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Julian Karswell
06-28-2009, 02:55 PM
Playing Devil's Advocate for a moment, this is from Robert Aickman's introduction to the (first) 'Fontana Book Of Great Ghost Stories':

"There are only about thirty or forty first-class ghost stories in the whole of Western Literature.....the majority of ghost stories, however, have no actual ghost.....It can also be worse if someone else apprehends the ghost, as in 'Seaton's Aunt'; or if you cannot tell whether it is a ghost or not, as in 'The Trains'....."

NB. RA authored the latter tale.

It could be argued that it would have been wiser and humbler for RA to claim that in his opinion there were probably only about thirty or forty first-class ghost stories in the whole of Western Literature, but was he entitled to include not only his own tale 'The Trains' but also his partner Elizabeth Jane Howard's 'Three Miles Up' in the first Fontana book? Do they truly rank in any theoretical top forty? And can a writer objectively evaluate his own work?

NB. Aickman went on to include six of his own stories in the eight volumes he edited for Fontana.

JK

Nemonymous
06-28-2009, 03:40 PM
The age-old 'Intentional Fallacy' literary theory propounds, inter alia, that an author is just another reader once the text is posited in the audience arena. So RA was justified, to my mind, in talking about his own work as if it was separate from him.
Having said that, I would never include a story of mine in an anthology I edited.


PS: I have meticulously reviewed my own work here:
http://weirdmonger.blog-city.com/realtime_review_of_weirdmonger_by_df_lewis_by_df_l ewis.htm

Joe Pulver
06-28-2009, 04:36 PM
I've been told by Bob Price and S.T. [and a few others] that I'm my own worse reader. I can't see how any writer can "fairly" judge his, or her, own work. You're just too close to it.

Evans
06-28-2009, 06:07 PM
I have a suitably pessimistic reply to this question :)

Personally I find it hard to envisage how anyone could look back over anything they've done and not be filled with a feeling of low level repulsion (at least in some parts). I sometimes look over forum posts I wrote a while ago and acutely cringe.

Even if Mr Aickman sincerely thought The Trains ranked in the top forty I can't imagine he would be able to read through it again without the smallest feeling of self loathing (the “Why the hell did I write it like that” reflex as it were)

Mr. D.
06-28-2009, 07:10 PM
Don't forget that writers sometimes surprize themselves and write something that makes them ask, "Did I actually write that? It's so good!" It may not happen very often but it does happen.

Julian Karswell
06-28-2009, 07:30 PM
I have a suitably pessimistic reply to this question :)

Personally I find it hard to envisage how anyone could look back over anything they've done and not be filled with a feeling of low level repulsion (at least in some parts). I sometimes look over forum posts I wrote a while ago and acutely cringe.

Even if Mr Aickman sincerely thought The Trains ranked in the top forty I can't imagine he would be able to read through it again without the smallest feeling of self loathing (the “Why the hell did I write it like that” reflex as it were)

I think there's a good argument to say that an obsessive or sensitive writer will often come to hate that which he or she has written because in working on it he (or she) has exhausted their passion for the subject.

It was great to see 'The Specials' play Glastonbury this weekend but you could tell that Terry Hall hated performing 25 year old hits. Imagine having to stand up on a stage and read aloud the same handful of short stories for the rest of your life. It would be hell on earth.

Get in, get out or always change - those are the only two ways that make sense if one wishes to avoid self-loathing.

PS. Please change your avatar. Your house depresses the hell out of me.

Spotbowserfido2
06-28-2009, 07:44 PM
I've been told by Bob Price and S.T. [and a few others] that I'm my own worse reader. I can't see how any writer can "fairly" judge his, or her, own work. You're just too close to it.
Make that "I've been told by Bob Price and S.T. [and a few others] that I'm my own worst reader." I would be happy to be your editor for a lifetime supply of non-green Milk-Bones.

Evans
06-28-2009, 09:19 PM
I think there's a good argument to say that an obsessive or sensitive writer will often come to hate that which he or she has written because in working on it he (or she) has exhausted their passion for the subject.

It was great to see 'The Specials' play Glastonbury this weekend but you could tell that Terry Hall hated performing 25 year old hits. Imagine having to stand up on a stage and read aloud the same handful of short stories for the rest of your life. It would be hell on earth.

Get in, get out or always change - those are the only two ways that make sense if one wishes to avoid self-loathing.

To be honest I don't think anyone (actuely thats unfair - most people) is really capable of fairly evaluating any piece of significant work untill quite some time after they've finished work on it. Its a bit of a truism but its accurate (yes I know I ought to shot for that last comment)

You read about some authors who seem to spend most of their time constantly rewriting previusly published fiction. I don't think anyone like that can be said to be completaly impartial.


PS. Please change your avatar. Your house depresses the hell out of me.

Well I've been looking for one of serpentine entity from the spine of The House of Souls but its hard to a non pixelated image. (I suppose I could allways be horribley pretentius and nick the unused Machen illustration from Tartarus Press)

Nemonymous
06-29-2009, 03:29 AM
You read about some authors who seem to spend most of their time constantly rewriting previusly published fiction. I don't think anyone like that can be said to be completaly impartial.


Arguably, in the terms of the 'Intentional Fallacy', each work and each revised work represents a new & separate work posited in the audience arena and assumes a fresh rigorous identity beyond the author's control. Another metaphorical 'sculpture' that the author can walk around, touch, taste, i.e. criticise just as much as anyone else.

Odalisque
06-29-2009, 06:15 AM
Having read the first post in this thread, I went up to my bedroom and looked for the Fontana Great Ghost Stories volumes edited by Mr Aickman. Volume three remained elusive, but I count 72 stories in the other seven volumes. All eight books, taken together, probably contain about 80 stories.

If Mr Aickman was correct in saying "There are only about thirty or forty first-class ghost stories in the whole of Western Literature" then fully half of the stories he included were not "first-class ghost stories". So, including six of his own stories in the series, he is not necessarily placing them in that category.

Odalisque
06-29-2009, 06:17 AM
Even if Mr Aickman sincerely thought The Trains ranked in the top forty I can't imagine he would be able to read through it again without the smallest feeling of self loathing (the “Why the hell did I write it like that” reflex as it were)

Mr Aickman would be unable to read it at all. He's dead.

Joel
06-29-2009, 07:36 AM
Des – no, the intentional fallacy theory (as explained in a classic article by Quentin Skinner on historiography) argues that in the absence of clear statements of intention from an author, and when the author is no longer available for consultation, the critic or historian cannot expect his/her guesses about an author's intentions to be considered authoritative. The extension of the intentional fallacy principle to an author's perception of his/her own intentions is bold and stimulating, but is not an orthodox version of the principle. As I've said elsewhere, it's equivalent to saying that when you go to the corner-shop to buy a box of cornflakes, your true motivation for going there is not accessible to you or anyone else. As a theory it belongs to phenomenology rather than to literary theory. I dislike it because it disregards the hermeneutic tradition, according to which the more relevant background information you have, the better able you are to interpret a text.

Joel
06-29-2009, 07:59 AM
Some interesting issues raised here. Referring back to Julian's original posting – I think Aickman's statement that there were only thirty or forty great ghost stories was polemical, and was intended to underline his interest in the metaphysical or mystical ghost story – of which, in truth, there aren't many great examples because it's very hard to do well. He was challenging the canonical status of the plotted, 'objective' ghost stories of M.R. James, E.F. Benson, H.R. Wakefield and so on because even when he liked the odd individual story, he didn't think that was really the way to write great ghost stories.

Peter Bell's article in Wormwood 10 discusses the way in which Aickman used the Fontana series to present an alternative history of the ghost story in which metaphysical and psychological themes were the main focus, rather than plot-driven narratives about 'the supernatural'. His inclusion of his own stories is clearly meant to locate his work within that tradition. However, I feel he compromised his dignity by including his own work repeatedly in an anthology series whose title included the word Great. Not because he didn't write great ghost stories, but because it was not his place to make such a claim. Had they been simply anthologies of current ghost stories or weird fiction, he would have been justified in including his own stories – after all, peer and critical approval of his work made it clear that his stories were good enough to merit that. But 'great' is presumptuous.

Regarding 'Three Miles Up', however, that is (in my view) a story of such brilliance, resonance and seriousness that the fact that Aickman was (or had been) boning its author should not have led him to pass it over for inclusion in the anthology series. He was simply displaying good literary judgement. I was lucky enough to meet EJH very briefly at a literary event a decade or so ago, and had the opportunity to tell her how much I liked that story.

Nemonymous
06-29-2009, 08:09 AM
Des – no, the intentional fallacy theory (as explained in a classic article by Quentin Skinner on historiography) argues...

I think Wimsatt says something quite different in 'The Verbal Icon'.

the more relevant background information you have, the better able you are to interpret a text.

Or the easier it is to misinterpret it.

Nemonymous
06-29-2009, 08:49 AM
...and indeed why worry whether it is phenomenology or not? We have all we need - the text itself to judge why running an errand leads to that person never returning home.

From Wimsatt:

"In his essay on 'Hamlet and His problems' TS Eliot finds Hamlet's state of emotion unsatisfactory because it lacks an 'objective correlative', a 'chain of events' which are the 'formula of that particular emotion'. The emotion is 'in excess of the facts as they appear'. It is 'inexpressible'. Yet Hamlet's emotion must be expressible, we submit, and actually expressed too (by something) in the play; otherwise Eliot would not know it is there - in excess of the facts. That Hamlet himself or Shakespeare may be baffled by the emotion is beside the point."

Nemonymous
06-29-2009, 09:05 AM
...and, btw, Joel, you can believe this or not (but it's true), when I went to pick the Wimsatt book off the shelf to quote from it, I found it sitting next to a book called 'From Blue To Black' by Joel Lane!

Joel
06-29-2009, 09:14 AM
Terrific quote, Des – and a useful reminder that no-one has ever written about 'unfathomable mysteries', only used words to make the reader imagine such a concept.

I thought it was the corner-shop, honest. How was I to know it was the rag and bone man's hideaway?

Odalisque
06-29-2009, 09:48 AM
Regarding 'Three Miles Up', however, that is (in my view) a story of such brilliance, resonance and seriousness that the fact that Aickman was (or had been) boning its author should not have led him to pass it over for inclusion in the anthology series. He was simply displaying good literary judgement. I was lucky enough to meet EJH very briefly at a literary event a decade or so ago, and had the opportunity to tell her how much I liked that story.

I agree on 'Three Miles Up'. I have the impression that there was sexual connection between EJH and RA, but have no solid evidence to support the idea. I wonder whether you are privy to any such evidence. Not that their relationship is really any of my damn business... but I can enjoy gossip as much as the next person.

Joel
06-29-2009, 09:56 AM
I gather Aickman's relationship with EJH was the main reason for his wife leaving him. EJH is therefore officially a minx as well as a genius, which gives hope to those of us who are neither.

Joel
06-29-2009, 10:07 AM
P.S. My comments are based on Gary William Crawford's booklet about Aickman's life and works. It's not without interest that Aickman, though deeply conservative in many respects, never believed in or practised monogamy. He was an advocate of the 'open relationship' long before it was fashionable. The sexual content of his later stories may have been based on non-recent memory, but it was not just based on wishful thinking.

Odalisque
06-29-2009, 10:25 AM
I gather Aickman's relationship with EJH was the main reason for his wife leaving him. EJH is therefore officially a minx as well as a genius, which gives hope to those of us who are neither.

Thank you for that clarification. What I thought about the EJH/RA relationship was based upon a photograph. Their body language seemed to me that of people who were, or were about to become, lovers.

I read the Tartarus Press collection of EJH stories Three Miles Up. Sadly, there was nothing else of the quality of the title story. The only story in the collection not found in We Are For The Dark proved to be (perhaps even more sadly) the weakest of them all. That said, to have written one such thing as Three Miles Up is more than enough for a lifetime's acheivement. Better by far a single mistresspiece than huge volumes of dross.

I'm not sure about giving hope to those who are neither, but I admire both genius and minxiness. Those endowed by both are as goddesses.

Julian Karswell
06-29-2009, 05:58 PM
Hey, I like Evans' new avatar......!

JK

jonathan122
06-29-2009, 06:02 PM
I gather Aickman's relationship with EJH was the main reason for his wife leaving him. EJH is therefore officially a minx as well as a genius, which gives hope to those of us who are neither.

Thank you for that clarification. What I thought about the EJH/RA relationship was based upon a photograph. Their body language seemed to me that of people who were, or were about to become, lovers.

I read the Tartarus Press collection of EJH stories Three Miles Up. Sadly, there was nothing else of the quality of the title story. The only story in the collection not found in We Are For The Dark proved to be (perhaps even more sadly) the weakest of them all. That said, to have written one such thing as Three Miles Up is more than enough for a lifetime's acheivement. Better by far a single mistresspiece than huge volumes of dross.

I'm not sure about giving hope to those who are neither, but I admire both genius and minxiness. Those endowed by both are as goddesses.

I really liked Howard's "Perfect Love", but I realise I'm very much in a minority on this one. Also, Howard's autobiography, Slipstream, goes into her relationship with Aickman in a fair amount of detail (neither of them come out of it in a particularly positive light, if I remember rightly), and also has quite a bit about (Mrs) Ray Aickman as well, which was quite interesting. Sadly, the Aickman and Howard stories in We Are For the Dark aren't mentioned in much detail.

Julian Karswell
06-29-2009, 06:04 PM
Some interesting issues raised here. Referring back to Julian's original posting – I think Aickman's statement that there were only thirty or forty great ghost stories was polemical, and was intended to underline his interest in the metaphysical or mystical ghost story – of which, in truth, there aren't many great examples because it's very hard to do well. He was challenging the canonical status of the plotted, 'objective' ghost stories of M.R. James, E.F. Benson, H.R. Wakefield and so on because even when he liked the odd individual story, he didn't think that was really the way to write great ghost stories.

Peter Bell's article in Wormwood 10 discusses the way in which Aickman used the Fontana series to present an alternative history of the ghost story in which metaphysical and psychological themes were the main focus, rather than plot-driven narratives about 'the supernatural'. His inclusion of his own stories is clearly meant to locate his work within that tradition. However, I feel he compromised his dignity by including his own work repeatedly in an anthology series whose title included the word Great. Not because he didn't write great ghost stories, but because it was not his place to make such a claim. Had they been simply anthologies of current ghost stories or weird fiction, he would have been justified in including his own stories – after all, peer and critical approval of his work made it clear that his stories were good enough to merit that. But 'great' is presumptuous.

Regarding 'Three Miles Up', however, that is (in my view) a story of such brilliance, resonance and seriousness that the fact that Aickman was (or had been) boning its author should not have led him to pass it over for inclusion in the anthology series. He was simply displaying good literary judgement. I was lucky enough to meet EJH very briefly at a literary event a decade or so ago, and had the opportunity to tell her how much I liked that story.

In the spirit of utter mischievousness, did you dare ask EJH if RA had "boned" her?

JK

Joel
06-30-2009, 07:31 AM
Absolutely not. Nor did I ask her whether she felt her taste in men had always been sound. I'm sure questions like that are best left for the individual concerned to contemplate in silence.

Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol said his epitaph would be "Good songwriter, crap shag". I'm sure investigations into the love lives of weird fiction writers would mostly yield similarly bland conclusions.

Odalisque
06-30-2009, 01:52 PM
Absolutely not. Nor did I ask her whether she felt her taste in men had always been sound. I'm sure questions like that are best left for the individual concerned to contemplate in silence.

Exactly!

It is, in any case, hardly a question one could ask, except of someone one knew really well. :eek: And then, I hope, one would treat the answer as confidential

MadsPLP
07-06-2009, 09:14 AM
I read the Tartarus Press collection of EJH stories Three Miles Up. Sadly, there was nothing else of the quality of the title story. The only story in the collection not found in We Are For The Dark proved to be (perhaps even more sadly) the weakest of them all. That said, to have written one such thing as Three Miles Up is more than enough for a lifetime's acheivement. Better by far a single mistresspiece than huge volumes of dross..

I may be in the minority here, but I thought "Mr. Wrong" to be a brilliant story, and actually quite frightening, though the emphasis is of the haunting-melancholy kind. I think the two other stories weren't without their qualities either.

I agree that "Three Miles Up" is the best, probably one of the best in the whole genre/mode/whatever of weird fiction, but "Mr. Wrong" is very much above average in the genre.

nomis
07-06-2009, 12:47 PM
It's been suggested that the stories by EJH in "We are for the Dark" were co-written by Aickman. Perhaps this explains why those tales, most especially "Three Miles Up" are so much better than the rest of her fiction. That said, I think it could also be argued, based on the lack of attribution of the tales in that book, that Howard may have had a hand in Aickman's tales as well.

Julian Karswell
07-06-2009, 02:36 PM
It's been suggested that the stories by EJH in "We are for the Dark" were co-written by Aickman. Perhaps this explains why those tales, most especially "Three Miles Up" are so much better than the rest of her fiction. That said, I think it could also be argued, based on the lack of attribution of the tales in that book, that Howard may have had a hand in Aickman's tales as well.

Three Miles Up was also adapted as a television drama; although not as good as the written story, it still has merit.

JK

mark_samuels
07-09-2009, 07:15 AM
"Jonathan Cape published We Are for the Dark, a collection of six original ghost stories by Elizabeth Jane Howard and me. Though we touched up each other's contributions (the spoof obituary notice from The Times in Jane's terrifying tale Perfect Love, was written by me), three of the stories were basically hers, and three mine. The book was thus not a full collaboration. and subsequently we have both disengaged our names from the other's works....

Many of the critics somehow perceived that the book was not the product of a complete collaboration; but, having penetrated so far, they commonly attached the credit for particular stories to the wrong author. Though it was natural that Jane's marvellous Three Miles Up should be attributed to me, as it is concerned with a canal voyage, many of the other errors were almost eerie. If one examined the notices, the two authors appeared not so much to have merged as to have disintegrated. It was extremely odd and confusing."

Robert Aickman, The River Runs Uphill

qcrisp
07-09-2009, 07:55 AM
I read the Tartarus Press collection of EJH stories Three Miles Up. Sadly, there was nothing else of the quality of the title story. The only story in the collection not found in We Are For The Dark proved to be (perhaps even more sadly) the weakest of them all. That said, to have written one such thing as Three Miles Up is more than enough for a lifetime's acheivement. Better by far a single mistresspiece than huge volumes of dross.

I'm not sure about giving hope to those who are neither, but I admire both genius and minxiness. Those endowed by both are as goddesses.

I very much enjoyed 'Mr. Wrong', I have to say. Probably my favourite in that volume. The one about the luggage, too, I also enjoyed.

MadsPLP
07-09-2009, 11:28 AM
I read the Tartarus Press collection of EJH stories Three Miles Up. Sadly, there was nothing else of the quality of the title story. The only story in the collection not found in We Are For The Dark proved to be (perhaps even more sadly) the weakest of them all. That said, to have written one such thing as Three Miles Up is more than enough for a lifetime's acheivement. Better by far a single mistresspiece than huge volumes of dross.

I'm not sure about giving hope to those who are neither, but I admire both genius and minxiness. Those endowed by both are as goddesses.

I very much enjoyed 'Mr. Wrong', I have to say. Probably my favourite in that volume. The one about the luggage, too, I also enjoyed.

I'm glad someone else besides me like that story.

I found it both to be the most suspenseful, as well as the most emotionally moving in the collection. Something about a failed life, a person with very few qualities, a lack of beauty and romance resonates deeply in me when reading about it.

I think the appeal for me in this particular story lies just as much in the portrait of the crippled family, and the portrait of an existence which failed before actually coming into existence, before being someone, as it lies in the very effective suspense evoked in the story. A melancholy, bleak haunting supernatural thriller, where the sad part is not only the fate of the protagonist, but that no-one will really care, and those who would (her father and mother) will care in a way which is, well, somehow misplaced.

nomis
07-09-2009, 12:44 PM
It's been suggested that the stories by EJH in "We are for the Dark" were co-written by Aickman. Perhaps this explains why those tales, most especially "Three Miles Up" are so much better than the rest of her fiction. That said, I think it could also be argued, based on the lack of attribution of the tales in that book, that Howard may have had a hand in Aickman's tales as well.

Further to this, an update from elsewhere ...

EJH writes in Slipstream that in order to help Robert get published she suggested that they put together a joint collection of ghost stories for Jonathan Cape. “We wrote three stories each… and at that point, the stories weren’t individually attributed. I thought that this would ease the situation, but it didn’t really.” On publication “Reviewers speculated on who had written which story, and usually got it wrong.” I take all this to mean that there were no collaborations in the book.

mark_samuels
07-09-2009, 01:34 PM
Also see post #30.

Not sure if you've seen that one, Nomis.

Mark S.

mark_samuels
07-09-2009, 01:44 PM
I, too, thought Three Miles Up was the best of the bunch. But Mr. Wrong was excellent, and the more overtly terrifying of the two.

Mark S.

nomis
07-09-2009, 06:07 PM
Also see post #30.

Not sure if you've seen that one, Nomis.

Mark S.

That presupposes I actually read these forums rather than spam them with useless information.

Silly man ...

Julian Karswell
07-09-2009, 06:53 PM
It's been suggested that the stories by EJH in "We are for the Dark" were co-written by Aickman. Perhaps this explains why those tales, most especially "Three Miles Up" are so much better than the rest of her fiction. That said, I think it could also be argued, based on the lack of attribution of the tales in that book, that Howard may have had a hand in Aickman's tales as well.

Further to this, an update from elsewhere ...

EJH writes in Slipstream that in order to help Robert get published she suggested that they put together a joint collection of ghost stories for Jonathan Cape. “We wrote three stories each… and at that point, the stories weren’t individually attributed. I thought that this would ease the situation, but it didn’t really.” On publication “Reviewers speculated on who had written which story, and usually got it wrong.” I take all this to mean that there were no collaborations in the book.

I thought this was well-known. Slipstream was published seven years ago. Besides, when 'Three Miles Up' was adapted by the BBC in 1995 it would have been common knowledge who had written that story.

EJH lives in Suffolk, not too far from the Norfolk Broads (which teems with canals and row barges). There's a second hand bookshop in her home town that always has a few signed copies of her books. Evelyn Waugh fans might remember that she interviewed Waugh for a BBC documentary, in which he discussed his brief yet frightening bout of madness based upon the belief that BBC journalists were persecuting him (refer 'The Ordeal Of Gilbert Pinfold').

Aickman authored a few interesting stories involving waterways himself including 'Raising The Wind' and 'No Time Is Passing'.

JK

mark_samuels
07-09-2009, 07:19 PM
Also see post #30.

Not sure if you've seen that one, Nomis.

Mark S.

That presupposes I actually read these forums rather than spam them with useless information.

Silly man ...

I just thought you might have missed that one. :(

Hey!

Mark S.

mark_samuels
07-09-2009, 07:21 PM
The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold was an alcoholic DTs novel wasn't it? Years since I've read it, but I recall it being set on an ocean liner or something. Mark S.

Julian Karswell
07-09-2009, 07:56 PM
Yes. Waugh was drinking heavily while suffering from insomnia, for which he had been prescribed a powerful sedative. The two combined caused a severe bout of paranoia which manifested itself in his believing that he was being persecuted by BBC journalists. It also caused auditory hallucination.

Waugh recovered completely when he stopped taking the medication and cut down on the booze. He then rather bravely fictionalised it in his Gilbert Pinfold novella.

Arguably there are parallels with Robert Aickman. RA appears to have been a heavy drinker and many of his tales feature auditory hallucination. He also complained about hearing voices (as discussed by Ted Klein in an account he gave of a meeting with RA at the Barbican Centre in London). Indeed, aspects of 'The Stains' appear to be confessional and autobiographical.

If you listen carefully to the download on this website of RA reading aloud a piece of his own work - which was recorded at the Barbican - you can hear the voices of people outside. It could be that these tormented Aickman to a certain degree.