Postcards from Boomer Flats

John C. Wright recently quoted R.A. Lafferty. Coincidentally, I spent part of the day moving all my Gene Wolfe and Lafferty books to their own bookcase. Over the years I’ve accumulated a bunch, most of them acquired on my regular visits to second-hand book stores.1 Around the turn of the century, Lafferty’s books disappeared even from used sources. I found a volume or two and some pamphlets from mail-order sources2, but pickings were slim.

Fortunately, now, about 30 years too late, there finally is a good introduction to the most original writer of the 20th century. The Best of R.A. Lafferty is available in the U.S. The table of contents is here; the book includes most of the essential stories.3. If you’ve ever been curious about this teller of tales unlike other tales, this is a good place to start.

Three of Lafferty’s early novels have also recently been reissued in a single volume. It’s been a long time since I read Past Master or Fourth Mansions, so I can’t say much except that I didn’t like them as much as the better short stories. They’re due for a re-reading; I might find more in them now. However, Space Chantey, Lafferty’s retelling of The Odyssey, is one of Lafferty’s funniest books and an old favorite.

“All right, girl,” Roadstrum said when they were alone. “I have a few questions. They will be to the point, and I want answers.”
I doubt that you could understand the answers,” Aeaea warned. “I see now that you are a common simpleminded man, and we maintain a very high intellectual average here. It will be difficult to communicate.”
“Who is the ‘we’ that maintains so high an average, girl?”
“Only myself now. My father has been dead these last several centuries.”
“It should be easy to maintain a high average with only one entity.”
“It is. I am mistress of all the sciences. I go so far beyond all else that my work is called magic. I manipulate noumena, regarding monads as points of entry tangential to hylomorphism. As to the paradox of Primary Essence being contained in Quiddity, the larger in the small, I have my own solution. The difficulty is always in not confusing Contingency with Accidence. Do you understand me?”
“Sure. You’re a witch.”
“Exactly, but I frown on the name. Very unscientific.”

***

I have several duplicate Lafferties on my shelves that need homes. If you are interested, send me an email. Please include “Lafferty” in the header so I don’t delete it with the blackmail spam and other digital trash.

Miscellany

Chainmail Bikini is back online.

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Art or garbage? It’s hard to tell sometimes.

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Derek Lowe recently added nitro groups to his “Things I won’t work with” category. You don’t need to be a chemist to enjoy his Lowe’s appreciations of azides, FOOF and other exceeding noisy or smelly substances.

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William Briggs:

“Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.” This is, as everybody knows, Conquest’s Second Law. It is a true law, as all modern experience shows. But it says nothing about the pace or rate of the flight from Reality and Tradition.

A rock thrown upwards at the top of its flight is stationary. For a moment it neither goes up nor down. Then, a fraction of a second later, it begins it descent, but slowly, slowly. The speeds picks up, the rocks plummets faster and faster. It eventually crashes to the ground.

That’s the progress of rocks, a good but imperfect metaphor for the “progress” of human institutions. The imperfection comes in recalling a law Conquest didn’t mention: motus in fine velocior. Things accelerate toward the end. A falling rock has constant acceleration. Human failure is a force that feeds on itself.

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100 things Mark Evanier learned about the comics industry….

93. If your character wears a cape, it should be more or less the same length in every panel and it should not get shredded more than twice a year.

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Dr. Boli has completed his serial, Devil King Kun. From the 20th installment:

“Actually,” said Weyland, “good people generally don’t try to conquer the world. It’s not done, you know.”

“But if you don’t conquer the world, then won’t the evil people take over every time?”

“We generally prefer to let people choose their own government, and trust them to make the right choice.”

“Well,” said Miss Kun, “I’m willing to be good, but I’m not willing to be an idiot….”

The story begins here.

***

Saw Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion a couple of years ago and when a bloke in the audience shouted out for ‘Toad’ Baker asked if he’d ever had a drumstick shoved up his nostril.

The lovable Ginger Baker has been hospitalized, critically ill. Here’s an 1970 interview with the easy-going drummer, and a more recent look at the gentle soul.

Update: Ginger Baker has died at the age of 80.

Professor Mondo, a drummer himself, on Baker in 1990:

The other thing that struck me was that Ginger looked like a mad wizard from a fantasy novel, impossibly aged, but terrifyingly powerful. He was three years younger than I am now. I think both his mistakes as a human being and his phenomenal talent aged him in dog years.

See also Shabby Road for an overview of Baker’s life.

Have a Spoonful of Cream.

Literary notes

Gary Saul Morson:

Why is it, Solzhenitsyn asks, that Macbeth, Iago, and other Shakespearean evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses, while Lenin and Stalin did in millions? The answer is that Macbeth and Iago “had no ideology.” Ideology makes the killer and torturer an agent of good, “so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors.” Ideology never achieved such power and scale before the twentieth century.

Joseph Moore:

Up until current times, it would have been scandalous for a woman in a Catholic country to arrange her own marriage in defiance of her father. Romeo & Juliet is a cautionary tale against just such presumption. The nurse and the friar are the villains of the story, overstepping their rightful duties. Until modern times, readers of the play all understood this.

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For literature of a different sort, see Dr. Boli.

The Joe DiMaggio of bloggers

For years, one of my first stops every morning after cranking up the computer was Dustbury. There would always be something new and worth reading. The proprietor, Charles G. Hill, a self-described “generalist and occasional wiseguy,” was intelligent and insightful. He was witty and clever, too, very good with bad puns, and an unabashed brony. He was always a pleasure to read. One of the few things I looked forward to on Mondays was his weekly survey of search terms leading to his site, with a wisecrack for each item. His familiarity with obscure popular music rivaled that of the Professor, and he had a healthy appreciation of fine stemware.

Dawn Eden and Charles Hill at an Oklahoma bloggers’ meet-up in 2005.

It wasn’t all wisecracks at Dustbury, though. Hill struggled with depression all his life. During the past few years he faced worsening problems with health and mobility. His “Vents” were often painful to read, and other posts could be disturbing. Although our interaction was limited to occasionally leaving a comment at each other’s site, I worried about him.

Charles Hill passed away yesterday from injuries received in an accident.

Dusty Sage

If there is such a thing as a “national treasure” on the internet, it’s Charles G. Hill’s site. The text deserves to be printed on acid-free paper and available in libraries for ages to come. I hope someone capable steps up to preserve Dustbury, as Pixy Misa and J Greely did for Steven Den Beste’s sites.

When perusing Dustbury, be sure to check the tabs at the top of the page, as well as the main blog. There you will find much else of interest, such as his profile with Norm Geras:

What would you do with the UN?
I’m not quite sure, but I expect it involves dynamite….

Do you have any prejudices you’re willing to acknowledge?
I shun anyone who can speak the word ‘multicultural’ with a straight face.

Update
Tributes to Dustbury: Roger Green; Steve Lackmeyer; Rob O’Hara.

(The post title is from John Salmon; the picture of Dawn Eden and Charles G. Hill is from Michael Bates.)

Odds and ends

Items of interest I came across recently.

Is anything still forbidden in Hollywood?

Jesuits, communism and Rod Dreher.

Jesuit vows and the Papacy. (Via TS)

A new Catholic journal?

The post-war conservative movement in the United States has not turned back the clock a single minute and has succeeded only in gradually lowering marginal tax rates as same-sex marriage became law in all 50 states….

If anyone else was interested in creating something like The Lamp it would have existed already. (In point of fact, something like it did exist in the late ’60s and early ’70s: Brent Bozell’s Triumph, almost certainly the only publication in which one could have read things like the traditionalist Catholic case for Black Panther militancy.1)

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Bonus link: Elizabeth Scalia on Paul McCartney and Christianity.

Unforgettable, irreplaceable

Amy Welborn reminds us that today is E.B. White‘s birthday. Here’s a story of his I liked quite a bit when I was younger.

*****

The Supremacy of Uraguay

Fifteen years after the peace had been made at Versailles, Uruguay came into possession of a fine military secret. It was an invention in effect so simple, in construction so cheap, that there was not the slightest doubt that would enable Uruguay to subdue any or all of the other nations of the earth. Naturally the two or three statesmen who knew about it saw visions of aggrandizement; and although there was nothing in history to indicate that a large country was any happier than a small one, they were very anxious to get going.

The inventor of the device was a Montevideo hotel clerk named Martín Casablanca. He had got the idea for the thing during 1933 mayoralty campaign in New York City, where he was attending a hotel men’s convention. One November evening, shortly before election, he was wandering in the Broadway district and came upon a street rally. A platform had been erected on the marquee of one of the theatres, and in an interval between speeches a cold young man in an overcoat was singing into a microphone, “Thanks,” he crooned, “for all the lovely dee-light I found in your embrace …” The inflection of the love words was that of a murmurous voice, but the volume of the amplified sound was enormous; it carried for blocks, deep into the ranks of the electorate. The Uruguayan paused. He was not unfamiliar with the delight of a love embrace, but in his experience it had been pitched lower — more intimate, concentrated. This sprawling, public sound had a curious effect on him. “And thanks for unforgettable nights I never can replace …” People swayed against him. In the so bright corner in the too crowded press of bodies, the dominant and searching booming of the love singer struck sharp into him and he became for a few seconds, as he later realized, a loony man. The faces, the mask faces, the chill air, the advertising lights, the steam rising from the jumbo cup of A. & P. Coffee high over Forty-seventh Street, these added to his enchantment and his unbalance. At any rate, when he left and walked away from Times Square and the great slimy sounds of the love embrace, this was the thought that was in his head:

If it unhinged me to hear such a soft crooning sound slightly amplified, what might it not do to me to hear a far greater sound greatlier amplified?

Mr. Casablanca stopped. “Good Christ!” he whispered to himself; and his own whisper frightened him, as though it, too, had been amplified.

Continue reading “Unforgettable, irreplaceable”

Allan smashed the ping-pong ball into the net so hard that it burst through the net….

The ball went from being a simple bouncing ball to a bouncing ball that exploded into the sky.

We could see the bouncing star and its ball of light that seemed to follow its path.

It was an incredible sight, and the best thing I did was get myself in the back corner. Then we could film our friends and family watching.

If I had been on the phone with my wife, she would have called me at home to tell me exactly what just happened.

At the end of everything, this world gave us the opportunity to experience being an astronaut on board the Space Shuttle. I couldn’t have been more grateful for the opportunity and thankful to every single human being that saved our world. That we are able to share the story of the space shuttle crew, one of the world’s most successful and innovative organizations, with you, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first Shuttle Space Shuttle program, is a truly wonderful thing. Thank you to our crew of astronauts and their families, who did so much for our country.

And now, I can say this: I will return to the shuttle. You were the only ones that would miss me there. If we ever return, we have to go through them all again.

* * *

Um, okay. Let’s try it again, this time with armadillos:

Continue reading “Allan smashed the ping-pong ball into the net so hard that it burst through the net….”

(yawn)

I injured my leg a couple of weeks ago, which has limited my photography. The doctor is upbeat and says I should recover fully in a few more weeks, but until then don’t expect much to look at here.

None of the current anime have held my interest. When I do feel like watching something, it’s an old show such as Shingu, where you can find the largest human yawn in Japan, above. I might give Sarazanmai another try, though probably not during my lunch hour at the office. Josh notes, among other things, that “[t]he art is often very pretty.”

As I mentioned earlier, I finally persuaded myself to get a Kindle. I’d like to say that real, physical, print-and-paper books are clearly superior in every respect, but in fact the Kindle has one overwhelming advantage: I can make the type larger. I can read for hours now before my eyes get tired, and I’ve been taking advantage of that. Beside The Lord of the Rings, I also read Honor at Stake on Joseph Moore’s recommendation; it’s fun. I followed that with Dracula, which I hadn’t looked at since high school. Whatever your academic obsession is, you can pursue it in Stoker’s book (from Wikipedia):

In the last several decades, literary and cultural scholars have offered diverse analyses of Stoker’s novel and the character of Count Dracula. C.F. Bentley reads Dracula as an embodiment of the Freudian id.[42] Carol A. Senf reads the novel as a response to the New Woman archetype,[43] while Christopher Craft sees Dracula as embodying latent homosexuality and sees the text as an example of a ‘characteristic, if hyperbolic instance of Victorian anxiety over the potential fluidity of gender roles’.[44] Stephen D. Arata interprets the events of the novel as anxiety over colonialism and racial mixing,[45] and Talia Schaffer construes the novel as an indictment of Oscar Wilde.[46] Franco Moretti reads Dracula as a figure of monopoly capitalism,[47] though Hollis Robbins suggests that Dracula’s inability to participate in social conventions and to forge business partnerships undermines his power.[48][49] Richard Noll reads Dracula within the context of 19th century alienism (psychiatry) and asylum medicine.[50] D. Bruno Starrs understands the novel to be a pro-Catholic pamphlet promoting proselytization.[51] Dracula is one of Five Books most recommended books with literary scholars, science writers and novelists citing it as a influential text for topics such as sex in Victorian Literature[52], best horror books[53] and criminology[54].

Considered simply as a vampire story, it’s not bad, though the plot occasionally requires that the characters act like idiots.

Other fiction re-read include The King of Elfland’s Daughter and The Time Machine, both good despite their authors’ quirks.

Lord of the Haggis

I’m in the middle of one of my periodic re-readings of The Lord of the Rings. While looking for a large, easy-to-read map of Middle Earth, I came across a map of Scotland done LotR style.

If you are looking for a detailed map of Tolkien’s lands, this might be what you need. Here are some notes on maps of Middle Earth.

I came across a short biography of Pauline Baynes, who illustrated several of Tolkien’s works. She also did the pictures for the Narnia books, though she didn’t have the same rapport with Lewis as with JRRT.

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After a long day of storms, the clouds to the west are starting to thin out. I just looked out the front door: the setting sun colored the overcast sky a dull, glowering red, perhaps a bit too appropriate to my reading.

Mysteries on the Amazon

I recently got a Kindle, and I spent part of yesteday evening stocking it with cheap public-domain books. Some of the collections I considered were category “best sellers,” but not the categories I would have expected.

The quality of the electronic editions varies greatly. In general, the large collections are worth the dollar or two they cost, but not always. Some are highly readable and easily navigable, but others are little more than unedited OCR text. Also, omnibus collections often dispense with the original illustrations. The Pre-Raphaelitish plates and drawings that are part of the charm of Andrew Lang’s colorful books are missing from the construction law best seller.

Further details about the Amazon, from a 1929 study1:

The mechanical engineer of fantastic fiction

… I recall that when Damon Knight asked me back in the ’60s whom I was reading I wrote back and said “J.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton and Mark’s Engineer’s Handbook.”

I’ve been meaning to write a short essay on Gene Wolfe, the last great American writer, who died last month. I don’t know when I’ll get it done, though, so here are a some notes and quotes instead.

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I don’t remember which was the first Wolfe story I read. It might have been “Trip, Trap” in an early Orbit anthology. But the novella “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” made it clear to me that he operated on a level far beyond Asimov or Clarke in skill, imagination and depth. His stories improved with re-reading. His name in the table of contents was sufficient reason to purchase any anthology, and I bought every book of his as soon as it appeared in paperback.

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From a 1988 interview:

… I’d argue that SF represents literature’s real mainstream. What we now normally consider the mainstream—so called realistic fiction—is a small literary genre, fairly recent in origin, which is likely to be relatively short lived. When I look back at the foundations of literature, I see literary figures who, if they were alive today, would probably be members of the Science Fiction Writers of America. Homer? He would certain belong to the SFWA. So would Dante, Milton, and Shakespeare. That tradition is literature’s mainstream, and it has been what has grown out of that tradition which has been labeled SF or whatever label you want to use.

Continue reading “The mechanical engineer of fantastic fiction”

Literary linkdump

The worst dictators were often bibliophiles. The young Lenin read Virgil and other Roman authors in the original Latin. He was also a fan of Jack London. Mussolini at one point was the honorary president of the International Mark Twain Society. Hitler “… had a special fondness for the literature of a land he could not subjugate: England. Hitler preferred Shakespeare to Goethe and he was also fond of tales of far-off lands, such as Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels.”

Mao Zedong’s bedroom was full of books even as his minions in the Cultural Revolution wrought havoc outside. The Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha enjoyed vampire novels. Fidel Castro loved Ernest Hemingway and reviewed Gabriel García Márquez’s novels before publication. In 2015, the Ayatollah Khameini took to Twitter to praise the works of Mikhail Sholokhov and Alexei Tolstoy, Leo’s less talented, pro-Bolshevik cousin….

What does this mean for our understanding of literature itself? At the very least, the fact that some of history’s worst mass murderers were avid bibliophiles should kill any lingering notion that there is something innately ennobling about the book. Literature is far too ambiguous for that. We take what we want from it and dictators are no different. When Lenin wrote his essay on the religious-vegetarian-pacifist Tolstoy, he focused on the prophet’s “pent-up hatred”. When Mussolini read Dante, he enjoyed the poet’s invective best of all.

It is also striking that all these well-read men preferred mediocrity to masterpieces. Just as their political theories reduced the ambiguities of history to simplistic narratives of good and evil, they were most inspired by crude tales with a moral or political message.

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Neville Longbottom > Harry Potter.

In related news, Rowling states that Black Clover takes place in the Potterverse.1 (Don’t read the comments; you’ll despair for humanity.)

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Poe’s poetry was allegedly improved by translation into French. Something similar happens with H.P. Lovecraft. His prose

… is indigestible: so very mannered that sometimes it comes off as a parody. The saving grace comes when Lovecraft’s work is translated into a Romance language. I’ve read Lovecraft in Italian and in Castilian, as with this particular book [El horror de Dunwich], and his prose becomes more elegant and less heavy simply because Romance languages are more parenthetical and better support long-winded periods.

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Could a great—or even a readable—Latin poet have possibly emerged in eighteenth-century Guatemala?

If your Latin is in good working order, you might want to take a look into the works of the 18th-century Jesuit Father Rafael Landívar. Vulcanologists might find something of interest there.

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An appreciation of Camille Paglia. Yeah, she’s crazy, but she’s interesting crazy.

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Josh writes about James Joyce, Thomas Aquinas and Marshall McLuhan.

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Holy foolishness: Once upon a time, one found Myles Connolly’s Mr. Blue on nearly every reading Catholic’s bookshelf. He wrote the story in 1928, just in time for the Depression. 20 years later he wrote a couple more novels. I might have to track them down, though I expect that some of the writing will make me cringe.2

(Via Amy Welborn.)

Odds and ends

The United States’ copyright laws are insane. Canada’s are more reasonable. I recently discovered quite a bit of Cordwainer Smith is available at the Canadian site Fadedpage. It’s missing some essential stories, e.g. “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard,” but it includes some of my favorites, such as “Under Old Earth” and “Western Science Is So Wonderful,”1 as well as many others such as “Think Blue, Count Two,” “A Planet Named Shayol,” the Casher O’Neill stories and, of course, “Scanners Live in Vain.” (Update: there is a fair amount of Smith at archive.org, though most of it is less convenient to read than the offerings at Fadedpage.)

There’s plenty else available at Fadedpage. A few old favorites: Till We Have Faces, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats2 , My Life and Hard Times.

Isegoria discovers my favorite of Poul Anderson’s books, The High Crusade. I gather there was a lousy movie made from it, but I have a hunch that it would serve well as the basis for a good anime series.

Those who know their Who might hear something familiar here:

(Via Dustbury.)

To the list of famous coke-heads, you can add a pope or two.

(Via Pergelator.)

Words of wisdom Further silliness from here and there:

The crack in the tea-cup

It’s February 2, time to post another favorite poem. This year it’s W.H. Auden’s “As As I Walked Out One Evening.”

As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
‘Love has no ending.

‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,

‘I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.

‘The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.’

But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.

‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.

‘In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
To-morrow or to-day.

‘Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver’s brilliant bow.

‘O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.

‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.

‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
And Jill goes down on her back.

‘O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.’

It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.

(The second and fourth lines of each stanza should be indented, but I don’t know a simple way to make WordPress do that.)

Listen to Auden reading his poem here.

Girls, wolves, guns

Here is the true and proper retelling of the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

The Little Girl and the Wolf
by James Thurber

One afternoon a big wolf waited in a dark forest for a little girl to come along carrying a basket of food to her grandmother. Finally a little girl did come along and she was carrying a basket of food. “Are you carrying that basket to your grandmother?” asked the wolf. The little girl said yes, she was. So the wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and the little girl told him and he disappeared into the wood.

When the little girl opened the door of her grandmother’s house she saw that there was somebody in bed with a nightcap and nightgown on. She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.

Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.

This story is presented as a service for those who watched the first episode of Grimms’ Notes: The Animation, an undistinguished recent offering from Crunchyroll.

Not quite English

From a news release that crossed my desk this morning:1

While at St. Christina the Astonishing, Mr. Redacted has become known for growing and developing the school’s professional staff and implementing a new community system to enhance the relationships among both students and faculty.

From Polysics’ “Plus Chicker:”

AKA! One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Eighty-nine!
It’s baby baby baby baby portable rock!
Ok! Something in my reality might have broke.
AKA! One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Eight-nine!

I’ll always do my thing.
I’ll always do my thing.

I lied too, ever since I saw you.

Which excerpt conveys more meaning?

Wednesday’s nose

One of the books I (re)read during my recent trip was The Man Who Was Thursday. The cover of the 1971 paperback edition, above, depicts a moment from chapter X. Those who’ve read the book might amuse themselves by seeing how many errors they can spot.

Incidentally, Chesterton’s novel is possibly the most realistic spy novel ever published:

Thirty years ago, a British newspaper took an unscientific survey of current and former intelligence agents, asking them which fictional work best captured the realities of their profession. Would it be John Le Carré, Ian Fleming, Robert Ludlum? To the amazement of most readers, the book that won easily was G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, published in 1908….

… Soon, even police agencies themselves had no idea whether a given attack was the work of real terrorists, or of agents and provocateurs notionally working for the regime. In this wilderness of mirrors, the only certain facts were provocation and deception. “Was anyone wearing a mask? Was anyone anything?” However fantastic The Man Who Was Thursday might appear, it was describing the stark realities of counter-subversion, with all their moral ambiguities. And that was what gave the book its appeal to latter day spooks.