Thursday, March 21, 2013
left of us twain
Twos, twos, twos, in that piece by Clark Ashton Smith, the two statues, the two environments, the sea and the desert, the winds coming from those two places, the city balanced between them with a tense steadiness, the two metal images opposing and complementing one another; you have extremely moving things, fire and sea, and extremely nonmoving things, metal and rock, the altar is characterised by two nouns, "fires and blood-stones," day itself is represented by a pair of effects, 1. the setting of the sun and, 2. the writhing fires of the sacrifice, the moon is distinguished by two adjectives "cold and marble," the same word will be written twice, "Stone was fallen from stone, atom parted from atom," and there are more pairs in the pestle-grinding movement of this sentence (each set of words between each pair of commas is another step on the route to the conclusion): "rust and verdigris, crawling from mouth to nostrils, from knees to throat, had left of us twain a little pile of red and green dust," some of these paired items related by their similarities (cold and marble) others magnetised by their differences (the sea and the desert).
The wholeness of the setting, the position of the city, the configuration of the statues, the day, the moon, all depends on the collaboration and antagonism of pairs: any pair has an obvious weakness, it needs both elements or else it dies. It is a false fixed point. This fictional reality is being imprinted on the reader very quickly with twos, it has been hypnotised into existence by twos, and the absence of twos exists in the background in the shape of a nihilist threat; the absence of twos is the absence of the story and of the reader of the story, who will have to become a reader of something else, or of nothing.
Equilibrium itself is being murdered in the statue's vision, equilibrium is unnatural and constructed and tenuous, nature comes in, nature makes it disintegrate, nature repaces it with nonhumanity and a natural indistinguished mash, or a collection of natural objects that the statues can't evaluate, though I suggest that they are emotionally throttled by the language around them which would rather describe a thing through the senses and say, "Green, writhing, sultry," than evaluate it and say, "Uncouth." They are debrained a bit, by language.
Threes are not impossible in this story, "rain, and wind, and sun ," and there are ones, "blue fire" but two two two is the rhythm.
Setting up and pulling down are the two forces in the story, they are the whole story, everyone in the city living offstage somewhere, "the people thereof," these anonymous bodies coming on to make sacrifices when the reader isn't looking, having no other existence. There is no history except the existence of the images, we never hear of anyone building the city but the position between two environments seems deliberate, carefully placed as if it's going to be there forever (as people seem to themselves eternal, as the present situation seems eternal, a person becoming a situation) though it will not last; the shivering steady thing will be dissolved helplessly, and destroyed and will never come back; the god won't save it, the violence of the sacrifices is going to do nothing, the irresistible and magnetic compress of fate coming in to destroy the temple, the images are helpless, they are victims, and not kind, but they are like royalty that does not share its feelings, O the reliance of the language on those evasive sense-words, and the nature of that one evaluative word, "uncouth," the snobbery of it, the language a language of one above.
Put this in the category of fantasy stories that agonise over the destruction of monarchic social structures and the onrush of the mob, ie, democracy, a category less popular now than it used to be, not that it was ever madly popular or huge as far as I can tell.
Smith in his stories sucks up inspiration from the undemocratic thrilling and horrified pride that venerates kings, emperors, tombs of nobles, and the destruction of them, the extremes, deserts, mountains, the darkest ether, the dying sun, sadism -- and phrasemaking, the royalty of writing in the democracy of writing: "merchantry of necrophores" is his name for the mass of worms under a graveyard in The Mortuary, this flourish of a phrase set up on its throne with nostrils flaring, eyebrows fluming, supported or not by the populace -- his faith is a faith in the thrusting power of words like "king" "empress" and "tomb," this faith in a card house that could blow down at any moment if a reader comes along who doesn't care about royalty or dust. "Morbid snob," the reader says. They read Dunsany instead, who liked to sit on a hat. His witches grew cabbages. "At least Dunsany has a sense of humour."