Kryos: Chapter 9

Previous chapter

“What are you going to do?”

Ryard Vancing stared out the window of the tenement flat and turned to the querious woman with whom he shared it, his face a fretting blank.

“I’ve no idea.”

He looked back to the reflective pane and noticed the unruly whorls of his hair, matted his tresses and put his hands in his pockets, surveying the deteriorating vista. Consortium drones swarmed the air to the north, vainly attempting to dissuade the rioters who there stormed the streets. Ryard noticed a thin column of smoke building beyond the broil in the hazy distance of the eatery district. “Mechanical failure?” He wondered with rising agitation, “Or arson?”

“Indecision is uncharacteristic for you,” Lind Howell declared with concern, filling two cups with hot coffee from a insulated metal container, which sat the table in the middle of their small, plainly furnished living room; the device was battered, ornateless and strange against the black-matte tabletop, a relic from a bygone age, inherited from Howell’s late uncle, who had himself inherited the item from his father. Lind raised a cup to Ryard, who ambled to the couch and took it, setting himself heavily down with a sigh. He pressed the cool glass to his forehead and took a sip before speaking.

“I suppose it is. I just don’t want to make the situation worse.”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t.”

“No you’re not.”

“I’m trying to be supportive.”

“I know.” He forced a smile and swirled his glass, watching the bean juice slush like oxidized blood. He frowned briefly, set the glass down and slowly rotated it with his work-worn fingertips. “How was work?”

She sighed, “Terrible. More so than usual. Had to spend almost the entire morning cloud-side.”

“Because of the riots?”

She nodded, “Watched it spread. Like a bushfire in a high wind. Had to go up and retether one of the aerostats just beyond Southern. Someone, or ones, had cut it free. Haven’t got an ID yet. They must have thought it would just float away.”

Ryard raised his glass suddenly. “A toast, to our invaluable sky-techs.”

The woman half-heartedly raised her glass and downed the rest of its contents.

“I just don’t know what’s gotten into people lately.”

“I suspect the Eastern Federation has had a heavy hand in it. This recent chaos.”

“I heard some people talking about it on the news. The Federation envoys say that allegations of their involvement in the protests and the riots are just propaganda. I don’t know what to think. Everything that the media comes out with is propaganda about propaganda. You said it was Lanning that contacted you?”

“Yeah. Still had that ridiculous coat. I suppose he thinks its stylish. Said his wife and daughter have been getting on better, after the move.”

“Lanning’s wife had the right idea. Moving to the colonies.”

Ryard shook his head and rose, “I’ve heard a lot of talk like that recently. Of departing the city because of the southers coming in, or because of the way the Consortium has changed, or because of the Federation’s subversion; I can’t agree with it. I’m glad Lanning’s family are happy now, but consider what would happen if most people here thought that way; if most people decided to pack up and leave the moment things take a bad turn. When conflict becomes unavoidable. When fear flares. Its uncivilized.”

“Uncivilized?”

“Civility is more than manners.”

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 31

Previous chapter

The sound came softly at first, a faint, fast, rhythmic pattering down the long, damp corridor, growing steadily in volume with every second that passed. Then, as before, the necropolis fell to silence. The men within the hall shifted nervously from foot to foot upon the dust-clad flooring.

“What was that?” Elliot asked his compatriot softly, hands flexing restlessly at his sides.

“Rats. Probably.” Gerard responded tersely, his harsh visage scanning the murky tunnel.

“Haven’t seen any rats down here. Sounded too big to be a rat.”

Gerard shook his head and lowered his weapon, turning to his companion with a look of reprimand.

“This about Angela?”

“No.”

“You’re getting paranoid.”

The moment Gerard finished speaking, a dark, multi-legged shape dropped from the ceiling and pinned the man to the floor. A maintenance drone. His compatriot whirled, hands shaking upon his weapon. Like giant insects, more of the robots fell from the ceiling and leapt upon the men as their screams trailed down the dank and declining corridor, swiftly replaced by silence and the sound of boots on damp earth.

Ryard Vancing cautiously approached the downed duo as the insectal robots formed up around him, awaiting his command. He knelt, felt for a pulse, and found two. The man plucked both of the weapons off the ground and briefly examined them. High-capacity waverenders. Lethal and extremely expensive.

Whoever they were, they had well-heeled backers, he thought briskly as he adjusted his hand upon the matte grip of his newly acquired weapon.

He examined his affin module; Tatter’s signal gleaming ghost-blue against the surrounding darkness.

“Getting close. Roll out.”

Upon the man’s command the machines beeped and scurried down the pulverulent hall, into the heart of the grim necropolis.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 30

Previous chapter

Ryard glanced to his wrist-bound affin module, the screen displayed a intricately detailed map of the city; the signal for his tracker, bequeathed to Tatter, glowed bright blue against the crisp white outline of the tertiary diagram. His brows knitted with concern as the vehicle sped across the expressway, the pedestrian lanes, shimmering busy and loud below. He synched the vehicle to his module, selected the destination, leaned back and let the automated system take over.

The drive was a short one, taking him from the northern edge of the central sector to the southeast. He parked in the Aecer Memorial Cemetery shiftyard, exited Holleran’s lev-han and moved through the gate of the necropolis with astute alacrity. The burial site stretched 624 acres, distinguished from the surrounding water treatment and storage facilities by a lack of verticality and the abundance of caretaker drones, who quietly and tirelessly scurried across the lawn, watering the grass and clearing the wind-worn graves of detritus: dead leaves, food wrappers and bird droppings.

As Ryard surveyed the scene, a man came striding from behind a large monument, fit, tall and suspicious of eye, dressed in Vekt Corp uniform. The man’s hair was short and he was missing part of his left lower ear.

“Excuse me, sir.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m gonna have to ask you to leave this area.”

Ryard stiffened and tilted his head inquisitively.

“Why? This is public property.”

The man shrugged dismissively, throwing his arms briefly wide with entreaty.

“Orders, I’m afraid. From the top. You know how it is.”

Ryard looked to his module map once more. Tatter’s tracker-sigil displayed atop his present coordinates.

“Sir, I’m sorry, but, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave.”

Ryard eyed the man opaquely, gripping the multiratchet from his utility belt surreptitiously as he noticed another figure in the distance, a woman, observing the scene with obvious interest.

“I’d like to talk to your superior about this.”

“They’re presently preoccupied.”

“Who is?”

“Sir?”

“Who is your superior? Their name? You work for Vekt Corp, right? Nothing personal, but I’m gonna file a complaint.”

The man frowned, his expression darkening.

“Sara.”

“Just Sara?”

“Sara… Atbee.”

Without another word, Ryard brought up his module and began typing in the name ‘Sara Atbee.’ After two seconds of Ryard’s manipulation’s, the Vekt-garbed man drew a stun-gun from underneath his shirt and lunged. Ryard back-stepped the assault and brought his ratchet down upon the assailant’s skull with full force, prompting a sickening thud. The sentry slackened and crumbled to the ground; as he did, the woman in the distance bolted towards Ryard. The CAV-keep snatched the stun-gun from the ground and ran behind a massive obelisk as the second sentry fired into the well-worn marble facade. A near miss. He looked to the weapon in his hands; munition consisted of four charged adhesive packets, each capable of incapacitating a grown man.

“Come out now and I won’t hurt you.”

Ryard could hear her footsteps encroaching and something else, clattering dully at his periphery. He cast his gaze swiftly over his shoulder and beheld a caretaker drone, moving toward him, likely to clean the monument behind which he hid. He grinned slyly and kicked the drone from the shadow of the obelisk, causing the machine to land upon its back, its four metal-plastic legs writhing spastically into the air as the female sentry unloaded a stun-packet into it. The moment Ryard heard the weapon discharge he ducked out of cover, took aim at the woman’s midsection and squeezed the trigger. The woman flailed wildly and collapsed upon the ground, unconscious.

Ryard exhaled, lowered his weapon and looked to the drone, which now sputtered static, its legs moving erratically, sensor stalk writhing uncontrollably. He moved past the downed machine, stripped the weapon from the immobile woman and cautiously looked about the graveyard.

No one.

Only two guards… they’re small in number. Otherwise there would be more sentries. She’s directly below me. They didn’t bury her. Obviously. A false grave? Seems improbable… There’s an underground chamber, or system of chambers… Catacombs…

He looked to the closest building. Caretaker storage.

The basement.

He rushed to the storage building and scented fresh-churned earth. He paused, turning to the source of the aroma and beheld over fifty graves, freshly dug. Burrows for those who had died during the grid attack, CAV-way passengers and reactor workers. The man read several of the shiny memorial plaques and moved to the door of the storage house. There was no handle. He plucked a caretaker drone up off the ground, removed its back-console panel and returned to the door and used the drone-bound passcode to open it, then set the drone down beside the door and passed into the storage facility. Inside the small building were several inert security drones lit by low, flickering yellow lights. Spare parts rested in bins in the next room and a stair that led down to the basement.

Ryard withdrew the woman’s stun-gun, loaded a packet from the other weapon into it and cautiously peered over the railing of the stair. The concrete well was empty and descended into utter darkness. He paused and surveyed the inert maintenance automatons, each of which bore a sleek Vilar Corp logo, his fingers gently brushing against the standardized power cores arrayed about his belt.

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 29

Previous chapter

The room in which Tatter awoke was brightly lit and devoid of sound save for the gentle tapping of busy fingers on the keys of a computer pad and the gentle hum of a portable generator. The walls were barren, composed of aged, yet finely burnished metal. Numerous pieces of medical equipment lined a desk to the left and to the right, several crates of varying sizes were stacked one upon the other. Two figures were half-visible from the open-faced diagnostic pod upon which she lay, a man, at the desk, typing, and a woman, staring observantly at the occupant of the medical calyx. Tatter tried to move but found her body secured at the throat, chest, arms, legs and ankles by tight flexile straps. Significant motion was impossible.

“What do you want with me?” Tatter asked the moment her voice returned.

The woman, cruel-faced with a long, gray streak in her short-clipped hair, bent over the pod.

“I thought you gave it a sedative?”

“I did. A potent one.” The man replied with surprise. “It must be due the… peculiarity of her neuronal system. Soriya told me she was unique, but she failed to impress upon me the extent of that uniqueness. No matter. Its all the same for the procedure.”

“I trust you’re not becoming distracted.”

The man sighed with exasperation.

“I’m prepping the sample now. It will be ready for injection soon.”

“What are you doing to me?” Tatter queried emphatically.

The source of the male voice, a balding, clean shaven man wearing a light suit, stepped into view. He had a broad shrunken face and walked with a marked limp and leaned a little towards her, his mouth formed a gentle smile but his eyes were cold.

“Running some tests. You’ll be able to go home very soon.”

The man looked up toward the anxious, gray-haired woman with severity.

“Isn’t that right, Moreno?”

The woman forced a brittle smile.

“That’s right.”

Tatter stared at the woman a long moment and attempted to withdraw as the gray-streaked creature leaned down toward her.

Before the woman could respond another voice intruded upon the scene. One low, gruff, male and unfamiliar to Tatter.

“Route is secure.” the man declared matter-of-factly, strolling into the room, hands swaying loosely at his sides, hard, dark eyes roving over the medical equipment hastily arrayed about the spacious, antiseptic chamber. The newcomer was short, stocky and clean-shaven with a bandaged arm. Tatter recognized him as one of Vangr’s men.

“Good.” Grazen declared. “And the Director?”

“Holding on to her. Least until we’re clear of the city. Bartering chip, n’case we get boxed in.”

Grazen nodded approvingly and gingerly hefted a small tube of liquid from a thawing chamber and swirled it in the light. The bandaged man waited for the Grazen to respond and, finally exasperated, took a step forward and spoke emphatically.

“Grazen.”

“Hm?”

“He’s expecting you to keep your end of the bargain.”

“Of course.”

Moreno turned to the bandaged man challengingly.

“His daughter will be released. As promised. Though, we should let her rot given your utter incompe-.”

The bandaged man did not even turn toward the woman as he spoke, “Wasn’t talking to you.”

Rage starkly colored the woman’s face, her jaw clenching, brow quivering, fingers flexing. For a brief moment Tatter thought the woman would rush the man and tear at him with her bare hands.

“Tell him I will make the call shortly.” Grazen declared flatly, his attention fixed upon the large console before him.

The bandaged man nodded briskly.

“Do you not understand the gravity of what we are doing here? Moreno inquired, whirling to the bandaged man with sudden agitation, “Take a moment to consider the coming change. One you helped to foster.”

“That’s none of my concern.”

The bandaged man turned slowly and left off. Moreno watched the man depart and spoke softly.

“Ignorant, greedy fool.”

Grazen ignored the woman and deftly manipulated the pod’s control-panel and shortly a mechanical arm descended upon its occupant, producing a long syringe and sinking it deep into the prisoner’s exposed arm.

“Comfortable?”

“No.”

“That’s good. We are never more aware of what is important to us than when we are in pain.”

Tatter: Chapter 28

Previous chapter

Bioluminescent plankton basked the cloistered bar in dim azure glow from wall-bound tubes which ribboned the length of the square, low-ceilinged chamber. Blue-lit patrons sat around the semi-circular retractable table as drinks were ferried by server drones, payments automatically deducted from affin modules upon reception. Aecer Digest played across the numerous, wide wall-screens, information relayed to the onlookers by a prim woman in a suit.

Holleran Meris listened to the feed despondently, his eyes fixed upon his glass.

“Breaking news: Members of Aestival, the terror group responsible for the destruction of Starglaive One, have been detected within city limits. The Consortium, after considerable deliberation, has voted on a complete shut down until the criminals have been apprehended. If you see any suspicious activity, we encourage you to report to your local Consortium authorities as soon as possible.”

A young man with short, unkempt hair, and a complexion incongruent, sipped his half-empty glass and shook his head.

“Wish Aestival had blown up the Reiks Hall instead of the reactor, not that I mind them taking out that ugly hunk of junk.”

Men surrounding the speaker laughed derisively. Meris leaned towards the younger man with severity.

“That ‘hunk of junk’ powered the entire sector.”

“Seems we’re getting on just fine without it.” The man gestured flippantly to the chamber lights.

“Same people that built the reactor built this place.”

The man shrugged.

“You shrug.”

“Yeah.”

“The reactor isn’t running. There will be outages. Outages mean death for those on life support.”

“What’s your problem?”

“My problem? You’re sitting there celebrating terrorism and you ask me what my problem is.”

“Terrorism is a matter of perspective. If anyone’s the terrorists, its the Consortium. Detaining people without a trial. You know they locked up kids?”

“They detained the monsters that destroyed the reactor and everyone suspected of supporting them.”

“So? I say fuck um all. Consortium, and the damned reactor.”

“Many of my friends died in that explosion.” The old man stated with rising emotion, his visage pocked with wrath and despair, knuckles white about his jittering glass.

“And how many people have died because of the Consortium? Because of Kryos?”

“You tell me. How many?” The young man fell silent, brows knitting. “You’ve no idea, do you?”

“Whatever.”

“How about every mother and father, daughter and son slaughtered in the blast? You think they deserved to die? Or does it not matter to you either way?”

“Take it easy.”

“Easy…” The old man slammed his cup upon the table. “I should take it easy while a Souther celebrates the murder of my friends?”

“You got a problem with Southers?”

“No. Just Southers like you. Consortium gives you all the handouts you demand and what do you people do? Spit in their face. In our face.”

“You’re starting to piss me off.”

“You people are parasites.”

The young man rose from his seat and grabbed the old man by the collar and threw him from his seat as the other patrons watched warily, the closest jumping from their perches and backing cautiously away from the scuffle. As the young man drew his arm back to strike the old man, a hand caught his forearm.

“That’s your elder, not your sirloin.”

Meris looked up from the ground to behold a middle aged man, battered and bruised, with a sling about his right arm and messy hair that spun up from his head in short, slick whorls. The face was familiar.

“This is none of your concern, CAV-keep,” the souther snarled, observing the monochrome Vilar Corp jacket and pulling his arm free of the interloper’s grasp.

Ryard Vancing surveyed the man calmly, stolidly.

“That man is my friend. I’ve business with him.”

“You didn’t hear what he said.”

“You can return to bashing each other’s brains in after I’m done talking to him,” Ryard plucked a glass of alcohol off a oblivious, nearby server drone and handed it to the man with a smile as the payment was deducted from his module. “In the meantime, drinks are on me.”

Reluctantly, the souther took the glass and, with a final glare at the old man, turned and strode back to his seat as his companions eyed the scene furtively, muttering amongst themselves. After the attacker departed, the CAV-keep pulled his friend from the ground.

“You trying to get yourself killed, Holleran? He’d have taken your head off if I hadn’t come in when I did.”

“Probably. And… I appreciate it. Just… had a lot on my mind lately,” the old man sighed and ran a hand through his unkempt hair, matting it back from his prominent brow, “Thinking about Hal and Carol and… well, that souther son-of-a-bitch was praising them.”

“Who?”

“The terrorists.”

Ryard’s eyes narrowed and a dark expression passed across his face and was gone just as swiftly.

“What happened to you anyways?”

“I don’t have time to explain. Do you still have your priority lane pass?”

“Everything’s been hectic after the attack. Don’t know what deal the company is gonna work out with the staff, higher ups probably don’t know yet either. Whatever they’re doing or decide, I still have full CAV-way privileges – but so do you, why do you-.”

“I don’t have my lev-han.”

“Let me guess – you wanna borrow mine?”

“Yes. Its urgent.”

“What is?”

“There’s no time.”

“If whatever you’ve gotten yourself into is that bad,  you had better go to the Security Commission.”

“They’ll pull me in for questioning and…” he lowered his uneven voice to evade the prying ears of the bar patrons, “Lives are at stake.”

The old man surveyed Vancing for a long moment, his critical eyes roaming over the battered, yet wholly determined face.

“Alright. I trust you. And Vancing.”

“Yeah?”

“Would be nice if my han returned in better condition than you arrived.”

Ryard smiled.

“Will do, sir.”

Next chapter

Tatter: Chapter 27

Previous chapter

Ermin Gild stared at the numerous screens set up in his spacious office, news feeds playing on every one. His hands tightly clasped together, chin upon his knuckles. Dark bags under eyes that darted to every blur of motion.

Mounting migrant asylum demands. Rising concerns over terrorist violence and potential lockdowns. Discussions of KSRU raids. Disturbances at the northern agricenter. A missing CAV-keep.

After a few minutes of attentive screen-gazing, a woman wearing a long skirt, frilly top, and thin, pale violet scarf entered the room. She knocked gently on the doorjam and waited.

“What is it, Theresa?”

“The Board has come to a conclusion.” Gild straightened in his chair and looked towards the woman intently. “They’ve decided against Kryos’ recommendation. The Chancellor ordered a city-wide lockdown, effective immediately.”

Gild closed his eyes, sighing with mild frustration.

“Of course they did. Old fools. He played them like cards.”

“What do you mean?”

Gild rose and began pacing slowly about his office, hands in his pockets.

“As you know, trade with the Eastern Federation has proven highly profitable and has allowed our company to circumvent reliance on Kryos’ Industries for manufacturing.”

“Yes.”

“Given this, and the partisan’s recent interferences, he’s been rather hawkish on border issues. Wants it shut. Tightly.”

“I see.”

“The Board fears the public has begun to view Kryos as an autocrat, and them, ineffectual beaurocrats. They needed to muster a display of power against Kryos, or at least convince the public that they had done as much. And I, as you also know, have, for several months, been urging them to do just that. Aided by Ponos’ fanaticism and Raka’s reaction of Kryos’ rather… extreme handling of the insurgents. Kryos was aware of this, of course, which is why his vote was seemingly uncharacteristic. He was counting on being contested.”

“He voted to keep the city open to ensure it would be closed.”

Gild nodded, amused and annoyed. After several moments he withdrew his left hand from his pocket and glanced at the clock on his affin module and languidly turned to the woman with a look of concern.

“Has anyone found Professor Grazen yet?”

She shook her head. He nodded dourly.

“I’m heading out for an early lunch. I plan on drowning my troubles in copious quantities of alcohol. Care to join me?”

Next chapter

Circular 2/15/20

PROSE

From Fictive Dream: Pickers by D.S. Levy. A garage sale brings back old memories for a woman unusually devoid of sentimentality.

Right, Colleen thought, just like the cow would match the purple moon hanging over their house.

§

From Jokes Review: …In Space! A new issue of the satirical magazine.

Will there be milk on your spacecraft? I hope so. I’m bringing some Ring Dings for a snack because I figure the tin foil wrapping will protect them from any cosmic rays we may encounter. (Message to Zargofarse The Third…)

§

From Okay Donkey: Ladybird, Ladybird by DeMisty Bellinger. A surreal story about a woman contemplating her life while eating a talking bird (maybe).

I imaging taking one of my chopsticks and turning it away from the deep-fried tofu and towards him. I see myself forcing its dull tip into his chest, breaking beyond errant bones and stringent skin, plunging through to his heart.

§

From The Drabble: Perfect Match by Amanda Quinn. The (very) short tale of a romance too good to be true.

Things moved fast, but never at yours.

§

From Write Ahead / The Future Looms: Handiwork by V.F. Thompson. Of hypercode constructs and domestic tensions.

Barley went quiet, staring at the galaxy that whirled beneath the missing tile.

§

VERSE

From The Cheesesellers Wife: The Letter. A tribute to the author’s Great Grandfather, husband and soldier in the Boer War.

tells of the fury and terror of local thunderstorms
talks of photos and chocolate received

§

ESSAYS

From Momus News: Technobabble Versus Technical Description by E. A. Wicklund. An insightful article for novice fiction writers.

Any topic, from rockets to magic to basket-weaving can have their technical aspects, using terms and concepts most people have never heard of. That doesn’t mean describing them is therefore technobabbling.

 

Notes on Schopenhauer’s The Art of Literature (1893)—I

Arthur Schopenhauer’s The Art of Literature is a brisk, engaging consideration of many of the central questions pertaining to literary craftsmanship. The first question tackled is authorship (On Authorship serves as the title of the book’s first chapter). Schopenhauer begins his endeavour by defining two types of authors; those who write for the subject and those who write for “writing’s sake.”

“There are, first of all, two kinds of authors : those who write for the subject’s sake, and those who write for writing’s sake.” (Schopenhauer, The Art of Literature, 1893, page 3)

§.00—Schopenhauer then delineates the motivations for these two authorial modes: artistic expression on the one hand, and the route desire for money on the other.

He allows no room for doubt as to where he stands on which is the higher type, writing,

“While the one [the former type] have had thoughts or experiences which seem to them worth communicating, the others [the latter type] want money; and so they write, for money. Their thinking is part of the business of writing. They may be recognized by the way in which they spin out their thoughts to the greatest possible lengths; then, too, by the very nature of their thoughts, which are only half-true, perverse, forced, vacillating; again, by the aversion they generally show to anything straight out, so that they may seem other than they are. Hence their writing is deficient in clearness and definiteness, and it is not long before they betray that their only object in writing is to cover paper.” (Schopenhauer, p. 3)

§.01—This is a overgeneralization (for which Schopenhauer has a decided proclivity). There are many commercially motivated writers who write clearly and definitely and many non-commercially motivated writer’s who are dense as dirt and who simply lack the proficiency to write enduring works, but one which contains a kernel of truth, in that, the dedicated writer, the man of letters, writes not chiefly to acquired money, but to communicate a message (as is the point of art, or was, before its Warholesque redefinition (“Art is what you can get away with.”); the title of the piece is, after all, The Art of Literature, not, The Mercantilism of Literature and so consideration must be given to the task of the artist, not the businessman (nor the dilettante). It should not be thought that art and mercantilism (by which I simply mean endeavouring for financial gain) are intrinsically opposed, as Schopenhauer believes, but rather that a author cannot be one if thought is given only to the other.

“As soon as the reader perceives this [that the author’s object is to ‘cover paper’], let him throw the book away; for time is precious. […] No one writes anything that is worth writing, unless he writes entirely for the sake of his subject. What an inestimable boon it would be if, in every branch of literature there were only a few books, but those excellent!” (p.3-4 )

§.02—What a boon that would be, indeed and up to this point, I am in agreement with his central assertions; however, he suddenly takes a dramatic turn (again, towards overgeneralization) when he declares,

“It seems as though the money lay under a curse; for every author degenerates as soon as he begins to put pen to paper in any way for the sake of gain. The best works of the greatest men all come from the time when they had to write for nothing or for very little. And here, too, that Spanish proverb holds good, which declares that honour and money are not to be found in the same purse — honra y provecho no caben en un saco. The reason why Literature is in such a bad plight nowadays is simply and solely that people write books to make money.” (p.4)

§.03—Ah, we’re at the bottom of it—Money, the death of art. How convenient it would be if that were true, but clearly, it is not. Whilst it certainly tracks that the author whose work is chiefly and protractedly motivated by (financial) gain is diminished, of necessity, it does not follow that the ‘The best works of the greatest men all come from the time when they had to write for nothing or for very little.’ Lovecraft wrote his greatest works at the peak of his career, at the point where his reputation and revenue stream were greatly expanded in relation to the pittance he had formerly made from his fiction writing. Whilst he certainly was not making a great deal of money it was not ‘very little’ in comparison to what he had previously been making. One could also consider the account of Huysmans whose La Cathédrale (1898) was so financially successful that it allowed the novelist’s early retirement. The novel was a commercial endeavour, to be sure, but it was also, in essence, a intensely autobiographical work and it was from this essence (as well as its painterly detail) that the work derives it power. There are plenty of other reasons for literature (as a general matter) to become mired in a ‘bad plight’—anti-art sentiment, could be one; a culture which prioritizes and promotes short time preferences, another. Financial gain alone (and recall Schopenhauer writes in no uncertain terms that a lust for money is ‘simply and solely’ to blame for the ‘bad plight’ of literature) is insufficient to explain the totality of the aesthetic degradation of an age. To assume the contrary position is to reveal the outline of the cage—one’s own idée fixe. Everyone judges from a cage, yet, the size thereof is variable.

He goes on in a similar vein to remark upon the general public’s literary receptivity,

“A man who is in want sits down and writes a book, and the public is stupid enough to buy it. The secondary effect of this is the ruin of language.” (p.4)

§.04—Certainly, if a man wrote a book soley because he thought he could make money from it, anyone who knew this fact before purchasing the book who chose to buy the book anyways, would indeed be very stupid. It is not obvious, however, that this is even possible since all writing, of whatever variety, but especially of the artistic variety, is infused with the author’s personal qualities and charged by their experience. A book which communicates nothing would not be a book. Even a blank book, judiciously considered, can carry a message. Consider Michael Knowles’ Reasons To Vote For Democrats: A Comprehensive Guide (2017), a book containing only a table of contents, chapter titles and a bibliography, but no other words. Though the joke book is devoid of substantive content it still manages to communicate a message by the very omission of said contents through contrast with its title. Not La-bas, but mildly amusing.

§.05—His secondary claim concerning the ‘ruin of language’ is smuggled in without explanation. I do not contest that a language can be ‘ruined’—extensive and prolonged word-loss or modulation towards decreasing nuance are expressions of linguistic regression—what I do contest is that writers who are motivated in large part by monetary profit are generally to blame for the ruin of language (though they certainly can be) at any given point in time where such actions are possible (post-printing press). It should also be noted that the aesthete is apt, more so than his less linguistically sensitive fellows, to bemoan the death or ruin or otherwise regression of a given language. A cursory glance back through the historical record reveals that there does not appear to be a period in time when someone, somewhere was not complaining about new slang, emerging idioms and flippant, informal word use (a proclivity that Steven Pinker, in his The Sense of Style, terms “The graybeard sensibilities of the style mavens”). Consider that some of the earliest writing, clay tablets of ancient Sumerian, contain the complaints of a teacher bemoaning the precipitous decline of his student’s writing ability, noting, “A junior scribe is too concerned with feeding his hunger. He does not pay attention to the scribal art.”

Then there is the case of William Langdon (c. 1332–c. 1386) author of Visio Willelmi de Petro Ploughman (1370–90), who, in the 1300s, wrote, “There is not a single modern schoolboy who can compose verses or write a decent letter.”

A year after Langdon’s death, the benedictine monk, Ranulph Higden, in his Polychronicon (sive Historia Polycratica) ab initio mundi usque ad mortem regis Edwardi III in septem libros dispositum lamented what he perceived as linguistic perversion of English due proximity with Normans and Vikings.

“…by comyxtioun and mellynge firste wiþ Danes and afterward wiþ Normans, in meny thynges þe contray longage is apayred, and som vseþ straunge wlafferynge, chiterynge, harrynge, and garrynge grisbayting.” (Higden)

Translation: “…by mixing and mingling, first with Danes and afterwards with Normans, in many cases the country’s language is impaired, and some use strange stammering, chattering, snarling, and grating gnashing of teeth.”

Here Higden commits the very linguistic commingling which he rails against through his use of comyxtioun a word which descends from the language of the Norman French.

In 1478, after the invention of the printing press, William Craxton declared, “And certaynly our langage now vsed veryeth ferre from what whiche was vsed and spoken when I was borne.”

In 1672, the poet, John Dryden wrote with exceptional melodrama on the linguistic decline as represented by those second-raters, Fletcher and Shakespeare, “It is not their plots which I meant, principally, to tax; I was speaking of their sense and language; and I dare almost challenge any man to shew me a page together, which is correct in both […] [M]alice and partiality set apart, let any man who understands English, read diligently the works of Shakespeare and Fletcher; and I dare undertake that he will find in every page either some solecism of speech [an impropriety, mistake, or incongruity], or some notorious flaw in sense.”

It is remarkable how similar the expression of language anxiety has remained across time (always the words are getting too far away from the familiar, despite their ready apprehension) and attests more to certain deficiencies of psychological introspection than any palpable degradation of language. Consequently, I wax intensely skeptical of those who treat linguistic novelty as likely, or intrinsically lesser, than its antecedents.

It is upon this subject that Schopenhauer next directs his powers, writing,

“A great many bad writers make their whole living by that foolish mania of the public for reading nothing but what has just been printed,—journalists, I mean. Truly, a most appropriate name. In plain language it is journeymen, day-labourers!” (p. 4)

§.06—What value rests in journalism is to be found in the skillful dissemination of pertinent information, both good and ill (with minimal injection of opinion). When journalism eschews the informational needs of the public at-large, or some portion of the public, in favor of sensationalism and propaganda, it trends always to incite ‘foolish mania.’ The journalist often attempts to wear also the hat of the social critic, the public intellectual, moral philosopher, and so on, yet often lacks the requisite mental resources, and, being ever constrained by the nature of his industry, lacks also the time necessary to study his subject, rather, he must churn copy swiftly as he is able and, in so doing, diminishes his intellectual nimbleness. In summation, the problem is not that they are ‘day-labourers’ but that they are pretending that they are not, that they are a special type of man, who are possessed of some arcane insightfulness which escapes the lowly commoners.

After this brisk treatment of the journalist class, our errant author swiftly pivots, laying out what he perceives to be the three principal genres of authorial motivation.

“Again, it may be said that there are three kinds of authors. First come those who write without thinking. They write from a full memory, from reminiscences; it may be, even straight out of other people’s books. This class is the most numerous. Then come those who do their thinking whilst they are writing. They think in order to write; and there is no lack of them. Last of all come those authors who think before they begin to write. They are rare. Authors of the second class, who put off their thinking until they come to write, are like a sportsman who goes forth at random and is not likely to bring very much home. On the other hand, when an author of the third or rare class writes, it is like a battue [a hunt where bushes are beaten to flush out game]. Here the game has been previously captured and shut up within a very small space; from which it is afterwards let out, so many at a time, into another space, also confined. The game cannot possibly escape the sportsman; he has nothing to do but aim and fire—in other words, write down his thoughts. This is a kind of sport from which a man has some thing to show. But even though the number of those who really think seriously before they begin to write is small, extremely few of them think about the subject itself: the remainder think only about the books that have been written on the subject, and what has been said by others. In order to think at all, such writers need the more direct and powerful stimulus of having other people’s thoughts before them. These become their immediate theme; and the result is that they are always under their influence, and so never, in any real sense of the word, original. But the former are roused to thought by the subject itself, to which their thinking is thus immediately directed. This is the only class that produces writers of abiding fame.” (p.5)

§.07—It is in these psychological interrogations of authorial methodology where Schopenhauer (in my personal opinion) is strongest in his discourses on literary art. His remark on ‘having other people’s thoughts’ laid before the writer as a source of stimulus is particularly interesting to me as I have found great distraction upon heavily reading book after book by a single author while at the same time trying to write my own. The distraction assumed the form of unconscious replication of the recently-read author’s style, which would bleed through into my own in sporadic bursts that were only evident upon later consideration (as during the editing process). Borrowing terminology or particular structuring techniques from other authors is something which I highly recommend; its extremely instructive. However, that is very different from copying (consciously or unconsciously) a style wholesale, which near-invariably serves to generate nothing but a lesser facsimile of the original author’s prose and consequently, derail the flow and coherency of one’s own laboriously developed style. Whilst each of the authorial types which Schopenhauer mentions is indeed a apt description, they should not be considered wholly static and binding, but rather fluid, as I find, in attempting to place myself, falling into every single category, depending on my mood and the happenings of the day. That being said, I agree with Schopenhauer’s assessment that the latter category (the third type) is the one for which the serious author should (if possible) strive; a subject will invariably emerge (if given sufficient time whilst working by way of either the first or second modes), but it were better, at the outset, to have some conception of a given work and also to find in its development and exploration, a source of yet further inspiration and excitement.


† continued in part II


Sources

  1. Arthur Schopenhauer. (1893) The Art of Literature. Swan Sonnenschein & Co.; MacMillan & Co.
  2. Elena Martinique. (2016) Is Consumerism Depicted in Art Relevant a Relevant Critique of Contemporary Society and Culture? Widewalls.
  3. Farooq A. Kperogi. (2016) Myth of the Decline in Standard of English Usage and Grammar. Nigeria Village Square.
  4. Ranulf Higden, trans. John Travisa. (1364; eng. trans. 1865) Polychronicon Ranulphi Higden Maonachi Cestrensis.
  5. R. L. S. (2015) Johnson: Language anxieties: A Long Decline. The Economist.
  6. Sabina Nedelius. (2017) The Myth of Language Decay: Do Youths Really Not Know How To Speak? The Historical Linguist Channel.
  7. Steven Pinker. (2014) The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide To Writing In The 21st Century. Penguin.
  8. Stuart Henry. (1897) Hours With Famous Parisians. Way & Williams.
  9. Thomas Adajian. (2018) The Definition of Art. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Tomb of the Father: Chapter Two (Excerpt)

Author’s note: The following text is a short chapter excerpt from my forthcoming novel, Tomb Of The Father. More chapter excerpts will be released in the coming weeks.


Gunvald woke in the dark and buried the brigand upon the northern hill opposite the shepherd’s encampment and departed from the old vaquero wordlessly, before his waking, as the halcyon sphere drifted up across the high, jagged peaks of the far mountain. He made his way over the thin, reedy grass from the northern hill and from there to the stony outcropping where he’d slept as the sheep bawled and yapped like insane children and then passed down between the precarious tors into the lowlands which were spotted here and there with small tufts of shrubbery and strange boulders incised with markings from some people that had since passed from the world’s collective remembrance. The man stopped as if the stones had rooted him to shade and slowly reached out to touch the curious monolith before him, gingerly running his dry and cloth-wrapped hands across the smooth-hewn crevices of the mighty artifact. He closed his eyes and inhaled and exhaled deeply until his breathing became as rhythmic as a drumbeat and he felt as if his hands and those that had wrought the arcane inscriptions were one and the same. Past called to future. Dead to living. As if the stone were whispering to him, tales of forgotten times and well-lived lives and those less well lived and what their folly entailed for the ignorant persisting. It was a peculiar feeling, one that the weary traveler struggled to rationalize but felt powerfully all the same. At length, he opened his eyes and slowly withdrew his hand from the stone and retreated a pace and looked over the monolith entire, from tip to base and judged the breadth and width; some eight feet high, some seven feet wide. The weight of the thing the gods only knew.
When he’d taken in the stone in all its facets he turned full from it and made his way out through the bracken and quitch and past other stones, both larger and smaller than the first, and all similarly marked by ancient hands, the symbols there incised beyond the travelers reckoning. Here and there a recognizable representation, half-masked in abstraction: a man, a woman, a wolf, a bear, a fish, a snail, a tree. The symbol most oft represented was the wolf, over and over again it was inscribed, with near mechanical precision and a primal beauty that he’d scarcely witnessed in even the most technically proficient of paintings. He could almost hear its call.
Beyond the rune-stones the ground flattened out with astounding brevity, the bracken and quitch giving way to queer lichen and strange vines with small purple shoots and thick, raw swatches of muddy-clay, filled all with fetid water that buzzed with insects of every shape and size. The further out the man cast his gaze the larger the water-filled depressions grew until they merged unto a singularity, one vast marshen heap of rain-catch and sod and sand and silt. Bogland.
He recalled the old man’s words, “The first false step means death, to man or beast.”
Suddenly, there came a raucous calling, an intonation, nearby and strangely human. The traveler whirled, spotting, some forty yards out into the mire, a huge male ram, only his forelegs, chest, neck and horn-crowned head clear above the bog-hold. The creature struggled a moment, flailing its powerful legs against the silt and sand-water and then, quite suddenly, it vanished, sucked down at last; even the tips of its horns sinking below the grim surface of that plane of death.
Gunvald watched the unhappy affair with a mixture equal parts despair and fascination. It seemed too sudden to be real, the way the earth could so swiftly devour such a beast. Such a thing to the traveler’s mind was as fantastical as copper turning to gold or water to diamond. The bog had not been there when last he’d traversed the moor seven years ago. It seemed a whole panoply of lifetimes compressed into the scattered crystalline fragments of his memories and dreams.
He recalled the long march beside his kinsmen. How high their banners flew, the colors of all the clan houses of Tor; after decades of internecine violence, united at last against a common foe, the gray-men of the Hinterlands, those they called, Rimners. How young and wild and full of lofty opinions they had been…
As Gunvald looked out across the moor his opinions flew at considerably lower altitude.

*

Finding no passage through the peat, Gunvald opted to travel round it by the southernmost way. The trek lasted two days and brought him past all manner of rummy shrubs and bone piles and dying trees that looked more akin to the macabre props of a phantasmal play. Beyond the surmounted wetlands lay a quiet vale through which ran a babbling brook, girded on all sides by dry forest and vine, the ground verdant-lush and teeming with all manner of skittering things, both foul and fair. He sat by the snaking divet and withdrew a wood cup from his travel satchel and dipped it in the water and drank deeply, the liquid sweet and cool to his parched and desirous throat. Then he watched the solar plumes play across the waves as a small school of fish nudged up to the surface, their huge, lidless eyes gazing upon the sun-scorned figure as if appetent of conversation. Gunvald withdrew the last of his stock, a dry half-loaf of bread and broke it into small pieces, eating some and then throwing the rest to the fishes who gobbled at the flotsam and then nervously retreated, wary of Man’s latent, yet ever present, perfidy.
Moments later, the sound of creaking wood could be heard all throughout the vale, followed swiftly by a muted cascade of footfalls. The sound followed the wake of an old cart, rope-dragged by four men, filthy, disheveled and dressed all in furs. Their faces covered by cloth half-masks, securing the nose and mouth from nature’s multitudinous ravishments. Gunvald rose to observe the strange and solemn congregation, eyes widening with horror as he beheld their vessel’s grisly cargo.
Bodies.
Some fifteen in number, human and decaying under the harsh auspice of the sun, male and female alike, from babe to crone, covered in all manner of hideous rashes and boils, their skin ashen-red and peeling like the hide of some overripe fruit. Whatever disease it was that had snatched from them the breath of life seemed, for the moment, to have no hold upon the cart-pullers who paused momentarily, all turning to the man by the river.
One of their number addressed Gunvald sharply, as if in reprimand for some past transgression.
“What easy fool is this?”
“No fool, sir, but a soldier.”
“Those that here make passage well warrant the epithet. Canst thou not see our sorry wares?”
“Tis a pitiable sight. Whereby didst the sorry lot meet Dactyl’s scythe?”
Upon the utterance of that most singular name the men collectively gasped, the former speaker, a short man, bow-backed, balding and scar-faced, muttered a muted prayer and then gestured towards Gunvald as if casting some devious vermin from his presence.
“Sound not that unutterable traducement!”
“I meant no offense. Superstition has surely deranged thy temperament.”
“Enough, heretic, we darest not tarry, lest thee, with thy calumnious tongue, conjure some new evil to surpass the one that now burdens our aching backs!”
The other workers nodded as if there was great wisdom in the bald man’s words and then they adjusted their masks and ropes and muttered another prayer and bent once more to their toil and moved out across the rutted and grassy way, vanishing at last beneath the cavernous canopy of the wood, swallowed whole by the shadows therein.
Gunvald watched them go and decided to follow the cart-men at a distance, for their path and his were, for the time being, one and the same.
Gunvald rose and gave chase, passing through the thick and tangled forest of oak and ash and fir and gave silent thanks for the thick moss-bed beneath that masked the clattering of his bulky, armored frame. Over moss and stone and leaves, dead and alive, he walked, keeping himself well hidden and well apart from the odd foursome and their rickety old cart. After a couple hundred feet the forest opened up, the trees and shrubbery now growing more sparsely, the grass fading from green to yellow-green to a dull orange-yellow. Dying. The cart-pullers took a sharp right and passed fully beyond the forest unto a thin, dirt road that stretched out to the gray northwestern hill-lands like the great and ossified tendril of some mighty leviathan. The road ran down a slight decline in the hummock-ridden surface of the world and then diverged, one track splitting off to a small city to the south and the other branching to a butte over which rose the pass to the low, south-eastern mountains. Gunvald waited until the men had disappeared beyond the curvature of the earth and then took the lonely path towards the town stopping by a small, wooden sign, hastily constructed, which read:

Ħaberale

The sign was adorned with a large off-white arrow, comprised of some woodland dye, which pointed towards the clearly present outline of the town in the short-off distance, half obscured by small tussles of old trees which poked above a field of withering wheat and the ruins of some primeval fort that lay beyond, its towers brimming with black wings and hissing beaks. Before the man had fully risen from his observation of the sign, the sound of thundering hooves rose up from somewhere nearby, plumes of dust whirling from the immediate northern road. Shortly, a fearsome cavalcade stood before the weary and cautious wayfarer, five in number and all armed and armored in strict uniformity. Knights or sell-swords or something worse. Gunvald knew instantly they were not of the town, by both their expensive attire and peculiar breed of destrier, he fancied them denizens of Caer Tor, a kingdom someways off and rarely concerned with its outlying provinces. The leader of the group and the eldest, a man of middling height and some fifty years, at length addressed the armored wayfarer.
“Hail, traveler. A moment to query?”
Gunvald nodded in wordless acquiescence, though he knew that it was not a question proper.
“I am Cyneweard, second-commander of Tor. Word of brigand-raids have reached our gracious Lord, Cenhelm, and by his leave we make way to Haberale to rope the misbegotten scoundrels.”
“If that is thy venture then ye’ev headed the way awrong. Thy foe lies beyond the northern forest, past the bogland in the high moors.”
“Thou hast seen them?”
“Three nights past I was assailed upon the moor by three fiends, peasants, it seemed.”
“Three thou sayst?”
“Now two.”
The knight took the measure of the soldier before him, discerning flecks of crusted blood about his boots and nodded solemnly.
“I thank thee kindly. Might I inquire as to thy business, traveler?”
“My business is my own.”
“Suit thyself. One word of parting, kinsman, take heed in Haberale, the town is much changed. For the worse I am afeared. With thanks, we take our leave.”
Without another word the knights straightened in their leather saddles and flicked the reigns of their war-beasts and clattered off down the road toward the moor. When they had gone all was silent save for the heavy breath of the western wind that sent the traveler’s long, wavy locks aflutter. He brushed his mane from out his eyes and adjusted his scabbard-belt and wondered at the knight’s words. Haberale had always been a sleepy, little idyll, the only heed one had need to take was of how uneventful it was likely to be so as to better remedy the doldrums. He thought of the bandits and the dead men in the cart and the living ones pulling it and the strange masks on their faces, all deep, emerald green.
Times had changed indeed.
Gunvald left off down the way and crossed through the fading wheat and the hard clay ground and made camp in the ruins of some old fort as darkness closed about him in minacious plume.

*

Fiction Circular 4/19/19

§00. Editor’s note: links affixed to author/publisher’s name will redirect to author/publisher social media, links affixed to story/article titles will redirect to the site whereupon the named piece is archived. The ‘authors’ section focuses on lone individuals who publish their own literary work, ‘organizations’ section focuses upon independent presses, lit-mags, e-zines and other literary organizations who publish fictive work of multiple authors and ‘literary ephemera’ focuses on non-prose non-fiction literature, such as certain poems, news and art theory articles, reviews, interviews and critiques. All author/publication names arranged by alphabetical order (including ‘the’).


§01. Editor’s note on criteria for inclusion: a publication is considered ‘independent’ if it is self-contained and sustaining, that is to say, if it does not rely upon the staff, organizational prowess or financial backing of large corporations, academies, governments or other large entrenched organizations. For example, Sink Hollow Litmag will not be included on the list, not due to the quality or lack thereof of their work, but rather, because they are supported by Utah State University (and thus, are not independent).


§.AUTHORS

From Shreya Vikram, Insomnia. She’s right: there is no plural form of ‘sheep’ – as with ‘moose.’ Should be remedied (‘sheeps,’ just like ‘mooses,’ sounds off – perhaps, following the convention for multiple octopuses – ‘octopi’ – one could have ‘sheepi’ and ‘moosi’).

“One sheep, two sheep, three sheep, you count, just like you’d been taught. The sentence sounds odd in your head. You wonder why, and then you realize: the word ‘sheep’ has no plural. Isn’t that strange? Like fish. But ‘fish’ does have a plural, for types of fishes.”

 

— Insomnia


§.ORGANIZATIONS

From Ellipsis Zine, A Nice Night for a Drive, by Benjamin Niespodziany. A charming tale of a 109 year old woman with a love for fast machinery.

“The next time we visit my grandmother, she’s gone and so is her car bed. Her third floor window is left wide open. The nurses on call didn’t hear a thing. We put out an alert in search of a 109-year-old woman lacking identification.”

 

— A Nice Night for a Drive


From Jellyfish Review, This Side of the Fjord, by Ashley Lopez.

The knitted winter cap muffles the crack of the boy’s skull. I don’t hear the sound of bone bouncing on sodden subway floor, but I do hear his shriek a moment later. From deep within the boy’s mouth comes a call produced eons before his birth and encapsulated within his DNA. A selected method and best practice for arousing the alarm and comfort mechanisms in a caregiver. A seal pup searching for his mother.

 

— This Side of the Fjord


From Kendall Reviews, The Black Cloak Of Its Wings, by Daniel Soule, a fantastic short story concerning Nature’s omnipresent, yet hidden, savagery.

“The crow was twice the pigeon’s size. It pinned the frenzy of flapping wings with wraithish talons, while its stygian eyes blinked calmly, surveying the surroundings. Perceiving no threat, the crow set to its purpose. The pigeon flailed ineffectually against the sustained violence of penetrating slashes from the blade of the crow’s beak. On and on. Over and Over. Exposing the forbidden pink of flesh, yellow of fat, blue of veins. When the pigeon fell limp, the crow took a break from its butchery, scarlet dripping from its face. All was still. Time moved as slowly as falling drops of viscus blood until, dumbly remembering it was alive, the pigeon struggled for the last of its life. The crow tilted its head to inspect the pathetic floundering, before pistoning its beak into the living corpse over and over with calm fury, until the struggling ceased.”

 

— The Black Cloak Of Its Wings


From Surfaces, The Circumstances, by Ryan Bry, a curious, uniquely written tale of a woman reading from a man’s personal journal.

“When I call my brother I always ask him: What are you proud of?  When I call my mother I usually ask her: What are you proud of? I kept my personal journal in the teller window, decided I’d let anyone read it if they asked. Here’s the story of the only girl who did.”

 

— The Circumstances


From X-R-A-Y, Meals of our Children, by Will Gilmer. A grim and gripping (and, in my opinion, too short) portrait of drug addiction.

“Gnaw marks, like the ones on his old teething ring, appeared when the doctor gave him Tramadol after hurting his shoulder during the Homecoming game. Incisors scars ran up his arms when they moved him to Norco after X-Rays showed a labrum tear. Now I’m losing him, one mouthful at a time, as broken needle teeth pile up next to the burnt spoon on his dresser.”

 

— Meals of our Children


§.LITERARY EPHEMERA

From Quartzy, The Mueller Report Has Two Spaces After Every Sentence, by Natasha Frost, a interesting and instructive foray into the ways in which technology (particularly typewriters) have shaped, and continues to shape, typing trends across digital formats. Spacing isn’t something that often garners a great deal of attention, specifically from beginning writers, however, it should, as the specificity of one’s spacing makes a tremendous difference when it comes to the legibility (and general textual aesthetics) of the work.

“The culprit here is typewriters, which allocate the same amount of space for each letter, regardless of width. Known as monospacing, this translates to a tighter fit around thickset bruisers like m and w, and a little cloud of white space around such skinny characters as i, l, and !.”

 

— The Mueller Report Has Two Spaces After Every Sentence


Lastly, the bizarre piece from ‘critical race theorist’ Sofia Leung, titled, Whiteness as Collections, which brands libraries far too ‘white’ (because of course they are). The piece is nonsensical for one who has not accepted the theological premises of critical race theory, but hilarious in its almost cartoonish predictability; she writes, “If you don’t already know, “whiteness as property,” is a seminal Critical Race Theory (CRT) concept first introduced by Cheryl I. Harris in her 1993 Harvard Law Review article by the same name. She writes, “slavery as a system of property facilitated the merger of white identity and property” (p. 1721) and the formation of whiteness as property required the erasure of Native peoples. Basically, white people want to stay being white because of the privilege and protection whiteness affords under the law that they created. Harris also makes this really good point, “whiteness and property share a common premise — a conceptual nucleus — of a right to exclude” (1714). Bam! That really hits it on the head.” Yes, that’s quite true, the right to exclude is indeed central to property, what is the solution to this non-problem? Getting rid of the concept of property? Further, what does slavery have to do with contemporary libraries? I would venture that the answer is: nothing. However, acknowledging that a connection between libraries and slavery is either tenuous or none existent would critically undermine the author’s ability to denigrate ‘white’ literature, which she clearly has a problem with. Imagine, for a moment, that I were to write a piece where I spoke in Leung’s terms about BET (Black Entertainment Television), which, unlike literary works at libraries, is explicitly racially conscious and exclusionary. If I were to say that BET is ‘too black’ the reception would be extremely predictable. There would be a social uproar. “How dare you say that!” Etc. Now, as a matter of fact, I don’t think BET is ‘too black’ and have absolutely no problem with Television channels which cater to only one racial group, or ethnic group or religious group or philosophical group, or any group specific media whatsoever. This despite the fact that BET certainly does ‘express their right to exclude (so presumably, Leung should take issue with them and other outlets like them, though that prospect strikes me as highly unlikely).

What the author seems to be calling for, in rather explicit terms, is racial quotas for literature, which would require the creation and instantiation of a racial hierarchy wherein european descended peoples (or those who look similar to them, such as some Hebrews and Persians) are relegated to the bottom rung, not because of the content or quality of their writing, but simply because their ancestors have been collectively prosperous. Such a system need not be created, as it already exists, and stands as the philosophical bedrock of critical race theory. Vexingly, such a literary caste system, one will notice, has nothing to do with artistic merit (either collectively nor individually), how particular works impact a audience is of little to no importance to the ‘critical race theorist,’ what IS of importance is ensuring that those writer’s who fall into phenotypic categories which they (the theorists) have designated as ‘problematic’ are undercut.

Leung further notes, “If you look at any United States library’s collection, especially those in higher education institutions, most of the collections (books, journals, archival papers, other media, etc.) are written by white dudes writing about white ideas, white things-,” Han Chinese, Japanese and Iranians also write about Han, Japanese and Iranian ideas, black Americans typically write about black ideas and black things, Hispanics, likewise. Why is this a problem? The United States is not just historically, but also currently, a majority ‘white’ nation, thus, one would expect, by the numbers alone, to see more books by ‘white’ Americans than by any other minority racial classifications. Such complaints about ‘representation’ in contemporary fiction, despite the fact that books and articles by people such as Ms. Leung are in no wise suppressed (indeed, they are championed at every turn), are the generative nexus for the kind of on-the-nose fictional revision which has so thoroughly degraded popular fiction (female characters assuming distinctly male characteristics, retrofitting a character’s race/sex, despite such a change making no narrative sense, so as to ostensibly make them more palatable to various minority groups (even though it often does not), sloganeering inserts to outright political propaganda (ie. CBS’ The Good Fight’s explicit call to political violence).

The decision postulated by the rise of critical race ‘theory’ (it is not, however a theory, but a hypothesis) is this: either literature (and thus a literary institution or culture) can be evaluated upon its own merits, or it can be evaluated by the group affiliation (real or imagined) of its author (which mandates disregarding the actual content of the work in so far as the group affiliation is not, itself, generative to the content under scrutiny).


 

The Photographer’s Dilemma (VIII)

She was so distressed by the mysterious message from the cafe she skipped her gala showing and the meeting she was supposed to have with Thompson afterwards and found herself wandering in The Tombs near where Greely had been killed. She passed by the stoop where he had called to her as night fell like a blanket of smog, the hairs on her arms rising ferine, her breath coming and going erratically. Nothing felt real. She had no idea what she was doing. Pure compulsion drove her to stand where the old man had called out, where, not far away, the strange man with the white jacket had warned her. She removed her camera and snapped a photo of the dead man’s after image and then walked up the stairs to the door of the old tenement, still adorned with police tape that had been severed.

She froze. Someone had been here after the police had cordoned off the area. She reached out her hand to touch the knob whereupon a voice sharp and clear rang out behind her and nearly made flee her very skin.

“Curiosity killed the cat.”

She whirled, eye bulging in great owlish disks and her breath catching in her throat. A middle aged man stood in the alley, he was baggy-eyed and disheveled, dressed all in ill-fitting cast offs.

“You scared the fuck out of me.”

“How much fuck did you have in ya, exactly?”

She rolled her eyes and traversed the steps, “What are you doing here?”

“Investigating. Its what I do. I’m Jervis Lock. Reporter.”

“Ariadne Campbell. Artist. Are you the one who cut the police tape?”

“Nope. Was just about to ask you the same thing.”

He didn’t seem interested in her, his eyes were fixed wholly upon Greely’s former tenement. She’d seen his kind before, lean, cold, restless, cynical; journalism seemed to draw such creatures to its fold as meat drew maggots.

“You know what happened here?”

He nodded.

“Sick fuck was kidnapping kids. Selling them, my sources tell me.”

“Whose your source.”

“Well I’d tell ya,” he grinned wolfishly, “But then I’d have to kill ya.” She didn’t find the jest amusing and for a moment just glared at him until the reporter became uncomfortable. He peaked up moments later, “I feel like I’ve seen you somewhere before.”

“I’ve been holding shows at the Thompson.”

“Oh you’re that photographer! Yeah, I seen ya, in the paper. Ariadne Campbell. Knew I’d heard that name somewhere before… So why are you here?”

“I’m here because I say him.”

“Who?”

“Greely. The kidnapper. Before… before whatever happened, happened.”

“No shit.”

“He was sitting right where I’m standing now. Asked me if I was looking for something. I think its only because I turned down his offer for… whatever it was he was offering that I didn’t end up like him.”

“Oh, I doubt that. See,” Jervis paused, uncertain if he should continue.

“What?”

“Well, its kinda confidential information pertaining to the case.”

“From your mysterious source?”

He nodded and shortly thereafter a mischevious look came into his eye.

“What say we get out of this dump and I can tell you about it over drinks?”

“Are you asking me out on a date?”

“Nah. I gave up on dates after my third marriage. I’m asking you to be my drinking buddy.”

*

The bar was cold and smelled of fried chicken and musk and old varnish. It occupied a seat next to a textile manufacturing plant which had been out of operation for over fifty years and the skeletal remnants of the great site of production loomed over the dive like a massive keep, covering it over in an omnipresent shade. Lock loosened his tie and as the drinks came, his a fruity margarita with an bright red umbrella, hers a forgettablely named bottom-shelf beer. He leaned back and looked his companion up and down briskly and then took a sip of his drink and jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

“You know the old plant?”

“Formerly a steel mill or something like that, right?”

“I’ve no idea. I just saw it and was wondering if we really knew our own history.” He gave a laugh, “Guess we don’t.”

She didn’t know how to respond and set to removing the cap from her beer; it wouldn’t budge.

“Ya want me to get it?”

“No. Its fine. I got it.”

But she didn’t and shortly her grip slipped and a ruddy gash appeared upon her palm. It stung but none too bad, even as the blood trickled down upon the table. It looked so beautiful that she could do nothing but follow the red lines like mercury and ketchup where they ran down her palm and splish splashed upon the smooth faux granite of the old dinner table.

“Shit, are you alright?”

“Fine. Just a scratch.”

“That looks a little deeper than a scratch.”

She ignored him and raised her hand up to her face, running her tongue out from between pristine red lips to slithered against her blood. After she had made the first pass across her bloody palm she gazed up behold the journalist whose face was contorted in confusion and disgust; she smiled and then took a sip of her beer and wrapped one of the cloth napkins at the table around her hand and leaned forwards over the table eagerly.

“So here we are. Drinking buddies. Now, why don’t you tell me why you said that you doubted that I’d have ended up like Greely even if I stayed.”

“What?”

“You said that, earlier, when we were by his tenement.”

“Oh yeah, yeah. Well, see,” he lowered his voice conspiratorially, “What happened to Greely… it’s been happening all over the city, not just in The Tombs, everywhere, for years now. Lot of old cold cases, disappearances are treated like stand alone instances, right, you have some sicko and he wants to diddle kids or eat them or whatever the fuck and the police think, well it’s just this one guy, this one mentally deranged guy. And usually that’s true but what I’ve found is something… quite different. See, I’ve been reading through every dissapearence and homicide for the past couple of years, no connection, no connection, then, suddenly bodies start dropping. One or two at a time, late at night, isolated locations, nobodies… or so it seems. One thing at least fifteen of these recent murders have in common, the victim was always a victimizer.”

He held up his hands, his fingers pressed to palm and them facing Ariadne, he raised his index finger first, “So most recently Greely, child kidnapper, may or may not be involved with a intercontinental human trafficking and drug smuggling ring. Then, last month there was this fellow Eric Graylane, smut peddler and a suspected money launderer, political player of some importance, couple weeks before that, there was this lady, Anna Conrad-Winthrop, criminal defense lawyer, real well esteemed pillar-of-her-community-type. Winds up facedown in a pool of her own blood, knifed through the chest with such force the blade lodged into her spine,” Ariadne’s brows rose, “Turns out, after the investigation, she was a covering for a migrant grooming gang who, only a couple of days before all just up and vanished. Poof, gone.”

“What happened to them?”

Lock shook his head grimly, “A kid found them in the docks, or rather, what was left of them, heads floating in the shallows. Hacked to pieces.”

“You thinking this is a vigilante?”

“At first glance it would seem that way, maybe like a syndicate of sorts that is taking the law into their own hand, cept for one thing… there is another point of commonality between all of the victims – and I do use that word lightly – they were all involved, at one point or another with the Merideth Foundation.”

“Thompson’s gallery is partnered with them.”

“Lots of galleries are. Merideth is the single largest independent non-profit organization in, not just the city, but the country. They’re everywhere.”

“So you think this might be political?”

“Merideth has given a lot of money to a lot of different people. Not all of them savory.”

“Mr. Lock-”

“Yeah?”

“Why are you telling me all of this? I’m assuming its not just cuz you wanted a drinking buddy.”

“Yeah, well… ya might have assumed right. I uh, could use your help-”

“You were just pretending not to know who I was, weren’t you? You were looking for me. You want to use me for your story because I work at Thompson’s. Fuck, I’m thick tonight…”

“I hope you don’t mind, I just didn’t want to come across as pushy.”

She wasn’t upset, she was elated. This was just what she had been looking for. Seeking. New forms of inspiration. Inspiration which the charnel hosue of the city’s filthy underbelly had graciously provided.

Ariadne smiled and closed her fist around the red-soaked napkin, soaking redder still.

“I’d be delighted to oblige.”

 

The Photographer’s Dilemma (VII)

*

As soon as she was able to get some distance from Partridge she pulled out her mobile and opened up her social media on Rattle.web. She squinted down at her profile photo, it was a top-down angled portrait; she didn’t like it, she was trying to hard to look interesting, she thought to herself. What caught her attention after a few moments was the eyeliner she was wearing and how wide she was holding her eyes open. After a comparison she was certain, this was the picture. She cursed under her breath, how could she not have made the connection? It was so obvious. So easy. As easy to realize as it had been for who ever made the photo, to obtain. The internet was a bountiful sea of information, most of it public or at the least, publically accessible, no matter how intimate. Like shells beneath sand.

*

Ariadne was surprised to find her work in increasingly high demand in the ensuing weeks after her first major showing at the Thompson Gala. The little boutique art papers and e-zines covered her gallery with enthusiasm, noting a “bold new voice” with a “distinctive eye for gritty realism.” Calvin continued inviting her to his compound raves and she began to dance for the first time and found to her very great surprise she was good at it. Everything was going so smoothly that she nearly forgot all about the murder which she had nearly been drawn into and the eerie photograph of her eye and the theft of her photos and the man with the white jacket. Yet the more attention she received the more stressed and irritated she became. It was not that she was ungrateful, or that the galas were unpleasant but rather that everyone began to twist her art to fit their own personal narratives, there were feminist columnists who declared her pictures displayed the crisis of masculinity and conservative yahoos who declared that her pictures of the city were indicative of the need for a revitalization of the faith and its attendant patriarchal norms and there were anarchists who took her grim realism to be a calling card to a morally vacuous modality of thought which sought out the beauty of destruction for its own sake. None of it was true. Before next gala, Jamie, Calvin and Svetlana met her at cafe just outside The Tombs known as The Orange Tree.

Svetlana hugged Ariadne and smiled broadly, “I’m so happy for you.”

“Thanks. I… wish I could feel the same way.”

Calvin titled his head inquisitively as they all sat down around one of only four rickety wooden tables in the joint.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t mean to say I’m unhappy or ungrateful – I owe you a lot of thanks, Cal – its just, every time there is a new article or podcast out about my work its always the same old song and dance. They don’t really care what it is actually about, they just want to use it for their own ends. They could just ask me.”

“Lynder once told me,” Svetlana broke in, “That there are only two reasons why a work of art is misunderstood, either because its author was lacking in talent such as to properly communicate its messages, or, it is deliberately twisted to fulfil a institutional function. You are certainly not lacking in talent.”

Ariadne balked, “I’m so sick of hearing that name.”

Svetlana looked to Jamie and Calvin for assistance. Neither had anything to say. When their drinks came Ariadne practically siphoned her cup down. She, typically prim and restrained in social outings, was too flustered to care about such trivialities. Jamies laughed suddenly and pointed to her lip.

“What?”

He was laughing so hard he could barely speak, “C-co-”

“WHAT?”

Calvin leaned in towards her over the table as a couple of detectives strolled by some five feet away.

“You’ve got a chocolate mustache.”

She twisted her spoon towards her such that it showed her reflect. Damn, he was right. She didn’t see what was so funny about it. Fuckers. Laughing. Laughing. Laughing. She reached for her napkin and from it a small slip of cream colored paper fluttered down into her lap.

She flipped it over and read it in horror.

Do you see?