'How could the Outsider have chosen such a bungler? ...When had he ever offered a single sacrifice, however small, to the Outsider? Never! Not one in his entire life. Yet the Outsider had extended infinite credit to him... Certainly he would never be able to repay the Outsider for the knowledge and the honor, no matter how hard or how long he tried.' (Gene Wolfe, Nightside The Long Sun)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

My Forthcoming Ecomonstrous PhD on R. A. Lafferty & Cormac McCarthy

Sadly, I'm still not able to devote more time to this blog and writing about Gene Wolfe.  But here's a peek at what's keeping me so busy.  The PhD's themes are relevant to Wolfe because 1) he's a huge fan of Lafferty, considers him a genius in fact and said of him:  'he is our most original writer. In fact, he may be not just ours, but the most original in the history of literature.'  So I'm pretty sure Wolfe would support the study of Lafferty's works.  And 2) because my burgeoning notion of the 'ecomonstrous' could eventually have a rich playing field in the works of Wolfe himself (e.g. the intergalactic xenobiologies and ecologies in the Solar Cycle or the transmogrifications and other bestial happenings in his fantasy works like the Soldier series and the Wizard-Knight).

If you've ever appreciated what I've tried to write here, I hope you'll give our Indiegogo site a wee look to see if any of the great perks my family have provided are something you'd be interested in obtaining through a donation:  www.indiegogo.com/projects/ecomonstrous-phd. (My 9-year-old son is making Cthulhu crafts for one of the smallest donation amounts, which may interest some Wolfe fans.  But there's other cool stuff there too.  And more to come.)  Anyway, have a look at the video below.  I'd love to hear your critical thoughts on the idea of the ecomonstrous in literature. Thanks.  (Oh, and I'm keeping this blog live because I really do believe I'm going to write about Wolfe's works again at some point!)

For what it's worth, Neil Gaiman, another Lafferty fan, and a Wolfe one too, kindly tweeted our campaign with this comment:


Antonin Scriabin said...

Looking forward to more Wolfe stuff re: the ecomonstrous. The alzabo alone could be good for an entire thesis.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Yeah, definitely! I wish there was enough Gene Wolfe study going on that I could find academic articles on the Alzabo by searching Google Scholar.

With Wolfe and monsters I'd also want to figure out what's going on with Abaia and Erebus, those giant Lovecraftian sea monsters ever in the background of BotNS. I also think of that scene with the plant man and later, the partially plant-like Inhumi. And that's just scratching the surface - Wolfe's oeuvre is just rife with monsters! For a long time I've wished someone would make a beautifully bound and illustrated Gene Wolfe Bestiary, but more of a Gods and Monsters type of menagerie or miscellany, something that can collect all the super, sub, para, and hybrid humans in his works as well as the non-human beings.

Antonin Scriabin said...

Oh yes, The Green Man! That was one of the first truly jolting parts of New Sun for me. The sheer scope of Wolfe's universe bubbles to the surface with that scene, just to disappear down the corridors of time.

You also have the salamander and other beasts on the hunt for Severian, the monstrous transformation of Jolenta, the ape-men, and even monsters-as-weapons, in a sense, with the avern.

Would you consider dealing with Lovecraft in your future work? I know that road has been travelled before, but the Lovecraft-Wolfe bestiary in particular could be an interesting topic. They both deal in various ways with the human becoming the monstrous.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Oh heck yeah, I'll be dealing with Lovecraft plenty, both in my doctoral thesis and eventually in writing about Wolfe. Thankfully there's a fresh, new engagement with Lovey that comes directly out of the 'object-oriented' school of philosophy that I've been tapping into to do my ecomonstrous readings: Graham Harman's Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy (2012).

But yeah, I actually don't think the Wolfe-Lovecraft connection has been anything like exhausted in Wolfe studies formal and informal. Especially, as you say, a bestiary sort of approach, comparing monster anatomies, both physiognomical and conceptual, as well as the human/non-human transformations and hybridities. They're both ultimately so cosmic about it, so the comparison would be very fruitful I think.

Yeah, I think the averns are very ecomonstrous! And the series of extraterrestrial monsters that are sent against Severian by his hunter is one of my favourite elements in BotNS - the notules are my personal favourite.

Antonin Scriabin said...

I'll check out that book! Thanks for the tip.

Wolfe's treatment of non-human humans is pretty amazing. The idea of divergent evolution in the distant past or distant future is actually kind of terrifying. I think "Tracking Song" might be his best treatment of the topic, with the various races preying on one another. Wolfe loves his pseudohumans.

Lovecraft's transformation of the human into the monstrous is very different, but equally eerie. I haven't read as much Lovecraft as I have Wolfe, but the general theme seems to be man's inability to retain his human nature after coming into contact with cosmic entities, or even gaining knowledge of them. The Charles Dexter Ward novella comes to mind, as do the citizens of Innsmouth. So with one writer the size and age of the universe are transformative forces, and with the other, it's strangeness.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

'Wolfe loves his pseudohumans.' :)

Tracking Song blew my mind. Long overdue for a re-read.

I need to think a whole heck of a lot more on both Wolfe's and Lovecraft's human transformations, but I like how you characterise it here. The weird thing in Lovecraft is his obvious disgust and loathing toward human-to-monster transformations (and bloodline taintings), yet his equally obvious obsession and veiled delight in *creating*/*imagining* such transformations. A clear case of how we both fear and love the monster, detest and desire it. And I guess that's where Wolfe differs. You noted his love for psuedohumans, and I'd say for outright non-humans as well. He seems more willing to embrace the mystery and wonder of otherness. His loathing seems more reserved for social systems he views as enemies of human and non-human good (though even these I feel he at least tries to give a decent say before he deconstructs them).

Antonin Scriabin said...

"He seems more willing to embrace the mystery and wonder of otherness."

I agree. Lovecraft's stories tend to be cautionary tales warning of the dangers of seeking out esoteric knowledge and power (he could never shake his morbid fascination with the stuff, though), while Wolfe's revel in the strangeness of things. On the far side you could even place Lafferty, who looks at the bizarre and finds it flat-out hilarious!

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Can't believe I never responded to your last remark about Lafferty here, Antonin. Lovecraft and Lafferty is something I hope to take up at length at some point: Cosmic Horror vs. Cosmic Laughter. I did just complete a 13,000 word essay on Lafferty and monsters for the forthcoming volume 3 of East of Laughter: An Appreciation of R. A. Lafferty (due out in a few weeks hopefully). It doesn't get into Lovecraft, but it's a start.