Monday, February 1, 2010

Readings — Objects of Worship

Objects of Worship
by Claude Lalumière

Claude’s a colleague and friend, so of course this review isn’t going to be impartial by any rational standard. I mean, I do think this is an overall excellent collection of stories. I tend to prefer the super-hero stories to the zombie stories, but then that’s my attitude toward stories in general. So make of that what you will.

That being said, there are a couple of observations that occurred to me. One is that the title of the collection is very well-chosen; the stories tend to revolve around beliefs and Gods. If not Gods, then Heroes, super or otherwise. Literally, objects of worship. The point I want to make about that is this: usually, in writing about these subjects, writers tend to delve into myth. Obviously, there’s some of that here — but the stories here are at least as much about ritual. Rituals of worship, of eating, of hunting and loving and death. The myth that provides the text for the ritual act may or may not be present, characters may or may not take on mythic roles (the son succeeding the father, the child who renovates — makes new — the world), but the rite itself seems to me to provide the focus for most of these stories. Which in turn means a concentration on the physical, the visceral, the body, in a way that much myth-centred fiction, especially fantasy fiction, seems to me to avoid.

The second thing, linked to the above, is that most of these stories derive power from a deliberate incompleteness in their form. Of course a story is defined as much by what it leaves out, or leaves for the imagination of the readers, as what it gives explicitly; but I find a recurring structural principle here to be the sense of partial understanding of a text. The stories give us a glimpse of meaning, a hint of a world, a suggestion of background. We have the rite, but maybe not the myth; or we can deduce the myth from the rite, instead (as is more usual in fantasy, I think) of the reverse. This limited-information technique lends itself to horror — the lack of total understanding, the suspension of normative physical laws, the sense of being caught in something, indeed the inchoate sense of something greater than the quotidian which has overwritten reality, a something which defies expression in words and therefore is not put into words. But, crucially, all those things also may apply to the experience of the divine.

So that is what we have here, I think; stories aiming at unmediated connection with the source of myth. ‘Unmediated’ not only because the myth itself is not present, being for us to construct (so the stories force us or elevate us into the position of mythographers, being therefore mythopoeic in the purest sense), but also because of the absence of any personified sense of deity. There’s no actual God or Gods at the core of the fiction; only what you might call the sense of the divine, but what you could also call (if you are of a materialist bent) a perception of the scope of the universe. One could view this as a transcendence of the human; or one could view it as the culmination of the human. Either way, to return to my first point: that sense is the opposite of what is traditionally considered mystical, because it is of the body. It is, literally, sensuous. Overall, then, there’s a sensibility here unlike any others I can think of.

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