L reports, “As a child I often found a piece of fiction deeply odd, an iceberg the visible ten percent of which indicated a hidden ninety, only to discover a few years later that I simply hadn’t understood its social or emotional subject matter.” That’s the effect she looks for in her own fiction under the designation uncanny. “It’s always produced by some relational shift of the elements & you have to withold the later moment of understanding.” I say that I think we’re describing the same thing & that I find it easiest to do in a near-to-mainstream short story; though most of the time it’s a quarry pursued & not quite caught. L isn’t beyond abusing what she calls “uncanniness theory”, but says she’s neither content with anyone else’s definitions nor interested in whether the product meets theoretical conditions. “A story tries to open an angle of vision that shouldn’t be there. Look along it. That’s the best I can offer.” In case that fails, she makes sure there’s always plenty of other stuff–horror, the bizarre, people & actions seen from wrenched perspectives, jokes, allusions & narratives that work themselves & the reader into unpleasant corners. “All the gubbins,” she writes to me, “provided traditionally by that kind of fiction.” I write back that the word gubbins dates us both; while she decides that, as a child, she was “a precocious reader but a backward human being.”
“I had not yet read a real novel… This already predisposed me to imagine something indefinable and delicious in Francois le Champi. Narrative devices intended to arouse curiosity or emotion, certain modes of expression that make one uneasy or melancholy, and that a reader with some education will recognise as common to many novels, appeared to me – who considered a new book not as a thing having many counterparts, but as a unique person, having no reason for existing but in itself… Behind those events so ordinary, those things so common, those words so current, I sensed a strange sort of intonation, accentuation. The action began; it seemed to me all the more obscure because in those days , when I read, I often daydreamed, during entire pages, of something quite different.” — Marcel Proust, The Way By Swann’s.
This echoes my own reading experiences so much it’s, er … yeah. So much so, in fact, that I almost always have to put a book down when I realise I’m not lost anymore.
As a younger reader I often credited writers for inventing entirely new concepts and modes of perception, only to realize, years later, that they were simply working out old ideas and concepts I hadn’t run across yet. E. R. Eddison for example, was so far removed from my southeastern USA Protestant Capitalist sensibility that I thought his brand of Classist/Royalist Paganism was something remarkably new.