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The Deepening

Having just finished John Crowley's first published novel "The Deep," it gives me pause to reflect how the craft of his fiction has not so much metamorphosized over the years leading to his more current magisterial works, but how rather it has lengthened and deepened.  It is almost as though his first novels, sparse, but  long enough, are gestural works unsure whether they might find favor with the reading public if they were fully expanded. But counter to this idea is a developing assuredness within the reader, after reading many Crowleyian pieces, that the negative space, the unanswered questions, the things left unsaid, are meticulously planned by the writer-- that the true story must be constructed from the "unsayables" the narrative surrounds. 

The story depicts either a new covenant with God, or a devil's bargain (take your pick) for the human race in which utopia is found in an artificial re-creation of eternal feudal warfare.  A world is constructed as though the flat-worlder's were right all along. The brilliant physical description of this world is one of the most mesmerizing elements of the tale.  The feudal factions are The Reds and The Blacks, and from these are brought forth the Kings that rule.  One faction,  The Just,  function as a resistance movement, and as the final arbiters of the delicate balance of society.  The Grays, equivalent to the clergy,  remain aloof.  Among these factions walks a sentient non-human being whose function is to record, and to perform certain acts that he has forgotten due to damage he sustained upon his arrival.

On his journey, while damaged, he must think for himself and thus he learns things his maker never intended him to know.  What question, what single question does he burn to ask the maker when he returns?  We never know, but neither can we forget we must try to remember it.

There are many wonderful twists from the familiar into the alien in this story.  Such as transmuting the idea of midwives into Endwives.

I leave you with the words of demi-god-world-keeper Leviathan:

He has sails, and I do not. We are not alike.  He is busy and wide-ranging; I am sleepy and stationary. He has sails; sails like woven air, that fine; large as the world. Many of them. They are his speed.

The above may also be taken as a description of what sets John Crowley apart from other writers.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 27th, 2009 02:41 pm (UTC)
When at IU?
Entirely off topic, but I've been reading back in your archive and discovered you have an MA in the same program I have a PhD from. When was that, could I ask? Did you know Ulrich Weisstein, as John Crowley and I did? (Last I heard he was still alive and teaching at Graz, where he was a Herr Professor Doktor Doktor.) Did we even perhaps know each other?

Rodger Cunningham
Aug. 27th, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC)
Re: When at IU?
Re: When at IU?
I had Prof. Weisstein for my Intro.to Comp. Lit. in '78/79. We were not close, but since I had a German minor he originally would have been on my committee for a mittelhochdeutch translation project as master's thesis. However, I was out of school for a while, and when I returned to finish in 1995, he was gone somewhere else I think? I was working then with Clifford Flanigan (who died), and I wound up doing a screenplay for Harry Geduld in order to graduate.

Since I was married, living off campus, and working while in graduate school, I did not make any close friends. Your name sounds familiar-- author of Apples in the Flood book? I have meant to get a copy for a while now.

My true interests being more in the realm of writing and poetry than scholarship, I had memorable classes with Willis Barnstone(poetry translation), Phillip Appleman, and William Wilson(I think he is mentioned by JC somewhere in his blog or in other writings), and I think we both had Henry Smith for photography. I had a great lyric poetry class with Frank Warnke, who came from Princeton one summer.

It would have been cool to have sat around in the commons talking to you, or JC-- but sadly, I think it never happened. Still, my memory off those days is not very reliable...
Aug. 28th, 2009 01:50 pm (UTC)
Re: When at IU?
Alas, I left Bloomington the June before you arrived. I had UW's Intro. to Comp. Lit. ten years earlier, in '68-'69, and then was interrupted by the Army and was there again in '71-'78. I also had Willis Barnstone's poetry translation course; worked with Cliff Flanigan on my dissertation and saw him off and on later. Knew Harry but never worked with him.

The great person of my days, though, was Newton Stallknecht, my dissertation committe head, who retired shortly before your time. It amazes me that I'm now the age he was when we met.

JC was there before me, around '60 I think, but interestingly, I compared notes with him once and found that we'd lived across Atwater from each other, eight years apart, in places where now are the School of Optometry (him) and a parking lot (me).

And yes, I'm the auther of Apples on the Flood. You might find it interesting, I dare say. RC
Aug. 30th, 2009 05:26 pm (UTC)
Re: When at IU?
*author (dang)
Aug. 28th, 2009 02:55 pm (UTC)
Re: When at IU?
We did overlap during my undergrad years. I was there from 1966 to 1973 and had a dozen different majors but moved on finally with a bachelor's in Psychology. So, we both experienced Peter, Paul, and Mary in Dunn Meadow I suppose? I was also a Campus Bus Driver in '71 to '73 and no doubt took you by the main library on occasion. In '74 I started driving for the brand new Bloomington Transit in those nifty Mercedes 5-speed buses. Then I left to drive for Greyhound for 13 years. There seems little doubt that we have passed one another dozens of times in Ballantine Hall.
Aug. 28th, 2009 04:44 pm (UTC)
Re: When at IU?
I'm afraid I missed Peter, Paul and Mary in the Meadow; it probably happened either before my time or while I was in the Army. (My experience of Bloomington was basically one of being cast from a small town in WV into the heady world of a large campus in '68, being drafted, spending a couple of years longing and expecting to go back to exactly the same thing, returning in '71, and spending some time wandering around stepping over bodies before realizing that the party was over.)

We may have encountered each other not only on campus but on Greyhound, which I normally took back and forth from WV. Nowadays it doesn't even go to Bloomington.

My daughter, by the way, is working on a double master's in library/ information science at SLIS. RC
Aug. 30th, 2009 02:19 am (UTC)
Perhaps he does more than box around the unsayable:

Crowley manages to lead you to a place with words where the unsayable is brought almost within your reach. You need only to reach out and take it.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Cydonia photo: ESA

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