Saturday, March 3, 2012

"Hang in there, Gaea guys! Some of us are on your side.'

'The glob came upon them and swallowed them in its fetid breath.  It was sharp with teeth in it, and these were quickly identified as belonging to aerial snakes.  The glob brought with it a saturating mental and emotional depression, a stark consternation, an unbearable fearfulness and unpleasantness.  It brought dread.  It brought hallucination and contradiction and fear of falling, and fear of ultimate fire.  It brought flying foxes that fastened onto throats with hollow and life-draining teeth.  It brought violent small creatures who sometimes seemed to be human children and sometimes tearing monsters.
'But a voice came from one of the small and possibly human monsters.  It was a boy's voice speaking in Demotic or Low Galactic:
'"Hang in there, Gaea guys!  Some of us are on your side.  Don't let this whip you.  It's only a little psychic storm."
'What sort of stuff was that?'

-R. A. Lafferty, 'Quiz Ship Loose' (1978)


Steve said...

Hey, I stopped by here a while back. I think I found you through your Lupine links. I think I made you read a story I wrote, for which I probably should apologize. In the meantime though, I've collected Lafferty's 900 Grandmothers (read) and Apocalypses (not yet read), and Fourth Mansions (finished just tonight). I started with Past Master, which I enjoyed, and which I may have got on your suggestion.

Loved 900 Grandmothers, but do you or the other single Lafferty scholar have any illumination to shed on Fourth Mansions? Make it quick, because I'm supposed to be doing graduate school things right now, not reading Lafferty blogs. (Not all of us get to combine the two.)


Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

ha ha! I don't really have time for it either, Steve. I just lose sleep and play catch-up and 'overtime' and so on in the areas I neglect in order to post once in a while. Good to hear from you again. I enjoyed your story and left a wee comment about it on the thread where you metioned it (was that possibly over at my Gene Wolfe blog?). It was about the daily battles in the Norse afterlife, right? On that note you MUST obtain Lafferty's Space Chantey - a space-faring Laffertian version of Homer's Odyssey, but chapter 2 is Laff's version of the same theme.

Probably the best I can offer right now for Fourth Mansions are my post 'Some Initial Thoughts on Fourth Mansions' (about the third down on the 'Popular Posts' bar to the right of this) and the many comments from a handful of VERY insightful Lafferty fans that follow in the comment thread. It's not brief, unfortunately, but there's gold in there.

As far as I know, nothing's really been written about it otherwise yet. We're hoping a Thomistic theologian who comments here occasionally (Gregorio) is going to write a chapter on it some day.

I shouldn't play the role of temptor to a professedly busy man, but, what the heck, let me be Nephew Wormwood a moment and ask you: What were your favourite stories in 900 Grandomothers?

Steve Case said...

Yeah, that was me. I've published a few more since then. They're shorter and they're still self-professedly Wolfean, so get yourself further underwater by reading them if you so choose. I'll shamelessly self-promote to people who will so obviously provide excellent feedback (as evidenced by their own writings and readings).

I loved "What was the name of that town?", though it may only be due to my proximity to Chicago. I also liked "Thus we frustrate Charlemagne." And more.

I'm going to check out the post you suggested immediately, but in the meantime here's another more general question: Lafferty was reading Chesterton. Borges was reading Chesterton. Wolfe was reading Borges and Chesterton. What was Chesterton reading? And was Lafferty reading Borges? And what IS is about these guys?

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

I'll definitely check out some more of your stories sometime and totally understand the shameless self-promotion. (I'm still collecting rejection letters on my own - taking the knocks and learning I hope.)

Cool, I like those stories in 900 Grans too, but my very faves from that collection are more like 'Snuffles', 'The Six Fingers of Time', 'Frog On the Mountain', 'The Hole On the Corner', and 'Narrow Valley'.

I know! There's something very special about that cluster of writers. Chesterton was soaked in the Victorian literature just preceding him and was proud of it (Dickens, Austen, etc.). He was also immersed in the traditionally great poets and epics. And he also loved the Book of Job and the Gospels. He read at least some Aquinas and was also influenced by Francis of Assisi. Pretty sure he was into Cervantes. I'm sure there's more. He was also a visual artist first and foremost and that non-literary influence shows up powerfully in his written work. But like Lafferty, he uniquely transfused all these influences into something unaccountable - a vision of the world with little precedent if any.

In an interview Lafferty mentions the following as his early influences that essentially shaped his writing: R. L. Stevenson, Twain, Bret Harte, Melville, Lafcadio Hearn, Hilaire Belloc, Chesterton, Dickens, Balzac, J. B. Cabell, Miles Murdoch, Donn Byrne, Graham Greene, Maugham, and H. G. Wells. He says Plutarch was the world's best novelist and Balzac was second. But he also mentions that he grew up with some of the best tall tale oral storytellers - his own dad and uncles. Aquinas and Augustine were also deep influences I believe. Yet clearly, he too, like Chesterton, was an utterly unique filter for these influences to refract through. His vision was a one-off.

I've never heard him mention Borges. (I'm new to Borges myself and loving what I've read so far.)

Steve said...

Read your post on FOURTH MANSIONS-- helpful, thanks. And I think it helps me put my finger on some of the similarity I see between the respective visions of Chesterton and Lafferty: their notion that holiness is something expansive and sin something limiting. Is this a particularly Catholic point of view? I started to slip in my reading of FM when Foley gave the nod to kill one of his own men (the alien guy). Foley's innate like-ability was carrying much of that story for me, and it didn't sit quite right when he turned a shade darker.

Strangely, while I was reading FM (and PAST MASTER as well) I found myself thinking of Charles Williams and realizing I probably wouldn't have been able to get through them if I hadn't had the experience of pushing through some of Williams' "metaphysical thrillers" already. I don't know if you've read his stuff, but something about the philosophical musings and the wandering plots seems similar in both. Lafferty is hands-down much more fun to read though. I don't recall Williams having much of a sense of humor.

Glad to hear you're reading Borges and enjoying. I think his COLLECTED FICTIONS is worth its weight in gold. I haven't read much of his non-fiction yet, but I highly recommend getting your hands on THIS CRAFT OF VERSE, a collection of lectures on poetry he gave at Harvard. Musings on literature by the guy who is somehow in himself a nexus of Western literature-- one of my favorites.

Back to Lafferty, any good biographical essays of him available online? Wikipedia leaves quite a bit to be desired.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

I don't remember that bit about Foley - I'll have to check it out. (I missed tons I'm sure on my first reading.) But I will say that you should always take a second and third look when it comes to killing and being killed in Laff. It can often not mean what it looks like at first. Andrew Ferguson's paper is great for analysing the grotesque 'carnivalesque' in Laff's fiction. Characters seem to bloodily kill one another as easily as they eat and drink and discuss philosophy in Lafferty! I'm not always sure what it's all about!

The quote from Chesterton that often comes to my mind when reading Lafferty is: 'And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.' (From Chesty's book, Orthodoxy.)

That's a good question about whether this is a particularly Catholic sort of notion of sin and holiness. I think the Protestant Victorian fantasist George MacDonald was very in touch with it. C. S. Lewis was surely onto it. (But I have to say, it seems rarer in Protestant thought, which probably goes a long way toward explaining why Proddies produce so little art, nevermind good art.) I have a friend studying an Eastern church father called Ephrem and the brief translations from the Syriac that he posts on his FB from time to time give a hint of this 'wild orthodoxy' I think.

Great comparison to Charles Williams! I've been vaguely, practically unconsciously, associating the two for a long time, but you just brought it right into the light. I think they're both potentially examples of a Christian theistic Weird or New Weird Fiction (ala Lovecraft and China Mieville) - as opposed to High Fantasy or what have you in Tolkien and Lewis. Wolfe partakes in the Weird also I think. (Tim Powers is another great Catholic who gets in on all this too.)

I have a book called Labyrinths by Borges, which has been good to me so far. (Also I find his collection of other people's writings, called The Book of Fantasy, very interesting.)

The only online (auto)biographical thing about Laff I can think of right now is the preface to his American Indian historical novel, Okla Hannali. You should be able to read it on google books.

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