Thursday, August 25, 2011

What We Are Smelling is Cosmic Fraud

“What we are smelling is cosmic fraud,” Leo Parisi said. “Everything is composed of ninety percent of nothingness, and when we come down to the smallest units of it, it is composed of more than ninety-nine percent of nothingness. I seem to remember old physics texts in which more than fifty sorts of sub-atomic particles were mentioned. But nobody remembers such texts or particles now. There is something wrong. The whole world should not have forgotten things so pertinent and so fulfilling.”

“And we intuit the need for fifty, at least, of them,” Solomon Izzersted said with real wonder in his ugly little voice. “Why aren’t the particles there? – for they aren’t.”

“It’s the same with musical notes,” Perpetua Parisi said sadly… “Open up a musical note and you’ll find that it’s ninety-nine percent empty,” Perpetua said. “I still don’t understand how they’re so pretty when they’re so empty.”

“There is something else,” said Solomon Izzersted. “Both myself and my alter ego John Barkley Towntower, as well as Jane Chantal and Hilary Ardri and Hieronymous Talking-Crow have noticed it and been spooked by it. We feel that we do not really live in the United States, we the only supposed Americans in this group. We feel that instead of really living in the United States, we are living in somebody’s very sketchy and imperfect idea of what the United States is like.”

-R. A. Lafferty, East of Laughter (1988),pp. 47-48

The ghost of Alexander the Great: “You worried about the detailed unreality of small units. But it is in these smallest units that these unrealities begin, and then they spread to the larger units. One adage for you then: reality is not something that one has the right and title to. It is something that must be earned. And I never spent much time in unreal lands. If you conquer one such land, what have you conquered? And if you die there of the unreality disease, you are really dead.”

“Alexander,” asked Hieronymous Talking-Crow, “can a land that was once unreal later become real?”

“I don’t know, Hieronymous, I just don’t know. You are talking about your America, I suppose. I just don’t know.”

-East of Laughter, p. 53


Kevin Cheek said...

This is great classic Lafferty stuff--slightly baffling, and perhaps based on a lie or deception. He often plays on this theme--that his characters (and by extension, us) are actually in a counterfeit world. Is there a parallel with the story "Entire and Perfect Chrysolite" where the people are sailing in the world of Erastothenes's world-map, but the real world breaks through? Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis might be a better parallel, because the entire peninsula turns out to have been a counterfeit--complete with false memories ingeniously inserted in the characters' minds. Did I understand the ending correctly that the world's greatest detective, Constantine Quiche, turns out to have been a counterfeit, made of the same false stuff as Sandaliotis itself all along?

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Glad you like it. Yes, the whole novel has the twin themes of Are We Awake or Dreaming? (and Is There Any Reality to Wake Up To?) and Who Will Write the Future of the World? From my hazy memory of 'Chrysolite' I'd say, yeah, there's probably a parallel. I need to read that short story again.

I really, really enjoyed Sandaliotis and feel it's underrated (or under-read). The telling and setting of East of Laughter feel very different from Sandaliotis, but there's definitely similarity in theme.

I don't remember getting that about Constantine Quiche from the ending, but I don't usually 'get' Lafferty novels on the first read and I've only read Sandaliotis once. I'm still savouring the memories of certain scenes: the cook-out of roast bear meat, the gruesome execution scene of the twelve men above the pit of rats in the clock room, and, indeed, just the whole trope of a giant land mass suddenly appearing on the ocean one morning where it 'shouldn't be'.

Indeed, Sandaliotis strikes me as something of a reverse-parallel to Lafferty's short story 'Land of the Great Horses' where a true land is returned from out of the sky to its true people. Sandaliotis is sort of an anti-eucatastrophe as opposed to the kind of Chestertonian 'homecoming' of 'Great Horses'.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

No, not 'anti-eucatastrophe' ('eucatastrophe' being Tolkien's wonderful neologism for Happy Ending, the Good Catastrophe), but rather pseudo-eucatastrophe or *counterfeit* eucatastrophe or even just ambiguous eucatastrophe in Sandaliotis.

'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)