Archive for October, 2018

The Great God Pan, was published by Arthur Machen in 1895, London.
Arthur Machen was the son of a Welsh clergyman, and was born in 1863, near Caerleon, in Monmouth, Wales. He died in 1947.

Arthur Machen is one of those interesting people on the sidelines. And yet he had his own moments in the spotlight. In 1895 he published his ground-breaking novella The Great God Pan.
Even today the novella has its admirers – Stephen King reckons it one of the best horror stories in the language.
His roll was brought to a halt in the moral backlash brought about by the Oscar Wilde court case. Arthur Machen’s stories had already raised hackles by his themes of lust, unpleasantness, in fact for being ‘decadent.’ After that court case decadence was to be swept away by moral outrage, the re-imposition of sound Victorian values.

It was only later, about 1899, he was invited to join the Golden Dawn through his friendship with A E Waite. It has to be admitted, for all the themes of his writing: the deciphering of lost texts, diabolism etc, he was not particularly enamoured by the Order, and contributed little to nothing.

What is it about, The Great God Pan, then?
It is a story that is pieced together from fragments, inching its way to a clearer picture. What obscures the picture? It is the outraged morals and also the lack of clues, information, of the observers and narrators.
It is a story whose power and impact are created by the breaking apart of the atoms of Victorian morality.
Ok, I am using metaphors from a later time. But on purpose: Arthur Machen was fully engaged with Darwinian theory, with contemporary medicine, with the dualities of perception of his age.
Without the moral high ground of the detractors to decadence, a stance that all ‘right-thinking’ Victorians were supposed to have some measure of a share in, without that high position, the story’s depiction of a fall to the ‘depths of depravity’ that was the supposed mind-set of savages, the story makes no sense.
Wikki writes:
Historian Harold Perkin wrote:

Between 1780 and 1850 the English ceased to be one of the most aggressive, brutal, rowdy, outspoken, riotous, cruel and bloodthirsty nations in the world and became one of the most inhibited, polite, orderly, tender-minded, prudish and hypocritical.

 

The story opens with the narration of ‘just a little medical procedure’, recorded by the ‘dry man’ Mr Clarke. The outcome of this operation on the brain of a young and trusting young woman (one of the lower classes, naturally), reverberates throughout the story. We piece together the incidents, connect the dots, while the well-meaning but at times a little too slow, a little too ‘upright’, characters in the story try to make sense of a series of suicides of eminent and honourable young Victorian men.

It is this slow procedure, and also the puzzle-solving, that actively engages the reader, and creates atmosphere, the feeling of impending horror.
It could well be, also, this active engagement of the reader in such a morally deplorable tale, that upset the authorities: to become unwitting participants in immoral activities.

One theme that returns again in another story, The Novel of the White Powder, is that of the human body, through an outside agency, reverting to its protozoan origins before ones eyes.

This may lack impact to us now, we who have seen regularly such ‘special effects.’ But when one’s sole vision-viewer was one’s own imagination, apart from the early cinematograph, and the first picture newspapers  like the Daily Graphic, black and white illustrations pre-Beardsley, then the intent of the author would be more readily apparent. The author is in reality introducing such ideas and scenes into one’s mind.

That, and the Darwinian challenge to the hammered-home Christian view, of the body as sacred, a temple of chastity, to be strictly curbed, disciplined.
You can also see here perhaps, the development through borrowing the concept for corporal discipline, for abuse of the body and soul.

The Great God Pan is described as the experiencing of the world in its original state, when lusts ran free, and keeping to the classical archetypes, bachanites actually tore men to pieces.
The ethical and moral concepts of human progress from savage times to modern man, provide the scaffolding to the story.
It is extremely doubtfull such savagery as was envisioned ever existed. Even as the early hominids emerged they carried with them respect for the dead, disciplines, and rites. Sea pirates had their own codes, honourable behaviour – wooden ships were extremely disciplined communities, they had to be.
The Christian stance created such moral distances as the depth of the fall into depravity. ‘The Old Adam,’ was the phrase used to euphemistically describe unbridled lusts.

The story has many enlivening details. There is described at one point how, walking home in  the early hours of a London morning to Holborn, the streets were silent, empty, but for the occasional horse-drawn Hackney cab over cobbles. And how the  horses’ shoes struck ‘fire’, in the night.
Is a hellish image implied? It is certainly one of surprising clarity, maybe a little unsettling, but also lively because of that.
The suicides are by hanging, mostly from bedposts. It may well be that auto-eroticism is being implied here.
Behind the seeming prosperous and morally upright, ‘advanced civilisation’ of late Empire London, lurk the old terrors waiting their time.

They had their prelude, of course, in the Boer War, shortly to erupt.

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INSOMNIA

Posted: October 23, 2018 in Chat
Tags: , , ,

All night long it seems planes have been leaving,
squalling their metal and exhaust through cloud banks.
Summer trees’ packed bags are in the loading lanes.
Loud in the lull between take-offs cats squeal.

All night long watchful, hollowing out sleep
until light sifted slow down through air corridors.
To have extended yesterday through the night, my watch
quarrying one long moment; whatever’s to follow
calls for configurations of several unknowns.

To not detect the impact of those ideas
we played with ‘til afterwards, when laughter
brought out their underlying assumptions: inflections
as foreign to us now, as umpteen other moments
when time has moved through us.

And just for those moments it seemed what was felt had
meaning and significance; if we could just step
into undefined selves it could save us: to go
further out between belief and conceit, that edge
between one heartbeat and another.

Writers on the Spectrum, by Julie Brown. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2010
ISBN 978 1 84310 913 6.

Neuro-diversity.
The term first widely appears as a sociology thesis, by Judy Singer under the title, NeuroDiversity: The Birth of an Idea.
She uses it in her fight for people with an autistic or aspergers to own their space in the commonly accepted human population.

The phrase refers to the Autistic Spectrum, and to people with Aspergers Syndrome. Now it is recognised they are part of the same spectrum, that people with these ‘conditions’ exhibit behaviour varying in degree and intensity from the accepted, usual behaviour of people. And that there are many, many variations of these differences of behaviour.

Researcher in the field, Michael Fitzgerald, identified several behavioural markers, which consist of:
social and bodily awkwardness,
narrow interests,
repetitive routines,
speech and language peculiarities,
non-verbal communication problems.

It is essential to understand that lists are not people: we can all list our behavioural traits, but as far as explaining us goes, forget it.
People with NeuroDiversity are, yes, people, who have cognitive differences –  not medical or psychological conditions that can be ‘treated’. For NeuroDiverse people counselling, psychological talk-throughs, make no sense: it is not due to trauma (in most cases that comes later, when the world pitches in against you), or a medical condition.

There are extremes, of course: I have known people having to wear protective underwear at night into their teens, whose social awkwardness has left them virtually non-communicative, avoiding eye-contact – this is especially among those whose handling by the community has been far from gentle, understanding, or accepting.
Because, yes, the impact of one’s community has a lot to answer for, in later diagnoses of the condition.

*

Julie Brown identifies a range of authors with a strong likelihood of spectrum-identification.
They range from Hans Christian Anderson, Thoreau, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, W B Yeats, Lewis Carroll and Sherwood Anderson.
There is only one woman author in this list. Odd. But then women did not tend to be diagnosed as on the spectrum, as readily as men. This is such a box of wasps – open it and you will certainly be stung: the guilt of the male perspective overriding everyone else, like a steamroller.

There is difficulty in actually telling a story – the details take over and any story-arch, narrative strand, becomes lost. I have known people on the NaNoWriMo 1000-words-a-day-for-a-month marathons come out at the end with copiously detailed… prologues.
There is difficulty with language itself – usually a very wide vocabulary, but words that bend and blend, or become so strictly circumscribed in meaning, as to eschew all colourings but for one. It is as though the readers must know the key specific meaning used before communication can happen, only that can change as the writing… explores itself.
Their writing, work, can seem a sealed box that yields nothing to the give-and-take of communication.

I am sure we have all known someone like this.

And just think of the writing of, say, Samuel Beckett.
‘Nothing happens, twice.’ Ok, a glib critic’s waspish jibe to Waiting for Godot. But it also hints at a meticulously detailed work, whose story-line is not apparent. ‘But that is just the point: all is broken, there was nothing whole left standing after the Nazi’s retreated. They broke Europe.’ Beckett expresses that well, the dislocation of a PTSD Europe.
And can you mention Beckett in this instance, and not James Joyce: the bewildering snowstorm of detail that is Ulysses, that dislocated language of Finnegan’s Wake?

My first thought was Colette’s story Gigi: I was so bowled over by the detail of furnishings in that story, that the actual story seemed a half-hearted adjunct to this, the real heart.
Staying in France, can we ask about certain noveau roman writers? Alain Robbe-Grillet, for instance? The stifling detail of Jealousy… ok, it matches the experience (metacognitive) of being over-powered by jealousy… but The Erasers? And The Golden Triangle is so packed with words, images, at the cost of a through-line. Or Claude Simon’s Conducting Bodies, for example, where image transmutes into image. It is like Lewis Carroll in this, where events can be shuffled, with no harm to the piece, because they do not build, but are.
The proliferating detail of the novels caught the time and needs of the post-War mind-set expertly, where the loss of major narratives became glaring clear, or objectionable.

I was bowled over, recently, by the stories of Australian writer Christina Stead. Again they contain a great wealth of detail; the actual story itself takes on a preposterousness in comparison. She fought very hard for recognition as a writer, and achieved it. Then had to continue fighting to keep her reputation and position. And so when Virago approached her to reprint her work, she became known as ‘difficult,’ she feared being side-lined as a ‘woman writer,’ or ‘feminist’ writer, when she had fought so hard to be known as just Writer, and in the same room as the men. It’s a tricky and shifting terrain.
But maybe that ‘difficult’ also denoted her different awareness of social norms?

New Zealander, Janet Frame’s story is by now well-known, mostly due to the excellent film of her life, Jane Campion directed, An Angel At My Table, giving a good indication of the exclusion, fear and precariousness of someone living on the spectrum. Her books are books of wonderful details, of slant views on a half-understood world.

When you think back to past writers, you notice certain traits that suggest spectrum behaviour. I love Robert Browning’s work, but who can unravel his earlier works to any sufficient degree, without doing harm to the works? And the proliferating detail of The Ring and the Book?
The Brownings’ employment of end rhyme was a tactic that forced further and further elaboration of character and motive, as the line led onto line in order to keep the structure and form. It was as though language and the human mind were conceived of as so much a part of each other, as though the correct sequences of rhythms and rhymes-runs could create or capture a character.
But they verge on the excessive; it is as though this mind-language mutual expression was a construct, something not found in the ordinary world, just as the characters Robert Browning describes tend be shut-off, isolated and fanatical. Robert Browning’s universe is a wonky place.

Similarly, we hear tales of Tennyson’s ‘unworldyless’, his need for isolation, his symbolic world (The Princess; the King Arthur poems), his difficulties in public, his ‘melt-downs’. All part of the neuro-diverse life.

What of Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, an excessive, narrow, detailed, extensive writing, about social catastrophe? People on the spectrum know such these experiences as regular life.

Every Word Is A Bird We Teach To Sing, by Daniel Tammet (Hodder, 2018) discusses incidents and authors on the spectrum, in greater depth. Here we meet self-identified spectrum writer, the Australian poet Les Murray. And also, on the French connection, OuLiPo writer George Perec.

The NeuroDiverse writer then, can bring great things to writing, images that defy gravity, and appraisals of behaviour, the world, that startle, disturb, make new – this last with a proviso that what you find might not always please.
The NeuroDiverse writer has always been with us.
Long may it be so.

It is high time their lives were made better for them, by acceptance, patience, understanding, yes even the granting of ‘artistic license’ (for, was this not a form of acceptance of NeuroDiverse behaviour in its own period of use?).

See also: The Autistic Brain, by Temple Grandin. Routledge, 2017.

Out Damned Spot, William Shakespeare Crime-Scene Cleaner , by F J McQueen. Published by Urbane Publications, 2016

https://urbanepublications.com/our-books/
https://urbanepublications.com/authors/?s=F+J+McQueen&book-authors=&order=

This is the most extraordinary work of fiction that I have read in a long, long time.

1

We expect fiction to be set in our known world, where responses to environment are known, our own experience, and as ordinary. In a fantasy work the same applies: they are all recognisable people in recognisable situations, it is the details that are different.
But what if one’s responses to the environment became other than the known? What if the environment became other than our experienced world?

The shift, here, is in cognition: something is different, something is ‘other’, and nothing becomes accessible to the ‘predictive text’ of our inner narration.

The story centres around the nodes of Shakespeare’s main plays. We navigate a world that opens, like the Shakespearean world discovering its America.
Will Shakespeare is on the last day of his work as a hospital doctor. What had gone wrong? We presume that something had. And why was he woken once more at midnight with that terrible sound? One that no one else could hear?
The ordinary of that world, though, was not our ordinary.
He set up next day as a Crime-Scene cleaner. The crimes? The plays are littered with the wrongfully dead.
His cleaning fluid – and here we enter a world truly chilling – is mysteriously provided for him by nine seriously unsettling people. Or are they all emanations of one? And their price? A meal of oneself.

2

There is a short story by Leonora Carrington, Cast Down By Sorrow, where the narrator meets the elderly but coquettish Arabelle Pegase. She speaks of her clothes, and mentions a dress she has that is made from cat’s heads,
What was your reaction to that? Horrified, like mine? And yet I think that her intention with this image is something else – it is a changed aesthetic, even a changed system of ethics, that she is describing.
It is used as an artistic, painter’s, image, visual and tactile, rather than humanistic.
And similarly here, the images in this book have their own wholeness, inner logic, that is not literary in the narrow sense that it is being used more and more at the present time.

There is an incident where a soil boat appears – or is it a grave? It takes you places; it takes you to the river of time where golems struggle to hold back a certain day. Made of clay they crumble constantly as they strain and struggle to keep hold against the flow of time. As they crumble new ones take their place, a constant renewing. But you sense the struggle, the need.
These are not literary images, but visual images – they could work as graphic images in a graphic novel. The visual, this is where the where the book’s Venn-structure overlaps the most.
But, some might say, golems do not appear in The Plays. No, but they are part of the sensibility of the period, of the wider environment of the time. And also of our time.
This is one of the many aspects of the book I especially like, it’s willingness to not stay harnessed to ploughing the narrow furrow of what we now take to be The Plays.

Take MacBeth’s three witches, they make their appearance early on in the tale, transposed as oracles, in a hospital cupboard. And they prophesy… impossible things. But the impossibles become increasingly possible as the tale deepens into itself.

How does it work? One crack in the world-self narrative we spin for ourselves – one crack, and a different take on reality becomes possible.
It is a cognitive shift.

In another’s hand the story could become whimsy – but that does not happen. The images are impactful, the writing of a very high standard, and the overall imagining quite devastating in its range and implications.