Don’t Do Dot…

It’s a mistake to think that Guardianese, the optimal dialect of keyly committed core components of the counter-cultural community, mandates optionizing on a permanent basis for the pretentious and polysyllabic. Yes, Guardianistas are addicted to phrases like “in terms of” and “prior to”, but they also like urgently throbbing monosyllables like “key”, “core” and “spike”.

These are unnatural words, taken from headlines, not from normal English. They reveal an important truth: simplicity can be pretentious too. The two aspects of Guardianese come together in phrases like “key indicator” and “core metric”. I would say that “vital sign” and “important statistic” are better and more natural English, but you can’t tell that by counting syllables.

And sometimes Guardianese doesn’t use any syllables at all…  Guardianistas also like the stylistic trick of trailing dots. I find it cheap and irritating, so I’m glad that one of my favourite writers thought the same long ago. In his essay “Stories I Have Tried to Write”, M.R. James (1862-1936) said this:

In parenthesis, many common objects may be made the vehicles of retribution, and where retribution is not called for, of malice. Be careful how you handle the packet you pick up in the carriage-drive, particularly if it contains nail parings and hair. Do not, in any case, bring it into the house. It may not be alone… (Dots are believed by many writers of our day to be a good substitute for effective writing. They are certainly an easy one. Let us have a few more……) (“Stories I Have Tried To Write”, 1929)

In short: Don’t do dot…


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Ex-term-in-ate!
Titus Graun
Reds under the Thread

Playing on the Nerves

Front cover of In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le FanuIn A Glass Darkly, Sheridan Le Fanu

Far less known than his great admirer M.R. James, the Dubliner Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-73) may be an even better and more haunting writer. And yet he doesn’t rely much on the supernatural. Some of his stories seem to be more about neurological disease than about ghostly visitation. That kind of disease was much more common in his Georgian and Victorian day, when the toxicity of many chemicals wasn’t understood properly and people could be poisoned by arsenic in their wallpaper. But the horrors conjured by a diseased brain can be both stronger and more mysterious than a ghost or demon, because they’re more intimate and less easy to escape.

Le Fanu is intimate in another way: he has Robert Aickman’s ability to start currents swirling in your subconscious. You can feel yourself being drawn down into the abysses that wait there, dark and mysterious with sex, death and primal instinct. “Carmilla”, his classic tale of adolescent lesbian vampirism, is a good example. It also reveals his wider sympathy with humanity. M.R. James would not have written about women or about that kind of sex. Homosexuality and necrophilia seem to inform James’ stories; Le Fanu’s have the richness and bittersweetness of a man with wider sexual interests. Like Frankenstein or Sherlock Holmes, “Carmilla” may be more famous than its author is. It still appears in horror anthologies, partly because of its theme, partly because it’s probably his best work.

It’s also written more simply than, say, “The Familiar”. You often have to pay attention when you read Le Fanu’s prose:

The mind thus turned in upon itself, and constantly occupied with a haunting anxiety which it dared not reveal, or confide to any human breast, became daily more excited, and, of course, more vividly impressible, by a system of attack which operated through the nervous system; and in this state he was destined to sustain, with increasing frequency, the stealthy visitations of that apparition, which from the first had seemed to possess so unearthly and terrible a hold upon his imagination. (“The Watcher”)

If you don’t concentrate as Le Fanu throws you the words, you drop them and can’t juggle the whirl of metaphor and concept he wants you to experience. The effort required to read his stories is no doubt part of why he isn’t as well-known as he should be. But what you invest is repaid with interest and this collection, in Oxford’s World Classics series, is well represented by the painting on the cover: a detail from the great John Atkinson Grimshaw’s Dulce Domum (1885), with a melancholy-dreaming young woman sitting in a house rich with detail, from peacock feathers to Chinese vases.

It’s The Gweel Thing…

Gweel & Other Alterities, Simon Whitechapel (Ideophasis Books, 2011)

Oh no. Say it ain’t so, Shmoe. I thought we’d heard the last of this vile piece-a-shit after his richly deserved execution for hate-crimes – inter alia, he’d claimed that maverick underground editor Dave Kerekes was a M*n *td f*n, that über-maverick gay aesthetician John Coulthart was a G**rd**n-r**d*r, and that post-über-maverick cultural titan Alan Moore had a *ea**. He might, just might, have got away with double-life for those first two crimes against humanity… but fortunately one of the last acts of the righteous New Labour government in Britain had been to pass a law mandating death for any and all forms of pogonophobia. Accordingly, Whitechapel’s attempted genocide against Alan M. earnt him the electric Blair (don’t ask, or you might feel a twinge of sympathy even for a depraved speech-criminal like Whitechapel).

Anyhows, that SHOULDA been the last we’d ever hear of him. No such luck. Either some deluded disciple’s been on the ouija board or the astral, or Whitechapel left material to some deluded disciple for posthumous publication, like a final fetid fart from a putrefying, maggot-infested corpse. It’s difficult to know where to begin hinting at how hateful’n’horrible this book is – “hint” is all I’m gonna do, because I’ve got something Whitechapel obviously never came within a million miles of acquiring, namely, a social conscience. Did you ever read anything and then feel as though you needed to take a looooong shower? Me too. More’n once. But it’s never been as bad as this. I felt as though I needed a shower after the first word of the first sentence of the first story in Gweel. That’s how reprehensible’n’repulsive this book is in terms of issues around feralness’n’fetidity. I’ve read Sade, I’ve read Guyotat, I’ve read Archer – I have never read anything that made me despair of life and humanity the way Gweel did. And still does. I’ll lay it on the line: I am completely and uncompromisingly in favor of absolute and unconditional freedom of speech – except for racists, sexists, and homophobes, natch – but I would gladly see Gweel burned and its ashes ground to powder before being encased in concrete and blasted off for a rendezvous with the all-cleansing fusional furnace of Father Sol himself.

Why? Well, I’m not gonna tell you the worst of what’s within – I’m not even sure I know the worst, given that I couldn’t get some pages unstuck after I threw up on the book halfway thru the second paragraph of that first story – but how’d’ya like these little green apples?:

The suggestion that prime numbers like 17, 31, and 89 could be used as hallucinogenic drugs (as made in the story “Tutu-3”)? Or the suggestion that the digits of √2 somehow encode a Lovecraftian pastiche about two archaeomysteriologists descending to the bottom of the Atlantic in a bathysphere, drinking “whisky-laced coffee” as they go (as in “Kopfwurmkundalini”)? Or how’s about the über-esoteric hidden channel that some prisoner discovers on an old TV and that, left playing overnight, coats his cell in gold-and-scarlet lichen (as in, er, “Lichen”)? And I don’t even like to recall, let alone mention, the microscopic red mite in “Acariasis” and the Martian musings it prompts in another “banged-up” protagonist. As for “Beating the Meat” and “Santa Ana City Jail” – let’s leave it at the titles, shall we? You don’t wanna go there. I have, and I wish to God I hadn’t.

Yeah, I also wish Whitechapel could be brought back to life… and sentenced to death all over again for what he’s done to H.P. Lovecraft, M.R. James, and Ramsey Campbell. As a committed fan of all three, I can’t tell you how horrified and disgusted I was to see their influence all over Gweel. It was like sipping and savoring a glass of fine wine, then discovering that someone had been washing his syphilitic dick in it. And then some. If you try reading this, Jesus will sob on Mary’s shoulder and Satan will high-five Mephistopheles. Trust me. If you possibly can, get the full width of the planet between yourself and any copy of Gweel that survives the sweep that will begin as soon as I’ve dialled my local hate-crime hotline. (Reviewed by Peter Sotos.)