Sunday, July 15, 2018

All Pieces of a Lafferty Dissertation: Ad Hoc Update On the PhD (sort of)

Can't believe it's been over a year since I posted on this blog! I've got the hankering today, so, instead of trying to craft a thoughtful post and then not getting round to finishing (or sometimes starting) it - which is what's kept me from posting for the past year - I'm just going to launch in.

I can tell you one result of my doctoral work on Lafferty: his fiction holds up extremely well to critical, close reading. Not that I doubted it would. But it's a great pleasure to see how it even exceeds my expectations so often. Sure, there are stories that perhaps don't yield as much depth for analysis as I might have hoped. But then there are so many more that turn out to be far more layered than I had realised. My most recent example is his wonderful regional yarn 'All Pieces of a River Shore'. Just a few months ago I completed a 10,000 word draft chapter on that story alone. I didn't mean for it to take up a whole chapter, but it just kept on giving and giving with its depth of bioregional detail and ecophilosophical ideas. It's no wonder it was the inspiration for a 2003 contemporary art installation of the same title (which I only discovered as I researched the story).

All Pieces of a River Shore from Metabolic Films on Vimeo.

Some other richly layered stories I'm finding want to sprawl into their own lengthy chapters include 'Boomer Flats', 'Days of Grass, Days of Straw', 'Smoe and the Implicit Clay', and 'Narrow Valley'. These are all stories that I was always planning to include in the thesis, along with 'Snuffles', 'Oh Tell Me Will It Freeze Tonight', 'And Name My Name', and 'Animal Fair' (and probably 'Love Affair With Ten Thousand Springs'). There's also brief engagement with 'Eurema's Dam', 'All But the Words', 'Condillac's Statue', 'And Read the Flesh Between the Lines', 'Mud Violet' and probably a few others I'm forgetting.

Other stories crowding in, which I hadn't planned on including, but which I now hope to make at least some mention of, include 'Cabrito', 'The Wagons', 'Configuration of the North Shore', 'Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas', 'Ghost in the Corn Crib', 'Rain Mountain', and 'Continued On Next Rock'. And now I've also got the idea to include a brief discussion of 'And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire' as a coda to the thesis. (Oh and there's a bit where I'll probably at least nod toward 'In Deepest Glass'.)

As to novels, Okla Hannali was always going to get some engagement, and for some time I've been planning on a whole chapter dedicated to Fourth Mansions as I think it's indispensable for unpacking the theological sources for Lafferty's ecomonstrous vision.

Now I'm also wanting to give about half a chapter toward the earlier part of the thesis to The Reefs of Earth, establishing Lafferty as a distinctly Oklahoman writer through this delightfully bizarre Southwestern Gaelic-Gothic s.f. novel. Lately I've been describing it as a fever dream mashup of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Martian Chronicles (which, of course, doesn't even begin to capture it.)

Also toward the beginning of the thesis I plan to quote some relevant passages from Past Master as to Lafferty's overt monster discourse. In the closing chapter I also plan to quote excerpts from The Fall of Rome, Serpent's Egg, and Arrive At Easterwine in regard to Lafferty's cosmic vision.

As you can imagine, all this is going to challenge a word limit of 100,000 words. So a lot of the puzzle in the coming year will be what to include and exclude. (I'll be submitting a final draft of the thesis by September 2019.)

The incredible mosaic that is Lafferty's body of work simultaneously invites and defies large-scale analysis. One can easily get lost in the plenitude of tiny details and connections, which are a delight in themselves. But seeing the potential for even some hint of a coalescence of the whole is pretty awe-inspiring. The fact that he built an open-ended aspect into his work makes large scale interpretations all the more strange, unstable, risky, and exciting.

If I have any readers left, please feel free to ask me questions or give me advice, juicy tidbits, warnings, opinions, anything!

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