Friday, August 8, 2008

Explanation of the video.

I would not normally have posted the Watchmen movie trailer here, but for some reason, DashBlog would not send it to Dilettante's Diary.

I do think HPL would've liked the trailer.

Watchmen trailer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Chapter VII.

Just when it looks like this text becomes a traditional narrative, Poe throws something else in. Pym goes into disguise once more, this time as the dead seaman Rogers.

The interesting thing about this passage is the plot that the anti-mutineers have to use in order to retake the ship. Brute force won't work because they are outnumbered, but deception will. Because the mate has poisoned Rogers and feels guilty about it, he is vulnerable to having his conscience used against him by Pym, Augustus and Peters. It's as if Poe is saying that a brute-force narrative will not work so well as a narrative that finds the reader's vulnerabilities.

Chapter V-VI.

Chapter V recapitulates Augustus's efforts to make contact with Pym after the mutineers take the ship. There may be something there in terms of comparative narration, but that's not really what I'm after. Nothing struck me right away.

I was beginning to wonder about Chapter VI. Odd things going on: a diversionary lecture about proper cargo stowage in a ship's hold; the story about the lone survivor of a shipwreck whose cargo of corn shifted and brought the craft down; the details about the open spaces in the Grampus's hold; Tiger's recovery. But now it makes its own sense, because Poe/Pym has turned to journal entries to continue the narrative. Chapter VI is its own stowage, one of narrative rather than of material, and its attention to careful packing tells the reader that one's own narrative should be packed with equal care.

Chapter IV, continued.

This contrast on Poe's examination of the self with Lovecraft's is interesting. It's like in Lovecraft, the self utterly disappears. His narrators are gentlemen, educated, discerning, and helpless in the face of what to them is chaos. When confronted with the weird and the unknown, the narrators dissolve. Even Randolph Carter, if I'm recalling Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath correctly, doesn't really come across as a personality.

I bring this up because of Pym's ongoing worry about his own authority in the fact of the weird, unknown things he sees:

"I have been thus particular in speaking of Dirk Peters, because, ferocious as he appeared, he proved the main instrument in preserving the life of Augustus, and because I shall have frequent occasion to mention him hereafter in the course of my narrative--a narrative, let me here say, which, in its latter portions, will be found to include incidents of a nature so entirely out of the range of human experience, and for this reason so far beyond the limits of human credulity, that I proceed in utter hopelessness of obtaining credence for all that I shall tell, yet confidently trusting in time and progressing science to verify some of the most important and most improbable of my statements."

Dirk Peters is the 'half-breed' that Pym/Poe-the-editor/Poe-the-writer mentions in the Preface. He is a witness to what occurs, yet he cannot be trusted because of his mixed race. But it's not like people of Poe's time didn't fully trust those of pure race, with the exception of slaves, who went as part of a ratio of truth. The veracity of someone's statement was filtered through the cultural conventions about his race, and while whites could be trusted completely, so to speak, others could be trusted as well if their 'place' were taken into account. Note that they could be trusted, but were not always trusted. So it makes its own sense that Peters is not a reliable informant.

Here's an interesting passage:

"From all the calculations I can make on the subject, this must have been the slumber into which I fell just after my return from the trap with the watch, and which, consequently, must have lasted for more than three entire days and nights at the very least. Latterly, I have had reason both from my own experience and the assurance of others, to be acquainted with the strong soporific effects of the stench arising from old fish-oil when closely confined; and when I think of the condition of the hold in which I was imprisoned, and the long period during which the brig had been used as a whaling vessel, I am more inclined to wonder that I awoke at all, after once falling asleep, than that I should have slept uninterruptedly for the period specified above."

If I am recalling Moby-Dick correctly, Melville at more than one point discusses whale oil at length. Ambergris for certain, and I believe whale oil as well. Poe's take is different through his use of the word "stench." Melville wouldn't have done that, given the way that he romanticizes whales. Or really, given the way that the whale's body becomes the blazon for so many things.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chapters II-IV.

The fragmenting of identity continues. At the beginning of this chapter, which is titled "Episode 2" on the website, Pym is on his way to the whaler and is in disguise, when suddenly he is confronted on the street by his grandfather:

"Why, bless my soul, Gordon," said he, after a long pause, "why, why,- whose dirty cloak is that you have on?" "Sir!" I replied, assuming, as well as I could, in the exigency of the moment, an air of offended surprise, and talking in the gruffest of all imaginable tones- "sir! you are a sum'mat mistaken- my name, in the first place, bee'nt nothing at all like Goddin, and I'd want you for to know better, you blackguard, than to call my new obercoat a darty one." For my life I could hardly refrain from screaming with laughter at the odd manner in which the old gentleman received this handsome rebuke. He started back two or three steps, turned first pale and then excessively red, threw up his spectacles, then, putting them down, ran full tilt at me, with his umbrella uplifted. He stopped short, however, in his career, as if struck with a sudden recollection; and presently, turning round, hobbled off down the street, shaking all the while with rage, and muttering between his teeth: "Won't do- new glasses- thought it was Gordon- d--d good-for-nothing salt water Long Tom."

Maybe this is pushing the notion too far; perhaps not, considering what happens later in this chapter. Here, Pym takes on, albeit temporarily, the identity of a sailor, or dock worker, or the equivalent. Judging from the eye dialect, this identity is Irish. He has the nerve to refer to his grandfather as a blackguard. But as with Tom Sawyer at the end of Huck Finn, when Jim is unjustly imprisoned for Tom's amusement, Pym is just playing games for his own amusement. This identity is a glove, slipped on and off for the task.

Gets me thinking about honour, and what Poe has to say about that. Was the notion disappearing in his time? Is that why he, Lovecraft and others had such difficulty integrating themselves with their respective eras? If Pym were truly honourable, he would have admitted to his grandfather what was going on and taken the consequences. One can't push this too far into the fiction, especially Lovecraft, because he deals with other matters entirely. But maybe it comes in here and there.

Domesticity. This is a huge topic in this early part of the Narrative. One sample passage:

"He led the way into his own stateroom, which was on the starboard side of the brig, and next to the bulkheads. Upon entering, he closed the door and bolted it. I thought I had never seen a nicer little room than the one in which I now found myself...In that portion of the closet nearest the bulkheads there was a space of four feet square, containing a table, a chair, and a set of hanging shelves full of books, chiefly books of voyages and travels. There were many other little comforts in the room, among which I ought not to forget a kind of safe or refrigerator, in which Augustus pointed out to me a host of delicacies, both in the eating and drinking department."

This continues once Augustus and Pym descend into the hold and reach the stowaway's quarters. Reminds me a lot of Moby-Dick's early chapters and the relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg, and how the sailors on the Pequod make the ship comfortable. Perhaps this is a convention of sailing narratives; I don't know enough about them to say. I can see how the conventions of pirate narratives would be very different, if they in fact are. It'd be interesting if they weren't. Anyway, domesticity generally sets itself up for its own destruction. Some would argue that this is the male destruction of the female, but I think that's pushing it a bit far. Perhaps the destruction of social constraints is more accurate. After all, ships are referred to in the feminine, and sailors do indeed love their ships with wild depth of feeling.

All this stuff about the peripheral, which is a huge theme in Lovecraft. One example is here:

"
Augustus had purposely arranged the stowage in this hold with a view to affording me a thorough concealment, having had only one assistant in the labour, a man not going out in the brig."

Things brushing against other things, the way that this man, who is conveniently not going out in the brig but which is totally plausible once one thinks of it, helps Augustus. Someone who knows what is going on, i.e., someone who understands the reality underneath the ruse, is out there and available. Finding him would be easy if one had the right combination of facts, just as in Lovecraft's work, the right combination of facts damns the characters to insanity. Finding out the reality underneath the ruse in Lovecraft is not always difficult, and it is occasionally unbidden. It's like the reverse of grace. One doesn't have to work hard necessarily to receive grace, and it is occasionally unbidden. I think Poe is better than Lovecraft at these circles of reality brushing against one another.

And now, the scene of rebirth into madness. A three-day stint in the Lazarus cave turns into seven days (horrors! the servants!), and Pym goes a little mad. First the watch runs down, so he has no sense of time passing. Then he discovers that the mutton is not merely spoiled, but putrefied. This causes him an excess of emotional feeling:

"This circumstance occasioned me great disquietude; for, connecting it with the disorder of mind I experienced upon awakening, I began to suppose that I must have slept for an inordinately long period of time. The close atmosphere of the hold might have had something to do with this, and might, in the end, be productive of the most serious results. My head ached excessively; I fancied that I drew every breath with difficulty; and, in short, I was oppressed with a multitude of gloomy feelings. Still I could not venture to make any disturbance by opening the trap or otherwise, and, having wound up the watch, contented myself as well as possible."

And then there's Tiger:

"I was bewildered, utterly lost in amazement--but I could not forget the peculiar whine of my Newfoundland dog Tiger, and the odd manner of his caresses I well knew. It was he. I experienced a sudden rush of blood to my temples--a giddy and overpowering sense of deliverance and reanimation. I rose hurriedly from the mattress upon which I had been lying, and, throwing myself upon the neck of my faithful follower and friend, relieved the long oppression of my bosom in a flood of the most passionate tears."

Tiger serves a multitude of purposes. Redemption: perhaps Poe had no other way to deliver the scene. He couldn't very well have the narrator crying on Augustus's shoulder, and even less so on the shoulder of a random seaman. Pym's redemption is emotional, but not physical; his condition worsens as time passes. Messenger: Tiger has a note tied to his body, with which Pym fumbles about for a good part of the chapter. Destroyer: First, Tiger is a destroyer of the material, when he eats the food and candles and drinks the water. Strangely, he finds the pieces of the note and brings them to Pym, only to attack him later, when Pym is physically desperate for water. Perhaps this is tied into domesticity. Here in the midst of a domestic scene is nature gone mad.

More on this later. Long enough post for the moment.

Why I am writing about Poe, not Lovecraft.

It occurred to me last week, after my two missives, that I titled this blog "Notes on H.P. Lovecraft" then launched into Poe. The reason behind that, as any Call of Cthulhu gamer will tell you, is that the Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym is central to the campaign Beyond the Mountains of Madness, said campaign being the sequel to the Lovecraft story "At the Mountains of Madness."

I am quickly seeing what Poe scholars find so important about Poe. Stay away from "The Black Cat" and its ilk, and get to this, "William Wilson," and the like.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Chapter II

"In no affairs of mere prejudice,
pro or con, do we deduce inferences with entire certainty, even from the most
simple data."

And with this statement, Poe/Pym opens a chapter that is ostensibly about the narrator's deceit of his family in arranging a trip on a whaler, but is in fact about the writer's questionable trust in his own word. A writer of fiction, blurring reality in order to create some sense of truth, and having to observe reality closely in order to create verisimilitude, understandably gets a subjective sense about objectivity. The writer cannot "deduce inferences with entire certainty" because there are so many bloody inferences to deduce. The writing of fiction opens one's mind to innumerable possibilities in the simplest things--a lone tennis shoe on the side of a busy road, for instance. What does one do with objectivity in the face of such possibility?

"
I have since frequently examined my conduct on this occasion with
sentiments of displeasure as well as of surprise."


Another dividing of the autobiographical self. Now Poe the writer, through Poe the editor who takes the voice of Pym the narrator, examines the self that does not exist, standing apart from a created self momentarily, and feeling displeasure and surprise at what he sees in his actions and motivations.

Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

In reading the preface to this work, I was struck at how Poe sets out the writer's dilemma between fiction and nonfiction, and how those relate to narrative, especially autobiographical narrative. In just these few paragraphs, Poe hits all the key points.

"One consideration which deterred me was, that, having kept no journal during a greater portion of the time in which I was absent, I feared I should not be able to write, from mere memory, a statement so minute and connected as to have the appearance of that truth it would really possess, barring only the natural and unavoidable exaggeration to which all of us are prone when detailing events which have had powerful influence in exciting the imaginative faculties."

Autobiography cannot have a direct relationship to the truth; fiction has a variable relationship to the truth. The truth has a variable relationship with reality, and reality has a variable relationship with that which is casually verifiable. The basis for autobiography is thus questionable at best. The narrator Pym acknowledges this because he has no journal of his trip; this journal would be suspect, of course, because it would be colored by his perceptions, but it would have been better than nothing. Pym is concerned about the appearance of truth, not the actual truth. This doesn't mean that he wants to lie, it just means that he recognizes that verisimilitude is the best a writer can hope for.

The project of setting out an item as a work of nonfiction, when it is clearly fictional, is a difficult task.

"
Another reason was, that the incidents to be narrated were of a nature so positively marvellous, that, unsupported as my assertions must necessarily be (except by the evidence of a single individual, and he a half-breed Indian), I could only hope for belief among my family, and those of my friends who have had reason, through life, to put faith in my veracity-- the probability being that the public at large would regard what I should put forth as merely an impudent and ingenious fiction."

Talk about lacing up the shoe a little tighter. Not only is there no reliable external evidence, the only other witness is someone whose testimony is automatically suspect. Interestingly, the fact that the events are "marvellous" dovetails with the instability of the "half-breed Indian" as witness. Instead of making the events less marvelous, the Indian's testimony would make them even more so.

"
A distrust in my own abilities as a writer was, nevertheless, one of the principal causes which prevented me from complying with the suggestion of my advisers."

This is almost an offhand dismissal. It's a convention of the time, yes, the I'm-not-worthy of its period, but the fact that it comes after the other two is key. It becomes a minimal concern because of its context. What amazing skill Poe had.

"
Among those gentlemen in Virginia who expressed the greatest interest in my statement, more particularly in regard to that portion of it which related to the Antarctic Ocean, was Mr. Poe, lately editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, a monthly magazine, published by Mr. Thomas W. White, in the city of Richmond. He strongly advised me, among others, to prepare at once a full account of what I had seen and undergone, and trust to the shrewdness and common sense of the public- insisting, with great plausibility, that however roughly, as regards mere authorship, my book should be got up, its very uncouthness, if there were any, would give it all the better chance of being received as truth."

And here we have the dual autobiographical self: The one being created in the text, and the one doing the writing. Except that Pym now has three selves. There's Pym the invented author; Poe, the editor of the SLM; and Poe, the actual writer of the text. Brilliant. The remark about the MS's uncouthness is part of the writerly self-dismissal.

"
He afterward proposed (finding that I would not stir in the matter) that I should allow him to draw up, in his own words, a narrative of the earlier portion of my adventures, from facts afforded by myself, publishing it in the Southern Messenger under the garb of fiction. To this, perceiving no objection, I consented, stipulating only that my real name should be retained. Two numbers of the pretended fiction appeared, consequently, in the Messenger for January and February, (1837), and, in order that it might certainly be regarded as fiction, the name of Mr. Poe was affixed to the articles in the table of contents of the magazine."

Even more complications. Poe leavens the relationships of the three men with internal disbelief and distrust, the beloved's resistance from the romance novel, and the concealment of identity for the sake of revelation of the truth. "The pretended fiction"--now Poe's really hitting his stride in the creation of this façade. Poe the editor--who is as much a construct as any of us are when we hold paid work--affixes his name to a work that he the writer created under the guise of the fictional author Pym. Death of the author, indeed. It happened long before they thought.

"...
and several letters were sent to Mr. P.'s address, distinctly expressing a conviction to the contrary."

One must wonder, of course, if the letters were real as in actually on paper, and if Poe wrote any or all of them himself. Poe the editor, who exists only temporarily, now in the guise of yet more writers who don't exist. Hell, no wonder Poe drank, with such a fluid sense of identity.

"
This expose being made, it will be seen at once how much of what follows I claim to be my own writing; and it will also be understood that no fact is misrepresented in the first few pages which were written by Mr. Poe. Even to those readers who have not seen the Messenger, it will be unnecessary to point out where his portion ends and my own commences; the difference in point of style will be readily perceived."

Yet it is an exposé of nothing. No one has been revealed. The fact that Poe admits to having written the early parts of the Narrative doesn't admit anything. That Poe doesn't exist and the text is still a fiction.

What'll be interesting is to examine the Narrative for this stylistic break that the Pym-narrator claims is there.