I’m starting another of my real-time reviews. This time it is of the fiction stories in ‘Cinnabar’s Gnosis – A Homage to Gustav Meyrink’ edited by Dan T. Ghetu – Ex Occidente Press (2009). As ever, I shall attempt to draw out all the stories’ leitmotifs and mould them into a gestalt. But also, with this book (probably the most physically aesthetic book it has been my pleasure to handle), I shall abandon any knowledge I may have of Gustav Meyrink and judge, gradually, what ‘literary being’ actually rises from the pages of words.
This review will be written here in real-time after I read each story. This promises to be a lengthy and slow experience, mainly so as to savour the huge text. Delays may also ensue as I am about to embark on reading story submissions for Nemonymous Ten (Null Immortalis) and on helping prepare ‘The Last Balcony’.
CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review as the items are posted below, before or during or after your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading the book. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/
The original stories in this book are written by John Howard, Colin Insole, D.P. Watt, R.B. Russell, Reggie Oliver, George Berguño, Eric Stener Carlson, Mark Samuels, Albert Power, Richard Gavin, Rhys Hughes, Adam Golaski, Mark Valentine, Michael Cisco, Stephen J. Clark, Steve Rasnic Tem, Mark Beech, Jonathan Wood, Adam S. Cantwell, Brendan Connell, Ron Weighell, Peter Bell & Quentin S. Crisp. .
Portrait in an Unfaded Photograph – John Howard
This is a retro-causality by history, tied up with events in Romania etc. and the power of literature (as ‘magic fiction’?) to make things happen for real. It involves the power of the emotion caused by literature itself and the rivalries or jealousies that it can invoke, bigger even than world events. I enjoyed the connnections – and the inferences allowed slowly, savouringly to egg out in the reader’s mind as ‘rumours and possibilities’. The story reminded me of a Poliakoff TV drama made lexophonic. Unlike with my previous real-time reviews, I suspect – by the book’s already developed osmosis – that I shall need to return to considering earlier stories when reviewing subsequent ones, as, these days, I do personally seem to be dogged by retro-causality (à la Hadron Collider). So I may re-read this excellent one in due course. (21 Dec 09)
“It appeared that there were cameras on tripods set up everywhere on street corners and blossoming on every balcony…” (22 Dec 09) .
The Weimar Spider – Colin Insole
Historically connected with the previous story at one particular cross-over point, this one exquisitely wallows in the sense of Mittel-European turn-of-the-centry towards mid-twentieth century weaving Baudelaire, Verlaine, Alban Berg, Ezra Pound – with more ‘rumours and possibilities’, relationships crossing time and tarot. And a magic mysterious bookishness akin to that of Mark Valentine fiction. Loved it. (There is a skein of narrative tentacles that will need un-weaving upon later re-reading I guess. Not retro-causal so much as Jungian via accidents-of-mind-and-body). All this and Meyrink himself walking through the words implicitly becoming a Proustian self that he perhaps never knew as himself when alive.
“The rhymes and rhythms of forgotten people. You can hear their heart beats through the walls.” (22 Dec 09 – four hours later)
Pulvis Lunaris, or, The Coagulations of Wood – D.P. Watt
“…if you had been able to hear beneath the din of the revelry you would have heard a soft beat, as of a heart. And should you have touched those clammy walls you would have felt it too – a soft pounding…”
For me an original Ligottian excursion into puppetry and dollship framing what I took to be another self of Meyrink, this time as a hybrid I/him protagonist. Enchanting, disturbing, touching, concupiscent, Praguesque, fantastical, deeply meaningful without the meaning rubbing off on me too obtrusively. It made me feel like a sense-growing puppet myself just released from prison in misprision of the love I truly sought…
“He considered her a creature of the stars, as inscrutable and apocalyptic as Tzimtzum.” (22 Dec 09 – another 2 hours later)
The Red Rose and The Cross of Gold – R.B. Russell
This is a more linear story than the previous three … until you reach the end. I dare not tell you how I interpret this story and how it’s in tune with this author’s masterpiece of a novella called ‘Bloody Baudelaire’ – for fear of spoiling them both. It is about an engineer of a city sewer-systen badly in need of repair, occupying rented accommodation he needs to share with a womanizing stranger and, above all, yes, a balcony! And real or imagined foundations that are ill-founded. Meyrink does not overtly make an appearance but I do sense this book’s summoning of the version so far created pulling the strings off-stage. Another gem. (22 Dec 09 – another 3 hours later)
The Black Metaphysical – Reggie Oliver
A substantive fiction artfully combining an acquired sense of theatrical absurdity with serious MR Jamesian-like, Cabbalistic, Antiquarian, Christian-mythical revelation with what I instictively know are Meyrink-Praguesque concerns nibbling away at the back of the words. Spiced with scholarly sex. And shadowy Aickmen seen out of the corner of the reader’s eye. A complex viewpoint via text and inner-text by exegesis. But it flows better as an entertaining story than those observations portend. A delight to read today just before Christmas Eve. A Reggie Oliver treat. In the Golem Heights.
“Evening light filtered through the armorial stained glass windows at the end of the long room, painting the polished floorboard with azure, gules and or.” (23 Dec 09)
Meyrink’s Gambit – George Berguño
This story is steeped in or, i.e. this time the conjunction (to connect different possibilities) not the heraldic colour. This story also demonstrates, for me, quite brilliantly, my own long-held mantra of ‘the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’ and my interest in the literary theory of the Intentional Fallacy. And connections. The historical crosspoint from the book’s two first stories paralleled by a chance ‘disintentional’ sacrifice in chess. Gustav Meyrink appears for real in these stories ‘told’ from within each other – unless this one is an impostor?
“…a café with a strange name – The Museum.” (23 Dec 09 – three hours later)
On Consideration of the Muses – Eric Stener Carlson
Absinthe in a museum bar/café. A short and densely textured text of inquisitorial piggy-backing between the artist, the artist’s model and the muse. An oblique South American / European landscape that touches on unspeakable Semitics and a Father/Son ’Only Connect’ scenario. I need to read this story again. May wrinkle before I do, however. (23 Dec 09 – another 3 hours later)
The Age of Decayed Futurity – Mark Samuels
“At the time I believed little of it, and my conviction that he was telling the truth came shortly afterwards.”
Like many of the stories so far, at least one level of narration within narration, as if Meyrink’s puppet within a puppet takes delight to tug strings from within like tendons. This fiction, of a Polish writer struggling with her 4th novel, reverts to my current aforementioned ‘retrocausality’ obsession. It’s a tour-de-force of conspiracy theory and Horror static (that pervades much modern Horror). The cult of celebrity made scatologically tangible, eschatologically zombified. I lapped it up. (23 dec 09 – another 3 hours later)
Počátek Románu: A Flutter of Lorn Love – Albert Power
“ ’I’ve trudged along the watch at dusk, through trench-bound ranks of the popish Gael, and seen their chaplain ply final rites to a sentry whose self-severed throat was like a gristly sambo chuckling.’ “
The longest story so far. Fustian to the nth degree, luxuriant, semi-antiquated texture of prose that fits my reading taste like a bespoke taste-glove. It has an operatic absurdity mixed with serious concerns on the Cruelties of War, Gender and Philosophical Symmetry. An early twentieth century Irish / East European Passion-Gael eventually leading towards an oblique Samuel Richardson / ‘Pamela’ sentiment from the midst of a very strangely populated House Party.
Beware. Once this story is read it cannot be unread.
And there is here no explicit presence of Meyrink either by manionette or manufacture (other than by quotation reference, I recall), although I sense an implicit presence of someone ‘or’ something I take to be this book’s Meyrink whose own literary symmetry is balancing good and bad ‘or’ beauty and ugliness ‘or’ fiction and truth.
[I note here another engineer (Cf the Russell story). Only a huge mechanical balance-construction will eventually suffice, I guess. We shall see.] (24 Dec 09)
Feet of Clay, Head of Fire – Richard Gavin
“The shimmering fluid does not run out of the widening ridges, but instead holds its symmetric formation.”
For me, this story is perfectly positioned at this point, even though I haven’t yet read the stories that follow it. Underpinned by a restructuring of the Golem, it tells of how Meyrink meets his own fiction world head on and for real. We have no doubt that we, too, have met this book‘s fiction world head on and for real. And a fictional Meyrink is possibly more real than the real one. Richard Gavin here does successfully what the fiction succeeds in doing automatically without his help, i.e within the fiction the fictional ‘he’ succeeds “by truths that he drapes in story and feeds back to the world as lore.” (24 Dec 09 – two hours later)
The Antediluvian Uncle – Rhys Hughes
“Nobody can really recall every nuance of their own flesh.”
Phew! This is either the soft stuff that engineers build sewers for ‘or’ “mystic yolk” of a golden colour. I am breathless and meyrinked to the bottom bone of my soul. I can only cope with the first half of this coup-de-théatre where the absurdity seems real, made real indeed by the retrocausality of the greater absurdity of its second half. But, as a whole, I’m sure the story will continue working to become even more real via an infectious conduit from sense-bud to sense-bud in my brain, awakening a consciousness beyond any absurd common reality, a consciousness that is the true ‘AFTERLIFE’.
I also note that a suicide is halted by a missive of some sort being delivered through the door (as in this book’s first story). And more engineering, of course. More ill-founded-foundations ‘or’ “structural integrity” gone wrong. And W.F. Harvey’s hand on a very long, possibly tubular ‘puppet-string’.
” ‘You assume you write into a void; that you are an unheeded prophet. It’s a delusion we all share.’ ” (24 Dec 09 – another 3 hours later)
Her Magnetic Field – Adam Golaski
“A heavy envelope was dropped through the mail slot on the first floor of the house.”
Proustian selves by cassette tape. Proustian selves as flies. This brings back for me the days of cassettes, when I recorded not only music from the wireless but echoes of sonorous existence from blank tape to blank tape and back again as sounds mounted sounds like randy insectoids, or when I loaded the ZX81 computer by means of cassette tape. Avoid the leader tape as nothing can exist on its coloured tab. This story is as if there is a sibling symmetry as well as a blank / blank symmetry. A casting forth like a grasshopper into the chrome dioxide universe. Meyrinking in dolby. This story makes me brainstorm in watery monsoons. (25 Dec 09)
The Autumn Keeper – Mark Valentine
“ ‘What will you do when you find the last lantern?’ […] ‘There will always be another city.’ ”
I fell in love with this author’s fiction when I reviewed ‘The Nightfarers’ here: http://weirdmonger.blog-city.com/the_nightfarers__by_mark_valentine.htm
And I fall more deeply in love with it by the addition of this story to his canon. Lovecraftian texture, or M.P. Shiel, but predominantly a highly clause-tentacled and wordy, if piquant, style that is a unique Valentine-doux admirably suiting this tale of a Magus who collects prodigies in what I have learned to be Meyrink City as a Platonic Form – eventually shading off into (then majoring as) the tale of one of these prodigies, a young lantern-painter who learns to look below the lanterns he paints and meets a procession of life’s lessons in the shape of tasking people. Not a Pilgrim’s Progress so much as a Dreamer’s Duress made sweet with a meaning only you the reader can blend. If that reader is Meyrink himself then I’ve found this book’s ‘literary being’ at last … myself? Or yourself? (26.12.09)
Modern Cities Exist Only to Be Destroyed – Michael Cisco
“The train glides into the station. The doors part like buttocks.”
Carrying on an Autumnal of the ‘Dreamer’s Duress’ from the previous story, a Pilgrim called X enters a Ligottian synaesthesia and a reality that needs an engineer as all is potentially Machine. And a Magus Meyrink who leads the Pilgrim towards Knowledge. A clever story of Meyrink City with tasking commuters and a train – leading to a possible symmetry of two trains. There are sharp phrases from time to time that awaken the reader – the reader who develops apace as this book does. Each story standing on the shoulders of the previous stories to reach the cabinet-panel in the Wellsian, if not Wailing, Wall. (26.12.09 – two hours later)
The House of Sleep – Stephen J. Clark
“I have made extensive notes but the more I try to detect a pattern the more it eludes me.”
A further effective Autumnal (judging by the dates), this time of epistolary cabinets – invoking another Absurd Theatricality acting out a reality of darkness and truth. An unrealistic Theatre performing the part of a realistic Theatre. Or vice versa? The epistles’ scholarly protagonist finds out the answer. And so do I. Meyrink as inner playwright.
“The walls of my room here have become a map of those events yet it is the blank spaces between the pages pinned to their surfaces that still haunt me.” (26.12.09 – another 4 hours later)
The Multiples of Sorrow – Steve Rasnic Tem
“He had absolutely no hope or optimism for his own future, and yet it was a future he looked forward to with great anticipation.”
A haunting (non-1984) Orwellian treatment of Meyrink City (just after the 1st World War) with Praguesque, Londonian, Parisian resonances, whereby (Eucharistic?) blood and “architecture of ruin and rust” (Cinnabar? Chrome Dioxide Magnetic Tape?) of the City as the engineered Machine are hinted at, in some further ‘chess sacrifice’ of down-and-outs for the gnosis-alembic belonging to the book’s Meyrink, allowing this very Meyrink to continue forming theosophically as a further warm-up act for its very reality-in-your-(the-reader’s)-room. “Cinnamony dust” and insects… (26.12.09 – another 2 hours later)
The Cabinet of Prague – Mark Beech
The ‘psychotrope’ of miscegenation. This cleverly combines the book-magical library-lore of a Carlos Ruiz Zafón and the naïve initiation of a chance street-adventurer from Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ as he becomes out of his depth … here endangered by the actual fiction text that describes his Praguesque rite-of-passage from family to exile. A story that wonderfully tells of being the very thing that is most threatening to its protagonist, i.e. a story that the reader cannot ‘penetrate’. A City as a symmetry in pain. Eventully to be encroached by another City whose wholeness as a single word is divided by a river.
“ ‘…the true intent of the writer lies between the lines…’ ” (26.12.09 – another 4 hours later)
White Souls that March in the Astral Light – Jonathan Wood
“There is hunger now for certain strange knowledge in this society where so many have died so young.”
At least partially in tune with the visionary fiction of Arthur Machen, this is a heart-breaking story of London amid the guilt-passions of the First World War, with Theosophy and Christianity and Decadence — ‘or’ Life and Death and the insidious state between them — fighting their own tri-partite battle for literary angelhood. It creates a fulcrum of intense text-effulgence that is not just about a séance but is a séance.
Alongside the efforts of some ectoplasmic ‘slop’ on a puppet-string, this story seems to combine many of the threads of this book so far: e.g. “You were their heavenly Father, their beloved uncle here upon Earth”, “…his expectation of a deluxe copy of ‘Lanterns of the Astral Complex’”, “rusted guttering”, “the dissector’s table, where blood runs so slow”, “concupiscent maid”, “a thousand beloved and symmetrical faux Father-priests reflected back and back upon one another”, and (not mentioned so far in this review but apparent heretofore in the book) the implicit faces on banknotes. (27.12.09)
The Cylinder of Shunyakasha – Adam S. Cantwell
“…Nowak did not greatly love the unnerving slow malice of Webern, the subdued and cryptic control which seemed to hide violence.”
This is a delightfully funny but significant piece regarding The Reality Meyrink in which this book is steeped, both historically and spiritually. Harkening back to the ‘magnetic tape’ of an earlier story, I really enjoyed this tale of a writer using a wax dictating-machine to write an article on a Meyrink who had given him the machine in the first place – enjoying its novelty, experimenting with sounds of birdsong but also annoyed at his neighbour’s chants across the wall. I’ll leave the reader to discover exactly what happens.
But this story took on new heights and depths for me on a personal level. I mentioned earlier in this review the Large Hadron Collider (a future ‘engineering’ of the dictating-machine?) and the recent serious scientific theory that it is sabotaging itself from its own future. And the real news of the bird that temporarily halted it by dropping bread into it. This story now lends retrocausality to that very retrocausality! In addition, there is the ‘Turn the Crank’ story in ‘Cern Zoo’ … and think of ‘Cone Zero’… This is all too good to be true. I can’t believe it! I feel that not only is this book on a roll, but I am, too, by reviewing it.
“Our perceptions and selves are arbitrary, fragmented…. like Europe itself, we are all continuously tearing ourselves and each other apart…” (27.12. 09 – two hours later)
The Chymical Wedding of Des Esseintes – Brendan Connell
“…women like giant lizards strutting about in silk…”
[Talking of the ‘Cern Zoo’ book, this author is one of its authors.]
And this story is a tale of a Frenchman on holiday in what I see as a Proustian form of Prague being led in a Dreamer’s Duress, if not upon a Pilgrim’s Progess, by the story itself in the guise of one of its own protagonists through the city’s ambiance of tasking inhabitants towards a wedding and this book’s Meyrinkian reality – where symmetry is more than just pain. A wedding as collider? Very evocative with gem-like prose. (28.12.09)
The World Entire – Ron Weighell
“The junk shops and dustbins were overflowing with discarded treasures, leaving the houses free for the incoming tide of ugly, cold, soulless furnishings that were the latest fashion.”
Here the book’s Meyrinkian reality is cleverly transported, amid Lovecraftian miscegenations of hatred and envy, into the English reader’s heritage of Richmal Crompton and ‘Just William’. The Meyrinkian power of this book is to open a Cabbalistic synaesthesia of tongues and loosely cousined religions and literary decadence within even our most mundane or once youthful readerly minds that have forgotten how old one must be to be erudite or sensitive enough.
The come-uppance of the boys described in ‘rusty ink’ takes its textural toll as text. I find it difficult to forgive even the sympathetic I-protagonist let alone the nasty boy who accompanies him on this mischievous foray into a private Semitic domain as accessed from the city’s roofscape. All brilliantly described by a narrator who has lexic power beyond his apparent youth. Only the retrocausality and insight of hindsight and of later learning can summon such detailed boyish antiquarianism. And a wonderful half-glimpsed stone monster. (28.12.09 – two hours later)
The Light Invisible, the Light Inaccessible – Peter Bell
“She wrote mystical poetry and reviewed esoteric opera, like Rutland Boughton’s ‘The Immortal Hour’…”
This is another Autumnal (judging by the dates), not epistolary this time, but a Journal in real-time that seems aptly at this stage to parallel the endgame of this real-time review itself, a review of the book in which this journal sits like a wind-swept, loose-limbed Island in denser Meyrinkian seas. I feel tempted to make my review follow the intent of the story’s narrator: “I will hide this journal, unsigned or otherwise identified.”
It seems to be this book’s context-untypical tale of an occult search surrounded by a wild, yet neatly delineated vision of the Scottish Islands and the High Church of Christian and non-Christian symmetry. It is a piece of Baxian music. A Fall from Grace or nearly so with enticing young feminine charms set possibly to make the Journal-keeper forget those older charms of a woman he mourns. Airy yet opulent descriptions. Meyrink as Centaur? Delightfully old-fashioned, with a sense of wonder as an aftertaste. (28.12.09 – another 2 hours later)
Tzimtzum – Quentin S. Crisp
“I hesitated, my very soul in that hesitation.”
This is the longest story in the book, almost novella-length. It is extremely powerful, and, if not ‘deliciously bleak’, numbingly nightmarish. I recently reviewed the author’s ‘All God’s Angels, Beware!’ HERE and I honestly believe myself, as a result, to be a changed reader forever, if someone of my age can be changed for good or ill.
‘Tzimtzum’ is the Dream’s Duress at length and, for the previous story, is the finding of ‘the last of the charnel cairns’ and, for the book as a whole, ‘the spiral of my pilgrimage’ towards summoning its words into its ‘literary being’, the Meyrink that becomes me … or becomes the ‘nameless You’.
There is too much else to only-connect or to draw to your attention in this story, in this whole book, this review being a sort of inner absurd playwright of the critical spirit.
Porridge or Urine, the circle is complete, ‘Of Human Bondage’ towards a literary darkness as a version of retrocausal self.
I seriously believe that this book as a whole is a significant landmark in the history of Weird / Horror Literature.
I shall now privately read the Biographical Notes at the end of the book for the first time, hoping they may give me further food for thought.
“Prague, it seemed to me, in all the world must be the very capital of twilight.” (28.12.09 – another 3 hours later)
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Adam Golaski comments publicly on this review.
My real-time reviews of fiction by Quentin S. Crisp: Morbid Tales – Quentin S. Crisp ; All God’s Angels, Beware! – Quentin S Crisp ; “Remember You’re a One-Ball!” – by Quentin S. Crisp ; Cinnabar’s Gnosis ; Shrike – by Quentin S. Crisp
A review of Quentin S Crisp’s DEFEATED DOGS; http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/defeated-dogs-by-quentin-s-crisp/
A list of all Ex Occidente books: http://admtoah.wordpress.com/other-ex-occidente-zagava-books/