Saturday, November 22, 2014

Butterworth coming to America?

Highbrow readers are familiar with the Butterworth/Savoy Exhibition at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester. Back channel conversation hints that the show will come to North America in 2015.  Watch this space for further developments.

Please click HERE for a description and additional links related to the show.

Please click HERE for Gareth Jackson's photos.

Philip Murray-Lawson's interview with Michael Butterworth:  Part I   Part II

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Nostalgia of the Infinite (2100 BC)

Remains of ziggurat from Uruk honoring Inanna

Je suis le ténébreux, le veuf, l’inconsolé,
Le Prince d’Aquitaine á sa tour abolie… 

                              -- Gérard de Nerval

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Were the Ninevites Stupid?

In the last line of the Book of Jonah, the Lord states there are in Nineveh "more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle."  

Sounds like they were stupid. Nevertheless, earlier they did heed Jonah's warnings and repent of their wickedness. Why, the king himself  "arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes."  We might observe that though they were stupid, verily even in the eyes of the Lord, they were yet capable of doing the right thing, apparently even the king. This can only prompt us to conclude that stupidity and wickedness--notwithstanding what Plato might say--are separate things, but that's material for another blog post, and so here I conclude.

Jonah Considers Nineveh

Monday, November 17, 2014

Are God's Readers Stupid? (trigger warning: wrathful deity, dismayed law-giver, political contention, Charlton Heston...)

Exodus 32.19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Friday, November 7, 2014

H. P. Lovecraft on Clark Ashton Smith

In his essay on Supernatural Horror in Literature,  H. P. Lovecraft offers the following gloss on Clark Ashton Smith:
Of younger Americans, none strikes the note of cosmic horror so well as the Californian poet, artist and fictionist Clark Ashton Smith, whose bizarre writings, drawings, paintings and stories are the delight of a sensitive few. Mr. Smith has for his background a universe of remote and  paralyzing fright—jungles of poisonous and iridescent blossoms on the moons of Saturn, evil and grotesque temples in Atlantis, Lemuria, and forgotten elder worlds, and dank morasses of spotted death-fungi in spectral countries beyond earth’s rim. His longest and most ambitious poem, The Hashish-Eater, is in pentameter blank verse; and opens up chaotic and incredible vistas of kaleidoscopic nightmare in the spaces between the stars. In sheer daemonic strangeness and fertility of conception, Mr. Smith is perhaps unexcelled by any other writer dead or living. Who else has seen such gorgeous, luxuriant, and feverishly distorted visions of infinite spheres and multiple dimensions and lived to tell the tale? His short stories deal powerfully with other galaxies, worlds, and dimensions, as well as with strange regions and aeons on the earth. He tells of primal Hyperborea and its black amorphous god Tsathoggua; of the lost continent Zothique, and of the fabulous, vampire-curst land of Averoigne in mediaeval France. Some of Mr. Smith’s best work can be found in the brochure entitled The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies (1933).
In his Introduction to the Dover edition of Lovecraft's essay, E. F. Bleiler expresses his disagreement:
In terms of critical position, Lovecraft, I believe, overrated both Lord Dunsany and C. A. Smith. The case of Smith, the only contemporary American author whom Lovecraft regarded with awe, is puzzling.
In answer to Bleiler, and setting aside Dunsany for the nonce (we will consider him in some future Highbrow installment), I should not consider it impossible to assume that Lovecraft's praise is an expression of admiration for a friend. Indeed, however, the nature of this friendship is literary. Considering the "vibrating" enthusiasm of his praise--the curious pharmacological language underscoring toxicants, paralysis, and the "spaces between the stars"--I can only conclude that Lovecraft is not simply considering the material of Smith's work, but is moreover praising Smith as a person who has thoroughly and genuinely fallen under his (Smith's) own spell. That is, the criterion that so impresses Lovecraft is the legitimacy of Smith as a flesh and blood exponent of the self-same mystique Smith is aspiring to achieve through his work. Smith's independence and reclusive nature are well known. Indeed--and I think this is Lovecraft's detail--Smith is not only the poet of those spaces between the stars, he himself is the embodiment of those grand dimensions. Considering the nature of their--Lovecraft and Smith's--craft, could there be a higher departure point for praise?

Clark Ashton Smith in 1912

Friday, October 31, 2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

from The Witch of Atlas

And how all things that seem untameable,
Not to be checked and not to be confined,
Obey the spells of Wisdom's wizard skill;
Time, earth, and fire--the ocean and the wind,
And all their shapes--and man's imperial will;
And other scrolls whose writings did unbind
The inmost lore of Love--let the profane
Tremble to ask what secrets they contain.   
                                                                         --P. B. Shelley

Monday, October 27, 2014

Friday, October 24, 2014

Time for UBIK?

Tessa Dick argues that it is time for a film based on Philip K. Dick's novel UBIK. Please click HERE.

Not intended as an endorsement, some restrictions apply.  Avoid using while watching TV or during defibrillation.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Of Sonnets, Inspiration, and Method: a brief chat with Mack Hassler and Michael Butterworth

Filial Sonnet for Two Remarkable Sons

                        "There were giants in the earth
                        in those days; and also after that."
                                                            Genesis 6:4

Perhaps one needs to craft a solid form
Capable of standing tall and quell
That energy where wanton waves can swell
The writing reeds obsequious in the storm.
Such sycophants, in fact, do minor harm.
The little writer writes on passing well.
The lover rigs his line to cast a spell
And magic holds the stage and saves the farm.
Still I think our children need to know
Even as they crowd the busy scene
That other stories might have been,
That taking bows, that even pledging troth
Are preparatory.  Work must follow both
And overcoming many deaths is how we grow.

                                             Donald M. Hassler
Mack Hassler has sent us (above) a sample from the section of the work he is preparing for Emanations 5. This is an Italian sonnet.  In the octave, the speaker expresses frustration with the work of a poetaster he's recently heard, which, for lack of sound craft and a paucity of  substantive matter, strikes him as tedious--I am wont to say the poems the speaker has been hearing are "minor" and (maybe) "vapid"... but the point that I really wish to underscore is the poetaster's lack of integrity and, in turn, lack of art. In the sestet, the speaker offers resolution by underscoring the need to engage poetry as a matter of procreation and endurance--that is, producing something that endures and survives from generation to generation (and Mack has his sons in mind as his speaker advances these views). In order to endure, in order to survive, poetry must convey this same knowledge, and the complex of ideas having to do with generative themes and survival are appropriate--if not key--subjects.  Poetry is made of (and made for) seeing--and seeing through--real difficulties. Craft should thus be fit to the subject, as the subject is to the craft, and thus craft itself must be identified as part of the subject. And here forgive my "acute obtuseness" and potted explication, but I am making points rather than offering a close reading. Also, I think I am learning something about Mack's poetry--and learning something about how to write about Mack's poetry.

This theme of craftsmanship: our Submissions Call for Emanations places sufficient emphasis on experimentation and "unusual" work.  But I want to underscore the notion that also we are interested in craftsmanship--close craftsmanship, conscientious attention to detail, and studied but graceful aesthetic sensitivities...  These qualities are evident in Mack's sonnet.  So while we are "experimental," I think it is equally important to emphasize that we are not simply discovering new life forms, slapping together chimeras, or forcing fantastic transformations: we are just as attentive to the action of experimenting through craft... and in the same way that Mack is speaking through the sonnet, which in the bestiary of poetic structures is surely not a new life form, and certainly no chimera.

Michael Butterworth:
I am more of an expressionist writer in the way I produce my work. I have learned very little craft because the complexities of language are not something I'm good at grasping in a conscious way. Charles Platt once said that my writing is produced by an unconscious process of synthesis. I undergo long periods of sensory input and mental processing at an unconscious level, then the writing comes out whole (when it comes out at all). I don't think of an idea, then a plot, then a structure and so on. I sit and wait by the typewriter for something to happen. Once something is written, I will chip at it to shape it better. I can sometimes do a lot of editorial work on it at this stage, and can often see how disparate pieces that I didn't know what to do with link together, and writing bridging text.

I envy writers who can bring craft to their work, and I can see Mack does. If I had been able to master it I would have been a more confident writer (ie by having a ready prepared framework) and a more prolific one. I believe, ideally, that craft and 'expressionism' (for wont of a better word) should go together.

One of the many admirable policies of New Worlds (like Emanations) was its willingness to embrace all forms or writing, high and low, old or new, craft-driven or not, but one of its central edicts was that form should fit the subject matter. In other words things should work in their own right, and it didn't matter how, so long as they did. Part of the novelty of both NW and Emanations is coming across new pieces of writing that surprise you in so free and expressive in this way, that isn't afraid, even, to be a platform for contemporary (New Wave?) classical writing.
The bottom line, though, is content, having something interesting to say that will also hopefully be relevant to today, whatever form it takes.
Over to Mack for a conclusion (at least a conclusion for the time being):
I think Michael is right on message. I never try to write unless I think I have something to say. But when I start to say it, the message either seems trivial  or my expression of it seems weak. That's when I fall back on whatever tricks or wit I might have seen and remember. When the message and the tricks blend, I feel good about it. That happens way too little in my case. I envy the blend in others.
 Please visit the Emanations 5 Call for Submissions by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Philosophy and Understanding

Allow me to formulate my “Conception of Philosophy.”  Appropriate to my understanding of the subject, I have a quick way to do it.  I’ll use a few bits from Kenny’s book From Empedocles to Wittgenstein, Ch 11 “Philosophy States Only What Everyone Admits,” pages 136-137. Kenny opens by quoting Wittgenstein in the Investigations:
“In philosophy we do not draw conclusions. ‘But it must be like this!’ is not a philosophical proposition. Philosophy only states what everyone admits.” (PI #599) 
Kenny then quotes Peter Hacker’s response to the above, in which Hacker puts his finger on what he believes Wittgenstein is (or rather is not) saying: “It does not mean that there are no arguments in philosophy, or that no definite conclusions can be drawn from them, e.g. that solipsism and idealism are incoherent, or that private language is unintelligible.”

Kenny replies:
“Against Hacker, I think Wittgenstein is seriously maintaining that there are no arguments in philosophy, and that philosophical methods lead to no conclusions. If it is possible definitively to dispose of philosophical errors such as solipsism and idealism, or the belief in private objects, this is achieved by methods that resemble the cure of a delusion rather than the deduction of a therom.”  
A little lower, Kenny quotes the following line from the Investigations: “Philosophy simply puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything” (PI #126).  There is another line that comes to mind from Wittgenstein to the effect that “Philosophy leaves everything as it is.” I don’t consider this to be anti-philosophy, but instead consider it to be advancement in our understanding of what understanding really means... or, put another way, what understanding really is.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Trafika Europe: Online Quarterly Journal of New Literature

Editor Andrew Singer has announced the launch of the online quarterly literary journal Trafica Europe. The first issue, "Northern Idyll" focuses on work from Europe's northern islands, with new poetry, stories and novel excerpts translated from Gaelic and Shetland Scots, Faroese, Icelandic and Norwegian, as well as new works from German, Russian, French, Slovenian and Occitan.

To visit the Trafica Europe web site and view the first issue, please click HERE.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Scarlet Letter in Italy

Dario Rivarossa has blogged on the International Authors edition of The Scarlet Letter.  Please click HERE to read his comments.

We will return to this topic soon.