What is Weird Literature and who represents it?

What is Weird Literature and who represents it?

posted Wednesday, 1 September 2010

A rhetorical question – perhaps.

Is Weird Literature geared to National or Genre boundaries or to universal instincts, or to blends of Fantasy, or to blends of Horror, or to separate traditions, for example Rhys-Hughes-ian or Jeff-VanderMeer-ian or Ligotti-ian or ‘Weird Tales’ or New Weird or Interstitialism … all within traditional story-telling.  All with a graspable traction. Even at their weirdest or maddest.

Or can Weird Literature be quite beyond any of these things? Not a New Weird as such but, perhaps, a Weird Weird – taking literature into the Weird by experiment or dream / nightmare instinct – ?  To be Weird one needs to be Weird. Not a ‘Weird’ transcending the Commercial, because if Weird Weird works it will naturally be commercial.  Not to transcend story-telling, because if Weird Weird works it will eventually tell a story that has never been told before.

Not experiment or obsfucation for its own sake, and indeed, I maintain, such symptoms of Weird Weird are signs of someone trying to express the inexpressible – until it is finally expressed.  Or fails to be expressed?

I watch, as a personal self-indulgent vigil, the progress (or not) of the novella ‘Weirdtongue’ (InkerMen Press 2010) and the hopefully forthcoming novel ‘Nemonymous Night’ or the possibly forthcoming collection ‘The Last Balcony’ to see if they succeed or, perhaps, fail as ‘Weirdmonger’ (2003) seemed to fail – except, now, out of print, ’Weirdmonger’ seems to be succeeding, if slightly? But it’s hard to be objective about one’s own work or not to appear self-serving in that endeavour.  And I include in that the emerging reviews of ‘Null Immortalis’: an anthology of various authors.  And certain outcomes of real-time book reviewing. I do need to plant my flag in the Weird territory and if this blog-post serves to do that, I can hope for no more. Not Ego, but Nemo.


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62 responses to “What is Weird Literature and who represents it?

  1. Regarding the ‘instinct’ mentioned above, cf: Matt Cardin’s excellent blogs about the ‘daemon muse’.

  2. The nub of the question is perhaps this
    – can anyone colonise it sufficiently to own the term Weird in Literature?

    For example, two of the great Weird writers, I feel, in recent years have been Mark Valentine and Quentin S. Crisp.

  3. gveranon

    Possibly relevant to your series of questions: Samuel R. Delany said somewhere that genres can’t really be defined, they can only be described.

  4. Spotbowserfido2

    You raise some interesting points to ponder, Mr. Lewis. Thank you, and three wags of the tail!

  5. I must agree with my former canine ward about the mind-stirring nature of your post, des. Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger who wrote in the science fiction genre during the 1950s and 1960s under the name Cordwainer Smith is a fine example of Weird Weird. His view of the far future is so alien in comparison to our own familiar orientation in the contemporary universe. And that is what science fiction or the Weird Weird should be. Maybe.

  6. I don’t know if it’s relevant but it’s certainly interesting that the forthcoming charity anthology NEVER AGAIN (edited by Allyson Bird & Joel Lane) has this on its sales page:-

    “Never Again is an attempt to voice the collective revulsion of writers in the weird fiction genre against political attitudes that stifle compassion and deny our collective human inheritance. The imagination is crucial to an understanding both of human diversity and of common ground. Weird fiction is often stigmatised as a reactionary and ignorant genre – we know better.”

    The weird fiction genre is specifically mentioned. Can anyone ‘describe’ this genre?

    Most of the writers in the book seem to be Horror writers.

    NB: Never Again – Gray Friar Press: http://www.grayfriarpress.com/catalogue/neveragain.html

  7. Alberto D. Hetman

    I agree with G. S. Carnivals and also with gveranon. When I read, I’m not really interested in what kind of literature I’m reading but in how good it is. Cordwainer Smith wrote excellent stories that defy classification. But many other writers too. Some authors that are considered to be horror writers, for example: Mark Samuels and Quentin S. Crisp, wrote stories that are not weird, like Vrolyk (sci-fi?) and Suicide Watch (…?) respectively. H. P. Lovecraft also wrote sci-fi stories. It is probably a human flaw to classify something. As long as someone reads a book and enjoys what he is reading, what does it matter whether some people call it weird literature, or anything?

  8. I agree, Alberto.

    So why does anyone refer to ‘Weird fiction’ or ‘New Weird’ etc.?

    It seems to me, however, that there are elements of SF and elements of Fantasy and elements of Horror and elements of ‘Literature’ that create a sector of an overlap or venn diagram that may be described as the ‘Weird’?
    My contention is that that is not the Weird for it is subsumed by indistinguishable elements of simply the more imaginative side of Literature as a huge bank of fiction…
    But something called Weird Weird is the true Weird? Which we have not yet fully explored or even written.

  9. gveranon

    My earlier comment was too brief and cryptic. Delany was arguing against the sort of critic who says “This is my definition of science fiction” and then goes on to discuss individual writers’ works within the framework of his definition. Such definitions, interesting though they may be, always end up being inadequate and procrustean. . . . I don’t think Mr. Lewis was making this mistake. I mentioned Delany because “describing” rather than “defining” seems to me a fruitful way of thinking about genres. Delany isn’t against using general terms such as “science fiction” (neither am I) — but only where they seem apt. Genres are just too loose and messy for pithy formal definitions. Individual writers doing different and often idiosyncratic things; changes over time; etc. Genre terms have meaning only in practice (was Delany influenced by late Wittgenstein?). . . . Also, just a speculation: Perhaps “weird’s” relation to “horror” is similar to “noir’s” relation to “crime fiction”?

  10. Alberto D. Hetman

    Yes, I agree with Delany too. What I like when I read sci-fi books was the fact that they made me think. Reading them perturbed my mind for a long time, I even dreamed inspired by many of these writers’ ideas. I don’t find the same with “weird fiction”. With very few exceptions, this genre is very repetitive. Well, the same happened with sci-fi and that’s why I don’t read it anymore. One sees repetition of ideas, over and over. Thomas Liogtti is an original voice, and few others. But most of what people call “weird fiction” is very repetitive. I’m still trying to find the horror story that makes me feel true horror, similar to the one I felt one night when I almost died from a surgery infection. William Shatner also has a new TV series called “weird or what?” and after watching it, yesterday, he related a story about a chunk of ice fallen from the upper atmosphere that according to him was a weird story, but to me, wasn’t. To me a weird story should make me feel truly horrified, but with modern horror stories this doesn’t happen. The stories are well written, but where is the weird part? Des, your question is also complicated because in several countries modern horror ended with H. P. Lovecraft. I don’t know how many people in other non-English speaking countries have access to Grabinski’s works. Therefore, it’s hard to say who represents this genre today, and what it is.

  11. This issue is complicated or sidetracked by NEW WEIRD: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Weird
    which seems to me quite different from Weird Literature as I understand it. In fact how I understand it is closer to Alberto’s view of it,.
    And my point above about the ‘venn diagram’ etc.

  12. Hey. My first post to this thread has been expunged – and I don’t remember what I wrote.

  13. Hi, GSC, the only previous post by you on this thread, still seems to be there, viz:

    “I must agree with my former canine ward about the mind-stirring nature of your post, des. Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger who wrote in the science fiction genre during the 1950s and 1960s under the name Cordwainer Smith is a fine example of Weird Weird. His view of the far future is so alien in comparison to our own familiar orientation in the contemporary universe. And that is what science fiction or the Weird Weird should be. Maybe.”

    Best, des

  14. As AliceB says at the end of that Nightshadebooks thread:

    [[“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

    Hunter S. Thompson, 1937-2005. Rest in peace, man. ]]

  15. Alberto D. Hetman

    Unfortunately, I have a Spanish version of the the book I’m about to mention, and I cannot quote anything from it. The book is “Danse Macabre” by Stephen King. He starts by thanking 6 writers of macabre tales that were still alive at that time: Bloch, Borges, Bradbury, Belknap Long, Wandrei, and Wade Wellman. So, it is even more complicated for me to understand certain genres, because one of the most prolific writers in the genre, Stephen King, best seller author, etc. , etc., names Borges and Bradbury as writers of macabre tales. I found the book to be very interesting because of the bibliography and filmography he adds at the end of the it. I should say that these writers are the best candidates to define a genre. To be honest, I read almost nothing by Stephen King himself, but, yes, I watched several movies based on his stories, or novels. He doesn’t represent the horror or weird tale for me, but for many more people he does. If it is true, what he implies by listing so many books, that he read all of them, of at least knows of their existence, this writer has a valuable culture. Perhaps, a horror or weird tale (do these words mean the same?) doesn’t need to be embellished or full of details (like HPL’s) but simple. There are a few stories by Maurice Level, I remember the one when a fellow kills a dead man, that i found truly horrific, or weird. And they are very simple written.

  16. jeffburk

    If you’re looking for just straight up weird literature, check out the Bizarro Fiction Genre.
    That should give you the dose of weirdness you are looking for.

  17. “Hey. My first post to this thread has been expunged – and I don’t remember what I wrote.”

    Where are the drunk and rolleyes emoticons when I need them? Oh, and embarrassed, too.

  18. [Indeed – ‘Bizarro’, as I understand its nature — there is one presumed example in the latest Nemonymous: ‘Null Immortalis’ (i.e. ‘Broom People’ by Cameron Pierce — is worth mentioning in this context.]
    This morning, on UK National News, there is a report that the new Tony Blair book about his time as Prime Minister is being moved within shops (surreptitiously by some of the public) from the Biography section to the ‘Crime Fiction’ or ‘Dark Fantasy’ (sic) sections! I make no comments on that as such, but the public labelling of ‘Dark Fantasy’ makes me think this is the effective replacement of Weird Fiction and ‘Weird Fiction’ as a label as such is gradually becoming Steampunk, Fantasy, SF in a Slipstream or Interstitial mode as a result of ‘New Weird’.
    Perhaps Neddal Ayad had a point on that 2004 NightShadesBooks thread (mentioned above) that ‘High Weird’ is a good name for pure ‘Weird Fiction’ to differentiate it from Horror or New Weird – or indeed perhaps ‘Bizarro’ if that ever gets off the ground. My ‘Weird Weird’ is a bit daft, I suppose?

  19. gveranon

    For a long time my primary interest in genre fiction was sf, so I tend to see labels like “interstitial” and “slipstream” from that angle. It seems to me that these haven’t been effective marketing labels for the writers who’ve been working in borderland areas — which frustrates me because I’m interested in this sort of fiction. Despite the gains for creativity, I think the lack of firm, easily-advertised identity has kept many good writers from having much traction careerwise. The fact that, as you noted, publishers and booksellers (and some writers) play fast and loose with labels probably has a lot to do with these marketing problems. . . . I haven’t read enough “New Weird” to have an opinion on it. I’ve been trying to figure out if Michael Cisco’s fiction is considered by those in the know to be New Weird or just plain Weird. This might clarify matters for me. The Divinity Student, for all its powerful innovations in prose style and dream vision and sheer fictive intelligence, strikes me as being deeply Weird in an old-school way. . . . I read “The Weirdmonger” about a week ago after I saw your comment that it was the inspiration for Weirdtongue. If “The Weirdmonger” is an example of what you call “Weird Weird,” then I might have some idea of what you mean by that term. The playing around with the elements of the story is designed specifically to add another dimension to the Weirdness? A further undermining of reality in that the fictive ontology itself is unstable and shifting in Weird ways? Reflexive or recursive Weirdness — something like that? That was my impression. But if that’s the case then I’m a little confused by your comment in the linked thread that “weird weird does not make it weirder but less weird.” . . . . By the way, I loved your comment that Finnegans Wake is High Weird taken to its optimal extreme.

  20. gveranon

    Clarification: When I said that playing fast and loose with labels probably has a lot to do with marketing problems, I didn’t mean that it *caused* the marketing problems. I meant that it was probably an attempt to be more effective at marketing.

  21. That’s fascinating, gveranon.
    Your query: if weird is weird, one possibility of it being weird weird is not being itself?

    There seems to me several aspects of Weird:
    Weird like VanderMeer (New weird?, SF, Interstitial?).
    Weird like Rhys Hughes (Absurdism, wordplay Fantasy of an optimistic tone)
    Weird like Ligotti (puppets, dolls, pessimism?).
    Ex Occidente Press Weird (eg Valentine, Crisp) – including European Weird of the 19th and 20th century.
    Weird like people who are Horror writers call themselves (Samuels, the ‘Never Again’ anthology etc.).
    Older Weird – Lovecraft and traditional Weird where I would put Reggie Oliver and Ghost Stories.
    Weird like Aickman.
    Weird like Bizarro.

    This is the tapestry I’m trying to un-weave and then re-weave – for the sake of hopefully interesting discussion.
    The list is incomplete and over-generalised.

  22. In my list above, I would add that there is an element of overlap as well as overgeneralisation. And I don’t know where to put Elizabeth Bowen, James, Joyce, Marcel Proust, Lawrence Sterne, plus some elements of Dickens and ‘High Literature’.

  23. Pingback: Stretching the Boundaries of the Weird Western « Encyclopedia of Weird Westerns

  24. I notice that the Encyclopaedia of Weird Westerns has criticised my (half-serious) mention of ‘Weird Weird’ here:
    http://weirdwesterns.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/stretching-the-boundaries-of-the-weird-western/ 🙂

  25. gveranon

    Is the comma between James and Joyce a typo, or did you mean to include Henry James in your list? 🙂

    • It was originally a typo I decided to keep. 🙂
      Not so much Henry James’ Turn of the Screw (that might appear in the ‘traditional’ Weird category) but the often weird texture of his prose as tentacular as Proust’s. Anyone read The Golden Bowl?

      • gveranon

        I haven’t read any of James’s “late period” novels, but I’ve read a couple of the stories that he wrote in those years: “The Beast in the Jungle” and “The Jolly Corner” (both uncanny stories that I liked much better than The Turn of the Screw). I hadn’t thought of his prose texture as weird or “tentacular,” but I see what you mean. That’s an intriguing way of looking at it. Have you read Max Beerbohm’s parody of James, “The Mote in the Middle Distance”? The title alone is priceless. Beerbohm’s parody could be regarded as unsettlingly Weird: the thoughts of two small children on Christmas morning shown as if they possessed (or were possessed by?) James’s preternatural awareness and mannered verbosity. It’s a witty skewering of James, but it’s also kind of creepy. I read somewhere that James said he admired Beerbohm’s parody but it made him so anxious that he couldn’t sleep for a week! http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Christmas_Garland/The_Mote_in_the_Middle_Distance

  26. Alberto D. Hetman

    Des, http://weirdwesterns.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/stretching-the-boundaries-of-the-weird-western/ asks a good question. From it: “Vampires, zombies, spirits etc. Why is this weird?”

    When I went out this evening, I saw 2 vampires drinking coffee, 7 zombies talking about globalization, and 5 spirits were discussing the housing market. Yes, why is it weird? In fact, I also believed I saw, some wolfmen, ghouls, and a very sexy Medusa. Yes, eh, why is it weird…?

  27. Two more interesting threads from the history of this debate: http://nightshadebooks.com/discus/messages/15/772.html

    As a separate matter, the intervention, by an exponent of Weird Westerns on this thread is very interesting.
    Perhaps someone else should think about writing Weird Romances. There may be some mileage in that.

    • PG

      Believe it or not the subject of Weird Romances has been tackled by a few romance authors. Madeline Baker among others in such books as “The Angel and the Outlaw.” They often involve second chances through supernatural intervention or time travel.

  28. PG

    Yes the “Twilight” series of books by Stephenie Meyer is perhaps the most successful Vampire Romance title of recent times.

  29. Pingback: Literature » What is Weird Literature and who represents it? | My Last Balcony

  30. Following on from the discussion above: not a vote so much as a summary for you to decide for yourself where Weird’s Way leads you. But tell us if you wish.

    There seems to be the following broad Churches of Weird; based on or geared / orientated to:

    SF (Interstitial?)

    High Fantasy (absurdism etc)

    Horror genre, old and new (‘dark fantasy’, ghost etc)

    High Literature (for want of a better term)

    Popular Fiction (including vampires, westerns etc?)

    Psycho-sexual, surreal etc (Bizarro?)

    My own contention is for a personal new Church (currently a Narrow Church I hope will become a Broad one!):

    Weird Weird or High Weird – and I hope you will see what I mean by that if you read my novella just published by The InkerMen Press: WEIRDTONGUE: The Glistenberry Romance: A Visit To The Narrative Hospital. And, also, one day, when it is published, my novel: NEMONYMOUS NIGHT.
    Meanwhile you can hear the above and other works read aloud by me: http://weirdmonger.livejournal.com/148593.html

  31. gveranon

    In one of the Night Shade threads you linked to, JeffV says: “Application of the post modern to fantastical literature transforms the post modern. It no longer tells the reader he or she is reading a story. It instead reinforces the fantasy of the story.” This is what I thought you might mean by “Weird Weird” (based on my reading of “The Weirdmonger”). I do note that in the same Night Shade thread you say: “But *what* is postmodernism? I’ve never really known?”. . . If postmodernism means something like experimentalism or eclecticism or fabulism or metafiction, then of course we’d have to refer to some *pre*modern writers as “postmodern” — which wouldn’t make much sense (although I can imagine Borges doing this with only the slightest wink, as if it were the most natural thing in the world!).

  32. Yes, I make a case there for not understanding much of what is going on on all those debates. 🙂
    Other relevant threads are present on the Night Shade Books forum but sadly those that were conducted on TTA forum have been deleted I believe.
    I look forward to reading Jeff VanderMeer’s ‘The Weird Compendium’ (I believe it is called) of about (as reported) 1200 pages and to see who is represented there. I know I’m not.

  33. “She was the part of you which you had never been able to untie and set free, the part that wanted to dance and run and sing, taking strong draughts of wind and sunlight; and was, instead, done up in intricate knots and overcast with shadows; the part that longed to look outward and laugh, accepting life as an easy exciting thing; and yet was checked by a voice that said doubtfully that there were dark ideas behind it all, tangling the web; and turned you inward to grope among the roots of thought and feeling for the threads.”
    — from ‘Dusty Answer’ (1927) by Rosamond Lehmann

  34. My view is that the classic Horror genre is conservative in both form and content.

    Weird Literature is the opposite of that. It generates its own revolutions from within it.

    I have been mulling over this during the last two weeks while making a ground-level tour – and fact-finding mission – through the cities of Berlin, Warsaw, Minsk, Novrogod, Moscow, St Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen. A stressful but enjoyable holiday, or, rather, rite of passage!

  35. Pingback: The Charity Anthology | My Last Balcony

  36. A second review coming up of WEIRDTONGUE?

    “I just finished this, and it was a very immersive experience.
    I’m going to attempt to review it.”

    …I just spotted that someone wrote above recently on a forum. 🙂

  37. Putting my mouth where my brain is:
    NEMONYMOUS NIGHT – a weird weird novel

  38. Pingback: Weird Weird Literature | My Last Balcony

  39. And this review of my novella WEIRDTONGUE: http://grimreviews.blogspot.com/2011/08/review-weirdtongue-by-df-lewis.html

    “The slim volume offers a journey like no other in weird fiction or outside of it. It is a destroyer of boundaries in every sense, chiseling away the confines of time, space, identity, and conventional literature.”

  40. THE WEIRD: http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2011/08/30/table-of-contents-the-weird-edited-by-ann-and-jeff-vandermeer/

    A HUGE (literally) and amazing Collection.
    Congrats to my old friend Mark Samuels for inclusion – and to Steve Duffy (whose included story was first published in Nemonymous 9: CERN Zoo).
    But, of course, congratulations to all the living writers who have stories included.
    A major event in ‘our’ genre during the 21st century so far, I feel.

  41. David Riley here: http://shocklinesforum.yuku.com/reply/172677/The-Weird#reply-172677

    Nice to see Mark Samuels’ story The White Hands there. That’s still my favourite Samuels story.
    I was wondering, though, what differentiates weird from horror. I notice this volume includes Kafka’s In the Penal Colony and H. P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror, as well as James’ Casting the Runes. Now, the latter is definitely weird, though not horror, yet the latter two I would classify as supernatural horror. I’m not overly fussy about classifications, and I know most stories can be included in more than one easily, but I do wonder at weird, as both Lovecraft’s and James’ contributions look pretty straight forward horror to me and, if they are included, why couldn’t virtually any other supernatural horror story?
    Love the cover on this book, by the way. It’s splendid. The TOC is equally amazing, making this a must buy book.

  42. Pingback: Rhys Hughes and his Arch of Penguins. | THE HAWLER

  43. AREA X by Jeff VanderMeer – probably the greatest weird novel ever produced.
    My review – https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/area-x-jeff-vandermeer/

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