Imagine this as a photograph found in the usual collapsing shoebox at the usual car boot sale, you know the score by now. The Dali family’s urge towards meaning is as mistaken as your own. Their attempt to force an arrangement on the world by composing themselves in it collides with your attempt to interpret their attempt: in the ensuing confusion, nothing can be understood. It would help just a little if you didn’t see it as a picture of the Dalis–or, especially, of Dali. Everything else in it would begin to matter. The boat, for instance, which you see as leaving rather than arriving, might suddenly become a lot more important.
This from 2008:
Larry at OF Blog reproduces–from Darnton’s classic The Great Cat Massacre–the synopsis of a French fairy tale, then adds ruefully: “There’s something about these tales that just seems to be missing from a lot of literature, both mimetic and speculative alike, being published these days…”
Perhaps it’s the startling images, concerns human & social, sly, sinewy humour, structures quotidian but supple? The directness of engagement with the reader? That everyone in the contract knows exactly where they stand, & no one makes any serious attempt to convince anyone else that the events presented are true? (We are here to enjoy this story together, not to pretend it’s happening.) Is it the lack of rationale & semiotic overload which makes them beautiful, the frank, unsophisticated combination of the weird & the matter-of-fact?
As a side issue, The Great Cat Massacre is a book I would recommend to anyone although: trigger warnings for cat lovers.
Original post & comments here.
Graham Swift is a watcher, a listener, the recorder of our days. “People are life,” one of his characters suggests, but life is also the social structures that context the living of it. The short stories in his third collection often focus, therefore, on occasions. Weddings and divorces, job interviews and funerals, all the puzzled collisions with the bureaucratic infrastructure, all the usual points of connection between the individual and the culture: if they aren’t providing a direct context, they’re never very far in the background… (more)
Dark Matter, by Juli Zeh: intelligent, wry, entertaining quantum fiction. I enjoyed it at least as much as J Robert Lennon’s Familiar, perhaps more. Causality, coincidence, context. Desktop model of consciousness. Salome. A frozen head. The quantum mechanics of ethics. The moral & psychological pitfalls of Many Worlds. Very eccentric detectives & criminals presented by an author full of love. As much a contraption as a Cornell Woolrich, but put together with equal rigour– & moreover only there because it’s necessary, because it’s the inevitable outcome of, the properly chosen form for, its philosophical & moral speculations. Finally, & best of all, it accepts the implications of its own assumptions in a way The Goldfinch signally failed to do earlier this year. Clever book & often very funny too.
Sudden smell of scorched hair & fats. A man in a white shirt stops walking past & looks up into the sunlight. He’s dressed for crown green bowling. He thinks: the wires, always tangled up. Who knows what he saw. At the window you only know what you could smell. The man, dressed in his white shirt & white hat for crown green bowling, will say later that he doesn’t remember anything. He has always felt a deep nostalgia but it is not based on memory. As a result he is forced to look forward like someone with a cricked neck. He is forced to find his memories in front of him–scorched hair, tangled wire, warm sunshine & another man looking down from a window on the shady side of the street. It’s almost seven in the evening, those lazy days of summer.
Dear BBC, I know that the story is the story. But do you have to structure every story around the story that it’s a story, & advise me that you’re storying the story, EVEN WHEN IT’S JUST THE FUCKING WEATHER? I’m fucking storied up to here with the fucking story. Really. I just want to know if it’s going to rain. I do not want to know that it’s going to be “a story of rain”. I do not want the story of the rain. I want to know if it’s going to rain or not. Anything else is meaningless nonsense to me in this context. Rain or no rain? Be careful how you answer this. Because you are a weather forecaster. Get it?
Today’s story has been one of bollocks all over the British Isles, with more bollocks, I’m afraid to say, to come.
(1) what is the exact nature of the catastrophe?
Apotheosis of Quilter & Miranda Lomax in the drained city– Inhabitants reduced to Calibanism– The landscape loses its common reference points– Flash forwards to the next phase– Dead sea imagery contorting itself into counter-images of colour and reflected light– Those bland truisms the Ballardian disaster stripped off the popular apocalyptic fictions of the 1950s– Everyone is leaving for the sea–
(2) Shanghai Jim
“The ironies of this statement seem Swiftian and brutal, an attack on everything we might regard as homely or indeed everything we might regard as childhood. At the same time, we can only conclude that they are a kind of mask; perhaps a way of hiding in plain sight, perhaps a way of playing hide and seek not so much with an audience but with a self–or even a set of selves, like the curiously symbolic characters, fractured and partial, which people his early post-apocalyptic novels and stories.”
(3) Uncertain chemistries
Death is a kind of renewal– Equally, renewal is a kind of death– Love affairs with the jargons of science– This is really two novellas, with an absolute tour-de-force of Ballardian writing as pivot–
(4) The appropriation of symbols
Whose governess could hear the voice of God in Amherst Avenue– Whose governess could hear the voice of God in Amherst Avenue– Whose governess could hear the voice of God in Amherst Avenue– Whose governess could hear the voice of God in Amherst Avenue– Whose governess could hear the voice of God in Amherst Avenue–
(5) The legacy of Lunghua Camp.
The exotic as a repository of time– He sees no point in “driving about in a jeep” and fortifying your house against “the Armageddon to come”– This message, confirmation of its own obsolescence, is the city’s last act– The qualifier “failed” ought to be added to all these referential metaphors– Failed Prospero– Failed charismatic– etc– Major Arcana of the new reality–
(6) Things are hotting up
The draining of landscape is complete– Very little remains moving among the dunes– Events sketchy, violent, bare as the salt– Affect bony or invisible, fully converted into the post-catastrophic limbo– If anything can be said to have emerged from the decease of the previous culture, it cannot be described in terms that culture could understand– At the same time we are not looking into a vacuum of meaning– These very short chapters– Each with a theme developed around an encounter– A laboratory of compression– Later used to condense stories like You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe.
7. “Many of the guests had decided not to appear in costume”
Those of us who cut our teeth on Ballard in the mid-to-late 1960s, like puppies gnawing on a chair leg, understood very little but nevertheless elected him as father, map, compass. Later, perhaps, we understood more, but had already gone on to do something different.