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Despising Other Hours

Like most introverts, he was very dependent upon small, minute-to-minute comforts, no matter whence they came. Fern’s gaze upon life was very decisively inwards. He read much. He reflected much. One of his purest pleasures was an entire day in bed; all by himself, in excellent health. He lived in a quite pleasant surburban flat, with a view over a park. Unfortunately, the park, for the most part, was more beautiful when Fern was not there; because when he was there, it tended to fill with raucous loiterers and tiny piercing radios. […] For years, then, Fern teetered along the tightrope between content and discontent; between mild self-congratulation and black frustration; between the gritty disillusionments of human intimacy and travel (for Fern the two became more and more inseparable), and the truth and power of his dream. It might be a twilight tightrope, but twilight was not an hour which Fern despised.

—Robert Aickman, “Never Visit Venice”

Look At This Perfect Character

The Delicate is pale, limbs pipe-cleaner thin, with a head as shiny hard as beetle-back. Violent, in utero skull tectonics have led to a precipice of brow, a compression of matter past the point of truth. His eyes are crow eyes, and his ear holes winding tunnels to nowhere. He comes in the latter days of afternoon, through blowing snow, dressed in black, while Schubert’s “Eighth” plays magically in the background. He comes to suck the breath out of passing fancies and to treat the infirm of mind, the particularly annoying, to a long sleep. “In order to take the waters,” as he explains it, he comes to a resort town on the edge of reason. Beyond it, the wilderness stretches north to the frozen pole. God has never drawn breath there—the domain of bat-winged demons whose skin is the ringed wood of oak trees. These creatures fly out of the forest at night to snatch up children, their little legs kicking to the moon. To live in Absentia is to live with a soul that is liquid lead.

—Jeffrey Ford, “The Delicate”

Nested Men of Genius

“Is it true, as Valéry said, that every man of genius contains within himself a false man of genius?

—Donald Barthelme, “The Genius”

If Bleakest Batman Wrote a Western

They were about in the morning before daybreak and they caught up and saddled their mounts as soon as it was light enough to see. The jagged mountains were pure blue in the dawn and everywhere birds twittered and the sun when it rose caught the moon in the west so that they lay opposed to each other across the earth, the sun whitehot and the moon a pale replica, as if they were the ends of a common bore beyond whose terminals burned worlds past all reckoning. As the riders came up through the mesquite and pyracantha singlefile in a light clank of arms and chink of bitrings the sun climbed and the moon set and the horses and the dewsoaked mules commenced to steam in flesh and in shadow.

—Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

(the trick is to read all Cormac McCarthy in a batman voice)

Fresh Categories, New Sciences

For much of twentieth-century philosophy it is no longer possible to think of Being as foundation, not simply because of the risk that objectivism might lead to a totalitarian society—to Auschwitz or to the Gulag—but above all because European culture has become aware that there are other cultures that cannot be merely classified as “primitive,” that is, as lagging behind the West in the way of “progress.” The 1800s were the century in which the historical sciences, including cultural anthropology, arose: there was a ripe awareness that there was not just a single course of history (culminating in Western civilization) but different cultures and different histories. This awareness would be decisively advanced through the wars of liberation of the colonial nations. Algeria’s revolt against France as well as the petroleum war of the early 1970s were the last episodes within the theoretical, practical, and political rupture of Eurocentrism, i.e., of the idea of a unique human civilization of which Europe was conceived to be the leader as well as the apex.

—Gianni Vattimo, After Christianity

Paranoiac Alien Lonesomeness

In their exquisite self-centeredness our ancestors believed that they were alone in the universe. At the same time, they had convinced themselves that Earth was the blue apple of God’s eye and the sole reason for all of creation. This two-headed fallacy caused humanity both delusions of grandeur and a paranoiac sense of loneliness. Although we eventually achieved the ability of space travel at speeds exceeding that of light and discovered a proliferation of planets along with the near-infinite diversification of species inhabiting them, we could never flee far enough to escape those ingrained disabilities of ego and the angst of isolation but carried them with us like ghostly stowaways to the most remote corners of the universe. The drama caused by the tension between these two psychological conditions born of the same impulse played itself out on a million far-flung stages. As a historian, I can tell you that in studying the history of mankind, this is, though it dons a multitude of disguises, the sole phenomenon one studies. At least a thousand instances come readily to mind, but allow me to apprise you of a single case, and it will be for you like a mirror. One glance and you will be assured that you are not alone in your willful loneliness.

—Jeffrey Ford, “The Far Oasis”

Peradventure Led Into Error

Fleshy janglers, open praisers and blamers of themselves or of any other, tellers of trifles, ronners and tattlers of tales, and all manner of pinchers, cared I never that they saw this book. For mine intent was never to write such things unto them, and therefore I would that they meddle not therewith; neither they, nor any of these curious, lettered, or unlearned men. Yea, although that they be full good men of active living, yet this matter accordeth nothing to them.

—author unknown, The Cloud of Unknowing

A French Breakfast in Tourist Thailand

The coffee was revolting, weak, almost undrinkable; from that point of view at least, we were working to American standards. The young couple looked completely bloody stupid, it almost pained me to see their ‘ecological paradise’ crumbling before their eyes; but I had a feeling that everything was going to cause me pain today. I looked to the south again. ‘I’m told Burma is very beautiful,’ I said in a low voice, mostly to myself. Sylvie solemnly agreed: it was indeed, very beautiful, she’d also heard as much; that said, she forbade herself from going to Burma. It was impossible to think that one’s money would go to supporting a dictatorship like that. Yes, yes, I thought, money. ‘Human rights are extremely important,’ she exclaimed almost despairingly. When people talk about ‘human rights’, I usually get the impression that they’re being ironic; but that wasn’t true in this case, at least I don’t think so.

‘Personally, I stopped going to Spain after the death of Franco,’ interrupted Robert, taking a seat at our table. I hadn’t seen him arrive. He seemed to be in excellent form, his formidable ability to infuriate well-rested. He informed us that he’d gone to bed dead drunk and consequently had slept like a log. He had almost chucked himself in the river a couple of times on his way back to the chalet; but in the end it hadn’t happened. ‘Insh’allah.’ he concluded in a booming voice.

—Michel Houellebecq, Platform

The Immortal Minds Were His Brethren

Only a few close friends knew of his theory: that much which is unworthy in human life might be avoided if people would only accustom themselves to talking in verse. “It need not exactly rhyme,” he said. “Nay, it really ought not to rhyme. Rhyming verse in the long run is an underhand attack on the true being of poetry. But we should express our feelings, and communicate with one another, in blank verse. For iambics gently sway our nature’s rawness—to noble worth, and zealously divide—chatter and tripe and scandal’s overspill—from gold and silver in the human speech.” In the great moments of his existence Herr Soerensen himself thought in iambics.

—Isak Dinesen, “Tempests”

And Yet Everything Hath its Own Phlegm

5. Q.–Which is the most noble salt?
A.–If you desire to learn this, descend into yourself, for you carry it about with you, as well the salt as its Vulcan, if you are able to discern it.

6. Q.–Which is it, tell me, I pray you?
A.–Man’s blood out of the body, or man’s urine, for the urine is an excrement separated, for the greatest part, from the blood. Each of these give both a volatile and fixed salt; if you know how to collect and prepare it, you will have a most precious Balsam of Life.

7. Q.–Is the property of human urine more noble than the urine of any beast?
A.–By many degrees, for though it be an excrement only, yet its salt hath not its like in the whole universal nature.

8. Q.–Which be its parts?
A.–A volatile and more fixed; yet according to the variety of ordering it, these may be variously altered.

9. Q.–Are there any things in urine which are different from its inmost specific urinaceous nature?
A.–There are, viz., a watery phlegm, and sea salt which we take in with our meat; it remains entire and undigested in the urine, and by separation may be divided from it, which (if there be no sufficient use of it in the meat after a convenient time) ceaseth.

10. Q.–Whence is that phlegm, or insipid watery humidity?
A.–It is chiefly from our several drinks, and yet everything hath its own phlegm.

11. Q.–Explain yourself more clearly.
A.–You must know that the urine, partly by the separative virtue, is conveyed with what we drink to the bladder, and partly consists of a watery Teffas (an excrementitious humour of the blood), whence being separated by the odour of the urinaceous ferment, it penetrates most deeply, the saltness being unchanged, unless that the saltness of the blood and urine be both the same; so that whatsoever is contained in the urine besides salt is unprofitable phlegm.

12. Q.–How doth it appear that there is a plentiful phlegm in urine?
A.–Thus suppose; first, from the taste; secondly, from the weight; thirdly, from the virtue of it.

13. Q.–Be your own interpreter.
A.–The salt of urine contains all that is properly essential to the urine, the smell whereof is very sharp; the taste differs according as it is differently ordered, so that sometimes it is also salt with an urinaceous saltness.

14. Q.–What have you observed concerning the weight thereof?
A.–I have observed thus much, that three ounces, or a little more, of urine, taken from a healthy man, will moderately outweigh about eighty grains of fountain water, from which also I have seen a liquor distilled which was of equal weight to the said water, whence it is evident that most of the salt was left behind.

15. Q.–What have you observed of its virtue?
A.–The congelation of urine by cold is an argument that phlegm is in it; for the salt of urine is not so congealed if a little moistened with a liquid, though it be water.

16. Q.–But this same phlegm though most accurately separated by distillation, retains the nature of urine, as may be perceived both by the smell and taste.
A.–I confess it, though little can be discerned by taste, nor can you perceive more, either by smell or taste, than you may from salt of urine dissolved in pure water.

17. Q.–What doth pyrotechny teach you concerning urine?
A.–It teacheth this, to make the salt of urine volatile.

—Eirenaeus Philalethes, “The Secret of the Immortal Liquor Called Alkahest or Ignis-Aqua” from Collectanea Chemica: Being Certain Select Treatises on Alchemy and Hermetic Medicine