Karin Moe - This is a novel, a hybrid, a text collage, a poem, which disappeared nearly immediately when it was published. It was affected by its “nebulosity, its many digressions and an inventiveness which was on the verge of strangling itself”

Karin Moe, 39 Whirlwinds: The Immeasurable Wanderings of Louise Labé the Younger & Other Specula (39 fyk: Louise Labé den yngres ustyrtelige vandringar & andre spekulum),

This is a novel, a hybrid, a text collage, a poem, which disappeared nearly immediately when it was published. Øystein Rottem, who wrote a small paragraph about it in his Norwegian post-war literary history (1998), stated that it was “a frolic”, but that it appeared to be “mannered”, that it was affected by its “nebulosity, its many digressions and an inventiveness which was on the verge of strangling itself”. And, in fact, the book is as immeasurable as its title suggests: a female first-person narrator is speaking; but about what or to whom, is uncertain. Pictures, photocopies, still-lifes, illustrate the 39 paragraphs named as fyk, “whirlwinds”. The fyk is a Norwegian word for an exuberant person, and the verb (fyke) describes a breathtaking velocity. These texts have taken a fast lane: Karin Moe reinvents the figure of Louise Labé, a French poet, and places her in Norway; but she isn’t influenced by the Petrarchan School of poetry, as it is the case with her historical archetype, but by feminist theory, surrealism and linguistic experimentalism. The result is a text which surpasses its own borders.
Louise Labé lived approximately between 1524 and 1566. She was influenced not only by Francesco Petrarca’s sonnets, but also by Ovid’s Metamorphoses and by Spanish poetry. Labé, who married Ennemond Perrin, a rich cord-maker, was a member of a group called École Lyonnaise and wrote sonnets which later became known for their extreme formal skilfulness. The other poets of this school, e. g. Maurice Scève and Olivier de Magny, are forgotten; Louise is the only one of them whose celebrity lasts until today. Her texts are often featured in French anthologies and seem to be paradigms of accomplished love poetry.
Louise Labé. Engraving by Pierre Woeiriot, 1555

However, it is rumoured that Louise Labé didn’t exist at all. Her sonnets and odes are regarded as a collective work of male poets who intended to glorify the female genius they had made up of their own accord – thus, they had wanted to praise their own would-be ingeniousness. Therefore, Louise Labé ‘reveals’ ‘herself’ as a fiction and as a projection screen for male poets’ fantasies. Ironically, poets like Scève or de Magny seem to have assured their personal legacy by erasing their own insignificant names from literary history. Although this thesis has been debated, as for example by comparing Labé’s laconic and eloquent style to Scève’s obfuscations and de Magny’s platitudes, it is still appealing to those who intend to criticize the constant marginalization of female authors in literary history. However, 39 Whirlwinds establishes Labé’s figure as a living paradigm of ‘female’ writing. Born into a postmodern society still dominated by men, Labé the Younger has to find her own way – and, more important, her own language. She must disenthrall herself from the threads male authors have wrapped her in. The text she writes does not rely on the artificial structure of a plot; it is a “whirlwind” which raises a storm and comes to a sudden halt. Thus, the 39 fragments or fractures do not form a whole. They are a hole, an abyss, and absorb everything. Louise Labé the Younger, as she is depicted in Moe’s text(s), doesn’t use the conventional love images of her French predecessor – for her, love has nothing to do with a sudden flash of ice and fire, and cannot be described as the expectable amalgamation of contrasts and oxymora – but she speaks Nynorsk, a language which is based on old Norwegian dialects and nearly exclusively used in written texts; furthermore, she introduces many colloquial forms into her speech (“kje” instead of “ikkje”, “not”) or she can employ Bokmål forms such as “kjærlighet” (in place of “kjærleik”, “love”). Her idiolect is characterized by violent digressions, aggressive vulgarisms, and erratic punctuation; thus, Louise is able to expectorate a whole paragraph of invectives without separating her sentences with the aid of commas, semicolons, or full stops. In a passage which is full of gruesome humour, Louise meets a man who has been bleeding from his breast for three days in a row; she asks him if his blood coagulates. It doesn’t. She tastes it and says: “You are menstruating.” She realizes that the discourse in the room “coagulates” immediately. “Comprehensions by way of language can take a few generations”, she notes. She subverts the roles: Firstly, she acts as the man who constantly denies the value of female experiences; secondly, she adapts his toxic masculinity (which is based on sheer ignorance and a striking lack of empathy) and commands him to have sex with her – although he is bleeding. Of all things, the man Louise has encountered is a sociologist, a researcher whose insights are based on empirical examinations – and she confronts him with facts which might seem mind-boggling and offensive to him: “No litmus paper in urinals, no dead rats dissected after one thousand electric shocks. It happens to you! Feel it! It’s fantastic. I’ve made an important observation: Possibly, the sex drive is reduced during male menstruation.” The sociologist becomes furious and accuses Louise of having caused his pain; but she answers that his reactions are an indication of his defective adaptability to extreme situations.
Language is afflicted with its own coagulation.
Louise’s mission does not consist of repeating Petrarca’s desiccated paroles of love to an ideal, Platonic mistress; it consists in liquefying a speech which has suffered from its own meagreness for a very long time. The time has come to swap the roles and change every misconception of what it means to write as a woman. Hélène Cixous’ essay The Laugh Of Medusa, which might have influenced Karin Moe in a considerable way, is centred around the following plea: “And why don’t you write? Write! Writing is for you, you are for you; your body is yours, take it.” Thus, Louise searches for a way to reclaim the female body she has forgotten; after having found it, she tries to reinsert it into history again. But history has been deformed by a Reason which always favoured a male point of view. Louise must invent another form of rationality: a playful, swirling form of writing which is suitable for her own experiences in a literature dominated by men. The 19th century was marked by writers like Ibsen who wanted to engage in societal debates; and Georg Brandes, the Danish critic who coined the slogan of the Modern Breakthrough, called one of his books Det Moderne Gennembruds Mænd – he didn’t bother to be on the lookout for female writers, he referred exclusively to male authors. A perspective which has proved to be ignorant: recent studies have highlighted the importance of female voices, and anthologies like Nordisk Kvinnolitteraturhistoria provide informative insights into texts which have been neglected and ignored. But this awareness has increased gradually. The four most influential Norwegian writers – De Fire Store – are all men: Henrik Ibsen, Jonas Lie, Alexander Kielland, and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.
The latter enters Labé’s text for a short and embarrassing performance. Having arrived in the hypermodern Oslo of 1983, Bjørnson is scandalized at finding Synnøve Solbakken, the female protagonist who contributed her name to his homonymous novel, has escaped her narrow textual prison and become the director of Gyldendal, the most important Norwegian publisher. Louise is amused about what happens next: “In P2’s live broadcast, Norwegians can hear a sepulchral voice in heavy need of logopaedic assistance railing against Synnøve Solbakken who has become the director of Gyldendal Norsk Forlag: aren’t there any male protagonists? A Happy Boy has been overlooked! Aren’t there any male authors, wrinkled, weather-beaten? No male publishers? No male editors? Not a single male typesetter who could be kept busy with metrics? Not a single vigorous offer? Not a single stallion?” Bjørnson’s times, they are a-changin’; the Venerated Skald, who wrote the lyrics for Norway’s national anthem, proves to be a braggadocio who needs to be restrained. The often repeated legend states that Henrik Ibsen, the Admired Dramatist, never came to terms with his opprobrium: his father had become insolvent; therefore, the family had to move to a smaller house where Henrik lived for eight years. But a legend is a legend is a legend; in fact, the Ibsen family could afford housemaids and a commodious kitchen. Later, the playwright decorated the story about his trauma; actually, he disdained countrymen, and was anxious about distancing himself from them in every possible way. Synnøve leaves Gyldendal; and this is how Louise comments the twist: “As the daughter of a bankrupt merchant, I understand that Henrik Ibsen didn’t throw his hat in the ring.” She seems to know that Ibsen’s heroic biography isn’t as heroic as the dramatist tended to present himself; it is the tale of a peacock who succeeded in leaving an altruistic mark which in fact was pseudo-altruistic. Thus, Louise’s opinion about the most important Norwegian writers is affected by scepticism; she takes nothing for granted.
Louise wants to establish a border between herself and those men who still believe that they alone are allowed to define what literature is. Love is connected to masculinity; make-up, fashion, nursing, and many other things, are connected to love. A small detail belongs to a whole: thus, everything is, in some way, intertwined with masculinity. It is Louise’s mission to cut these threads. She wants to create another language: a language which is more flexible, which doesn’t rely on metonymical similitudes, but on metaphorical volatilities. Thus, she intends to prevent men from invading the room which exclusively belongs to herself; with this conception of love, Louise wants to avoid “some old men’s colossal, territorial love to some other men” getting in the way of her own language. Her love isn’t territorial; it is based on coincidental connections, ephemeral combinations, and spontaneity; in short, it is a “whirlwind” which is capable of tearing everything apart. It is a love based on language’s erotic capacities: a love which accepts the unknown and the unconscious without even trying to reject it.
 39 Whirlwinds begins with a quote by Arthur Rimbaud. In one of his famous letters, the French poet imagines that women – after the end of their “infinite thraldom” – will be able to “find the unknown”; they will discover “strange, fathomless, abhorrent, delicate things”, and they will be “understood”. By whom? By men? Probably. Rimbaud’s quote can be read as a programmatic comment on Louise Labé as she is depicted in Moe’s hybrid text. With the aid of metaphorical volatilities, she learns how to break free from the tight and narrow shapes men’s aggressive and toxic language has detained her in. But she still needs to gain access to her new self: a new mirror to reflect herself in. This new mirror – or, as it is subtly called in the book’s title, the speculum – is the written text with its potential to combine many distant impressions into a fragmentary whole. Thus, the first “photocopy” shows a mirror; beneath are Rimbaud’s quote and a French-Norwegian Labé palimpsest, a translation, obviously conducted by Moe, where “amoureux” becomes “manful” and “braise” “munchkin”. A poem which differs radically from its source text: it doesn’t show the (old) woman who is willing to abandon herself to a man; instead, it shows the (new) woman as Arthur Rimbaud depicts her, a woman who isn’t afraid to transcribe tradition, to unleash unconscious drives, to scrape together a language which isn’t affected by metonymy’s “stickiness”, but by “metaphorical volatilities.”
- Matthias Friedrich

Karin Moe (born 3 December 1945) is a Norwegian writer and literary critic.
She made her literary debut in 1980 with the text collection Kjønnskrift. Other collections are 39 Fyk from 1983, and Sjanger from 1986. She published the experimental novels Blove 1. bok and Blove 2. bok in 1990 and 1993 respectively. - wikipedia

Guido Ceronetti trenchantly sifts through the miscellany of fact, legend, folk wisdom, and literary artifice by which cultures past and present have grappled with that most enigmatic of subjects, the human body

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Guido Ceronetti, The Silence of the Body: Materials for the Study of Medicine, Trans. by Michael Moore, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1993.

Drawing on ancient and classical texts, the author offers a study of modern medicine, exploring such topics as medicine's prolongation of life without providing wisdom, and human indifference to moral responsibility.

In The Silence of the Body, the Italian writer Guido Ceronetti trenchantly sifts through the miscellany of fact, legend, folk wisdom, and literary artifice by which cultures past and present have grappled with that most enigmatic of subjects, the human body. Long a student of ancient and classic writings, Ceronetti has culled their texts for the light they shed on the body's mysteries. He has indulged, too, his passion for the bizarre and his gift for sharp and memorable language. The result is a compendium of aphoristic opinions - erudite, outrageous, and cranky - through which Ceronetti seeks to "lift the veil from human things" in a way that doctors of medicine never will. The triumph of medicine and modernity, Ceronetti writes, has been to prolong life without providing wisdom, to break the silence of the body without hearing its voice. The one real illness left is our indifference to moral responsibility: the body "reveals itself only in peace and to philosophers." It is the considerable charm of this book to examine the body - literally, warts and all - and bring us one writer's quirky, challenging view.

Ceronetti draws on European and Asian literature--as well as the literature, religion, and mythology of the Christian, Jewish, and Eastern traditions--in a consideration of medicine at its broadest boundaries. (Readers will have to come well prepared, since Ceronetti assumes they have broad backgrounds.) Much of his material is sexual and scatological, violent, bloody, and cruel--but always with a purpose. Readers will enjoy the uncommon views on common subjects; death is a frequent topic. They will also often be productively jolted when Ceronetti's train of thought brings them to an unexpected outcome. When this collection of thoughts, brief essays, and questions first appeared in Italian, one of the author's friends described it as a "fascinating scrapbook." Fascinating is an understatement. - William Beatty

Idiosyncratic musings by Italian poet, critic, and philosopher Ceronetti, originally published in 1979 and marking the first English translation of his work. Ceronetti, who describes himself as fascinated by medicine and obsessively worried over health, is ``appalled by the passiveness of our bodies... under the scourge of Medicine's will...and dismayed by Medicine's insatiable omnipotence.'' A student of classic and sacred writings, he has perused world literature, ancient to modern, for insights into the human body and human behavior. He shares those here, along with his own melancholy opinions, bizarre memories, sardonic observations, and nightmarish visions. This isn't a continuous text but, rather, a sort of scrapbook of thoughts, sometimes linked together, sometimes not. Occasionally, there are multipage essays, but many entries run only a pithy line or two. Ceronetti can be epigrammatic, cryptic, even poetic--as in his vignette about an aging twosome: ``They were a beautiful couple. Her wealth of varicose veins matched his complete lack of teeth.'' Or in this comment on medical research: ``Pharmaceutical products for dogs and cats should first be tested on men kept in special cages.'' Or: ``Since man is a cancer, his metastasis on other planets should no longer seem so improbable.'' Anglo-Saxon crudities abound, sounding a jarring note amid so many Latin phrases--but whether this reflects Ceronetti's language or that of his translator is unclear. What is clear is that the author has given a great deal of thought to what it means to be human--and that he wishes doctors would do the same. A literary oddity that's compelling yet repellent, amusing yet outrageous. - Kirkus Reviews

Edmund Gosse - 'Father and Son' which has been described as the first psychological biography. "The comedy was superficial and the tragedy essential,"

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Edmund Gosse, Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments, Heinemann, 1907.

Father and Son, a memoir first published anonymously in 1907, was Gosse's second book and is arecord of his struggle to 'fashion his inner life for himself.' The book describes Edmund's early years in an exceptionally devout Plymouth Brethren home. His mother, who died early and painfully of breast cancer, was a writer of Christian tracts. His father was an influential, though largely self-taught, invertebrate zoologist and student of marine biology who, after his wife's death, took Edmund to live in Devon. The book focuses on the relationship between a sternly religious father who rejects the new evolutionary theories of his scientific colleague Charles Darwin and the son's gradual coming of age and rejection of his father's fundamentalist religion. It was immediately acclaimed for its courage in flouting the conventions of Victorian autobiography and is still a moving account of self-discovery.

Father and Son is a classic account of a childhood, a much-praised autobiography published by Edmund Gosse in 1907, nearly 20 years after the death of his father, the naturalist Philip Henry Gosse. Over and over again, it was a reference to that marvellous book that followed my answer to the question, "What are you working on these days?", the standard question to a writer whose work is only vaguely familiar. For nine years or so, until 1984, I replied "Edmund Gosse," and for another six years (from 1996 until a few months ago) "Philip Henry Gosse." Again and again, my questioner's response was "Ah, Father and Son."
It is the only book by either of the Gosses that is in print today, though in the years between 1840 and 1928 they published between them more than 90 books, as well as masses of contributions to periodicals, on natural history in the father's case, on literature in the son's.
I first read Father and Son in the little green Heinemann edition I found on my parents' shelves when I was 16 or so. In the introduction to my biography of Edmund Gosse, I described it as "one of the formative books of my youth". But I think this might have been a case of being wise after the event, of rewriting the story, as Edmund himself did all the time. I looked at my own diaries recently, trying to find some enthusiastic reactions to that first reading, but it is simply one book among many in a list.
Most adolescents long to get away from the constraints and expectations of the parental home, and that over-anxious love so many of us experience. My parents were not fanatics of any sort. That Philip Henry Gosse was one is undeniable. But he was not (and Edmund knew he was not) the "monster" that some readers saw in Edmund's portrayal of his father. One of the strengths of Father and Son is that the father's humanity confronts us as much as his religious obsessions. Indeed, the book takes much of its power from what Edmund rejected. Over and over again Edmund's attempts to be fair to his father are negated by his theme. Looking back to the years long before, he rewrites history and paints an enthralling portrait of a desolate childhood and a difficult youth.
Father and Son was first published anonymously. This seems to have been a clever marketing ploy to arouse curiosity, and Edmund's name was soon attached to subsequent impressions. Edmund was also eager to test the water, to discover just how much he would be attacked for his lack of filial piety. The reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement wrote: "The author of this book has no doubt settled it with his conscience how far in the interests of popular edification or amusement it is legitimate to expose the weaknesses and inconsistencies of a good man who is also one's father." One reader saw the son as "beneath contempt, causing his father to be an object of ridicule", but most admired, and Heinemann declared the book to be the "Literary Sensation of the Season." The criticism died away; the praise remained.
When my biography of Edmund Gosse appeared, Geoffrey Grigson wrote of Father and Son and its writer: "That classic book was in its way its own author. Circumstances could be said to have written it for him." This was far from the case. The story comes as much from art as from life. Edmund himself realised that in writing a powerful and moving book, he had overestimated the dark side, suggesting the comedy was superficial, the tragedy essential. Vivid images stayed in readers' minds of the lonely boy reading aloud theology to his dying mother, of him pressing his pale cheek against the window-pane for interminable hours, of "the hush" around father and son "in which you could hear a sea anemone sigh".
Rudyard Kipling wrote to Edmund: "It's extraordinarily interesting - more interesting than David Copperfield because it's true." Edmund himself had stressed that at a time when fiction takes forms "so ingenious and so specious", it was necessary to state that his narrative was "scrupulously true". The introduction by Peter Abbs to the current Penguin Twentieth Century Classics edition continues to say that "as a documentary record we know, from other sources, that most of the facts are accurate".
I knew already before 1984 that this was not so, and more recently I have come across substantial further evidence in the father's parish notes, that shows how little Edmund cared for accuracy. (His friend Henry James once said he had "a genius for inaccuracy".) Edmund must have read his source materials years before, when writing his Life of Philip Henry Gosse (1890), then forgotten the facts and used a version of them to enrich Father and Son. There is a great deal of fiction in the book. I was amused, when searching out a copy of the current edition, to find it on the fiction shelves at Foyles. TH Huxley once wrote: "Autobiographies are essentially works of fiction, whatever biographies may be." It is the biographer's task to try to get at the truth.
· Glimpses of the Wonderful: The Life of Philip Henry Gosse by Ann Thwaite is published by Faber. - Ann Thwaite

"The comedy was superficial and the tragedy essential," Edmund Gosse says of his life in the classic, Father and Son. The tragedy he speaks of seems to be the fact that his parents were firm fundamentalist Christians who rejected Darwin's theory of evolution. But I see a different, more pervasive tragedy in his life, a tragedy that has far reaching implications for Christians today.
Gosse's father (Philip) was a biologist, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, one of the early illuminati to whom Darwin revealed his theory before he unveiled it to the public. Father Gosse conversed personally with Hooker and Darwin in the summer of 1857 concerning the theory of natural selection which Darwin was planning to make public.
After consulting with Carpenter, another scientist, both men decided to reject the new theory. But the model of origins they decided to hold included not only the Scriptural account of the creation of reproductively fixed "kinds", but also the notion of the fixity of the species. Carpenter, Gosse, and other nineteenth century Christians did not realize that species is a human classification, and not necessarily always the same as kind, the divine classification. The notion of fixity of species later fell, under investigational observation.
Father Gosse, shortly after his encounter with Darwin, published a book, Omphalos, to counter proposals then being set forth by Charles Lyell. Lyell's theories became the basis for uniformitarianism and the doctrine of slow, gradual evolution. Edmund saw the main argument of his father's Omphalos as the proposition that there was "no gradual modification of the surface of the earth, or slow development of organic form," but that the "catastrophic" act of creation produced instantly an earth with all the appearances of age.
The press instantly ridiculed Gosse's book, saying Gosse believed God hid the fossils in the rock to tempt geologists into infidelity.
According to Edmund Gosse, his father earnestly believed Omphalos wouid reconcile geology and Genesis. But, he says, " Alas! atheists and Christians alike looked at it, and laughed, and threw it away." Father Gosse was injured deeply by the scornful reviews, chilly letters, and rejection of his idea even by friends. Under the pressure of this disapproval, Gosse left London, severed connections with the British Museum and Royal Society, and went to live in isolation by the seashore, where he continued to collect and dissect marine specimens apart from the mainstream of the scientific-philosophic thought of his day.
Edmund Gosse makes it clear that his parents loved and respected the Word of God. One can hardly criticize them for neglecting the Word. Gosse says, "Pleasure was found nowhere but in the Word of God, and to the endiess" discussion of the Scriptures each (parent) hurried when the day's work was over." He says that to the end of his father's life he "continued to take an eager pleasure in the text of the Bible."
But his parent's faith had other characteristics as well, and one contributed strongly to the tragedy of Edmund Gosse. One might call the family credo anti-intellectual and ascetic, for it appears entirely wrapped up in itself, with insufficient concern for understanding and addressing the philosophy and spirit of the age. Gosse informs us that his parents "neither knew nor cared about any manifestation of current literature. To them, literature and science alike were useful only to keep the student "out of the worid," and provide employment. They felt it was wrong to find pleasure in literature, science, or any pursuit other than reading and discussing the Word of God.
Very little literature could squeeze the narrow strictures which formed the standards for the household. "The range of these (books) was limited," explains Edmund, ''for storybooks of every description were sternly excluded. No fiction of any kind, religious or secular, was admitted into the house.'' Gosse's mother believed that "to tell a story," that is, to compose fictitious narrative of any kind, or to read such "lies" was sin. She would not read any kind of poetry either, except Iyrical and subjective poetry. Thus, the household was clearly outside the popular current of thought. The Gosses had always been isolated and insulated from the outside world, and leaving London, the Royal Society, and the British Museum was only the severing of ties that were already worn thread thin.
Perhaps it was partly this anti-intellectual element, this separationist - isolationist complex in his childhood faith that tainted Edmund's life from the beginning. In addition, his father's early and complete withdrawal from the mainstream of culture rendered his influence ineffectual in scientific society as well, and just at a key time when a firm and outspoken biologist could possibly have plugged the holes and avoided the breaking of the dam.
Secondly, Father Gosse made the mistake of thinking that his ideas, or the tenets of accepted thought before Darwin, were as sure as the Word of God itself. He could not conceive that Genesis allowed for further specification. He was unable to deal adequately with the fossil evidence that was being discovered. His clinging to ideas of human origin, and his inability to separate the teaching of Genesis from his ideas about the teaching of Genesis, led him to scorn from scholars and saints alike, not to mention the loving but scorching scorn of his son Edmund, as related in Father and Son.
We can learn a lot from the tragedy of Edmund Gosse. Do we at times exhibit the same general tendencies.?
It is easy, in the light of all we know today, when Darwin's ideas are being challenged even by evolutionists themselves, when we've had 180 years or more to examine the fossil evidence, when we understand much more about speciation, and when creationists are supported by societies of like-minded scientists, to criticize Gosse. But we must remember the time in which he lived, and that though he wasn't correct in many of his speculations, he at least was one of the first to try to correlate Genesis and the fossil evidence. He at least recognized that all truth must fit together harmoniously; he was more intelligent than moderns who try to place Genesis and science in two separate boats "and never the twain shall meet."
The tragedy is that because his son's early life was so deprived of wonder, imagination, and what he calls "humanity," Edmund Gosse turned from his father's firm adherence to the Scriptures and the creationist explanation. What Philip Gosse held so tightly himself, he lost completely in his son. The humanistic, naturalistic explanation of life from which the father fled in horror, his son accepted and spread. That, it seems to me, is the real tragedy of Edmund Gosse. - Lorella Rouster 

Edmund William Gosse (b. 1849–d. 1928) was the preeminent man of letters during the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. Although he worked in several genres—as poet, playwright, biographer, essayist, critic, literary historian, and bibliophile—the modernist contempt for all things Victorian meant that Gosse’s wider oeuvre fell into obscurity, and his posthumous reputation was sustained by only one book: Father and Son (1907). This autobiographical novel describes his family life up to the age of twenty-one, with his father, Philip Henry Gosse (b. 1810–d. 1888) a prolific and popular author of books on natural history and religion, and his mother, Emily Bowes-Gosse (b. 1806–d. 1857) a writer of evangelical narrative tracts. Gosse’s parents belonged to the Plymouth Brethren, and much of Father and Son concerns Gosse’s growing resistance to their religious expectations of him. Rather than becoming a religious missionary as his parents had hoped, Gosse became a literary evangelist, preaching a love of poetry, fiction, and drama. The nature of Gosse’s working life, first as a clerk-cataloguer at the British Museum (1860–1875), then as a translator at the Board of Trade (1875–1904), and finally as librarian of the House of Lords (1904–1914) allowed him spare time to devote to literary pursuits, and he cultivated friendships with such figures as Stevenson, Swinburne, Hardy, and James. By the age of thirty-five, Gosse’s literary career seemed promising, with a successful lecture tour across America, and an appointment as Clark Lecturer at Cambridge University. However, when Gosse turned the series of lectures given in America into a book, From Shakespeare to Pope (1885), published by Cambridge University, it proved to be full of inaccuracies, and became the focus for an impassioned debate about dilettantism in the teaching of English literature. John Churton Collins exposed the vague generalizations, random assertions, and blatant errors in Gosse’s vaunted scholarship: the affair was dubbed by The Critic as “the Scandal of the Year” (20 November 1886). Though disconcerted for a while, Gosse quickly resumed writing, and in addition to numerous essays (subsequently published as collections), he became well known for his biographies: Gray (1882), Congreve (1888), Philip Gosse (1890), Donne (1899), Jeremy Taylor (1904), Patmore (1905), Sir Thomas Browne (1905), Ibsen (1907), and Swinburne (1917). Early in his career, Gosse promoted Scandinavian literature, championing particularly the plays of Ibsen, while later in life, his enthusiasm for French literature developed into strong support for the work of André Gide. From the age of seventy up to his death, Gosse’s causerie and “ten-minute sermons” entertained readers, first in The Daily Mail and, later, in The Sunday Times. - www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199799558/obo-9780199799558-0138.xml

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David R. Bunch - a series of short, narratively deranged, fable-like tales which describe in satirical terms a radically technologized future world where, after a nuclear Holocaust, humans have been transformed into Cyborgs, the surface of the Post-Holocaust world is plastic, and thought and action are both solipsistic and deeply melancholy

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David R. Bunch, Moderan, Avon Books, 1971. + New York Review Books, 2018. 

A collection of chilling and prescient stories about ecological apocalypse, artificial intelligence, and the merging of human and machine in an effort to survive.Welcome to Moderan, world of the future. Here perpetual war is waged by furious masters fighting from Strongholds well stocked with “arsenals of fear,” earth is covered with vast sheets of plastic, and humans vie to replace more and more of their own “soft parts” with steel machinery. What need is there for nature when trees and flowers can be pushed up through holes in the plastic? Who requires human companionship when new-metal mistresses can be ordered from the shop? But even a Stronghold master can doubt the catechism of Moderan. Wanderers, poets, and his own children pay visits, proving that another world is possible.
“The effect is as if Whitman and Nietzsche had collaborated,” Brian Aldiss wrote of David R. Bunch’s stories. Originally published in science-fiction magazines in the 1960s and ’70s and passionately sought by collectors, the stories have not been available in a single volume for nearly fifty years, and this new edition of Moderan will include ten previously-uncollected stories. Like Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange, and borrowing from the Bible and the language of advertising, Bunch coined a mind-bending new vocabulary. His intent was not to divert readers from the horrors of modernity but to make them face it squarely.

Come to Moderan...
Moderan is one of the most startingly original, provocative & fascinating future worlds in all of science fiction.
In Moderan, men are made mostly of metal. They retain strips of flesh to contain their humanity. They live in Strongholds. They prowl the war rooms of their Strongholds and plan wars.
Quite a world, Moderan. Come visit. The war is about to begin...

A writer whose work I admire vastly. And a writer who has, oddly enough, barely received the acclaim due to him. —Harlan Ellison

unch's first book remains his best-known (though it has never been reprinted): Moderan (coll of linked stories 1971; exp 2018), is a series of short, narratively deranged, fable-like tales which describe in satirical terms (see Satire) a radically technologized future world where, after a nuclear Holocaust, humans have been transformed into Cyborgs, the surface of the Post-Holocaust world is plastic, and thought and action are both solipsistic and deeply melancholy. The book's portrait of a manufactured humanity works as an arraignment of the late-twentieth-century slide into speed-lined rootlessness, and demonstrates his heterodoxy in the world of sf. Of the many non-Moderan stories, "That High-Up Blue Day that Saw the Black Sky-Train Come Spinning" (March 1968 F&SF) is an outstanding conflation of moral seriousness and Grand Guignol, in which children – who often appear in Bunch's tales just as they become monsters or are destroyed (see Children in SF) – are given an unusual chance to escape. Bunch's style at its best conveys resembles R A Lafferty's at his best, though it is far more exclamatory, and rhetorically pixilated, than Lafferty's work. At its most intense, Bunch resembles a diced, gonzo Walt Whitman, sampling (in a frenzy) the body electric. The relentlessness of his vision and the "zany" extremity of his rendering of it ensured Bunch's continuing unpopularity, which was not much lessened by the release of Bunch! (coll 1993), for the contents of that book are if anything more extreme than those of Moderan. His oeuvre is a marker of the wide range of modern sf, but his career marks the reluctance of most readers to explore that range. - http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/bunch_david_r

Originally published in the 1960s and '70s, Bunch’s dystopian science-fiction stories, set in his signature realm of Moderan—a futuristic Earth covered in plastic and controlled by warring cyborg warlords—are available in one volume for the first time in 47 years.
While genre historians (and few others) will remember Bunch from his inclusion in Harlan Ellison’s revolutionary 1967 anthology Dangerous Visions, this collection of Moderan stories confirms that Bunch was a major—albeit obscure—talent in the New Wave science-fiction movement. Powered by lyrical prose and a deeply philosophical tone, many of the stories feature the character of Stronghold #10, the leader of one of the many perpetually warring districts on the planet. A virtually immortal metal man with few areas of vulnerable “flesh-strips,” Stronghold #10 struggles to come to grips with his humanity in a “plasto-coated” world ravaged by toxic pollution where the mechanical populace is obsessed with war and hate. In “The Miracle of the Flowers,” Stronghold #10 attempts to understand a wandering metal preacher advocating love and pacifism. “Incident in Moderan” exemplifies the callousness of Bunch’s post-humanity. During a brief lull between wars, Stronghold #10 is far more concerned with launching his new weapons than with the death of one of his mortal subjects (a “little flesh-bum”). The only problem with this collection is the unevenness a reader will feel when consuming it straight through. There is a feeling of disconnectedness in some sequences in which the tales are unrelated and some repetition among the stories. That lack of fluidity notwithstanding, this collection gives Bunch’s cybernetic vision of the future new life for a new generation of science-fiction readers. Almost a half-century after these stories were originally released, the thematic power of Bunch’s vision still resonates, the narrative equivalent of a new-metal alloy punch to the gut.
A disturbing, stark, and deeply thought-provoking collection of stories chronicling humankind’s demise into heartless automatons. - Kirkus Reviews

Pain forms the common denominator of the late Bunch’s 58 wrenching short stories, most originally published in minor 1960s science fiction magazines and first collected in 1971. A cyborg dystopia’s polluted planet, now totally covered in gray plastic, houses doomed humans and relatively few “new-metal men” like the nameless narrator. The latter are transformed gruesomely over nine months into creatures of rage and hate, relentlessly blasting one another’s strongholds while thinking themselves secure in their metallic immortality. Bunch provides searing echoes of the Vietnam War and satiric jabs at “take-over” wives whom the narrator banishes to the “White Witch Valley,” all conveyed in overheated prose that suggests hippiedom’s worst excesses. In the most moving story, “The Miracle of the Flowers,” the narrator seems to experience pangs of conscience until a disturbing Nietzschean ending turns his yearning for softening human emotion into acrid bile. Jeff VanderMeer’s perceptive introduction, couched in Bunchian idiom, offers valuable insights. This is a steely view of a robot-dominated future. - Publishers Weekly

In the twentieth century, rapid mechanisation, fierce ideological warfare, and the rise of totalitarian regimes inspired a number of post-apocalyptic narratives, notably Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984. Both of these works imagined highly advanced socialist societies that regulated human obedience to the state through the systematic repression of individualism and free will. These societies deprived man of his most human qualities of love, creativity and independent thought. Effectively, they dehumanised their populations until they were little more than subservient machines.
American short-story writer and poet David R. Bunch carried this notion to its logical and literal end when he envisioned the world of Moderan, where the dominant species were machine-men, men who had transformed themselves into machines for the sake of eternal life. Bunch published his first collection, Moderan, in 1971. Since that time, his stories have been largely overlooked and not been collected in a single volume until a new reissue from New York Review Books. These grimly humorous, pointedly satirical and profoundly existential stories trace the rise and fall of the civilisation as described by a skeptical machine-man. They boldly ask to what extent man, when edited and excised piecewise for maximal efficiency and minimal humanity, remains man at all.
The Moderan society is an Orwellian authoritarian socialist commune created as a solution for the human destruction of natural resources, including the ubiquitous contamination of air and water, and principally, the problem of mortality itself. The solution involves the careful manipulation of climate, the global replacement of soil with plastic and steel layers, the freezing of all large bodies of water, and the mechanical transformation of the human body through a number of “replacement” operations until it has become impervious to any form of decay or sickness. Throats are plated in gold to prevent cancer, hearts are replaceable pistons that pump out pale green blood to joints connecting steel and flesh, and lungs have become flexible metal cylinders that balloon outward to accept air. Children are created by a method of in vitro fertilisation, in which a machine-man and machine-woman donate their respective reproductive cells for their enjoining in a sterile laboratory overseen by programmed machines. The child is born fully fleshed, and when he comes of age, he begins receiving his “replacement” operations until he has become almost entirely metal. Essentially, Moderan seeks to contain all the anarchy and lawlessness of the universe through the precise mechanical reproduction and replacement of original natural processes.
Because the protagonist of these stories accepted the ways of Moderan before significant deterioration of his body, he was transformed into a stronghold, an elite class of machine-men who continuously wage war against each other’s forts for the purposes of maximal destruction and self-preservation. The term “stronghold” not only refers to the machine-man’s fort itself but also to the machine-man himself. His original human name has become obsolete, and he is exclusively known as “Stronghold #10”. In the collection, Bunch is playfully ironic with the naming of things, and names are often puns, euphemisms, and double entendres. For instance, Moderan itself is a pun on “modern”. The “Joys” refer to leisure activities, which include lovemaking with mechanical women. But they are actually the cause of much despair and sadness. Death arouses so much dread and fear that the machine-man must qualify or even avoid the word. He refers to it as “natural-causes death”, “old-fashioned death” or the “Big Dark of the Cold Nothing” as if he were always trying to distance himself further from the possibility of dying. As in any society, names become signifiers of cultural values.
One of the implications of the catechism of Moderan is a universal repulsion with human flesh. The Moderan child’s transitory period with flesh has become a fragile embryonic stage prior to the final transformation into machine. Human flesh has become an obsolete form. In Darwinian terms, the fully fleshed human has become the less evolved species, an ancestor to modern machine-man. In this collection, the unmodified, unreplaced human becomes a rare, mythic figure because he is disappearing into history. Human appearances in Moderan are often strange, inexplicable accidents, as if they were ghosts delivering messages from the dead.
In the cleverly inventive story, ‘A Glance at the Past’, machine-men and machine-women journey from the far reaches of Moderan to gawk at a human heart that has been preserved as a curiosity in a museum exhibit. They view the human heart with pity and wonder at its primitive and monstrous form. Bunch quotes from a pamphlet written by the Moderan people describing the exhibit: “Today, after viewing this monstrosity, you and I must feel great pity for all our ancient ancestors. It was their poor fortune to be born so long ago and inhabit a world where such a thing as this was everyone’s common danger, not the clowning mutant exception, but the common sober rule. No wonder they were wavery and unsure, mushy and vulnerable, scared half to death most of the time and prone to be soft-headed.” This is a finely wrought moment of irony, in which the supposedly advanced civilization proudly congratulates itself for escaping the ignorance of its ancestors. The Moderan people are vulnerable to such hubris because they believe they have outwitted God and become deities in their own right. The Modern people seem to have expunged from their memory the fact that they were once entirely flesh themselves. In this passage, it is interesting that the machine-man enforces a sort of existential distance from the flesh-man. Machine-man believes himself to be a godly species all his own. The past is a source of shame rather than pride. The Moderan society has erected an imitation world that is so plausible that its people not only believe in the truth of the imitation but also start to doubt the existence of the original. For the Moderan people, to stare backward is to stare into an abyss.
Moderan society values hardness, militancy and hatred, while it seeks to abolish love, intimacy and compassion. For the machine-man, love is an anachronistic element of human culture and a threat to his civilisation. He believes that love is a form of weakness that distracts from his greater purpose of serving the state through deep meditation and war. The family unit is organised so large physical distances separate members leading hermitic existences and children only see their fathers on holidays for five-minute visits. The family has been economised so the roles of parent and child have been narrowed to the basic functions necessary for the welfare of the Moderan state. Children often undermine these prescribed roles by wriggling out of their solitude and demanding love from others.
Brief family reunions are often comical and tender scenes, in which the child attempts to elicit affection from the withholding parent. In ‘The Complete Father’, a daughter visits her father after one of her significant replacement operations. She starts pleading that they see each other more frequently and act like the loving parents and children on human television. Her scandalised father starts recounting the horrors of ancient, flesh-based family life: “People lived together in clusters of rooms, whole families lumped not only in each other’s consciousness, but together in sight and smell as well as feel. Their personalities were untrue; their characters developed twisted; they were walking nightmares of contradictions because they warped one another by their proximities.” The machine-man obsesses over the purity of the mind because he believes that the mind should always be engaged in the solution of some “universal deep problem”, or in contributing to the advancement of his civilisation. The machine-man’s obsession with solitude is almost as great as his obsession with immortality. Moderan men are all essentially hypochondriacs fearing the most remote source of infection that might compromise their pristine health. In similar fashion, they fear contamination of their minds by the subversive thoughts of others. In a broader sense, the paranoia over the integrity of body extends to that of the mind.
But in ‘The Complete Father’, the machine-man never really believes completely in what he preaches to his daughter. He seems to be saying what must be said or what is expected of him as an abiding citizen of Moderan. While he is excoriating closeness between family members, he is contending with feelings of love for his own daughter. The machine-man narrator sees his daughter dab at her eyes, and he feels “the love tear deep inside him trying again to embarrass him”. Bunch’s machine-man is highly complex because he is always torn between rationality and emotion. The heart (even a mostly steel, mostly artificial heart) rebels against the head. He is after a singleness of mind, a completeness of faith in the scripture of Moderan, but doubt always insinuates itself and nudges him toward existential crisis. The stories of this collection tend to pivot on the machine-man narrator’s doubt toward indoctrinated beliefs regarding the fallibility of flesh-man. When he declares the greatness of the machine-man civilization, he is instructing his daughter but also assuring himself. Despite all his self-flagellation and his attempts at training his own mind to believe otherwise, the narrator cannot help but feel love for his daughter. In Orwellian terms, he is constantly guilty of committing the thoughtcrime of love. The machine-man yearns for the immortality of the machine, while subconsciously and shamefully yearning for the feeling of man.
The protagonist is haunted by death, and his waging of constant warfare is only a distraction from his questioning whether he is truly immortal. In the highly allegorical story, ‘Has Anyone Seen this Horseman’, a horseman tied to his horse visits the protagonist. The allegorical roles have the explicitness and solidity of a fable or an ancient Greek drama. The horseman claims the ropes represent conscience, while the horse, which has been blinded, represents duty. Visitors to the stronghold, like the horseman, children or fully fleshed wanderers, in the fashion of Shakespeare’s fools, bear difficult truths in the guise of insanity or clownishness. Toward the end of the story, the protagonist describes his feelings toward warfare to the horseman. They betray a loss of conviction: “And since it’s come to a discussion, I guess I’m happiest when I’m steel. I guess I’m happiest when I’m in my War Room handing the big orange switch of war to ON and pressing the buttons of launchers. Or, to put it another way, I’m not unhappy or worried or asking questions then—and I’ll settle for that.” The protagonist assumes that the reason for his existence is to wage war but he risks his own sanity when he starts to question whether that war has any purpose at all. The name “Stronghold #10” is ironic because the machine-man is actually weak-willed and prone to lapses of faith. In fact, his ideals are not strongly held at all. He is a creature of deep insecurity, an agnostic who professes to be a believer, or a skeptic who is ashamed of his own skepticism.  
In this highly accomplished and deeply imagined collection of stories, Bunch suspends the machine-man between the realms of machine and human. The tragedy is that the machine-man cannot escape this condition of inbetweenness unless he kills either the machine or human part of himself. These stories are ultimately concerned with what Camus proposed was the only serious philosophical question—that is, the question of suicide, of deciding whether or not life was worth living. In one of the most poignant moments of the collection, in the story, ‘The Final Decision’, the protagonist seriously contemplates suicide and plans to disassemble his machine parts and store his flesh in a box. He cannot find happiness in war-making, love for a metal woman or any of his former joys. The machine-man suffers such despair because though he has been assigned a definitive role in society, he is still eluded by a legitimate sense of purpose. He realises that the Moderan world is all artifice. He knows that he is simply playing a game to pass the time. In Moderan, he functions as a soulless machine and not at all as a human being. His existence in Moderan has become a non-life, a form of spiritual death. For Bunch, love and purpose sustain man, whether part-machine or otherwise, and when neither can be found, he longs for another world. The machine-man does not know what actual death constitutes but at least it contains the possibility of a different sort of life. - Darren Huang

In the earliest days of this blog, I declared David R. Bunch to be "unjustly neglected". This was true back then, but not nearly as true as it is today, when all his books are out of print and usually sell for high prices on the secondary market (if you can find them).
After I wrote that post in 2004, Jeff VanderMeer and I started talking about ways to get Bunch back into print. I sought out every stray Bunch story I could find. I tracked down the rightsholder. I typed up a section of Bunch's novel-in-linked-stories Moderan before tendonitis forced me to stop typing much of anything for a few months, and made the thought of returning to typing up Moderan painful. Various obstacles presented themselves. (I started a master's degree. I became series editor for the Best American Fantasy anthologies. I moved to New Jersey. My father died. I moved back to New Hampshire. Etc.) In amidst it all, I couldn't follow up on the idea of reprinting Bunch, though it was never forgotten by me and a few other folks, at least.
Jeff and Ann VanderMeer moved from one success to another, in terms of Jeff's writing, Ann's editing, and their joint anthology projects. As they began putting together The Big Book of Science Fiction, they thought of Bunch, ultimately reprinting three of his Moderan stories, the first time any Bunch had been reprinted in almost 20 years. 
And then they wondered if maybe they could find a way to do what we'd dreamed of doing more than a decade ago: Bringing Bunch back into print.
Their tremendous efforts have now paid off. New York Review of Books Classics will publish a new edition of Bunch's Moderan, possibly with some previously uncollected and/or unpublished Moderan stories (Bunch kept writing about Moderan after the book was published, and always dreamed of a complete Moderan volume. It's too early to say whether this edition will be able to be that).
Jeff and Ann are generous in crediting me with some of this, but the truth is that they picked up a ball I'd dropped and ran with it farther than I ever dreamed possible. My greatest hopes a decade ago were to bring some of Bunch's work back into print either via print-on-demand technology or through a small press that would do a limited edition for collectors. He's such an odd, esoteric writer that I didn't think more would be possible. And more might not have been possible then — the literary world has changed a lot in the last ten years, and it seems to me far more hospitable now to the sorts of things Bunch did than it was then. In many ways, our current era has finally caught up to David Bunch.
It's important, I think, to note that Bunch's work was very close to being forgotten. He never had a large audience, despite publishing many short stories over a period of nearly 50 years, and getting enthusiastic support from such influential writers and editors as Harlan Ellison and Judith Merril. (Indeed, he not only didn't have a big audience, but many readers actively loathed him. The few editors willing to publish his work inevitably got letters from outraged readers who complained that Bunch's stories and vignettes didn't have plots, weren't written in good English, and were much too weird.) The original edition of Moderan was a paperback published without fanfare in 1971. His later books came from tiny presses. He died in 2000, almost completely out of print. Until The Big Book of SF, the most recent reprinting of a Bunch story that I know of is "2064, or Thereabouts" in Bruce Coville's Strange Worlds (the story had previously been included in 1993's The Norton Book of Science Fiction, probably the most recent Bunch anthologization before that).
But now at least some of that work will be saved, and Bunch's words will be read again by a world in many ways more prepared to understand them than at any other time, as writers like George SaundersMatthew Derby, and Ben Marcus, among others, have helped readers learn how to read such writing.
I always struggle with how to describe Bunch's work. I like Jeff's comparison: Philip K. Dick meets E.E. Cummings. John Clute in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is good, too: "Bunch's style at its best resembles R A Lafferty's at his best, though it is far more exclamatory, and rhetorically pixilated, than Lafferty's work. At its most intense, Bunch resembles a diced, gonzo Walt Whitman, sampling (in a frenzy) the body electric." 
Comparisons only go so far. Bunch is utterly unique.
Perhaps the best way to let you know the great treat you are in for when the NYRB edition of Moderan is published is to give you some little bits of Bunch. Here, then, a few passages from various pages of Moderan:

Quaint they were, these records, strange and ancient, washed to shore when the Moderan seas finally unthawed.  Played in the old-fashioned machine way we, the beam people, the Essenceland Dream people, easily divined, they told of a very different world, a transition world, if you will, between what we are now and the death and defeat these people hoped to overcome.  New-metal man!  It does have a ring.  MODERAN!  It did seem pretty great in concept, I'm sure, and, who knows, perhaps it had a reasonable chance of success.  But all societies, all civilizations, all aspirations it seems must fail the unremitting tugs of shroudy time, finally, leaving only little bones, fossils, a shoe turned to stone maybe, a bone button in the sea perhaps, a jeweled memento of an old old love.

Flesh seemed doomed that year; death's harpies were riding down.  The once-beautiful, sweet and life-sustaining air was tinged with poison now, and man drank at his peril from the streams that had once been pure.  He prayed to a God that was said to be in all things good, true and beautiful, but especially was thought to be all sternness and goodness, justice and loving-care, in some milk-white place far away, "On High."  And those prayers if answered were answered very obliquely indeed.  For the air got deeper in poison from the tinkering with lethal things the flesh-man indulged in when not praying, and the water got fuller with danger as each new explosion pounded the bomb-fevered air.  There was talk of the End; great discussions were handled in great halls across the land.  Treaties were signed among statesmen to help the air get better, to allow the streams to recover and run pure once again.  But even as the flesh-hands grasped the pens to scrawl the marks of good faith in some countries, fear lashed at capitals in other countries.  Arsenals were tested anew.  Things done were undone.  The air got sicker; the streams ran not pure but pure danger-- There seemed no chance for flesh-man, and his God seemed entirely silent wherever He was, wherever His white throne was.  The HOPELESS signs were out everywhere.  Little children asked that they be allowed to go quickly and not grow up hurting and maimed.  Adults in what should have been the full flower of brave manhood and fair womanhood quaked, looked heavenward for some hopeful sign and, finding none, fell down and cried bitterly.  The aged ones, quavering and whining now, finally decided that yes, truly they were most glad that they were so very old.  The flesh billions courted at the Palace of Danger so ardently had turned against them and the mass wedding of Death and Destruction seemed now all but assured.

     "Maybe you could camp here until the time comes up to talk, and then I could hear your tale," I said, because I had my humor about me as well as one of my feet in safety, in the door of the peep-box of steel.     "Just say I found the Answers," he said.  "Just say you've seen the walking-talking Don't-Care man, one being who has escaped The Grip.  It wasn't easy, it took a long time, and planning, but I think I've achieved it finally, the ultimate resolution of that built-in agony, the Life-Death Predicament of Man." 
     That was a big statement he'd just loaded out there at the last.

So do you wonder that I sit in my hip-snuggie throne in the Innermost Room of Authority, sometimes for days on end, calm as a cold bowl of oil, my heart on REST, my brain on MAX and think on Universal Deep Problems?  I have so many problems!  We have so many problems, inlooping problems, intertwining problems, interwoven problems.  And, really, how to do these circles is not even a beginning of THE PROBLEM.
- Matthew Cheney

I'm not in this business primarily to describe or explain or entertain. I'm here to make the reader think, even if I have to bash his teeth out, break his legs, grind him up, beat him down, and totally chastise him for the terrible and tinsel and almost wholly bad world we allow.... The first level reader, who wants to see events jerk their tawdry ways through some used and USED old plot -- I love him with a hate bigger than all the world's pity, but he's not for me. The reader I want is the one who wants the anguish, who will go up there and get on that big black cross. And that reader will have, with me, the saving grace of knowing that some awful payment is due...as all space must look askance at us, all galaxies send star frowns down, a cosmic leer envelop this small ball that has such great Great GREAT pretenders.
--David R. BunchIt is not a surprise that
David Bunch's hundreds of short (very short) stories have been nearly forgotten, his few books gone out of print nearly as soon as they sneaked their way onto unsuspecting shelves. It is not a surprise, but it is a shame. A travesty. An indication of all that is wrong in the best of all possible worlds.
That Bunch's large body of small works has become little more than a footnote in reference books is not a surprise because Bunch was never an easy read. His prose has been called "convoluted", he was said to be a writer who alienated readers. "Convoluted" may be an accurate term for the feeling one gets from reading Bunch's sentences, but it is not an accurate term overall because it connotes bad writing, and Bunch was not a bad writer -- exactly the opposite. "Dense" is a better way to describe those sentences, those little stories of immense weight. "A miracle of language" might be the best description, though.

Out from the black-curtain area those compilers from another unit would swagger and stand looking at us like we were cold spit on the floor, and then they would gaze all around our area as if seeing everything clearly in a kind of blanket stare and evaluating everything correctly in a kind of God's judgement just before ambling on up to get their doughnuts, and their coffee or tea, with the sure walk of Captains to the snack bar.
("In the Empire")

I've been reading a bunch of Bunch over the past few days. I knew I wanted to write about him, as I have wanted to write about him for years, to shout his name out to the world, to say, "Look what you have ignored!" But I hadn't read much Bunch in a long time, and I needed to refamiliarize myself with the specifics of the tales, to try and figure out how he did what he did, because from the first story I read (in Dangerous Visions) I could describe the effect of Bunch on the brain -- he sizzles the senses, he snaps the synapses, he makes you go back to page one and start all over again -- I've never been able to figure out, precisely and incontrovertibly, HOW he achieved his effects.
(Another Bunch effect: He's contagious. Look at that ALL-CAPS up there. Oh, DRB, what have you done to me!)
It's been said that when Bunch was publishing one story after another in Amazing, Fantastic, If, Galaxy, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction during the 1960s and '70s that readers were outraged -- they felt the stories were deliberately opaque, that he was mocking them and their desire for linear narratives with clear plots and sympathetic characters.
He was.
But he was doing it out of necessity, and somehow he convinced editors to let him get away with it. (Perhaps because he didn't take up too much space. It's a rare Bunch story that lasts for more than a few pages.)
What readers who decided to hate Bunch, to deliberately Not Get It, missed out on were, among other things, some of the best first sentences and paragraphs ever published in genre magazines:

At first I was always scared that the policemen would come. And there I'd be up in my poor little room kicking this head. So the extreme pleasure I would be getting would be tinged with fear -- not guilt, not at all -- but fear that sooner or later those big blue men would come on their leather-cloppy feet -- heel plates thundering, thick knuckles pounding, and say, "Who's that up there making all that noise? Like kicking a head. Who's it? OPEN UP!!" And there I'd be.
("Any Heads at Home") 

It was early along in my Stronghold reign, after I had won me a couple of world Max Shoot-Outs and had established myself as the current Greatest Man, that I began to think again of other things; I began to think of ... aspects ... Purpose ... Beauty ... Community Interest...
("The Bird Man of Moderan")
There wasn't much we could do about it. Mostly we just did our job, which was to dump the cans and scoop up the sacks and the broken lamps and the pieces of chairs and the old picture walls and the kids and put it all in the back. Where the teeth were.
("In the Time of Disposal of Infants")

The wonder of Bunch is that all of those first sentences and paragraphs are followed by equally skilled, surprising, magical sentences and paragraphs. Each story works its way toward endings which are unpredictable, disturbing, darkly funny, and utterly apt.
Reading lots of Bunch is an exhausting experience, but also fulfilling, for the vast majority of his stories are -- given close attention -- immensely rewarding. You would think that reading such SHORT stories would be easy, quick, light. Not in the least. There are some Bunch stories which I have spent an hour reading, working slowly through the sentences, going back and forth and back and forth, imagining and savoring, constructing and reconstructing the sense and imagery in my mind.
Trillion Year Spree, Brian Aldiss says of reading ModeranBunch's collection of linked stories and not-quite-stories: "The effect is as if Whitman and Nietzsche had collaborated to rewrite a typical Heinlein-Anderson-Niven-Pournelle future history story. As such it is a unique book in the science fiction field." He goes on to say: "Moderan appeared only once, in paperback in the USA in 1971. Like so many good books in SF's history, it vanished in the flood of hype which launches many lesser fictional craft."
 Judith Merril put a number of Bunch's early stories in her Best SF anthologies, Harlan Ellison invited Bunch into Dangerous Visions, and, more recently, the controversial LeGuin/Attebery
The Norton Book of Science Fiction including one of Bunch's tales of Moderan, "2064, or Thereabouts". A collection, BUNCH!, appeared from Broken Mirrors Press in 1993, and in 2000 Anamnesis Press published a collection of his poetry.
But so much of Bunch has been left uncollected, and all but a handful of stories are extremely difficult to find. Judith Merril said Bunch had published 200 non-SF stories before selling his first SF story to If, and throughout his career he published nearly as much in small mainstream journals as he did in the SF magazines. (Some of these stories are collected in BUNCH!, and they don't feel too different from the SF stories, though they tend to have fewer machines.) At best, it seems, only 1/3 of Bunch's stories have ever been collected.
I have a copy of one uncollected story, "Doll for the End of the Day", from the October 1971 issue of Fantastic. It's essentially a horror story, and one of the most horrifying I've ever read, a tale of how one man takes out his frustrations, and the art that can be made from blood. If the rest of Bunch's uncollected work is of a similar quality, then the fact that it has remained uncollected means we have been deprived of knowing some of the best writing of the 20th century, in or out of the SF field. Scattered throughout hard-to-find old SF magazines and even-harder-to-find old literary journals is a wealth of wonder, and it's nearly impossible to know what we have lost through their obscurity.
David Bunch
died a few years ago, forgotten except by some dedicated fans. His work should have changed the landscape of the SF genre. It still should.
Flying saucer stories were a little too mundane for these old rumor tigers, each of whom was a minor wise-person in many areas, not including of course the area on how to live on Earth with the world as presented to them by history and beyond their blame and, in large measure, beyond their power to alter and make amends for. In other words, these derelicts couldn't adjust, roll with the punch, make the best of it and all that. They were hung up on things like how to earn the daily and how to pay consistently for a roof that didn't leak too much to be under at night in moderate to heavy wet stormy weather. They were losers. Protestors. Disturbers. Snarlers and howlers until the end. YES!
("That High-Up Blue Day That Saw the Black Sky-train Come Spinning")

- Matthew Cheney

David R. Bunch, who passed away in 2000 at age 74, may be the
best kept secret in New Wave sci-fi. As far as I can tell, only two of
the hundreds of stories he wrote are still in print. These two tales,
included in Harlan Ellison’s pathbreaking 1967 anthology Dangerous
Visions, served as my introduction to Bunch’s work.  And what a
stunning introduction they were—in an all-star collection, filled
with the stars of 1960s sci-fi, Bunch’s two brief tales impressed
me more than any of the other illustrious narratives.
Ellison himself clearly recognized Bunch's

exceptional talent. Bunch was the only contributor
to have more than a single story accepted for
the volume. In his intro to one of the stories,
Ellison noted that Bunch was "a writer whose
work I admire vastly. And a writer who has,
oddly enough, barely received the acclaim
due to him." Looking over the assembled talents
who participated in Dangerous Visions—a cast
of free radicals that included Philip K. Dick, J.G.
Ballard and Samuel R. Delany—Ellison added:
"Bunch is possibly the most dangerous visionary
of all those assembled here."
I was so struck by Bunch’s whimsical and

outlandish prose style and arch attitudes, that I
decided to track down more of his work. This proved much harder
than I anticipated. Bunch only published two short story collections
during his career, and both of them have been out-of-print for
decades. A few second-hand copies are available from online
retailers, but are usually sold at astronomical prices. I did some
online snooping and found that, for some puzzling reason, several
copies of Bunch's most famous work Moderan were available from
booksellers in Spain at only modestly outlandish prices. I placed
an order from a librería in Granada, Spain. When my copy of
Moderan arrived a couple weeks later, I opened the package in
eager anticipation—only to learn that it I had just purchased an
(out-of-print) Spanish translation of Bunch's book. At this point, I turned
to US sellers of overpriced, beat-up, out-of-print sci-fi paperbacks,
and after shelling out a sizable chunk of change, I finally acquired
Bunch's Moderan in English.
Yes, it was worth the time and trouble. Bunch didn't play by the same

rules as most of his peers in the genre fiction field. Moderan is written
in an extravagant first-person style that attempts to emulate the
speech patterns of a robot-and-human mashup from a future dystopia.  
Every sentence and paragraph of this book has been polished to a
fine metallic finish, and while reading it I found myself compelled to
recite certain passages aloud, just to savor the odd cadences
and phraseology.  
Here our narrator talks about the scientific breakthrough of Moderan

society—which consists mostly of quasi-men who have replaced the
majority of their flesh parts with advanced metal components. The
most privileged members of the society are more than 90% metal. 
"As steel men we were essentially but extensions of what man has

always been. The essential man had been extended, I'm trying to say.
The essence of normal man was and is and always will be the feeling of,
'I AM the greatest and most deserving thing in ail the Universe and I

should have preference wherever I go.' This is true collectively and
it is equally true individually. There was never normal man so lowly but
what he, if given the smallest smallest chance to rise, would start
regarding himself as a winner for sure. The domain of his aspirations
will have no NO ceiling and no NO walls: The whole universe will be
his pumpkin, his and his alone. A ghastly, slimy, ungodly contrivance
he, in many ways, is. But he has, let's face it, one saving grace. He is
to be counted on to be his ghastly, rotten, slimy, true-bad self until the
end. He is reliable, let us say, in that his total badness is assured. And
in that he is godly."
Unlike almost every other dystopian sci-fi book,
Moderan lets the rulers

of the degraded future society speak for themselves, in their own words,
and in defense of their own actions. For this to work, Bunch needs to
impart a degree of hidden irony and double-meaning to virtually
every paragraph in the book. Yet he also gives his warlord narrator a
touch of a poetic sensibility, and even a bit of human sentimentality. By
any measure, this is virtuoso performance—and I can’t think of more
than a half-dozen sci-fi authors of the era who could have pulled it off
with such finesse and persistence. The end result is an odd but
convincing combination of humor, social criticism and psychological
The closest book to
Moderan, among the other futuristic works of its

era, is Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, released around the
same time that Bunch began publishing his Moderan stories. Like
Burgess, Bunch realized that the conceptualization of a different kind
of society ideally involves the creation of a different kind of language,
a new body of speech patterns. Burgess's wordplay is largely indebted
to Joyce and other experimental authors of the first half of the 20th
century. Bunch's sources are harder to pinpoint, but his futuristic
metal men sometimes remind me of medieval chroniclers in their
language, at other times their words resemble the belligerent taunting
of skinheads at a British football match right before the rioting and
hooliganism get out of control. To emphasize the effect, Bunch liberally
uses exclamation points and all capital letters. Yet he also mixes in

sweet metaphors and quasi-Shakespearean imagery. The finished
product is sui generis, a way of expression that exists solely within
the pages of this book.
The philosophical content in
Moderan is almost as fascinating as

the work's linguistic effects. The name Nieztsche  does not appear
anywhere in this book, but clearly his fingerprints are all over its
dystopian society. In Moderan, the sword is truly mightier than the
pen—and supersized bombs are mightier than either. The practical
result of the melding of advanced metals with flesh is that the
'improved' citizens of Moderan are almost indestructible. This new-
found invincibility inspires them to devote most of their energy to
warfare and domination. Many of the most poetic passages in the
book are devoted to singing the praises of various weapons and
their consequences. Behind all this bluster, Bunch makes a case
for peace and fellowship—but only by presenting this over-the-
top counterexample. 
The only clumsiness in this book is due to its origins as separate

short stories. Bunch made some token efforts to create the appearance
that Moderan is a novel not a collection of isolated tales. But he
didn't successfully integrate the separate works into a flowing,
holistic narrative. As a result, the connecting passages don't
adequately connect, and the individual sections are marked by
repetitions and occasional contradictions. In most of the stories, the
Moderan civilization is devoted to warfare, but in a handful of  
'chapters' the narrator adheres to much different priorities, aiming
to spend as much time as possible meditating over deep philosophical
issues. Another cavil: too many of the stories here repeat a predictable
plot of a visitor coming to a warlord’s stronghold and sharing a
more humanistic and traditional viewpoint. The ensuing dialogue
between worldviews is fascinating, at least at first, but not after
the fifth or sixth repetitions. Even with these flaws, Moderan is a tour
de force, worthy of praise (and a return to print); but it would have
been even better if Bunch had exercised some judicious editing and
Although I offer these tiny gripes about the book, my main
complaint is targeted at the parties who have kept this work

out-of-print for decades, and haven’t salvaged more of the
hundreds of stories Bunch published in magazines during his
lifetime. Make no mistake, David R. Bunch was a big-time talent

even if he only left behind a small-time reputation. He can't
change that now, but we can…and should. - Ted Gioia


Review of Moderan by David R. Bunch

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