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Old 08-29-2017   #1
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Topic Nominated Weird Fiction and the Cult of Obscurity

Just saw this on the WeirdLit subreddit, methinks that it is very much relevant to this place. This is something that I have been thinking about quite a bit, especially in relation to why it is so much common in the weird/horror fiction fields than it is in other areas of genre fiction, but this is pretty much the first time that I saw longer article that deals with this.
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/1...X.2017.1358692
Weird fiction and the virtues of obscurity: Machen, Stenbock, and the weird connoisseurs
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In order to fully understand what weird fiction is and how the mode works, one must consider weird fiction’s valorisation of minority or obscurity – both within the text and by its audience – and the concomitant mythologisation of minor or obscure writers and their lives. To do this I examine the mutable critical regard of Arthur Machen (1863–1947) and Eric, Count Stenbock (1860–1895). I posit the notion of a ‘connoisseur culture’ firmly imbricated with weird fiction, and suggest (referring to the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu) that the term weird fiction is used as an imprimatur of literary authenticity unencumbered by the (to some) problematically déclassé implications of popular genres such as horror. Moreover, the notion of the obscure writer – regardless of the accuracy of the particular claim to obscurity – connotes an authenticity in both the work and its reader, the latter achieving the status, by virtue of this process, of a weird connoisseur.
(read at least a bit of the article before you make the obvious comment about Machen & "obscurity", it actually makes sense)
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Old 08-29-2017   #2
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Re: Weird Fiction and the Cult of Obscurity

Thanks for sharing this pointed (and extremely interesting) paper, Shadenuat!

From the full piece:

"Their lack of direct visibility has also produced a culture of self-identifying ‘connoisseurship’, in which networks of collectors, enthusiasts, and writers can wear the obscurity of their enthusiasms as a badge of honour, a mark of authentic understanding and appreciation of weird fiction, particularly of this pre-Lovecraftian period, and importantly, of what demarcates it from the arguably cruder albeit more popular ‘horror’ genre, especially from the latter’s schlockier manifestations..."

Ouch!
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Old 08-29-2017   #3
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Re: Weird Fiction and the Cult of Obscurity

Also taken from this unusually honest paper:

"Arthur Machen occupies the contradictory position of being frequently discussed as a ‘lost’ writer whose work is hard to obtain, while in fact never having been more accessible. Contrary to the regularly posited notion of Machen as a ‘lost’ writer, this narrative has been accorded to him in an intertextual, semi-fictional, and ideated process of mythologisation of his life and work, where the connoisseur’s privileging of rarity manifests itself in an interest in perpetuating such myths (consciously or no) and therefore maintaining that part of Machen’s value that lies in his alleged obscurity…."

More ouch! And there is this line:

"....acknowledging that there has been a process of ‘fetishisation of the books because they were missing..."

Hmmm, that phrase hits close to home! And finally, from the end of this article:

"….Building upon Hills’s assertion that it is a key trope by which to understand value distinctions made in horror culture, my aim has been to argue that the notion of connoisseur culture is a key one to any complete understanding of weird fiction. I have positioned the term ‘weird fiction’ as a key imprimatur used in this undertaking. Despite its erstwhile association with the pulp writing of the 1920s and 1930s, it is now one of the processes by which one can identify and valorise texts that resist the sclerotic insistence on the overfamiliar tropes of genre writing at its crudest. Concomitant with this is the complication of distinctions between literary and genre fiction and the idea of a canon; in weird fiction, the elevation of a writer to the latter can in fact, as I have discussed above, threaten their status among weird fiction connoisseurs. Is this a case of obscurity for obscurity’s sake? Perhaps, but it is also a process whereby writers are valorised for their refusal to conform to the expectations of either genre or inviolable highbrow doctrine. Moreover, the blurring of boundaries between the text and the mythology of the author should be recognised and appreciated as a collaborative and often intentionally creative enterprise, whereby connoisseur culture conflates a fardel of biographical detail and fiction into a sustained aesthetic conceit."

Again, my sincere thanks for sharing this paper, Shadenuat! I'm finding much to reflect on.
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Old 08-29-2017   #4
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Re: Weird Fiction and the Cult of Obscurity

Thank you very much for sharing this, a lot of food for thought here. I would be lying if I said a lot of this didn’t hit home with me. I have noticed some of these same tendencies when it comes to collecting movies and music as well. I shall spare myself of the embarrassment of mentioning how much I’ve paid for certain VHS tapes back in my day. I would very much agree that some of the allure behind certain writers is their obscurity or subject matter that may stray from the more established horror literature. Thomas Ligotti was a writer of this calibre for me, and part of the thrill of finding his books are due to the fact that they are rare and expensive. Also, the thrill of rummaging around dusty old bookshops and thrift stores with the vain hope of finding that one rare volume of horror or weird fiction. I live for that! I’ve mentioned before that some of my favourite tales include Ligotti’s Vastarien and Ramsey Campbell’s Cold Print. I do feel that certain writers have more merit than others, but I speak only for myself, and I won’t criticise anyone for their choice in reading material.
I think that with all collectors and “connoisseurs” there will be a point where one has read Lovecraft, Poe etc. and will want to expand one’s horizon, find new works and authors and develop a more critical taste over the years. And of course, as collectors we want a better edition of these works, invest time and money into the lifestyle we love so much.
Is this a negative thing though? I’m all for these books and authors being widely available, and I hope I don’t come off as snobbish or arrogant when it comes to reading weird fiction (or in general for that matter). My own experience is that the weird community is very welcoming and friendly.

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Old 08-29-2017   #5
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Re: Weird Fiction and the Cult of Obscurity

I think he should have noted that Tartarus eventually did paperbacks and ebooks.
Perhaps it wasn't known that the new Stenbock book Is a cheap paperback when the article was written.

Personally I haven't seen that many people express the desire for weird writers to remain obscure or anyone lose enthusiasm when they get more famous.

I like Stewart Lee but if he really wanted Machen to remain marginal, then that is an incredibly sh!tty thing to say. Good work deserves fame, not protective posers.

If you want your favourites to stay obscure, you lose your right to complain that they masses don't appreciate them.

It is true that horror packaging might mislead people's expectations of Machen, but is he really going to find a bigger audience if they avoided that? Who knows how many readers will get it? Would the general classics audience really be bigger or more receptive?

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Old 08-29-2017   #6
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Re: Weird Fiction and the Cult of Obscurity

There's another type of scarcity which interests me: cheap mass produced magazines and books that are not valued enough to be preserved well.

There's British girls' comics and Filipino horror & fantasy comics which are impossible to find now because they were not valued enough and they were too vulnerable because of the cheap paper.

I used to have a lot of dreams about hunting for comics * and finding rare or new things that I'd never heard of.
Sometimes the dreams would feature people selling obscure and powerful horror comics out in the middle of nowhere in some field you had to go through ditches to reach, where nobody could be reasonably expected to find the sellers.
One time it was this guy selling comics out in a dark rainy night. The comics were taller and wider than myself and very fragile, easy to rip and vulnerable to the rain.

As much as finding great work in rare hardcovers, I'm excited by the idea of great stuff being found in foreign pulp magazines (the footage of a storeroom of Brazillian pulp magazines in the Coffin Joe documentary springs to mind). Children's books which hardly any adults care to investigate. The idea of there being hidden gem text stories that nobody read within anthology comics (I think Mickey Spillane used to write some of these?). The hundreds of writers in online magazines, ebooks and obscure magazines today. Fiction and poetry in newspapers and general interest magazines.

Some things hide in plain sight. I'm curious about Ann Radcliffe because you can find her work everywhere but people don't talk about it much. Maybe I should put her higher on my reading pile?

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Old 08-29-2017   #7
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Re: Weird Fiction and the Cult of Obscurity

Quote Originally Posted by Robert Adam Gilmour View Post
Personally I haven't seen that many people express the desire for weird writers to remain obscure or anyone lose enthusiasm when they get more famous.
Can't think of a "weird" writer I have experienced this with.
I watched Bukowski grow wildly popular, but fame and money did not seem to affect him or his style.
I might ponder this.
With music, of course! There were unknown or obscure bands I enjoyed, yet when they were embraced by the mainstream I lost interest.
Example? Alison Krauss.
Movies, much the same. I still watch a fair share of Asian cinema, but everything seemed to shift after Crouching Tiger. The scene expanded and as such became more generic.
"Horror" writers, yes, I could make a list of folks who have gone downhill, but few because of the swelling crowd. Besides, only one name is likely known to the general public. More often than not writers run out of original ideas or the fire ebbs, and the crap ratio increases.
Don't want to bash anyone by name. Heaven knows, it is hard enough to even buy groceries with stories, and with ebooks or ezines, they might as give their work away.
I do, however, bark at publishers. Frequently.
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Old 08-29-2017   #8
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Re: Weird Fiction and the Cult of Obscurity

Are you saying Alison Krauss compromised to accommodate her growing audience?
I honestly can't think of a single band that I liked who definitely started pandering for a growing fanbase. Some unwisely tried to explore new fashions but that isn't always a commercial choice.

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Old 08-30-2017   #9
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Re: Weird Fiction and the Cult of Obscurity

The author neglects how much the Weird Horror boom has altered reading tastes. Machen might never have been an obscure author in name, but there just wasn't that much interest in older genre authors until the last decade. Before that, reprints of older authors were confined to a few major works that fit into traditional popular categories. So the Three Impostors was kept in print as a mystery novel and you would find The Bowman in anthologies of classic ghost stories, but that was really it. It was a combination of Lovecraft's rising popularity and the internet allowing easy access to the public domain that revived the broader interest in Machen's oeuvre (and many others).

I also wager the author is too young to know how much of a hassle it was pre/early internet to acquire just about anything that was out of print, foreign, small press, or even just a secondary title from a major publisher. Yes, Black Panther books released trade editions of Machen in the UK during the 1970's, but those might as well have been the Pre-WWII editions by the time I started reading Weird Horror in the 1990's here in the USA. I first read The Great God Pan through Project Gutenberg, and even though I did eventually acquire the Panther Books Tales of Horror and the Supernatural, it was only through Shocklines.com.
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Old 08-30-2017   #10
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Re: Weird Fiction and the Cult of Obscurity

Quote Originally Posted by Robert Adam Gilmour View Post
Some things hide in plain sight. I'm curious about Ann Radcliffe because you can find her work everywhere but people don't talk about it much. Maybe I should put her higher on my reading pile?
If you think that the only thing separating Scooby Doo from immortal greatness is more fainting, sentimental romance, use of the word "sublime", and slowing the plot to a glacial crawl in order to praise sublime French and Italian landscapes, then Ann Radcliff is definitely the way to go.
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