This Week: Dark Reverie, Strange Beauty, Visionary Transformation

Des Lewis has encountered the epi-center of The Weird, Eric Basso’s hypnotic and immersive “The Beak Doctor,” which is moving over and through him like an endless mist from which objects and people assemble, accrete, and dissipate again…

This week on WFR, we are posting all of our content today, Monday, as we will be away for the US Thanksgiving holiday. Thus, an embarrassment of riches for you to explore, including fiction, nonfiction, and comics. Our specific focus is on Michel Bernanos’ “The Other Side of the Mountain.” We have on offer a short appreciation of “The Other Side…” by Jeffrey Ford, a longer examination by Edward Gauvin, and Gio Clairval’s essay that includes her thoughts on translating “The Other Side…” for The Weird compendium.  These pieces overlap to some extent but each has it’s own unique slant.

We are also happy to have a long essay by António Monteiro that serves as a general introduction to Jean Ray’s work, and some samples of his fiction. Finally, we’re running Jeffrey Thomas’s “The Fork,” originally published in the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology Leviathan 3. (Leah Thomas’ “Reading the Weird” returned this weekend with episode #4, “The Aleph.”

Next week and beyond, you can expect fiction from Kathe Koja, Steve Rasnic Tem, and Tanith Lee, appreciations of Amos Tutuola and Daphne du Maurier, essays by Reza Negarestani and Mark Valentine, the work of Sarban, and much more. We will return with more content on November 29, a Tuesday.

One aspect of the Bernanos and much other weird fiction is a sense of strange beauty even in the midst of horror or unease. This is an element that we will return to again and again here at WFR.com, and the following excerpt from our introduction to The Weird compendium seems like an appropriate companion to this week’s content…   

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[Out of The Weird can] come the strangely beautiful intertwined with terror. Reverie or epiphany, yes, but dark reverie or epiphany — not the lightness of “I wandered lonely as a cloud” but the weight of, for example, seminal early twentieth-century weird writer and artist Alfred Kubin’s sensation of being “overcome…by a dark power that conjured up before my mind strange creatures, houses, landscapes, grotesque and frightful situations.” The Weird can be transformative — sometimes literally — and it entertains monsters while not always see them as monstrous. It strives for a kind of understanding even when something cannot be understood, and acknowledges that failure as sign and symbol of our limitations.

Usually, the characters in weird fiction have either entered into a place unfamiliar to most of us, or have received such hints of the unusual that they become obsessed with the weird. Whether It exists or not, they have fallen into dialogue with It; they may pull back from the abyss, they may decide to unsee what they saw, but still they saw it…

These writers came from vastly different backgrounds, but were bound together by some common impulse in their imaginations, some need to make sense of “the fearful and fascinating mystery” that is life, in a particular way. For their efforts, a disproportionate number of them died in poverty and were marginalized as outsider artists or hacks — with the strangest (read: the most imaginative) ignored or misunderstood even within the already cast-out genres of SF/Fantasy/Horror. Some were shot or sent to death camps during times of war. Too many committed suicide, sometimes driven there by an impulse closely tied to the unique nature of their creativity. A lucky few gained popularity and a wide readership for their efforts.

What all of these writers, and the writers who would come after them shared was some element of the visionary in their writing, some impulse or worldview that catapulted them beyond the every-day. In some, it is expressed in their writing as just a glimmer or glint from a deep well. In others it is a great, raging fire at the center of their work. In either instance, subtle or bold, The Weird acknowledges that our search for understanding about worlds beyond our own…Did these writers believe in the supernatural elements they described? In some cases, the evidence would suggest, yes. In the majority, the impulse to entertain combined with the impulse to remind readers of the strangeness of the world and the limits of our understanding of it. A few simply saw the world so differently that what to them seemed normal strikes readers as deeply weird. In some strands, The Weird represents a clear quest not just to understand the inexplicable; it represents a fascination that at times embraces strangeness, eschewing the terror of such a search. Many of these stories hold up to repeated readings for this reason.

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