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Saturday, April 30, 2005
maxibooks

The maxibooks are all very self-conscious about being just that: books. With footnotes or typography or a steady stream of literary references and allusions, they're always reminding you that what you're holding in your hand is an artifact, something made up. This is an old riff, going back to "Don Quixote" and to Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy," an 18th-century novel that is always commenting on its own process of composition, and at the peak of post-modernism, the moment of Robert Coover and John Barth, a self-conscious nod in this direction was practically obligatory.

With the maximalist writers, though, the gesture sometimes seems less jokey and knowing than defensive and apologetic, suffused with an awareness that in our multimedia culture books are an old and threatened technology. When it comes to writing, they seem to be saying, even too much may not be enough.
lovecraft
In Poe, there's usually an innocent young woman who serves both as savior from and victim of the horrors at large, but in Lovecraft the men are isolated students or overdedicated scientists whose families and loved ones have receded in the wake of these men's sinister fixations -- and the Lovecraft chronology tucked at the back of the book gives us a similar picture of their creator. ''Suffers another 'near breakdown,' '' an entry reads, when the author is just 10 years old. ''Develops an interest in the Antarctic.'' His gaze continues to fix on empty, cold horizons; his health continues to fail; so too his brief marriage to a woman whose distinguishing characteristic appears to be a need for a ''rest cure.'' His philosophies on race and immigration, to put it mildly, do not show a great appreciation of other cultures. For all of their professed interest in the sciences, his characters have little faith it will bring the light of reason: ''The sciences,'' one narrator warns, ''have hitherto harmed us little; but someday the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.'' Indeed, people seem to be fleeing in Lovecraft's stories even before anything unnatural arrives. ''The old folk have gone away, and foreigners do not like to live there,'' Lovecraft writes, by way of setting the scene. ''French Canadians have tried it, Italians have tried it, and the Poles have come and departed. It is not because of anything that can be seen or heard or handled, but because of something that is imagined.''

If you spend enough time in Lovecraft's lonely landscapes, fear really does develop: not the fear that you will come across unearthly creatures, but the fear that you will come across little else. And what first seems horridly overdone accumulates a creepy minimalism. Taken as a whole, Lovecraft's work exhibits a hopeless isolation not unlike that of Samuel Beckett: lonely man after lonely man, wandering aimlessly through a shadowy city or holing up in rural emptiness, pursuing unspeakable secrets or being pursued by secret unspeakables, all to little avail and to no comfort. There is something funny about this -- in small doses. But by the end of this collection, one does not hear giggling so much as the echoes of those giggles as they vanish into the ether -- lonely, desperate and, yes, very, very scary.

[:: comment! :]

Friday, April 15, 2005
irreversible

But the counterpoint to that is the really nonjudgmental comment that follows: "There are no bad deeds, just deeds." Can you comment?

pillowman

Artistic merit, however, is irrelevant here. So, for that matter, is fiction's significance as social commentary, autobiographical revelation or metaphysical map. As Katurian exclaims in exasperation, "I'm not trying to say anything at all."

[:: comment! :]

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