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Jeff Ford
Posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2004 - 06:31 pm:   

I began The Virtual Anthology with the inception of Gabe Chouinard's S1ngularity Webzine. The idea was to compile the Table of contents for an anthology of the Literature of the Fantastic that would suit my own tastes. In other words, I got to play virtual editor. What I did was write little pieces, not critiques or reviews or essays really, appreciations of those stories I chose to be included. I only managed to cover three stories -- "The Hell Screen" by Akutagawa, "The Friends of the Friends" by Henry James, and "The Man Upstairs" by Ray Bradbury -- before the webzine closed down. So, I recently moved The Virtual Anthology over to Fantastic Metropolis where Luis has been busy redesigning the site. The VA will appear when the new redesigned site goes on-line. I've written up a new story for it and now hope to keep on adding to it at the rate of a new addition per month. Check it out if you get a chance. Write in below and let me know what you think of my selections and/or whether you think what I say is cogent or a big rasher of bullshit. Either view is welcome. Any and all views are welcome. I'm not sure when Luis will be going on-line with the redesign of the site, but it shouldn't be all too long.
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Mastadge
Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - 05:47 am:   

Great news. I've been thinking for a little while of asking whether you'd be willing to work on the VA again at some point. I enjoyed reading the VA, and while I was familiar with Bradbury, I doubt I'd've ever looked for a Henry James story again if not for VA. Still haven't found a copy of the Akutagawa story, though.
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Richard Parks
Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - 06:28 am:   

Amazon claims to be able to get copies of THE ESSENTIAL AKUTAGAWA within 4-5 weeks, but the reviews suggest the translation is very poor.
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jeff ford
Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - 06:43 am:   

Mastadge: In the piece on Akutagawa, I mention a book where I had first read it. When the site goes up, if you check my Akutagawa entry, find that book and get it off ABE Books the used book site. That's a pretty cool little Anthology of Japanese Fiction.
The Essential Akutagawa is a relatively new publication, if memory serves me. Or at least it's recently come to my attention -- a red cover with a scene from a Japanese painting on it. These translations come, I believe, from an old collection that was first presented as Rashoman and other Stories, and yeah, the writing didn't seem to really flow. Unless I'm completely wrong, which is more than possible. As for James -- you gotta check out "The Figure in the Carpet" -- not a ghost story, but a haunting.
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jeff ford
Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - 06:48 am:   

OK, I checked it out. The one Richard mentions is the one I mention at the end of my piece on the story, so I can vouch for it. The writing in this one, not the one I thought it was, isn't bad, unless perhaps if you are an esthete of Japanese Literature, which I certainly am not. Get that book. I have a feeling the reviewer at Amazon is blowing hot air. My friend is Japanese and she's the one who gave me the copy of that one. She's also a translator, so I doubt she'd give me a crappy book. But....as they say....
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Richard Parks
Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - 08:24 am:   

Having only one review to go on is definitely chancy since, as you say, it's hard to know if the reviewer is full of it. But it was easy enough to find a copy of the 1970 Tuttle edition of JAPANESE SHORT STORIES through Abe Books and I'll give that one a try. Thanks for reminding me since "The Hell Screen" is one I've been wanting to read for some time.
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jeff ford
Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - 08:57 am:   

Richard: I think you, especially, will enjoy the story and much of that whole book. I hope I'm right. Let me know what you think when you check it.
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MarcL
Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - 11:52 am:   

It's a great idea. Reading a recent request on Ellen Datlow's board, concerning Tiptree reprints on scifi.com's archive, I found myself with similar thoughts: If I were to assemble a collection of my favorite short fiction, what would it include? The only way to do this would be to accrete the list over a long period of time, since "must-have" stories I've totally forgotten about always occur to me at very odd times. I can't wait to see your list. Maybe this'll spur me to start at least drawing one up, myself.
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jeff ford
Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - 02:45 pm:   

Marc: I got the idea because I like Anthologies, especially ones that deal in some way with the lit of the fantastic, but no matter how good they are I always have alternate, what I consider to be, superior choices, I'd have made. Since no one is ever going to hire me to edit an anthology, I figured this was a way to create one conceptually without all the bother of actually doing the work. I ojnly have the next four or five planned, I haven't thought beyond that although, like you say, I'll remember more as I go on, and I'll discover more as I go on.
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MarcL
Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - 10:46 pm:   

"Since no one is ever going to hire me to edit an anthology..." Heh!

I dabbled in editing when I was first starting out. It was a good experience, showed me that I didn't have the organizational skills, and that I wasn't up to the emotional task of having all those people dependent on me. When the anthology collapsed, I felt horrible, and never properly made it up to anyone. Kirby McCauley kindly sent me some stories from his clients at the time, T.E.D. Klein and Ramsey Campbell among them; I met Pat Murphy (and rejected her story, which she promptly sold to Roy Torgeson); and it was all really fun until it collapsed under its own weight, right around the time I was going off to college.

Some of my best friends are editors...bless them all...I'd rather see than be one.
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jeff ford
Posted on Thursday, July 29, 2004 - 09:02 am:   

Marc: I'm with you on that last statement. It seems an impossibly complex job, and when you move into editing a major magazine or are an editor at a major publisher, I would think that would up the ante a hundred fold. I'm sticking with the writing. The VA is a way to have a lot of the fun without much of the work.

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Richard Parks
Posted on Monday, August 09, 2004 - 07:18 am:   

"The Hell Screen" is definitely a classic. Working my way through the rest of the book now.
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Luís
Posted on Tuesday, December 21, 2004 - 08:56 pm:   

I'm extremely happy to announce that the first article in Jeff's column is now online at the new and improved Fantastic Metropolis. Hit it:

http://www.fantasticmetropolis.com/i/va-akutagawa/

The second and third articles will appear over the coming days, and the fourth (and all-new one) will be online on January 1, 2005. Enjoy!

Cheers,
Luís
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Luís
Posted on Tuesday, December 21, 2004 - 09:04 pm:   

I probably won't be around to post to the board, so here are the new links:

December 24: "The Friends of the Friends" by Henry Janes
http://www.fantasticmetropolis.com/i/va-james/
http://www.fantasticmetropolis.com/i/friends/

December 27: "The Man Upstairs" by Ray Bradbury
http://www.fantasticmetropolis.com/i/va-bradbury/

January 1: "Lull" by Kelly Link
http://www.fantasticmetropolis.com/i/va-link/

(I've already posted the other essays in advance, so the site will update itself when the stars are right.)

Best,
Luís
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Matt T
Posted on Tuesday, December 21, 2004 - 09:37 pm:   

Hi Mr Ford,

I really enjoyed your piece in "Fantastic Metropolis" about "Hell
Screen" -- it's always good to see someone working the Anglosphere for
Akutagawa.

A quick Amazon search suggests that the book you refer to at the end
of your article is "The Essential Akutagawa" here:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1568860617/103-5683097-5707058?v=g lance

Side note-- Akutagawa's original Japanese works are long out of
copyright and freely available (Hell Screen, for eg, is here:
http://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000879/files/60_15129.html).
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Marly
Posted on Sunday, December 26, 2004 - 10:58 am:   



Read your Akutagawa and James forays and think the question about namelessness in "The Friends of the Friends" is interesting: it has been a while since I read that one, but I like it and have some stray thoughts about the missing names.

As he does in "Sir Edmund Orme," James uses the device of a sort of "discovery," where someone is rifling through materials not his own. The need for discretion and reticence (virtues lost to us) is emphasized. Seems to me that James often suggests that he will stoop to no horrid, vulgar, namedropping gossip. He will, however, rise to what he claims as tasteful, nameless story...

Stripping away the names seems to enforce the idea that these are "real" people, whose reputations must be protected. More, it suggests that they are very likely to be "known" in their set, or perhaps even more widely. So in a sense the lack of names gives them more "ghostliness," as you suggest, but in another way it makes them paradoxically more particular, though screened from view (to use a Charbuquian metaphor.)

Side alley: the idea that they may be "known" makes me think about how Henry pursued William James after death. Those seances would have made an interesting piece of news at the time, and one in which the ghostly and the living bear a relation similar to that found in some of the ghost stories.

Another element that might be in play is related to the sort of topsy-turvy "reality" that James creates. The world isn't what it seems but a realm where ghosts drift among the living and make demands upon them. But we can't trust the accounts of those who receive those attentions or suffer from them, because the very tellers may be unhinged. To cast off names is to add another small unmooring from certainty and to make the living share a common characteristic of the dead: invisibility. (Or, to look at it akilter, maybe it's a way that James makes the living invisible while he's busy making the dead appear.)

To me, all of this skewing of what we see and hear also means that James insists that we know nothing, we know nothing, we know nothing. Once we admit being in that state, it becomes possible to see that his story is not merely "psychological" but simply "true."

Happy Boxing Day afternoon--
Marly

P. S. The configuration of the love triangle in that story reminds me an awful lot of "Maud-Evelyn."




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jeff ford
Posted on Sunday, December 26, 2004 - 11:16 am:   

Marly: Thanks so much for your insights. Very much revelations to me about this story. If anything, I was hoping the Virtual Anthology would prompt this kind of a response. Can you tell me what other stories by James you favor. I'm very partial to "The Figure in the Carpet." I like many of the stories and the shorter novels, but have never gone through any of his longer books. Of the short novels, I'm really amazed by "The Aspern Papers" "The Sacred Font" and "Turn of the Screw (of course)." A happy Boxing Day Afternoon to you as well.
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Marly Y.
Posted on Sunday, December 26, 2004 - 12:36 pm:   

Can't think of so many off the top of my head, but here's a few.

The Aspern Papers
Maud-Evelyn - so very, very strange a conception
The Turn of the Screw
The Beast in the Jungle
The Figure in the Carpet
The Friends of the Friends
What Maisie Knew
Daisy Miller
The Jolly Corner

Those are mostly all chestnuts, though I don't see "Maud-Evelyn" much. And although it seems to me that I've read "The Sacred Fount," I conjure nothing. That's probably me. Or too many years gone by. Or another kind of ghost. Aside from some of the ghostly tales, I haven't read much James in a long time.

The ones I've wanted to reread are "The Aspern Papers," "Turn of the Screw," and "Daisy Miller." Plus "Portrait" among the novels. I suppose I've read all the ones on that list at least twice, though most of them now are mere word soup in my brain.

Oh, and I think I've ploughed through "The Bostonians" twice--he's prejudiced and caustic, but it's interesting to read after "The Blithedale Romance." (While I admire James, I love Hawthorne.) But I wouldn't choose that one ahead of many others.

I did like "The Ambassadors" very much, and I should read "The Golden Bowl" and "The Wings of the Dove," since they're from the same period. It's a very well-made book, and James is kinder to Lambert Strether than to his earlier Americans in Europe.

I haven't read your favorite "Figure" in a long time, but I liked it--Vereker and his subtle art being a sort of stand-in for James and his, I think.

Oh, and I like "The Art of Fiction," of course, and I did read the little book about Hawthorne, once upon a time. He's interesting on Hawthorne--despite feeling that he has outgrown his influence, as I recall--but interminable on American provincialism.

Really I haven't read so much James, compared to what there is to read of him!
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jeff ford
Posted on Sunday, December 26, 2004 - 03:52 pm:   

Marly: The Bostonians twice? I haven't got that kind of gumption. "Maude-Evelyn" sounds like something I'm going to have to find and check out. That one's unknown to me. The Sacred Fount is about these people who go away on holiday and they all have these secret affairs going and throughout the course of the story he runs this theory about how one person is an energy provider in a relationship and one is an energy consumer. And from this, you read through and in addition to the usual drama, you can try to perceive who is with who by figuring out who is energized and who is weakening. It's a wild book, very abstract with little dramatic action, but it's fascinating. Or I'll say I thought it was. There's a ton of James out there, and I've only scratched the surface myself. Is that stuff you mentioned about him trying to find William through seances true? There's a plot idea for anyone who's looking.
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M.
Posted on Sunday, December 26, 2004 - 07:31 pm:   

I've tottered in from a party and can only presume that, yes, probably I do remember that he participated in seances. On the other hand, it could be sheer rampant fabulation. Don't think so. Either way, it might suit you. (Not me. I'd write about Hawthorne-and-his-sister long before I'd go down the James-and-his-brother alley.)

William James was very interested in spiritualism, I believe. That is, I think his ideas about the unconscious were related to an interest in psychical research--clairvoyance and mesmerism and all that sort of happy Theosophist and Spiritualist thing. (I don't think I'll sign this one in case that part's all champagne bubbles...) But it seems to me that William was a member of the Society for Psychical Research; they certainly pursued the idea that the living can reach the dead through a proper medium.

So if it's not true, it ought to be true. And that's good enough for a story.

Anon,
M. Y., caught in the act of becoming invisible
(note the vanishing n a m e )

P. S. Yes, "The Bostonians" twice was a kind of madness. I don't suffer from that particular type any more!

P. P. S. And yes, you will be fascinated by the idea behind "Maud-Evelyn."

P. P. P. S. Your description of the "Fount" rings no bells. At the moment it sounds like an excess of champagne bubbles. But I'll check it later.

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