. . . Salon

. . .

On the other hand, anything that publishes a profile of Mister Rogers can't be all bad. Unless it's Readers Digest. Or TV Guide. OK, it can be all bad. But Mister Rogers can't be.

Sadly, Salon's editors missed the exciting link between Mister Rogers and the Alfred Hitchcock Centennial: Fred Rogers attended Florida's Rollins College at the same time as Mister-Rogers-lookalike Tony Perkins. "I had a piano in my room because I was a composition major, and Tony used to stop by and play every once in a while," says Mister Rogers. They co-starred in a school production of The Madwoman of Chaillot; some years later, they met in Manhattan and threw paper airplanes off a roof. "I wish that we'd been able to stay close after that. But his was a very different life from the one I had chosen."

+ + +

Bosley Crowther, thou shouldst be living at this hour: Never trust a guy who says that High Noon is a masterpiece.

Actually, it's kind of nice to know that even the current generation is capable of producing a movie pundit who's script-happy and film-blind. And it makes sense that he'd find a home at Salon, which, with help from Gene-Shalit-on-'ludes Charles Taylor and mirror-lensed Camille Paglia, is starting to make the New York Times look like Cahiers du cinéma.

. . .

Finishing off my week of Salon-bashing: Mr. Delany read at Modern Times Bookstore last Tuesday to publicize the dual release of polemic Times Square Red, Times Square Blue and (very) graphic novel Bread and Wine, the story of Mr. Delany's now ten-years-solid romance with a formerly homeless man. A fine performance, and Mr. Delany looked downright rosy, but he had a few pointedly bemused remarks for the reviewer who asked, "What have these two impossibly unlike men spent the past decade talking about?"

Now anyone who wonders that can't have lived with someone for any length of time. Living together doesn't depend on intellectual discussions. It's more a matter of "Who'll do the laundry?" and "How was your day?"....

. . .

In production: The recent news that Christopher Walken will star in a musical version of James Joyce's "The Dead" made me thankful once again that Dubliners hasn't gotten the Andrew Lloyd Webber treatment.

Picture the second act curtain: Bernadette Peters in old(er)-age makeup bellowing "I Dreamt That I Dwelt in Marble Halls" to a lambada beat while the Titanic hoists gigantic sail for Buenos Ayres....

On the other hand, Joyce's much-expressed love of cornball music would give Randy Newman a shot at his best Disney score yet, albeit at the cost of turning all the characters into mice:

Conley ran his tongue swiftly along his twitching pink nose.

-- O, the real cheese, you know....

. . .

Headlines for a New Society: It's not news till it's in Salon.

. . .

Movie comment: Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.

Though Errol Morris has a nose for good stories, the smooth 1000-Strings-stylings of his bigger-budgeted recent movies haven't helped 'em along. They're constantly being interrupted by ads for themselves.

Through the first half of Mr. Death, I thought the perfect match for Morris's weirdly inflationary-but-insulting mannerisms had finally been found in Fred Leuchter. A completely transparent guy with jaw-droppingly clueless aplomb who loves to pose and play-act, Leuchter is a character worthy of a Kurt Vonnegut novel at least, maybe even a Nathanael West novel. The camera loves him like the ax loves the turkey.

From the Shoah-like trains that carted condemned men to the prison where Leuchter's father worked, all through Leuchter's own long and geekily proud career in improving the efficiency of death machines, I was thinking, yes, this is the best American movie ever made about the Holocaust, the only possible American movie about the Holocaust: one which shows how such an operation might find willing just-do-it workers among us regular narrow-minded free-thinking down-home never-admit-a-mistake American folks.

Well, it was the best American movie about the Holocaust till it got to the Holocaust-denial material, anyway. 'Cause then Morris started flailing, dragging in a chorus of disapproval and filming them like a VH-1 production of a PBS pledge drive. I guess he was afraid that he hadn't done a good enough job of letting Leuchter and Co. undercut themselves. Unfortunately, in a movie so focused on smug pomposity, hellfire sermons to the choir aren't likely to sway the unbeliever's sympathy.

Enjoy the Show Not that I'm against attacks on neo-Nazis. But Morris's style is kinder to bare fact than to strong opinion, which is why his most effective hostile witness is the chemist who unknowingly analyzed Leuchter's wall samples -- a genuinely scientific counterweight to Leuchter's amateurish investigator -- and why I wish he could've included the forensic analyses made in 1945 and the surefire laugh-getter that the building we saw Leuchter scraping so many of those wall samples from wasn't an original gas chamber at all but a reconstruction built after WWII. Instead we got a debate between one guy with an accent saying "This is an outrage!" and another guy with an accent saying "This is an outrage!"

A pity about the fumble, then (as David Irving might say about the Russian Campaign), but there's still a great story rolling under the interruptions. Leuchter continues to astound, and so do his new friends, most irresistably that Canucknut Mephistopheles, Ernst Zündel, who seems to remind just everyone of The Producers' Franz Liebkind....

. . .

I forget how I found the Art Fein site, but anyone this mean to Ann Powers is OK by me! Fein is kind of like a rockabilly version of Paul Williams: short on analysis but high on life and America and, of course, their offspring, Elvis.

Which puts me in mind of that old Elvisphage, Lester Bangs, who just got a new biography aimed at him. Since Bangs's own writing already covered everything of any possible interest that ever happened to him (plus a whole lot more), publishing a second collection seems like a better idea than having some other guy come in and paraphrase, but I guess that's not the way publishers think. Definitely the way that publishers do think is to have a Trouser Press editor write about Bangs's life, which is like Abe Rosenthal writing about I. F. Stone, or -- I was gonna say a zoo keeper writing about the monkeys, but sometimes those zoo keepers are pretty insightful.

. . .

If there are any feminist scholars out there who're getting tired of Lacan (phallus phorphend!), they might consider directing their female gaze toward a new edition of Clover Hooper Adams's letters. The only existing collection was published in 1936 and practices, I suspect, something less than full disclosure. Since then, she's gotten a biography, a splashy supporting role in a group biography, and a scurrilous novel, but what's really called for with such an articulate woman is easier access to the primary documents. Otherwise wilfull ignorance like that displayed by some talking heads I saw recently who said that she probably contributed details of fashion and furnishings to the anonymous novel Esther (actually, her husband was much more obsessed with exterior and interior decoration -- "We shall instruct her. She dresses badly," he wrote to a friend about his then fiancée -- while Clover was the household member who could read Greek) too easily continues to work its will.

Besides heading up the nearest thing Washington ever had to an intellectual salon, Hooper Adams was an excellent portrait photographer and a notorious wit; no less finnicky an observer than Henry James considered her one of the most brilliant minds in America, a "Voltaire in petticoats," although his repectful tone wasn't returned in kind:

"At the same minute came Portrait of a Lady, which the author kindly sent me. It's very nice, and charming things in it, but I'm aging fast and prefer what Sir Walter called the 'big bow-wow style.' I shall suggest to Mr. James to name his next novel Ann Eliza.... he chaws more than he bites off."

"Apropos of Jesse, I had a letter from Henry James, Jr., written Tuesday at midnight on the eve of sailing. He wished, he said, his last farewell to be said to me as I seemed to him 'the incarnation of my native land.' Am I then vulgar, dreary, and impossible to live with?"

. . .

The reigning mistress of the cartoony cartoon, Nina Paley, finally has a website with an extensive archive. No matter how cranky her scripts, Paley's bendy bouncy lines imbue anything they surround with Funny! -- even a syndicated cat-and-dog strip.

On the far scratchy end of the spectrum, you probably don't need me to tell you this, but the best thing that Salon's ever done or ever will do is to publish Lynda Barry's utterly gorgeous "One Hundred Demons" in color more lustrous than paper can afford.

. . .

Proving again that it's the teller that makes the story, one of my favorite storytellers, Martha Soukup, is telling a story I didn't think I had the slightest interest in. Thus I favorably notice Salon twice in one week. Is this what mellowing feels like?

. . .

Doug Asherman queries: "Here's something probably no one cares about, there a conspiracy to hide all the good music from us? And the good books? Are people in the arts laughing at us for buying their crap? And if so, what can we do about it?"


Disclaimer: Ray Davis is a paid contributor to The Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors.
Despite my familiarity with Salon, I was surprised by the Reader's Guide. It's like stooping to pick up what looks like an ordinary mediocre valise only to find that it's been packed full of mediocre lead bricks. According to the official mission statement, "We decided to let our contributors' enthusiasm and curiosity be our guides." These guides would seem to share one enthusiasm (the New York Times Book Review), one curiosity (what's on the front page of the New York Times Book Review?), and one path (to the trade paperback table at Borders).

I'm hardly a specialist in late-twentieth-century fiction, but if I'd wanted to provide a service to readers I would've found room for Joanna Russ, Patricia Highsmith, Chester Himes, Carol Emshwiller, Jack Womack, Bob Gluck, Barbara Comyns, Thomas Disch, Alexander Trocchi, Wendy Walker, M. John Harrison, Pat Califia, John Crowley, would've asked someone to tell me more about Patrick O'Brian and Dorothy Dunnett....

In fact the book includes only two authors that really matter to me: Karen Joy Fowler (given a short entry) and Samuel R. Delany (a short entry). Broadening my selection to writers I merely respect would add Elmore Leonard (a short entry) and Toni Morrison (a long entry, because she publishes in the mainstream genre) to the overlap.

And it's not because I haven't heard of the book's choices, which are beautifully (if unintentionally) parodied by John Updike's inset guide to "Timeless Novels about Loving," apparently repurposed from TV Guide:
"Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert - A young bourgeois wife seeks spiritual and sexual fulfillment away from the marital bed and runs grievously into debt."

"The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne - Among the Puritan pioneers of Boston, a promising clergyman falls afoul of a dark-haired protofeminist and her wizardly older husband."

Yeah, my list is idiosyncratic. An idiosyncratic list is what you'd expect to get from a serious pleasure reader. Whereas the Guide is what you'd expect to get from a serious follower of publicity.

The depersonalized author selection ensembles beautifully with the reviewers' khaki prose. Dumbed down for ease of swallowing, it's the house style of virtually every free weekly paper: "authority" and "irreverence" and "wittiness" depilated of information or personality or humor. Journalistic blatherers used to flatter their readership by pretending it was full of good taste and morality while somehow simultaneously dumb as a stump. Nowadays the readership's still dumb as a stump yet somehow full of detached ironic wit.

Thus it makes sense that the only writer given full stylistic rein is "Pagliacci Dave" Eggers, who ends his celebrity roast of Kurt Vonnegut:

"So. Vonnegut is good. If you like books, and like to read them even if they are easy to read and frequently funny, you will like the work of Kurt Vonnegut, a writer. Also: He has a moustache."
Robert Benchley, move over! ... Or roll over. Do something, man! ... Guess he's dead.
Even John Clute, one of the most eccentric stylists ever to write a review, is sanded down to transparency here. Which is extra sad, since his argument against the tyranny of the "mainstream literary" genre lances so precisely the core of this book. Restricting yourself to mainstream fiction in the late twentieth century is like restricting yourself to heroic tragedy after 1650. The mainstream's just not where good writing is being done. Unless you crave watery flavorless writing.
How did this awful thing happen? One clue may be found in the opening of the entry for Angela Carter:
"Carter enjoyed little renown during her life, but after her death...."
"Little renown"? Say what? Angela Carter? The only way I can make sense of this is to translate it as "I wasn't assigned Carter in high school and I didn't read the New York Review of Books back then, but after I graduated...." An editor should've caught the gaffe, but since an editor wrote it, it was probably immune.
Someone on the staff did make time, though, to reduce my already undistinguished sentence:
"An early devotee of poststructuralist and feminist theory, Delany in 1979 began Return to Nevèrÿon, an archeological fantasy series that was to occupy him on and off through the 1980s."
to complete nonsense by deleting "in 1979." Maybe someone in the publishing business could clear this up for me: Are copyeditors paid more for adding lots of mistakes to a manuscript, like programmers whose productivity is measured by lines-of-code? Or do they fuck things up out of sheer gotta-leave-my-mark egotism, like programmers who work nights and weekends?
Another clue: from what I can gather, my topic was originally assigned to a friend of the editors who decided only when the deadline was nigh that it was too hard to finish the research. These aren't enthusiasts trying to communicate their enthusiams: they're a clique trying to act like grown-ups.

From the mission statement:
"We encouraged our contributors to think of you, the reader, as an intelligent, interested friend or relative who'd just asked, 'So tell me about John Updike. What are his books like?'"
I find it unlikely that your auntie would be asking you such a thing unless she was checking how well you'd learned your lessons.
What we got here is not just smugness, but downright noisy celebration of shared limited knowledge. It's like that guy in the museum painstakingly explaining every perfectly obvious thing to his wife. It's like my geeky friends parroting TV shows. It's what they teach you to do in school. And it's what makes a successful journalism career. critics are they who seek to enjoy, without incurring the Immense Debtorship for, a thought thunk.

See Also: Anyone who enjoys this crap should probably seek out the opinions of more journalists. Those intrigued by my crackpot theories can find them expressed more calmly in a 1998 response to Jonathan Lethem.

Ray Davis will be appearing with other contributors to The Readers Guide to Contemporary Authors at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco, Thursday, September 14, 7:30pm.

. . .

"a specialized shop, department of a store, etc., usu. catering to fashionable clients"

On Best Behavior Pamphleteer Juliet Clark writes:

Re the Guide to Feeling Hip Because You've Heard of John Updike:

I'd like to point out that Eggers misspelled "aficionado," and the copyeditor didn't catch it.

I think your copyediting/programming analogy is apt in a lot of ways. In fact the whole Salon Guide reminds me to a painful degree of startup culture: young people who won't be young much longer demanding to be taken seriously for not being serious; seeking the Big Time while clinging to a fantasy of countercultural identity; using strained irony, self-created urgency, and an excess of spin to mask a fundamental laziness.

All I can suggest is that you sell your author copy and use the money to buy a good book. Wouldn't that be, like, "ironic"?

And David Auerbach weighs in more fatalistically:
I do think that the Salon guide fills a void. We currently have no one to tell us which of the many, many idiomatically similar novels are the real thing and which are the product of overheated middle-class ramblings. The academics can't be bothered with it, since they're too busy keeping their own little flame alive. People like Lewis Lapham hate it all, and people like Michiko Kakutani are either indiscriminate (if you agree with them more often than not) or too harsh (vice versa), and they lack consensus-building skills. The remainder of the book-reviewing populace don't have enough credibility to be reliable. So I think contemporary mainstream book reviews, if there's a strong enough drive to hold people's interest, will go the way of movie reviews and devolve into capsule reviews, top ten lists, and "personality-based" reviewers. I don't think I can blame anyone for this process; it just happens when the collective standards of the producers and the consumers are low enough that the work being produced becomes undifferentiated.

Consequently, tho, Carol Emshwiller will certainly be ignored, and even someone like Disch, who has needed to work his material into ostensible potboilers for the last 20 years. There is a need for something of a unified conception, and Carol Emshwiller may as well be Les Blank for all they care. (Which might make Michael Brodsky Kenneth Anger.) There definitely is a "celebration of shared limited knowledge", but who were the Salon editors to deny those who looked towards them for guidance?

Oh, I don't really blame the Salon editors; I imagine it's pretty hard to resist the temptation to milk the cash cow when it's looking up at you with those big brown eyes. I just wish I hadn't seen the result. And I probably wouldn't have if the usual uncentrifugeable muddle of curiosity, vanity, and sense of responsibility hadn't talked me into becoming a contributor.... Being a critic, of course, although I blame myself, I attack them.

If Auerbach's right about the editors' ambitions, the match was doomed a priori, since I'm even less of a consensus-builder than Michiko Kakutani. (Case in point: For the last twenty years every single time I've tried to read the NYTBR I've ended up throwing it across the room, and so I didn't even recognize her name.) When it comes to art, I don't see that consensus is necessary, or even desirable. That's probably what attracts me to the subject: I wouldn't be so exclusively an aesthete if I were a more enthusiastic politician.

One clarification / pettifoggery as regards "personality-based" reviewing: It's true that I believe a critic can only speak as an individual, and that criticism is most useful when individual works receive close attention as individual works. That means that I consider generalities issued from a presumed position of consensus to be bad criticism. It doesn't mean that I consider class-clown-ism a guarantee of good criticism. In my tantrum I emphasized voice because voice was being emphasized by the book's publicity and reviews, but what really set me off was the 400-page-long lack of new insight into individual works: a generic free-weekly voice was just the means to that dead end.

In my own practice I use an overtly performative voice only because I have to. When I attempt a detached tone, I become too stumble-footedly self-conscious to move; when I do the jutht a darn-fool duck shtick, life seems better. That's a personality flaw, not a deliberate choice. Behind the Dionysian mask, I'm ogling those Apollonians plenty: I empathize with Jean-Luc Godard's film criticism but I'm in awe of Eric Rohmer's; Lester Bangs is a role model but I'd be so much more uncomplicatedly proud of something like Stephen Ratcliffe's Campion; my favorite Joycean is eyes-on-the-page Fritz Senn; my favorite historian is no-see-um Henry Adams; I loathe the bluster of Harold Bloom and Camille Paglia....

What matters is whether you communicate anything of what you see. If you don't have to keep twitching and waving and yelling "Hi, Mom!" while you do it, all the better.

. . .

David Auerbach economically adds to our belly-down crawl around the thundering canon:

Can I make a simplifying statement that the missing element may be some sense of equanimity?

And speaking of which, please give Mr. Lethem a medal for his Salon Premium plug of today. He made better of a thankless task than I'd thought possible. His bait-and-switch of "It's not just that, but it's nothing more!" is some sort of inspiration.

Last, all I need from a novel is here.

For myself, it's wonderful to discover that, thanks to Salon Premium, I am now refusing to support Camille Paglia! (Admittedly, this is one of those "speaking prose all my life" thrills, but a thrill's a thrill.) On top of which, I can also actively not shore up the tottering incomes of Salon's CEO, editors, movie reviewers, and so on. Talk about win-win!

My attitude towards subscription might be a little old-fashioned, though, since I don't subscribe to newspapers but I was glad to throw some money toward the NosePilot kid and I'd be glad to pay Lynda Barry directly for her watercolors. What galls are the extravagently wasteful layers of plastic and cardboard pimping that wrap the product. The web doesn't need prejudging editors so much as postfacto pointers, and the web doesn't need high-salaried executives or designers at all. What the web (still) needs is a reliable way to handle genuinely micro micropayments and a reliable way to protect creators from being bankrupted by unexpectedly popular creations.

More than anything else, the Web means low-cost publishing with fast wide distribution. It's therefore not surprising that the Web is dominated by the sorts of publications that have traditionally only been held in check by cost or distribution worries:
  • Academic research
  • Fanzines and other publications created "for the love of it," including reprints of rare, low-interest material
  • Ego-driven essays, diaries, and artwork
  • Small press fiction and poetry
  • Non-marketing-driven comics
  • Publicity and advertising
  • Retail catalogs
  • Community resource guides
  • Public services, such as transportation reports and weather forecasts
  • Industry-specific magazines that are usually distributed for free
Since the Web is in essence low-cost, it's very hard for any given publisher to fight against that essence by seeking extra payment from its audience. Gross costs can be reduced by moving to the Web, but gross income is unlikely to appear. Thus, subscription services have only succeeded when they maintain fairly tight control over a much-desired service that could not be gotten elsewhere as easily: the fetishes of stock-market players and pornography addicts have proven particularly ripe for exploitation. On the other hand, a standard newspaper, magazine, or TV-style sitcom won't have much of a shot at bargain-hunting Web surfers' cash.

-- from Web Design Resources Directory, 1997, thus partly excusing the use of "surfers"

The dreadful commingling of the overpriced software industry and overpriced entertainment industry loaded huge amounts of unnecessary cost onto a model kept afloat till now mostly by inflated valuation and partly by advertising. Advertising alone can't come close to maintaining it. Good riddance in the long run, but in the short run, the tumbling mountains of garbage are, as is their wont, sweeping lots of great stuff away.

Services I would gladly pay to keep alive simply vanish without being given a chance, their wanna-be-like-the-big-guy owners using the same reasoning by which corporations are supressing the history of cinema: the copyright holders, not caring about what they hold copyright on, consider the cost-to-benefit ratio of giving permission too high to deal with. (You have to hire someone to give permission; you don't need to hire anyone at all to ignore requests. Suing for infringement, of course, is always worth the money.)

Instead of archiving and cataloging their own work, writers depend on crash-by-night magazines to collect and maintain material, when the realities of both print and online publication is that magazines work, at best, as initial publicity. Comics artists waste time on brain-dead Flash loops when they could be making full-color serials. Newspapers, rather than storing their articles as highly compressible dirt-simple text and collecting the small fees that would be otherwise fed to library photocopying machines, are closing access, increasing "reprint" costs to unrealistic levels, and publishing more material on expensive paper than on cheap diskspace.

After its jerrybuilt business district finishes collapsing, the web may find itself only set back five years or so. But even in the midst of the swirling dust, there are encouraging signs. Weblogging seems to have already spread to zine scene levels, without paper zines' constraints on further growth. And there are finally signs that some academics are ready to push against the utterly unnecessary waste of traditional journal publication....

. . .

On May 16, 2001, Ruthie's Double pointed out that online serial publishing is subject to the same sort of fallacious interpretation as online advertising. Rather than deal with the shock of the uniquely accurate evidence of viewer engagement that web monitoring allows, advertisers and blockbustin' authors prefer to retreat to their established fantasy worlds -- after all, they couldn't be so rich if they weren't so right....

It's conceivable that way less than 75% of the people who read his traditional print books actually pay for the experience. They borrow the book from friends, check it out from public libraries, etc....

There's no statistics as to how many people purchase, but stop reading Stephen King's books after the first chapter (I know I probably would). Perhaps the people who paid for the first chapter had stopped feeling like it was worthwhile to pay until the story got better....

It's as if the first Nielsen ratings resulted in all the television networks shutting down in a fit of pique.

. . .

There but for the grace of a slush pile reader go I

I was saved from this guy's fate by having sent my query letter while they still had decent writers at the National Lampoon and didn't need skinny teenage morons to do anything except buy the magazine and masturbate to the ads once in a while (the 1970s version of "click through").

Speaking of the old Lampoon, I see that its most famous advertising slogan has been stolen by Tom Tomorrow for the punchline to his Salon advertisement, but fuck if I'm gonna link to it.

. . .

I sent this letter before I read about the increasing use of the DMCA as a convenient way to suppress web sites (link via BookNotes) without the bother of legal justification: a particularly clear example of the DMCA stripping rights away from US citizens and draping them around well-padded corporate shoulders.

Dear Senator Feinstein:

In recent news coverage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, I read the following quote from "Howard Gantman, a spokesman for Feinstein": "We need to protect copyrights and this law was designed to do that."

I find this attitude deeply troubling. Copyright was already well-established law, and laws are meant to be enforced, not protected. Human beings need to be defended and protected; laws do not, except in so far as legislators may try to defend a particular law against other legislators in debate.

If there's one common theme to the Bill of Rights, it's the need to protect American citizens from such "preventative" legislation. There's no doubt that police officers and public prosecutors would sometimes more easily enforce the law if those amendments, and other troublesome parts of the Constitution, could be conveniently dropped. But if those provisions did not exist, much too much added power would be gained by the wealthy and politically powerful at the expense of the relatively powerless. Our Constitutional protections help level the legal playing field.

The DMCA is a classic example of the kind of legislation that citizens need protection from:

  • It is based on a presumption by the powerful (large corporations) that the relatively powerless (the individual purchaser) is the guilty party in any dispute.

  • It specially privileges the rights of the wealthy (who can buy into patented encryption and distribution methods) over the rights of the less wealthy human beings who actually do the work of creating what corporate lawyers like to call "intellectual property" but who are unlikely to be able to afford the extra layer of protection.

  • In the name of protecting copyright and preventing piracy, it criminalizes human beings who have never themselves violated copyright or committed piracy.

Public domain and fair use are always under attack by large media companies, but defense of those concepts is absolutely essential to the cultural health and heritage of a nation. Profitability is the only rule that can be followed by a publicly-held corporation, but there are reasons besides profitability for making our culture and history available. (To take an example of special interest to California, much American film history will be forever lost over the next few decades: films deteriorate, inaccessible, in vaults because the multinational corporations which own them do not see sufficient profitability in making them accessible to the public.) Those non-profit-oriented reasons don't have a chance without public domain and fair use.

But the DMCA assumes that the best way to avoid disputes over public domain and fair use is to guarantee absolute power to the large media companies.

There is no requirement that a digitally protected work automatically unprotect itself once its content enters into the public domain.

There is no requirement for fair use workarounds to digital protection. On the contrary, even investigating such a workaround is criminalized.

There is no way for the consumer and scholar to protect themselves against the industry-driven shifts in media technology fashion which seem to take place every decade or so. To take another example from American film history, several of the great early sound movies of Ernst Lubitsch have never been released on VHS tape or on DVD, due to lack of anticipated profitability. They were, however, released briefly in the now-obsolete laserdisk format. Laserdisk players are getting rarer and more expensive, and will someday will be virtually unattainable. Purchasers of the Lubitsch laserdisks -- film schools, for example -- are able to preserve their investment by backing them up to another media format. If those disks had been copy-protected, the movies contained on them would effectively be lost to the public. Similarly, if 78 RPM records could have been copy-protected, there would be little left of the early history of jazz or blues by the time copyright restrictions ran out. Only the most consistently profitable works can survive such technological shifts.

There is no consumer protection against profit-gouging deals between large corporations. An early target of DMCA enforcers was software that allows DVDs to be played on the Linux operating system. Microsoft was able to cut a deal with the relevant media corporations, and thus gain extra leverage against any competitor; Linux, as a free operating system, could not. Should the manufacturer of a copy of a fifty-year-old movie really be given so much influence over the purchaser's home computer setup? Again, the DMCA criminalizes consumer protection.

Defense of our legal rights against the arbitrary rule of the powerful is what we look to our senators and representatives for. I believe that history will judge the DMCA as harshly as McCarthyism and the Alien and Sedition Acts. I urge the Senator to reconsider her support of this unjust and destructive legislation.

Ray Davis

. . .


Although the New York Times Book Review still hasn't printed a Carol Emshwiller cover story, it has at least printed a Kelly Link recommendation (courtesy of Salon's Andrew O'Hehir). Good on 'em!

In fact, it's getting so you can't swing a copy of stranger things happen without hitting a Salon employee. All the more reason to buy a copy!

. . .


Today Samuel R. Delany is 60 years old.

Delany more than any other writer of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century is truly dedicated to and efficacious in building better American citizens, and so this should really be a national holiday and Delany himself subsidized as a national treasure -- with a PBS documentary series, and statues in every city, and appropriate selections publicly taught at each grade level -- it's not like he would stop writing; on the contrary, he would be able to write much more -- but the USA doesn't tend to do such things, so I recommend in default that everyone who reads this go to their nearest bookstore and buy as many Samuel R. Delany books as they can afford and, should they be a Hollywood producer, also buy a good many Samuel R. Delany film rights, and that way maybe he would still be able to write much more. (ATTN Will Smith's agent: The Motion of Light in Water is the EPIC SAGA of a GENERATION shown via the TRUE STORY of a GENIUS who TRIUMPHANTLY OVERCOMES a NERVOUS BREAKDOWN! OSCAR OSCAR OSCAR)

I wanted to find a good summation statement from Delany's out-of-print work to stick here, but even when pressed he tends not to waste time summing up his own work, so here's what I wrote for The Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors, although editorial requirements forced me to sorely constrict myself on the nonfiction and the mainstream fiction and actually pretty much on everything:

An ambitious autodidact in the grand tradition, Samuel R. Delany has been called the "most individual of America's individualist writers." For four decades and in a half-dozen genres, Delany has outraged and comforted readers with formally innovative, determinedly eclectic, and uniquely heartfelt work.

Kathy Acker described his fiction as "a conversation between you and Samuel Delany about the possibilities of being human." Unlike many exploiters of "transgression," Delany seems driven by the desire to honestly communicate previously unspoken human experience; even his grungiest material is surprisingly warm in tone. As William Gibson wrote, "I remember being simply and frequently grateful to Delany for so powerfully confirming that certain states had ever been experienced at all, by anyone."

Delany's early work exuberantly cross-bred space opera conventions with linguistic theory, female starship commanders, sexual triads, sword-wielding Orphic avatars, artist-criminals, pop culture, and the emotional complexities of sadomasochism. This phase ended in 1968 with the publication of his super-science swashbuckler Nova and the writing of his first pornographic novel, the Grand Guignol fantasy Equinox.

After a long silence, Delany re-emerged in the mid-1970s with three startling novels: Hogg (unpublished until 1995), a clear-eyed depiction of professional rapists and sexual exploitation of children, and perhaps the most effectively offensive work in American literature; Dhalgren, the portrait of a bisexual drifter in a late 1960s city, and a massive hybrid of era-summarizing ambition, hyper-naturalist technique, science fictional motifs, poetics, urban gangs, and structuralist theory; and Trouble on Triton, an "ambiguous heterotopia" which seamlessly blends interplanetary warfare, Jamesian character-determined prose, and feminist satire while describing a blond hetero hero's imagined victories and true defeats.

An early devotee of poststructuralist and feminist theory, Delany published in 1979 the first volume of his archeological fantasy series Return to Nevèrÿon, a "Child's Garden of Semiotics" (complete with slave revolts,women warriors, dragons, bondage, an alternative Genesis, and the invention of writing) that was to occupy him on and off through the next ten years. The disarmingly straightforward approach of the series contrasted with 1984's rococo Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, a tragedy of intercultural-interspecies communication and sexuality which remains to date Delany's last science fiction novel.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Delany devoted himself to criticism, autobiography, and studies of interracial and interclass urban relations. Often the strains are intertwined, as in The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction in the East Village, a beautiful and moving account of the early 1960s. The effect of AIDS on the sexual cultures and industries of Manhattan became a focal point in Delany's writing with the fantasy-journalism layering of "The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals," and continuing in his pornographic mystery The Mad Man (in which a young African-American scholar finds true love with a homeless redneck and true satisfaction with a considerably wider range of partners), and in a forthcoming book on Times Square.

. . .

Results of Tonight's Literary Salon Discussion of Recent Proofreading Jobs

  1. Science fiction blockbuster proposal (by Lisa Goldstein, David Cleary, & Ray Davis):
    The Viscous Circle - Enslaved humankind suffers under the alien yolk!

  2. Obituary (by Lisa Goldstein, Darrend Brown, & Ray Davis):
    I first met John Doe forty years ago. At that time, I was an unknown struggling young writer fresh from the sticks and green as grass. But soon afterwards I learned proper story construction and bought a second-hand dictionary. I walked with corrected posture and a spring in my step, and I stopped wearing ties that clashed with my suit. Many novels were published. Many were treated kindly. And today I can look back with pride and satisfaction and with no little affection for that unpolished young man.

    Yes, this indeed was John Doe.

. . .

Make the voices stop

At a similar literary salon about, oh, maybe seven or eight years ago, the favorite first lines game was played, and I quickly realized that I didn't have any.

Partly that's because so much of my favorite writing occurred before the late-twentieth-century vogue for hooky opening sentences; partly it's because I dislike that vogue, which will seem as eccentically simplistic to future readers as an earlier era's focus on moments of moral sublimity seems to us. Grabbing the reader by her arm and yanking seems a rude way to initiate a conversation, and when I remember particularly enthralling beginnings, I remember their structural effects rather than the wording of sentence one: the early and peculiar disappearance of Madame Bovary's initial narrator, for example. (Back at that salon, the only opening line I could recall right off was a condensed version of the Bovary gambit, as played by Beckett in Mercier and Camier: "The journey of Mercier and Camier is one I can tell, if I will, for I was with them all the time." The rest of the book being I-less.)

On the other extremity, I'm a sucker for endings that snap close with a satisfying click, and I recall (and re-read) a good many last lines, with special fondness for those whose persistent startle ripples backward through the entire work, restructuring it retrospectively into something far richer than one had even dared to hope for as one kicked joyfully up surfacewards holding one's perfectly timed-to-the-last-page breath.

(Oddly, few of the examples I'm about to offer really count as "spoilers": to understand their defiance of expectations, one must have developed those expectations in the first place. The truly itchy can feel free to request story-wrecking explanations from me.)

Such an ending is more likely to speed the traveller on with a slamming of the door than with a gentle swinging to, treating readerly expectations so aggressively that they could almost be called rebuttals to their own books. (Ulysses is one such rebuff after another.) Closure is, after and above all, a refusal of further story.

Trouble no quiet, kind heart; leave sunny imaginations hope. Let it be theirs to conceive the delight of joy born again fresh out of great terror, the rapture of rescue from peril, the wondrous reprieve from dread, the fruition of return. Let them picture union and a happy succeeding life.

Madame Beck prospered all the days of her life; so did Père Silas; Madame Walravens fulfilled her ninetieth year before she died. Farewell.

"That was the happiest time we ever had," said Frédéric.

"Yes, perhaps you're right. That was the happiest time we ever had," said Deslauriers.

I remember them all with such happiness.
I should certainly never again, on the spot, quite hang together, even though it wasn't really that I hadn't three times her method. What I too fatally lacked was her tone.
"That may be," Nora said, "but it's all pretty unsatisfactory."
He bent to pick it up, then stopped. Don't touch it, he thought, don't touch it.
[The first remains the most chill-enducing and daringly experimental ending I've ever read, as befits Charlotte Brontë's Villette, the pinnacle, in English literature, of characterization through narrative voice: The plot is resolved in the imperative! or, more accurately, via the narrator's very use of the imperative! Aided by the unemphasized selectivity of her seemingly conventional last paragraph wrap-up! (I think we can agree that exclamation marks are called for here, given the tightrope-acrobat precision of the performance.)

The second concludes Flaubert's most brilliant closing movement: that of the infinitely self-undermining Sentimental Education -- whose influence can be clearly seen in my third entry, from M. John Harrison's The Course of the Heart, and perhaps also in Mavis Gallant's "The Moslem Wife" (as cited in Eclogues).

Next, and speaking of characterization through narrative voice, the befuddled detective of Henry James's The Sacred Fount finally manages to reach a conclusion. Fifth is Dashiell Hammett's last word on the murder mystery genre (or perhaps on fiction in general) in The Thin Man, and lastly Patricia Highsmith's The Cry of the Owl abruptly becomes non-Highsmithian -- and freezes.]

Some end with a flourished signature:

And by what I have written in this document you will see, won't you, that I have obeyed her?
And the twelfth stroke of midnight sounded; the twelfth stroke of midnight, Thursday, the eleventh of October, Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-eight.
Having seen this time what I needed to see, I started writing; and in time wrote all that you have read.
"You and Capablanca," I said.
[Janet Frame's Faces in the Water throws mental health into our eyes like vitriol; Virginia Woolf's Orlando shoots its arrows of desire right through the temporal barrier; Jack Womack's Going, Going, Gone goes home; Raymond Chandler's The High Window gives everyone a fucking break.]
Some with a gleeful or furious or heartbreaking -- but perfectly definite -- denial of closure:

That is said nowadays by the most modern of the physicists. If that is true, then that is how it is with Pooch and with Carmen and with all the others.
I'd always felt the future held wonderful things for me. I'd never quite caught up with it, but quite soon I would. I felt sure I hadn't long to wait.
Something further may follow of this Masquerade.
Ever after. I promise. Now close your eyes.
[Carol Emshwiller's Carmen Dog; Barbara Comyns's Mr Fox; Herman Melville's The Confidence Man; and the devastating final sentence of John Crowley's Engine Summer, whose subject (in several senses) might be said to be the tragicomedy of incompletion.]
And some are simply, disturbingly or delightfully, accomplished:

"Nothing, Mamma. I was just thinking."

And, drawing a deep breath, he considered the faint whiff of scent that rose from his mother's corseted waist.

He ran this way and that, low down in his throat crying, and she grinning and crying with him; crying in shorter and shorter spaces, moving head to head, until she gave up, lying out, her hands beside her, her face turned and weeping; and the dog too gave up then, and lay down, his eyes bloodshot, his head flat along her knees.
The beautiful weather was compared with the Great Disappointment of '44, when Christ failed once again to appear to the Millerites.
[Robert Musil's Young Törless enters sentimental grad school; Djuna Barnes's Nightwood pays tribute to Aphrodite; Karen Joy Fowler's Sister Noon lights out for the hills.]

2015-06-21 : Guy Lionel Slingsby kindly directed my attention to this trimmer and more Twitter-friendly approach.

. . .

CV (via Looka!)

Ray Davis is a large man.
Ray Davis is from Casa Grande, Arizona.
Ray Davis is a native El Pasoan.
Ray Davis is an American born Kerryman.
Ray Davis is a English/Creative Writing major from Portland, Oregon.
Ray Davis is a Mechanical Engineering graduate of Purdue University.
Ray Davis is a licensed Captain who has sailed the waters around Tobermory for the last twenty years.
Ray Davis is planning a trip to the CAVE at UIUC.
Ray Davis is missing.
Ray Davis is brought onboard.
Ray Davis is a crop duster pilot who's largely oblivious to her sketchy financial habits, but loves their lifestyle of conspicuous consumption.
Ray Davis is in charge of compiling the data for the count.
Ray Davis is one of my teachers.
Ray Davis is all over the back of me again.
Ray Davis is the one with the deep voice.
Ray Davis is the only candidate who can provide you that leadership backed by experience.
Ray Davis is a one time deal.
Ray Davis is very personal and knowledgeable about on the road motorcycle radio systems.
Ray Davis is serving in South Africa.
Ray Davis is currently handling all DNS and FTP services.
Ray Davis is a paid contributor to The Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors.
Ray Davis is a perfect example.
Ray Davis is Whitko's winningest varsity girls basketball coach in school history.
Ray Davis is a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Ray Davis is guilty of murdering a 71-year-old woman.
Ray Davis is 12 years old and weighs all of 65 pounds.
Ray Davis is the Assistant Curator of Fishes at Sea World of Orlando.
Ray Davis is the Dickens of rock and roll.
Ray Davis is a rare man.
Ray Davis is only now thinking about retirement.
Ray Davis is down there sketching out our suspect.
Ray Davis is right on his tail with a 1.95 ERA.
The passcode is "UB", and Mr. Ray Davis is the leader.

. . .

Fleet's In

"In the beginning of our government we were willing to introduce the least coercion possible on the will of the citizen. Hence a system of military duty was established too indulgent to his indolence. This [War of 1812] is the first opportunity we have had of trying it, and it has completely failed...."
I'm a liberal who wants a big fat federal government that gives big fat services to its citizens and rewarding employment to the citizens who staff those service industries -- one such service industry being the military. I respect the pacifists I've known infinitely more than the warmongers I've known, but abolishing the armed forces didn't work so well for Jefferson and Madison.

My opinion is biased by personal experience as well as historical evidence, since my father, my mother, and my brother are all Navy veterans. Our education, our excellent health care, and our eventual move to the middle class of the proletariat have all been funded by the Navy. Although I'm the odd civilian out -- it always being clear enough that my tour of duty would be divided between sick bay and the brig -- I'm grateful to the Navy. I simply wish more Americans had similar access to federally aided education, health care, and class mobility.

As you might imagine, should you feel up to imagining the feelings of someone who writes a weblog, I'm occasionally irritated by the presumptions of the fine young people who've surrounded me in Cambridge and San Francisco and Berkeley. If our armed forces have generally been deployed to bolster corporate profits -- well, what hasn't generally been deployed in that never-ending chore? including mass media, fast food restaurants, universities, computer programming, and much more that fine young people have no trouble sucking down? That happens to be the kind of history we're stuck in.

More often, though, I'm angered and frightened by what's behind their presumptions.

"... you'd think they'd treat our forces like human beings."
"That would be 'no'."

I blame the Vietnam War. That's safe enough; nobody likes the Vietnam War.

Talk about being "pro-military" or "anti-military" is as nonsensical (and common) as talk about being "pro-economy" or "anti-economy." There are at least two sides to an economy -- worker security and big business profits -- with party lines drawn between them. Just as clearly, there have always been at least two sides to the American military: the armed forces themselves and the profiteers who leech from them.

The leaders of the Republican Party have never been subtle (in their actions, anyway) about which of those sides concerns them. They were against the GI Bill as a democratizing force and they're certainly against bringing anything like it back. On the other hand, no pork barrel sweats more fat than military contracts: virtually no competition; virtually no punitive action for fraud; a captive audience of "consumers" whose whistleblowing can be stopped by direct order....

"In 1976, the senior military officers he polled were one-third Republican. Today, it's two-thirds. Liberals have all but evaporated. You go from a conservative-to-liberal ratio among senior ranks of 4-to-1 in 1976 to a ratio of 23-to-1 in 1996.... I was out in California recently, and a Marine told me that the commanding officer of his unit would play Rush Limbaugh's show over the unit's loudspeakers so everybody could listen to it while they worked."
By conflating those two sides into "the military," we've handed the armed forces over to politicians whose chief concern is profiteering, never more openly than in the current administration. "A strong military," "the military budget," "military spending" -- all these terms bandied about by the news media refer to transfer of money from taxpayers to the corporate friends of the Party. No distinction is made and thus no regard need be given to military personnel or national security -- as was made grotesquely apparent after last September's low-tech hijackings, when Bush claimed that the Star Wars pork fest was now more essential than ever.

Meanwhile, the left's withdrawal from and frequent vilification of "the military" has slaked the thirsty ghost of Joe McCarthy with sweet victory: the United States officer corps now consists overwhelmingly of right-wing extremists. Given the nature of the military hierarchy, once such a trend is in place, it's almost impossible to undo.

Except maybe through a resurgence of patriotism or a draft or whatnot....

. . .

Salon's IPO lies a-moulderin' in the grave but its soul goes marching on

A newspaper points to good online literary writing.

How do they know it's good?

Because it's just like what you find in newspapers!

There aren't enough urban weeklies and Sunday supplements and soft-spoken NPR shows and Eggers publications to contain all the English majors who've realized that they can easily mimic the non-reportage of urban weeklies and Sunday supplements and soft-spoken NPR shows and Eggers publications. But having been given all the freedom in the world, we're able to play columnist just as if we were fortunate enough to have real editors asking us to dumb material down for a pathetic amount of money which gets sent tardily.

And what else would anyone do, given all the freedom in the world?

. . .

Beef to the heel

The most successful cult of the new millenium explains how to maintain an illusion of extravagant indulgence, maximize damage to the world at large, and still achieve the ultimate goal of self-starvation.

And that seems appropriate enough.

And I can well believe that it attracts the same sort of people who devote limitless funds and non-renewable resources towards ever more closely approximating a pad of paper.

But I must shake my head (I have a tremor) at the selfishness of it all: Me, me, me. Aren't there other people to consider?

Sure, we got rid of the estate tax, but do we really want our children to inherit our awful regime of fad malnourishments and exercise machines? Do we really want to allow any competitive advantage to sexy, wiry convicts and migrant labor?

It stands to reason that if you give a big, strong, bored, and lazy animal unlimited access to appealing food, it'll get fat. So if you want to stop the plague of obesity, stop it at the root.

You know, people often ask me, "Cholly," (they call me Cholly, I don't know why) "given your indolence and deliciously varied gluttony, how do you stay so svelte?"

And I answer, "Millie," (I like to call people Millie) "it's on account of smoking, boozing, and traumatizing can precipitate the premature birth of an underweight infant with metabolic inefficiencies and a damaged immune system."

By simply following a few simple principles like those (all easily found [frequent repetition, large typeface, plenty of margin] in my series, The Unwed Teenage Mother Way To a Thinner Tomorrow), you can save a child's self-esteem.

More to the point, your child's self-esteem.

Can you afford not to?

. . .

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are

Steel smooths the ride

"Someone Wants You Dead"
World of Pooh

According to the wall clock, it was done at half-past five.
She must have pulled the cord out right before she died.
The gun was resting in her hand, suggesting suicide.
That would not account for the note left at her side
Which read:
Someone wants you dead.

It wasn't a big mansion with a garden in the back.
It was more an abandoned basement made into a flat.
She didn't have a Doberman; she didn't have a phone.
It was not the kind of place you want to live alone.
Not if
Someone wants you dead.

Bury the axe and clear the air.
There's always someone who hates you somewhere.
There'll always be someone who hates you somewhere.

I wish I could solve this crime, but nobody was there.
She was hit by accident by a bullet in the air.
It kind of goes to show you how you ought to keep aware.
You can never trust a bullet hanging in the air.
Not when
Someone wants you dead.

Bury the axe and clear the air.
There's always someone who hates you somewhere.
There'll always be someone who hates you somewhere.

On any serious political issue, at least half of American voters don't agree with you and a significant minority would like you to drop dead. With each strong opinion you hold, the number of voters who disagree with you and the number of voters who would like you dead grows. If you hold three or more strong opinions, no one you agree with will ever win a nationwide election. (Unless they've successfully hidden their intent.)

Since I hold at least three strong opinions, my vote is usually decided by who'd like me dead less. In a race between Dianne Feinstein and John McCain, say, I'd vote Republican, since they'd both like me dead but Feinstein works harder at it. Ralph Nader, too, would shuffle a grim pavan upon my grave.

On the other hand, although John Kerry isn't fond of me, he wouldn't go out of his way to do anything about it. Kerry for President!


On ya, Ray. Course, I'd always thought of voting in terms of who I'd like to see dead the least. In which case, yeah, yeah, whatever: Kerry for President.

A nobler algorithm, but I'm old enough to remember that voting for a presidential candidate doesn't necessarily lengthen their lifespan.

are you the ray davis-- who makes the manoala's???????????
be well
walk softly

. . .

Salon of the Living Dead

I'd had a fairly full career as a painter, but I couldn't accept this new stuff. That was the problem. Months would go on, and I couldn't accept it. In the house are hanging some few things I kept, some of these pure abstract things they looked very good. And then in the studio I would do these things, the guys in cars and all that. While I was in the studio, they were done with convictions. That's what I meant. I did them, then I'd come in the house to eat and whatnot, and I'd look at these beautiful things from the past and I'd think, "The hell with that stuff in the studio, that's terrible! I can't really stomach it." I'd get sick, I'd stay up all night. Then I'd run back in the studio, and then the things in the house looked terrible. These three beautiful lines which are so satisfying. So, you can fill between the lines. There was one point in the middle of this stuff, I wanted to roll them all up and hide it, not show it. I mean, you have no idea. They were so worn with pushpin marks. Up would go the pure things. Big sigh of relief. "Whew, I can live there." Come in the next day "I can't stand that, it's got to be dirt." Down they'd come. Up would come the drawing with cars, this stuff, books, shoes, everything, ahh! The only way I could get over that torture, as I was telling Close, was one night, solo drinking, I thought, "There's got to be a solution to this." So, I thought, "Okay, I'm dead. I died." And that idea stuck to me. It started like a playful game, but it became sort of serious. What if I had died? I'm in the history books. What would I paint if I came back?
Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations,
ed. Clark Coolidge

And yes, it's true, they don't look like weekend canvases by Bud Fisher or E. C. Segar. They look like the gifts Bub would carefully, carefully paint for his proud Aunt Alicia.

And since Guston's most passionate and long-lived infatuation was with Piero della Francesca, I'm naturally reminded of the Sansepolcro Resurrection, the most effective religious art I've ever experienced, removing all doubt about the credibility of a slain-and-back-again condemned-and-judging God-and-Human, since the thing's fucking standing right there in front of me. (In my notebook in 1994 I added, "Eyes that go both ways. Him and Elvis look good in pink.")

For us non-deities, though, death puts a real strain on relationships.

And of course my very old and dear friend, Morty Feldman, I'd been telling him about this stuff when I'd come into New York, but he didn't want to come up to see it. Then finally he came up, and he was, I think, pretty upset. So, you lose friends. But I think Baudelaire said, "Second to the pleasure of surprising yourself is the aristocratic pleasure of surprising your friends." And I think I wanted my close friend Feldman to say, "You mean that's you?" He was close to my work for twenty years. And I wanted to feel as if I was saying to him, "You think you know me? You don't know me." It's curious.

. . .

M. John Harrison's "Getting Out of There" and back again

A year later and I keep re-reading this. Well, it's a pretty little thing innit? Gorgeous cover. Glossy paper. Fourteen pages of mouth-tested prose. Title chimes with an Alan Halsey. Proofreading! (You don't really notice the otherwise omnipresent din of typos till you enter an eerily silent space like this one.)

Maybe because I finished The Wine-Dark Sea right before the chapbook arrived, it reminds me more of Robert Aickman than any other Harrison story has reminded me of Robert Aickman. The soppingly grounded Englishness of it. Its protagonist of a certain age and dislocation and curiously libido-free urge to couple. Most of all its pacing: a determined no-nonsense but no-particular-tourist-destination-in-mind tramp into what critics call "dread" (the unaccountable corporate flight of nesting colonies of terns and gulls), not minding the gaps at all, or at least making only token efforts to fill them. This particular gap's as good as a nod to an Aickman influence:

‘That yellow lichen on the roofs down there,’ Hampson said, ‘I wonder what it is?’

She laughed.

‘I thought you were a local,’ she said.

Like all the best influences, Aickman's-on-Harrison was retroactive: verification rather than emulation. They'd independently developed an architecture of negative space.

Harrison, at least, consciously recognized and worked it. Here he explains how he wrote the story which first drew the comparison:

The way I started out, I asked myself a question: How would you write a horror story and take all the horror out of it? How would you write a ghost story and remove almost everything? a couple of sentences, a pair of sentences that would do the trick... "The Ice Monkey" was my first attempt at that. I wrote it as a normal horror story in which it's quite evident what had happened. And then I spent two or three weeks just removing sentence after sentence that directed the reader towards the normal ending, until finally you're left only two sentences in four thousand words which give you the clue as to what might or might not have happened. [...] Yeah, scraped it out. To see what would happen. I wanted to see where it would fall over. [...] After you've been doing it for twenty years, you put fewer of them in. When I started I had to throw out whereas now I know what not to put in.

But they differ in the thoroughness of their erasures. Aickman rarely sealed his unsettling build-ups without a deflationary appearance by crap F/X. Harrison's more likely to scrape away even that much comfort. His multi-volume fantasy series isn't threaded by hero's quest or cod-Gondal dynastic charts but by ways of not-knowing a city. Although some of us have always been creeped by roses, his dark occult novel horrifies mostly through absence. His macho sporting-life naturalism lacks self-pity, rivalry, the thrill of victory, or even the thrill of disillusionment.

Here are the dreadfully recurring associations of "Getting Out of There":

That last develops into the most blatantly anti-realistic aspect of the story, and it's hardly a Famous Monster of Filmland.

I took it because we have to take things somehow as a temporally-displaced dream-version of social media. I don't how you would take it; I'm pretty sure the bait wouldn't attract huge buzz from the buzzers of record. Very important novelists like Eggers and Amis (and Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair) are newsworthy because they're journalists; they're terrified of burying the lede. Whereas Harrison knows the lede's there to enrich the soil. Insofar as "Getting Out of There"'s bit of fantasy was ripped from today's headlines, it was then collaged into plaster-of-paris, and then painted over.

And then discarded for a vacuum-welded clampdown of the unutterably mundane. The twirly-shiny bit played misdirection in a sleight-of-hand maneuver which models our sleight-of-hand transfer from post-youth to pre-senescence. After which, as the poet sang, "You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?" It wasn't where we were watching.

There's nothing jokey or puzzly about the gaps that bind this free indirect discourse. They're mimetic: deliberate sacrifices of discursive freedom for the respite of further indirection. A temporary but renewable respite. Renewable to a point.


tl;dr It's a horror story whose ultimate brain-melting horror is a happy ending.

Speaking of Harrison, "The Killing Bottle" is a fine fannish-vocational-scholarly analysis of his style.


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.