BLOT: (14 May 2015 - 08:52:59 AM)
I've posted a bonus episode for Doug Talks Weird, this one about re-reading Robert Aickman's stories and the way it enhances enjoyment (and is a companion video to my Doug Talks Weird episode on Aickman's "The Trains" and irrealism). The original title was going to be "The importance of re-reading Aickman", and was going to say that Aickman has to be read two or three times for someone to "get it", but that's kind of dangerous talk. I still hold that Aickman is best upon a second or so reading, but the immediacy of the original reading is also very powerful.
In the above episode, I quote Vladimir Nabokov's "Good Readers and Good Writers", talking about reading. I'll share it again, here:
Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader. And I shall tell you why. When we read a book for the first time the very process of laboriously moving our eyes from left to right, line after line, page after page, this complicated physical work upon the book, the very process of learning in terms of space and time what the book is about, this stands between us and artistic appreciation. When we look at a painting we do not have to move our eyes in a special way even if, as in a book, the picture contains elements of depth and development. The element of time does not really enter in a first contact with a painting. In reading a book, we must have time to acquaint ourselves with it. We have no physical organ (as we have the eye in regard to a painting) that takes in the whole picture and then can enjoy its details. But at a second, or third, or fourth reading we do, in a sense, behave towards a book as we do towards a painting.
That quote is the first reason I give in the video, that we have to work upon a text like listening to a piece of music or watching a movie, we never catch everything right off and it takes time to fully embrace every nuance (and unlike books, movies and songs are generally something it is socially acceptable to re-enjoy). By Nabokov's reasoning, you do not fully understand a book until you have gotten past the act of "moving the eyes". In this way, only after you have read a book more than once have you been able to fully appreciate the text of the book and how the whole thing works together. I am not 100% behind this, in that I think some books are not meant to be read more than once (which is another dangerous statement and I'll leave it alone), or at least were written for the excitement of the first reading moreso than any subsequent ones. As a bonus, from roughly the same place in the same Nabokov lecture, another line: "The mind, the brain, the top of the tingling spine, is, or should be, the only instrument used upon a book."
The second reason I give is that as we read, we bring in ourselves at a given time to the reading. Our emotions, our life circumstances, our sense-of-importance we attach to text-as-read, all of these are also-read when we sit down with a book. By re-reading at a different time in our life, a different set of circumstances, you are better able to assail the boundaries you place on a book and see it as more timeless.
I became aware of the re-readability of Aickman, perhaps ironically, with an audiobook. The Reece Shearsmith audiobook of
You can watch my video, below:
Funnily enough, in a recent article which I had the pleasure to read yesterday, Jason Wilcox talks not only about re-reading Aickman, but about specifically re-reading "The Trains":
["The Trains"] is a story that demands re-reading, as on a first read it engages us on the level of surface narrative, while most readers will, I think, be aware that much of its significance and detail is lost if the attention is paid only to this level. A second reading should reveal its hidden paths, or the level of the 'unconscious text' (a term which seems to have been first used by the French critic Jean Bellemin-Noel, a follower of Lacan). Which is not to say that Aickman as author is unconscious of this deeper level: on the contrary, I would say that he is writing most, if not all, his best stories with this level very much in mind.
That is from Jason Wilcox's "The Shadow Woman: A Re-reading of Robert Aickman's 'The Trains'", published in
Warning, I'm going to spoil some elements of the story to discuss Wilcox's article. Leave now if you still need to read the story and care about specific plot points.
I believe Wilcox to be spot-on to point out the juxtaposition between Margaret and Beech (and between the largely unused Guest House with the Roper House). Margaret is a confused character. She is unsure of herself, but on the surface is merely plain. Beech's self-doubt is manifested in cross-dressing (and enhanced by a largely unexplored strange black ring, which could possibly be a sign of cult-like activity, or of secret marriage). In both, the real character is underneath, and in both the companion-of-choice—Mimi and Wendley, respectively—is a person that seems to be more socially acceptable though hides other layers. Much in the way the pattern of four-stones-to-a-map-of-a-house motif shows a reflection of the sad Guest House and the Miss Roper-less "Miss Roper's House", the character of Margaret can be understood by Beech and vice versa.
However, Wilcox links this to an attraction of Margaret for Mimi. This I am unsure about. While sexual confusion is there, and while Margaret is more positive in her assessment of Mimi's looks than of any man the story has to offer, I see it instead as Margaret being more jealous of Mimi's ability to wear herself in public, while Margaret cannot. As for lines such as the taboo of Beech barging in and of some of the discussions of sex and gender matters—not mention the quote about "you know what love is", which is perhaps Beech over-assuming—, this story still feels to me to be a comment on the gendered Victorian ghost story. What should not have mattered in a modern world, a female family servant to a male family member, becomes corrupt and confused because the house itself is a ghost of an earlier time.
Wilcox's interpretation bests mine, mind you, in that it asks the pertinent question of why bother with such a set-up, and does a nice job of comparing Margaret's killing of Beech with her own sexual confusion. I simply think assuming Margaret wanting more from Mimi besides to feel accepted is possibly, to quote Wilcox's own line, "a trap".
Is definitely worth a read, though, and is a good example of how Aickman comes across in layers, and how those layers show up not on first glances, but on subsequent ones.
Nabokov, Vladimir. "Good Readers and Good Writers". As collected in
Wilcox, Jason. "The Shadow Woman: A Re-reading of Robert Aickman's 'The Trains'".
OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: May 2015
BLOT: (04 May 2015 - 10:47:10 AM)
Apparently it was a good week to post my video about Aickman's "The Trains" and my definition of Aickmanesque (followed up a post expanding on some ideas), in that Tartarus Press announced today that they are going to be publishing
Book trailer embedded below.
OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: May 2015
BLOT: (02 May 2015 - 10:47:11 AM)
Couple of nights ago, posted the second video in my Doug Talks Weird series. This video looks at Robert Aickman's "The Trains", as well as the concept of what makes a story "Aickmanesque" and/or gives it a flavor of irrealism. You can watch the video by clicking the "thumbnail" below, the first link, above, or see it embedded at the bottom.
Wanted to take a moment and fill in some more blanks and give some additional commentary. I dug around a little online to find out how other people identified "Aickmanesque". Anecdotally, it seems to be considered a phrase tied to the inexplicable, though Brian J. Showers points that out there's more to it than "an oblique and impentrable ending" (that's about al he says about Aickman in the inteview, but it's a good interview). The Curious Tale's blogpost about
Almost humorously, to me, though I discuss the puzzling nature and the trouble of applying a single definition to an Aickman story, when I was searching for my own definition of Aickmanesque, I seem to have focused more on the practical. It is not that I disagree with much of the above (though I think a lot of it, like a lot of the critique of Ligotti, misses out on the humanity of the situation), it is simply that most of those definitions could be equally applied to the later stories of M.R. James (stuff like "Story of a Disappearance and a Reapparance," I mean) or to the stories of Edward Lucas White. Reggie Oliver (and Ramsey Campbell, and Laird Barron, and so on) has many of those qualities in his stories, but I would not say that their stories are fully Aickmanesque, merely that they tap into the same vibes, presumably on purpose. Some of my more specific elements include:
I did not go too much into a formal definition of "narrative lacuna", because I have not had much luck finding one. People seem to use the term in relation to their own definition.
I did, however, go into a more formal definition of Irrealism, which can be dangerous. As a literary critique, it seems almost a little too new to have full staying power, but I find several of the articles about it, such as those in
Another book I quoted from, Gary William Crawford's
The story is so subtle and "elliptical" to use Ramsey Campbell's term, that it is difficult to say precisely what happens in it. Yet Aickman creates an intensely frightening tale...[snipped section includes a summation of the story and gets a few details off by my reckoning, but I'll leave that up to the those who have read the story to decide]...But these events are filtered mainly through Margaret's perceptions, so it is very difficult to say which is dream or which reality...As in dreams and poems, the truth is presented metaphorically: Roper's home and "The Quiet Valley" are analogues of hell. For no reason, Margaret finds herself caught up in it, and this punishment, as in "The Inner Room," appears quite unjust.
[Crawford, Gary Williams. ROBERT AICKMAN: AN INTRODUCTION (Kindle Locations 835-852). Ash-Tree Press. Kindle Edition.]
If you want some other critique on "The Trains", there is quite a bit. A longer one that goes into a number of issues and ideas is Brendan Moody's " Blood and Iron: Robert Aickman's 'The Trains'. In the 24th issue of
By the way, I meant it about
Alright, onto the video. The next full episode will be on Thomas Ligotti's "The Frolic" and will deal with the question, "What's a Lovecraftian?"
OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: May 2015
BLOT: (29 Apr 2015 - 09:18:22 AM)
It is a little bit of a tradition that I go with Sarah on the opening/Friday night of Huntsville's spring-time festival, Panoply. This year we were joined by Alicia. It was ok. Over the years, the ticket price has ticked up, now $10 a day, and the free-festival stuff had decreased (music/dance acts notwithstanding, I mean more in the lines of the free arts and crafts booths that have become a bit cheaper, more-for-kids only feeling) so you are kind of paying more to do less unless you want to listen to the music and pay high-ish prices for frozen treats and funnel cakes. If we had money to buy art, as we usually do, it might be different, but many of the artists I like I already know and could technically cut out the middle-man or see them at Lowe Mill. I'm not done with the festival, per se, but I would like to see it swing a little back to its older roots.
Let's try posting the couple of good pictures I have of the event. The first, from around 9pm, is the folks from Sloss Furnace pouring out the excess molten iron as fireworks go off behind them. The second is a piece of cast iron art that we—Sarah, Alicia, and myself—made. It is three parts, a fish, a spiral, and a tree; one for each of us. It looks kind of neat.
The other memorable moment from our night was getting to watch some of Unknown Lyric's show. Positive acoustic music, I'd guess you'd call it. Bought a CD, since Sarah needs violinspiration (dang). I've seen them play at Bridgestreet before (note: video not mine, but it is indicative), but hadn't really known who they were.
After Panoply, we went over to the Regal 18 and watched
In other media news, have been a little bit on a Batman kick lately, partially driven by the fact that I had grown somewhat tired of Batman as a character—thanks-in-the-most-part due to Nolan's overblown movies—but after reading
That's about it. I hurt my right knee a couple of days ago, which has made walking to work a strange exercise in slow motion, but it is not too bad up until night-time when it tends to hit the peak-pain for the day. I'm taking it fairly easy on it, but am seriously considering getting a brace because my knee seems to be lacking the ability to not hyper-extend the second I stop thinking about where I'm placing my leg.
Also, have finally gathered up enough materials from my crashed hard-drive to build a complete Doug Talks Weird episode, which I am going to try and do tonight. Though I've said that before.
Ok, need to get to work. Have a better one.
OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: April 2015
BLOT: (11 Apr 2015 - 09:45:44 PM)
If you have to listen to one audio short story about puppets and ventriloquism today, you should listen to Jon Padgett's "20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism" via Pseudopod. Why? Let's give you five reasons (note: number might be arbitrary, the fact that you should do it is still a fact).
Reason #5: It's Free. Perhaps the weakest of reasons, still a valid one. You can download and listen (and share!) the mp3 for free (through a CC3.0-BY-ND-NC license).
Reason #4: It Is Read by the Author. Author-read audiobooks can highlight different patterns and underlying frequencies than those you get from reading the text on the page, and this is a good case of that. Padgett sped through some lines I read slow, and slowed down some lines I read fast. For author intent, this would be the definitive way to experience the tale.
Reason #3: It Makes a Good Introduction to
Reason #2: It Reverses the Uncanny Aspects Associated with Puppets. Cleverly, the story is not about how puppets are just like us, but about how we are just like them. It is about being afraid not of the glass-eyed stare nor the wooden teeth but of the fleshy hand in the back, pulling the levers as though it was the most normal thing in the world.
Reason #1: Because the Voice in Your Head Is Telling You To... Sure, it sounds just like static, but let us stop pretending that we do not know what it means. Give in, give up, enjoy.
Photo Credit: Paul Winchell Jerry Mahoney 1951, by James Kriegsmann, listed as public domain at link. Manipulation by me.
OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: April 2015
BLOT: (04 Apr 2015 - 09:40:05 AM)
Over on /r/Lovecraft, someone asked to see the full-text of "Providence 2000 A.D.", a poem the redditor described as "HPL's early xenophobic writing", which, spoiler, is a damned apt way to describe it. You can read it, in print, in the 2001
Some precursor notes, the text below is taken from the 2001 edition in all cases but the superscripts and the footnotes. The paranthetical introduction is, I assume, part of the original. I typed this in by hand and have done a couple of pass-throughs. I might have a typo here or there, but I think I've caught most of them.
(It is announced in the
For years I'd sav'd my few and hard-earn'd pence To cross the seas and visit Providence. For tho' by birth an Englishman am I, My forbears dwelt in undersiz'd R.I. Until, prest hard by foreign immigrations, Oblig'd they were to leave the old Plantations, And seek a life of quiet and repose On British soil, whence our fam'ly rose. When on my trip I ventur'd to embark, I stepp'd aboard a swift and pond'rous ark Which swimm'd the waves, and in a single day2 Attain'd its port in Narragansett Bay. I left the ship, and with astonish'd eyes Survey'd a city fill'd with foreign cries. No word of discourse could I understand, For English was unknown throughought the land. I went ashore at Sao Miguel's Cape, Where cluster'd men of ev'ry hue and shape. They say, this place as "Fox Point" once was known, But negro Bravas have that name o'erthrown. Upon a shaky street-car, north I flew,3 Swift borne along O'Murphy's Avenue. Long, long ago, this street was call'd "South Main", But such plain titles Erin's sons disdain. At Goldstein's Court I quit the lumb'ring car, And trod the pave that once was "Market Square". At the east end, close by a tow'ring hill, There stands the ruin of a brick-built pile: The ancient "Board of Trade", the people say, Left from the times before the Hebrew's sway. Across a bridge, where fragrant waters run, I shap'd my journey toward the setting sun. A curving junction first engag'd my gaze; My guide-book calls it "Finklestein's Cross-ways",4 But in a note historical 'tis said, That the old English nam'd the spot "Turk's Head". A few yards south, I saw a building old; A stone Post Office, waiting to be sold. My course now lay along a narrow street, Up which I tramp'd with sore and weary feet. Its name is Svenson's Lane, for by the Swede "Westminster Street" was alter'd thus to read. I next climb'd on a car northwestward bound, And soon 'mid swarthy men myself I found On La Collina Federale's brow, Near Il Passagio di Colombo. I then return'd and rode direclty north; On rusty rails the car humm'd o'er the earth. Loud near my seat a man in scorn decry'd And easy plan for reaching the East Side.5 Thro' New Jerusalem we swiftly pass'd; Beheld the wealth that Israel amass'd, And quick arriv'd within New Dublin Town, A city large from small "Pawtucket" grown. From there I wander'd toward Nouvelle Paris, Which in the past, "Woonsocket" us'd to be Before the Gaul from Canada pour'd in To swell the fact'ries, and increase their din. Soon I return'd to Providence, and then Went west to beard the Polack in his den. At what was once call'd "Olneyville" I saw A street sign painted: Wsjzxypq$?&%$ ladislaw.6 With terror struck, I sought the warf once more, But as my steamboat's whistle 'gan to roar, A shrivell'd form, half crouching 'twixt the freight, Seiz'd on my arm, and halted short my gait. "Who art though, Sirrah?" I in wonder cry'd; "A monstrous prodigy," the fellow sigh'd: "Last of my kind, a lone unhappy man, My name is Smith! I'm an American!"7
 According to Joshi's notes in
 In the year 2000, giant ships will travel across the Atlantic ocean in a single day! This is one of the rare cases of "future tech" showing up in Lovecraft's writings.
 This is the first of a handful of descriptions that this "Non-English" Providence is starting to crumble.
 For those keeping score, the poem comes across as slightly more racist against Jews than others, linking them with the destruction of the "Board of Trade" and having them amass wealth in New Jerusalem. By the way, unlike the other places, New Jerusalem is not linked with renaming something else, but based on the travel descriptions, seems to either be part of Providence itself or a renaming of North Providence.
 I feel like the "passage to the East Side" is a reference to something, but I do not know it.
 Yes, those characters are in the original. Tee hee.
 A later poem, "On an Accomplished Young Linguist", has a sort of similar vibe, as a young polyglot who can speak many languages, including classical ones, is chided for not knowing proper English.
OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: April 2015
BLOT: (04 Apr 2015 - 12:31:22 AM)
I think one reason it has been a month since my last blog post (give or take, you know, a week), is me trying to avoid the "long time no post" cycle of "I should post more" followed by a blog being deleted a month later. You know what I'm talking about. Yes, you [I'm writing this since about half of my regular readers have done this]. Really, though, the big reason is that I have been super busy for about three weeks, with most of my creative juices aimed at some work stuff and some home stuff and whatnot. Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but a lot of current events and online arguments recently have been so far down the rabbit-hole that any commentary upon them seems redundant. There is only so many times you can write, "This stance is dumb because it is clearly dumb," before you reach the heights of post-modernism; the "This page is intentionally left blank" of social commentary.
In no particular (except, you know, maybe chronologically, but probably not even that) order, some things!
Ok. That'll do. Time to embed the Prezi an get some sleep. Later later...
OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: April 2015
BLOT: (11 Mar 2015 - 08:41:32 AM)
It has been some years (I think about seven), since I've written my somewhat user-friendly walk-through of The Lurking Horror, which ended up being not only one of the more popular pages on my site but also one of the more popular walk-throughs of the game. Rarely do I get much correspondence from it, nowadays, but I have fond memories of writing it and talking about the game to folk.
Recently I *did* get an email from a Stephen asking me to help him identify the sound cues in the game. If you do not know, The Lurking Horror had a series of sounds that would play at key events, to add some flavor to the text-based adventure. It also had a manual that was a combination of a short "how to play" and story-text and was even required to play: mixed in with the fun notes on the setting there was a password that you needed to progress in the game. These two elements helped to give it a "beyond-the-console" feel to it and has made it a favorite of mine.
Back to Stephen's question, he was curious about where specifically the sounds show up. It has been too long since I've played for me to know this off the top of my head, but I decided to start digging. I found someone had packaged a blorb file of the sounds as AIFF. I extracted that and listened to them. I wrote up my impression of what the sounds sounded like [divorced from events in the game]. Stephen had sent me a list of the sound effects that he identified, and with the sound files and my descriptions, matched up the lists. See the following table (note, mildish spoilers) (bonus note: Stephen's descriptions were sent first, but I tried to keep them out of mind when writing my description, so I've put them second here):
|Sound #||Doug's Description||Stephen's Placement|
|3||Sort of a squishy/gurgle sounds||Maintenance man removing the axe from his chest|
|4||Screaming, as a group||Rats|
|6||Musical Hook||Opening the hatch in the tomb|
|7||Sort of a rumbling sound, with what sounds like an elevator ding and a crash||Brick wall ripping in concrete box|
|8||Very short rustly sound||Getting the stone (to end the game)|
|9||Squeaky wheels followed by a scream?||[Probably the forklift]*|
|11||Electricity||Putting the line in the connector|
|12||Long screech||Creature screeching after the stone is thrown at it from the roof|
|13||Chant||Alchemy lab chant|
|15||Robot voice sound||Encountering the wire urchins in the Large Chamber|
|16||Not sure...sort of a "aaaaah" sound||[Cutting the wires in the Large Chamber]*|
|17||Sort of a cross between mechanic clicks and insect screeching||Entering the Inner Lair|
|18||Sort of a gurgling laugh sound||Gurgling from under the plate at the altar|
Two notes. First, there are no sounds with the numbers 1, 2, 5, or 14, which makes 14 total sounds even though the last one is #18. Second, sounds #9 and #16 were guesses by Stephen (they are in brackets and marked with *). He says these did not play in Winfrotz.
If you want to try and help, you can download
If you do want to play along, I'm looking for the following information:
OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: March 2015
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