures experience it. It is the necessary tension, and without it the limbs would be unstrung.

But it may be that man is the only creature who has experienced changes (two changes) in the nature of Suspense. One was at the time of the Fall (those of other orientation may call it the Hiatus or the Amnesia or they may call it nothing at all, but they must recognize that something happened then). At the time of the Fall, man went into a state of Suspended Animation. Or perhaps it was a state of Animated Suspense. It must have been a frighteningly powerful state from the disguised memories we still carry of it. Certain animals and persons and intermediate spirits are in that case yet."


"The second change in the nature of Suspense was at the time of the Redemption (those of other orientation may call it the End of an Era or the Anamnesis, but they must recognize that something happened then). The suspense was not abolished; perhaps it was sanctified. Some of the dread was removed, but the bow itself was not unstrung. The tension was likely increased, but tension in grace became more possible. Suspense is now a requirement of the pleasure principle, of the victory principle, of the high comedy of being. And it will be a requirement of the Vision, which will not be static. It is a necessity to the feeling of immediacy, to the constant newness of outlook and experience. It is at the heart (the courage) of things.

Suspense is not the same thing as uncertainty, not the same as apprehension, not the same as doubt, not quite the same thing as danger, certainly not the same as fear.

Might bold claims, those! Can one stand and produce on the subject? No, I cannot, and probably you cannot produce for any powerful interest of your own. But in this collection, and others like it, there are fleeting pieces of something important, and they must be caught on the fly. We lack the right words for all these things (Suspense is not the right word), and we lack the means of tying them together. The Lively Arts, the Lively Sciences, the Lively Eschatologies, the Lively Congresses of every sort are all of one thing which the Greeks called simply ‘the musics’ and for which we lack any correct word."

Sunday, June 7, 2015


There's a part of Chapter 10 of The Devil is Dead that is one of my favorite passages in all of the Lafferty that I've read so far. I've written in the past, here and on FB, about how much I love Lafferty's joyous deaths, his raucous goodtime violence. One of my favorite theologians has commented on pacifism that its chief problem is that it misplaces the antithesis, replacing a struggle between Righteous (Seed of the Woman) and Unrighteous (Seed of the Serpent) with a struggle between Righteous (Peaceniks) and Unrighteous (Warmongers). In the former story, the Righteous community enjoys headcrushing and has a limp from all the wrestling it does. In the latter story, headcrushing and wrestling are always forms of oppression and inherently evil. Lafferty was no pacifist.

Needless to say, Lafferty's violence is a full-bodied Ancient violence, lusty and good. But that's not to say that all violence and all death in Lafferty's worlds is always a positive good. There IS a violence and a death that is a sundering of created good. Even a proper recognition that this type of death and violence is impermanent and a less full instance of reality, an unfinished business as it were, is not enough to ease the hearts of those who experience such a thing.


  A lady took Finnegan to a near house. There he saw Anastasia his dead sister. She still had the smile of a happy pixie and her eyes were only half closed. They had put her on a sofa there. She had been shot once only. She had been wet.
  "She fell off the breakwater when she was shot," someone said. "She was dead when we pulled her out."
  An orthodox priest was there. "I gave her the last rites," he said. "Then I wondered if she had become a Roman. She had a Roman rosary. Do you know?"
  "No. She was not a Roman. I gave her the rosary," Finnegan said.
  This was all too matter-of-fact.
  "You had better go and hide," the priest told him. "They plan to find you and kill you also. You and the big man they are looking for. It is dangerous for you to be down here."
  The priest told Finnegan several other things that he did not quite understand with his insufficient Greek.
  Finnegan slipped away with Manuel up the hill. Finn had all this time carried a gin bottle in his hand, the same that he had taken up on the mountain as a sovereign against premonitions. He had carried it through the rough climb down the mountain, through the alley off the street of the dead men, into the house where his sister was dead, and up onto the mountain again.
  "I must be depraved," he said.
  But he didn't throw it away.


All of Chapter 10 is remarkable (as is the whole novel) and I recommend that you read or re-read it.

A friend died a few weeks ago, suddenly, unexpectedly. I didn't see her face at or after her death but I imagine it like this: "She still had the smile of a happy pixie and her eyes were only half closed."


Apologies to anyone who was following along with my Klepsis project. I won't be finishing my Klepsis "live-tweeting" and I probably won't post about it here again until I've finished the whole thing.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Do we all have our salt? It's important that we should.

  "What is your line, Long John Tong Tyrone?" Terpsichore asked.
  "History," I said, for I am Long John Tong Tyrone, the probably Eurasian peg-leg. "Do we all have our salt? It's important that we should."
  Slowing for our landing at Klepsis Third Port, we came over a little arm of the ocean. The oceans of Klepsis lack salt, and all visitors to the planet must make a token contribution.
  "I don't have any salt," Terpsichore moaned. "I'd forgotten about that requirement."
  "There's a man in the whiskey bar who'll sell you a hectogram of salt for one thousand Klepsis thalers," Gold Coast said with perhaps a touch of cruelty. "You can't leave the ship without making a ritual offering of salt, you know."
  "Oh, oh, I can't afford one thousand thalers," Terpsichore complained. "And I can't afford not to disembark here either. Oh, oh!"
  "I got some, pet," Conchita told her. I thought I'd better bring an extra pack. Here. You have to pour it into the ocean yourself. Good. I bet that makes it a lot saltier. But there isn't any history on Klepsis, Long John Tong Tyrone."
  "Then I'll find some," I said, "or I'll make some."

This is my favorite passage from Chapter 1. I love how compactly it communicates so much. This adventure is a bring-your-own-salt adventure. If you've got no salt, you may as well go home.

Salt is spoken of literally in the story, but it's also surely a metaphor.

Salt indicates experience, worthiness, maybe even a lustiness. Especially in a naval context, these resonances will be present. Familiar to us are phrases like "salty sea dog" and "worth his salt" and, from a different angle, "salt of the earth."

Salt is also a component of the human body, most prominently featured in our blood, sweat, and tears, semen and urine. Salt is an indication of effort and a sign of life. We extrude salt when we work, when we bleed, when we cry, when we procreate. We have so much of it that we cast off excess as waste product.

So, the most lively of us are the saltiest.

Here we get a subtle moment of character development. Terpsichore doesn't have any salt. Conchita has an overabundance, enough for herself and to cover others.

Finally, there's even more to the metaphor. It is a "ritual offering" of salt. This makes the ocean of Klepsis an altar and perhaps sets up the characters as having a priestly role to play on the planet.

You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt. - Leviticus 2:13

All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the LORD I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the LORD for you and for your offspring with you." - Numbers 18:19

And all of this salt talk is sandwiched between Long John Tong Tyrone's statement that he is looking for history, so that at the end of the section, when he says, "I'll find some or I'll make some," we are inclined to believe him. 


 Some more rambling thoughts on Ch 1: 

 1. I love the opening line, "Remember these things, burn them into your mind, think of them always:" Surely up there among the great Lafferty first lines. The list of things and people that follows is also lovely.

2. It's all very funny, the "tall tale of the peggies" especially. Much of the humor is based on ethnicity, something that Lafferty's generation was perhaps both more comfortable with and more sensitive to. And of course Lafferty had firsthand knowledge of being an "inferior race."
"If they have Irish names, they are Irish altogether," Brannagan laid it down. "Few of the other breeds would be caught dead with an Irish name." 

 3. Ethnicity again. Lafferty wins all awards and passes all tests when it comes to the recent sf clamoring for diversity.

"Of the three peg-legs on the flight from Apateon Planet to Klepsis, one was clearly black, one was probably Gaea-Earth Eurasian, and one plainly Latino; their names were Andrew "Gold Coast" O'Mally, Long John Tong Tyrone, and Conchita O'Brian. Gold Coast and Long John had their left legs missing, Conchita her right. "When are you going to have your leg cut off, Terps?" Conchita asked Terpsichore Callagy. "There's several people getting amputated now down by the ship's handball court. You get a rebate on your passage after you get your leg cut off. You'd better go get it done now."
  "I wasn't going to have my leg cut off at all," Terpsichore said. "I'm very much against the whole idea. It'd hurt."
  "But you already got your name changed to an Irish one," Conchita reminded her. "That hurts more than having a leg cut off."
  "Callagy is my real name," Terpsichore explained. 
 "Nobody's real name is Callagy, Conchita insisted. 

Again, very funny. But the point of reproducing this here is to show off the diversity. 
One was clearly black, 
Andrew "Gold Coast" O'Mally 
Andrew is a manly name. 
"Gold Coast" is likely a reference to Ghana. 
O'Mally is a good bad Irish name. 

One was probably Gaea-Earth Eurasian,
Long John Tong Tyrone
(The "probably" is extra funny considering that this is a description of the narrator himself.)
Long John is a good pirate name. John refers to the graciousness of YHWH.
Tong and its variants is a fairly common Asian and Pacific Island name.
Tyrone is a good bad Irish name.

One plainly Latino,
Conchita O'Brian
Conchita is a Spanish name, either little seashell or little conception, a possible Marian connection, but the seashell connection makes it clear that this one belongs to the sea.
O'Brian is a good bad Irish name. 

Terpsichore Callagy
Terpsichore is a Greek name, one of the Nine Muses, associated with dance and music.
Callagy is a good bad Irish name.

4.There's a lot more to write about Ch 1: the My God What Grapes, the descriptions of pirate affectations, the properties of Klepsis, the "Prince" who recklessly courts death and wins big (also a prince as pauper or outcast prince trope going on there), the meaning and sources of history, the uses and abuses of maps. There really is a LOT packaged into one short chapter, but it is also a breeze to read and the best kind of fun. I'm more than ready to move to Ch 2.

5. I've noted this before on FB, but figured I'd note it again. Lafferty's individual sentences can rarely stand alone. Each is a brick in the building of something greater than itself. With some wonderful exceptions, one Lafferty sentence on its own can often be shrugged off. One Lafferty paragraph on its own must often be marveled at. A Lafferty chapter has a powerful cumulative effect that is greater even than the paragraphs. And one reason that I love the novels more than the stories is that this expanse is allowed to spread itself and build into something much greater than its component parts.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

And the humanly inhabited universe--that's us!

Some very preliminary thoughts on Annals of Klepsis, "focusing" on the preface before Canto 1 and the Table of Contents.

1. The preface by Karl Sayon (a parody of Carl Sagan, yes?) starts with talk of a Tertiary Focus.

It's unknown what the first and second are.

I didn't know anything about the Latin etymology of "focus" so I looked it up.
Focus - "point of convergence" from Latin focus "hearth, fireplace" (also, figuratively, "home, family")
So, that's probably a rabbit trail; I don't know yet.

2. The Doomsday Equation: "The humanly inhabited universe, with its four Suns and seventeen planets, is an unstable closed system of human orientation and precarious balance, a kinetic three-dimensional ellipse in form, with its third focus always approaching extinction. As with any similar unstable premise-system, the entire construct must follow its third focus into extinction."

Lafferty's entire universe is anthropocentric, "of human orientation" and (therefore?) of precarious balance.

Can any Lafferty fans name the seventeen planets? Have they all been named? I can think of Astrobe, Camiroi, Kentauron Mikron, and Gaea-Earth. I riffled through Sindbad and found the name of Dahae. Then there's Klepsis, of course.

The mention of the "ellipse" gives further context to the "tertiary focus" line. I'm a math dope, so maybe someone can give more details, but an ellipse has two foci, right? So a third focus would unbalance the thing? Or does this have to do with the three-dimensionality of the ellipse? And it's a kinetic ellipse, chasing its third focus. Again, I don't know if this is wonkiness or if there is some math speculation going on here that I don't catch.

3. I'm still fuzzy on what the Third Focus is, but this Preface really is just a tease and set-up, so that's to be expected. "The third focus of the humanly inhabited universe has been determined to be both a point and a person on the Planet Klepsis." Again with the person-centeredness. One-third of the foci maintaining the ellipse of the known universe is a person.

4. More details are given about this person who is the third focus.
Location - surface of Klepsis
Code Name - Horeshoe Nail
Age - more than two hundred years
Condition - "He cannot be allowed to awake, and he cannot be allowed to die."

5. The Table of Contents. I could speculate on the titles, but that wouldn't do much good. What interests me about the ToC and what I want to bring up is that Lafferty has structured the story by Cantos instead of Chapters. Why is this? When I think of Cantos, I immediately think of Dante and his Comedy, but I'm not sure that there are any strong Dante references going on. There are many other poems that use Cantos, but I think that what is important is that it is a literary structuring device of Italian origin and that Canto is related to song. Annals of Klepsis is the Italian song epic about the Irish pirate planet! It is the Aloysius and the Lafferty joyously dancing around one another. And speaking of Aloysius, the back cover says that he'll be making an appearance!

I'm reading the book slowly. The plan right now is to read a chapter a week, then re-read the chapter and "live-tweet" it during slow moments during the week. This is pretty much what I did with Sindbad and that worked out well since it is still probably my favorite Laff novel. https://twitter.com/KlepsisAnnals

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Who invented Wotto metal: Otto Wotto or Joe Spade?

"Then the great inventor Otto Wotto invented Wotto metal. With wotto metal used as the matrix of a computer, any circuit or any million circuits could go anywhere desired. The circuits would create their own pathways, strings of single molecules; and they would uncreate them again when there was no data crying to be transported over those particular paths. Wotto Metal pretty much took the lid off of what computers could do. They could do just about anything."
-Serpent's Egg

"I'm Joe Spade--about as intellectual a guy as you'll find all day. I invented Wotto and Voxo and a bunch of other stuff that nobody can get along without anymore."
"I compute it and build it at the same time--out of Wotto-metal naturally."
"And that bushy-tailed machine just sparkled--like everything does that is made out of Wotto-metal."
-"Hog-Belly Honey"

"What we eat out of your ships and your stores are the most nourishing and sophisticated things you have brought, wotto metal, data gelatin, electronic reta, codified memories and processes."
-"Thieving Bear Planet"

A few possible answers to the question of who invented Wotto metal....

1) Joe Spade is lying. Otto Wotto invented Wotto metal.

2) Joe Spade is telling the truth. All that he claims is that he invented "Wotto" which could be taken to mean that he invented Otto Wotto who went on to invent Wotto metal. Thus, the two accounts are reconciled.

3) Both Otto Wotto and Joe Spade worked collaborated on the invention of Wotto metal.

4) There is no such thing as Wotto metal. No one invented it.

5) I like saying Wotto.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

And what does he say of himself?

"Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A Being darkly wise, and rudely great."
"The glory, jest and riddle of the world."
-Alexander Pope, from An Essay on Man: Epistle II

"Wit that can creep, and Pride that licks the dust."
-Alexander Pope, from An Epistle to Arbuthnot

"Expatiate free o'er all this scene of man;
A mighty maze! but not without a plan;"
-Alexander Pope, from An Essay on Man: Epistle I

"Man, Homo Sapiens, the most widespread, numerous, and reputedly the most intelligent of the primates."

"Question 48: What is Man!"
"Man is a creature composed of body and soul,
And made in the image and likeness of God."
                                      Baltimore Catechism

"There shone one woman, and none but she."
-Algernon Charles Swinburne, from The Triumph of Time

"The heart of man is evil from his youth."
-Genesis 8:21

"Woman clothed in the sun."
-Revelation 12:1

"We are fearfully and wonderfully made."
-Psalms 139:14

"The torrent of a woman's will."
-Anonymous, from a pillar in Canterbury

"The Mind of Man, my haunt, and the main region of my song."
-William Wordsworth, from The Recluse

"Hail, fellow, well met,
All dirty and wet."
-Jonathan Swift, from My Lady's Lamentation And Complaint Against The Dean

"Man is nature's sole mistake."
-W.S. Gilbert, from Princess Ida, or Castle Adamant

"Man in his hasty days."
-Robert Bridges, from I Love all Beauteous Things

"Man is an embodied paradox, a bundle of contradictions."
-Charles Caleb Colton, from Lacon, or Many Things in Few Words; Addressed to Those Who Think

"Says he, 'I am a handsome man,
But I'm a gay deceiver."
-George Colman the Younger, from Love Laughs at Locksmiths
(hear it sung by The Kingston Trio)

"The Legend of Good Women."
-Geoffrey Chaucer

"An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be."
-Ambrose Bierce, from The Devil's Dictionary

"Art thou a man of purple cheer?
A rosy man right plump to see?"
-William Wordsworth, from A Poet's Epitaph

"And thus, from the bad use of free will, there originated the whole train of evil, which, with its concatenation of miseries, conveys the human race from its depraved origin, from its corrupt root, on to the destruction of the second death."
"Of the fall of the first man, in whom nature was created good--"
-Augustine, from The City of God

"Of Man's first disobedience and the Fall--"
-John Milton, from Paradise Lost

"If he is an angel, then he is a fallen angel. If he is an animal, then he is a risen animal. Doctor Faustus attained power over the Devil by learning his secret name: 'Mephistopheles'. Come, and I will whisper to you the secret name of Man and you can attain power over him. The secret name of man is 'Ambiguity'."

"Well, the things that human people have said about human people are not at all conclusive. It seems that man, being inside man, cannot get a good look at man."

Thursday, April 16, 2015

But could such a world work?

It's a great moment when one finishes a Lafferty novel and finds that DOJP has already done all of the difficult work of writing intelligently about the novel. There's not much that I can add to his excellent review of Serpent's Egg

Everyone should:

-Read Serpent's Egg.

-Read Daniel's essay.

If you've done those two important things and you're still hanging around here, well, I guess I owe you some original content. I'll try to add a little to what Daniel has written. Here are a few quickly sketched out points from my reading of the novel that aren't directly addressed by Daniel.

1. The title is surely a reference to Julius Caesar.

It must be by his death, and for my part
I know no personal cause to spurn at him
But for the general. He would be crowned.
How that might change his nature, there’s the question.
It is the bright day that brings forth the adder
And that craves wary walking. Crown him that,
And then I grant we put a sting in him
That at his will he may do danger with.
Th' abuse of greatness is when it disjoins
Remorse from power. And, to speak truth of Caesar,
I have not known when his affections swayed
More than his reason. But ’tis a common proof
That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,
Whereto the climber upward turns his face.
But when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend. So Caesar may.
Then, lest he may, prevent. And since the quarrel
Will bear no color for the thing he is,
Fashion it thus: that what he is, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities.
And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg—
Which, hatched, would as his kind grow mischievous—
And kill him in the shell.

2. Daniel does a great job of situating the plot and themes of Serpent's Egg among Lafferty's other works. I find it surprising, though, that he didn't mention Reefs of Earth. Maybe he hadn't read it yet at the time he read Serpent's Egg? The connection between the two novels (and to stories like "Seven Day Terror" and "Among the Hairy Earthmen" and "Primary Education of the Camiroi" and so many more) is that children are the protagonists. I'm not willing to put in the work right now, but I'm sure that there are many fruitful ways to compare/contrast the mischievous Puca children and the interspecies "royal" Mega-children. There is certainly a shared love of pirates. Lafferty's use of children in his fiction is screaming for a full-length treatment.

3. I'm going to hunt down the sources for the quotes that open Chapter Four. Besides interacting with his own other fiction as Daniel pointed out, it is clear that Lafferty is always doing more than navel-gazing. The beginning of Chapter Four is the clearest evidence of this as Lafferty lets several sources speak for themselves though he doesn't explicitly give his sources.

4. I want to re-read Daniel's FoL2 essay. It'd be wonderful to see Daniel re-visit Serpent's Egg and discuss what is being done with the literalization of animal imagery. Somewhat related, I did off-handedly mention on FB that I think that this novel is in some ways an answer to Wells's Island of Dr. Moreau.

5. Related to #2 above, Lafferty's plotting in Serpent's Egg is strongly reminiscent of little kid comic book/strip logic. There's a fluidity of logic that always makes sense in its context, but is highly ridiculous the moment it is divorced from its context. This is the way that little kids tell stories and also the way that the best early comics are constructed. In Serpent's Egg, this is seen in the way that Inneal constructs realities around her and it is seen in the way that all of the children talk to each other. It's also seen in the action. There's one spot where the assassins are coming after the children (as the children are putting on a circus as children do) and we're told that the assassins can't hurt the children because they don't have the proper weapons. They need to return to their lair to fetch the python-gun and angel-gun, etc. I wish I had been taking notes because this sort of thing is found throughout the novel. There were so many times where I'd slowly re-read a paragraph or two and block it out as a comic strip in my head. My hands won't translate those mind's pics properly, but I may take a stab at a Serpent's Egg strip. I started thinking that maybe I could find a talented collaborator to do the art for me.

That's all I've got for now, rambled out during slow moments this morning.

When I get a bigger chunk of time and actually have the text in front of me, I'll try to follow through with the promise of #3 above and maybe also post some examples illustrating #5.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Lafferty's Anterotica: "I myself am the fat turtle."

Continuing my Sunday evening "Lafferty and a drink" sessions....

"And a maiden doesn't look much like dew on crazy-weed in the morning, Magdalen," Robert Derby said, "but we recognize these identities."

I read "Continued on Next Rock" this afternoon. I didn't have anything fermented in the house to drink besides some sauerkraut. The thought of a sauerkraut shake didn't appeal to me. So, since it was yet early afternoon, my kind eldest daughter put on a pot of coffee for me. Cheap stuff, Wegmans Columbian, drip brewed with well water from the tap. A splash of raw farm milk freshly squeezed from a friend's fresh cow, more cream to it than you'd find in any processed moo juice. For a "sweetener", I paired the coffee with a pipeful of McClelland's VBC (vanilla black cavendish), a mild aromatic tobacco with a pleasant room note.

Relaxed, I was able to enter into a fever dream of a story. Only briefly did I wish that I had been better prepared with cheap whiskey at hand.

This was my first time reading "Next Rock" and, despite its popularity and frequent mentions, I didn't really know what it was about and didn't know what to expect. For some reason, I had gotten the mistaken notion that "rock" was slang for planet. So, I was surprised. For the first few pages, I thought that we were being given a quirky twist on a straight archaeological dig story. I kept waiting for the sf punch. And it never does quite come, at least not in the way I expected. Instead, we get Midwest mythopoeia, a mash-up of Creek and Greek mythos. If only someone would come up with a word starting in Buffalo and ending with punk that could work as a convenient shorthand to describe this type of story!

The heart of the story is etched in stone. It's the part that convinced me to love the story (and I was rather "meh" toward the story until the first rock is read). I read and re-read the poem and then read it aloud to my wife. And, as is often the case with Lafferty, this reading aloud, giving breath to the words, made the story alive, vibrant and real and really funny.

It was especially fun to read to my wife because she is a fan of a Billy Collins poem that doesn't do anything for me. It sends her into giggle fits.

And Collins reading it: http://youtu.be/56Iq3PbSWZY

Lafferty and Collins are having fun in a similar way in their respective works, though Lafferty's is the more rambunctious, the funnier, and possibly the superiorly poetic. Anyhow, it's another bit of fun artistic overlap, an instance of Lafferty in asynchronous conversation with the poets who came before him and the poets who would come after, including one poet who is widely respected at both the critical and popular level (a rare feat these days)! I say we ask Billy Collins to submit something to FoL3! "Eros and Anteros: Lafferty's Masterful Demonstration of Anterotic Imagery In Amateur Poetics" ;-)

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Retelling the Parsifal legend...

In a previous post, I asked, "What is Lafferty adopting and adapting and making new in Fourth Mansions? Is it a mashup of 50s sf esp with Arthurian defenders with a literalized metaphor of spiritual ascent?"

I latched onto the Arthurian angle, but mostly I'm aware of it as filtered down through Williams and Blaylock and Powers and others. It looks like my instinct was right. Well, tonight I've found at least one person who agrees; I've spent the past few weeks sorting through (and getting rid of many) boxes of sf paperbacks and dipped into Nebula Award Stories Six this evening, finding a wonderful essay on the year's nominated novels and stories.

Thomas D. Clareson:

Like Russ and Silverberg, R.A. Lafferty employs the idea of penetrating another’s mind in Fourth Mansions. In this instance a group indulges in “mind-weaving”--the amplifying and projecting of psychic power. They wish to induce a new human evolution, to cause their own mutation into supermen, so that man can attain a higher spiritual level. The old motif of alternate, co-existent worlds is introduced. But these merely give Lafferty a point of departure as he weaves a tapestry of symbolism that draws finally more upon myth than upon science to dramatize the eternal struggle between good and evil. The core of the story retells the Parsifal legend, that of the fool--the innocent one--who resists temptation, gains wisdom through suffering, and thus may assume guardianship of the Grail. Lafferty creates four groups: the mind-weavers misuse their science (their leader is a biologist); a group, long-lived if not immortal, evokes the sense of demons who intrude evilly into the affairs of men; a nascent dictator, protesting that he works for the good of man, would reduce them to automata if successful; and a preternatural Christian brotherhood plays the part of the Knights of the Grail. Lafferty employs an elaborate system of animal imagery to identify the groups and evokes a general feeling for medieval myth in particular. Withdraw any part of the tapestry and the work collapses. He has achieved a richly textured fantasy.
I now add Parsifal/Percival and the grail stories to the long list of works that Lafferty recycles for his own purposes. I'm eagerly anticipating the fruitful discussions that will occur when the scholars of various fields (ancient lit, medieval lit, geology, zoology, brewology, etc...) finally discover Lafferty and decide that they MUST submit essays to Feast of Laughter (or any of the other twelve Lafferty journals that exist in the future).

Sunday, January 11, 2015

One story starts and within that story another story starts and within that story...

This video is an excellent introduction to the 1001 Nights. Watch it!

The idea of "never-ending stories" and Willingham's suggestion of plundering "found treasure" should send a shiver of gleeful recognition up every Lafferty fan's neck.

"If you haven't read the Arabian Nights yet, how lucky are you." -Bill Willingham

I remember Kevin writing something similar to me upon learning that I was about to read many Lafferty stories for the first time! It could be paraphrased to:

"If you haven't read Lafferty yet, how lucky are you." - Kevin Cheek

(Thanks to Daniel for encouraging me to think more about Sindbad and why it is my favorite Lafferty novel so far and why I think it's so important. And, yes, it all does connect with my thoughts about how Lafferty fits into re-mix culture; see the video's discussion of the Eddie Murphy film Trading Places as an adaptation of a Nights story!! There is even a brief praise of fart jokes in the video and their place in humbling and humanizing. I don't know if I'll have anything ready for FoL2, but I will continue to think about it all and maybe, maybe have something halfway decent ready for FoL3.)