Although not the only writer to do this,Robert Pinget comes to mind, Lafferty is certainly the only popular English writer who pulls off this particular trick. Two examples come quickly to mind. In "Thus we frustrate Charlemagne the history changers at the Institute for Impure Science decide to change history, but they will have an objective reference to the world before the change, so they can see if their attempt worked. Of course,following a long established tradition in essay Science fiction, the change changes their memories and their external object. Now this is more than commonly interesting, because the Institute for Impure Science is here doing to itself what Lafferty does for his readers, changing the rules at some time before the action begins (this is one of the many uses of self-reference which haunt. A second example would be "What's the name of that Town? in which Epikt (note the wonderful Hellenism: Epiktistes means "The Equitable One a great name for a calculating device that takes all elements (Stoichae) equally) sorts his facts to discover that something must be missing. The missing thing is Chicago, and when Epikt pronounces the hidden name, no memory results.
Two, he postulates that, in general, people's memory of wonder is so poor that they generally have forgotten the true marvels of the age. The truly successful people in Lafferty's works, the true geniuses and Übermenschen, are Those Who remember the wonder of the world, such as Willy McGilly. Three, he once again dislocates reality before the narrative starts. The reader is not presented with a world that he or she knows with one anomaly to thank puzzle out; the reader is presented with a world that he or she has never known. Or, to create a more dreamy distancing effect, a world that he or she has forgotten. Which leads us to: Lafferty uses the feeling of estrangement, of "I think i've forgotten something as a mood to displace the narrative. We've all had those haunted days when we felt that we should've known something more than we knew. Lafferty often invokes that mood as the voice of a tale.
And if we feel nostalgic for realities that weren't, we are displaced before the narrative happens. Lafferty denies the uniqueness of the spectacular events, and by so doing once again displaces reality. The most outrageous situations are either ignored (as "In our Block wherein the presence of a group of beings who can make anything instantly and in any quantity,a favorite lafferty motif, is simply explained away as there are lots of odd people in the world. The latter role is usually filled by willy McGilly. In "seven day terror he marvels that current kids use a beer can to make a disappearer, when he had used an oatmeal tube. In "Thus we Frustrate Charlemagne he points out that all he needed to kill historical figures was a dart, rather than huge computer. By denying the uniqueness of a spectacular event, lafferty simultaneously accomplishes three things. One, he postulates that the world (at least this fictional world) is actually much, much stranger than our own. It is not only broad enough for the strange event, it is broad enough to hold the laws which permit the strange event.
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Oops, went past you! A couple of examples will suffice. In the one short story "The Transcendent Tigers the device of a rhyming couplet to destroy a city of the world is used throughout the story. We become so in rhythm with the words that Lafferty doesn't have to provide the name of the city when the last half of a couplet ends the story Knife and Fork, and the reader provides "New York" thus having his own imagination and language. Likewise, rhyming nonsense is the way a character may enter the world of the Shelni in "Ride a tin Can perhaps more significantly, the understanding of the nonsense can turn you into a shelni. Lafferty uses the image of the wonder child to evoke a past that never was. This is the emotional equivalent to the intellectual process mentioned in 1.
Unlike bradbury, who invokes some kind of Norman Rockwell past by visual detail, lafferty invokes the very rapid sense of childhood as we write remember. His heroes in "Lord Torpedo, lord Gyroscope karl Riproar and Emily vortex, are typical Lafferty wonder kids who do everything very very fast. His children as well as his hard-drinking young men move in a world that has been condensed by memory, and so we match with our own perceived fast and fleeting moments of childhood. Otherwise his children possess special powers, which, unlike the typical mutant of sf or demon-possessed horror kiddo, are never explained. These powers can be anything from the ability to make things disappear, in "seven day terror to,perhaps the greatest Lafferty trick of all, remaining perpetually four years old. This is a wonderful assertion of the fictive impulse, instead of appealing to our memories, he appeals to the type of story we told each other at that age and combines that appeal with the nostalgia we have for our youths. A careful blend, there; we read and feel nostalgic for realities that never were.
It is a technique used by magicians for centuries to give their spells potency. Whereas he directs most of his narrative at our conscious,using simple daytime language, he also directs the same tale at our unconscious achieving a form of meta-communication. This is one of the most subtle forms of displacement. We feel early on in the lafferty story that more is going on then we know, and at the end of the story that more has gone on than we can know. The use of foreign tags and the use of rhythm discussed below are good tools in displacing the narrative.
Lafferty plays upon our subconscious in another way, the use of rhythm. Yevgeny zamyatin developed the concept of a "prose foot" as a way of internal pacing of fiction. He saw it as a kind of rhythmic device that by causing the reader to remember an earlier part of the narrative became a force for a choral (as in pertaining to choruses) cohesion that bound the story together in a different way than plot. This method, which I can't detect in Zamyatin's works (since russian is Greek to me is the core of Lafferty's work. He has invented the postmodern equivalent of the homeric epithet. Now that i've told you what the magician's about to do, see if you can catch the trick the next time.
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Lafferty makes use of dead language words to play upon our collective unconscious. Mainly hellenisms work their unconscious magic upon us; although like joyce he combines his Greek with Irish, note the plan puca in The reefs of Earth. Consider the following examples. In my heart leaps Up, lafferty's "autobiography" from Chris Drumm, the lead character is named Helen Anastasis. We may sense the rightness of the name, but unless we know Greek, we don't realize anastasis against inertness. Likewise, in "Continued on the next Rock" the hero's name of Anteros "One who loves in return" sadly sums the hero's love best and the girl's obstinacy (which are seen as a mechanism of their reincarnations,reminding one of the strangely Greek-named heroes of the mummy films. Lafferty's use of Greek, latin, Irish, and Hebrew tags is not merely demonstration of his vast erudition.
The story doesn't have to explain the azienda strange state of affairs it begins with or ends with. This runs counter to the paradigms of Science fiction, in which texts which are cited are real (or presumed to deal with the hard factual world and provide a springboard for the man With a plan to demonstrate his cleverness based on the facts. Likewise it violates the paradigms of horror (our everyday world with one intrusion or anomaly which can be isolated or at least explained and of fantasy (another world with its own consistent laws). Lafferty uses created texts, either created out of whole cloth, such as the frequently-cited The back-door of History by Arpud Arutinov or The fall of Rome, an actually published Lafferty book auctore" simply being Latin for "by the author or partial cloth, wherein Laffertyisms are. These are legitimated by the actual"tions from actual people mixed into the stream. Therefore reality is carefully displaced, sometime somewhere before either writer or reader has anything to do about. This is an extremely effective modification of the fairy tale formula of in illo tempore. But instead of the "Once upon a time where we know what the different laws are, lafferty just convinces us that the laws are different.
of his hero raphaelus in the act of opening a giant goose egg to fry it in an iron skillet of six yards'. Fabulinus interrupted the action with these words: "Here it becomes necessary to recount to you the history of the world up to this point.". After Fabulinus had given the history of the world up to that point, he took up the action of Raphaelus once more. It happened that the giant goose egg contained a nubile young girl. This revelation would have been startling to a reader who had not just read the history of the world up to that point: which history, being Fabulinian in its treatment, prepared him for the event. The fall of rome, auctore. (From East of laughter. by creating a text of seeming antiquity, the defamiliarization of the world is seen as something that already happened before the narrative.
I wish to argue that Lafferty essay deliberately creates the mythic effect through a technique i call effective arcanum, and that rather than examining his work with the conventional tools of science fiction criticism, we need to examine his system; firstly for our pleasure, and secondly. It may seem strange to think of Lafferty's writing in terms of religious phenomena, but if you consider the devotion that the small press world has shown, you'll begin to see what I mean. Behold, now I speak prophetically: with Lafferty gone there will be (unfortunately) a lot of bad Lafferty pastiche, not because of the commercial viability of such writing (Lafferty being one of the least commercial writers we have) but because of the desire of the writer. In this (and a few other ways as well) Lafferty is very similar. Let us examine six ways (there are nine, but three must remain hidden for i use them myself and don't want to give away any of my tricks just yet) in which Lafferty's fiction creates the Unknown rather then the Known, and then let. Hopefully some later, more qualified writer than I will begin the task of putting Lafferty into the bookshelf of literature, where he belongs. By the way, each of these points can be expanded into a dissertation, and no doubt will be in the fullness of time.
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Lafferty: Effective arcanum, april 24, 2002, by don essay Webb. Take the wordies from hind brain tell of weirdies in a great word-rain Grimorie of Aloys. Blurbers (those who blurb) say two contradictory things about the work. Often both poles will appear in the same blurb; blurbers do not aim for consistency, but instead for creating a mood that will induce the sensory-overloaded reader to purchase the book. The first remark is how familiar Lafferty's work is: he is either compared to Twain (or some likewise wholesomely American figure) or to the folktale, ghost tale, or talltale. The opposite pole stresses the uniqueness of his work: unique, quirky, one-of-a-kind. It would seem that either the blurbers have indeed read the work, and are hard put to find words to explain the effect of Lafferty's prose on their psyches, or they are merely"ng other blurbers.