Footprints through time

Where would Shakespeare have got if he had thought only of a specialized audience? What he did was to attempt to appeal on all levels, with something for the most rarefied intellectuals (who had read Montaigne) and very much more for those who could appreciate only sex and blood. I like to devise a plot that can have a moderately wide appeal. But take Eliot’s The Waste Land, very erudite, which, probably through its more popular elements and its basic rhetorical appeal, appealed to those who did not at first understand it but made themselves understand it. The poem, a terminus of Eliot’s polymathic travels, became a starting point for other people’s erudition. I think every author wants to make his audience. But it’s in his own image, and his primary audience is a mirror.

Anthony Burgess
Interview Paris Review, Spring 1973

A Few Don’ts (2)

July 31, 2018

O young man, in thy youth - Manuel Laval

RHYTHM AND RHYME:

Let the candidate fill his mind with the finest cadences he can discover, preferably in a foreign language [This is for rhythm, his vocabulary must of course be found in his native tongue], so that the meaning of the words may be less likely to divert his attention from the movement; e.g. Saxon charms, Hebridean Folk Songs, the verse of Dante, and the lyrics of Shakespeare—if he can dissociate the vocabulary from the cadence. Let him dissect the lyrics of Goethe coldly into their component sound values, syllables long and short, stressed and unstressed, into vowels and consonants.

It is not necessary that a poem should rely on its music, but if it does rely on its music that music must be such as will delight the expert.

Let the neophyte know assonance and alliteration, rhyme immediate and delayed, simple and polyphonic, as a musician would expect to know harmony and counterpoint and all the minutiae of his craft. No time is too great to give to these matters or to any one of them, even if the artist seldom have need of them.

Don’t imagine that a thing will “go” in verse just because it’s too dull to go in prose.

Don’t be “viewy” – leave that to the writers of pretty little philosophic essays. Don’t be descriptive; remember that the painter can describe a landscape much better than you can, and that he has to know a deal more about it.

When Shakespeare talks of the “Dawn in russet mantle clad” he presents something which the painter does not present. There is in this line of his nothing that one can call description; he presents.

Consider the way of the scientists rather than the way of an advertising agent for a new soap.

The scientist does not expect to be acclaimed as a great scientist until he has discovered something. He begins by learning what has been discovered already. He goes from that point onward. He does not bank on being a charming fellow personally. He does not expect his friends to applaud the results of his freshman class work. Freshmen in poetry are unfortunately not confined to a definite and recognizable class room. They are “all over the shop.” Is it any wonder “the public is indifferent to poetry?”

Don’t chop your stuff into separate iambs. Don’t make each line stop dead at the end and then begin every next line with a heave.

Let the beginning of the next line catch the rise of the rhythm wave, unless you want a definite longish pause.

In short, behave as a musician, a good musician, when dealing with that phase of your art which has exact parallels in music. The same laws govern, and you are bound by no others.

Naturally, your rhythmic structure should not destroy the shape of your words, or their natural sound, or their meaning. It is improbable that, at the start, you will he able to get a rhythm-structure strong enough to affect them very much, though you may fall a victim to all sorts of false stopping due to line ends, and caesurae.

The Musician can rely on pitch and the volume of the orchestra. You cannot. The term harmony is misapplied in poetry; it refers to simultaneous sounds of different pitch. There is, however, in the best verse a sort of residue of sound which remains in the ear of the hearer and acts more or less as an organ-base.

A rhyme must have in it some slight element of surprise if it is to give pleasure, it need not be bizarre or curious, but it must be well used if used at all.

Vide further Vildrac and Duhamel’s notes on rhyme in “Technique Poétique.”

That part of your poetry which strikes upon the imaginative eye of the reader will lose nothing by translation into a foreign tongue; that which appeals to the ear can reach only those who take it in the original.

Consider the definiteness of Dante’s presentation, as compared with Milton’s rhetoric. Read as much of Wordsworth as does not seem too unutterably dull.

If you want the gist of the matter go to Sappho, Catullus, Villon, Heine when he is in the vein, Gautier when he is not too frigid; or, if you have not the tongues, seek out the leisurely Chaucer. Good prose will do you no harm, and there is good discipline to be had by trying to write it.

Translation is likewise good training, if you find that your original matter “wobbles” when you try to rewrite it. The meaning of the poem to be translated cannot “wobble.”

If you are using a symmetrical form, don’t put in what you want to say and then fill up the remaining vacuums with slush.

Don’t mess up the perception of one sense by trying to define it in terms of another. This is usually only the result of being too lazy to find the exact word. To this clause there are possibly exceptions.

The first three simple prescriptions will throw out nine-tenths of all the bad poetry now accepted as standard and classic; and will prevent you from many a crime of production.

“. . . Mais d’abord il faut ětre un poète,” as MM. Duhamel and Vildrac have said at the end of their little book, “Notes sur la Technique Poétique.”

Since March 1913, Ford Madox Hueffer has pointed out that Wordsworth was so intent on the ordinary or plain word that he never thought of hunting for le mot juste.

John Butler Yeats has handled or man-handled Wordsworth and the Victorians, and his criticism, contained in letters to his son, is now printed and available.

I do not like writing about art, my first, at least I think it was my first essay on the subject, was a protest against it.

Ezra Pound
Pavannes and Divagations

A Few Don’ts

July 28, 2018

sitting in the rain

LANGUAGE:

Use no superfluous word, no adjective which does not reveal something.

Don’t use such an expression as “dim lands of peace.” It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer’s not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol.

Go in fear of abstractions. Do not retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose. Don’t think any intelligent person is going to be deceived when you try to shirk all the difficulties of the unspeakably difficult art of good prose by chopping your composition into line lengths.

What the expert is tired of today the public will be tired of tomorrow.

Don’t imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music, or that you can please the expert before you have spent at least as much effort on the art of verse as an average piano teacher spends on the art of music.

Be influenced by as many great artists as you can, but have the decency either to acknowledge the debt outright, or to try to conceal it.

Don’t allow “influence” to mean merely that you mop up the particular decorative vocabulary of some one or two poets whom you happen to admire. A Turkish war correspondent was recently caught red-handed babbling in his despatches of “dove-grey” hills, or else it was “pearl-pale,” I cannot remember.

Use either no ornament or good ornament.

Ezra Pound
Pavannes and Divagations

in the rain

The four books of short stories written by Montague Rhodes James, Provost of Eton College, have been collected in a single but not overly bulky volume under the imprint of Longmans, Green & Co. One can heartily recommend the acquisition of this volume to all lovers of the weird and supernatural who are not already familiar with its contents.

James is perhaps unsurpassed in originality by any living writer: and he has made a salient contribution to the technique of the genre as well as to the enriching of its treasury of permanent masterpieces. His work is marked by rare intellectual skill and ingenuity, by power rising at times above the reaches of pure intellection, and by a sheer finesse of writing that will bear almost endless study. It has a peculiar savour, wholly different from the diabolic grimness of Bierce, or the accumulative atmospheric terror and rounded classicism of Machen. Here there is nothing of the feverish but logical hallucinations, the macabre and exotic beauty achieved by Poe; nor is there any kinship to the fine poetic weavings and character nuances of Walter de la Mare, or the far-searching, penetrative psychism of Blackwood, or the frightful antiquities and ultra-terrene menaces of Lovecraft.

The style of these stories is rather casual and succinct. The rhythms of the prose are brisk and pedestrian, and the phrasing is notable for clearness and incisiveness rather than for those vague, reverberative overtones which beguile one’s inner ear in the prose of fiction-writers who are also poets. Usually there is a more or less homely setting, often with a background of folklore and long—past happenings whose dim archaism provides a depth of shadow from which, as from a recessed cavern, the central horror emerges into the noontide of the present. Things and occurrences, sometimes with obvious off-hand relationship, are grouped cunningly, forcing the reader unaware to some frightful deduction; or there is an artful linkage of events seemingly harmless in themselves, that leave him confronted at a sudden turn with some ghoulish spectre or night-demon.

The minutæ of modern life, humour, character—drawing, scenic and archaeological description, are used as a foil to heighten the abnormal, but are never allowed to usurp a disproportionate interest. Always there is an element of supernatural menace, whose value is never impaired by scientific or spiritualistic explanation. Sometimes it is brought forth at the climax into full light; and sometimes, even then, it is merely half-revealed, is left undefined but perhaps all the more alarming. In any case, the presence of some unnatural but objective reality is assumed and established.

The goblins and phantoms devised by James are truly creative and are presented through images often so keen and vivid as to evoke an actual physical shock. Sight, smell, hearing, taction, all are played upon with well-nigh surgical sureness, by impressions calculated to touch the shuddering quick of horror.

Some of the images or similes employed are most extraordinary, and spring surely from the daemonic inspiration of the highest genius. For instance, take the unnamable thing in The Uncommon Prayer Book, which resembles “a great roll of old, shabby, white flannel,” with a kind of face in the upper end, and which falls forward on a man’s shoulder and hides this face in his neck like a ferret attacking a rabbit. Then, in Mr. Humphreys and his Inheritance (one of subtler and more inferential tales) there is the form “with a burnt human face” and “black arms,” that emerges from an inexplicable hole in the paper plan of a garden maze “with the odious writhings of a wasp creeping out of’ a rotten apple.” In The Tractate Middoth one meets an apparition with thick cobwebs over its eyes—the lich or spectre of a man who, obedient to his own rather eccentric instructions, had been buried sitting at a table in an underground room. And who, upon reading The Diary of Mr. Poynter, can fail to share Denton’s revulsion when he reaches out, thinking that a dog is beside his chair, and touches a crawling figure covered with long, wavy, Absolom-like tresses? Who, too, can shake off the horror of Dennistoun, in Canon Alberic’s Scrap Book, when a demon’s hand appears from beneath on the table, suggesting momentarily a pen-wiper, a rat, and a large spider?

Reading and re-reading these tales, one notes a predilection for certain milieus and motifs. Backgrounds of scholastic or ecclesiastic life are frequent and some of the best tales are laid in cathedral towns. In many of the supernatural entities, there recurs insistently the character of extreme and repulsive hairiness. Often the apparition is connected with, or evoked by, some material object, such as the bronze whistle from the ruins of a Templars’ preceptory in Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad; the old drawing of King Solomon and the night-demon in Canon Alberic’s Scrap Book; the silver Anglo-Saxon crown from an immemorial barrow in A Warning to the Curious; and the strange curtain-pattern in The Diary of Mr. Poynter which had “a subtlety in its drawing.”

In several stories there are hints of bygone Satanism and wizardry whose malign wraiths or conjured spirits linger obscurely in modern time; and in at least one tale, Casting the Runes, the warlock is a living figure. In other tales, the forgetful and vanishing phantasms of old crimes cry out their mindless pain, or peer for an instant from familiar pools and shrubberies. The personnel of James’ Pandemonium is far from monotonous; one finds a satyr dwelling in a cathedral tomb; a carven cat-like monster that comes to life when touched by a murderer’s hand; a mouldy smelling sack-like object in an unlit well, which suddenly puts its arms around the neck of a treasure-seeker; a cloaked and hooded shape with a tentacle in lieu of arms; a lean, hideously taloned terror, with a jaw “shallow as that of a beast”; dolls that repeat crime and tragedy; creatures that are dog-like but are not dogs; a saw fly tall as a man, met in a dim room full of rustling insects; and even a weak, ancient thing, which being wholly bodiless and insubstantial, makes for itself a body out of crumpled bed-linen.

The peculiar genius of M. R. James, and his greatest power, lies in the convincing evocation of weird, malignant and preternatural phenomena such as I have instanced. It is safe to say that few writers, dead or living, have equalled him in this formidable necromancy and perhaps no one has excelled him.

Clark Ashton Smith
The Weird Works of M.R. James
From: The Fantasy Fan February 1934

Ideas for things come into one’s head, or bits of ideas; you feel there’s something – there’s some meat on the bone, there’s something there that lures you on. The more you think about it the more you’re led into this new world and the more of that world you see. And part of having an idea is having some notion of how you would tell the story. It’s not just thinking it would be nice to write something about the Crimean war, it’s having some particular way in mind of writing something about the Crimean war, and the idea for the way to tell the story helps you to see what the story is. The story suggests the means, the means suggests the story; it’s mutually dependent. And you don’t have very much choice in the matter. Ideas come, characters suggest themselves, and the nature of the story and the nature of the characters dictates how it’s going to be done.

I suppose if people are not writers or painters or whatever they see the life of the artist as being one of great freedom, but it’s not really; it’s as constrained as anyone else’s by the material that’s available. The thing seems to have some kind of reality in one’s head; it seems to be something that one is discovering, rather than inventing. I see that as a kind of psychological trick on oneself, because the whole point about fiction is that it’s invention. It doesn’t really seem like it at the time – it seems as if you are slowly discovering something that already exists and seeing how the different parts of it relate to each other.

Michael Frayn
On writing: authors reveal the secrets of their craft
The Guardian, 26th March 2011

an infernal paradise

May 28, 2018

a city of the future - London

In Lovecraft’s defining stories, meaning such later works as “The Shadow out of Time” and “At the Mountains of Madness,” there is a sense of adventure. In his letters, Lovecraft often wrote of experiencing moments of what he called “adventurous expectancy,” by which he meant feeling oneself on the brink of some weird and hyper-exciting revelation that is always held in suspension and never known in its particulars. This is patently an aesthetic perception of existence. Borges described a similar feeling of the imminence of a revelation that never occurs as the definitive aesthetic experience. In Lovecraft’s work, unlike that of Borges, the origin of his feeling of adventurous expectancy derives from something terrible that is associated with the inconceivable spatial and temporal nature of the physical universe. I think that a great many people experience the same thing in their lives. I have myself. But it never occurred to me to express this feeling as a source of adventure in my stories.

My focus has fairly consistently been on what I have thought of as an “infernal paradise,” a realm where one wallows in something putrid and corrosive that lies beyond exact perception. In his stories, Lovecraft’s adventurous expectancy ultimately has its origin in something terrible, and not the child’s picture-book wonderland you find in the work of a lot of writers of fantastic fiction. But it’s still thrilling in its own way. It isn’t purely hellish, as is the case with my stories. Lovecraft was an astronomy buff as a child and so this feeling probably stemmed from that time. I was a pathological Catholic as a child, and one might make a connection between my early life and my later writings on that basis. Ultimately, the difference I’m trying to articulate between Lovecraft’s adventurous expectancy and my infernal paradise may seem superficial. I would say as much myself. But it seems to me that what captivates a reader’s interest in one writer’s work as opposed to another’s is quite often based on superficial qualities, even when there are deeper likenesses. Anyone can think of examples among both popular and literary writers. Lovecraft’s defining works portray a variety of monsters. Mine seldom do. What’s the difference? Not much on the deepest level. But monsters are a great literary hook and there is necessarily a surface adventure in dealing with them. If asked to name the definitive image in Lovecraft, one might likely say its tentacles flailing from the body of a monster. For me it would be probably be puppets, manikins, and clown-like things, even though these are more often a matter of metaphor than a literal presence of a monstrous type. Nevertheless, if Lovecraft’s tentacle monsters and my puppets and so on fought each other, I think the monsters would win.

Thomas Ligotti
Interview: Thomas Ligotti and the Realm of Nightmares
Weird Review 15th October 2015

in a strange way

May 21, 2018

words2

Usually the idea for a novel comes to me, in a strange way, from reading rather than from living or observation. It’s often what I can only call an intellectual concern – some sort of large issue I’ve got very interested in. The operation of memory is an obvious one because several novels have been prompted by that. Or again the nature of evidence – that’s another important theme to me. Then the problem is to find the vehicle, to find the story and the characters and the backdrop, because they’re going to be the vehicle for this idea. Because then I don’t want the idea to show very much; I want the idea to be a sort of seven-eighths of the iceberg, a kind of ballast, but without which the whole novel would flounder.

Penelope Lively
On writing: authors reveal the secrets of their craft
The Guardian, 26th March 2011

I love using provocative juxtapositions in my writing because I believe that it fosters a more active role for the reader. He or she is invited to forge connections between different elements of the text, and participate in the process of creating meaning from the book. In many ways, it is the reader who actualizes the book through his or her imaginative work.

Kristina Marie Darling
An Interview with J. Scott Bugher
Split lip magazine

try to tell the truth

April 14, 2018

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

C.S. Lewis
Mere Christianity

into kinky sex

April 8, 2018

cruel cat

Those into kinky sex know there’s something primal and exotic about it; desire elevated to expressions generally beyond the norm. It should be no surprise then that researchers have found that various BDSM roles facilitate altered states of mind. Aside from meditation and good pot brownies, what other greatness lies in the realm of altered states? Sex, that’s what.

One highlight is that such altered states of consciousness have potential to unlock an inner creativity. So, um, if you feel creatively stifled, may I suggest a dose of BDSM? If you’ve ever read anything on creativity research, you’ll be familiar with the book “Flow” by Csikszentmihalyi. What a name. Anyway, the idea is simply that,

“Flow is a nine-dimensional altered state conceptualized by Csikszentmihalyi, and is achieved during ‘optimal experiences’…The dimensions of flow include ‘challenge-skill balance, action-awareness merging, clear goals, unambiguous feedback, concentration on task, sense of control, loss of self-consciousness, time transformation,’ and feelings of intrinsic reward.”

Opposite that is Dietrich’s transient hypofrontality which “relates to daydreaming, runner’s high, meditation and even some drug highs”. As the article continues,

“The experiments revealed that the bottom role and the top role in BDSM are each associated with a distinct altered state of consciousness, both of which have previously been tied to creativity.

According to the researchers, ‘topping’ is linked to the state which aligned with Csikszentmihalyi’s flow, while ‘bottoming’ is associated with both Dietrich’s transient hypofrontality and some aspects of flow.”

So, if you felt funky about getting kinky, don’t. It’s out of this world.

Tatiana Von Tauber
Altered States of Kink
Blog entry:
6th December 2016