pseudopodium
John McNeill Boyd measures the tensile strength of Silk, Irish
. . .

M. John Harrison's "Getting Out of There" and back again

A year later and I keep re-reading this. Well, it's a pretty little thing innit? Gorgeous cover. Glossy paper. Fourteen pages of mouth-tested prose. Title chimes with an Alan Halsey. Proofreading! (You can't fully credit the omnipresence of typos till silence strikes.)

Maybe because I finished The Wine-Dark Sea right before the chapbook arrived, it reminds me more of Robert Aickman than any other Harrison story has reminded me of Robert Aickman. The soppingly grounded Englishness of it. Its protagonist of a certain age and dislocation and curiously libido-free urge to couple. Most of all its pacing: a determined no-nonsense but no-particular-tourist-destination-in-mind tramp into what critics call "dread" (the unaccountable corporate flight of nesting colonies of terns and gulls), not minding the gaps at all, or at least making only token efforts to fill them. This particular gap's as good as a nod to an Aickman influence:

‘That yellow lichen on the roofs down there,’ Hampson said, ‘I wonder what it is?’

She laughed.

‘I thought you were a local,’ she said.

Like all the best influences, Aickman's-on-Harrison was retroactive: verification rather than emulation. They'd independently developed an architecture of negative space.

Harrison, at least, consciously recognized and worked it. Here he explains how he wrote the story which first drew the comparison:

The way I started out, I asked myself a question: How would you write a horror story and take all the horror out of it? How would you write a ghost story and remove almost everything? a couple of sentences, a pair of sentences that would do the trick... "The Ice Monkey" was my first attempt at that. I wrote it as a normal horror story in which it's quite evident what had happened. And then I spent two or three weeks just removing sentence after sentence that directed the reader towards the normal ending, until finally you're left only two sentences in four thousand words which give you the clue as to what might or might not have happened. [...] Yeah, scraped it out. To see what would happen. I wanted to see where it would fall over. [...] After you've been doing it for twenty years, you put fewer of them in. When I started I had to throw out whereas now I know what not to put in.

But they differ in the thoroughness of their erasures. Aickman rarely sealed his unsettling build-ups without a deflationary appearance by crap F/X. Harrison's more likely to scrape away even that much comfort. His multi-volume fantasy series isn't threaded by hero's quest or cod-Gondal dynastic charts but by ways of not-knowing a city. Although some of us have always been creeped by roses, his dark occult novel horrifies mostly through absence. His macho sporting-life naturalism lacks self-pity, rivalry, the thrill of victory, or even the thrill of disillusionment.

Here are the dreadfully recurring associations of "Getting Out of There":

That last develops into the most blatantly anti-realistic aspect of the story, and it's hardly a Famous Monster of Filmland.

I took it because we have to take things somehow as a temporally-displaced dream-version of social media. I don't how you would take it; I'm pretty sure the bait wouldn't attract huge buzz from the buzzers of record. Very important novelists like Eggers and Amis (and Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair) are newsworthy because they're journalists; they're terrified of burying the lede. Whereas Harrison knows the lede's there to enrich the soil. Insofar as "Getting Out of There"'s bit of fantasy was ripped from today's headlines, it was then collaged into plaster-of-paris, and then painted over.

And then discarded for a vacuum-welded clampdown of the unutterably mundane. The twirly-shiny bit played misdirection in a sleight-of-hand maneuver which models our sleight-of-hand transfer from post-youth to pre-senescence. After which, as the poet sang, "You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?" It wasn't where we were watching.

There's nothing jokey or puzzly about the gaps that bind this free indirect discourse. They're mimetic: deliberate sacrifices of discursive freedom for the respite of further indirection. A temporary but renewable respite. Renewable to a point.

Responses

tl;dr It's a horror story whose ultimate brain-melting horror is a happy ending.

. . .

"Why, this is costume, nor am I out of it."

. . .

Many of the difficulties of contemporary verse are indeed due to the attempt to reconcile the classical desideratum “dry and hard” with the necessity to experiment

If, however, we examine them as two statements showing a difference of personal temperament in their authors, this hard and fast irreconcilability between romanticism and classicism disappears, and we see them both as somewhat arbitrary distinctions based on the temperamental variations likely to occur in people dealing with what is virtually the same process. Both temperaments may even be found to exist side by side in the same period. Mr. Kiddier is historically a modest contemporary of Mr. Pound’s; and what, after all, does Mr. Kiddier say that Mr. Pound does not? He says that colour is the important thing in painting and that it is a very difficult and subtle medium. To say that it belongs to the fairies is only an extravagant and harmless way of saying that man has trouble in mastering it. To call colour a spiritual thing is merely an extravagant way of saying that, to use it properly, the artist must have high qualities, such as “insight, poignancy, retentiveness, plus the energy” Mr. Pound’s own list of the essentials in the “making of permanent sculpture.” If Mr. Kiddier insists on a first idea, Mr. Pound insists on a main one. The artistic sense relation which for the former should show in the association of trees in a picture is, true enough, defined as a kind of emotional sympathy in the artist rather than as a necessary relationship between the “motifs” employed. But is this not merely a tenderer, more ingenuous version of Mr. Pound’s own ingenuous enough remarks about the “complete thesis of principles” which the perfect statue apparently attains? [...] Romantic language such as Mr. Kiddier’s soon becomes trite after the surprise of its first use wears off; language such as Mr. Pound uses (I do not wish, of course, to suggest that either Mr. Kiddier or Mr. Pound invented their language) soon becomes jargon, which means not only trite but senseless for it is so limited that when it loses its literal sense its metaphorical sense (such as the application to poetry of terms invented for sculpture) becomes purely academic. We shall grow weary (if we have not already) of talk of circles, triangles, spheres, form, planes, stasis and masses sooner than talk of trees put in motion by the wind, fairies, sunbeams, seasons and the passing of centuries.

Shorn of its jargon, is there anything that Mr. Pound says which is not in Mr. Kiddier’s philosophy? He says that the artist makes the mechanical exercises of his art breathe out life, that everything must be in relation (Mr. Kiddier’s word), that the sculptor can make flesh out of stone as the colour-artist gets significant vibrations out of paint. His elaborate explanation of the technical merit of “The Dancer” is really a pedantic evasion of such words as “spirituality” about which Mr. Kiddier, if asked describe this statue, would in his ingenuousness not be squeamish. “The whole form-series ends, passes into statis with the circular base or platform” is merely the basic “sameness” or peacefulness of Mr. Kiddier’s philosophy of art into which variety shall not be introduced for its own sake. A romanticist would paraphrase Gaudier- Brzeska: “The sculptor must feel his subject as a whole and understand it minutely in its parts without allowing its soul to escape. More than this, he must be able to feel and understand with stone as well as with his heart and mind.” Whatever conviction this definition loses by its sentimentality, it gains by its applicability to more than one kind of sculpture [...]

This earnestness in the romanticist easily leads to vulgarity, this self-consciousness in the classicist, to snobbery. The reason why Hulme opposed fancy to the imagination was that he had a snobbish feeling against the imagination from its being associated with many vulgarities, not from any real objection to imagination itself: for fancy to him was merely an improved, more technical, narrower imagination. “Abstract” is another “classical” word that has come to have a thoroughly snobbish connotation. It generally means: lacking in sentimental allusions to fairies, trees, spirituality, time, spring. Likewise “mathematical” and “geometric” prove themselves to mean lacking in vulgar humanity, having non-vital realism. [...] Art, in Hulme’s words, is created to satisfy a desire. The desire appears to be, in theory, the desire for art itself; to create a discontinuity in man by isolating art from nature. So art is not the creation of a fiction, but a very gloomy feeling in man about his own nature. Why this is not a romantic attitude for the romantic includes some very gloomy feelings, indeed, about the nature of man is that the romantic gloomy feelings do not seem to be gloomy or pessimistic enough. [...] Classical art is therefore created to satisfy a desire for gloom which is really, however, a snobbish feeling about romantic gloom.

- Contemporaries and Snobs (1928) by Laura Riding
(ed. Laura Heffernan & Jane Malcolm)

. . .

Zoning outward

Even the most immersive consumption bleeds into the world. We exit the movie theater and blink at the street's new lights. We close the book and reconsider the motives of our nearest and furthest.

And likewise on the production side we sometimes take our immersion out of its cone of isolation for a walk.

Of course, it may decide to interrupt the real-world just as rudely as the real-world interrupts the Zone. We're trying to take a break, take care of business, reconnect, recenter, while the unresolved worries at us like a bone spur.

But it doesn't always drag us back to the kennel. Our evil darlings might instead prefer to scavenge and mark, most ravenously among the village-explainers: systematizing philosophers, psychologists, fundamentalists, essentialists, political and conspiracy theorists, and so on. And though their pack includes astrologists and voodoo economists, there's nothing occult about its appetites: mundanity is their goal, and even the most unforeseen connections predictably arrive as confirmation rather than revelation. If Thomas Friedman go forth tonight, it is towards a flat-screen his steps will tend; let Plato open his door, he shall find Platonism lining his driveway.

Then there's the sort of production which barely requires immersion at all. Journals, blogs, a certain type of essay, a certain type of lyric, all rely more on establishing a habit than on designated locked-down Zones. As Serengeti, I think it was, said, "All things can tempt me to this craft of verse"; the foraging's opportunistic, more or less selective, more or less hungry, depending on taste and appetite and the neighborhood.

A world with unpredictable pops, sparks, and fizzles beats a world without. But it lacks the smooth reassurance of a whole, should we find such a notion reassuring. What I miss most from the very brief periods when I was writing fiction (as opposed to the longer period when I tried to be writing fiction) isn't so much the Groove itself as what happened on the breakaway walks, when new ingredients, new doings and sayings and settings, would drop down and trot over like cats, sometimes almost swarming for attention. "Chance furnishes me with what I need. I'm like a man who stumbles; my foot strikes something, I look down, and there is exactly what I'm in need of." And then those journals, those blogs, shed their own pretense of shoddy randomness and reveal themselves as indispensably fated allies: "Memory is imagination."

James Joyce, being James Joyce, sometimes groused about needing to fiddle the pieces so, but he plainly enough understood that the glamor of A (colossally conceived and laboriously hammered-out) Vision tarnishes while the unearned rewards and punishments of superstition keep their magic. For writers of fiction (and of big baggy poems starting at least from Whitman), the signature superstition is kledonomancy, placing the oracle of the shout in the street that is God.

Responses

Peli kindly reminded me of Erich Auerbach's "Figura":
... there is no choice between historical and hidden meaning; both are present.The figural structure preserves the historical event while interpreting it as revelation; and must preserve it in order to interpret it.

. . .

Vehemently making nothing happen

When I contemplate the United States House of Representatives I understand the true meaning of "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."

* * *

In related news, my close acquaintance Juliet Clark found her not-distant-enough acquaintance Anselm Dovetonsils merging Spoken-Word Poetry and Postcard Poetry into something he calls Google Voice Poetry:

Transcript Not Available
Hey missing this message
is for Mr. Triad.
I think a look at details,
a stunning information.
This is mighty not
where doing petitions quality.
You're looking for clues service.
For thinking that you want to get done in.
Your some exciting things are waiting.
Covet their care.

. . .

Movie Comment: The Underworld Story (1950)

A wallop's packed behind that bland title: dangerously hot scripting, fully engaged performers, and gorgeousness like unearned grace wherever it looks. This early composition reminded me of a Jess collage

Executive office at the newspaper of record

pressing history like headcheese into slices of vision; holding Infinity in a managing editor's office. Appropriate for a tribute to the sustaining intimacy (they work hard and they play hard) of wealth, racism, law, and journalism.

. . .

Our legal adviser, Dr. Atem, forwards alarming news from the Iron-John-meets-Porta-John front:

Future Ferals of America
by Anselm Dovetonsils
Earthy buddy. Yuh. Hail jib. Fight jhh FFA. Gggh
Fighting
Gggh
G

. . .

New from the Repress: the Paradoxa Interview with William Tenn, AKA Philip Klass interviewed by Josh Lukin. We thank Dr. Lukin for the opportunity.

. . .

The Futility & Avoidance of the Whole

The war between (on the slow side) structure and prosody and (on the brisk side) decontextualized points-foraging is older than Post-Its, highlighters, or even ballpoint pens:

Gradually the book in codex form superseded the papyrus roll. The literary codex was already known in the first century A.D., but in the second century more than 98% of the Greek literary texts which we possess were still written on rolls (the percentage might have been notably lower outside Egypt, but there is no specific reason to think so). In the third, fourth and fifth centuries the figures sink to 81%, 26% and 11%, respectively. One group in Egypt, however, had already long given its allegiance to the codex: the Christian biblical papyri of the second century, which are few (eleven are now known), are exclusively from codices. From roughly 300 A.D. the total production of literary texts in Egypt declined markedly, and those that were produced were mainly in codex form.

In order to understand this change we have to consider these two phenomena together: the overwhelming preference of the Christians for putting their holy books into codex form, and the much slower decision of those who wrote and commissioned non-Christian writings to change to the codex, a decision made during the last decades of the third century and the first decades of the fourth. [...] the suspicion must remain strong that the Christians saw some other specific advantage in the codex form, and, as others have suggested, this is likely to have been the greater ease with which a particular passage can be found in a codex. To find the passage which you want to read to the faithful or use against your opponent in a theological squabble, you would commonly have had to unroll up to ten feet of papyrus. How much easier to mark a page and turn to it immediately! It is interesting that in the lists of second-century codices that are unconnected with Christianity or Judaism, of which seventeen are currently known, six or more are texts which may have been needed for consultation and quotation more than for ordinary reading. Some are also texts which are likely to have been wanted in "one-volume" editions, such as Plato's Republic. Thus the codex had a number of advantages over the book-roll, and it should in general have made it easier for people to read literary texts. It certainly made it easier to look things up in a technical handbook, or in a legal textbook or in a collection of enactments such as was to be found in the new legal codes of the 290s. The victory of the codex over the book-roll was natural in an age in which religious books were gaining in relative importance, and in which consultation and quotation instead of independent and disinterested reading were becoming commoner.

The copying and the practical availability of secular literary texts underwent a decline which probably started in many places in the third century.

- Ancient Literacy by William V. Harris

Responses

On a more sinister note, excising unwanted material from a scroll is pretty much undoable w/o losing everything after it. Whereas the codex - snip. Or slip, on the insertion tip.

. . .

On or around Hammett's last two novels

The innocent live in a less complex world than the guilty. At their most intimate, that represents pure reflexive self-defense. A betrayer can afford to play flaneur: the false starts and blind alleys, the peaks and subterranean pipes, hold no threat; lingering tenderness can be revisited like an old diner in an old neighborhood. For the betrayed, that scenic view bristles with pikes, all converging on one target. Best by far to walk away quickly, somewhere smoother, someplace comprehensible.

When escape's blocked, the innocent would rather slit throats than let go of Occam's Razor.

Of course they're right that the mystery was important; it's only the solution that isn't.

. . .

Locally maximizing global minima for fifteen years

I've lived a long time for someone who's done so little.

I would have done even less if I hadn't lived so long.

Responses

RE:15 yrs of poquito y nada. The stature of our accomplishments isn't relative to our comprehension of them. I thought that was the point of Hesse's Magister Ludi, scholars archiving someone else's exegesis on lepidopteric classifications, then some wayward genius in another time sparks everything off a phrase the author never even recognized as significant. Because it wasn't, to him, or anyone else he knew. There is no cosmic metric, no scale that holds still. Not this side of the Big Pillow.

Not sure about Hesse, but otherwise of course I agree. My love for the discarded has everything to do with my "ambition," as I guess it's called, to be occasionally stumbled upon by similar eccentrics and to not unduly annoy anyone else.

Asimov, so Bellow

. . .

Voter seeks party

Robert Heinlein is to Libertarian as Robert Aickman is to?

Responses

Campaign song: "Natty Dread"

. . .

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are : Ed's Radio

Ed's Redeeming Qualities with Dom

On 12 October 1989, about four months after factory reset, near the end of my two-hour commute, WMBR's live music program Pipeline! announced Ed's Redeeming Qualities. During the first verse of "Coriander Eyes" I gingerly parked between my alotted concrete columns, then walked to my apartment and slapped in a cassette. (Later, Beth Rust very kindly filled in the start of the set by taping a re-run of the show.)

That cassette heard a lot of play over the next few years, a lot more than some friends could fathom.

Ed's Redeeming Qualities as trio

Its appeal certainly wasn't as self-evident as, say, the Bags' first album or Big Dipper's Craps or the Happy Flowers' Oof. ERQ were uneven from song to song. They were uneven within a song. (While in observational mode, "Minor League Pain" is the best song about depression I know. Spicing it up with surreal abstractions was sand in the spinach.) And even when they were most uneven they stayed kind of samey. (That level of musicianship can support only so much variation.)

But they played the Real Nice Folk Blues. They expressed a recognizably overimaginative underemployed working-class life of shoddy goods, bad coffee, leaking ceilings, suspicious neighbors, and three-legged dogs. They knew what suffering was for (to feed humor), and they knew what humor was for (to justify suffering), and they knew what a song consists of (suffering + humor + you're done). What appealed was something worth aspiring to and something almost within reach.

. . .

Educated and Uneducated Fools

"Mentalizing Deficits Constrain Belief in a Personal God"
by Ara Norenzayan, Will M. Gervais, & Kali H. Trzesniewski, PLoS ONE 7.5 (2012)

"Cognitive biases explain religious belief, paranormal belief, and belief in life's purpose"
by Aiyana K. Willard & Ara Norenzayan, Cognition 129 (2013)


"That's All" by Sister Rosetta Thorpe

"Mole in a Hole" by Richard & Linda Thompson

Many, maybe most, of the most understanding, generous, and actively good people I've known express (sheepishly, apologetically) some intuition of "a god" or "a soul." Which is why I haven't been gung ho for atheist proselytizers: I don't feel threatened by personal-belief-in-god(s) so much as by proselytizers.

Like other social psychology studies, these two rely on completely unrepresentative sample populations. However, as social psychologists have shown, we credit the accuracy of reports which confirm our prejudices. Therefore I judge them fine studies.

But also trouble from the get-go. You see, while the authors are professionally committed to secular causality, and presumably also willing to endorse Theory of Mind, they exhibit no opinion whatsoever as regards mind-body dualism and the existence of divinities. They aim to explain belief and disbelief by something other than those propositions' self-evident truth or error.

Which grossly flatters neither of the posited parties. Which means the ball's up for grabs.

And so I wished the papers' authors and editors had kept the likelihood of misreading foremost in mind. I appreciate their not using autism as headline bait in their title; still, they could have kicked off that starter-step more smartly.

Mostly they could have more forcefully distinguished "religion" from "belief in a personal god." A sense that there's something-bigger-than-Phi-il is just one of many nutrients bolted down the maw of the institution. It's neither sufficient nor necessary, and it doesn't link "mentalizing" to "religion-as-we-know-it-best." There's never been a Great Awakening of Unitarian Universalism; bible-belt airwaves don't thunder with embezzlements and threats from the Society of Friends; neither are lynch mobs and heathen burners celebrated for their empathy. And, on the supposed other side of the supposed great divide, although biological evolution isn't "just a theory," it can like the gospels provide fuel for "just another religion" whose salient points are blustering teleology, intolerance, and greed.

Oh, the researchers mention that "living in an area with greater religious attendance increased the odds of believing in God, largely independently of the influence of the cognitive biases"; they mention that applied analytical thinking decreases the odds of believing in God even among extremely helpful people. But with shit like this you gotta mention it every single paragraph, you gotta mention it like the warning on an Academy screener video, you gotta mention it till the rafters ring.

As is, the orthodox have exhibited their usual interpretive care. A SkepticInk member proposed that unequal access to religious feelings is, in itself, a knockout argument against God's existence. A Turkish authority explained the need to indoctrinate autistic children in Islam: "Researchers in the USA and Canada say atheism is a different form of autism." And an all-American troll drew his own mind-reading conclusions from the Turkish authority:

If u choose to leave me message, I will not even read ur comments let alone reply back because It's pointless to argue with a person who has limited cognitive ability, especially a person whose not even aware of it bait me into an immature, endless illogical argument. I don't wanna pick of the handicapped or as we say now in the era of political correctness..mentally challenged..So, I'm ready 4 all of your thumbs down, angry comments, general insults, personal attacks with no substance& illogical fueled bratty tirades. You can't handle the truth cause literally, you can't cause ur literally a cognitive misfit. I always knew there was something wrong with atheists and this proves it but I know atheists are goin2 try 2 downplay and discredit this study anyway because they don't like the results. That's typical..Well. you know what, it works both ways. They can't have their cake and eat it 2, even though it's their nature..

Responses

If my nature were cake, that'd be sweet.

. . . before . . .. . . after . . .