Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ce qu’on rêve, ce qu’on adore et ce qui ment

"L’Astre rouge," by Leconte de Lisle

Along with George Sterling, the most interesting poet I've read in some time has been Leconte de Lisle; and like Sterling, de Lisle often "casts a cold eye" on human existence with a cosmic perspective that both frightens and fascinates me.

One concept that seems to have haunted de Lisle is the idea of a dead universe, frozen and still for eternity, locked in what he calls, in another poem, la Nuit aveugle -- but here, in this poem, he adds a wounded, staring eye at the centre of non-existence: mindless, pitiless, eternal.

I suppose this work appeals to me, because it brings to mind those nightmares that plagued me when I was four years old: vast looming or spinning things in the sky, my screaming attempts to warn people who would not look up, the universe dissolving into dust and nothingness within a silent instant.

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Charles Marie René Leconte de Lisle
From Poèmes tragiques, 1884 (édition de 1886).

L’Astre rouge

Il y aura, dans l’abîme du ciel, un grand Astre rouge nommé Sahil.
(Le Rabbi Aben-Ezra.)

Sur les Continents morts, les houles léthargiques
Où le dernier frisson d’un monde a palpité
S’enflent dans le silence et dans l’immensité;
Et le rouge Sahil, du fond des nuits tragiques,
Seul flambe, et darde aux flots son œil ensanglanté.

Par l’espace sans fin des solitudes nues,
Ce gouffre inerte, sourd, vide, au néant pareil,
Sahil, témoin suprême, et lugubre soleil
Qui fait la mer plus morne et plus noires les nues,
Couve d’un œil sanglant l’universel sommeil.

Génie, amour, douleur, désespoir, haine, envie,
Ce qu’on rêve, ce qu’on adore et ce qui ment,
Terre et ciel, rien n’est plus de l’antique Moment.
Sur le songe oublié de l’Homme et de la Vie
L’Œil rouge de Sahil saigne éternellement.

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Although I'm certainly no translator, and I could never do justice to de Lisle, I'll offer an extremely quick, ugly and inadequate approximation of this poem:

"There will be, in the abyss of the sky, a great red star named Sahil. -- Rabbi Aben-Ezra

"On the dead continents, lethargic waves swell in the silence and immensity, where the final shiver of a world has trembled; and from the depth of tragic nights, only red Sahil burns and stings the waves with its blood-covered eye.

"Through the endless space of naked solitudes -- this inert abyss, deaf, empty, identical to the void -- Sahil, the supreme witness, the lugubrious sun that makes the sea duller and the sky blacker, broods with blood-red eye over the universal sleep.

"Genius, love, sorrow, despair, hatred, envy, everything we dream, everything we adore, everything that tells a lie, Earth and sky -- nothing remains of that ancient moment. On the forgotten dream of Man and Life, the red eye of Sahil bleeds eternally."

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Strange Power of This Story

In A Season Of Dead Weather is reviewed in detail here:

"I enjoyed this collection, not least because I felt I was sharing the imaginative world of someone who doesn't seek easy answers or rely on obvious gimmicks. I hope you'll give Mark Fuller Dillon's stories a chance. Like many good short story writers, he is unlikely to ever receive the considerable backing of a major publisher, despite being vastly more gifted than the average bestselling hack."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

News... on the March

Another book review, this one from the Paranoid Contracts website:

"For those of us who like reading alone late at night this one regularly sends a tingle down your spine. In some of the stories you wonder if people are just paranoid but in others you feel there probably is somewhere in your city where people go down stairs to a different world."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Endless Winters

In A Season Of Dead Weather has gained a review:

"I’m a genre reader and rarely read stories just for their styles and language. Dillon’s In a Season of Dead Weather is one of those rare works that can make even a genre reader like me want to take a second look at the literary. Highly recommended."

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Take Away the Words

Back in 2005, a beginning writer asked for my technical criticism of two stories.

Over the course of several weeks, I took his two stories apart, not only sentence by sentence, but clause by clause, word by word. I taught him basic principles of grammar and sentence construction; I revised many passages for the sake of clarity and dramatic emphasis, to show him the importance of language in the craft of storytelling. In terms of content, I added nothing: the ideas, the plots, the imagery, were all his, and his alone. I worked only on technique.

The process went on and on and on, and became gruelling for both of us; but he was patient, dedicated, willing to work hard and to put up with my stern lecturing.

Afterwards, we fell out of touch for eight years, but I've recently noticed that he has built quite a reputation for his work, and I was happy for him. I sent an email, and we exchanged a few messages.

As you might expect, we ended up discussing craftsmanship. He wrote:

"It's not a writer's job to write perfectly.... Your job is a story-teller's job, not a technician's job. One must focus ultimately on the tale told, make that the primary concern. Against that, all else is secondary."

I replied:

"For me, writing a story is both jobs, because reading a story in both ways can be a great pleasure. And the beauty of fiction is that it can be read both ways.... I see it as a balance: the story, and the telling of the story, are equally important."

That was three days ago. Since then, I've come to suspect that I was wrong.

The telling is more important -- vastly more important -- because without the telling, there is no story. To add more emphasis: the telling and the story are one. The telling is the story.

I should be clear about this: by story, I mean a crafted fictional narrative that cannot be paraphrased without a major loss of significance, beauty, or power.

Narratives that come out of an oral tradition are designed to be paraphrased. Legends, folk tales, bedtime stories for children: they not only survive paraphrase, but thrive on it.

Fiction, on the other hand, is often more complex. Could you paraphrase King Lear, or The Flower Beneath The Foot, or Titus Groan? Could you paraphrase "The Secret Sharer," or "The Terminal Beach," or "The Fifth Head of Cerberus"?

Tone, imagery, metaphor, sensory texture: these are essential to fiction, and the only way to convey them is through language. It stands to reason, then, that poorly described action, imprecisely described physical detail, vaguely described emotional weather, kill the illusion of reality, the conviction by which a story lives or dies.

The goal of writing is not "perfection" (whatever that might mean); the goal is clarity. The goal is to make the story as vivid and as real as possible in the reader's mind. And this is why technique matters, because words are the only tools we have to bring our stories to life.

Take away the words, and you take away the story.