Saturday, April 18, 2015

Dissertation is in and Feast of Laughter 2 is out!

The dissertation is handed in.  I didn't get to take the argument as far down its arc as I'd hoped.  I knew the 10,000 word limitation couldn't contain what I wanted to say, but it contained even less than I predicted.  For example, my section on 'Snuffles' was reduced to a paragraph and I didn't get to include a discussion of 'Days of Grass, Days of Straw' at all!  Ai yi yi.  Guess that and some other overflow will be the next chapter in my exploration of the ecomonstrous in Cormac McCarthy and Lafferty.  But working on the section on 'Smoe and the Implicit Clay' was especially exciting and enlightening to me.  It will take much greater detail, tighter argument, and further wrestling with one of Lafferty's most richly layered and bizarre stories, but it felt like I was getting somewhere - especially in happening upon a resonance with a thinker called Alphonso Lingis who has argued for a metaphysics of upthrusting 'faces' in non-human things (a metaphor for the fact that all things are engaged in a task in response to an imperative), which is similar to Lafferty's imagery of faces rising up out of the clay in this tale.  I will upload the paper to my site (and provide a link here) when I've received a mark on it and made a few adjustments based on that feedback.  It's only an undergraduate dissertation, but the paucity of academic writing on Lafferty available on the web perhaps justifies sharing it with the public.

Having said that, here's a feast of writing about Lafferty (academic and otherwise) that I've yet again been privileged to make contributions to:  that's right, Volume 2 of Feast of Laughter: An Appreciation of R. A. Lafferty is hot off the press!  This thing is more of a beast of a feast than volume one.  The quantity and quality of the content have only increased (as well as the inner layout and design of the text).  We're so surprised this thing is going from strength to strength - not because we think Lafferty fans aren't enthusiastic and talented, but because we just had no idea how many great people would make great contributions as a pure labour of love (there's no profit garnered from the books at this stage).  There are reports from Laffertians in Japan, UK, Netherlands, Germany, and Russia.  Truly fascinating stuff, trust me.  There are new essays on how Lafferty's fiction works and what it achieves, as well as some more excellent and obscure reprints (including an academic article from a Thomas More journal on Lafferty's Past Master), some in-depth elucidations of Lafferty's barely-read, but by all accounts masterful, Argo Mythos, and reviews of a number of Lafferty's books.  There are a variety of creative approaches in all this as well, from the highly academic to the utterly experimental, each enlightening and enthralling in its own way.  And, in fact, as I've been reading through it, I've been amazed to note that the essays form almost a Laffertian baton race, where each new article picks up certain threads from the others and further elaborates.  A big picture of the ethos and workings of Lafferty's cosmos is starting to emerge, I swear!  There are also creative contributions again:  songs, poems, stories, and art - including, again, Lissanne Lake as cover artist:  her lovely rendering of Lafferty's short story 'Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas'.  That story is also included in this volume, as well as an interview with Lafferty by Tom Jackson.  We also got another professional 'lafferty' (an attempt to write a story in Lafferty's signature style), this time by Howard Waldrop!

I know I haven't reviewed volume 1 yet, as I promised I would, but I will and then I'll review this one as well.  I want to briefly engage each and every piece in each volume, partly for the sake of each contributor getting at least that tiny bit of direct engagement with their work, but also just because each contribution is valuable and fascinating for its part played in the emergence of a Lafferty revival.  And for the record, there are, from time to time, certain interpretations and viewpoints that I strenuously disagree with in these contributions.  So it's not just a back-slapping club but a genuinely diverse and opinionated community.  But I'm profoundly grateful for those views that spark rebuttal in me:  iron sharpens iron and all that.

There's lots of other Lafferty news that I'd like to report on (like the induction of Lafferty into the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame and related events).  But it will all have to await another post.


Andrew said...

Congrats! Looking forward to reading it. "Smoe" has always been an underappreciated story; Gardner Dozois (who bought it) was probably the only person other than Ray who liked it back when it was written. The philosophical angle sounds fascinating. If there's a chunk of it that is excerptable down to 5-6k words, then I think it would get a good reception at Foundation.

Hope you also have the chance to expand on the areas necessarily truncated.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Thanks, Andrew! I can definitely come up with a 5k excerpt to submit to Foundation. I'll see if I can get some feedback from you and Gregorio to help me get it up to academic snuff.

'Smoe', by the way, became one of my favourite stories by Lafferty as soon as I read it. It was also one of his most difficult. Studying it deeper has only solidified my impression that it's a rather profound and beautifully rendered piece. The very story itself feels 'half-animated' (like Crazelton's vision of roiling possibilia), almost leaping off the pages at moments. (I remember kind shuddering a bit, with fear and chuckling, when that Smoe cigar holder started making faces!)

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