Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Fool's Ranking

I've now read twelve Lafferty novels. (It's been a while since I counted, but I think that my short stories read count is up around 170--out of 220+ published!)

As deep as I am into Lafferty, I still feel like a newbie. So much to read. So much to learn.

Here's how I'd personally rank the novels if someone asked me today. The order would probably change by tomorrow.

1. Archipelago
2. Sindbad: The Thirteenth Voyage
3. My Heart Leaps Up
4. The Devil is Dead
5. Fourth Mansions
6. Not to Mention Camels
7. Annals of Klepsis
8. Serpent's Egg
9. Arrive at Easterwine
10. Past Master
11. The Reefs of Earth
12. Space Chantey

If someone wanted me to assign star or number ratings, that's easy. Each of these books is a perfect 10/10 or five stars out of five stars. I have not yet met a Lafferty novel which has disappointed me. They have confounded me, but never disappointed. There are some stories that I can take or leave, that I've definitely felt lukewarm towards, but I've never felt that way about any of the novels (except maybe Aurelia--sorry, Gregorio!--which I started and did not finish).

Eleven published novels left to go!:
More Than Melchisidech
The Flame is Green
Half a Sky
The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeney
Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis?
East of Laughter
The Fall of Rome
Okla Hannali
The Elliptical Grave

So, by my count, that's 23 published novels? Right? Am I missing anything?

And then 14 unpublished novels? And six unpublished novel fragments?

I'm planning on reading Aurelia next, then I'm not sure. Maybe More Than Melchisidech and Dotty. It's possible that before this year is over, I'll get serious and write an essay on one specific aspect of the Argo Cycle, an idea that I've been rolling around in my head for a while. I need to read MTM and Dotty before I can feel good about starting this.

"You'll add to it yourself in your death straits, if there is any deformed originality in you."

I read the entirety of Not to Mention Camels over three days while on a family vacation this past weekend. It felt good to relax into a novel, especially one as thrillingly good as this one. I knew Camels only by its reputation as a "very bad, terrible book" and knew that DOJP was hesitant to fully love the novel. I think that Gaiman specifically mentions it as a failed novel in his Coode St episode. I also learned at this year's LaffCon that the book had been astoundingly popular in Spain when it was translated there, going through multiple print runs. (Weirdly, there's no entry for the Spanish edition on isfdb.)

I wrote the following the other day after reading the first four chapters.....

Anyone really love Not to Mention Camels? I think I do.

I'm four chapters in and really enjoying it. It's definitely strongly Laffertarian, but it's also giving me a strong PKD vibe with its immoral protagonist and unstable, uncertain realities. It's funny, but it's a much darker funny. Something about a highly capable male protagonist trying to exert his will over the world makes this novel feel more closely aligned with core sf than many of Lafferty's other texts. It almost feels like a subversion of the Campbellian/Heinleinian self-sufficient man myth.

Reading Camels jolted in me an awareness (I'd already known this but now thought it afresh) of how important community is to Lafferty's work.

In Space Chantey, Roadstrum is captain of an entire crew.

In Past Master, Thomas More joins a small band of misfits.

In Reefs of Earth, the Puca children are a family unit.

In Fourth Mansions, Freddy Foley is in constant contact with almost everyone else in the novel.

In Sindbad, there is, like in Past Master, a small band of weird heroes facing down swamp dragons.

In Serpent's Egg, there are the 12 children.

In Archipelago, there is the core group of friends.

In The Devil is Dead, Finnegan is central, but there are several women orbiting around him, and also the Devil and Mr. X.

Arrive at Easterwine features the Institute.

Annals of Klepsis is another ship's crew.

My Heart Leaps Up features dozens of kids.

Those are examples from the novels that I've read (excluding a few novels that I've dipped into but haven't read in their entirety).

Examples could be multiplied from the stories. (So too could exceptions.)

Multiplied is a good word. Lafferty dealt in multiples and abundance was a regular thing. Including a multiplication of and abundance of characters.

In Not to Mention Camels, though, so far there is no such community. There is the force of will of a man (?) Pilgrim and those who bend to his will. His antagonist, Evenhand, is surrounded by a company of eight, but even then, the are described as extensions of himself.

The Case of the Moth-Eaten Magician was published in 1981, five years after the publication of Not to Mention Camels. I believe that the opening of Moth-Eaten Magician gives us one clue as to what Lafferty was up to in this hellish novel. Contra Sartre, hell is not other people. It is a complete disregard for anything Other, anything outside of oneself.

Long excerpt from the beginning of Magician:

Well, following the same cleavage, there are two kinds of almost everything. There are two kinds of people in the world, and that's the difficulty.
There are persons with a strong interest and affection for themselves and themselves alone.
There are persons with a strong interest and affection for the world about them, and for its furniture and people.
So far as I know, these are the only two sorts of people there are, and the difference between these two sorts is very deep. It would seem that the persons of the first sort, having no real interest in other persons at all, would not be interesting to those other persons either; but this isn't always the case. These persons of the first sort are often able to transmit their intoxication with themselves to others.
“Everybody look at me,
I'm way and out the best there be,”
— the persons proclaim, and often groups and clots of folks, loitering and guesting clusters or clumps of people will give them the echo “Amen, Amen, you sure are!” This is mostly inexplicable to me. Many persons of the first sort do become cult figures and have followings. But it seems as though a universe with only one person in it, and a group of shadows, is too small.
These classifications have nothing to do with the artificial categories of introvert and extrovert. A person of the first sort will see and admire himself both from within and from without. He will see himself from a series of exterior vistas set like spotlights to highlight him.
And a person of the second sort will see the world objectively in whatever manner persons do see exterior objects and complexes. And he will also see it in a subjective and personalized way. No one can see things without putting his own personal signature on his seeing.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

take it for gift, take it for granted; it was for his openness that a number of amazing worlds happened to him and can happen to you.

Ingolf Dalferth thinks we are Creatures of Possibility. By that, he means that “we are creatures in the making whose actual becoming depends on possibilities beyond our control that occur in our lives as opportunities and chances that we can neglect and miss or take up and use” (ix). We are free to choose and act, and we can determine “the mode of our choosing and the way of our acting in moral terms.” Yet this freedom “depends on conditions that are beyond our control: we can choose and act and determine ourselves only against the backdrop of a basic passivity that characterizes our life and cannot be replaced or undone by anything we can do” (x).
This is a fundamental reality of human life: “Most of what we are we do not owe to ourselves.” Our existence (Dasein), our particular way of existence (Sosein), and our truthful existence (Wahrsein) are all “molded by passivity”: “There is so much that happens to us and so little that we make happen. Before I can act as a self, I must become a self, and while I cannot be a self without acting, I cannot become a self by acting.” Before we can even us the nominative “I,” we first experience the dative and the accusative—we are objects and recipients. In short, “A primal passivity precedes all our activity. Before we can give, we must be a given, and before we can act, we must be an actuality” (xi-xii).
Peter Leithart on Ingolf Dalferth's Creatures of Possibility

"All his life, people would be giving valuable things to Fred Foley unasked: gifts, powers, lives, worlds, secrets."
-R.A. Lafferty, Fourth Mansions

"Simply, Freddy will continue to evolve as the four exterior forces give him outright gifts and accidental benefits. His role in life seems to be as recipient and beneficiary of the other forces in the world. This lets him become the first truly integrated person by the end of the novel, able to incorporate the characteristics of all the monsters."
-Kevin Cheek, from an essay to be published in the LaffCon2 booklet (yes, this is a teaser!)

“It may be that you will like Fourth Mansions and you may find yourself a little bit like Freddy Foley in it, in youth and openness at least. It was for his openness that a number of amazing worlds happened to him and can happen to you. I have picked out four human aspects or movements in this, out of many, which are deformities and monstrosities in isolation, but which should be strengths when integrated in the person and group personality. At least that is what I have tried to do. Even the Patricks must have their place in the integrated personality and they must have their place in you.”
R. A. Lafferty, Letter to Guy Lillian, Challenger #16 (1969)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

In the funny paper.

"There was the invisible dog of the patrick Bertigrew Bagley, who was more ape than dog, and who could sometimes be seen if one knew how to look. Foley saw him now, and the plappergeist winked solemnly at him. Freddy knew who he was then. He was the island-ape who used to be in the Katzenjammer Kids in the funny paper. But all grotesque funny paper characters have independent and exterior existence, unknown usually to their drawers. It was good to have the dog, the ape, the polter-plappergeist on your side. He was smarter and more mischievous than other dogs or apes, and he could kill effectively." 
-from Fourth Mansions

Over 100 years later, it's still hard to find Katzenjammer Kids comics.

Some future fan/scholar will have to do the hard work of digging through thousands of microfiche newspapers. What's microfiche? What's a newspaper?

I've become increasingly convinced (after reading My Heart Leaps Up) that early 20th century popular culture (nostalgic trash) is one major key to one major Lafferty door. Anyone annotating a Lafferty book better brush up on newspaper strips and big bands. A quick search reveals only one candidate for a Katzenjammer island ape, and this is only preserved in a Turkish translation!


This may or may not be the right ape. Perhaps future Lafferty scholars (or Katzenjammer scholars) will someday make the identification.

I've often thought that there's an interesting essay to be written by someone willing to wrestle with all of Laff's references to comics, uses of comics in his stories, and sometimes comics-logic. Alas, I don't think that I'll ever write that essay, but I'll be first in line to read it if someone else takes up the challenge!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Lafferty blurbs Wolfe.

From Endangered Species:

From Pandora by Holly Hollander:

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


From "The Effigy Histories:"

"...for he had the various shapes and attitudes of a person who knows everything. Those shapes and attitudes are intuitive, and they are always to be recognized. And they cannot be faked.
 And Karl Effigy did not know everything, because all his pleasant Histories were nonsense, and so were his pleasant explanations of them."

From "The Casey Machine"

""In times before this, several other organizations of illuminated persons have known everything. They knew everything, before their own deaths, by making a Particular Judgment in their own lives. But we become masters of our own judgment in a way the earlier ones could not, because we live in an age of electronic amplification and switching and data control. We are able to project it all, and to repeat it. Yes, and we are able to sell it."


Besides  “The Men Who Knew Everything," there are others in Lafferty's fictions who knew everything. Diogenes Pontifex, that elegant man not quite of the Institute, is said to have been a man who knew everything. The other elegantly indecent non-member of the Institute, Audifax O’Hanlon, is described as “quite ordinary except for one double-edged gift: he knew everything that had been, and everything that would be.”

Oread Funnyfingers went to school only for seemliness. She already knew everything. Charley Longbank, friend of collector Leo Nation, is also offhandedly described as one who knew everything.

(See “Hole on the Corner,” Arrive at Easterwine, “Funnyfingers,” “All Pieces of the River Shore.”)

In Reefs of Earth, we read: “As a high master of the Bagarthatch, John Pandemonium was supposed to be a pangnostic, one who knew everything.”

In Archipelago, we are introduced to the Dirty Five “as mythology knows them.” We are told that, “Between them they knew everything, had thought all thoughts, had done all things, or at least had them in mind to do.”

Melchisedech Duffey “knew everything, of course, but that was no special achievement. A lot of them knew everything.”

Hans, one of the Five, “knew everything before everyone else.” Hans also studied under Professor Kirol von Weinsberg, “the last man who knew everything.”

“There can never be another one, as knowledge has so constantly multiplied that it is no longer possible for one man to know it all. It is necessary that there be a new sort of man who is satisfied with only knowing a part of it. It is necessary, but the Professor wouldn't be so satisfied, and neither would Hans.”

In The Devil is Dead, “Papa Devil knew everything.”

There are probably others that I've missed and many further connections to be made.

And as is evidenced in "The Effigy Histories" and "The Casey Machine" (part of More than Melchisedech, the whole of which I haven't tackled yet) excerpts above, there are artificial (and vile) ways of knowing everything and/or ways to know everything but also have it all completely wrong.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Links Links Links

Posting this here to remind myself that I have a Lafferty blog.

Discoveries this morning...

---Among Lafferty's surviving personal papers:
"Photo-reproduction of an illustration featuring goats and ducks, and a helicopter flying upside down."

---Michael Dirda was on the World Fantasy Committee that awarded Lafferty his Lifetime Achievement Award.
"I'm a great fan of R.A. Lafferty -- in fact, I was on the World Fantasy Awards committee that got him a Lifetime Achievement Award."

---Jo Walton's L shelves begin with Lafferty.
"You know how you sometimes get medication that says “do not exceed 4 tablets in 24 hours”? Lafferty is like that for me. The best way to read him is to keep a collection on your bedside table and read one story every night."

---A man named George Barlow wrote a significant intro to Laff in '73. FoL should translate and publish this.
"Ce qui m'a toujours gêné chez Eliot, ce qui me gêne aussi chez Lafferty, c'est la conjonction d'une extrême érudition et d'une extrême désinvolture : chez l'un comme chez l'autre, la plus grande richesse dans le plus grand désordre exige du lecteur des efforts d'autant plus difficiles que ni la raison (claire perception d'un enchaînement logique) ni la sensibilité (identification à des tribulations humaines) ne sont mobilisés pour les soutenir."

---More French Lafferty stuff here:

---Paul Cook gives Lafferty some love in a sf history lecture:
"I would equate in spirit many of R.A. Lafferty's short stories with those of magical realist Jorge Luis Borges. They are that good. Lafferty, however, has more humor than does Borges."

---Lafferty gets some love from The Believer.
"2015 saw a spate of reissues (including these deluxe editions) of the wonderfully odd stories of long out-of-print wunderkind R.A. Lafferty. Another writer whose work has been classed as science fiction but whose true metier was ideas stretched to their greatest possibilities, Lafferty wrote in imitable laser-blasts of prose equal parts playful and transfixing. These collections are an affirmation for an enduring cult of devotees for whom Lafferty is the American equal of a Borges or Cortázar."

---Anthony has been posting wonderful "illustration notes" on his blog. Start with this one, then read through them all.
"Since I've started making art again, everything I have created has been for Feast of Laughter."

---Not Laff-related, but I'll sign off with this great Percy quote:
"Who says I despair? That is to say, I would reverse Kierkegaard's aphorism that the worst despair is that despair which is unconscious of itself as despair, and instead say that the best despair and the beginning of hope is to be conscious of despair in the very air we breathe, and to look around for something better. I like to eat crawfish and drink beer. That's despair?"