Outsider's Outsiders, and Leonora Carrington

Should an artist choose one art form and stick with it exclusively? 

I've heard dozens of pros and cons on all sides of this argument, and I still haven't made up my mind...which is, I suppose, a way of making up one's mind. 

Having more than one primary art form-- fiction and painting, say, or screenwriting and dance-- is liberating, but even aside from questions of divided effort, it's also the source of an odd sense of personal discomfort. Are you really a writer? Or a painter? Or neither, since you won't choose? In a world that is geared very tightly toward hyperspecialization, where do the unrecalcitrant multitalented people go?

Outside, usually. While the sense of outsiderhood is certainly imposed by cultural norms, it's also intrinsic to the situation; on a very basic level, the need to navigate a very diverse set of social and professional circles leads to a certain degree of personal discomfort. Differences between functional groups-- the artists' coop down the street, or the poetry peer critique that meets at the bookshop-- aren't all superficial. Different groups value different approaches, different methodology, different mindsets, and the artist with multiple career paths will find it difficult to switch personas often enough to truly satisfy any core in-group.

They remain outsiders, even from groups of outsiders.

In honor, then, I've found a few selections from the diverse and many-headed Leonora Carrington, definitely an outsider's outsider.

"Ab Ao Quod" 1956

"Who Art Thou, White Face?" 1959

Here's one of Carrington's short stories, "The Beloved.". You can find it here at Biblioklept, along with "The Debutante" which I just studied in a Hugo House class with Erin Gilbert. Both of these stories have strong women's themes; both are brutal and lovely.

“The Beloved” by Leonora Carrington
ONE LATE afternoon, passing through a narrow street, I stole a melon. The fruit man who was hidden behind his fruits seized me by the arm and said to me: “Señorita, I’ve been waiting for an occasion like this for forty years. I have spent forty years hidden behind this pile of oranges with the hope that someone would steal a fruit from me. I will tell you why; I need to talk, I need to tell my story. If you don’t listen, I will hand you over to the police.”
“I’ll listen,’ I said. Without letting me go, he took me to the inside of the store, among fruits
Without letting me go, he took me to the inside of the store, among fruits and vegetables. We shut a door at the far end, and we reached a room where there was a bed on which an immovable and probably dead woman lay. It appeared to me that she had been there for a long time since the bed was covered with weeds.
“I water her every day,” said the fruitman with a pensive air. “In 40 years I have not succeeded in knowing whether she is dead or not. She has never moved, nor spoken, nor eaten during that time. But the curious thing is that she remains warm. If you don’t believe me, look.”
The man lifted a corner of the cover, which permitted me to see many eggs and some little chicks recently hatched.
“As you notice,” he said, “I incubate eggs here. I also sell fresh eggs.”
We each sat down on one side of the bed and the fruit man began to tell his story.
“Believe me; I love her so much! I have always loved her! She was so sweet! She had little agile white feet. Would you like to see them?”
“No,” I answered.
“Finally,” he continued, after exhaling a deep breath, “she was so beautiful! My hair was blonde; hers, magnificently black! Now, both of us have white hair. Her father was an extraordinary man. He had a mansion in the country. He was a collector of lamb chops. For that we came to know each other. I have a certain skill in drying meat with a glance. Mr. Pushfoot (so he was called) heard about me. He invited me to his house in order to dry his ribs to keep them from rotting. Agnes was his daughter. We loved each other from the first moment. We departed in a boat by way of the Seine. I rowed. Agnes said to me: ‘I love you so much that I only live for you.’ I answered her with the same words. I believe that it is my love which keeps her warm, perhaps she is dead, but the warmth persists.”
After a short pause, with an absent look, he continued: “Next year I will grow some tomatoes; it wouldn’t surprise me if they would grow well there inside … It became night, and I didn’t know where we would spend our wedding night. Agnes had become very pale, because of fatigue. Finally we had scarcely left Paris behind when I saw an inn that faced the river. I moored the boat and we walked toward an obscure and sinister terrace. There were two wolves there and a fox, who began to walk around us. There was nobody else … I knocked and knocked at the door, on the other side of which a terrible silence prevailed. ‘Agnes is tired! Agnes is very tired!’ I shouted with as much force as I could. Finally, an old lady’s head appeared at the window and said: ‘I don’t know anything. The landlord here is the fox. Let me sleep. You are bothering me.’ Agnes began to cry. There was no other remedy than to direct ourselves to the fox. ‘Have you beds?’ I asked several times. Nobody responded: he didn’t know how to speak. And again the head, older than the other, but which now descended slowly through the window tied to the end of a little cord. ‘Direct yourself to the wolves; I am not the landlord here. Let me sleep! please!’ I understood that that head was crazy and I did not have the heart to continue. Agnes kept crying. I walked around the house a few times and finally, I was able to open a window, through which we entered. Then we found ourselves in a kitchen with a high ceiling; over a large oven made hot by fire were some vegetables that were cooking and they jumped in the boiling water, a thing that much amused us. We ate well and then we laid ourselves down on the floor. I had Agnes in my arms. We did not sleep. That terrible kitchen contained all kinds of things. Many rats had stuck their heads out of their holes and then sang with screeching and disagreeable little voices. Filthy odors expanded and diminished one after the other, and there were air drafts. I believe that it was the air drafts that finished my poor Agnes. She never recovered. From that day, each time she spoke less . . .”
And the fruitman was so blinded by tears that I could escape with my melon.
* * *

"The Burning of Giordano Bruno" 1964

"The Giantess" 1947

Gene Wolfe

Did you know that Gene Wolfe was an industrial engineer who helped design the machine that makes Pringles potato chips? He's also one of my favorite authors, even though I am not particularly fond of potato chips.

I've read quite a bit of his work-- short fiction, long fiction, series, etc., even some poetry-- but not all of it. At the recommendation of a friend, I'm currently reading Peace. It's reminding me a bit of the Wizard Knight series, maybe, at least in its frame. Gene Wolfe likes using the frame tale as a device, and he's very good at it.

[*Edit: Oh wow...I finished Peace last night and immediately started rereading it. What a book. It wasn't at all what I thought it was going to be; in fact, I'm not sure what it is at all, aside from very good and very very unsettling.]

Here are a few images I've found.

These three are all by Bruce Pennington (top to bottom: Citidel of the Autarch, Shadow of the Torturer, and Claw of the Conciliator.) I found them in an article on Black Gate, an excellent magazine and general speculative fiction/art website.

This is Richard Bober's 1994 cover for the Tor release of Calde of the Long Sun.

Gene Wolfe also writes a bit of poetry, one of which won a Rhysling Award in 1978. It's called "A Computer Iterates the Greater Trumps" and can be found in Alchemy of Stars, an anthology of Rhysling winners. Here's part of it....

Trump (20)
The L6a6s6t Judgement, and my creed betrays,
Unlearnt foreknowledge of these coming days.
The angels come to smite the sea and land,
The anti-Christ for us-- and slays.
Trump (19)
The Sun the dancing children love,
Casts down this radiance from above.
Fusion, fission, no remission;
So small a house, so large a stove....

Now this is interesting: Chaosium, Inc. has released an rpg called The Chronicles of Future Earth, written by Sarah Newton and based largely on Wolfe's Urth. I have no idea what to say about the rpg itself-- I've never played it-- but it has some interesting maps. Here's another article at Akratic Wizardry and a review

This is my favorite cover image for Shadow of the Torturer. It was done by Don Maitz for the original Simon & Schuster edition of 1980. 

Wiki gods say, "...The Shadow of the Torturer won the annual World Fantasy Award and British Science Fiction Association Award as the year's best novel. Among other annual awards for fantasy or science fiction novels, it placed second for the Locus (fantasy), third for the Campbell Memorial (SF), and was a finalist for the Nebula...."

Wolfe's fiction has received quite a lot of critical attention, from within the genre world and from the literary world at large. In one particularly good review, "Mapping a Masterwork" by Peter Wright at Ultan's Library, The Book of the New Sun is compared to James Joyce's Ulysses:

It could be argued that The Book of the New Sun is science fiction’s Ulysses. Like James Joyce, Wolfe has ‘put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep professors busy for centuries over what I meant, and that’s the only way of ensuring one’s immortality.’ 13 However, to do so would be to deny Wolfe’s determination to wed the reading process with his particular conception of existence through his games playing. From his other fiction, it apparent that Wolfe perceives the world as an ambiguous round of perceptions and misperceptions in which the individual struggles, and ultimately fails, to apprehend the precise nature of existence.

 The three images above of from Japanese editions; artwork is by Takeshi Obata.

Artist Richard Vass did this cover for the Hungarian Delta Vision edition.

Of Song and Story

Recently-- and by 'recently' I mean in the last few decades-- the trend in popular music has veered away from using the narrative mode. Listen to almost any genre station you like and take a count; the percent of songs that tell stories is quite low.

Most of songs that get airtime are focused on how rotten or happy somebody feels, how badly they want this or that or the other thing, and so on. That's primarily the lyric mode, and it gets a little tedious. 

I find myself craving story. And of course, I like science fiction and fantasy stories.

Uriah Heep's "Traveller in Time" from the 1972 release, Demons & Wizards. In a decade when narrative  fantasy and scif-themed songs were enjoying a small resurgence, Uriah Heep was one of the most prolific producers.

Robots! Rock opera! Styx!

America is another 70's band that was somewhat prone to lapsing into narrative mode. This song is from the movie, The Last Unicorn, which much impressed seven-year-old me. 

In 1970, Led Zeppelin gave us the original Viking rock song. (Well, probably not the original, since the Vikings presumably had plenty of their own rock songs...Beowulf, for one.)

Another classic, "Children of the Sun" by Australian Billy Thorpe

And one more scifi tune from Bill Nelson, "Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus."