"There was the invisible dog of the patrick Bertigrew Bagley, who was more ape than dog, and who could sometimes be seen if one knew how to look. Foley saw him now, and the plappergeist winked solemnly at him. Freddy knew who he was then. He was the island-ape who used to be in the Katzenjammer Kids in the funny paper. But all grotesque funny paper characters have independent and exterior existence, unknown usually to their drawers. It was good to have the dog, the ape, the polter-plappergeist on your side. He was smarter and more mischievous than other dogs or apes, and he could kill effectively."
-from Fourth Mansions
Over 100 years later, it's still hard to find Katzenjammer Kids comics.
Some future fan/scholar will have to do the hard work of digging through thousands of microfiche newspapers. What's microfiche? What's a newspaper?
I've become increasingly convinced (after reading My Heart Leaps Up) that early 20th century popular culture (nostalgic trash) is one major key to one major Lafferty door. Anyone annotating a Lafferty book better brush up on newspaper strips and big bands.
A quick search reveals only one candidate for a Katzenjammer island ape, and this is only preserved in a Turkish translation!
This may or may not be the right ape. Perhaps future Lafferty scholars (or Katzenjammer scholars) will someday make the identification.
I've often thought that there's an interesting essay to be written by someone willing to wrestle with all of Laff's references to comics, uses of comics in his stories, and sometimes comics-logic. Alas, I don't think that I'll ever write that essay, but I'll be first in line to read it if someone else takes up the challenge!
"...for he had the various shapes and attitudes of a person who knows everything. Those shapes and attitudes are intuitive, and they are always to be recognized. And they cannot be faked.
And Karl Effigy did not know everything, because all his pleasant Histories were nonsense, and so were his pleasant explanations of them."
From "The Casey Machine"
""In times before this, several other organizations of illuminated persons have known everything. They knew everything, before their own deaths, by making a Particular Judgment in their own lives. But we become masters of our own judgment in a way the earlier ones could not, because we live in an age of electronic amplification and switching and data control. We are able to project it all, and to repeat it. Yes, and we are able to sell it."
Besides “The Men Who Knew Everything," there are others in Lafferty's fictions who knew everything. Diogenes Pontifex, that elegant man not quite of the Institute, is said to have been a man who knew everything. The other elegantly indecent non-member of the Institute, Audifax O’Hanlon, is described as “quite ordinary except for one double-edged gift: he knew everything that had been, and everything that would be.”
Oread Funnyfingers went to school only for seemliness. She already knew everything. Charley Longbank, friend of collector Leo Nation, is also offhandedly described as one who knew everything.
(See “Hole on the Corner,” Arrive at Easterwine, “Funnyfingers,” “All Pieces of the River Shore.”)
In Reefs of Earth, we read: “As a high master of the Bagarthatch, John Pandemonium was supposed to be a pangnostic, one who knew everything.”
In Archipelago, we are introduced to the Dirty Five “as mythology knows them.” We are told that, “Between them they knew everything, had thought all thoughts, had done all things, or at least had them in mind to do.”
Melchisedech Duffey “knew everything, of course, but that was no special achievement. A lot of them knew everything.”
Hans, one of the Five, “knew everything before everyone else.” Hans also studied under Professor Kirol von Weinsberg, “the last man who knew everything.”
“There can never be another one, as knowledge has so constantly multiplied that it is no longer possible for one man to know it all. It is necessary that there be a new sort of man who is satisfied with only knowing a part of it. It is necessary, but the Professor wouldn't be so satisfied, and neither would Hans.”
In The Devil is Dead, “Papa Devil knew everything.”
There are probably others that I've missed and many further connections to be made.
And as is evidenced in "The Effigy Histories" and "The Casey Machine" (part of More than Melchisedech, the whole of which I haven't tackled yet) excerpts above, there are artificial (and vile) ways of knowing everything and/or ways to know everything but also have it all completely wrong.
---Jo Walton's L shelves begin with Lafferty.
"You know how you sometimes get medication that says “do not exceed 4 tablets in 24 hours”? Lafferty is like that for me. The best way to read him is to keep a collection on your bedside table and read one story every night." http://www.tor.com/2010/06/27/ok-where-do-i-start-with-that-l/
---A man named George Barlow wrote a significant intro to Laff in '73. FoL should translate and publish this.
"Ce qui m'a toujours gêné chez Eliot, ce qui me gêne aussi chez Lafferty, c'est la conjonction d'une extrême érudition et d'une extrême désinvolture : chez l'un comme chez l'autre, la plus grande richesse dans le plus grand désordre exige du lecteur des efforts d'autant plus difficiles que ni la raison (claire perception d'un enchaînement logique) ni la sensibilité (identification à des tribulations humaines) ne sont mobilisés pour les soutenir." http://www.noosfere.org/icarus/articles/article.asp?numarticle=172
---Paul Cook gives Lafferty some love in a sf history lecture:
"I would equate in spirit many of R.A. Lafferty's short stories with those of magical realist Jorge Luis Borges. They are that good. Lafferty, however, has more humor than does Borges." http://www.public.asu.edu/~paulcook/Fifth%20Lecture.htm
---Lafferty gets some love from The Believer.
"2015 saw a spate of reissues (including these deluxe editions) of the wonderfully odd stories of long out-of-print wunderkind R.A. Lafferty. Another writer whose work has been classed as science fiction but whose true metier was ideas stretched to their greatest possibilities, Lafferty wrote in imitable laser-blasts of prose equal parts playful and transfixing. These collections are an affirmation for an enduring cult of devotees for whom Lafferty is the American equal of a Borges or Cortázar." http://logger.believermag.com/post/137218978340/our-favorite-books-2015
---Not Laff-related, but I'll sign off with this great Percy quote:
"Who says I despair? That is to say, I would reverse Kierkegaard's aphorism that the worst despair is that despair which is unconscious of itself as despair, and instead say that the best despair and the beginning of hope is to be conscious of despair in the very air we breathe, and to look around for something better. I like to eat crawfish and drink beer. That's despair?" http://www.doubletakemagazine.org/int/html/percy/
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.
"Electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of "time" and "space" and pours upon us instantly and continuously the concerns of all other men."
"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: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2016/02/23/podcast-178-c-s-lewis-j-r-r-tolkien-and-the-inklings-mastermind-group/
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: http://www.catholichousehold.com/chestertons-lack-temperance-block-canonization/), 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.
In this wonderful world, co-incidents happen often.
On the morning of February 7th, 2016, I began to read Archipelago.
Allowing for the logic of time zones and time travel, it is quite likely that I began my early morning reading at the same moment that DOJP posted his other-side-of-the-world-morning blog post, Reading the Argo Cycle - part 1. Whether or not this exact simultaneity occurred, I was more than pleased to find my own thoughts on the opening chapter echoed almost immediately in Daniel's post, as if the cavernous blogoshpere had shouted back my own words before I had shouted them out at all. Not only that, but that the infamous Indiana-Scots Goblin in the netted cave had once again shaped my unvoiced words into a finer shape and sound than I could have done.
So why bother to begin shouting at all when the suddenly pre-existent echo has already done the better job?
I don't know. Probably, because the DOJP-aspect is only one counterpart in one variant account of the Lafferty Fan Man.
What do I have to add to the conversation?
Beginnings. My most recent (recent? ha!) blog post and the brief essay that I wrote for FoL2 both attempt to recklessly (I leave the rigor for others) probe into Lafferty's attempts at (non-)endings and how his narrative strategies point past endings toward new beginnings, perhaps as a simulation of "eternal" adventure.
Daniel is right (of course he is!) that the first section of Chapter 1 of Archipelago explicitly calls attention to beginnings. "All this begins," the story begins. "In the same hour at which the world was made" at the same time as "in these latter days." Only a moment between being "in the Garden" and being "in the middle of the World." "A man and a woman" vs. "two guys in a bar." I'm sure that any readers here have already read Daniel's post. If not, go do so.
"The two versions cannot be reconciled, and I worry about it," Finnegan said.
Here is where I think that I can add to Daniel's post. Daniel, in his enthusiasm for this opening has neglected the pre-opening that has come before the opening. The novel does not begin "In a Southern City." It begins (or is preceded by) a poem. The placement of this particular poem in this particular place is surely no accident. I haven't read more than the first chapter of the book yet, but I dare say that the themes of this seemingly silly poem will resurface repeatedly in the novel. Maybe. The poem at least shapes our expectations of what is to come.
Here's the poem in its entirety. I've taken this from the not-to-be-named edition of the novel. I'd love for any of you with Manuscript editions to compare and contrast and let me know if this is all correct; I do wonder at some of the irregularities- I suspect that they are Laffertisms, but can't be sure).
Of fossils from the recent past
Out of gigantothereous strata
Across a triple-decade vast,
Observe the bones! Regard the data!
Oh dear than the Mastodont!
They lie in ash of fading ember
While sexton-beetles eat and hunt
Lest flesh remain that might remember.
A surging gallimauferie
Of broken reeds upon a charger,
And something of serenity,
And something yet a little larger.
They knew the evoluting crock,
They knew a taller star than Vega,
A firster Peter for a rock,
Not yet so empty an Omega.
They gave the Ghostly Thing release
From pink-eyed heretics who bound it.
They sought the ancient Golden Fleece
And, what is better yet, they found it.
Before ‘Triumphant’ grew a taint,
Before (in catch-words and kerygmies)
Falsetto Chorus raised its plaint,
They never knew the race of pygmies;
Nor guessed the Situation Bit,
Nor found the Lord so dull a lover,
Nor used the love-as-catch-word kit
A multitude of sins to cover.
And some are dead, and some are done,
Or (fallen to heroics fever)
Still oddly seek the All-in-One
And some are better folks than you are.
—R. A. Lafferty
In this microcosmic "prehistory" of the novel, we immediately have a tension between the long-ago and the present, summed up nicely as "Of fossils from the recent past," perhaps a reflection on Lafferty's own sense of out-of-placeness and out-of-timeness, that what is most immediately present to him are the events of a personally present past that the world has long since moved on from.
The first two stanzas present this notion of the bringing present of a forgotten world/time. (Observe the bones!) The third stanza re-introduces these forgotten fossils as a "surging gallimauferie/Of broken reeds upon a charger," which is a lovely image.
This surging stew of broken reeds has known the "evoluting crock," which is likely simultaneously a dig at certain evolutionary theories at the same time that it concretely presents the pre-historic pot in which these characters have been cooked up.
The rest of the poem rousingly presents these "reeds" as living large lives, as those Argonauts (a crew of broken reed heroes if ever there was one) who have sought the Golden Fleece and, better yet, found it. Whatever else, this poem is important for first introducing this Argonautic theme. I may be wrong, but I suspect that it is important that Lafferty connects the "Ghostly Thing" (which I read, maybe wrongly, as a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit) to the Golden Fleece. And as the poem nears its end, there is an implicit eschatology in Lafferty's protology.
"Before 'Triumphant' grew a taint" is a rallying cry for all to finish well, triumphantly (in basso profundo chorus) following a giant wild lover, whether dead or done or fallen to heroics fever.
*Side note: I've been thinking a lot lately about Lafferty's Romances and the way that sexuality (broadly speaking) is exhibited in and between his male and female characters. The explicit Fleece/Argo/Jason connection makes me wonder if we'll get a Medea character at any time in this book. In the Argonautica, Medea is key to obtaining the Golden Fleece. Will it be so here? As the story transitions from this high-falutin' legend-alludin' to something more mundane (moving "episodically to the events of the war buddies leaving the war and returning home, and then their lives back in the States," as Daniel puts it), will there even be a recognizable Fleece moment? Am I making too much of this Argo connection and/or straining for 1:1 correspondences while Lafferty is playing much looser? Eh, we'll see. I'm still going to be on the lookout for Medea(s).