the romance of certain old houses.

Fonthill Abbey, delineation by John Rutter.

Fonthill Abbey, delineation by John Rutter.

I wanted to make a post about the obsession of the house in fiction, particularly fiction of the fantastic and/or macabre. Deriving from the Gothic, much fictional work featuring houses as a central entity or ‘character’ is based on variations of a conservative premise: the heir and their ancestral home. Either the heir has an uneasy relationship with the ancestral home, as in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels, or the ancestral home functions as a symbol of pastoral, Arcadian perfection which is invaded by an exterior force (or an interior force which happens to have been awakened). Either way we begin from a place of soporific privilege and perverting, idle wealth.

These narratives are suffused with the romance of old houses whose massiveness is a chimney-barnacled beacon of economic power, whose lamps shine into the night as quasi-religious icons of comfort and assurance that the Normal State of Things is untrammeled. Oftentimes the narratives use the color palette of faded grandeur, and employ allusive griping about changing economic and cultural situations necessitating the selling of the house’s store of cultural and artistic capital. With American writers, the houses become a little more Lovecraftian, a little more decked with fungal matter. But whether it is the glamor of the hale country stronghold, the faded beauty of a fleeting lifestyle, or the fascinating ugliness of the long-ruined, the romance of certain old houses is sold to us unrelentingly. The constituent parts of this narrative equation, s and h, are equally important: size and history.

As politically problematic as I find such narrative grounding, it is nonetheless formidable in its seductive power. As a kid I played the Castlevania series for N64 and Gameboy, and wandering through endless halls effulgent with ornate lamps, and impossibly large libraries stuffed with ghastly, floating books, formed a central role in my dreams and imaginings. I enjoy looking at delineations of old country seats and lithographs of castles and photochroms of villas. I re-imagine them (political correctness run amok!) as being artist colonies or other usages less oriented toward exploitation and wealth accumulation. For the most part, this severance from context is a pantomime done in bad faith. The extravagance of such structures is inextricable from their context of being built on the backs of others. Their foundations rest on the necks of the majority and their utilitarian function is to demonstrate the power of private capital or the state. And yet they are so god damned cool.

Artist n/a.

Artist n/a.

The large house in fiction of the fantastic is engrossing for a number of reasons, one of which is that it provides a material analogy for psychological phenomena: the mind (and thus, the house) is large and dark and filled with places for things to hide. The house becomes a projection of the mind that fills the skull, a materializing device that brings to solidity the neuroses and grubbing paraphilias nesting in the heads of such noble shits born into the gentry. We relate because though we may not all be born into privilege, neuroses and psychological gargoyles are born into us. They are exciting because they are foreign worlds in themselves; the house in a tale of terror is not so far from the alien planet in the First Contact SF tale, although lackluster in its potential to dislocate the reader from mythologies of stasis. (This incidentally relates to Thomas Disch’s curmudgeonly critique of first contact tales as being secretly within the genre of the pastoral, a point he manifested in his story “Et in Arcadia Ego”).

There are a vast number of things which could be talked about here, such as Chris Baldick’s definition of Gothic literature as being properly “anti-Gothic” in its condemnation of a barbarous past, exceptions to the general rules outlined here, etc. But I wanted to showcase a literary failure of my own in this department, an excerpt from a novelette I wrote a few years back called The Ossuary. I gleefully wanted to participate in the miniature world-building of house-creation, and to top and best all previous fictional houses as a stunning literary prodigy. Of course I failed at that, but I think the work overall was of interest. A short period after completing the novelette, I read Gene Wolfe’s four volume Book of the New Sun, and found my creation paltry in the extreme in comparison to The House Absolute (which, incidentally, is a beacon of the state rather than private capital in the series). While I found Wolfe’s novel overall to be a rather cold gumbo of Christ-allegory and Nietzschean ubermensch, his creations border on the astonishing. Creatures such as the alzabo and notule dashed to a pulp any of the beings I had invented, and Wolfe’s prose shimmered throughout.

In writing the failure that became The Ossuary I wanted to take the premise of Peake’s Gormenghast (which I haven’t read so far), with its tedium of rituals and its slow ooze of history, and turn it on its head. Instead of being oppressed by the weight of historical fact, the privileged narrator is oppressed by the falsity of its historical invention. The confabulator is the narrator’s grandfather, a figure somewhere in between Joris Karl Huysman’s aesthete Des Esseinte and former King of Bavaria, Ludwig II. Jean Des Esseinte was an aristocratic dandy who preferred the flowers in his collection to be of species that appear as artificial as possible, like metal or raw meat; Ludwig II spent damn near all of his ancestral trust-fund on the completion of a childish, phantasmagorical dream in the form of several garish castles.

Anyways, here is the excerpt. It is crass sometimes, and little more than a taxidermied wrist from  a discarded trophy, but I kind of like it.

 

It is called a house, but it is not really a house. It is an index of memory, a hall of glass concealing an abattoir. The word house is a sarcasm to begin with, as it is not a house in the sense that a Bissoan salt possesses a house, with one room, a fireplace full of ashes, and stiff beds pushed against stone. It is called a castle sometimes, by outsiders. But it is not a castle. A castle is a crumbling grayness stuffed to its windows with history. The house that Bediah Tanner built contains no history, only the dream of history. It is not gray, but the color of a young girl’s blush.

Everywhere inside it, trompe-l’œil covers its walls, as if its bigness were not big enough. Passageways end in lakes teeming with swans and plump albino nymphs. Gardens open up behind bathtubs, an oculus glows in every falsely domed ceiling. The whole house is a junkyard of antiquarian objects, all of them reproductions. From the guests’ Octagon Rooms to the sitting rooms with their daybeds covered in baldaquins, paintings and statuettes clutter the interiors, as well as the exteriors, of the house. The collection of historical kitsch is so vast, it is stored in three subterranean floors and weekly rearranged in new orders so it appears as if the reproductions are reproducing.

Years ago. Quite a few. My older sister Ada would smuggle me down into the underground storerooms when I was a child. Each floor was the size of a warehouse. In my moth-eaten mind it is an endless and cramped maze of coatracks and musty instruments, all brand new but never worn, and sealed with dust. Wolves’ heads and horses’ abdomens, ostrich-feather carpets hanging in rows from the walls, flintlock pistols and gibbets. All the detritus of my grandfather’s disease were collected there without any sense of order, as if catalogued by someone without short term memory. I remember feeling lost and afraid, but Ada was always just around the corner, singing old cowboy songs she’d learned from Bediah’s songbooks. I’m going back to see my mother, when the work’s all done this fall.

We were both forced to learn the collected works of Karlheinz Tanner, our capitalist ancestor who amassed the Tanner fortune and later served in the United Parliament. In fact, the only items of genuine age in the house are Bediah’s framed ambrotypes of Karlheinz dating from the 1750’s. His hair is lank and long in the reddish image, and his eyes are piggish eyes. He was given a pig’s heart too, in the early 19th century. It was an experimental surgery, and caused his death.

During his life, he claimed sexual disinclination and married only to continue the line. But according to his journals, he was plagued by hallucinations of an ursine god which demanded to take his virginity in the next world. He would be at the drawing room, notating a folk song he had stolen from a beet farmer on his travels, and a feeling like “a knife in my brain” would overtake him. A giant grizzly bear would appear amongst the china and berate him, as tiny, crawling fetuses poured out of its mouth. So he says.

Many entries in his journal describe him withholding masturbation on his bed, as this was another expression the bear god found offensive. Sometimes the desire would get so strong, he would “feel the seed, for lack of natural release, gushing out my eyes.” When this occurred, he would sit down and pen gospel songs, which Ada taught to me, a century and a half later.

Karlheinz was also fixated on history. He was a scholar of 13th century plainsong and claimed to retain over 1,000 descants in his head. He somehow amassed a collection of bones of hanged Viennese nobles dating from the anarchist revolutions in the early 1700’s. He kept them in a locked chest, and said that he talked to them whenever the bear god was troublesome. His journal entries detailing his antiquarian findings reveal that he had no sense of discrimination. A pile of ancient urinals was no less entrancing to him than a second edition of the Book of Hours, which he traded to receive the former. The oldness of things was an end in itself, their relative worth measured by the extent of his alienation from them.

It was is if he saw a great steak steaming on a plate when he looked at the past, and the horror of the slaughterhouse when he saw the present. The desire for a past which is irrevocable and unattainable, is analogous to a man or woman one pines for futilely in bed, and who may or may not exist; a desire whose sole purpose is to dissipate, whose joy is in dissipation. Those who are afflicted with this desire become vampires always striving to turn the present into the past. When one confronts them, they turn into mist or a wolf and slink away from hearing.

I can reach no other conclusion but that this is a form of cowardice.

Bediah was not particular about his history, either. All over the house’s tapestry, gunslingers in beaten leather dusters stand toe to toe with old Slavic wartenwurms, and medieval heraldry is celebrated alongside oil mercenaries from the previous century. Despite his crass reverence to antiquity, Bediah had a sense of the mischievous too; his smoking room, which later became his dying room, was adorned with stained glass pornography. He showed it to me when I turned twelve. Even as a teenager staring at saints performing cunnilingus, stained glass was not an arousing medium.

As I grew older, and Bediah’s songbooks still buzzed in my head like hornets, I began to hate him. That myself and Ada were not allowed to speak to him except during holidays made it worse. It would have been better if Malvina were around, but she was always off hunting in other counties. She was rumored to be involved in occult and Marxist organizations, which turned out to be true. She did not really leave, however, until the frontier came.

During all the ceremonies I was subjected to, where I was forced to raise a standard, consecrate a hunting rifle, or pass a gauntlet of Boys with sharpened fans – my movements felt sluggish and feverish, weighted with hatred. Like the historical items in the house, the traditions were not genuine; they had been invented by Bediah. He wrote them all down on a sheaf of paper years ago, drilled them into the salts and servants, and hid them at the bottom of his desk drawer. He later had them drawn up into lawful contracts.

When I was nine, I remember seeing Bediah rowed around on a gondola over the artificial river he had installed in the middle of the house. Sometimes it was the Delaware, sometimes it was the Seine. The gondola was wreathed in tartan cloth and strewn with bells, and the rowers (who really worked in the kitchens) were dressed like Siamese royalty. Bediah himself wore a muumuu and drank from a pitcher of chilled vodka and shouted about the Russian proletariat and the evil of women. He had a gun, and sometimes fired it into the wall. They rowed over the blue river with its smooth stones at the bottom and frightened Ada, who ran to complain to Malvina that grandfather had fallen into a bottle and couldn’t get up.

It was less than a month later that she drowned in the river. I found her at the bend that came near the entrance hall. She floated listless above the bright stones. She was sixteen. She was sixteen.

I do not have forgiveness in my heart.

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neglected weird fiction no. 2. j.d. beresford’s “the little town.”

Roy Friberg. Title, date n/a.

Roy Friberg. Title, date n/a.

I first encountered the work of John Davys Beresford (1873-1947) in Alberto Manguel’s stunning anthology Black Water 2: More Tales of the Fantastic. The piece of fiction Manguel chose for inclusion was “The Misanthrope,” from Beresford’s 1918 collection Nineteen Impressions. “The Misanthrope” had been included previously in a Dorothy Sayers anthology (The Omnibus of Crime) as well as the uncredited Evening Standard Book of Strange Stories from 1934. I read it and was hooked. The tale had that tantalizing combination of the ambiguous and gruesome so much excellent British strange fiction had from the period. I wrote the story down, graded it in my notebook, and filed the name away in my mind. It stayed there for awhile, inert.

Since then I’ve read several more instances of Beresford’s work, including the puzzling “Powers of the Air,” from an old hardback Thrillers anthology from the 40’s, with a golden bat embossed on the bruise-purple cover, and fragrant pages that smelled like every shelf-haunter’s wet (or dry?) dream. I came across “A Negligible Experiment” in one of S.T. Joshi’s weird anthologies. With these three stories in my crap filing cabinet of a mind, I eventually decided to find a copy of Nineteen Impressions. There was a print on demand edition available for about five dollars from Aegypan Press, and I picked it up.

What I realized from reading the slim collection is that only three of the nineteen impressions were worth reading. “The Misanthrope” was one, and “Powers of the Air” was the second. The third was called “The Little Town,” and after reading I wondered if it wasn’t the best of the three.

Beresford writes an introduction entitled “The Other Thing” for Impressions, and it is worth quoting because it is revealing of the aesthetics and ideology of not only Beresford, but many other writers of this type of fiction:

“At the moment we receive it, we respond without reservation. For a time we believe that we, too, have had a vision of the other thing. And, then, it is as if the tiny opening had drawn together again, and we find – an explanation. Nothing in the world is more depressing than an explanation. It is like dull, drab paint on what was once a shining surface. It hides the mystery of those half-seen depths that do reflect something, even if we cannot see clearly what the image is.”

This echoes similar statements made by writers as different as Borges and Sacheverell Sitwell. Several odd comparisons come to mind, such as John Keat’s “science kills the rainbow” wangst and the Iowa School Imposing Edifice of Realist Fiction’s injunction to “show, not tell.” And yet while there is some connection between the former to Beresford’s obvious resistance to scientific hegemony and materialism, this particular aesthetic has survived to enjoy employment by authors and readers of decidedly materialist bent. It also goes beyond the standard “it is better to imagine the monster than to reveal it” technique of much old-fashioned horror, and into a more extreme realm of obfuscation which has always seemed new to me, the opposite of old-fashioned.

At its dizzying height, this aesthetic and its associated techniques verge on the avant-garde, they thumb their noses at absolutist readings while providing plenty of material to chew on (in opposition to Joanna Russ’ idea that an exemplar of this style, Robert Aickman, was essentially empty, nothing but a vampiric style draining the corpses of succulent stories). Instead of providing cheese and crackers for a single interpretation, they provide a feast of material, almost an excess. It is, to put it in simplistic terms, the application of modernist (and also, in a lesser way, surrealist) thought to a very traditional medium, arriving at its own tradition: the strange story. (That this is more of a strange story than a weird story is a taxonomic quibble worth noting, but not enough to prevent me from including it as a “neglected weird fiction.”)

“The Little Town” does not quite reach the heights of the best of this style or order of fiction, but it approaches it. It begins with a nameless and genderless narrator on a night train to an English town called St. Erth, occulted in the hillside, unknown to even the most knowledgeable. (Beresford makes clear it is not the St. Erth in Cornwall, but another one elsewhere). This description of the passenger looking out the window of the train provides an example of Beresford’s clear prose, shining with concision and observation:

The yellow lighted reflection of the now familiar interior jutted out before me, its floor diaphanous and traversed by two streaks of shining metal. And my own white face peered in at me with strained, searching eyes, frowning at me when our glances met, trying to peer past me into the light and warmth of the railway carriage.

One of the techniques marshaled by this somber, every-button-buttoned surrealism is: The Detail Noticed by the Narrator that Couldn’t Possibly Be True. In the classical ghost story, this effect served as the first incrementalist note in a gradually building symphony of generic cohesion. Or to put it in less shitty and cumbersome terms, as the foreshadowing and build up. It was a road that took the reader to a fictional locale that had both Latitude and Longitude readings available. But applied here, it is a road that tends to lead to a bush snarled dead end, or to the meeting of disused train tracks. It still coheres to generic terms, but its own generic terms, the primary dictum of which is that not all doors that are opened must be closed. This technique is given its first go on the first page, when the narrator notices that the train is crossing a bridge over a body of water that, to his knowledge, does not exist and could not exist. “We were not near the sea and no English river could surely have been so wide.”

The narrator arrives at the terminus and heads to the night’s lodgings. He (one is tempted to say he, the narrator seems so much an emanation of Beresford himself) eats dinner and decides to explore what he has been told is “quite a small place.” The narrator heads out into the dark and finds that the street the inn is on leads downhill. Lamps occasionally dot the darkness as the narrator passes recessed courtyards and alleys, out of which come sparse laughter and conversation. Bodies flit by his, indifferent, along the constantly descending “tedious ravel of streets.”

Ludwig Sievert, stage design for The Dead City, 1921.

Ludwig Sievert, stage design for The Dead City, 1921.

I turned at last out of a passage so narrow that my body brushed the wall on either side, into a small square of low houses and the floor of the square was flat. On all sides it was entered by passages such as that from which I had just emerged, and all of them led upwards. About and above me I could vaguely distinguish an infinite slope of houses, ranging up tier above tier, lost at last in the black immensity. I appeared to be at the bottom of some Titanic basin among the mountains; at the center of some inconceivably vast collection of mean houses that swarmed over the whole face of visible earth.

This is on the third page! Most of the stories in Nineteen Impressions are under six pages, and this tale is no exception. After marveling at the ascension of St Erth’s streets, the narrator ends up in front of a building with an open door and a faded sign reading “Kosmos.” He passes through a proscenium opening onto a lit theater stage and a small cluster of people waiting in shadow.

I found a seat near the door and waited. It came to me that the stage was disproportionately large for the size of the hall. And then out of the wings came wobbling a tiny figure, and I realized that this great stage was set for a puppet-show. The whole thing was so impossibly grotesque, that I nearly laughed aloud.

Again, that building strangeness which has no resolution. How or why the stage seems unaccountably large we will never see. What follows from this introduction of the puppet show reminds me of a miniaturized version of Kafka’s “Josephine,” in its psychological analysis and portrait of the effect of artistic performance on a group. It is brilliant. The whole performance is an inscrutable exercise in senility, feebleness, and graphic meaninglessness. In a more overtly sinister aspect, our nameless and sexless narrator becomes perplexed that they cannot discern the presence of wires connecting the puppets to their manipulator above the stage. They seem to be moving of their own (demented) accord. Abruptly, the curtains close over the stage while the puppets continue moving. The lights turn out. The watchers get up to leave and return to the interminable streets of St. Erth.

At the closing of the show, our emanation of J.D. Beresford decides to mount a staircase in order to discover who in the preposterous hell put on such an ineffective and disquieting puppet show. He discovers an old man, in a chair so large it is “almost a throne.” The man has a gentle and benevolent look on his face as he commands the dolls with his hands and seems never disturbed when they fall or stumble under his care. The wires connecting his fingers to the dolls below remain invisible. Perturbed, the narrator leaves to walk back to his lodgings. On the return trip the town seems to have diminished in size and the walk takes only ten minutes.

An obvious symbolism presents itself in “Erth” and “Kosmos,” but Beresford himself rejects this interpretation in his introduction, saying, “If I had said that the old man up in the flies of the Kosmos Theater represented God, I should have grossly satirized my own idea.” If taken to be true (and why not, for the sake of argument) this would provide another technique marshaled by strange fiction: that of throwing out red herrings as if a mystery tale were being written.

In distinction to Beresford’s point of view, I do not actually mind that interpretation of the “The Little Town.” It has a pre-vision of Thomas Ligotti about it, and shades of David Park Barnitz’s decadent collection of verse, The Book of Jade (1901). The final line in particular reminds me of Barnitz’s invective against god as a “filthy idiot” sitting in a pile of his own shit and playing with it: “I wondered whether he was a charlatan or only very old, and very, very foolish.”

Another interpretation is perhaps that, like the foolish old man, we all imagine we are in control of our lives, and deny assiduously that our motions to control it are in fact doing nothing at all. I highly recommend all four Beresford stories mentioned here, and both Nineteen Impressions and his later collection Signs and Wonders are available as abominable print on demand editions.

* * * * *

As a post-script I would like to further quote Beresford for the sake of a relevant comment on tendencies in weird and strange fiction: “Nor can I find [the other thing] by reading the careful mysteries of those who write of fauns and naiads; the stories of those authors who appear to think that mystery died, if not with ancient Greece, at least in the Middle Ages. Indeed, I think that when we are reduced to seeking this other thing in the past, we have lost our ability to find it.” Hello, pastiches of gas-light detection and M.R. James!

I will couple this with Fredric Jameson, from “Magical narratives,” as quoted in Rosemary Jackson’s Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion: “For when we speak of a mode, what can we mean but that this particular literary discourse is not bound to the conventions of a given age, nor indissolubly linked to a given type of verbal artifact, but rather persists as a temptation and a mode of expression across a whole range of historical periods, seeming to offer itself, if only intermittently, as a formal possibility which can be revived and renewed.”

Is such fiction existent now as a formal possibility to be renewed? Or do we mistake a garden of dying cabbage for a manicured pleasure park, replete with moats and cottage?

the link in the wall.

Eugene Berman, Cassandra. 1942-43.

Eugene Berman, Cassandra. 1942-43.

1) Diseased Gardens. Translator “G. Mac” provides English translations of Belgian and French contes fantastiques. Translated authors include: Jean Ray, Thomas Owen, Michel de Ghelderode, Franz Hellens, and Marcel Brion. The site is pleasing to the eye, includes rather nice art, and the translations at a skim (I have not yet had time to read) appear competent at the very, very least. This individual’s knowledge appears to run deep and wide.

2) There’s Nothing in Why: Robert Aickman’s “The View.” Brendan Moody tracks down the allusions that litter one of Aickman’s better tales. “The View” always struck me as being about, among other things (such as the deterioration of genuine life through modernity), the essential unknowability of the beloved, of the romantic object. The constant elision and elusion of “the self” as seen through a metaphor of changing, growing landscape.

3) Forthcoming Releases: Wakefield Press. If you will notice, Wakefield are planning on releasing a brand new translation of Marcel Schwob’s The King in the Golden Mask from 1892. Which leads me to…

4) A Constellation of Isolated Flashes. A 3Am magazine interview with Wakefield’s chosen translator, Kit Schluter. Schluter also translated Schwob’s Book of Monelle, which I have purchased but have yet to crack open.

5) The Curve in the Line. My new favorite tumblr. Symbolism, art nouveau, architecture. I’d rank it alongside an older favorite, La Criniere.

sleeping sphinxes: ‘tales of the german imagination.’

Cover featuring Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's woodcut "Self Portrait; Melancholy of the Mountains."

Cover featuring Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s woodcut “Self Portrait: Melancholy of the Mountains.” (1929).

“Enough,” replied the dreamlike presence, “take your flowers cheerfully, as life offers them, and don’t dig for their roots in the ground, it’s sad and silent down below.” – Josef von Eichendorff, ‘The Marble Statue.’

I’ve just finished the Penguin anthology Tales of the German Imagination from the Brothers Grimm to Ingeborg Bachmann. It is a survey of German fantastic fiction, running from early Märchen (the rougher German term for fairy tales) to the expressionism of Georg Heym and the Dadaism of Kurt Schwitters. Oft anthologized classics such as Hoffman’s “The Sandman” and Adelbert von Chamisso’s “Peter Schlemiel” are included, but so are a large number of more obscure pieces. Writers more unknown to English speaking audiences such as Klabund and Salomo Friedlander make appearances, while other inclusions come from unlikely sources such as Robert Walser and the poet Paul Celan (whose befuddling prose-poem “The Shadowlight” I found disappointing.)

Editor Peter Wortsman notes in the introduction the hard-edged quality to much of German fantasy, its preoccupation with the macabre and the violent. The violence in this anthology begins with fratricide in the Grimms’ “The Singing Bone” and and culminates in the absolutely horrific and bloody “The Lunatic” by the poet Georg Heym. This tale follows an asylum inmate released for mysterious reasons who goes on a killing rampage that begins in the pond-haunted countryside and ends in the dullness of a shopping center in the town. It is brief, brutal, and bereft of moralizing or sentiment. The most disquieting segment of the story is when the eponymous lunatic tromps through a field and imagines that the ripe stalks bursting under his feet are the heads of random strangers. It is a conte cruel at heart, with all of the extremity of famous practitioner Charles Birkin, and none of the cleverness that suggests he is telling a joke.

I remember reading Joe R. Lansdale’s “Night They Missed the Horror Show,”* with its dedication to the author’s friend, presenting it as “a story that doesn’t flinch.” Heym does not flinch here, either. Nor does he blink. Something of the “invisible spectator” objectivity of Paul Bowles is here as well, as if the story’s point of view came from that of an indifferent bird circling overhead, sharp eyes sucking in the deranged vision with perfect calm.

A more humorous exercise in such loamy, Teutonic, worm-wriggling darkness comes from the aforementioned Kurt Schwitters, whose “The Onion” is about a man sentenced to execution and consumption by the state. Its plot doesn’t sound like a merry, piss-inducing chuckle compared to the Heym piece, but its violence is of the madcap variety, that belonging almost to early Schlesinger cartoons. It is every bit as gory as “The Lunatic” but its treatment could not be more different, both in that its structure is as disordered as the mental state of the former’s protagonist, but also in that every swing of the knife seems to be met with literary “anvil” sounds and to echo with not-yet-invented canned laughter.

Moving on to less bodily focused fare, Wolfgang Borchert’s “The Dandelion” is a beautifully wrought tale of a prisoner (imprisoned for obscure reasons, of course) who is brought out every day into the exercise yard to run in a circle around a pitiful scrub of field. In the midst of rancorous hatred and jealousy of his fellow inmates, he falls in love with a yellow dandelion flower that has shot up out of the meager pittance of a field. The final passage is truly lovely and bewildering, something warranting meatier consideration than the miserly rendering given here. Suffice to say it is a highlight.

Ingeborg Bachmann’s “The Secrets of the Princess of Kagran” features a landscape reminiscent of Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows.” The captured-then-escaped princess navigates a wind scoured swamp, vast and unfamiliar, resonant with the slushing of willow through water, charged with the possibility of starvation.

But enough summation. I’d rather temporarily silence the gaseous trumpets of blathering, and provide a different viewpoint for this anthology: namely, a fractured look at its various fictions by presenting completely out of context quotes and mashing them together senselessly like a charlatan. These were wandering phrases, knights-errant clauses blundering through the stupefied landscape of my brain, which I picked out capriciously, redundantly, and for no reason at all. Is this avant-garde? Or just bullshit? Bullshit-garde? I don’t know. Nor care. They hopefully will provide another piece of evidence for the prosecution of this alleged “German imagination.” Say what you will, such excerption might not be German to this blog posting, but neither is it Hungary for provocation:

the plants, herbs, flowers, and trees are all squirming in pain, consumed by a great wound

the sculpture of Venus, now so terribly white and motionless

he knelt over their faces and blew air into the holes in their skulls

a spider that squeezes a scaffold out of its rear end

at least my children will no longer do without their own guillotine and gallows

the frenzy of that imagined-inflicted kiss, kissed by the demons

sleeping sphinxes nestled beneath the dream spectres of the trees

this hostile landscape, a world of willow, wind and water

‘bone rot!’ i screamed and let yellow dust fall from my ribs

to scout out the greatest iniquity, the cross was nailed onto Christ

i took my legs out of my knapsack

i’ve just pinioned my sister as a weather-vane on the church steeple

she turned her back to the mirror, for she could not abide its vanity

on a plate with knife and fork they served up the eyes

flowers sprouting from his skin: anemones

Benes Knupfer (1848-1910), The Embrace.

Benes Knupfer (1848-1910), The Embrace. One of my favorite paintings. Man, it’s nice.

 

* Don’t read this Lansdale story if you are not okay with the dialogue of a bunch of racist fucks dropping slurs every other sentence. And also violence, and also whatinthefuckwasthatshitjesus