On The Road Again: Piddling, Goofing, Gabbing, and Reading…

I’ll admit: I’m not missing the heat, the city, or anything else at the moment; yet, I’m over at a buddies home here in Cody, Wyoming sipping Southern Comfort and some good black coffee this morning and roped him into letting me use his comp for a second. Dam! Been fly fishing, wandering, poking my head in and out of my old stomps, gabbing with old friends, and generally piddling and goofing around doing absolutely nothing but soaking up the nice weather and streams and mountains and animals and people; and at night in those wee hours between bouts of whiskey, beer, and listening to my Lady and her friends gab, I’ve been reading and thinking – as usual. Brought along some pleasurable reading this time to while away those in-between’s.

Caitlin R. Kiernan. Been gnawing on her two volumes of collected short stories: Two Worlds and In Between, and Beneath an Oil-Dark Sea. I’m barely into the first book but already those worlds she knows so well pop up with her early loves Jimmy DeSade and Salmugundi. Just the two stories connected to those characters were worth the ticket to this horror fest. What I enjoy about her style and approach is the sense of entering into each story as if it were a battlefield. I’ll rephrase that: She writes like someone who has suffered the darkness she’s exposing, not literally but rather in that figurative mode of nightmare we all live through in this life. She’s been there and back under the white flag of sheer stubbornness and intent, speaking from within hostile worlds like a person who has entered the very maw of hell (our own world seen from that deformed eye of the pure storyteller) and survived; and, not only survived but retrieved the memory tapes and interviews of its most direful inhabitants. I want say anymore. It’s hot and raw, not for the squeamish. A festival of gore and tribute to the grotesque and macabre amalgam of Poe’s gothic tombs, and all those myriad of tribesmen of the art of darkness…

Donald Ray Pollock. Knockemstiff and The Devil All The Time. Reading Pollock is not for the feint of heart either. As he tells us of the second of these works in a recent interview on Chuck Palahinuk’s site: The Devil All the Time is not a children’s book!  In fact, I’d be leery of recommending it to many adults.  The book is dark, and let’s face it, many people don’t like that type of stuff.  They want a story that will help them forget the real darkness around them, and you really can’t blame them.  It is set in the Midwest–mostly in Ohio and West Virginia from the end of World War Two to 1966–and is about good and evil and the gray, blurry line that often runs in-between those two absolutes.  The cast of characters includes a serial killer husband-and-wife team, a corrupt lawman, insane preachers, and a decent young man named Arvin Eugene Russell. I’m sure some readers are going to think I went a little too far with the grittiness and horror, but that’s the world I came up with. What he writes he tells us is “Gothic hillbilly noir,” a twisted blend of Southern Ohio, Indiana, and Virginia where he’s lived most of his natural born life. Much the same age as myself I wasn’t really shocked to see what kind of monstrous beings he was able to dredge up from that guttersnipe world of hate, bigotry, misogyny, misanthropic perversity, and downright disgusting backwoods country yodel lickspittle world. What I was surprised was with the unique vision that one might term a depressed realism — what Colin Feltham remarks in Whose Keeping Ourselves in the Dark “calls the end of the road“. Pollock mounts a freewheeling inquiry into the myriad superstitions, illusions, maladies, and derangements that bedevil us, rejecting the rose-tinted clichés and niceties on all fronts, while inveigling us with his pessimist’s street-level reporting. A world where “Every glass is empty, and there is nothing to be done”. The stories by Pollock are about the worldpain of the lost and forgotten, the blind, the maimed, the ignorant, the unblessed souls on the edge of hell’s borderlands: those abandoned inscapes of the American geography where souls bleed out in slime tidepools of racism, hate, cannibalism, murder, mayhem, perversity, rape, and absolute bleakness without any sense of redemption — Reading these stories is like entering the maw, unriddling the dark underbelly of every last scatological crazed thought you ever had about the U.S.A.. Pollock’s world is the bleak realms writ large and with an eye that doesn’t blink, but shows you the vicious truth of a world without hope where the dammed have resigned themselves to their self-imposed prison of corruption and utter futility. This is the realm where the condemned are condemned to nothing and no one but the eternal round their own self-inflicted traumas in a place called Knockemstiff, Ohio (not to be confused with the actual town of that name), a town constructed out of some hinterland of the dark psyche where psychos and sociopaths run amok in the holler of America’s darkest corners. A place just this side of hell…

Frederick C. Beiser, Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900. This was the last book I brought with me. Yea, I know, light reading matter… huh! Okay, been eyeing this work for a couple of months. It covers all those pessimists of the German aftermath of Schopenhauer: Eduard von Hartmann, Philipp Mainlӓnder, Julius Bahnsen, Agnes Taubert and Olga Plümacher. After having recently reread Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy against the Human Race I was ready to dig a little deeper into that world which seems to fit my own disposition to a tee of late. What I’ve discovered is surprisingly how pervasive an impact Schopenhauer had on the last half of the 19th Century. Even the Positivists and Neo-Kantians were all affected by this giant rather than the usual well trod suspects of German Idealism which after 1850’s was a fairly dead topic. We’ve all been led to believe that Hegel and the other members of that Kantian aftermath from Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, and the Romantics Schiller and others were the big influence. But as Beiser suggests:

It was Schopenhauer who made the question of the value of life so central to German philosophy in the 19th century, and who shifted its interests away from the logic of the sciences [Neo-Kantians] and back towards the traditional problems of the meaning and value of life. Once we take into account Schopenhauer’s reorientation, the history of philosophy in the 19th century begins to look very different. Schopenhauer becomes central; Marx and the neo-Hegelians fade into the background; and though Nietzsche remains important, he proves to be still one player in a much larger drama, which includes many other pessimists and optimists.1 [my italics]

Bye! See you when I get back end of week…

  1. Beiser, Frederick C.. Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900 (Kindle Locations 428-432). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.



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