THIRTY TRIBUTES TO CALVINO by Rhys Hughes
Gloomy Seahorse Press 2015
Cover Art: Brankica Bozinovska 2015
I received this book today from the printer here.
This printed book is the only version that contains my collaboration with the author in the early 1990s entitled ‘Broom Cupboard of Crossed Destinies’. The Ebook version includes a replacement story. The formatting of the realbook allowed the inclusion of meaning-essential artwork (examples shown below) and this is the first time it has been presented since the original publication in the legendary ‘Psychotrope’ magazine in 2001.
All my reviews of Rhys Hughes works are linked from here.
If I carry out a real-time review of this book, it will appear in the comment stream below as and when I happen to read it in the normal course of my life…
The Memory Palace
John Calvin wrote two accounts of his early religious conversion which differed significantly from each other and later scholars put this down to some inconsistency of memory. But that is probably irrelevant to my review of this book which is not a tribute to John Calvin but to Italo Calvino. This first story is something that plagues writers like Rhys Hughes, I guess – the ability to preserve something of themselves for when they themselves test the boundaries of life by entering death. The written works in physical things like this book may simply not be enough. But one of life’s contrived aide-memoires made architecturally and sumptuously real is the spinning ricochet of conceit created here. Spinning forever. The blueprint of the mind. An imaginarium of the spirit.
Without being presumptuous, I hope my Dreamcatcher Labyrinth that you are exploring at the moment can be seen as a sort of ‘memory palace’…?
Reference to my review of ‘The Memory Palace’ here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/the-master-of-clouds-howard-stephen-watts/#comment-3966
The Time Tunnel Orchid
I first reviewed this classic shortlet here almost exactly two years ago. Now I am in the future, I wonder if this is my own future or the orchid’s? Hmmmm.
Just discovered I reviewed ‘The Time Tunnel Orchid’ a year ago, too. (here) Hmmmm
Will be great to have a copy of this!
Ever-enfolding copies, orchid by orchid.
I first read this Rhys Hughes masterpiece in its original publication ‘Romance with Capsicum’ in 1995 and reviewed it about two years ago here. A tale of involuting neighbourly complainants about playing amplified trombones, until two of them blend into an atonal work, before degenerating into melody again – or the other way about? One can never be sure. I researched Charles Ives music in this story’s connection, as some of you would expect bearing in mind he often had competing brass bands fighting for the limelight in one piece of music, and I found out that another favourite American composer of mine, Elliott Carter (who lived to over age 100), has had his music publicly compared to the fiction of Italo Calvino.
The Non-Existent Viscount in the Trees
“…because I am very helpful all the gardens of my neighbours are equally pleasant.”
…in tune with the trombonhomie? This engaging story concerns the Soviet writer CCCP Snow wanting to enter Calvinoesque territory. And other writers wanting to enter other literary territories. It ends with reference to another Duel of Fame, this time cloven along the seam of Narrator and Reader! I may be becoming dense, but I couldn’t work out any meaningful pun or conceit concerning the word ‘Viscount’. Can you?
“Because I am so very helpful I tend to make promises I can’t keep.”
The Impregnable Fortress
I know I have not read the complete works of Italo Calvino, but surely he could not have written a story like this one. Any imagination, even a huge one like Calvino’s imagination must have been, has its limits, impregnable to further ideas, wordplay, conceits, memory-palaces, to avoid crowding out. Yet the author of this story must have such a vastly untrammelled imagination it doesn’t actually need to be impregnable at all. It welcomes every conceivable conceit of pun, wordplay, you name it. This story at first reminded me of the moving brothels in ‘A Small Miracle’, but here they are castles, able to leave their hill-plinths and test the impregnability of other castles’ and fortresses’ chastity-moats et al. It is magnificent. One practical conceit concerning the efficacy of sedan travel was so simple and perfect, I wondered why nobody had thought of it before. The best conceits enter along with every Tom, Castle Dick and Harry of a conceit and only such unbounded brainstorming can catch the priceless jewels as well as the riff raff among the smooth.
I find it is actually Monday morning as I read and review this story, something I hope will lend even greater perspicacity to my endeavours of appreciation. It is a tale of a completist and perfectionist who, unlike the rest of us, lives his life as if everything is logical, someone who 'mourns his own deprived future' leading to an exhibition of and towards a form of 'cartographic recursion', making this significant story not only a a map of itself but also a 1:1 scale map of its author.
The Grave Demeanour
From the previous Mourning Morning, this is a story of instruments of bereavement bereaved themselves ad absurdum and I said in my January 2012 review of it here that ‘it ought to be published again and again. It’s that good.’
And so it shall be. And so it has been. Like the orchid.
The Planet of Perfect Happiness
My previous review of this shortlet here. It looks as if I realised, even then, that ‘Inclova’ is an anagram! But of what?
“The ocean drank the starlight and gave back just a little, enough to remind us that the sound of the surf wan’t entirely inside our heads.”
In tune with the title of the previous work, I am sure this Starfish Wish one is the most exquisite, rhapsodic, romantic, cosmically synchronous, non-silly, idealistically young, fatalistically oscillative work I have ever read by this author. A privilege to experience it.
An intriguing taramadiddle upon the secession of countries ad para-absurdum till reaching what I would call the Para Guy that is me.
The Pig Iron Mouse Dooms the Moon
A story of fear under the preying-kind moon and its desiccated light, horizons and perspective, vision within and without eye… This takes the Impregnable Fortress syndrome to even more ever-expanding conceited conceit. A Runcible Spoon Rodent, but that’s not said in the story.
A striking story of tallness-relativities matching the shifting perspectives in the previous story. The tallness of towers. But, for me, a parallel can be drawn with all the ebooks sprouting up in their trillions, and none of them can be the best ebook of all, because nobody can see it, because all the others hide it. But that’s just me on my hobbyhorse. This story is a wonderful speculation, a treatise on tall towers and their exponential extension into the Platonic Form of Ultimate Tallness – a story that should stand taller than even the tallest stories. It shines out. No irony.
Well, I often think of ghosts when I see a bench with a dedication screwed to its back, sometimes with small bunch of flowers tied to it that gradually decays as the days go by. This story is an extrapolation upon the various possible ways our pre-holocaust world will become a post-holocaust one. It reminds me of the ‘what if’ extrapolations I used to imagine when I was put to bed too early as a child during long summer evenings. Here, such a child-like extrapolation concerns benches. Think of the craziest way you could imagine the world ending. Think of the most unlikely cause. This story is the benchmark you will have to beat by exceeding its own craziness. But, like age, craziness is relative, and until you grow crazier than you are today then this is the craziest you have ever been.
Coincidentally, before reading ‘Benchmark’, I wrote earlier today a new short short (an infrequent event for me these days), one that included a park bench: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2015/02/11/aestivation/
I have just resumed reviewing Rhysop’s Fables – https://classicalhorror.wordpress.com/602-2/
The City That Was Itself
“Itselfia is not quite a labyrinth, for a labyrinth evokes other labyrinths,…”
I have just read this work again after first reviewing it here. It remains an extremely haunting solipsism of a self-reverential, self-referential ‘genius loci’. You are forced to revisit this place from time to time so as to ensure you can still escape it.
The Rowing Machine
“Without the flow of time, eternity is present in every instant,…”
From an extrapolation of bench, we now have an extrapolation of carpet (I, too, extrapolate on a carpet in ‘Nemonymous Night’ at its beginning point). This relates to the distillation or crystallisation of a moment during physical exercise where the exercise or its mechanical aid or both become rarefied as the soul itself, a frozen moment where circumnavigation is possible, indeed irresistible. Not an out of body experience but, as this story perfectly, if obliquely, has it: ‘an illusory plural’.
Sending Freedom Far Away
We have been watching this author extrapolating upon concrete nouns like bench and carpet ad absurdum ad abstractum, but now the extrapolation starts with an abstract noun (freedom) and thus it reaches beyond even abstraction toward a new state of ouroboros nounship out-absurding absurdity itself. The story is also a telling satire on the politics of International Relations where Freedom needs not only just wars to spread its indivisibility but also, I suggest, a willingness to be free enough to be unfree? – and later with proof that Freedom actually has finite edges with a fixed volume, just like a concrete noun after all.
The Cowardly Custard Apple
I learnt a new word for a certain fruit by reading this engaging tarramadiddle of combined genealogical purity tests: cherimoya. A scion sensitivity experiment with psychological complexes involved. The lines of a family tree created under (or, more likely, upon) a series of mattresses?
Doom It Heavenwards
“The peach was external, the life eternal.”
A story of a mountain and its climber, where the climbing is like a piecemeal exchanging of one for the other, with the help of accretive amputation and exchange. I feel like that when scaling a Rhys Hughes story, that I sort of become the story and the story sort of becomes me. Which means this story is now being reviewed by another story with exactly the same words. By the way, I fell off my vestigial mountain years ago.
A subsequent reference to this story HERE.
The Chattering Star
“Are you writing fables again?”
This seems to be the longest work in the book but full of some of the shortest works, too, as labyrinthine parts of a theme and variations on an anthropomorphic sun. This will appeal mostly to Rhys Hughes students and specialists like me and would be essential if one were writing a degree dissertation on his works.
“I’m a tautology lover and therefore love tautologies.”
“Why put more words into the mouths of words?”
Sometimes, the reader senses that this author has gone into overdrive and the bristling author himself seems to know it, and the words fructify each other, the conceits and metaphors build magnificently, leading to a mix of poignancy and uplift (no mean feat) – and this passionate exposition on the metaphor of teeth in relation to towers and cities is one of the very best examples of the highest Rhyshughesian gear.
A Spaceship in the Shape of a Woman
They keep on coming, in this book, stories that are real humdingers. Although or because the audit trail of heterosexual gender behaviour is not clear, this story of a Mutiny on the Concupiscent Bounty (startling enough, with men inside a woman as craft) leading to a husband-wife culmination as a sort of farewell lift off is, like the previous story, both poignant and uplifting at once. I look at my own wife of 45 years marriage with myself, and then look at myself and the parts of my spaceship now faltering and I think, somehow, it will soon be time for my own uplift-off into outer space. And I laugh and cry simultaneously. Only great stories like this one can launch us from off vestigial mountains, I guess. Doom it Heavenwards.
The Melon Seller
A Biblically visionary mapping of our universe of worlds as spheres carried on the shoulders of various Atlases, from the infinitesimal to the infinite. With a guest appearance of ‘the chattering star’.
The Square Circle
“…there is a huge difference between an object that does not exist, such as a unicorn or dragon, and that cannot exist, such as an unmarried wife or myself.”
…myself being a square circle. Some readers, I guess, are sometimes put off from some of this author’s fiction when he is too familiar with the readers, addressing us directly, tying us in knots of logic and other philosophical conundra. But the author admits here that ‘there is no known method by which I can be silent in your head’, and by ‘your’ he also means ‘our’ and, in my case alone, ‘my’. Perhaps with my relentlessly onward drive of real-time reviewing all his works (a bit like painting an endlessly emerging series of different Welsh bridges, some real, some false), I, too, can never be silent in his head or, at least, until one of us dies and becomes someone who once did but now doesn’t or cannot exist.
“When a person dies, the world doesn’t stop, but continues spinning on its own axis just like before.”
Well, that is true, but we never really think it’s going to happen to us; we live in a cloud cuckoo land of mindless continuity with perhaps an undercurrent of mortality thoughts, some of us with more, some of us with less such thoughts. Here, a character wants to mark the death of important people with an important event like stopping the world as a token of respect, stopping it just for an instant. I can’t actually bear to keep itemising the plot for you, as this story is one of those rare stories by Rhys Hughes that – at least for me – doesn’t work. (Another example of this phenomenon was entitled ‘Fanny’ that I reviewed here a few years ago.) The central conceit of ‘Giddy Up’, its characters’ names, its punchline ending, all left me cold.
The Days of the Turbans
“…and the turbans had collapsed and covered the bones like gigantic inverted funeral urns.”
In today’s world, there seems something obliquely significant about this story. Yet, that is my reading it beyond its intentions, with the literary theory of the Intentional Fallacy (in which I have been interested since the 1960s) kept at the back of my mind. This, meanwhile, resonates with but improves upon the previous story with an earth-big event planned for someone’s eventual death, I infer, as mingled with the endemic Rhysian Russian Doll trope, here of a turban upon a turban, even if one becomes a carbuncle of the other? And the punchline here, too, in contradistinction with the previous story’s dud punchline, is an inspired unexpected obliquity of a splendid punchline.
The Blue Jewel Fruit
“I will, I am, I have.”
An entrancing dialogue between perhaps two young lovers or perhaps, more likely, an old married couple of which I am part, climbing towards the blue jewel fruit, negotiating Rhysian perspectives or optical illusions, re-climbing that metaphorical tallest tree among the tallest trees imaginable, like ‘universe towers’, after all these years since trying to climb it the first time, only to find a creaturely new word, but I seem to know it is a simurgh, that is indeed a real word but previously unknown to me, and this simurgh gives us a brainstorming astrophysics lecture… Touching and cosmically mind-expanding at the same time, specially when we later plan to visit a cafe for ice cream with this story’s flavour, both of us young again…?
Canute a Little.
A bit unengagingly crazy like ‘Fanny’ and ‘Giddy Up’, this story is where an inverted King Canute performs … Well, to divulge that here would be a spoiler to spoil something that already spoils itself somewhat. However, its progression into cosmic and repetitive Canutish feats – arising from this Canute wannabe sitting on the beach, with his back to the sea, who I imagine to be a bit like a mascara-trickling Dirk Bogarde at the end my favourite film ‘Death in Venice’ – salvages this story for me. (Someone recently claimed on this author’s Facebook that he looks a lot like Dirk Bogarde in his heyday!)
The Broom Cupboard of Crossed Destinies
“With eyes as damp tongues, they lapped meanings and allusions, exchanging fates as if they were kisses.”
This is the second longest work in this book. I have reread it several times since being informed of its republication here (now with essential pictures) and each time I have found something new. It is that type of work, I feel. Endlessly rereadable, pre-echoing something I used as the subtitle of the old ‘Weirdmonger’ anthology: ‘The synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’.
“…where allusions actually make unknown words mean something…”
This work seems to remain an oblique oulipo of the Tarot cards, primarily and originally inspired by the Rhysian hand, not mine. I am proud still to be one of the two guests during that building, that ancient last year in Marienbad, a building now behind a new broom’s cupboard door as befeathered geometry and pearl-necklace of smoke beside a giant time-tunnel orchid and a skittle silhouette of self.
“Who said this was, strangely, the one to whom it was spoken.”
The Bathing Bells
Another masterstroke of a journey, as if this is a collaboration between two authors, one who feels he has written the strangest conceit of all, a city gradually extended into its own underground labyrinth where bells are washed by divers in a huge sudsy bath, making me think that the ringing from Debussy’s or Dunwich’s Submerged Cathedral was really designed to attract mermaids – and another author who feels he has written the strangest conceit of all, a city where its king’s long beard becomes a sat-nav or washing line or servicer of other amenities as it threads the streets…
Yet ‘strangest’ is the strangest word possible as this story proves, so neither author can win. I invented the two authors just now in relation to discussing this story but the story made me think of these two authors without its own first thinking of them! The strangest thing of all?
My Most Metafictional Tale
So, from the ‘strangest’ in the previous story, we reach the most metafictional in this coda of the book. Coda is primarily a musical term so it is also appropriate that here we have a treatment (a ‘literary doodle’ as it calls itself) upon the comparative natures of music and fiction. It is so metafictional it even argues with itself at to what, in its text, its last word is or is not!
I assess that this book could well be this author’s greatest book. Well, my own jury is out, sitting in the February gloom of my garden, like a secret guild, beyond my earshot. The book certainly is highly representative of his best work as well as his rare worst. And as a tribute to Italo Calvino, fans of that writer will, I am sure, appreciate this book greatly. Yet, even here, Rhys Hughes stands distinct as the strangest and uniquest writer I know. And Calvino would not have had it any other way, I guess.
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