A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Notes from the Untergang

Noodling around on R.A.Lafferty (instead of working), TOF obtained the following:
"How is a person or a world unmade or unformed? First, by being deformed. And following the deforming is the collapsing. The tenuous balance is broken. Insanity is induced easily under the name of the higher sanity. Then the little candle that is in each head is blown out on the pretext that the great cosmic light can better be seen without it.

The persons and the worlds were never highly stable. A cross-member is removed here on the pretext of added freedom. Foundation blocks are taken away on the pretext of change. Supporting studs are pulled down on the pretext of new experience. And none of the entities had ever been supported more strongly than was necessary. What happens then? A man collapses, a town, a city, a nation, a world. And it is hardly noticed." -- R.A. Lafferty
That "little candle" sentence is priceless. The apparently anonymous sitemeister commented:
"That, to Lafferty, is how evil triumphs: it erases, it reduces, it boils down; it destroys intellect, individuality; it depersonalizes. The monsters it creates do not slaver and torture and rend flesh: they trade stock options and take three weeks in Bermuda and swap wives and starve the poor and blow up cities with jaunty gaiety..."
The Miracle of the Hyperlinks eventually led TOF to a blog whose keeper comments on Lafferty's Arrive at Easterwine with the complaint that "this novel just left me irritated and confused. And running to the dictionary every few moments..." (TOF is informed that Lafferty must be read not as Hemingway is read or Melville, but as James Joyce would be read had he written Roadrunner and Bugs Bunny cartoons.) The blogkeeper gives a list of "words that I had either never seen before or did not readily know the definition..." When Faithful Reader see the list, ye will understand why no link is provided, to save the embarrassment of it.

Tthe list has been shorn of its definitions. How many of them did you know right off your headtop? How many did you suspect from your prior knowledge of Latin or Greek?

  1. callow
  2. purlieu 
  3. aerie, aery, eyrie, eyry 
  4. tor 
  5. fulgent 
  6. urbane 
  7. fellah 
  8. poseur 
  9. aestivation 
  10. eutectic
  11. eidolon 
  12. chthonic 
  13. bilge 
  14. abscond 
  15. cloy 
  16. subtile 
  17. cybern 
  18. roue
  19. intramuros 
  20. intraficies 
  21. paean 
  22. palimpsest 
  23. gamy
  24. prescind 
  25. philology 
  26. numinosity 
  27. amnestic
  28. Faeroes 
  29. outre
  30. caul 
  31. gravid  
  32. quoit 
TOF scored 28, and could guess at two others.


  1. 25. I've seen prescind and subtile before, but can't quite remember the meanings; amnestic, cybern, eutectic, intraficies, intramuros are new to me, but I could make reasonable guesses at them, and I think their meanings would be deducible from their context.

  2. Three or four were distinctly strange, but I am struck by his (to me) odd response. First, obviously, all of these are strange words to him??? And he is reading Lafferty? Second, that their presence irritates him! I suppose that his aethetic (there's another one for him, perhaps) response to Lafferty is like mine to Joyce.

  3. 23 and can guess at most of the others—the only ones I didn't have a clue about were rouĂ©, aestivation, and quoit (gravid I knew meant "being heavy" though I wasn't sure of the context).

    A few of them I wasn't sure if I was remembering the spelling wrong, or if they were different words.

    Chthonic and eidolon I only know thanks to Lovecraft and D&D, respectively, though I suppose that's kinda how most people pick up their vocabularies (not from those two things specifically, but, you know what I mean).

    The most shocking ones were paean, philology, callow, aerie (etc.), or bilge.

  4. I guess I'm the least educated so far. I knew 21 without a doubt. 6 more I figured I could guess at and understand in context. That leaves 5 that puzzled. But, isn't learning new words one of the points of reading?

  5. The "anonymous sitemeister" is Eric Walker, according to the byline on his essay published in the first edition of Feast of Laughter, a semi-annual dedicated to Laff.

    The book-length magazines are available free as PDFs, but also as paperbacks from Amazon.

  6. Honestly, I could have given a correct definition of about half, a passable one for another quarter, and a guess for all but 3 or 4 of the last 6 or 8. What's more telling, to me - don't you *like* to learn new words from a master who uses them well? Isn't that one of the points of reading non-trivial stuff?

    I have read very little Lafferty. However, "Narrow Valley" has stuck in my mind for years. It takes a little crazy and a lot of something else to name characters Dr. Velikof Vonk, Arpad Arkabaranan, and Willy McGilly and pull it off.

  7. TOF admits to an unfair advantage regarding #32, as he grew up playing quoits.

  8. I got 13 right on and was in the ballpark on 4-5 others. (Thank you, Gene Wolfe!)

    I can't find a definition for intraficies anywhere... I'm guessing internal (intra) and fices (plural of Latin "fix") so "something that is attached to the inside"?

    1. I think Lafferty made it up. Superficies means 1. a surface of a body or a region of space. 2. the external aspects or appearance of a thing. So I suppose you're onto the thing here: the internal aspects of a thing.

  9. Basically the opposite of "interfaces," it sounds like. That makes sense.

  10. Could you provide a list of definitions for some of these? I've been plugging each one in to Google, but some definitions are unclear or (in the case of 'cybern' at least) don't even show up. Thanks for the list; I love learning new words!


  11. Frankly, once I'd found out the meaning of callow, I'd have been inclined to shut up about the rest, since it perfectly sums up the reason for the blogger's indignation.


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