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.