Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Sacred Fount – Henry James

The Sacred Fount – Henry James


HJ CLASSICS – Wildside Press

I purchased this book at the suggestion of Facebook friend Matteo Carnio in answer to my question: what shall I review next?

I thought this book looked attractively intriguing. In fact, a real find.

Become my Facebook friend and please make your own suggestions.

I intend to real-time review it in the comment stream below…

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16 responses to “The Sacred Fount – Henry James

  1. I
    “People talk of our changing every seven years, but they make me feel as if I changed every seven minutes.”
    I feel at home simply being me, gauging other people from tentacular-claused beginnings of their story as common with me and their endlessly nested motivations. I seemingly take a train journey toward a house party, two of whose guests I meet on the way, during this train journey. Other guests are also likely to be on the same train… [Reminds me of a similar train journey and of Jeff VanderMeer’s comments about me here in his 2nd paragraph of the ‘My Storyville Weekend’ section.]

  2. II
    “The links, in fact, should I count them all, would make too long a chain. They formed, nevertheless, the happiest little chapter of accidents, though a series of which I can scarce give more than the general effect.”
    Indeed, that also applies to my review of the links I manage to make into a gestalt now I am at the house party itself. As the reader, meanwhile, I can hardly believe that this text seems to be the apotheosis of grappling with the same author’s Golden Bowl, and only rarely in a single life can anyone reach such a literary orgasm.
    With imagination like an insect bumping on glass, and people like hat-pins or furniture polish, I witness – and try to fathom like a whodunnit detective, as the narrative guest at this gathering – a complexly subtle series of people as ‘touchstones’, centring so far upon a tale about relationships as relativities of growing younger and growing older. Age Vampirism.

  3. III
    This highly polished text is infuriating, frustrating, relentless – and I have only scratched its surface judging by the relatively small number of pages I’ve so far got into it – yet it is absolutely engulfing me, strongly reminding me of the convoluted but insanely logical grappling with multiple bluffs and nested intentions of Poe’s ‘Purloined Letter’ and ‘The Mystery of Marie Rogêt’ that I fortuitously read in the last few days and reviewed here.
    The words ‘sacred fount’ are used twice in this chapter.
    I’m currently brainstorming questions: Not only age- or time-parasitism but also an inferred sex-power of incubus or succubus?
    Who or what is the sacred, who or what the unholy: Observer or observed? Reader or narrator? Freehold author or leasehold narrator?

    • By the way, ‘The Sacred Fount’ was first published in 1901. My other real-time reviews of older or classic books are linked from here. I recently subjected HP Lovecraft stories to this process, as well as Edgar Allan Poe’s, and intriguingly, for me, they are not a million miles away from this Henry James book!

  4. Page 35 (IV)
    The picture browsed over with Mrs Server says something about this book, whether it is serious or not as a work of art, this book or this picture within it:

  5. “It’s the picture, of all pictures, that most needs an interpreter. Don’t we want,” I asked of Mrs. Server, “to know what it means?” The figure represented is a young man in black—a quaint, tight black dress, fashioned in years long past; with a pale, lean, livid face and a stare, from eyes without eyebrows, like that of some whitened old-world clown. In his hand he holds an object that strikes the spectator at first simply as some obscure, some ambiguous work of art, but that on a second view becomes a representation of a human face, modelled and coloured, in wax, in enamelled metal, in some substance not human. The object thus appears a complete mask, such as might have been fantastically fitted and worn.

  6. This book is about characters changing (almost overnight) so far, about possession, symbiosis, parasitism, bluff and multiple bluff, assessment of character through various pecking orders of narrative, of reading and reviewing it, a nightmare of a read.

    • This book is more difficult than ‘Finnegans Wake’, more insane than ‘The Inmates’ by John Cowper Powys, more anal-retentive than Proust, more empty than ‘Nemonymous Night’, but I love those four works. And, despite everything, I think I shall end up loving ‘The Sacred Fount’ at least a little. And it little matters which character is the fount, and which the recipient of that fount. And I sense we shall never know the answer to that as I don’t trust the narrator, even though I do need to trust the author who created that narrator. Indeed, I think this fiction work needs the reader to be that fount as the preternatural input, not the other way about as is the case with all other such works.

  7. After much Ivy Compton-Burnett like dialogue (in V) — dialogue as if distilled by a partnership of Elizabeth Bowen and a neutered Robert Aickman — we then reach a densely textured VI that contains chunky prose paragraph-blocks whereby the narrator debates his findings about others at the party, even about himself (is he obsessing about these matters because he himself is in love?!) – like Dirk Bogarde watching guests in the ‘Death in Venice’ hotel as if from within an anti-novel by Robbe-Grillet.
    After all my condensed comparisons above with other fiction writers, I am beginning to feel that this method of mine in real-time reviewing the book is matched by its narrator’s own anal-retentiveness about what and who are happening around him within that same book, thus effectively changing what and who are happening simply by his (my) obsessing about them in the first place?!

  8. After reading VII and VIII, I realise there is no added value to this review in keeping on telling you about what it is like. It seems to be uniformly like itself. It’s not going to change, I sense. The narrator is trying to get to the bottom of relationships at the party — hopefully without being a mover or shaker or catalyst at the party (an impossible goal) — and by using observations that are open to ALL (a more feasible goal) rather than spying clandestinely upon matters from a privileged position. And I realised that if this is his approach, it is a parallel to my gestalt real-time reviewing or dreamcatching of fiction books since 2008, by my observing and openly-publicly interpreting the texts themselves by using ONLY the texts, rather than by background reading of biography, social history etc. surrounding the authors and their books. This ‘clean’ approach of mine is in tune with Wimsatt’s Intentional Fallacy, a literary theory about which I have been interested since I first encountered it in 1966. (That Theory now seems seminal to ‘The Sacred Fount’.) In that sense, the Narrator is maintaining that same ‘clean’ approach as mine as an approach to this book within which he is a character (just like all the other characters that he is studying and ostensibly writing about). Assuming you can trust this literally nemonymous Narrator. And assuming you can trust ME – especially if you haven’t already read this book for yourself.

  9. With IX and the arrival of a piano recital for the party, I am now reminded of another gathering: the pulmonary patients – as a finite group of interacting guests – at the sanatorium in Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain…
    The music is as if helping the emotionally conspiring thoughts to stay inside each person’s head and worked out individually rather than escaping to become a dangerous Jungian collective unconscious as facilitated like an inflammatory disease by the Narrator enticing such thoughts into the air of this public text?

    • There is a static avant-garde deadness about this book that approaches my own approach to avant-gardeness when in certain moods. Hedged here by Henry with magnificent subtlety, immaculate prose-sumptuousness of sub-clause and tentacular meaning-outcrop plus a-wink-and-a-nod from a certain vision of this author as a highly sophisticated Imp of the Perverse engaged in ‘high sport’. From IX:

    • So far as it took place it was of a “subtlety,” as we used to say at Newmarch, in relation to which the common register of that pressure would have been, I fear, too old-fashioned a barometer. I had moreover the comfort—for it amounted to that—of perceiving after a little that we understood each other too well for our understanding really to have tolerated the interference of passion, such passion as would have been represented on his side by resentment of my intelligence and on my side by resentment of his. The high sport of such intelligence—between gentlemen, to the senses of any other than whom it must surely be closed—demanded and implied in its own intimate interest a certain amenity. Yes, accordingly, I had promptly got the answer that my wonder at his approach required: he had come to me for the high sport. He would formerly have been incapable of it, and he was beautifully capable of it now.

    • Newmarch is the place where this party is situated. A new word for Avant Garde?

  10. No sooner do I claim this book has, inter alia, a relentless static deadness, than we reach this relatively devastating watershed in the ‘action’, as the Narrator speculates in X upon imminently leaving the party:

  11. If I was free, that was what I had been only so short a time before, what I had been as I drove, in London, to the station. Was this now a foreknowledge that, on the morrow, in driving away, I should feel myself restored to that blankness? The state lost was the state of exemption from intense obsessions, and the state recovered would therefore logically match it. If the foreknowledge had thus, as by the stir of the air from my friend’s whisk of her train, descended upon me, my liberation was in a manner what I was already tasting. Yet how I also felt, with it, something of the threat of a chill to my curiosity! The taste of its being all over, that really sublime success of the strained vision in which I had been living for crowded hours—was this a taste that I was sure I should particularly enjoy? Marked enough it was, doubtless, that even in the stress of perceiving myself broken with I ruefully reflected on all the more, on the ever so much, I still wanted to know!

  12. Judging by the number of chapters left, he doesn’t leave?

    • What shall I see when I next see you?” was what I had mutely asked of Mrs. Briss; but “God grant I don’t see you again at all!” was the prayer sharply determined in my heart as I left Mrs. Server behind me. I left her behind me for ever, but the prayer has not been answered. I did see her again; I see her now; I shall see her always; I shall continue to feel at moments in my own facial muscles the deadly little ache of her heroic grin.

    • This is how I felt (and feel) about this book, on the few occasions when I, too, in exasperation, have thought (and think) about leaving! But can a book actually have a ‘heroic grin’?

  13. In XI, I encounter the concept of a ‘portentous wink’ and the ‘torch of analogy’ – but most interestingly coming out of the cave into the light of the possibility of an unknown ‘lover’ serving to solve the whodunnit gestalt and who might be as unknown or potentially absent as the unknown Narrator himself is or will be? Things are getting retrocausally Whovian in identity and/or age? I’m beginning to feel like the Sherlockian detective in the The Murders of the Rue Morgue… Or a version of the unknown narrator in HJ’s own Aspern Papers… I’m brainstorming again.

  14. Having reached XII, I am now finding more clues, when I think of Elizabeth Bowen’s novella ‘World of Love’, which becomes a ghost story, probably the greatest ever ghost story, because it makes no sense unless you factor in the existence of a ghost. That and the film ‘Last Year at Marienbad’.

  15. XIII
    “…and, even while I prolonged the movement by which I had momentarily stayed her,…”
    This comes full circle to that ‘seven years / seven minutes’ quote from the book I gave at outset. It has suddenly dawned on me – and I hope it is not a spoiler – this whole book represents a ‘Tristram Shandy’ prolongation of time-altering, placing ohm resistors and baffles into the tube of narration, to prevent the Narrator’s birth, with Tristram himself narrating his own life story that never seems, at least for an eternity of reading his narrative leading up to it, waiting for it to begin, by his describing the lead-up to his birth interminably – for Ligottian anti-natalist purposes? (My previous real-time review of Tristram Shandy here). The Narrator, here, obviously seems Tristram-like in this way by endlessly spending time in the book’s convolutions of Ivy-Compton Burnett type dialogues and apotheositic Henry-Jamesian prose machinations — and now this tour de force of a self-revealing discussion overnight with one of the leading ladies (after which departure beckons but never comes, as I noticed but misinterpreted earlier). In fact reading this book in itself has in hindsight made me give up the ghost and depleted my will to live and given me a death-wish fulfilment of never having been born in the first place. Back to the Sacred Fo(u)nt? Only one chapter to go.

  16. XIV
    “I didn’t after all — it appeared part of my smash — know the weight of her husband’s years, but I knew the weight of my own. They might have been a thousand, and nothing but the sense of them would in a moment, I saw, be left me.”

  17. Somehow I wish I had troubled myself to walk the length of that train to meet others I would have been meeting in any event when the journey ended, even if that meant walking in the opposite direction to the way I was otherwise going.
    This novel is the perfect pointlessness. I can give it no greater praise, and I thank those who conspired to get me into it. I hope I have given it a new lease of life to outlast me. Even if I got it all wrong. Reviewer and Narrator alike.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Haunter of the Dark – H. P. Lovecraft

The Haunter of the Dark – HP Lovecraft

The mid-1960s Panther paperback below, together with the Edgar Allan Poe paperback simultaneously being real-time reviewed on this site, got me started in real literature at that time…
 photo haunterofthedark.jpg
However, I somehow lost that edition, so for current purposes I am using the 1970s Panther edition below, one that I bought as a replacement at that time:
My present day observations upon it will be shown in the comment stream below as and when I re-read each story…
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19 responses to “The Haunter of the Dark – HP Lovecraft

  1. Who remembers that the headquote of THE OUTSIDER:
    “That night the Baron dreamt of many a wo;
    And all his warrior-guests, with shade and form
    Of witch, and demon, and large coffin-worm,
    Were long be-nightmared.”
    was written by John Keats?
    I didn’t even remember it had a headquote, let alone know who wrote it!
    But I do remember the major effect the reading of this story had on me, and I have not been the same since then, as if the text was my own mirror reflecting back what I sought rather than what I feared.
    I have never forgotten, too, the text itself, like a madly constructed prose incantation that had always been written, would ever seem familiar and meant-to-be however strange and tentacular and neologistic it once must have struck me, something perhaps already written upon the insides of my physically big head, a head that, I now realise, upon this re-reading, had touched the sides of HPL’s tower as I once must have climbed it, too, alongside his ‘monstrous’ protagonist.
    Incredibly, these refamilarised scenes today now seem to have retrocausally preternatural bearing on a story I wrote a few days ago entitled ‘The Big-Headed People’, the first story I’ve written for specific independent publication after many many years of not doing so.
    “The reference to Atys made me shiver, for I had read Catullus…”
    I am sure a better name for the narrator’s cat would have been Catullus, or even Atys. This text is more insane than I remember it, as, in manic arabesques of prose, we learn about a house on the brink as the tiered palimpsest of archaeological, architectural and familial history, back to ancient times, as we are presented with visions, nightmares and hallucinations preceding what seems to be a final apocalyptic vision as an actual reality, a reality in the form of a premonition – a premonition as it would have been in 1923 – a dreadful mutant preternatural ill-disguised premonition of future history in 1940s Germany, Poland, etc, with frightening implications. Amazingly written.
    But I prefer to call it insanity rather than future history. Otherwise the reader is mad, too. Looked now in the irreversible mirror of time, not in the previous story’s ‘polished glass’.
    In 1923, US President Warren Gamaliel Harding suddenly collapsed and died, in California, during the exact course of the dated events in England depicted by the story.
    Perhaps significant that I happened to review here yesterday Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.
  3. As an aside, the original Panther paperback of this collection shown above was pointed out and recommended to me around 1965 by my then school friend Michel Parry (who sadly died recently). This was in the Colchester branch of WH Smith and he indicated to me his favourite stories in the contents list by lightly underscoring them with his fingernail. It has only just occurred to me that the book cover itself could have been a premonitory representation of that very event…
    “Then there came a subdued sort of clatter which somehow set me all in gooseflesh — a furtive, groping kind of clatter, though I can’t attempt to convey what I mean in words. It was like heavy wood falling on stone or brick — wood on brick — what did that make me think of?”
    And, for the first time, I now wonder if the picking-up hand of the man in the above cover of the book where I first read this story is not a depiction of Pickman himself? After the mention of Fuseli, who is also mentioned in Poe’s Usher, it began to dawn on me that the ‘realism’ of Pickman’s painted monsters can only live, as within ‘photographs’ or wherever, via the depicted ‘changeling’ told BY and IN this text ABOUT this text. I avow that Lovecraft IS Pickman, a changeling, like those vile monsters who are seen holding a normal city ‘guidebook’ within the text but are they really holding the above-shown ‘Pickman’ paperbook itself? And I wonder whether I lost this paperback as a thankful mercy that was meant-to-be, as if it might have contained some earlier variations of these words that I (re)read today, variations where the monsters were even more real…!
    I. The Horror in Clay
    “That glimpse, like all dread glimpses of truth, flashed out from an accidental piecing together of separated things – […] …I shall never knowingly supply a link in so hideous a chain.”
    …and thus, since 2008, with my gestalt real-time reviews, collating leitmotifs…. And I fear that by thus reviewing this story I will produce such a catalyst.
    It is remarkable that when I see the Lovecraftian words like Cthulhu, fhatagn, R’lyeh in this text embedded on 1960s paper printed roughly halfway between the story’s then and today’s now, I wonder what raw, virgin power such words had when first published and read; they seem to me to have that power today as I re-open these pages. Did the words then trigger dreams worldwide? Events that we cannot explain? As today, by opening this can of tentacles, if not worms, I may cause such concertina global reverberations and ricochets of nightmare by simply looking too deeply into this text, as a result of my still on-going reading of a work of supposed fiction.
    “It was from the artists and poets that the pertinent answers came, and I know that panic would have broken loose had they been able to compare notes.”
  6. II. The Tale of Inspector Legrasse
    “These Old Ones were gone now, inside the earth and under the sea; but their dead bodies had told their secrets in dreams…”

    A seminal, phonetically synaesthesic, archaeologically angst-anguished text, this chapter, a Lovecraft as the earth, or a Hatecraft? There are some ignitions here of important Cthulhu and Necronomicon / Nemonicon implications, but dare we collate them?
    The almost Jungian spreading to all corners of the globe of, say, ‘tornasuk-angekok’ Eskimos inuited or intuited towards the miasmas of New Orleans, and elsewhere, collating mongrel races, squatters et al as recurring love-hate ‘foreigner’ references of HPL throughout his literature and letters, and the concept that horror comes from within. And, in this context, I would like to cross-reference my own brief ‘Inside the Bud’ (published in Crypt of Cthulhu in 1991). Those mongrels and squatters as ourselves, cross-referencing HPL’s own future history (mentioned above) with, say, IS State today? A state from within the Earth, spreading upon the Earth: Erbil as Hawler (the latter being that city’s alternative name in reality)…
    “Only poetry or madness could do justice…”
  7. III. The Madness From The Sea
    “Without knowing what futurism is like, Johansen achieved something very close to it…”
    From the triangulations of Longitude and Latitude towards the non-Euclidean angles of Lovecraftian cosmicity, this is a Hodgson-like sea adventure terror of common sailors combined with that unspeakable Jungian correlation of what we still dredge today – or harvest.
    This ‘siege of mankind’s soul’ by cross-breeds as HPL has it or this group hug as alert by internet flashmob? New Orleans or Oslo? [Below is my photograph of another stone edifice I myself discovered in Oslo in 2008.]
    “What wonder that acrossPhotobucket
    the earth a great architect went mad, and poor Wilcox raved with fever in that telepathic instant?”
    Unlike the other stories in this book, I read this one and reviewed it (here) relatively recently, and I copy and paste below what I then said about it in the context of the VanderMeers’ mighty THE WEIRD anthology…
    The Dunwich Horror – H. P. Lovecraft
    I, II, III, IV & V: “The bent, goatish giant before him seemed like the spawn of another planet or dimension; like something only partly of mankind, and linked to black gulfs of essence and entity that stretch like titan phantasms beyond all spheres of force and matter, space and time.”
    This story is probably beyond any review, any real-time. There seems to be an annexe or attic or “vacant abyss overhead” being constructed anew or simply strengthened like bespoke parts of a forgotten building to house something beyond the reach of today’s mature gestalt. I return, today, to this classic – with the syllables of ‘Yog Sothoth!’ like some personal Todash echoing within my ancient youthful voice: a memory of my readings-aloud over forty years ago – and I realise I have been “half insane” half my life and now it is time to climb my own Sentinel Hill to find the other half before it is too late. Or just to find hungry stones? (9 Nov 11 – another 2 hours later)
    VI, VII, VIII, IX & X: “…issued warnings of the keenest intensity to all librarians having charge of the dreaded volume.”
    …and, this morning, some news arrives electronically (invisibly) that soon there will be an American edition of the book (hard copy as well as ebook!). Meanwhile, the piping of whippoorwills (playing the same part as a gong does in the book earlier), and an entity that does not belong to a monstrous zoo but is a zoo of once discrete creatures in itself, judging how the various multi-blended-creatured descriptions are made in an admixture of plain speech and Lovecraftian indescriptivities and elided common speech and disjointed Willow-code. An invisible monster, too (a la Dharma Lost). Whateley had “no skull“, so where is it? Things softening off like the Wyrak into spewy nothingness. A “sprayer” like a ‘prayer’. But this is a mighty, cosmic tale of “earth brain” and a vacant space for something simultaneously at both magnetic poles, “inner earth”, “foetor”, “ichor“, all the words and ideas and Lovecraftian indescriptivities I recall from my first pre-mature experience of this blinding narration 47 years ago in youthful pre-cataclysm times – so I shall “no more concoct a humorous paragraph about it” other than with “haff faces” of today’s new-fangled genealogy: we never had the internet then to seek back into ourselves as well as into our own perhaps even stranger, then unknown and unknowable, nameless and unnameable, ancestors! Ill-begotten sounds, smells, visions, non-visions – Gawd! “…the memorable Dunwich horror”, will it come back, via this Weird-Eclectic book, this new Necronomicon in disguise?… the invisible book at last made visible only, it seems, today, to be made invisible again … creating crop-circle trenches in the previously uniform grasslands of our pre-maturition, nay, pre-gestation, imaginations. “Help! Help! … ff — ff — ff..” A seriously great story. Can anyone buying this book not have read it before? It needed to be included, whatever the answer to that question. (10 Nov 11)
    I, II, III

    “It was really remarkable how closely the reports from various sources tended to coincide;…”
    A Vermont of strange words of Mythos, words now so familiar to us, but unfamiliar then. My memory of this novelette from reading it in the 1960s is one of it being my favourite HPL work from this book, or the one that creeped me out the most – and reading it again today in the cold dark of the future, that feeling stays with me.
    It probably has the first explicit description of a selfie photograph in all literature, together with the background, by hint and written epistle between correspondents, of an accretive terror, descried from marks in the ground and from sounds like buzzes in the air, descried, too, by a collaboration between certain men and certain monsters, or something, like Poe’s Purloined Letter gone missing – as, here, does the stone with hieroglyphs go missing, then hidden in Plain Sight?
    Some monsters mining or hawling within the earth, others from above in the Solar System’s far reaches, or they were monsters created by certain men to scare off summer people buying up houses in the area, but I don’t believe that, do you?
    The text itself is today crazily yet monumentally meant-to-be, but back when I first read it, it was simply crazy. Whichever the case, it was and still is awesome. Still is, so far.
    • “…a pleasant-faced man with a close-cropped grey beard who I took to be Akeley himself — his own photographer, one might infer from the tube-connected bulb in his right hand.”
      — from THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS (1931) by HP Lovecraft
      Is this the first SELFIE in Literature? Or do you know of an earlier one?
  10. IV, V, VI
    “The thing was reaching out so. Would it suck me in and engulf me?”
    There is something presciently or preternaturally Internet-savvy about all this, the correspondence, some dependable, others not, a passive-aggressive world between one sent text and another, the photographs, the earlier selfie, now the idea that there are things that cannot be photographed, although they can make marks in the ground outside one’s gate or float in the river or make buzzing noises (on future screens?)…
    We readers, as well as the narrator, are sucked in, although we recognise the fabricated or concocted purple prose of words for what it is, words, though, that still suck and engulf us, cosmic terror one minute, pastoral faery (“…touching deep violstrings of ancestral emotion”) the next, like people posting for us pussy cats and modern monsters within a single breath. You see, the Outer Ones are arcane monsters, old not modern, threatening, but then they can be civilised-seeming like Noyes who strikes me as some grooming highwayman of the web. The whisperer in darkness. Or someone above with picky fingers poised over a keyboard.
    “Word-choice, spelling – all were subtly different.”
  11. VII, VIII
    “…the unending chain of cosmos-atoms which makes up the immediate super-cosmos of curves, angles, and material and semi-material electronic organization.”
    The super-highway itself; I rest my case.
    Yet this last section of the novelette is a coda, one that you can discard as some Mad Scientist romp, spoiling the earlier accretion of fear, then terror – OR a culmination of what I was propounding above about a prescient Internet and its machinations? Still buzzing and whispering and, now, ‘hacking’.
    I sense the ending is both a disappointment and a culmination. Meanwhile, the first ever selfie in literature now seems even more significant by the very last paragraph of this novelette!
    As for myself, I am one of the fairly few people in the world who had Pluto (aka Yuggoth) in conjunction with their Ascendant degree at the point of birth (checkable, in my case, by birth data of 5.40 pm GMT, in UK, on 18 Jan 1948)… “…and I felt nothing now but a wish to escape from this net of morbidity and unnatural revelation.”
    “…and it was only by analogy that they called it colour at all.”
    I vaguely recall that fifty years ago, when I first read this story in this particular collection, I saw the story itself as a form of the meteorite that it described, having fallen into the book, infecting all the other stories around it with unwholesomeness, with things that shouldn’t be spoken of, grey brittleness, stoic furtiveness and aimlessness, windless trees shaking and the story’s explicit reference to euthanasia and the law’s antipathy toward it — and our world is still infected by this meteorite, even more so, despite the huge reservoir of time in between. The infection spreads more easily now, for obvious cybernetic reasons. But back 50 years ago, I imagined the story’s own real reservoir expunging the meteorite’s effect and then all the other stories in the book would have lost their cosmic terror or entropic torpor or unhealthy growth of leitmotifs as my future’s gestalt. In many ways, part of me is not sorry that never happened. Fiction feeds into history, and vice versa. One without the other is nothing at all. Yet, I know even reviews can seem more like fiction than the reviewed fiction itself does. And I have relished today this astonishing text of such stoically rich language, and without such decadent literature, the rich tapestry of life itself would have been diminished. Lovecraft as a necessary symbiotic force. Or am I being fictionalised myself, brain-drained like Nahum and his family? Each a husk of self.
    “In her raving there was not a single specific noun, but only verbs and pronouns.”
  13. The famous book list from the next story, a recurring incantation or refrain that haunted my younger life and has since trickled down as literary wealth till now:
    [[They were the black, forbidden things which most sane people have never even heard of, or have heard of only in furtive, timorous whispers; the banned and dreaded repositories of equivocal secrets and immemorial formulae which have trickled down the stream of time from the days of man’s youth, and the dim, fabulous days before man was. He had himself read many of them—a Latin version of the abhorred Necronomicon, the sinister Liber Ivonis, the infamous Cultes des Goules of Comte d’Erlette, the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt, and old Ludvig Prinn’s hellish De Vermis Mysteriis. But there were others he had known merely by reputation or not at all—the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the Book of Dzyan, and a crumbling volume in wholly unidentifiable characters yet with certain symbols and diagrams shudderingly recognisable to the occult student.]]
    “Someone roused Father Merluzzo of Spirito Santo Church, and he hastened to the dismal square to pronounce whatever helpful syllables he could.”
    There is something extremely haunting – even more haunting than what haunts me today from first reading this story 50 years ago – about Robert Blake viewing the shape of the distant church on Federal Hill, long daring not to go there. I wonder if when people who live on Federal Hill look back at the distant place where Blake lives they have similar frissons? The ending makes this wonderment seem darkly ironic. Through a series of bravado or perverse actions (reminding me of my reading yesterday of Poe’s ‘Black Cat’), we eventually enter with Blake the church followed by all the Blakean outcomes that seem paradoxically both set free and set in stone, immemorial blakes or blochs or blocks of hieroglyphs, ‘wild twitterings’, ‘gibbering gables’, foetor trickledown, ‘flopping and bumping around in a viscous, altogether dreadful way’, ‘Roderick Usher’, ‘the blind idiot god Azathoth’ from the centre of nemonymous night, the ‘Shining Trapezohedron’ collider, ‘the three-lobed burning eye’ looking back at the reader, the real haunter of the dark… This story is pervasively monumental, not accidentally eponymous for this collection. A meteorite outwitting even the previous meteorite.
    “Who locked in whom?”
    From this book’s changeling ethos to this story’s incubus-succubus of the father-daughter switch and intermarital transgender of Poean premature burial within each other…involving dubious sexual politics of a man’s brain being stronger than a woman’s, and earlier euthanasia on the cusp of Arkham and Insmouth. The victim of all this is Edward Derby, and I had not remembered his middle name is Pickman, that hand’s picking-up or keyboard-poised man’s fingers….
    “They have tried weakly to concoct a theory of a ghastly jest or warning by discharged servants,…” “…a crowning rage…”
    The story is, as it itself says, ‘tugging at my brain’, come close to my own doorstep, as each story in this book’s printed style of publication is butted up next to its neighbouring story without space to breathe, each on its own textual doorstep. And the ‘old code’ of Edward’s doorbell ring? Just like an Internet password or captcha. All of us butted up together, waiting for our own premature burial in hyperlinks.
    ” There was, I thought, a trace of very profound and very genuine irony in the timbre — not the flashy, meaninglessly jaunty pseudo-irony of the callow ‘sophisticate’, which Derby had habitually affected, but something grim, basic, pervasive, and potentially evil.”
    “The houses were tall, peaked-roofed, incredibly old, and crazily leaning backward, forward, and sidewise. Occasionally, an opposite pair, both leaning forward, almost met across the street like an arch;…”
    …like the doorsteps of the stories themselves. This close-ordered book itself — a straight reprint of the one with the picker-man on its front except for replacing that cover with a relatively more wholesome one — is my own Rue d’Auseil, whither I should never have returned, even thus partially. Yet, it was a meant-to-be thing, just like the words themselves within it. The original dead monument to once ancient hope. But if once ancient hope, no longer ancient?
    Using at one point the word ‘unversed’ that I momentarily misread as ‘universed’, this story about the mute musician Erich Zann, his shrieking viol (compare and contrast the “touching deep violstrings of ancestral emotion” I quoted earlier above), and my visit to his garret, a living space that, beyond its closed curtain, is said to command the only view of the city and its wholesome lights beyond the building’s ‘summit wall’. Zann’s music I heard that night has left me with a life-long obsession with atonal music of a certain kind, an obsession that I have not kept hidden from my blogs and forums, facebooks and wild tweets. This story is not a coda so much as the meat of the symphony. Today, after 50 years, I now intend to open those curtains again…

Tales of Mystery and Imagination – Edgar Allan Poe

Tales of Mystery and Imagination – Edgar Allan Poe

The book where I first read Poe, bought new in the mid 1960s for half a crown…
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I might re-read its contents and attempt some gestalt real-time observations in the comment stream below…
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16 responses to “Tales of Mystery and Imagination – Edgar Allan Poe

  1. This book is like a suspended lute, the sooner you touch it, its strings resonate again.
    I will not itemise the plots of the stories if and when I re-read them, as they are so famous, nor will I remind you of their perfectly pitched gothic or decadent or mysterious music of tentacular text. Literary and philosophical as well as thrilling.
    However, I will try to elicit the stories’ preternatural qualities to suit my preternatural reviews…
    And the perfect example must surely be the first one that is printed in the book: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, with reference to the painter Fuseli, the lengthy text of a poem entitled ‘The Haunted Palace’, plus the books mentioned in the quoted passage below but, above all, ‘Mad Trist’ by Sir Launcelot Canning, where that randomly chosen book preternaturally matches the sounds and sights that occur in the Usher plot exactly when those passages from ‘Mad Trist’ are read aloud to Roderick Usher by the narrator. The ultimate gestalt as a preternature of literature.
    “Our books — the books which, for years, had formed no small portion of the mental existence of the invalid — were, as might be supposed, in strict keeping with this character of phantasm. We pored together over such works as the Vert vert et Chartreuse of Gresset; the Belphegor of Machiavelli; the Heaven and Hell of Swedenborg; the Subterranean Voyage of Nicholas Klimm by Holberg; the Chiromancy of Robert Flud, of Jean D’Indagine, and of De la Chambre; the Journey into the Blue Distance of Tieck; and the City of the Sun of Campanella. One favourite volume was a small octavo edition of the Directorium Inquisitorum, by the Dominican Eymeric de Gironne; and there were passages in Pomponius Mela, about the old African Satyrs and Œgipans, over which Usher would sit dreaming for hours. His chief delight, however, was found in the perusal of an exceedingly rare and curious book in quarto Gothic — the manual of a forgotten church — the Vigiliæ Mortuorum secundum Chorum Ecclesiæ Maguntinæ.”
    “As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentangles. He derives pleasure from even the most trivial occupations bringing his talent into play. He is fond of enigmas, of conundrums, of hieroglyphics; exhibiting in his solutions of each a degree of acumen which appears to the ordinary apprehension præternatural.” (My bold)
    ‘Random observations preceding a somewhat peculiar narration’ or a supremely analytical Sherlock Holmes in the making? Word association trail by intentional fallacy or a sane scientific path to the core of things? This tale of murders, is like seeking the gestalt as Ourang-Outang in every work of literature, by unstuffing the corpse from the text’s chimney, as it were. And the quote at the end of this Poe story from Rousseau’s Nouvelle Heloise reminds me of another book that links this story to one by Elise Forier Edie that I reviewed here a few days ago – by preternature or design? Ourang-Outang or You-Go-Back?
    “The faculty of re-solution is possibly much invigorated by mathematical study, and especially by that highest branch of it which, unjustly, and merely on account of its retrograde operations, has been called, as if par excellence, analysis.” (My bold)
    “To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these — the dreams — writhed in and about, taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps.”
    Seven lethal chambers, leading each to each. No loose nails or locked doors. Just a new vista around each corner. There seems something synaesthetically premonitory about this work with regard to modern Horror Literature, building up a mask or masque of security anthropomorphised through the leitmotifs of colour, music and dance to become not security at all but Death as eventual gestalt. A template from scratch that is only a template in hindsight. No literary interpretations or perceived subtleties discovered by me or by anyone else in the text can soften the certainty of pattern.
    “He who has never swooned, is not he who finds strange palaces and wildly familiar faces in coals that glow; is not he who beholds floating in mid-air the sad visions that the many may not view; is not he who ponders over the perfume of some novel flower – is not he whose brain grows bewildered with the meaning of some musical cadence which has never before arrested his attention.”
    The Pan edition I am reading has the ‘never’ in the first line above in square brackets! I feel this may be significant regarding this analytical text, of measurements and calculations within an unknown environment of coldly vermin-infested swaddling-darkness – an analysis worthy of the protagonist in the Rue Morgue story, where both negative and positive needs to be factored into the final gestalt. The torture by the Inquisition, although powerfully incanted by the text, is beside the point with regard to this analysis and the imputed happy ending. Not a horror story so much as a temporary ride on a coldly concocted version of a hair-raising ghosthouse trip.
    [There is something resonant about the sound of ‘Pit and Pendulum’ with the word Pickman from the HPL story I read a few hours ago for a simultaneous real-time review.]
    Well, of course, this relatively short real-time monologue is monumental Poe. I first encountered it in the above Pan paperback, from which I read it aloud, as a 17 year old, on to my reel-to-reel tape recorder. I now can use this real-to-real review to tell you that I read it aloud again a few years ago here on the TLO Discussion Forum (you merely need to join this forum to be able to hear it).
    I have read this work at least a thousand times, and it seems to me to be like a Rue Morgue type analysis of a murder, where that one was linear, and this one retrocausal. Or vice versa.
    Pages 88 – 103

    “What ho! what ho! this fellow is dancing mad!
    He hath been bitten by the Tarantula. ALL IN THE WRONG.”

    It seems appropriate I read and real-time reviewed the cosmic lunacy of the Legrasse chapter of HPL’s ‘Call of Cthulhu’ this very morning… Now we have the at least mild lunacy of Legrand and his dead gold-bug (equivalent to HPL’s swamp-found statuette?) that has or does not have antennae, does or does not give him a bite, is or is not made of real gold, is or is not truly dead, and Legrand’s ‘negro’ or ‘nigger’ Jup, who threatens (affectionately?) to whup his massa Legrand just as much as his massa expects servitude from him. Legrand’s friend, the narrator, is commissioned to accompany them both on a wild-goes-nowhere chase to the wilds involving Jup later climbing precariously upon the dead limb of a tree and measuring down through a there-found skull’s left eye with the threaded gold-bug, where, toward a spot on the ground, I leave them on page 103 starting to dig at that spot… Mild lunacy, or cosmic connections to some eternal Lovecraftian truth, or another Rue Morgue analysis of measurement?
  7. Pages 103 – 122
    “I say the singularity of this coincidence absolutely stupefied me for a time. This is the usual effect of such coincidences. The mind struggles to establish a connexion — a sequence of cause and effect — and, being unable to do so, suffers a species of temporary paralysis.”
    And perhaps I should leave this second half of ‘The Gold Bug’ at that, for fear of spoilers. (Seek the treasure for yourself, I say!)
    Other than to say that this text sort of mirrors the triangulations of Escher angles and coordinates of longtitude-latitude in ‘Call of Cthulhu’ (that I coincidentally read today), as well as the cryptic measurement and word associations of the Rue Morgue. Together with an envied mystification for mystification’s sake by using the gold-bug rather than a bullet! And, oh yes, the Cthulhu Mythos also needs expendable suicide spear-carriers like you and me who dig it up by collating (or merely reading) such stories…!
    Indeed, the whole nature of the cryptic unravelling does remind me of my own gestalt real-time reviewing by brainstorming, triangulation and retrocausality: ‘the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’, as I have called this process for decades.
    “A single grain of gimlet-dust, for example, would have been as obvious as an apple.”
    The detective character Dupin from the Rue Morgue affair solves the whereabouts of a stolen letter – with inferred motives for retention by its thief – by rescuing it from Plain Sight amid an absorbing vision of algebraic analysis upon multiple bluffs and graded assumptions about the various parties’ intelligence. But that description of the plot, of course, is a complete bluff on my own part… “…carefully probed, longitudinally, with the needles.”
    It was like the Pendulum’s Pit suddenly revealed. The tell-tale heart under the floorboards. Cthulhu hidden in the sunlight. My face in the mirror. Jup’s left eye hidden from his right. Death camouflaged by blood.
    “Ugh! ugh! ugh! — ugh! ugh! ugh! — ugh! ugh! ugh! — ugh! ugh! ugh! — ugh! ugh! ugh!”
    Telling of one coughing tantamount toward his coffin, enticed by pride of knowledge about wine, this flash fiction has a retributive mason build a wall around this human wine-coffer, a catacomb wall that is the opposite of freed masonry, as tangled with the decayed mortality of human bones around a potential tell-tale heart. Not a fable of retribution so much as an amoral gratuitousness. Undiscoverable even by a Dupin?
  10. LIGEIA
    “Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will. — JOSEPH GLANVILL.”
    A sumptuous, rhapsodically textured text, deceptively ‘slender’ or agile like Ligeia herself perhaps when in full health, but decadently and morbidly tapestried throughout otherwise. Like Ligeia, there is a ‘strangeness’ in this text but one that is hidden in Plain Sight, like Poe’s purloined letter earlier. But, here, it is the Sight itself, her eyes, the most thrilling eyes in all literature, I claim — followed in time’s due accretion by a “Saracenic” tapestried undulance, a literally textured vision of her soul wrestling with shadow… In the end, the Eyes Have It, the Eyes Have It. Eyes with the glance of pervasive foreign, oriental cultures…
    A subsuming of one’s second false love with a revivification by one’s first true love. The hope of transcending Death through the narrator’s (or is it Ligeia’s?) wilful amorality? Like today’s battling Saracenic wills in Iraq and Syria? That Conqueror Worm? Poe at his undidactic best. Or with a didacticism hidden in Plain Sight?
    cf ‘The Giaour’ by Lord Byron, about Leila… This review of mine seems to be the very first connection between ‘The Giaour’ and ‘Ligeia’. Poe was a fan of Byron. And there are similar Islamic connections in ‘The Giaour’ (and, by the way, a vampire)…
    “In my own heart, there dwells no faith in præternature.”
    With that ironic quote and the decoy of this being a sequel of the Rue Morgue affair, with the same Sherlock Holmesian Dupin character, it is in fact an amazing story quite beyond the scope of normal detective story ratiocination, a lengthy relentless text that I felt myself compelled ineluctably to read, even though I could not consciously follow all its paradoxically logical brainstorming of a murder crime in America exactly reflected by one in France. But I could follow it osmotically. And which is the parallel crime, which the real one? Those ‘synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’ again. This is a template for our times, where every permutation of truth is exploited cybernetically by ourselves upon each other. It is also a template for my own gestalt real-time reviewing, my dreamcatching, my interest in so-called chance games like Deal or No Deal, the balance of probabilities, triangulated coordinates, the human condition, fictionalised truth, the value of irrelevance, coincidence and the ‘insanity of logic’…
    If the previous story is where this book clinches its gestalt, this one is its didactic coda. A neat horrific blend of ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ and ‘The Cask of Amontillado’, where the protagonist’s retribution is upon living creatures themselves through ‘Perverseness’ from being forced to live tormented with alcoholic addiction beyond mere casks of sherry. Not didactic at all, perhaps, but gratuitous. Gratuitous, if inevitable. A fate ignited by a tell-tale catalyst called Pluto (HPL’s Yuggoth). And sheer unnecessary bravado. A bit like picking up this book again after 50 years?