Cities and Thrones and Powers – John Howard


I recently received this book, having purchased it from Ex Occidente Press.

Les Éditions de L’Oubli Bucharest MMXIII. A very aesthetic hardback shown above, 160 pages, my edition numbered 33 of 141.

Plus three items of attached fold-out colour artwork, one of which is shown above.

My previous Ex Occidente Press reviews

My GRTR will take place in the comment stream below as and when I read each section.

I intend this to be a slower, prose-savouring review and may run alongside other reviews of mine.

9 thoughts on “Cities and Thrones and Powers – John Howard

  1. A Glimpse of the City
    “People from the different centuries caught in the photos, whether involuntarily or posing, were swallowed up into human and stone montages that spanned decades and mixed frozen attitudes and expressions…”
    As well as this being a discrete fiction – one that I recognise straightaway as an atmospherically ‘weird-glimpse’ haunting of a story, an unquestionably great one, of the type I love – this, for me, is also serendipitously a further cross-section of the history and urbographics of the city of Berlin’s ‘obsessive’ genius loci that I have just finished reading about in the whole of this author’s book ‘The Emperor’s Pavement’.
    I am one lucky reader. A maze of emotional linkage.

  2. Borderlands
    “- all interconnected, knitted together in a vast, united organism.”
    The city or the book? At the War-time moving cusp of the borders of Hungary and Romania, this is another element of what I have grown to love about Howard fiction, this dreamy white city of a story in a lightness of prose with dark undercurrents, where one only partially knows whereto or wherefrom or why, but you do know there is a moral compass guiding every word. Despite the protagonist's disappointments and dilemmas of loyalty.
    The story begins with another fiction favourite of mine, a train journey, with characters and places coming at you like unexpected fragments of dream, then an intriguing museum in the city housed modestly, and, finally, like the torn photo in this book's previous story… “On maps borders look like lines of stitches holding pieces of cloth together. But one pull…”

  3. Twilight of the Airships
    “…his son spent as much time thinking and gazing up and out into infinity as he did down at his collection of stamps and aviation photographs.”
    A very powerful, visionary story, but if I told you exactly why, it would spoil anyone’s first reading of it. It features the Romanian town from the previous story and in the author’s ‘Silver Voices’ (a companion book (?) with a story called ‘Boundaries’ that possibly echoes ‘Borderlands’ above). Reference should also be made to this author’s other books (shown below with links to my reviews) that contain, inter alia, some similar leitmotifs as this story…
    …which adumbrates the era’s (1937?) Romanian relationships with Russia and Germany, a story with not a only a genius loci but also a genius immortalis in contiguity with nullity. The shop (the well-characterised father and his son) that sells stamps, banknotes and airship posters. The contiguity of postage stamps along perforated edges, that contiguity of an earlier torn photo and torn geographical/political borders, the currency of leitmotif (part) and gestalt (whole). And the story’s apocalyptic Götterdämmerung portrays the astonishing contiguity of separate and geographically distant historical events…
    You will never forget reading this story if you are as lucky a reader as I am to be exposed to these ideas and thus able to draw such mis-contiguities back together again.

    The Silver VoicesThe Defeat of GriefSecret EuropeNumbered as Sand or the Stars

  4. A Flowering Wound
    “He offers to sew up the tears in my jacket himself;”
    An earthquake is a tear, too. So is Religion when it leads to ethnic cleansing. And this earthquake in Romania around the beginning of the Second World War provides the historical backdrop to a relatively short treatment of these matters, when tears cut across other lines that cross between person and person. And tellingly the map itself suffers its macrocosm or frame of borderlands and boundaries to be erased by a microcosm called Man, in parallel to the cracks in buildings now revealing other frames within them, other structures, other Howard leitmotifs of History laid bare in anguish by more than just metaphor.

  5. The Fatal Vision – pages 96 – 125
    “There were times when he seemed to be walking along a canyon-like street, its smooth bare sides forming into the stark cubes and blocks of buildings and similar intersecting avenues.”
    Of novella length, this work takes place in the same Romanian genius tempus as ‘The Flowering Wound’, with the borderline machinations of geo-politics and high-level conspiracies and ratcheting human architecture, all as ignited by the start of Hitler’s war. This is skilfully carried by the naggingly 1940s fractured way (cf ‘The Heat of the Day’ by Elizabeth Bowen) within a bifurcated story surrounding the work and personal relationships of a Professor of Architecture. Bifurcated (or torn) by two audit trails of narration, with differing degrees of narrative reliability or collusion with the reader, one audit trail being about the professor from a seemingly independent stance, the other from a first person singular narration by one of the professor’s students who seems to be stalking him. This is further hologrammatised, as it were, by the professor’s own extrapolations of imaginary architecture. The prose style, for me, has many wonderfully adumbrated images caught up in this history-trawling net I have just tried to describe above, images that seem to convey more about history than history itself. Seems also, so far, to encapsulate Howard’s work, as if I have been striving for this point since reading ‘The Silver Voices’ a few years ago. Abstractions. Ragged frontiers. Flying from the ground. Spies seeking spies, seekers seeking seekers. The loss of something in one’s self. “There was something missing, as if sliced away, stolen by an invisible flensing hand.” Or a genre of literature based on a stylised Berlin Wall as an archetype that escaped Jung’s trawling-net of collective unconscious. “…the ground fell away sharply to where the wall had been pierced to make room for Queen Elizabeth Square.”

  6. The Fatal Vision – pages 125 – 158
    That fatal vision – partly the Fate of that ‘dreamy white city’ Howardian vision, partly a Fatality to the Vitals that history threatens any who travel back to live it for real, partly both those two meanings together – and “We debated and argued; dividing into rival factions that merged and split again”, as in all wars, not only in this one … and to be “on easy speaking terms with the future”, one needs to be on easy speaking terms with the past, too. The ultimate dichotomy of reactionary and revolutionary.
    I take some of this structure of fiction away with me from the novella, but also something perhaps more personal: The professor’s secret apartment struck me forcibly as my own fiction work whereto I escape much to the ignoring or bemusement of those around me in real life, but above all it is my own literary hologrammatisation via ‘gestalt real-time reviewing’ of which the Process is identical to its Noumenon where I feel myself living most of the time with, say, some of the stairways not leading to the correct corridors (as in the environs of the Professor’s ‘secret’ apartment), instead of where I actually live or where people think they see me living. But with the Professor he had someone within the actual world, someone sufficiently neutral, with a grievance as well as a fascination for the Professor, someone who saw him in his secret apartment, so it must have existed in the actual world, too. A tear or rip in the fabric of self, mended like a single shoe’s two leather flaps across the tongue – with laces.
    History has such secret apartments, too, that Howard has opened up for us. Time travel for real.
    You will perhaps find your own secret apartment or fatal vision within the apartments or ‘spatial dimensions’ of this great book, your secret apartment or fatal vision quite different from mine.
    “…like beautiful music playing too low to hear but which could be felt in the depths of the heart.”


  7. Appendix:
    My RTR in 2010 of ‘A Flowering Wound’ here:

    A Flowering Wound by John Howard

    “I turn away from the balcony.”

    But not before it collapses on me – or under me. This very powerful story is full of meaning for me. But does it mean anything to other people? It reminds me of the classic story, ‘The City In The Rain’, by Mark West that I reviewed here.

    This is about the gathering into tribes. We are each in our own tribe. A tribe of people-that-are-us. Even if the tribe-of-people-that-are-us tread cruelly upon the tribe-of-people-that-are-not-us, we can countenance that because we are blinded to those relativities by the ‘golem’ of the tribe to which we belong. This is what I discover from this book’s gestalt so far.

    Sometimes we are in a tribe of the aspirationally tribeless. Fascism can potentially bud in each branch of politics, tribeful or tribeless. It takes something akin to complete non-committedness to become unfascist, neither tribeful or tribeless, perhaps. To cease name-calling is the first step, because names as well as words can be interpreted separately from their semantics. It takes fiction to depict the flowering wound of each ‘y*d’ or ‘n*g*er’ or ‘f*s*ist’ gibe or jollity. (27 Sep 10 – another 4 hours later)

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