The Nacreous Oughts

25 February 2014



Athanasius Kircher, in his own day another Leonardo almost, is remembered now (if at all) for his cat piano; & it would seem that Robert W Chambers--once the best-selling author of his time (several [silent] movies were made of his books, all lost)-- has left us only the Cheshire grin of his King in Yellow meme.

A new TV series has reignited interest (e.g. a recent Metafilter thread), & in a strange, very contemporary (dare i say "creepypasta"?) way, someone (on the inside, no?) has managed to reap a windfall from it. The first one on Amazon (the big seller, natch) dates back to September of last year. I count about 19 more from this month alone (out of copyright, doncha know-- i could add one for myself in about twenty minutes through CreateSpace). These are all his own words. What's of greater interest, to me, is the unwritten part of his work: the infamous play which he refers to (& briefly quotes from) but never himself (so far as we know) bothered to complete.

Other writers have tried to fill that lacuna: the redoubtable James Blish, Lin Carter, Thom Ryng (whose version, bad as it is, has actually been performed, in Seattle; even one by yours truly. (There have also been film incarnations; perhaps the most artistically significant result in all these referencings is a certain King Crimson album.) I see this as a definable literary practice ("zoomars"--i was first inspired by Arthur Machen's The Three Impostors--which has nothing to do with the ostensible subject of the original non-existent book!). I have followed this up with my own interpretation, for instance, of an imaginary longpoem described in a Galsworthy novel, not to mention The Theory and Practice of Oligarchic(al) Collectivism. (Perhaps one day i will write The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.)

Should one desire to delve, there is more to this than copycatting, sub-Lovecraftian frisson, or the findesecular flavor RWC himself barely hinted at. What terrible book lies behind the threat to society, even to one's individual identity? Darwin? Freud? Marx? (My money's on Nietzsche.) Nowadays we find it easier to believe in life-altering movies, as in House of Leaves or Pessl's Night Film. These are all, in a way, allegories about the power of art; in our own era this figures most prominently as the counter-culture conversion experience of the Sixties, viewed as destructive only by those who disapproved. A truly Dark Enlightenment would have to resemble Hitler's (chillingly self-described, in Mein Kampf) conversion to antisemitism. Madness, yes, but is it Art?


"...the moon looks like a yellow jewel, like a strange yellow jewel from some dead king's crown." --Firbank

Chambers postscript.

Did somebody say "Rach 3"?

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