Saturday, March 5, 2016

The post-irony reality where a conscious embrasure of sensation overtakes disaffection; Post-post-modernism. That's what I'm talking about.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Day Napoleon Shagnon Shook My Hand - A Fable

We all must, with an implicitly mournful impulse, look back on certain pivotal moments of our lives with deep-felt sensations of regret. Not the pangful regret of something left partially undone, the regret of a faded early love or of the parking lot that has lately supplanted the fruit orchard next door – I refer instead to that acutely piercing regret (laden with exquisitely-caustic guilt) of a moment when we truly and completely fucked up. I will, here, attempt to describe one of the few moments in my life I remember with active, imperial shame. I do this partly to purge my conscience, but mostly I desire to provide a universally useful example of the unintended, unmeant failures we all endure from time to time.

I graduated from high school in 2002, with no definite post-ed plans beyond wanting to be a writer. That summer I decided I'd attend the local community college (Northwestern Michigan) for a few probing semesters, take a few english & maths classes, orient myself & maybe (finally) get down to writing the book I kept starting & aborting, with different titles & different casts of characters each time. Later in the summer, during a trip to Florida, I suffered a nervous breakdown, resulting in several years of disoriented mental & physical health, with spotty periods of near-invalidism. It sucked. Already on a variety of mood-stabilizers, my medication quotient went through the roof. This made me increasingly lethargic, disturbed my sleep routine, & (once my eating patterns stabilized) accelerated my weight-gain. In the midst of this psychic imbroglio I was still determined to go to NMC, & took reduced courseloads, eventually fighting through my inner cacodaemons & going off to Knox College to earn my Bachelors. However, it was during my tenure at NMC that I endured the intense, pitiful failure I seek to relate. In summary: I fell asleep during an hour-long presentation & Q&A hosted by Napoleon Shagnon.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with this remarkable (& somewhat controversial) man, Dr. Shagnon is an anthropologist of innumerable accomplishments, not the least of which involve his extensive empathic fieldwork amongst the Yąnomamö Indians of Brazil. I'd decided to take an anthropology course out of curiosity, & much of the curriculum involved watching battered VHS tapes chronicling Shagnon's time amongst these indigenous people, who remain highly threatened by the incursions of modernity. I was entranced at the way he melded himself (& his film crew, astonishingly) into this deeply isolate, antipodean culture, with no concept of Western society or technology; at the very least, Shagnon's bravery is staggering. He knows the language of the tribe, knows their structures and mythologies, & conducts himself with a tangible human respect, displaying awesome elasticity in his adoption of a completely foreign episteme. Ultimately his work served to humanize an entire society of supposed 'savages,' raised worldwide awareness of the Amazonian logging crisis, & provided the study-materia for generations of students. He is, in short, a human being of astonishing accomplishments; &, when our professor announced that Dr. Shagnon had retired to the Traverse City region & would be willing to come in and conduct a talk, I was floored.

Now, this was not a class possessed of a fiery interest in the topic. We're talking Anthro 101, the bare dust-caked bones. Most of the students were taking it in order to satisfy a requirement. I responded to the news with intense enthusiasm, & determined I would try to maintain an active dialogue during Shagnon's talk. At this point the event was still a few weeks away; in the interim, I had a sudden resurgence of health-related paranoia, resulting in general anxiety & sleeplessness. Even when getting a good night's sleep, it was sometimes tough for me to stay awake during the day (I didn't contextualize my constant exhaustion as a result of the pills until much later). However, all the excuses in the world can't atone for the fact that, when the day of the talk arrived, I was preternaturally dead on my feet, my brain numb & fogged. I drove to the college, got into the classroom, plunked myself down & promptly lost myself to a persistent miasma. Napoleon Shagnon entered, looking hunched, gray & intent; I perceived a carefully-controlled bitterness underlying his character as he proceeded to lecture to a group of openly bored teenagers. I hoved in & out of consciousness, my head sometimes lolling backward insolently, unwittingly; I was horrified at my inability to stay awake, to focus on his words, the basic gist of which I can't even remotely recall. I do recall a few snippets from the subsequent tortuous question-&-answer session: prodded on by our professor, the students lackadaisically lobbed a few remedial queries, Dr. Shagnon's eyes flaring as he patiently answered questions already abundantly addressed in his videos, of which the class displayed a noted ignorance. I tried to participate, but can't vouch for my own coherence; the entire experience is a shameful, inchoate blear. After class I caught up with Dr. Shagnon in the parking lot & thanked him very sincerely & guiltily for coming to give the talk. He accepted my thanks & shook my hand, though I imagine he was somewhat puzzled at such profuse gratitude erupting from the nodding moron in the back corner. I went home, collapsed, slept.

The years have come & gone, a myriad of experiences have washed over me, yet I find myself inextricably drawn back to this one great failing. To be incapable of staying awake during a speech by a man you respect made me feel like a traitor, gave me fears of self-falsehood. I've since digested fully what occurred, have forgiven myself microscopically, yet occasionally the macroscopic specter of regret steals up on me, & I'm forced to face-palm at myself. Thankfully, Dr. Shagnon is yet alive, & potentially living in the Traverse City area; perhaps I still have a chance to apologize to him in person. Though I know (or at least hope) he hasn't thought of me once since that day.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Mask of Tamrel - Now FREE on Amazon!

Happy to announce that my dark-fantasy novel The Mask of Tamrel is now (finally!) available on Amazon for absolutely FREE. Follow the link below to download a copy, please share & review, & have a very very Happy New Year!

Get THE MASK OF TAMREL for Free on Amazon!

All Light in Winter Darkness,

~Scott C

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Way I Feel........

                                                   (Austin Osman Spare)


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hurl the Weaklings to the Fire! - A breakdown of thoughts on H.P. Lovecraft: A Biography

Okay, so I've been putting off talking about it directly. My reasons? It involves a complicated web of self-examination to discuss the topic, I suspect. The topic? L. Sprague De Camp's rather infamous biography of HP Lovecraft.

Not that it's a bad bio. Written back in the mid-70s, it was a sufficiently scholarly work to make the academics take notice, & is credited with finalizing Lovecraft's ascent to his portenteous position as the 20th century's 'Master o' the Macabre'. It's a pretty thick whomping volume, too; I got ahold of the slightly expurgated paperback version, which excludes 13,000 words of L. Sprague's sprawling (yet strangely unsympathetic) prose-narration of Lovecraft's life.

It's fascinating to watch L. Sprague berate Lovecraft across time and space, bellowing at him like some fulvous-hued gym coach. There are biggish chunks of the book where he breaks into open stigmatization, scolding Lovecraft for not attending to his craft in a properly professional manner, mocking his self-taught typing style, & getting all pissy at the dissolution of his marriage (the tongue clucking is nigh-audible). De Camp writes with a craftman's eye, yet seems to have little sympathy for making actual art & the eccentricities it can entail; his summarization of Lovecraft's work is that he produced a decent lump of 'entertainment' (his exact word), & that he could have produced a whole lot more 'entertainment' if he'd manned up, eaten more red meat, & transcended his constant crushing sense of self-doubt (this last, at least, I can agree with). Sprague writes like a hyper-actualized, accultured, heterosexual white male in full possession of his so-called faculties; never dogged by spurts of psychoses, always able to go to bed & rise at a decent hour, & just damn sick of all these crybabies whining on when they should be story-bombing every available publisher, invincible ego primed to absorb any and all rejections.

While I agree that ego transformation is important, & that the artist must be capable of opening themselves to rejection in order to 'make it'/deliver their work into the hands of their readers, I certainly wouldn't classify a hyper-sensitive visionary with rejection issues as anything less of an artist on account of his querulous tuning. Lovecraft was indeed a visionary; L. Sprague was a respected writer of many things, most notably sword n' sorcery yarns distending from Robert E. Howard. He was possessed of the ability to move in highly normative circles, & confesses at the beginning of the bio that he feels singularly qualified to write about Lovecraft due to his subject's alien nature contrasting sharply with his own. Herein lies the boundary between writing-as-craft & writing-as-art; De Camp frequently reiterates his disgust that Lovecraft should EVER think of himself as special, or better/different (the terms seem interchangeable) than other people, in any way. To him, writing is ultimately like spinning wool, with small consideration for Beauty or shamanic 'nonsense,' & certainly conferring no right to sacred exaltation. Conversely, to Lovecraft writing was an invocation, in which he strove to personify abstract extradimensional impressions, symbols, & arcane revelations seemingly received via atavistic astral/dreamtime states, psyche all-the-while in violent revolt against the norms of his age. Couple this to HP's insistence on being a cogwork rational materialist in waking life, & one wonders how he managed to stay sane at all.

In short, De Camp is just too damn normal to write a bio of Lovecraft (LeGuin says something similar to this in her review of the biography), & I'm glad to see that there's a more respected contemporary bio written by S.T. Joshi. And was a good book. I learned a lot from it, & had my first extended glimpses into Lovecraft's voluminous correspondence; it also allowed me to juxtapose two very antipodal creative personalities (biographer & biographee). I'd recommend Lovecraft: A Biography overall, though I'll confess I'm not feeling very compelled to branch out into De Camp's fiction. A man so insistent on marginalizing relative artistic value can't have a whole lot to say. Some of the garbage he spews is frustratingly prosaic - really, there's 'no such thing as good or bad art, it's all subjective'? Piffle. Dismissing high art on the premise that 'it's all high art to somebody' is lazy, callous, & self-suppressive thinking. I refuse to believe there's no difference between Shakespeare and Duck Dynasty, so out the window that reasoning goes.

In conclusion, I must acknowledge that Lovecraft was very (frustratingly) self-defeating. He reacted to the merest hint of rejection with paroxysms of innermost doubt, resulting in his writing tapering off towards the end of his life. De Camp is right to address these traits, and fully justified in using them as red-flag examples for other writers, though the reader wonders at the very personal wording he chooses at times. This highlights the quixotic modern mass fascination with Lovecraft: many of those who profess to have been inspired by HP wax long about how they hate his writing style, abhor his racism, & think of him as having more psychological than artistic value. Yet all of them are caught up in his universe, battling his monsters, invoking his gods, & crying out at the black uncaring abyss he postulated. Lovecraft accessed something far beyond mere 'entertainment;' he gave the 20th century a new-birthed pantheon. For that, for everything (especially his vestigial passion for tricorne hats & periwigs), I forgive him his myriad faults. Hopefully someone will similarly forgive me one day.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Final Revision of an Earlier bit of Draughtsmanship....

The Accomplice

The sparrow and the nightingale
- I am their ally.

Feather-friend to the crow &
the raven, to all carrion-feasters of the wing -
Kin to the owl bearing blessed night
on the tide of its wings -
I am brother to the songbird,
to the screech and sonar-silence of gloaming,
to the holy rite of kill and consumption,
to the mournful cry & low piping air of the loon.

(In short)

I am the accomplice of all-hallowed night,
Though the cock's crowing does not set me to flight.

Copyright Scott J. Couturier 2015

Friday, December 11, 2015

At Home With The Dead: The Dream-Quest for Definitive Obscurity

Greetings all. Up semi-bright (quite overcast outside, actually) and quasi-early, primarily due to joint pain I suspect is connected with the mutational weather. There's no snow (yet), & Northern Michigan is doing that decidedly un-charming brown thing, overset with short, pinched days of perpetual gray. Very big change from the bright burning sun of the desert, though ironically the weather is just as warm.

I've spent the last several hours combing the Internet for all things Weird Fiction, Lovecraftian & otherwise. As always, the sheer colossal (one could even say Cyclopean) breadth of information, blogs, magazines, & websites swamps my psyche. I feel lost in a vast, bustling, whispering maze of like-minded beings, incapable of getting a foothold or starting a seminal dialogue, awed & intimidated by the infrastructure of a vein of literature I didn't even know existed until a mere half-decade ago. It seems strange to me that the work of Lovecraft (hoary, phantasmagoric, occultish, obtuse, heavy, wet) has inspired such a vast, mainstream response; a testament to the truly primordial & extradimensional powers he contacted & named. There are Cthulhu collectibles of every sort (though I note no one seems preoccupied with endless reiterative depictions of Hastur or Nodens of the Great Abyss), endless collections & magazines dedicated to 'Weird' fiction (many make explicit the need to deal with Lovecraftian thematics), & message boards & Facebook groups aplenty, where the enthusiastic & truly dedicated can conjoin, ramble, & wax philosophic. Indeed, I find one of the key elements excluding me from deeper interactions is my relative newness to the genre o' the Weird (though my brain has been hardwired to its cosmic sensibilities from birth). I've only just finished reading the main bulk of Lovecraft (still have The Horror in the Museum to explore), & have only read the Hyperborea collection by Clark Ashton Smith (I'm ravenous for more, but his books are rare, flighty specimens. Gonna hafta order off of Amazon, methinks). Of Robert E. Howard I have little direct experience (I've got the majority of his fiction in book form, & plan to start my muscle-bound, leather-scented journey soon), and of course that's just scratching the surface. My partner has been reading C.L. Moore & freaking out over her. Just found a collection of M.R. James's ghost stories the other day. Algernon Blackwood & Arthur Machen remain unplumbed. Then there's Kuttner, Merritt, Chambers, Bierce, Long, William Hope Hodgson, etc etc etc. This bevy of still-unread supernal fiction is simultaneously overwhelming & a comfort.

So, just how does an aspiring reverer of strange & subconscious visions, an acolyte of the putrid, dripping eidolon of unwholesome revelation, figure out just where the heck he fits in a teeming world of billions of babbling souls? It's a tricky thornbush of a question. Lovecraft certainly never figured it out while materially incarnate, & most of his contemporaries have sunk to abysms far deeper than the crushing blackness entombing antique R'lyeh. I'm thinking an excellent place to start would be to polish off some of the short stories I've been developing & get them submitted to the myriad of weird/genre publications that proliferate across the Internet, but I still feel I'm missing some primal, obvious aspect to this whole mass-community business. I'm not a very good fanboy; I love desperately that which I love, but not in a sterile, preserved-under-glass way. Most of the communities I stumble across seem to be folk heatedly debating aspects of the Mythos, 'geeking,' or showing off their own work with excessive force (how do creative exchanges happen these days, with all the swollen-ego swaggering?). I read about Lovecraft & Company, & marvel at the complete lack of irony they expressed. Now, it seems the writer has to tailor themselves to excessive niche markets; there are boundaries to Weird fiction, & an entire over-ripe ethos permeating the genre's contemporary manifestation. Reading at the flurry of letters exchanged by the pioneers of the Weird, it quickly becomes clear that they were not caught up in self-abstraction, or more concerned about their market that their creative output. They were, collectively, advanced dredgers of the subconscious, sublimating their transcendent dream-quests into concrete, wildly vivid expressions. It was a movement, a renaissance of pulp sensationalism wedded to deep powers and dark catacombs of the self; one can readily draw comparisons to Chaos Magic, & the self-constructed occult systems of Austin Osman Spare (was delighted to discover that Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith actually discussed Spare's work, & exchanged prints of his paintings).

In short, I find myself in awe of (& primarily spending my time with) the dead instead of the living. This suits me fine; I'm atavistically drawn to atavism, & have had little luck finding modern writers capable of surrendering to vision over self-awareness. However, I've also barely plumbed the inky depths of modern Weird fiction, & acknowledge that my supreme out-of-stepness may be a simple manifestation of technophobia & uncharitable disillusion. The only solution I've been able to manifest is to Keep Working: ultimately recognition & compensation are tertiary to the making of a thing, but I would love to find some fellow voyagers on the wide, beatific river Oukranos.