hit counter

  New Posts New Posts RSS Feed - Decadence and Fugue
  FAQ FAQ  Forum Search   Events   Register Register  Login Login

Decadence and Fugue

 Post Reply Post Reply
SFReader View Drop Down
Admin Group
Admin Group
SFReader Webmaster

Joined: Feb-26-2015
Status: Offline
Points: 521
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote SFReader Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Decadence and Fugue
    Posted: Mar-09-2015 at 7:00am
Decadence and Fugue: Critical Notes On Jeff Ford’s "The Empire of Ice Cream"
by Daniel E. Blackston

1. Schism
Just over four years ago, at the false-turn of the Millennium, Gordon Van Gelder, in a speech titled, "Respectability", remarked, "What I really want to address is this notion of ‘literary respectability’. I have grave problems with it."

Van Gelder’s "problems" as articulated in the speech, later published as an essay, stem from two simple and quite sound assumptions, 1) that Speculative Fiction (SF) has already proved its literary mettle, and 2) that the literary midlist is as impoverished as the midlist for commercial SF; the "grass isn’t really greener" in the pastures of literary and academic acceptance. Van Gelder goes on to quote and agree with Barry Malzberg’s assertion "I turned my back on science fiction in 1976 ... and I was wrong. The genre is bigger than us; we are here because of it." (Neb, 123-26).

No doubt, Van Gelder intended his comments to celebrate SF’s freedom from literary convention and to bolster its nexus with the popular (or mass) psyche. Unfortunately, Van Gelder and many other editors in the‘prestige’ press have been harassed over the past several years by genre ‘purists’ who insist that the most high-profile SF venues have abdicated their audience base.¹

As a reviewer and critic of short SF, the most notable novelette published last year by my reckoning was, without a doubt, "The Empire of Ice Cream" by Jeff Ford. Ford’s story is a display of technical sublimity by nearly any literary standard I can think of, excepting, perhaps, a standard that posited as irreconcilable, the aims of ‘literary’ and ‘speculative’ fiction. Just such a schism is often present in theoretical discussions of SF, and has been keenly evident in certain industry circles as of late.

At any rate, the latest notions that literary approaches to Speculative Fiction are doomed to pretension and lukewarmness – or worse, obscurity – seem to have been dealt a crippling blow by the publication of "The Empire of Ice Cream", a story which merits robust criticism, in terms of both technique and theme – as well consideration for the story’s almost tertiary, but still impressively demonstrative, sidelong comment on the aforementioned schism between popular acceptance and ‘‘literary respectability’’.

"The Empire of Ice Cream" was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards this year. That it secured its Nebula is a testament to the critical acuity of the voting members of the SF industry. I find it problematic to simply recommend this story to prospective Hugo voters. It would be better to say: "Vote for this story as best novelette of 2003 atall hazards."

2. Synesthesia
The central conceit of Ford’s story concerns the literary application of synesthesia, a psychoneurological condition affecting .01% of the human population, postulated to effect 100% of the human population at a subliminal level, consciously perceived at various junctures, foremost among them, early infancy ². The condition may be loosely defined as a ‘confusion of the senses’, or to evoke a direct allusion to Rimbaud, ‘a systematic disorganization of the senses’, ‘systemic’ being, of course, substituted for ‘systematic’ in that there is no conscious choice implied in contemporary, clinical diagnoses of the condition.

By casting his protagonist as a victim of synesthesia, Ford enables his main character to function in one of Speculative Fiction’s most common roles as ‘outsider’ or as a ‘cast-out’ from society. The further elaboration on this theme of isolation is the narrator’s talent as a composer who paints with music: "great abstract works in the tradition of Kadinsky." Here Ford’s instinct for fugue (which later emulates the baroque range of Rubens) shines with ironic inspiration: the narrator being, as it were, an ‘idiot savant’, privy to perceptual esotericism, much as many readers and writers of SF imagine themselves; reader sympathy is easily engaged, SF-nal3 concept securely presented and all within the opening paragraphs.

That Ford’s story centers on the use of synesthesia as a SF-nal conceit, shows, threefold, his utilitarian and spirited use of symbolism; this central concept evokes: the poetic/literary allusion that is indispensable to the narrative’s overall theme and impact, the notion of fugue, another powerful device employed to magnificent effect throughout the narrative, and finally, Ford’s rich, ironic ‘narrative ontology’ expressed symbolically and allusively through an aesthetic that willfully partakes of both Stevens’ and Rimbaud’s stylistic and thematic decadence, whilst staying rooted securely in Speculative soil.

Another strong Speculative device used in the story (and, incidentally, another device constructed on a fugue model) is the shared world premise that ensues during the story’s rising action, and also fuels the denouement: an ironic ‘inversion’ (with yet another fugue) that effectively concludes the SF-nal plot, but brilliantly illumines the story’s allusive capacities, perhaps even to the brink of symbiotic ‘explication’ – that is, certain works and images of, particularly Wallace Stevens’ poetry, being brought to unique re-articulation through Ford’s complex, allusive scaffolding – while the story’s theme is likewise completed by an examination of certain of Stevens’ poems. This allusive symbiosis is directed not only at poetry, and thus, Stevens, but at visual art, classical music (Bach fugues in particular), and certainly not least of all philosophy and theoretical (quantum) physics.

This is, in effect, an expression of the story’s thematic conceit, ‘confusing’ Speculative Fiction with literary works, with works of classic music, modern visual art, and poetry, thus confusing all the arts: visual, verbal, sonic, and otherwise. The ‘systematic disorganization of the genres’ is under way, ironically under the classical form and diction of Ford’s customary, Jamesian narrative style. His baton, as it were, begins to glow magically, as we realize the fugue of ideas and plastic form offers yet another transposition, that is, that his ‘confusion’ of classical SF-nal devices (shared worlds and psycho-dementia) with baroque literary allusion is an ironic gesture directed toward SF ‘purists’.

The idea of synesthesia is common enough in poetry; nevertheless, the two poets who seem most germane to "The Empire of Ice Cream" are Rimbaud and Stevens, both of whom explored the use of synesthesia as a symbolic device in poetry. Ford’s close allusion to both Rimbaud and Stevens also conjoins a likewise tone of sophisticated decadence; both poets functioned willfully as modern Sophists, that is, they sought release through complex self-examination and ‘rebellion’ through complex rearrangement of the preconceived, ‘simple’ world; Ford intends to present his argument through the same Sophist style, an approach Nietzsche derided as:

"They are not clean enough, either; they all muddy their waters to make them look deep." (Zarathustra, 131).

Rimbaud self-celebrated his synesthesia technique in "A Season in Hell":

I invented colors for the vowels! A black, E white, I red, O blue, U green. I made rules for the form and movement of every consonant, and I boasted of inventing, with rhythms from within me, a kind of poetry that all the senses, sooner or later, would recognize.

(Second Delirium: The Alchemy of the Word) (Rim, 203)

Ford’s narrator describes his compositional method:

"Many times, I planned a composition on a blank piece of paper using the set of 64 colors I’d had since early childhood. The only difficulty in this was with colors like magenta and cobalt blue, which I perceive primarily as tastes, and so would have to write them down in pencil as licorice and tapioca on my colorfully scribbled drawing where they would appear in music."

Note the reliance of expository narrative which is prevalent throughout much of Ford’s published fiction and is, likewise, in no great absence here. In "The Empire of Ice Cream" the expository, subjective narrative voice is exploited as a confessional device, further evocation of the story’s poetic (and mid-Victorian) preoccupations; however, this confessional voice is skillfully used not only to transmit exposition, but to increase narrative suspense – and even more importantly – to extend Ford’s deeper, ontological themes.

Stevens, in his well-known poem, "Sea Surface Full of Clouds" employed synesthesia symbolically to great effect:

And in the morning summer hued the deck
And made one think of rosy chocolate
And gilt umbrellas. Paradisal green
Gave suavity to the perplexed machine
Of ocean, which in limpid water lay.

Later lines extend the symbolism: "At breakfast jelly yellow streaked the deck," "A mallow morning dozed upon the deck/And made one think of musky chocolate/and frail umbrellas"(Stevens 89-90 ).

William Van O’ Conner in his book, Sense and Sensibility in Modern Poetry found Stevens’ poetry an expedient model for an examination into the symbolic uses of color in literary works:

"The poetry of Wallace Stevens furnishes excellent examples of varied worlds of color – peacocks, barbaric glass, Chinese umbrellas, melon flowers, red birds, and butterflies. It is Stevens who most strongly objects to the ascetic because he makes an effort to see the sky "without the blue". Of themselves, the colors Stevens uses are mildly exotic, suggestive of the effete and near-decadent. When used in an ‘image that is sure," that is, as a qualitative part of the perceptions that express symbolic values, the colors become the difference between and abstract understanding and an experience that stirs us profoundly." (O’Conner, 115).

In essence, Ford through his complex allusiveness and exploitation of the synesthesia conceit, is reaching for an ontological symbolism based not on color, but on Rimbaud’s disorder of the senses, as represented symbolically by the condition of synesthesia. Following O’ Connor’s dictate regarding the "qualitative part of the perceptions that express symbolic values", Ford thus symbolically represents a "user-created reality", explicitly articulated through the scene in the story which describes the departure of the narrator’s first "mentor" a piano teacher named Mrs. Brithnic:

"When her face was next to mine, she whispered into my ear, "Seeing is believing," and in that moment, I knew that she had completely understood my plight."

Correspondences with poetry abound, as in Blake’s "We are led to believe in a lie/When we see with not through the eye." Or this couplet from Hart Crane, which typifies an Anglo-Western trend toward poetic Neo-Platonism fairly well:

Did one see what one saw
Or did one see what one looked at?
(Crane, 189)

Of course, Crane’s couplet, written in the 1920's could stand as the ‘mantra’ of modern quantum theory, especially those permutations which stress "observer-based reality" and the like.

"Although the numerous physicists of the Copenhagen school do not believe in deep reality, they do assert the existence of phenomenal reality, What we see is undoubtedly real, they say, but these phenomena are not really there in absence of an observer. The Copenhagen interpretation properly consists of two distinct parts: 1. There is no reality. 2. Observation creates reality. "You create your own reality," is the theme of Fred Wolf’s Taking the Quantum Leap" (Herbert, 16).

Or, even more solipsistically:

"Among observer-created realists, a small faction asserts that only an apparatus endowed with consciousness (even as you and I) is privileged to create reality. The one observer that counts is a conscious observer" (Herbert, 24).

If you substitute ‘literacy’ and ‘literate’ for ‘consciousness’ and ‘conscious’ in the above quote, you’ll have a good idea of how Ford objectifies his fictional theme of "user-created reality" through the narrative technique of the story, in essence producing a living ‘model’ of the theme through the tension produced via reader confronting text.

Ford’s SF-nal conceit, synesthesia-meets-shared-world, presents a symbolic vocabulary which intends to express solipsism in an ironic ‘reversal’, a sudden sting, in the manner of Stevens, who frequently expressed sudden shifts from the subjective perception to objective ‘revelation’. The irony, of course, being that the ‘objectification’ of the narrator/poet is still achieved through subjective perception:

Of Mere Being
The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,
A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.
You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.
The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.
(Stevens, 398)

Again, through Ford’s "systematic confusion of the genres" one has here a solidly speculative story; however, it is also a story which intends to illumine as many literary ‘sensations’ and explicate as many philosophical as scientific concepts – all the while weaving a ‘classical’ narrative with a smooth surface, which masks a labyrinthine tangle of stylistic pyrotechnics ... the story, like the quantum, responds to its observer, deepening in harmony with the reader’s knowledge and expectation.

3. Decadence and Formalism
"The Greeks, with their truly healthy culture, have once and for all justified philosophy simply by having engaged in it, and engaged in it more fully than any other people. They could not even stop engaging in philosophy at the proper time; even in their skinny old age they retained the hectic postures of ancient suitors, even when all they meant by philosophy was but the pious sophistries and the sacrosanct hair-splittings of Christian dogmatics." (Tragic Age, 28).

Ford’s story presents a kaleidoscope of effects. Like Rodin’s "The Gates of Hell", the story presents a visible, highly-allusive and somewhat obvious ‘theme’ but the intricacies of craftsmanship, of gesture, emotion, perception, fluctuate, feed and are reborn in new variations, the eternally new energy and excitement we feel exploding from Crane, Pollock, Bach, and Stevens himself, when he writes:

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.
They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."
The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."
And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,
A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."
(Stevens, 133)

Stylistic brilliance such as Ford’s is the result of study, knowledge and application of highly refined literary techniques. As such, the story’s deeper symbolism is infused with an almost hyper-textual meaning, in that both the variety of techniques and the immensity of their subsequent permutations are, in fact, "user-created" in that Ford’s audience, confronted with the intricate symbolism and allusiveness of "The Empire of Ice Cream", will be thrust, one reader at a time, into a solipsistic vision of the story, that is, a vision of the story that expands or retracts depending upon the ‘instruments’ measuring it: in point of fact, a literary cosmos, with Ford as the Prime Mover.

Such extravagant technical accomplishment is seldom encountered in contemporary short fiction of any genre, but even less often in works of short speculative fiction, where stylistic intricacy has often been undervalued. On the other hand, there is nothing excessively ornate about Ford’s prose style in "The Empire of Ice Cream". As usual, Ford has tempered his baroque tendencies with solid neo-Aristotelean logic and plenty of mid-Victorian-esque, linear narrative exposition. Nobody will get ‘lost’ in "Empire" except for the lawless critic who dares, like the quantum theorist to ‘untangle’ this masterpiece and see what lies beneath the Event Horizon.

In truth, the best criticism that could be leveled at Ford’s story is that it represents a decadent mode of literary expression, that, like Rimbaud and Stevens, Ford has created a microcosm in words – a fully functioning Universe as it were, at novelette length, that incorporates centuries of astronomy, physics, musical composition, poetry, painting, philosophy and literary criticism ... it is like one of the great mechanical automatons built by Jacques de Vaucanson 4. A triumph of the linear mind over the seeming chaos of the unconscious. It is solid evidence of the artist’s mastery of his medium, and of the medium as a ‘pure’ insight into the murky sea of the cosmos.

Like art-mechanique, however, Ford’s story functions more like a curio than a tool. Thus, the vehemence of the technical mastery and the brilliance of its composition seem to be primarily intended for aesthetic contemplation, a complex intellectual diversion, ‘art for art’s sake’, as it were.

As an opposite model, one might take any number of ‘commercial’ mass-market SF novels, or any SF literature which eschews stylistic preoccupation for the immediate archetypal impact of SF’s so-called ‘sense of wonder’, which in actuality is a bit of industry vernacular, that would benefit greatly from proper critical and aesthetic illumination. 5

Ford’s story, simply by being distilled into novelette form, eschews ‘commercialism’, and aims its brilliant arrow straight at the heart of the critic, the refined reader, the literary-mined ... in accomplishing such stylistic and thematic feats, the narrative also fails to forsake the general reader, but responds, as mentioned in a model of ‘reality’ to the subjective observer. This fact, besides being a conclusive demonstration that SF-nal themes and ideas are imminently compatible with ‘classical’ literary technique, and indeed, with any other avenue of intellectual or artistic pursuit.

If Ford’s style is reflective, subjective, philosophical and driven by stylistic innovation, this represents the aforementioned search for "literary respectability", but it also represents, as its Hugo nomination surely indicates, a brilliant literary accomplishment not relegated, through popular disinterest, to the status of an intellectual curio, for specialists only.

In times of turmoil, with our actual world facing global-political and environmental catastrophes, war, poverty, and an explosion of technology-driven moral and ethical questions, it would seem natural that Speculative Fiction would resonate more explosively with its potential audience (which is, incidentally, anyone who can read) were it to pursue an immediate idiom – one meant to provide a universal, rather than ontological or aesthetic, catharsis.

Paul Fussel’s groundbreaking study of the WWI generation of British poets "The Great War and Modern Memory" explores the thesis that literary allusion and simplified diction are expedient symbols for a poetry of urgency. Fussel seems to suggest that an exposure to death relegates the artist to a simpler, more universal, more immediate idiom. 6

Similarly, Hemingway’s legendary treatise on bullfighting, "Death in the Afternoon" recounts the art of bullfighting and forwards the idea of art flourishing in decadence, much as Nietzsche’s impression of ‘classical’ Greek philosophers. In essence, humans are less prone to generate and revere baroque forms of art, ritual, or even plebeian entertainment when the element of death is large, that is, when the bullfight was at it’s ‘pure’ form, man against bull:

"Bullfighting is based on the fact that it is the first meeting between the wild animal and a dismounted man. This is the fundamental premise of modern bullfighting that the bull has never been in the ring before. In the early days of bullfighting bulls were allowed to be fought which had been in the ring before and so many men were killed in the bull ring that on 20th November 1567, Pope Pius the Fifth issued a Papal edict excommunicating all Christian princes who should permit bullfights in their countries... " (Hemingway, 24).

It is the fact that the bullfight is ritual not athletic competition that allows for its artistry and deeper existential or even religious catharsis:

"We, in games, are not fascinated by death, its nearness and its avoidance. We are fascinated by victory, and we replace the avoidance of death by the avoidance of defeat... " (Hemingway, 25).

The eventual outcome, however, of decadence in the bullfight, threatens to lead to its complete suppression, at least according to the thesis of Hemingway’s monumental aesthetic/philosophical work. There is a golden time in any art, where the self-reflective capacity of artists and the influence of established tradition bloom into radiance:

"I know of no modern sculpture, except Brancusi’s, that is in any way the equal of the sculpture of modern bullfighting"
And, gratuity of expression, given the ephemeral nature of any ritual, bullfighting not excepted, – mandatory:

"Suppose a painter’s canvases disappeared with him and a writer’s books were automatically destroyed at his death and only existed in the memory of those that had read them...." (Hemingway, 95).

It is Hemingway’s thesis, like Nietzsche’s, that great art – or philosophy – often flowers during times of both social and aesthetic dissipation ... Hemingway, likening the process of aesthetic decadence to wine-drinking says:

"Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing which may be purchased. One can learn about wines and pursue the education of one’s palate with great enjoyment all of a lifetime, the palate becoming more educated and capable of appreciation and you having constantly increasing enjoyment and appreciation of wine even though the kidneys may weaken, the big toe become painful, the finger joints stiffen, until finally, just when you love it the most you are finally forbidden wine entirely (Hemingway, 14).

Likewise, literature and SF – though one’s kidneys and big toe may be safe enough – what of one’s instinct for universal experience and expression?

"In wine, most people at the start prefer sweet vintages, Sauternes, Graves, Barsac, and sparkling wines, such as not too dry champagne and sparkling Burgundy, because of their picturesque quality while later they would trade all these for a light but full and fine example of the Grandes cruses of Medoc though it may be in a plain bottle without label, dust, or cobwebs, with nothing picturesque but only its honesty and delicacy and the light body of it on your tongue, cool in your mouth and warm when you have drunk it [...] So in bullfighting [...] when they have learned to appreciate values through experience, what they seek is honesty and true, not tricked, emotion and always classicism and the purity of execution of all the suertes, and, as in the change in taste for wines, they want no sweetening..." (Hemingway, 15).

4. Zyzygy
Edgar Allen Poe’s visionary ‘prose poem’ "Eureka" provides a likewise self-contained cosmic (or cosmological) ontology; like Ford’s "Empire", Poe’s "Eureka" is an alloy of astronomy, poetry, narrative, the visual arts, music, philosophy and metaphysics. Like Poe, Ford has written a ‘prose poem’ of such cosmic magnitude, that it depends upon the faculties of its prospective reader to unlock its hidden ontological ‘truths’.

Duplicity, or again, fugue, forms the symbolic frame for Poe’s ontological conceptions:

"It is Poe’s contention that ‘simplicity’ equals Unity, and that the entire Universe has been constituted from a ‘primordial particle,’ willed by God. Both the unity and the resulting universe are the results and embodiments of God’s will. "This constitution has been affected by forcing the originally and therefore normally< i>One into the abnormal condition of Many." (Hoffman, 282)

In Poe’s ontology, as in Ford’s, there can be no Unity so long as consciousness disturbs the cosmic pool; it is consciousness, in fact that creates the ontological phenomena we perceive:

"On the Universal agglomeration and dissolution, we can readily conceive that a new and perhaps totally different series of conditions may ensue – another creation and irradiation, returning into itself – another action and reaction of the Divine Will. Guiding our imaginations by that omnipresent law of laws, the law or periodicity, are we not, indeed, more than justified in entertaining a belief – let us say, rather, in indulging a hope – that the processes we have here ventured to contemplate will be renewed forever, and forever, and forever; a novel universe swelling into existence, and then subsiding into nothingness, at every throb of the Heart Divine.

"And now – this Heart Divine – what is it? It is our own .
(Hoffman, 287)

The theme of duplicity in Ford’s story is ubiquitous, elaborated through the baroque fugue structure, as well as through direct, archetypal symbolism. As in Poe’s stories, Ford’s narrator is involved with visions of a ‘mysterious woman’, what Jung called the Anima, and this permutation of the duplicity theme is where Ford’s thematic tendencies begin to disassociate, however slightly, from his literary models: Stevens, Poe, Rimbaud, etc.

"One of Poe’s themes is the fate of the man haunted by his own double, his anima, his weird. Which is the real consciousness, the ‘I’ who speaks or the doppleganger who pursues him?" (Hoffman, 206-7).

For Jung, the anima represented that part of the psyche of a male-oriented personality that has been suppressed, through social convention, estranged through psychic neglect, and now ‘reborn’ as an autonomous (though largely ‘unconscious’) part of the psyche, longs for unification with the Self, a process ancient alchemists referred to as Zyzygy.7

Ford’s story allows for no reconciliation between the narrator and his ‘doppleganger’. Instead of Zyzygy, the thematic and narrative denouement reaches deeper into the theme of aesthetic ‘decadence’, art as a triumph over chaotic phenomena – while organic or psychic "Unity" is symbolically and thematically disregarded as unattainable:

"I’ll not see you again," she said. "My therapist has given me a pill he says will eradicate my synesthesia. We have that here, in true reality. It’s already begin to work. I no longer hear my cigarette smoke as the sound of a faucet dripping. Green no longer tastes of lemon [...] "

[...]"You may be harming yourself," I said, "by taking that drug. If you cut yourself off from me, you may cease to exist. Perhaps we are meant to be together."

If Poe’s anima is often prematurely entombed, or strangled, or forever lost, transformed as in "The Oval Portrait" from substance to artistic shadow ... Ford’s narrator suffers an ironic reversal of failed Zyzygy, and thus, solipsism relegated through a final victory of the rational order of artistic expression, to mere self-indulgent delusion.

The pity of this ironic reversal is not so much its tragic implications for the characters in the story, nor for the deeper disruption it may have on the story’s organic symbolism – but this sudden development of plot, like the denouement of Ford’s "Creation" seems to pull up out of its archetypal modes – its poetically expressive modes, into a last-minute revelation of the ‘machinery behind the curtain’. That is, in "Creation" we are left with a escape window to vent all of the story’s speculative elements; in "The Empire of Ice Cream" we are given a fire escape from the story’s deeper, more disturbing ontological and psychological themes; being delivered with the plot’s climax back to a rational world where the more esoteric, but possibly more profound, themes the story raises can be dismissed as illusory.

5. Masterpiece
A masterpiece in a decadent idiom, "The Empire of Ice Cream" represents the most skillfully constructed and ambitious SF novelette of 2003. The story is masterful not only in construction and theme, but in form and style. Ford’s virtuosic conception and execution of a SF-nal novelette that objectifies complex ontological, scientific, and artistic concepts through a refined literary aesthetic and technique should win every award in the offing, and be reprinted in as many SF anthologies as can accommodate it.

It is important to note, however, that Ford’s idiom is reflective, baroque, confessional – when perhaps SF should be turning to a sparser, more urgent idiom, responding not to the subjective/solipsistic themes of the artist, but the shared objective themes of political and social realities. At the level of mass consciousness, escapism through archetypal symbols and plots that arrive at socially cathartic articulation, that is, works which evoke a popular ‘sense of wonder’ as opposed to aesthetic and literary refinement, may likelier result in some sort of archetypal renewal for both the SF genre and its audience.

That said, Ford has shown clearly in "The Empire of Ice Cream" that a search for ‘literary respectability’ is not incompatible with the popular response to SF works. We can only hope that Ford will, indeed, take home the Hugo for his masterpiece.

1. It’s perfectly obvious that some sort of search for ‘literary respectability’ has, indeed become, whether by design or instinct, a concern among prestige SF editors. This year’s Nebula Award winning titles for short fiction and novelette comprised a not-surprising sweep of ‘literary’ SF for Ellen Datlow and SCI FICTION. Both of SCI FICTION’S winners this year are studies in classical composition, both rely on expository narrative to a degree which would be calamitous for pulp or commercial short fiction, and both stories rely on a sophisticated employment of literary allusion, esoteric enough that a better-than-nodding acquaintance with Wallace Stevens’ poetry, Bach’s fugue cycles, and the literary canon of James Tiptree Jr. are helpful, if not essential, for comprehending these works to any meaningful degree. As for GVD, don’t stories composed entirely of footnotes qualify as literary excursions? If not, certainly modern ‘caligramme’ in the manner of Mallarme and Apollinaire should fit the bill! So let us lay aside for the moment the question of whether or not the prestige editors like Datlow and Van Gelder are searching for ‘literary respectability’. They are not only searching for it – they are finding it — and the more provocative question is: who’s paying attention?
2. For more on synesthesia please see "The Thackery T. Lambshead Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases."
3. That is, science-fictional.
4. For further elaboration on Ford’s interest in pre-industrial ‘robotics’, see his story, "Creation", F&SF, May 2002.
5. Any volunteers?
6. Those interested in pursuing the idea of visionary or experiential urgency as a catalyst for creating an immediate aesthetic idiom may start with Fussel’s book, or look nearly anywhere where true literary revolution flourishes.
7. For more on Alchemy and Zyzygy, please see: "Psychology and Alchemy" or "Alchemical Studies" both books are by C.G. Jung, and are widely available.

Works Cited
1. Benford, Gregory, Ed. Nebula Showcase 2000, Harcourt Inc., 2000
2. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Gateway, 1969.
3. Schmidt, Paul, Translator, Ed.. Arthur Rimbaud Complete Works, Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1967
4. Simon, Marc, Ed.. Complete Poems of Hart Crane, Liveright, 1986.
5. Stevens, Holly, Ed.. Wallace Stevens: The Palm at the End of the Mind, Selected Poems and a Play, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1971
6. O’Connor, William Van, Ed.. Sense and Sensibility in Modern Poetry, University of Chicago Press, 1948.
7. Herbert, Nick. Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics, an Excursion into Metaphysics ... and the Meaning of Reality, Anchor Books, 1985.
8.Nietzsche, Friedrich. Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, Regnery Gateway, Inc., 1962.
9.Hemingway, Earnest. Death in the Afternoon, Penguin Books, 1932.
10. Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe, Anchor Press, 1973.

Copyright© 2004,  Daniel Blackston

Back to Top
Sponsored Links

Back to Top
 Post Reply Post Reply
  Share Topic   

Forum Jump Forum Permissions View Drop Down

Forum Software by Web Wiz Forums® version 11.03
Copyright ©2001-2015 Web Wiz Ltd.

This page was generated in 0.093 seconds.