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KJ Bishop
Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2003 - 01:24 am:   

Years ago I had a website called Nemoria, where I put up bits and pieces by obscure and forgotten out of print writers. One of these was William Sharp, who wrote under the name of Fiona Macleod, in the early 20th century.
He wrote nature essays into which he placed tales and folklore that he collected from around Scotland. His writing is fey, purple as the heather, and at times reminsiscent of Dunsany.

Anyway, this is an extract from 'The Hill-Tarn' in his book 'Where The Forest Murmurs'. I think it's an intriguing old bit of legend. (And the mountains have amusing names.)
Hope you enjoy it:

'Isolated, in one of the wildest and loneliest mountain-regions of the Highlands of Ross, I know a hill-tarn so rarely visited that one might almost say the shadow of mail does not fall across its brown water from year's end to year's end. It lies on the summit of a vast barren hill, its cradle being the hollow of a crater. Seven mountains encircle Maoldhu from north, south, east, and west. One of these is split like a hayfork, and that is why it is called in Gaelic the Prong of Fionn. Another, whose furrowed brows are dark with the immemorial rheum of the Atlantic, is called the Organ of Oisin, because at a height of about two thousand feet it shows on its haggard front a black colonnade of basalt, where all the winds of the west make a wild and desolate music. I have heard its lamentation falling across the hill-solitudes and (town through the mountain-glens with a sound as of a myriad confused sobs and cries, a sound that is now a forlorn ecstasy and now the voice of the abyss and of immeasurable desolation. Another, that on the east, is an unscalable cone, from whose crest, when sunrise flames the serrated crags into a crown of burning bronze, the golden eagle sways like a slow-rising and slow-falling meteor. All day, save for a brief hour at noon, shadow dwells about its knees, and never lifts from the dark grassy lochan at its feet. It is called Maol Athair - Uaibhreach, the Hill of the Haughty Father: I know not why. "The Haughty Father" is a Gaelic analogue for the Prince of Darkness--son of Saturn, as he is called in an old poem: " God's Elder Brother," as he is named in a legend that I have met or heard of once only--a legend that He was God of this world before " Mac Greinne " (lit.: Son of the Sun) triumphed over him, and drove him out of the East and out of the South, leaving him only in the West and in the North two ancient forgotten cities of the moon, that in the West below the thunder of grey seas and that in the North under the last shaken auroras of the Pole.'

If you liked this, www.sundown.pair.com is a site devoted to Sharp, with a lot of his works online. And in fact I took this extract from there, because I've lost my own copy and didn't feel like typing it in again.

I should also admit that I purloined from Sharp the city Falias, and the image of white ravens, and slipped them briefly into The Etched City. He wrote a short cycle of poems called The Dirge of the Four Cities - the 'four cities of the world that was', Finias, Falias, Murias and Gorias.

I can't resist a verse:

'In the frost-grown city of Falias lit by the falling stars
I have seen the ravens flying like banners of old wars -
I have seen the snow-white ravens amid the ice-green spires
Seeking the long-lost havens of all old lost desires.'

Wonderful stuff. I think so, anyway.
Some of his work is available in reprints - they're on Amazon - and the originals can occasionally be chanced upon in secondhand book shops.

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DF Lewis
Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2003 - 07:38 am:   

Nemoria is a good name for a website.
I have a few old Fiona MacLeod books here, including the Sin Eater and From The Hills Of Dream. He's long been a favourite of mine.
Did you know Rutland Boughton wrote an opera based on Fiona Macleod called The Immortal Hour.
http://www.karadar.com/Librettos/boughton_immortal.html
I have a set of CDs of it (which my son has currently borrowed!)
Des
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JeffV
Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2003 - 09:14 am:   

I've never heard of this writer! This sounds wonderful! I see another anthology upcoming...

Jeff V.
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2003 - 10:11 am:   

Des: I knew of Sharp's play called The Immortal Hour - I had no idea there was an opera!
I have Where the Forest Murmurs, found in a shop here, and Poems and Dramas, which a generous visitor to the website sent me from the UK.
His writing really is beautiful, isn't it? To me, it's the writing of love - absolutely brimming with the numinous, with compassion, as well as a great knowledge of the earth under his feet. I prefer his mysticism to that of Yeats; I think Sharp's is more grounded. You can tell that he literally walked his talk.
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2003 - 10:26 am:   

Jeff: If you ever do want to do an anthology of Sharp, I'd be delighted to be involved in any capacity. The people who are currently reprinting him don't seem to be putting out much publicity for the books. And he's long out of copyright (died 1905).
I've found a couple of my old files. Here's an extract from one with a bit more about the four cities:

THE SEA-SPELL

Old magical writers speak of the elemental affinity which is the veiled door in each of us. Find that door, and you will be on the secret road to the soul, they say in effect. Some are children of fire, and some of air, some are of earth, and some of water. They even resolve mortal strength and weakness, our virtue and our evil, into the movement of these elements. This virtue, it is of fire: this quality, it is of air: this frailty, it is of water. Howsoever this may be, some of us are assuredly of that ancient clan in whose blood, as an old legend has it, is the water of the sea. Many legends, many poems, many sayings tell of the Chloinn-na-Mhara, the children of the sea. I have heard them from fishermen, from inland shepherds, from moorlanders in inland solitudes where the only visitors from the mysterious far-off deep are the wandering sea-mews or the cloud that has climbed out of the south. Some tell of the terror of the sea, some of its mysteriousness, some of the evil and of the evil things that belong to it and are in it, some of its beauty, some of its fascination (as the Greeks of old-time told of the sirens, who were the voices and fatal music and the strange and perilous loveliness of alien waters), some of the subtle and secret spell deep-buried in the hearts of certain men and women, the Chloinn-na-Mhara, a spell that will brood there, and give no peace, but will compel the spirit to the loneliness of the wind, and the outward life to the wayward turbulence of the wave. More than two thousand years ago the great Pindar had these in mind when he wrote of that strange tribe among men "who scorn the things of home, and gaze on things that are afar off, and chase a cheating prey with hopes that shall never be fulfilled."
Elsewhere I have written much of this sea-spell, of the Bronavara (to Anglicise an island word), or Sorrow of the Sea, and do not wish to write here of that strange passion or sinister affinity: but of that other and happier Spell of .the Sea which so many of us feel, with pleasure always, with delight often, at times with exultation, as though in our very heart were the sharp briny splash of the blue wave tossing its white crest, or of the green billow falling like a tower of jade in a seething flood. But, first, I recall that old legend to which I have alluded. Perhaps some folklorist my recognise it as gathered out of the drift common to many shores, may trace it even to those Asian inlands where so many of our most ancient tales mysteriously arose; but I have nowhere met with it in print, nor seen nor heard allusion to it, other than in a crude fashioning on the lips of simple Gaelic folk, nor even there for years upon years. There were once four cities (the Western Gael will generally call them Gorias and Falias, Finias and Murias), the greatest and most beautiful of the cities of those ancient tribes of beauty, the offspring of angels and the daughters of earth. The fair women were beautiful, but lived like flowers, and like flowers faded and were no more, for they were filled with happiness, as cups of ivory filled with sunlit dancing wine, but were soulless. Eve, that sorrowful loveliness, was not yet born. Adam was not yet lifted out of the dust of Eden. Finias was the gate of Eden to the South, Murias to the West: in the North, Falias was crowned by a great star: in the East, Gorias, the city of gems, flashed like sunrise. There the deathless clan of the sky loved the children of Lilith. On the day when Adam uttered the sacred name and became king of the world, a great sighing was heard in Gorias in the East and in Finias in the South, in Murias in the West and in Falias in the North: and when morn was come the women were no more awakened by the stirring of wings and the sunrise-flight of their angelic lovers. They came no more. And when Eve awoke by the side of Adam, and he looked on her, and saw the immortal mystery in the eyes of this mortal loveliness, lamentations and farewells and voices of twilight were heard in Murias by the margin of the sea and in Gorias high-set among her peaks; in the secret gardens of Falias, and where the moonlight hung like a spear above the towers of Finias upon the great plain. The children of Lilith were gone away upon the wind, as lifted dust, as dew, as shadow, as the unreturning leaf. Adam rose, and bade Eve go to the four solitudes, and bring back the four ancient secrets of the world. So Eve went to Gorias, and found nothing there but a flame of fire. She lifted it and hid it in her heart. At noon she came to Finias, and found nothing there but a spear of white light. She took it and hid it in her mind. At dusk she came to Falias, and found nothing there but a star in the darkness. She hid the darkness, and the star within the darkness, in her womb. At moonrise she came to Murias, by the shores of the ocean. There she saw nothing but a wandering light. So she stooped, and lifted a wave of the sea and hid it in her blood. And when Eve was come again to Adam, she gave him the flame she had found in Gorias, and the spear of light she had found in Finias. "In Falias," she said, "I found that which I cannot give, but the darkness I have hidden shall be your darkness, and the star shall be your star." "Tell me what you found in Murias by the sea?" asked Adam. "Nothing," answered Eve. But Adam knew that she lied. "I saw a wandering light," she said. He sighed, and believed. But Eve kept the wave of the sea hidden in her blood. So has it been that a multitude of women have been homeless as the wave, and their heritage salt as the sea: and that some among their sons and daughters have been possessed by that vain cold fire, and that inappeasable trouble, and the restlessness of water. So it is that to the end of time some shall have the salt sea in the blood, and the troubled wave in the heart, and be homeless.
But thoughts like these, legends like these, are for the twilight hour, or for the silent people who live in isles and remote places. For most of us, for those of us who do not dwell by lonely shores and seldom behold the sea but in the quiet seasons, it is either a delight or an oppression. Some can no more love it, or can have any well-being or composure near it, than others can be well or content where vast moors reach from skyline to skyline, or amid the green solemnities of forests, or where stillness inhabits the hollows of hills. But for those who do love it, what a joy it is! The Sea... the very words have magic. It is like the sound of a horn in woods, like the sound of a bugle in the dusk, like the cry of wind leaping the long bastions of silence. To many of us there is no call like it, no other such clarion of gladness.
(....)
It is this exquisite miracle of transparency which gives the last secret of beauty to water. All else that we look upon is opaque: the mountain in its sundown purple or noon-azure, the meadows and fields, the gathered greenness of woods, the loveliness of massed flowers, the myriad wonder of the universal grass, even the clouds that trail their shadows upon the hills, or soar so high into frozen deeps of azure that they pass shadowless like phantoms or the creatures of dreams - the beauty of all these is opaque. But the beauty of water is that it is transparent. Think if the grass, if the leaves of the tree, if the rose and the iris and the pale horns of the honeysuckle, if the great mountains built of grey steeps of granite and massed purple of shadow were thus luminous, thus transparent! Think if they, too, as the sea, could reflect the passage of saffron-sailed and rose-flushed argosies of cloud, or mirror as in the calms of ocean the multitudinous undulation of the blue sky! This divine translucency is but a part of the Sea-Spell, which holds us from childhood to old age in Wonder and delight, but that part is its secret joy, its incommunicable charm.

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JeffV
Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2003 - 11:35 am:   

Very cool.
JeffV
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Des
Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2003 - 11:52 am:   

"His writing really is beautiful, isn't it? To me, it's the writing of love - absolutely brimming with the numinous, with compassion, as well as a great knowledge of the earth under his feet. I prefer his mysticism to that of Yeats; I think Sharp's is more grounded. You can tell that he literally walked his talk." KJ Bishop

What an amzingly wonderful description of Sharp/Macleod. What a wonderful description full stop.
Thanks, Des

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KJ Bishop
Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2003 - 11:14 pm:   

Des,

He reminds me of Rumi, somehow. Different worlds, different styles, but I think they would have understood each other.
Issa, too, for another unlike-yet-like. Sometimes it seems to me that Sharp's writing expresses some of the volumes that live between the lines of haiku.

At the moment I'm reading Sphinx journal of archetypal psychology and the arts, a special issue devoted to the poetics and psychology of love. It's one of the most inspiring things i've ever read. We're so used to seeing love treated with either cynicism or facile sentimentality, but there's none of that in these essays. It's all gold.

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Des
Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2003 - 01:13 am:   

"Sometimes it seems to me that Sharp's writing expresses some of the volumes that live between the lines of haiku." KJ Bishop

oh, yes.
I don't know if this is a good example but it has caught my eye, the opening of Fiona Macleod's "'The King of Ys and Dahut the Red' (proem)" 1895:-
"In the days when Gradlon was Conan of Arvor, or High-King of the Armorican races who peopled Brittany, there was no name greater than his. From the sand-dunes of the Jutes and Angles to where the dark-skinned Basque fishermen caught fish with nets, the name of Gradlon was a sound for silence."

By the way, I prefer his name Fiona Macleod to his real one of William Sharp, because, many years ago, when I started collecting his works, I knew 'her' only as Fiona Macleod.
Des


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KJ Bishop
Posted on Monday, February 24, 2003 - 11:43 am:   

Then we shall call her Fiona. When Sharp was writing as her, he believed he was channelling her, didn't he?

By the way, do you know anything about 'The Little Book of the Great Enchantment' and 'The Book of White Magic' that she occasionally drops hints about, and prints little extracts from?
I have wondered whether she came from one of those British families of hereditary 'witches'; her idea of magic seems to have deeper British roots than the revivalist stuff from the Golden Dawn.

I haven't got 'The King of Ys and Dahut the Red' - is it in From the Hills of Dream?
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Des
Posted on Monday, February 24, 2003 - 12:19 pm:   

No, I'm afraid I don't know about Fiona's possible 'necronomicons' or 'king-in-yellows'... or her magical proclivities. Sound fascinating, though
The King of Ys... is in a collection called 'The Sin-Eater, The Washer Of The Ford and Other Legendary Moralities', copyright 1895, but I've just noticed that this story and a few others are asterisked as not being included in the original edition. My edition was printed in 1927.
Des
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Forrest Aguirre
Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2003 - 08:30 pm:   

My goodness. This is beautiful. How did I ever miss him? I'm gobsmacked - been truly despairing over the sheer volume of books that I feel compelled to read in my lifetime and the utter lack of time to read what I have recommended to me by others. But this has to go up towards the top of the list. It's absolutely wonderful. Thanks, you two!

Forrest
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Wednesday, February 26, 2003 - 09:52 am:   

Forrest, I know what you mean about all those books. I'm cursed with being a slow reader. (I was a fast reader until I did an English degree. I had to learn to read slowly, to pick up the little details in the texts, and I've never regained my ability to read at speed.) I'm never, ever going to read all the books I'd like to, and it's depressing.
The books I've been quoting from are 'The Silence of Amor / Where the Forest Murmurs', by Fiona Macleod, Heinemann, 1910; and 'Poems and Dramas', Fiona Macleod, Heinemann 1919.
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Mike Simanoff
Posted on Wednesday, February 26, 2003 - 10:46 am:   

I've been reading a bit from Pharais and think it's very beautiful. It moves in a very strange but not unpleasant way, reminiscent of A Voyage to Arcturus (which it antedates). It's not a quick read (I share everyone's predicament), but it's filled with remarkably evokative passages like this:

"The sky overhead had become a vast lift of perishing yellow, -- a spent wave of daffodil by the north and by the south; westward, of lemon, deepening into a luminous orange glow shot with gold and crimson, and rising as an exhalation from hollow cloud-sepulchres of amethyst, straits of scarlet, and immeasurable spaces of dove-grey filled with shallows of the most pale sea-green."

It avoids being melodramatic and purple, and the plot is shaping up to be a very subtle but rich ghost story. Thanks, K.J.
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Mike Simanoff
Posted on Wednesday, February 26, 2003 - 10:59 am:   

K.J,

What ever happened to Nemoria, your Web site from years ago? What other stuff did you have there?

I used to keep a notebook I called "the Serendipitorium" which was a scrapbook of obscure references and fragments I discovered while doing more strucured reaing. I collected quotes from people like August Tappan Wright, the Russian philosopher/poet Vladimir Solovyov, and the theosophist Rudolph Steiner.

Mike
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Forrest
Posted on Wednesday, February 26, 2003 - 05:56 pm:   

Any idea, KJ or Mike, where one might find reprints of Macleod/Sharp's work and which ones I should pick up first? I'm a bit lost in a haze and don't know where to begin. Unfortunately the musty stacks of our used bookstores here are largely filled with less obscure pop authros and academic texts.

and K.J. - I'm finally really reading THE ETCHED CITY, which I had heretofore only had time to skim. It's wonderful! Very well done.

Forrest
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Wednesday, February 26, 2003 - 06:58 pm:   

Mike:
I got snowed under with work, and just couldn't give Nemoria the maintenance it needed. It was like a car up on blocks in the back yard. I deleted it, though I've still got the files backed up somewhere.
Apart from Macleod, I had poems by James Elroy Flecker (wrote The Golden Journey to Samarkand, probably his most famous); Lady Daibu, a medieval Japanese poetess; Lawrence Whistler, a great glass engraver who also wrote poems, and rubaiyat by Ghods Nakhai, an Iranian. Whistler and Nakhai weren't out of copyright, but I had permission for Whistler, and just put up enough of Nakhai for fair use.

Re Pharais: what amazes me so much about this writing is that it can be so ornate without being, as you say, melodramatic and purple. (When I called him 'purple as the heather', it was really not right of me.)
Sharp was fluent in Gaelic, and I've wondered if that language influenced his style. Regarding Gaelic, there's a lovely encounter between him and a shepherd's old mother, on whom he has called in the hope of hearing some old stories:

'As it was so much easier for her (and so far more vivid and idiomatic) she spoke in Gaelic, delighted to find one who could understand the ancient speech: for in that part of the country, though in the Highlands, no Gaelic is spoken, or only a few words connected with sport, sheep-driving, and the like. I had won her heart by saying to her soon after the tea - up to which time she had spoken in the slow and calculated but refined Highland-English of the north-west - 'Tha mi cinnteach gu bheil sibh aois mhor'...'I am sure that you have the great age upon you.' She had feared that because I had 'the English way' I would not know, or remember, or care to remember, the old tongue: and she took my hand and stroked it while she said with a quiet dignity of pleasure, 'Is Taitneach leam nach 'eil 'ur Gaidhlig air meirgeadh'...(in effect) 'It is well pleased I am that your Gaelic has not become rusty.'

A lot of my own family roots are in Scotland, and I have to confess this all makes me feel unreasonably wistful.
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Wednesday, February 26, 2003 - 07:22 pm:   

Forrest:
You can pick up some reprints on Amazon; all the 'fiona macleod' stuff appears to be either out of print or not yet printed, but if you search on 'william sharp' you'll find some.

You can also get the old books online via antique book dealers.
There's a five volume set here:
http://www.goantiques.com/texis,volume_set_fiona,3e075a642.html
But if you type in the titles in the blurb on that page, you'll find other places that are selling at least some of them, and I'm sure you can get them cheaper.

A lot of his/her work is online here:
http://www.sundown.pair.com/
so you can see what is in each volume.
It's hard for me to recommend where to start - it really depends what your tastes are. But I do think the prose is generally much more original and beautiful than the poetry. Others might disagree, though.

Glad you're enjoying Etched City :-)
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Trent Jamieson
Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2003 - 02:52 am:   

Kirsten:

What a delightful message board. I'll be scouring the second hand bookstores for fiona macleod stuff.

BTW I thought you used the ravens to wonderful effect in the Etched City, they certainly haunted my dreams.

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Mike Simanoff
Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2003 - 06:24 am:   

Forrest,

I'm printing out pages from the Sundown.pair.com Web site for now. This weekend I'm going to visit the second hand bookstores near me and buy everything I can!

Mike
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2003 - 01:11 pm:   

Hi Trent! I have a cunning plan. Readers on this list could buy up all old copies of Fiona Macleod's work, then use internet publicity to create a flurry of demand, thus pushing prices up sky high, and slowly control the release of the books, one at a time, to drooling bidders... you can contact me at my secret hideout in Nigeria.

You're a sweetie to say that about the ravens, though I will always consider myself a grave robber for nicking them. I wish I had dreamed about them, but I never dream about what I'm writing.

I shall give you the whole poem of Falias, of which I only gave the first verse above:

In the frost-grown city of Falias lit by the falling stars
I have seen the ravens flying like banners of old wars -
I have seen the snow-white ravens amid the ice-green spires
Seeking the long-lost havens of all old lost desires.

O winged desire and broken, once nested in my heart,
Canst thou, there, give a token, that even now, thou art?
From bitter war defeated thou too hadst flight afar,
When all of my joy was cheated ere set of Morning Star.

Call loud; O ancient Moirias, who dwellest in that place,
Tell me if lost in Falias my old desire hath grace?
If now a snow-white raven it haunts the silent spires
For the old impossible haven 'mid the old auroral fires?


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Des
Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2003 - 01:54 pm:   

I've just discovered another collection of Fiona Maclod on my bookshelves: : The Silence of Amor/Where The Forest Murmurs.
Just think on some of these story titles in the contents list of this book and know they I've got them here to read! ;-)

The Cuckoo's Silence
The Coming Of Dusk
Tragic Landscapes
The Gardens Of the Sea
Beyond The Blue Septentrions
White Weather
Rosa Mystica
The Children Of Wind

etc etc

Des
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2003 - 02:46 pm:   

Des - that book is the reason why I've always called Macleod 'Sharp' - it's hard to get my head around calling the moustachioed and goateed gent in the picture 'Fiona'. :-)
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Trent Jamieson
Posted on Friday, February 28, 2003 - 12:52 am:   

Thanks Kirsten,

Ah but grave robbery is a noble profession. You grabbed that glittery corpse and made it dance.

Thanks for the rest of the poem.

Trent
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Des
Posted on Friday, February 28, 2003 - 09:05 am:   

that book is the reason why I've always called Macleod 'Sharp' - it's hard to get my head around calling the moustachioed and goateed gent in the picture 'Fiona'.
**************
My edition (1919) doesn't have that photo but does have a black and white drawing of the Isle of Skye which looks like a modern abstract painting!
There is, however, a bibliographical note by 'Mrs William Sharp'!
Des
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Friday, February 28, 2003 - 09:37 am:   

My mistake - it's Poems and Dramas that has the picture.

I have to confess the Mrs William Sharp thing confused the blazes out of me until I realised it was his missus. I wonder how Mrs Sharp felt about Fiona.
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Mike Simanoff
Posted on Friday, February 28, 2003 - 10:12 am:   

Two biographical tidbits:

"Sharp had even gone so far as to have his sister Mary copy his Macleod manuscripts and correspondence so that his handwriting might not betray his true identity."
(Gale's Contemporary Authors)

and

"Sharp went to great lengths to perpetuate the mystery, writing pseudonymous letters and even submitting an entry for Fiona Macleod to Who's Who. In his private correspondence, Sharp occasionally referred to an anxiety regarding his identity, admitting, 'Sometimes I am tempted to believe I am half a woman.'"
(Dictionary of Literary Biography)
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Des
Posted on Friday, February 28, 2003 - 10:41 am:   

Blimey! I've been harboring the first arch-nemonymist on my shelves all these years, without realising it!
Des
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Mike Simanoff
Posted on Friday, February 28, 2003 - 10:54 am:   

Des,

Androgynemonymous.

Mike
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Des
Posted on Friday, February 28, 2003 - 11:15 am:   

BRILL WORD! (sorry = a bit off topic!)
des
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Friday, February 28, 2003 - 12:07 pm:   

'Tis a brill word. And 'tis pleasant to drift into the topical tropics.

The idea of anonymity appeals to me. I'd be happy to write under the name 'anonymous'. One reason I write under my initials is that I don't really want readers to think about who I might be while they're reading. If they want to know, they can go to my website; but it isn't there staring at them on the cover of the book.

For quite a while I thought China Mieville was a woman. When I found out that he was (and is) a man, I was kind of thrown out. I found myself readjusting the perspective from which I read his work. For the life of me I can't explain why, and it worries me that it made as much difference as it did.

When I read Macleod's work, I always see Sharp. I hear a male voice, and see a man walking around the Highlands. And I find it really, really hard to wrench my perspective around to hear and see a woman. It may be because I'm a woman, and quite enamored of this gentle, romantic, marvellous male writer.

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Des
Posted on Saturday, March 01, 2003 - 02:30 am:   

"At all seasons the coming of dusk has its spell upon the imagination. Even in cities it puts something of silence into the turmoil, something of mystery into the commonplace aspect of the familiar and the day-worn. The shadow of the great change that accompanies the passage of day is as furtive and mysterious, as swift and inevitable, amid the traffic of streets as in aisles of the forest, or in glens and on hills, on shores, or on the sea. It is everywhere the hour of suspense. Day has not receded into the confused past, already a shadow in eternity, and night has not yet come out of the unknown. Instinctively one feels as though crossing an invisible bridge over a gulf, perchance with troubled glances at the already dimming shore behind, or with dreaming eyes or watchful or expectant gaze on the veiled shore upon which we are almost come."
From The Coming Of Dusk by Fiona Macleod
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Forrest
Posted on Saturday, March 01, 2003 - 08:25 am:   

Your experience with China Mieville is similar to mine with Jonathan Carroll, KJ. When I first read "Bones of the Moon" I was convinced that "Jonathan Carroll" was a pseudonym, that the author was really a woman. I was surprised and troubled when I found that Jonathan Carroll was indeed Jonathan Carroll. Though I can't put my finger on why I thought his writing betrayed a feminine touch, I'm still amazed by what I perceive to be a unique gift: A man who can write "in a feminine style" - whatever that means.
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Saturday, March 01, 2003 - 11:50 am:   

Forrest, re a feminine or masculine style - I know exactly what you mean, but if I had to explain either style, I couldn't. When I picked up Perdido Street Station, I just assumed China was a woman's name. And when I started reading it I thought, 'Wow, this chick writes like a man.' And I've just been told by one female reader that Etched City is 'masculine adventure'...though I disagree with her.

I would say that sometimes Michael Moorcock writes with - to use your phrase - a feminine touch. For me, it has something to do with the way he writes his male characters. Many of them are men that a woman could have dreamed up - but again I can't say specifically why I think this. It might be something about the way they talk. But it's a very hard thing to dissect.

The only thing I've read of Carroll's is The Land of Laughs, and to me that definitely read like a man's writing. I really should read more of his work.

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KJ Bishop
Posted on Saturday, March 01, 2003 - 12:07 pm:   

Des -
The Coming of Dusk is one of my favourites. I'm trying to really peer into the writing and see what Macleod does to make it flow so gorgeously.
Little things like 'It is everywhere the hour of suspense' - works so much better than 'Everywhere it is the hour of suspense' would. The former arrangement rolls off the tongue, while the latter sticks; but it's the one we'd use today.
I'm starting to realise that for all the apparent floweriness of the language, her actual sentence construction is very economical. She uses a minimum of connective words. And her rhythm is spot-on. I'm actually concerned that in our culture's transition from a verbal mass-media to a visual one, we're losing the ability to write in an ear-pleasing way.
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JeffV
Posted on Saturday, March 01, 2003 - 01:30 pm:   

I agree, KJ. Re transition to a visual culture. Even worse, we take images for granted. We use them as our currency in daily life and thus do not understand the full resonance and miracle of them.

JeffV
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Saturday, March 01, 2003 - 02:42 pm:   

Jeff, I had never thought of that, re images. I recently read an article on transgressive art - how artists are having trouble actually being transgressive. But it's no wonder. What transgressive power does a work like 'Piss Christ' have, or even that guy who does public autopsies, in a world where we can see that kind of imagery any time on MTV, or by renting a cheap video?
Perhaps great art - in this day and age - is the art which can break through and impress us with, as you say, its resonance and miracle. Though I don't know what art that would be. We were in Rome, in St Peter's, looking at Michelangelo's Pieta. People kept hurrying up, taking a photo and hurrying away again. Maybe only one in ten stopped for a little while, to look at the statue, and allow it to look back at them.
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Jeffv
Posted on Saturday, March 01, 2003 - 03:10 pm:   

Maybe it's a good thing re the transgressive? Maybe it makes writers turn to the truly transgressive rather than the outwardly transgressive? If that makes any sense.

I don't know about you, but I find little miracles in quite ordinary moments. The particular little trail a toad makes hopping across our wet front walk. A peculiarly-shaped ring of mushrooms. Just about anything.

JeffV.
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Saturday, March 01, 2003 - 04:17 pm:   

Yes, I get the miracles in ordinary moments. Sometimes I'll sit and watch a slug, or a caterpillar. Yesterday I saw a caterpillar that was like a piece of carpet - fuzzy, with a pattern of very geometrical red and black triangles on its back. It amazed me. Or I'll just look at the sky. I can see sunrise and sunset from our flat, so I think I'm pretty lucky. Nature constantly amazes and humbles me. Even in something just as simple as taking a cutting from my monstera and watching it take root and grow. Or thinking about how organisms repair themselves.
(Btw, you've seen 'Microcosmos'....?)

Re transgression - the outwardly transgressive can be spotted, but I'm not sure what the truly transgressive would be. Where does writing make the step from 'unusual' to 'transgressive'?
Thoughts...?

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JeffV
Posted on Saturday, March 01, 2003 - 08:05 pm:   

Well, I guess the outwardly transgressive is to use extreme violence or explicit sex. Something that is immediately in your face.

Still thinking about the other part. It might have been a nonsensical statement.

Jeff
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Saturday, March 01, 2003 - 08:35 pm:   

On his board Richard Calder says:

'But they would have to be authors who not only employ the decor and (by now) rather shop-worn furniture of Symbolism, the Decadence, and Surrealism, to new effect, but take on board genuinely transgressive ideas and themes.'

So he's got a similar idea - but he doesn't explain 'genuinely transgressive.'

I guess that taboo relationships, even if it isn't sexually explicit, could be seen as transgressive.
Maybe the autopsy guy (can't remember his name; Doctor something) is a good example. I think he's both outwardly and genuinely transgressive. Outwardly because what he's doing offends fairly common notions of propriety; but genuinely because (I'd argue) it isn't gratuitous. We can't see inside our bodies. We're hung up about them - about their functions, aging, appearance, how they smell - everthing. He's giving people an opportunity to see what's inside their skins, and he's saying no to the idea that only doctors have a right to look there.
So hopefully a person would come away from a viewing with more than just a sense of being shocked.
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benpeek
Posted on Saturday, March 01, 2003 - 08:48 pm:   

>When I found out that he was (and is) a man, I was kind of thrown out. I found myself readjusting the perspective from which I read his work.<

i've always thought it would be interesting if an author swapped their pseudonym from book to book. i think that being male or female does bring a certain sense to a piece of work, and if an author wasn't worried about readership, or having a body of work linked to his or her name, then they could exploit this, and dovetail their work in waves to link it. the fictional author for the fictional work.

i don't know who you'd find to do it, though. the cult of the creator has many advantages (and disadvantages).

i've seen an article on the autopsy doctor you mention as well, and i thought it was interesting, but i looked at it from the point of view of voyuerism. the ultimate glance behind someone's curtians, and i felt that that was where a good portion of the intial interest in his act (because i guess it is a performance, isn't it?) began there. what it becoems after that, of course, is another thing.

ben.
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Saturday, March 01, 2003 - 09:06 pm:   

Thought (may be useless): The book creates the author.

Does every story require a different person - whether slightly or radically different - to write it?
If yes: Do we find this personality within our wonderfully flexible selves? Or: Does the initial seed of inspiration cause the flowering of the personality necessary to write that particular story?

Thoughts floating here... I find drawing pictures doesn't make me think like this. It's always me. But the act of writing makes me think of these problems, which makes me wonder how much the identity aspect of personality (as distinct from the temperament aspect) is a by-product of language.
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Des
Posted on Sunday, March 02, 2003 - 03:26 am:   

Does every story require a different person - whether slightly or radically different - to write it?
If yes: Do we find this personality within our wonderfully flexible selves? Or: Does the initial seed of inspiration cause the flowering of the personality necessary to write that particular story?
**************
Yes.
A new self is born. But whether that self is you is debatable. In the act of writing, there may be a certain amount of exgression.
Des



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benpeek
Posted on Sunday, March 02, 2003 - 03:14 pm:   

>Does every story require a different person - whether slightly or radically different - to write it?<

i would say no. despite my previous post, it's always been my belief that a good writer can create a number of characters, and can structure it away from themself. in some ways, i think fiction is the act of wiping away your finger prints, trying to remove any moment when you, the writer, stood there and a bit of your personality leaked into the page. (this is, of course, an odd thing to say, because fiction is still an expression of the individual, but still, sometimes a contradiction is a good thing to have in place.)

of course, i also think something new is born with every story. it's often the aim to explore the birth, so to say. but that doesn't mean that there's a range of things that can arise from the one person.

ben.
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Monday, March 03, 2003 - 12:45 pm:   

> in some ways, i think fiction is the act of wiping away your finger prints, trying to remove any moment when you, the writer, stood there and a bit of your personality leaked into the page<

I would say this is true sometimes, but not always. I've been thinking about fiction in relation to art. I think most fiction is still like traditional figurative art, where the artist tries to hide both the medium and him/herself. This style can be beautiful and wonderful, and many of my favourite books are written in it - but it is still only one style.

Then non-transparent writing is like the kind of art that makes you aware of the medium; you're aware that you're reading a fiction, just as some art makes you aware that you're looking at paint on a canvas; it isn't a clear window onto an image. But the artist is still generally invisible.

But I can't think of much recent fiction that would equate with, say, performance art, where the presence of the artist, and the process of the art's making, is foregrounded. I rather like asides to 'Dear Reader'; maybe it's just the kid in me, but I enjoy the presence of a storyteller.
At the moment I'm writing stuff where I'm putting bits of the author's - maybe narrator is a better word - thoughts in, and the thoughts of imaginary readers. (Dunno if it's really working, but it's fun.) You remember when you were in primary school, and the teacher would read a storybook, and the kids would ask questions as the book went along, then you'd go and draw a picture or write a story inspired by the book? I love that kind of stuff, that extension of a story's world.

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Rotating Meerkat
Posted on Monday, March 03, 2003 - 12:59 pm:   

I agree, Kirsten. I agree.

Rotating Meerkat, Esq.
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Des
Posted on Monday, March 03, 2003 - 01:04 pm:   

I wrote a novel in the early seventies (called The Visitor) and sent it piecemeal to a friend in letters, and he commented on each section in subsequent letters as I wrote it. I began to include his comments as part of the novel and soon they were an intrinsic part of it. (I've still got it somewhere!). Des
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benpeek
Posted on Monday, March 03, 2003 - 03:35 pm:   

>I would say this is true sometimes, but not always.<

oh, true. i probably should have put down that i didn't think this was the only way fiction operates. just one way. and for me, it's what i like to do. especially as i sit down to begin writing the-novel-that-is-my-thesis-and-thus-a-great-evil, and since it's going to be like a giant jigsaw puzzle of smaller narratives to form one picture, i've been thinking about writing outside me and removing me as much as possible. the aim with it, i think, is to kill me ;)

though i like some of those books where the author talks to you. though i've noted that it's mostly done in young adult books. i recently read michael chabon's SUMMERLAND, and he does it in there affectively. (or so i thought. it's not a bad book, but i did find the baseball got on my nerves after a while.)

on a small tangent, did you see ADAPTATION? it's an interesting film, mixing the author (or supposed author) and the act of writing into a narrative. neat film, i thought.
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Michael Cisco
Posted on Tuesday, March 04, 2003 - 03:15 am:   

I've always liked the idea that the world of the book, or something about the text, is present. I write my stuff in the present tense in part because I want it to be understood that the action of the story is happening now, as it is read (when else?). There were a handfull of children's books and cartoons that involved frame-breaking moments in which you, as a reader or member of the audience, are directly addressed (or apparently so). I NEVER COULD GET OVER THAT KIND OF THING. Later, reading Borges - there it is again, only for grown-ups. How do you know "Michael Cisco" exists, when all you have of him are these anonymous words? And if I'm only text scrolling across a screen, then I am no different in substance from Sherlock Holmes Dracula Hamlet. When Felice Bauer's father wrote to Kafka, complimenting him on his "interest in literature," Kakfa answered "I'm not _interested_ in literature, I _am_ literature." I think he meant it in this sense. But I've gone so long without sleep, said the words, that I don't even know what sense I mean.
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Tuesday, March 04, 2003 - 12:38 pm:   

Ben:
>i probably should have put down that i didn't think this was the only way fiction operates<

And I should have realised what you meant :-)

>the aim with it, i think, is to kill me<

Careful what you aim for... (I want an emoticon for a spooky face.)

No, I haven't seen ADAPTATION. Who was the director?
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Tuesday, March 04, 2003 - 12:48 pm:   

Michael:
>How do you know "Michael Cisco" exists, when all you have of him are these anonymous words?<

Another thought (again may be useless): there's a difference between the author and the narrator. The author might be considered to be literature itself; the literature writes itself, and we're editors at best, and at worst just typists.
But when I used to play music, every time I played a piece I felt I owned it, even when - as was usually the case - I hadn't written it.
Which made me think about the idea of the performer; the storyteller or narrator. At the moment, I don't think I would claim to author my own work. But I do narrate it: I, Kirsten, brain and body and all, would claim to be a storyteller.
It may be splitting hairs, but it helps to stop me from feeling as though I don't exist. Of course, it may be that I don't exist. But I find it hard to get any kind of motivation going when I think like that.
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benpeek
Posted on Tuesday, March 04, 2003 - 01:49 pm:   

>Careful what you aim for... (I want an emoticon for a spooky face.)<

i'm all for dying. imagine the things i could get out of doing... ;)

>No, I haven't seen ADAPTATION. Who was the director?<

spike jonze. he directed BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. both have scripts by charlie kaufman. you might still be able to catch it in a cinema, but it's toward the end of its run.

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Michael Cisco
Posted on Tuesday, March 04, 2003 - 02:34 pm:   

It works both ways - it's not so much that I am reduced to the level of non-existence, but rather that the field of what exists is levelled, making us all word-elementals. (thunder crash).
So the work of literature could be understood as the product of the intercourse of word elementals, one being of the variety "person" and the other being of the variety "narrative". They collide, fuse, and mitotically divide again.
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Wednesday, March 05, 2003 - 10:26 am:   

> the field of what exists is levelled, making us all word-elementals. (thunder crash). <

And there is nothing outside the Discourse... Except for the darkly-splendid world wherein lieth Great Aunty on her chaise lounge, wrapped in a chenille bath robe, ever espousing a bottle, voluminous, gormless and annoyed.

> So the work of literature could be understood as the product of the intercourse of word elementals <

I like that. I'm going to have to think about it, but I like it.




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KJ Bishop
Posted on Wednesday, March 05, 2003 - 11:58 am:   

Des: What was 'The Visitor' about? (And was it published?)
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Des
Posted on Wednesday, March 05, 2003 - 12:05 pm:   

No, it was never published; it was never submitted anywhere. It was a Barthian quest for the Art Master to punish him for being pretentious -- (I was very much into John Barth in the early seventies)-- interspersed with comments on the text from a single reader (a long-term correspondent of mine) as it progressed, and his meta-meta-comments, and meta-meta-meta-comments...
Call me pretentious! ;-)
Thanks, for asking, though.
Des
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KJ Bishop
Posted on Wednesday, March 05, 2003 - 01:54 pm:   

Pretentious, vous? ;-)

I might call you medieval, though. All that commentary and counter-commentary and marginalia. They were postmodernists while living blissfully unaware of the word...
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des
Posted on Monday, December 05, 2005 - 11:27 am:   

Re above, my blog-published novel, KJ, has actually taken a lead from that novel - as having internet meta-comments, hopefully, which accrue to form part of the novel itself!
des

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