Have you ever found something in an old book that took you by surprise? It’s not unusual to find a name or maybe even a phone number. Sometimes you’ll find evidence that the book once belonged to a library. But extensive notes and criticism of an author as well-known as Edgar Allan Poe and his biographer? Maybe in a textbook. I certainly wasn’t expecting what I recently found.
More than a quarter of a century has passed since a couple of psychologists named Theodore X. Barber and Sheryl Wilson first published their important study into the central role that a percipient’s fantasy life plays in the nature, frequency and detail of the paranormal claims they make… I was particularly interested to discover the other day just how closely one of the most notable figures in nineteenth century English literature fits the model of the fantasy-prone personality. Emily Brontë, as is well known, was one of three literary sisters, living with their father in a Yorkshire parsonage in the first half of the nineteenth century. The eldest of the three, Charlotte Brontë, produced Jane Eyre (and three other inferior novels); the youngest, Anne, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Emily, the middle daughter, of course became famous as the author of Wuthering Heights, by common consent one of the most powerfully imaginative and original works of fiction in the English language.
Via Sein und Werden, here’s a good article by Fred Skolnik called Reading Robbe-Grillet. It begins:
Alain Robbe-Grillet came to the attention of fiction readers in the 1950s with a series of extraordinary novels whose declared aim was to take the modern break with the traditional narrative a step further and help create a “new realism.” The line of development with which he associated himself included Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Proust, Kafka, Joyce, Faulkner, Beckett. Other representatives of the New French Novel included Marguerite Duras and Nathalie Sarraute (Tropismes, Portrait d’un inconnu).Robbe-Grillet’s own novels appeared in regular succession during the Fifties: Les Gommes (The Erasers) in 1953,Le Voyeur in 1955, La Jalousie in 1957 and Dans le labyrinthe in 1959; then the screenplay for L’année dernière à Marienbad in 1961 and the theoretical essays of Pour une nouveau roman in 1963.The novels made a very strong impression on me – they were unique and certainly intriguing . . . A novel, he wrote, should no longer be a contrivance setting out “to illustrate a truth known in advance” but something that invents itself and in the process finds its own meaning.
This essay by Robert Kiely will be included in the book To Unearth the Bruises Underground: The Fanatical Oeuvre of Steve Aylett (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2014), edited by D. Harlan Wilson and Bill Ectric. You can also check out Aylett’s latest project at UNBOUND.
The essay begins:
Speed engenders the unexpected. It is often considered a pleasure in and of itself, or a drug, an intensifier. It is difficult to read the work of Steve Aylett without some level of bewilderment – this work puts us on the alert, strains our nerves. This prose is uncompromisingly fast – the rapidity exceeds our ratiocination, and in what follows I want to think about how his texts figure their highly self-conscious speed. One of the primary methods for doing so is to approach it negatively, by lambasting other novelists for being slow – in Atom (2000) the hapless victim is John Updike. Ernest Hemingway comes in for a similar berating in Bigot Hall (1995), which I will subject to some analysis. When these texts complain about slowness, they seem to equate originality with speed and volume of content. Aylett’s books are baroque in their density, speed, and finely crafted detail; they are overcrowded, they dazzle and distort rather than producing a coherent picture of their narrative world – and this is one of their unique selling points.
Author John Shirley has written an essay on why he likes “dark” literature – those genres that deal with the supernatural, horror, and so forth. The essay appears on Literati Literature Lovers. Here’s an excerpt:
It may be that the appeal of dark beauty is that it bridges these fearful gaps in existence: it brings symmetry to the asymmetrical; it brings liveliness to the symbols of death. In some paradoxical way it shows us how death isn’t the end. The scent of leaves decaying is not unpleasant—yet it’s a smell of decomposition. The glow from a jack-o-lantern is cheerful, though the carved face on the pumpkin may leer wickedly. A moonlit landscape seems to brood, to hint of dark secrets—yet it’s a glorious sight. What’s prettier, really, than an old graveyard with ornate headstones and mossy tombs? We weep at a funeral but we’re celebrating someone’s life.
Mark Valentine: This approach is particularly significant in “Time and the City”, where imagination seems to be actually creating a city. Do you see some strong affinities between architecture and literature?
John Howard: I’m sure there can be. For example it’s possible to talk of “constructing” a story, or “building” a world, and so on. Stories can be flung up overnight or take a long time to assemble, and painfully. And in some stories it is possible to remove something, bringing it crashing down, while others never get off the ground because the foundations are inadequate or haven’t been provided.
There are plenty of buildings and architectural references and themes in my stories (and one or two even have architects as characters). I am very interested in architecture—especially Art Deco and the “International Style”—and, like most writers, sometimes include my interests in my fiction.
Douglas A. Anderson maintains that this Werewolf anthology (left) contains no story by Guy Endore (right)
“Alan Moore calls Aylett ‘the most original and most consciousness-altering living writer in the English language, not to mention one of the funniest.’ By definition, book blurbs are hyperbolic marketing ploys, but in this case, Moore isn’t far off target.”