. . . Chandler Davis

. . .

I Love Luana

If you -- particularly you Butlerites -- would be kind enough to shelve those P. K. Dick trade paperbacks for a few minutes, I'd like to direct your attention to the recently reprinted-for-the-first-time-anywhere author's cut of Chandler Davis's 1958 story, "It Walks In Beauty", plucked from the sexist hegemony of 1958 and maybe still of interest to a 2004 where strong female role models feel compelled to sew plastic into the flesh of their lips and breasts.

"It's done tongue-in-cheek, but that doesn't mean I'm kidding."
- "Paradoxa Interview with Chandler Davis"

. . .

"Critique & Proposals" by Chandler Davis

By far the best available introduction to the nonmathematical work of Chandler Davis is Josh Lukin's interview with him in Paradoxa 18. Among many enticing but unavailable texts, it mentions an informal piece of argumentation from 1949. Hearing of my curiosity, Dr. Lukin very kindly lent me a copy. And, hearing of my interest in sharing the work, Professor Davis very kindly lent me permission to publish it online. I thank them both.

You'll have your own reasons to find it interesting. Here are a few of mine:


Kip Manley notices:
You're back!

Which means I get to spend some time, at least, musing on how comics does something similar to SF (yet again)--

"From birth, science fiction has been defined (and bounded) by a community whose ambiguities of consumer, critic, and producer more resemble philosophical schools or high art movements than commercial publishing genres."

Though there's far more of a distrust of the critical enterprise in comics than in SF. --Artists, you know?

Anyway: there's as vibrant if more brief a history of APAs in comics, too. Scott McCloud lists his inventions in the field of comics, which include such notable creations as Five-Card Nancy and the 24-Hour Comic; he used to include the Frying Pan, a comics APA he founded back (I think) in the early '80s. But he doesn't anymore, because who knows from APAs?

I think he's still got them in a box somewhere in Thousand Oaks. At least I hope so: lots of comics history in there, in a raw, unfiltered form. But formalists are lousy packers, and they've moved a lot in the past few years.

I should feel ashamed that mere dayjob (backed up by a bit of illness and hardware trouble) kept me offline longer than a hurricane and homelessness have Tom Matrullo. But I'm too relieved to build up a good head of mea culpa.

Yes, the critical distinction is why I didn't mention comics myself. But it's true that American comics are another "commercial art" built on uneconomically passionate emulation and argument, with similar adolescent fans, similar reliance on self-publishing, and Dan Pussey as son of Jonathan Herovit. And I suppose one might make a case for some ambiguity even in the realm of criticism, albeit more among the pros than the fans or one could bring up the ambiguous role of the collector....

That ol' renegade Tom Parmenter is interested too, although I suspect he has stories of his own to tell. And I see that during my recent exile from good fellowship, The Mumpsimus appreciated Phil Klass.

The Happy Tutor reunifies compliment and complement.

David Auerbach returns, and very welcome he is, too:

I guess what I think of is how, with the regularly occurring exception (what comes to mind is that EC comics story where the astronaut takes off his helmet at the end and...he's black!!!) specifically designed to appeal to racial and cultural issues, science-fiction went for a casual universalism, at least in its "golden age." What I remember of reading old-style genre sf were characters with purposefully vague or unnatural names (Jermbo Xenthos, e.g.), which had little to no bearing on their position in the story. Since genre sf tended to revolve around the conceptualization of a single (usually recycled) idea, attendant aspects of character were incidental at best; I haven't read it in years, but I believe this even applies to the Asian protagonist of Delany's "Babel-17". Even something like Heinlein's racist "Fifth Column" is not "about" the race of its characters qua characters. The Asians might as well be aliens (and the story would have had slightly firmer scientific grounding if they had been).

With gender, it only partly applies. The same dichotomy--women are either indistinguishably "one of the guys" with their anatomy switched around, or else a brainless love interest whose role is determined wholly by their gender--usually applies, but the love interest is considerably more common and incidental because of the more common presence of a secondary love story. I remember thinking this when I read Asimov as a kid. It also seems that as male authors grow older, the ratio gradually tilts away from the former. I got more compelling portraits of, for instance, farmers (in Clifford Simak) and manic-depressives (in Theodore Sturgeon) from sf than I ever did of women or minorities.

This is evidently not what Davis wanted, as he says, but the failure of sf to meet his expectations seems more grounded in the agreed-upon restrictions of the genre rather than the failed imaginations of the authors. The generic restrictions of plot, character, and ideas would have made a socially progressive agenda stick out like a sore thumb. I always found "Stand on Zanzibar" very difficult to get through precisely because he approaches Davis's issues from the standpoint of problems to be solved through ideological architecture rather than areas meriting in-depth exploration. In the same way, you wouldn't go to Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" for a revelation of the social relations of the immigrant community. They're just too goal-directed.

Chandler Davis himself provides some additional thoughts:

I think it's true that the spirit of our APAs lives on electronically, without the health effects of inhaling hektograph solvent. As to my then simplified spelling, if that doesn't live on I won't mourn it.

My post mortem on my essay of 55 years ago is just what I told you I thought it would be: it's not all just what I would say today, but it was worth saying.

I don't think I told Josh or you one of the striking responses to my essay. Isaac Asimov remarked that when he wanted to make his character Preem Palver as harmless as possible (so that it would be a surprise when he turned out to be the most powerful guy in the galaxy), he gave him the accent & mannerisms of his father, an East European Jewish immigrant. (Didn't call him Jewish, though, I guess.)

. . .

Baboon see, baboon do

Maybe belligerent democracies are just reactive by nature. Power struggles to balance intensity, not hue.

It's hard to realize nowadays the extent to which Sputnik incited support for scientific education and research in America. While the national enemy was secular and egalitarian, the United States achieved its rational and fair best. (Although, as Chandler Davis would remind us, that was nothing to write home about.)

And now that the national enemy is fundamentalist and plutocratic, we feel the need to close the intolerant billionaire gap.


A helpful reader recaps the story so far:

An amoeba in a tutu, with a little pink hat on its uppermost. Bikers re-enacting Lakota chest-piercings in disused pastures. Souls of the wronged lined up for miles at the window someone said they thought might be the place you go to state your case. At the end the weak ones turn around and go back through time, creating a tidal effect. It gives them an unassailable advantage, but it doesn't really go anywhere. Domestication and sophistication begin to merge. Everything gets stolen. SRI had these tests...

Ah, how I loved that tutu it gave me a waist....

Josh Lukin's mention of René Girard led me, a few hours too late, to this:

The error is always to reason within categories of "difference" when the root of all conflicts is rather "competition," mimetic rivalry between persons, countries, cultures. Competition is the desire to imitate the other in order to obtain the same thing he or she has, by violence if need be....

And, a half year later, the brilliant Narrow Shore starts from the same comparison and reaches a horribly beautifully complementary contrast:

The detonator in those planes was not a gadget but the absolute faith that allowed the human pilots to steer dead into the glass towers. There has been a Sputnik moment, but the tech and arms race embarked upon recognizes faith as the ultimate weapon, and the tactical goal seems be to out-believe the enemy.

This is very dangerous. Not that belief cannot be part of a very effective military technology. Clearly, it can. But the trigger mechanism (didn't anyone notice, in this Sputnik moment?) is suicide.

. . .

Three Ways of Looking at a Blacklist

Chandler Davis, full time mathematician, sometime fiction writer, and lifelong political activist lost his career in American academia for the third quality. Dr. Josh Lukin kindly mailed me copies of two of Professor Davis's comments on that loss:

"... From an Exile", written in 1960
"Did the Red-hunt Win?", delivered in 1995

In turn, Professor Davis has kindly consented to my making them freely available online. Both are beautiful examples of "plain speaking" rhetoric and possibly of interest for other reasons as well.

UPDATE, 2005-12-03: I've just added a third piece by Professor Davis, "The Purge". A history rather than an exhortation, originally written for the American Mathematical Society's A Century of Mathematics in America, it provides many more details about the post-WWII attack on leftist American academics (and the resistance to that attack).

. . .

"Trying to Say Something True"

With the kind permission and assistance of Josh Lukin, his "Paradoxa Interview with Chandler Davis" is now available in the Repress.

. . .

Loin du Toronto

Long-time readers won't be surprised to learn that my day job began boiling over a couple of months ago. But long-time readers will also understand why I must attempt to draw the great world's attention to (finally!) a collection of Chandler Davis's fiction and essays. Go and do thou likewise, only better.

* * *

Update: And fast upon the book's heels comes the Chandler Davis Online Archive, also edited by Josh Lukin, with five essays and three short stories.

Chandler Davis

. . .

Josh Lukin, August 18 1968 - July 25 2019

... a man of infinite patience and compassion, awesome learning, immense honesty, and almost grating humility, he represents to me the peak of what a scholar can be.
- from "Acknowledgments" in "A Literature of Suspicion: Critiques of 1950s Ideals in the American Roman Noir," a dissertation by Joshua Benjamin Lukin, 2003

Dick Macksey was the role model Josh mentioned most often to me, with H. Bruce Franklin a close second. I suppose what makes us think of someone as a "role model" or a "mentor" rather than simply "admirable" is validation-by-example of an ethos we would like to share once we've been assured that it's possible. And for those who succeed, descriptions of one's role model can conveniently be repurposed by others as a self-portrait.

Josh successfully lived as if the greatest of scholarly virtues, the primary impetus and guide which could not be sacrificed to convenience or time, was generosity. I'm told there are few higher-education jobs more draining than repeated first-year composition classes in an un-Ivied urban university, but year after year he gave his all to students. Almost half the longer pieces in his publications CV consist of interviews with non-canonical authors (and Josh Lukin was the Ernest Haller of interviewers). One of his two book credits comes from editing a collection of next-to-forgotten work from a writer better known as a mathematician; for the other, he edited a collection of essays about undercelebrated writings from an undercelebrated age. If he'd only labored over some first-time-into-English translations, he would have bullseyed every bullet point on the "Valuable Scholarly Work Which Will Not Advance Your Career" slide.

The virtue of "generosity" covers a wide and sometimes conflicting range, and its expressions are shaped by opportunity and need. (To put it more bluntly, Josh Lukin could not have reached into his shelves and handed anyone a first edition copy of Tristram Shandy although he could and did provide a year's worth of very welcome Donald Westlake recommendations.) In Josh's scholarly home turf of American studies (most often non-mainstream fiction, most often mid-20th-century), his characteristic expression turned away from both a Hermeneutics of Suspicion directed at naive-yet-safely-canonical Literature and the quietist or martial celebration of received wisdom, to demonstrate a Hermeneutics of Recovery and Acknowledgment which let suspicious Literature handle the Suspicion.

More broadly, he worked (and played) to break through the gated solipsism of those who conform to the hegemony du jour and the solitary confinement of those whose experiences or very existence have been denied:

But the taking of sides is not always the point: some of [Chandler] Davis's stories and essays rely on poetic force to evoke the understanding that to put it in propositional form “This state of feeling, or sequence of feelings, is possible and even common.’ A criterion for artistry and for radicalism in such a tactic is whether the statement is necessary and unusual: the pedagogy of feeling to which we are subjected every day by the clichéd and conservative discourse around us does not need more literature to reinforce it. Andrea Hairston has written, “Repetition is meaning. What we hear endlessly, goes without saying—is learned.” We need the tools to unlearn it, or to find affirmation of what we rarely hear validated; but we aren’t blessed with authoritative guides or methods for determining where poetic truth appears, or what manifestations of poetically shared feeling “further our understanding of ourselves and our society.” We must fall back upon our own rational faculties and our own moral imagination, with curiosity and compassion fueling our drive to connect with others.
- "Afterword: Alternatives to Reverence" from It Walks in Beautry
What artists, educators, performers, and historians can do for such movements is establish connections and continuities. If the hegemonic discourse reproduces itself by telling people with dissenting ideas that they are ridiculous, unhip, criminal, isolated, or mad, then any indication that they might be reasonable, aware, just, sane, and possessed of views that are shared by other people or were validated in other eras can help to build courage and conviction. Documenting what happens when shame is used as a mode of social control, when men are limited to a small repertoire of stereotypical roles, and when class is conflated with personal worth, the Literature of Suspicion can tell a receptive reader that a life such as his has been noticed or that her own suspicions that the dominant order's claims are false have been shared.
- "A Literature of Suspicion: Critiques of 1950s Ideals in the American Roman Noir"
Although I will in the remainder of this essay speak of having recognized familiar experiences in literature, I actually tend to feel that the text has recognized me rather than the reverse. And in being so recognized, I get, paradoxically, assured that responding, or having responded, with shame (or indeed with other intense affects) to past or ongoing experiences may not in fact be shameful.
- "Science Fiction, Affect, and Crip Self-Invention Or, How Philip K. Dick Made Me Disabled"

To my suggestion that Josh go public with his particularly acute critique of a then-trendy bit of poisonous rhetoric:

But right now, getting X *more* talked-about seems to me to be as desirable as a fistula (Asking Delany for his thoughts on the guy was a strategy for getting more Delanyan thinking into the world, not more reflections on X per se). You know me --I wunna call attention to as-yet insufficiently celebrated scholarship (among which I count Hoberek's book) or promote the creation of critical work that circumnavigates the Usual Cliches. Or, you know, get more sleep.
- correspondence, 2005
What's at stake here for me is that I would kind of like to say "These authors I have interviewed provide us with tools to rebut, or see through, or assert our dignity in the face of, or ignore, the toxic fantasies of X, Y, and Z" 'cause one is supposed to have a theory as to what theme holds one's work together. I hope my argument ends up having advantages beyond the fact that I know about irony. I'll have to engage Landy's "Nation of Bovarys," I guess; but surely we all see our own insufficiencies and plunge into bovarysm in order to escape the condemnation which, deep in our consciousness, we are the first and perhaps the only ones to make.
- correspondence, 2011

* * *

Present-day curators of American higher education in America set high value on "generosity" among the donor class but otherwise maybe not so much, and the freshly doctorated Josh Lukin duly became a contingent employee with a teaching load which discouraged extended research, writing, or publisher stalking. Chronically short on time, and showing caution appropriate to the academic precariat (as well as caution appropriate to the reader of Patricia Highsmith), Josh reduced his weblog to un-Waybackable ash long ago, and kept his Facebook account on lockdown more often than not. His latter-day academic publications include book reviews, reference-book entries, and a few historically-informed pedagogically-slanted close readings. All of them excellent jobs; all of them informative, convincing, and true to his own values. At least one of the reference entries has won an impressive citation list in its own right.

But such material requires some fading-into-the-background, and few hold much of Lukin's distinctive voice.

Most obviously (and understandably) missing are the puns. Josh perceived a world of whirling nimbuses of potential pun, where a quiver of displacement might at any moment discharge a cackling flash too loud and bright to ignore.

Then there was his affection for a mostly-vanished mode of mid-century secular American Jewishness; in one phone conversation with Josh, I would hear more Yiddish than from my year in Brooklyn. Like other drops from approved diction into "down home" idioms, it played a tutoyer role, and as such sometimes made a guest appearance in his interviews.

Most crucially, his academic publications muted the unique virtue of his wit, which somehow contrived to be engagingly genial even when furious or despairing. When he stung, he left a sting worth attending. You might gather some notion from his Chandler Davis afterword, and "Science Fiction, Affect, and Crip Self-Invention," and, less formally, from his Aqueduct Press self-bio. Although his dissertation is officially unpublished and (like virtually all contemporary literary-studies dissertations) modularized for easy cannibalization, and has in fact been partly cannibalized, it also coheres and builds, which makes me suspect that extended Lukin may be the best Lukin.

For that reason, I've kept close and frustrated track of the book-length projects he's mentioned over the years: a collection of his "interviews with feminist authors"; "Noir Recognitions, a study of identity in the 1950s novels of Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson, and Philip Dick"; and, most intriguingly, "an unpublished draft of a memoir (Urgency: Growing Up with Crohn’s Disease)." Maybe someday, someday... well, a fan-boy can dream, can't he?

* * *

The Josh Lukin I knew was deeper, wider, and funnier than the academically-published Dr. Joshua B. Lukin, but still not quite Josh complet. I know from hearsay that he, like me, loved to eat, loved face-to-face conversation, and exhibited a disconcerting tendency to burst into song (myself in chants which echo Michael Hordern's, Josh [I imagine] in a Melchiorisch heldentenor accompanied by Segovian guitar). But residing 2800 miles apart and on very different career tracks, we (and Ann Keefer, his partner in all things) met only once in the flesh (being flesh, we of course immediately dined), and the late hours of our phone calls discouraged outbursts which might startle sleepy cats.

Still, it was Josh Lukin enough to fill a satisfying portion of my life. Long after the bulk of free-and-direct discourse retreated from the spooky public sphere into Mark'n'Jack's ClickLike Clubhouse, he continued to engage with an uncredentialed unknown non-academic who (true to form) could not conceivably advance anyone's career a whit. For sixteen years, through mutually inflicted bafflements, bruisings, and boosts, he was my most reliable correspondent, and for sixteen years he instigated my most extended and educational phone calls, punctuated by his signature placeholder, "What, can, I, say...," intoned with the delighted perplexity of a sated gourmet faced by another platter of amuse-bouches. Despite being given the advantage of a four-hour time difference, I'm such an early-rising geezer I sometimes found myself unable to even take notes during the last part of these calls, and wished I'd asked permission to record them for later listening.

(Timmi Duchamp maintained an even longer and closer epistolary/telephonic friendship. I wonder how many more of us are out there?)

Josh always suffered from greater or even-greater health problems, and they worsened this year, interfering not only with his work but with his and Ann's preparations to relocate. In mid-July he phoned to tell me that diagnostic progress had finally been made and a biopsy had been scheduled, and he figured I might be able to say something more than "We will keep you in our thoughts and prayers." I did so; he did so; we enjoyed ourselves but grew fatigued, as a sleepy old guy and a mortally ill guy will. Before we hung up I asked him to phone me again next week with the results of his biopsy, then thoughtlessly added, "We'll be thinking of you." I quickly apologized for violating our contract, at which he just as quickly chortled, "Like Oscar Wilde said, heh, the only thing worse than being thought about is not being thought about."

I didn't hear back from him the next week but wasn't surprised no matter what course of treatment he was prescribed, he and Ann would also be busy with their move.

Early on Sunday morning, July 28, I saw an obituary for Richard Macksey in the Washington Post, and sent a short email to Josh expressing condolences and asking about the biopsy. Late on Sunday night, I realized it had been a while since I checked on Facebook inhabitants, briefly logged in, and found that Josh had died two nights before.

He would've mocked my sentimentality with relish (with mustard, even), but Josh meant the world to me I know he did because the ground beneath me vanished when I read the news and free-fall makes me clingy. I hope this Sondheim number is sardonic enough to pass muster (and the mustard) with his memory.


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.