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:

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).