(Below, please find an essay by Chômu author Justin Isis that originally appeared on the website Patchwork Earth. We hope this will be the first of a number of essays from Chômu authors to appear on the site. – QSC.)
On July 3, 2008, one month before killing himself, Thomas M. Disch wrote a poem in which he referenced 19th century French author Jules Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly. Disch introduces him as “the Walter Scott of Normandy” and mentions how “in his old age, he drew about him in his poor Paris lodgings the best of the young generation which has since made his fame secure.” Disch’s mention is intended as ironic; Barbey d’Aurevilly is all but unknown in the Anglosphere today.
Who was Barbey d’Aurevilly? Geoffrey Wall’s introduction to the Penguin edition of Flaubert’s L’Éducation sentimentale states:
“Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, the mischievous high-Catholic dandy, declared that the whole thing was disagreeably ‘dry’ and overdone. Flaubert, so he argued, ‘stays on the surface, knows no feeling, no passion, no enthusiasm, no ideal, no insight, no reflections, no depth.’ Maliciously perceptive, Barbey d’Aurevilly mocked Flaubert’s cult of perfectionism, inviting his readers to imagine a crowd that ‘goes down on its knees – like the three kings at the crib of the Infant Jesus – before the box that contains Flaubert’s manuscript.’”
“Beloved of fin-de-siècle decadents, Barbey d’Aurevilly is a classic example of what lengths the Romantics were capable of; his writings make it plain why the genre fell into discredit among later Victorians. He held extreme Catholic views, yet wrote on the most risqué subjects (a contradiction the English apparently found more disturbing than the French; Voltairianism would have been something else); he gave himself aristocratic airs and hinted at a mysterious past, though his parentage was entirely respectable and his youth humdrum and innocent.”
Barbey d’Aurevilly also reviewed À rebours, “the breviary of the decadence,” upon its release. J.-K. Huysmans states that “in the midst of all this hurly-burly, a single writer alone saw clear, Barbey d’Aurevilly, who, be it said, had no personal acquaintance with me.” Huysmans is referring to the ultimatum Barbey d’Aurevilly offered him in the review: “After such a book, it only remains for the author to choose between the muzzle of a pistol and the foot of the cross.” Huysmans, like Barbey d’Aurevilly, would eventually choose the latter.
At present, few books seem available in English. One is a manual on Dandyism with a preface by Quentin Crisp (not [Chomu co-founder] Quentin S. Crisp); another is Les Diaboliques, a collection of stories dealing with the common theme of murderesses, which is available for free, online, in French. I used online translation for the preface, and from it the following phrases were generated:
“Real stories of this civilized time and if divine that, when one warns to write them, it seems that it is the Devil which dictated… The Devil is like God. Manicheism which is the stock of all the great heresies of The Middle Ages, the Manicheism is not so stupid! Malebranche said that God recognized himself with the use OF the MEANS MORE. Devil too.”
“One wanted to make a small Museum of these Ladies, while waiting for the Museum, even smaller is made, ladies which make them during and contrasts in the company, because all things are double. Art has two lobes, like the brain. Nature resembles these women who have a blue eye and an eye black.”
My own interest in Barbey d’Aurevilly stems from his embodying two seemingly contradictory ideas: religious conservatism and avant-garde fashion. This tendency, symptomatic of a certain stratum of 19th century French literature, can be seen also in Huysmans’s movement from Naturalism to religious themes. This combination is difficult to imagine in English literature; although a kind of spirituality exists in the work of Dickens, Eliot, and Hardy, it remains at the level of a vague ideal. Few Victorian writers seem capable of summoning the satanic ecstasies of Huysmans’s La-Bas; even Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray comes off as derivative when held up to the standard of À rebours.
Where does this tendency come from? It might help to examine the seminal works of Flaubert, a writer typically credited with creating the modern form of literary Realism. As of 2008, Flaubert’s style in Madame Bovary and L’Éducation sentimentale is still used as a primer for Realist techniques – see critic James Wood’s recent How Fiction Works for an excellent analysis. But a closer inspection reveals that Flaubert, who claimed to detest Realism, more often wrote in a fantastic mode. His earliest work, La Tentation de Saint Antoine, is a near-Surrealist drama. His shorter works collected in Trois Contes have the atmosphere of fairy tales and medieval legends, and their concomitant violence – consider the flatly mystical ending of “Saint Julien l’hospitalier,” in which a horribly rotting leper is transfigured into Christ, or the grotesque death of John the Baptist in “Herodias,” a story which evokes its Oriental setting with all the vividness of a Gustave Moreau painting. Then there’s the historical novel Salammbô, with its flesh-eating idol, Moloch. And this dialogue from the early story “The Dance of Death,” which seems to prefigure H.P. Lovecraft rather than Henry James:
“When God’s work of creation has ceased; when the heavens have disappeared and the stars are quenched; when spirits rise from their retreats and wander in the depths with sighs and groans; then, what unpicturable delight for thee! Then shalt thou sit on the eternal thrones of heaven and of hell–shalt overthrow the planets, stars, and worlds–shalt loose thy steed in fields of emeralds and diamonds–shalt make his litter of the wings torn from the angels,–shalt cover him with the robe of righteousness! Thy saddle shall be broidered with the stars of the empyrean,–and then thou wilt destroy it! After thou hast annihilated everything, –when naught remains but empty space,–thy coffin shattered and thine arrows broken, then make thyself a crown of stone from heaven’s highest mount, and cast thyself into the abyss of oblivion. Thy fall may last a million aeons, but thou shalt die at last. Because the world must end; all, all must die,–except Satan! Immortal more than God! I live to bring chaos into other worlds!”
Examined in this light, Flaubert’s Realist works can be seen as exceptions rather than the rule, and so it seems strange that he’s still known primarily to English readers for a novel of provincial adultery. But the fact that the casual reader is familiar only with Madame Bovary is perhaps not surprising, given the Anglosphere’s Realist bias (to be fair, the other side of the coin is the long tradition of the English ghost story). And if most of Flaubert’s work goes unread, what hope does Barbey d’Aurevilly have? Disch’s poem and its mention of his “secure fame” seem painful to me. Oscar Wilde’s attempt to import Symbolist decadence into English had some influence on Modernism, but for the most part has had little mainstream effect: in the Anglosphere, at least, the fantastic/mystical tradition seems not just dead but forgotten. Instead we’re flooded with, on the one hand, tedious “magic realism” and empty formalism, and on the other, derivative “Realism” of the kind Flaubert would have disdained – Flaubert, who famously chose the theme of Madame Bovary not because of any especial interest, but because it was deliberately banal.
Why doesn’t the English-speaking world get the joke?
Tambour deftly deploys a variety of tones and strategies in this book, which she manages to unite gracefully into an organic wholeness and distinctive voice. We have bits of erudite lost history, in the manner of Umberto Eco. We have surreal and absurdist moments such as we might find in the work of Stepan Chapman or Rhys Hughes. Haruki Murakami’s melancholy aloneness and perverseness of existence figure into Tambour’s style, as does Rikki Ducornet’s jeweled oneiric prose. Of course there’s a heavy dose of the Arabian Nights in the tale. And when the Muse and the Omniscient assume human form and interact with the Russians, I was reminded of nothing so much as Thorne Smith’s The Night Life of the Gods.
The hardback edition might take a couple of weeks (from the time of writing this) to arrive at Amazon at a reasonable price, but is already available at The Book Depository, with free delivery worldwide. Please also look out for new fiction from Anna Tambour at Tor.com this month. [Note: The story, 'The Walking-Stick Forest', is, in fact, to appear at Tor.com on the 4th of June.]
Chris Conn Askew's marvellous cover for Crandolin, by Anna Tambour.
Yesterday saw the end of the month-long collaboration between Chômu and Schlock Magazine, featuring not only an interview with Chômu, but reviews of the debut collections of Justin Isis and Luke Geddes in the Pop Culture Destruction section, and new fiction from both the above-named authors in the April Issue, which also includes fiction from T.R. Healy, Elsa Fiott and Ken Liu.
Finally, we are beginning to see reviews of our February release, The Galaxy Club, by Brendan Connell, appearing here and there online.
Spring has arrived and Chômu Press has, for the month of April, entered into a temporary partnership with Schlock Magazine. An interview with Chômu is already up on their website, and may be read here. Please also look out, on the Schlock website, for new fiction from Luke Geddes and Justin Isis and for reviews of books by the two authors, forthcoming at the time of writing.
Justin Isis and levitationalist celebrate the coming of spring
In further news, we are very pleased to announce the imminent release of Chômu’s first hardback, the World Fantasy Award finalist Crandolin, by Anna Tambour. This hardback edition is due for publication on the 1st of May.
Lovingly decorated prize draw copy of The Galaxy Club
Finally, the winner of February’s prize draw, for a personalised copy of The Galaxy Club, is Martin Hayes, of County Wicklow, Ireland. The customised copy of The Galaxy Club is now winging its way across the Atlantic.
Please watch this space (and/or sign up here to our mailing list) for further Chômu updates.
2014 has begun, and after the come-down and hangover of the New Year, a tonic is necessary to fortify us for the year ahead – maybe even hair of the cynosure. And so we continue the astronomical theme with which we brought 2013 to a close, and start 2014 with the release of The Galaxy Club, by Brendan Connell. Set in seventies New Mexico, this is a booze-soaked stranger-comes-to-town tale with the cosmic picaresque vision of Wu Cheng’en and the grit of Jim Thompson. Buried treasure, dragons, and naturally plenty of car chases, are leavened with beat poetry and hard-boiled in a bed of noir, to bring the reading world the Great New Mexican Novel it never knew it was waiting for. Join the club by picking up a copy here.
For this month’s prize draw, we are offering a specially inscribed copy of Brendan Connell’s The Galaxy Club. For all those unfamiliar with them, here are the rules: To be entered for this draw, please sign up here to our mailing list (or using the ‘Free updates’ widget on our home page) and send an e-mail with the subject heading ‘We are stardust’ to info at chomupress dot com. If you are already on our mailing list, of course there is no need to sign up again – simply send an e-mail with the ‘We are stardust’ subject heading to the address mentioned. Only one entry allowed per person. Deadline for draw, the 28th of February, 2014.
Please remember also to sign up to our e-mail list for Chômu news and exclusive author interviews delivered directly to your inbox.
The year 2013 draws moodily and mistily to its close, but if there is one bright spot in the nighted firmament, it is the advent of our 25th book. That’s right, with Nothing But a Star, by Jeremy Reed (cover photo by Gregory Hesse-Wagner), we have reached the quarter century in the number of volumes we have published. Jeremy Reed’s stellar novel, Here Comes the Nice, received a starred review at Publishers Weekly when we released it in November 2011. This time we are releasing an eclectic collection of his poetry, essays, lyrics and more besides. We may be shivering at the foggy fag-end of the year and of civilisation, but let us warm our hearts by the starlight of poetry.
Glamorous, autumnal, visionary, distilling the future from the present moment, glittering with pop spontaneity and smooth with velvet melancholy, capturing the dread and tingle of the moods of London, and spinning out from the light-polluted urban night across the universe, Nothing But a Star is the perfect book to bring a decadent, empurpled twinkle to the long, cold nights of December. Part intimate scrapbook, part jeweller’s tray, Nothing But a Star contains, as well as poetry, an essay on the suicides of Hart Crane and Harry Crosby, a playscript for a version of The Picture of Dorian Gray set in the 21st century, a pop libretto written for Marc Almond and based on J-K Huysmans’ À rebours, and other specimens of dopamine in literary form. Catch a falling star by picking up a copy here. There now follows the testimony of other stargazers:
Jeremy Reed’s talent is almost extraterrestrial in its brilliance. He is Rimbaud reconfigured as the Man who fell to Earth, a visitor from deep space whose time machine was designed by Lautréamont and de Sade, and powered by the most exotic fuels the imagination has ever devised.
- J.G. Ballard
The most beautiful, outrageously brilliant poetry in the world.
The man is light worlds apart from his contemporaries in poetry.
- Andrew Loog Oldham
Jeremy Reed may be heard reciting one of his poems as part of the act The Ginger Light in the inset clip below:
As usual, there is a prize draw, details of which may be found at the bottom of the announcement. Please also remember, if you require books for Christmas, and they appear to be temporarily out of stock at Amazon, that The Book Depository delivers worldwide at no extra cost. And for those anticipating the coming year, please look out for Brendan Connell’s The Galaxy Club, which continues our astronomical theme. And finally, in other news, the collaborative novel by Chômu authors Brendan Connell, Justin Isis and Quentin S. Crisp, The Cutest Girl in Class, a less-than-simple tale of “boy meets inanimate object” (Joe Simpson Walker) was released last month from Snuggly Books.
Prize Draw for an inscribed copy of Nothing But a Star
The results of the Member prize draw are as follows: Caleb Wilson, of Illinois, was the winner of a specially inscribed copy of Michael Cisco’s Member, which should be on its way to him, or has perhaps already arrived.
This month’s prize draw, of course, is for a specially inscribed copy of Jeremy Reed’s Nothing But a Star. For anyone unfamiliar with them, please allow me to repeat the unchanging rules: To be entered for this draw, please sign up here to our mailing list (or using the ‘Free updates’ widget on our home page) and send an e-mail with the subject heading ‘But some of us are looking at the stars’ to info at chomupress dot com. If you are already on our mailing list, of course there is no need to sign up again – simply send an e-mail with the ‘But some of us are looking at the stars’ subject heading to the address mentioned. Only one entry allowed per person. Deadline for draw, the 3rd of January, 2014.
Those on our mailing list can also expect exclusive interviews from Chômu authors. The next interview is still to be with P.F. Jeffery.
After our summer hiatus, we return triumphantly with Member, our third novel from the incomparable Michael Cisco, the first writer to have a Chômu publishing hat-trick. (Incidentally, Cisco is interviewed at Weird Fiction Review at this link, where he talks about Member, Franz Kafka and other things.) Officially released today, and with alluring cover artwork from Sergio Membrillas, Member is a sustained tracking shot, from the inside, following one person’s exploration of the cosmic stitching behind the tapestry of the everyday. It is the tale of the hapless spiritual seeker, Thanks, determined to go beyond the human by constant application of his ‘practice’, but who nonetheless accidentally recruits himself into:
Chorncendantra — the current phase of the cosmic game originating on the artificial planetary system; the game is played by two arbitrarily determined teams across many planets. Chorncendantra is the universal systemmechanism. It is the human game.
You may non-accidentally recruit yourself by picking up a copy here.
No less a literary light than Brian Evenson describes Member as:
A rivetingly strange novel in which Cisco mixes game theory, serious philosophy, SF, and dark fantasy into something at once unreal and really entrancing. Kind of like what might happen if Wyndham Lewis decided to write like M. John Harrison and had Martin Heidegger as his editor.
Below, you will find details on how to enter the Member prize draw, to win a copy of the book specially inscribed by the author. Before that, some general news. November 2012’s Chômu release, Crandolin, by Anna Tambour, has been shortlisted in the Novel category of the World Fantasy Awards. Read a sample of the novel at this link. If you are attending the World Fantasy Convention this year, please look out for us in the dealers’ room, as we expect to be there. The Cutest Girl in Class, a collaboration by Chômu authors Justin Isis, Brendan Connell and Quentin S. Crisp, details of which can be found in the post at this link, is now at the printers and set for a November release. It is still, of course, available for pre-order by writing to evans_lichamleas[at]yahoo[dot]com, though please note that health problems at Snuggly Books might cause delayed responses to e-mails. Finally, if you enjoyed the Chômu Radio Archive interview with John Elliott, then you may enjoy Joe Campbell and Quentin S. Crisp’s audio diary of their Hythe Adventure.
Prize Draw for an inscribed copy of Member
And now for the details, as promised above, of this month’s prize draw. For the October prize draw we are, of course, giving away a uniquely inscribed copy of Member. For anyone unfamiliar with them, here are the oft-repeated rules : To be entered for this draw, please sign up here to our mailing list (or using the ‘Free updates’ widget on our home page) and send an e-mail with the subject heading ‘The game is called “Find Your Adversary”’ to info at chomupress dot com. If you are already on our mailing list, of course there is no need to sign up again – simply send an e-mail with the ‘The game is called “Find Your Adversary”’ subject heading to the address mentioned. Only one entry allowed per person. Deadline for draw, the 31st of October, 2013.
Those on our mailing list can also expect exclusive interviews from Chômu authors. The next interview is still to be with P.F. Jeffery.
We now come to a hiatus in our schedule of releases, with our next publication being Michael Cisco’s enigmatic and he-just-keeps-getting-better, Member. In the meantime, we would like to update you with some general news and information.
Purikura (Print Club sticker) bearing the legend, 'I love you but I've chosen Chomu.'
Below you will find the results of the prize draw for P.F. Jeffery’s Jane, but before that let us announce two exciting Chômu-related events. The first of these is the launch, on the 4th of July, and at the Review Bookshop, Peckham, of a whole flotilla of books. Just to mix metaphors hopelessly, the flag-train of this particular flotilla is Eibonvale Press’s Rustblind and Silverbright, an anthology of tales related to trains and travel by rail. The other books to be launched at this event will be the aforementioned Jane, by P.F. Jeffery, Stardust by Nina Allan, Defeated Dogs, the latest collection of short fiction by Quentin S. Crisp, and Helen’s Story, by Rosanne Rabinowitz. The event will begin at 7.00 p.m., and there will be readings and wine.
Letter concerning matters such as the video for t.A.T.u.'s 'All the Things She Said'.
The second event/phenomenon to which we would like to draw your attention is the existence of Snuggly Books (an imprint of the much-needed-for-this-world Hieroglyphic Press) and the availability for pre-order of their first publication, “The Cutest Girl in Class…”. The novel, a collaboration between Chômu authors Justin Isis, Brendan Connell and Quentin S. Crisp, is described as:
…a lunatic three-headed dragon, equal parts rollicking caper, ribald farce and embittered love story. Fraught with double crosses and missing mannequins, this is Waiting for Godot meets Beach Blanket Bingo, the two of them falling in love and getting married in a church where the priest is John Waters.
The project is further explained thus:
Quentin S. Crisp needs to go to Japan. In order to facilitate this (finance it), he has joined forces with Justin Isis and Brendan Connell and together they have written a novel titled The Cutest Girl in Class. The book is slated to be published in Fall, 2013, in a limited edition of 150 hardbound copies. Though the exact page count has yet to be determined, the novel is approximately 75,000 words in length. A few details have yet to be determined, such as the exact paper, whether copies will be signed and/or numbered, etc. but expect the book to be of a high quality.
One such detail that has now been confirmed is the inclusion of a free personalised purikura sticker for any who pre-order before August, the sticker to be stuck in the book or elsewhere at the discretion of the buyer (a digital file of the sticker image will also be included). (Please include the form of your name to be used in the sticker when you e-mail.) Those of you who follow Chômu’s Facebook page will probably already have an idea of what these purikura are. For a sample of what your personalised purikura could look like, please click on this link (courtesy of CHOMU Style Photoblog).
As the Snuggly Books website requests, please address all questions regarding pre-orders to: evans_lichamleas[at]yahoo[dot]com.
And finally we come to the Jane prize draw results.
The Prize Draw copy of Jane, signed to the winner of the prize draw.
A signed copy of Jane, together with such extras as a printout from an earlier draft, a page from the novel Odalisque (now to be cannibalised for the Warriors of Love series), and some correspondence to legendary weirdmonger D.F. Lewis, concerning Russian pop duo t.A.T.u and other matters, has now been sent to Jeremy Bartels in Germany.
Remember, for subscribers to our e-mail list, the next e-mail interview will be with P.F. Jeffery.
The goddess smiles upon us today and allows us to release Jane, by P.F. Jeffery, the first in a projected twelve novels in the Warriors of Love series. We are also most blessed in the wraparound art from Nimit Malavia, which forms Jane’s magnificent cover. As a standalone coming-of-age tale in a future world of Sapphic romance, or as the first unrolling of a panoramic tapestry of picturesque intrigue, adventure and frolic, Jane is a lyrical and a rollicking read with a plenitude of fine and life-affirming detail. Details of the prize draw are below, but for those who don’t want to take a chance, you may embark immediately upon the journey of discovery by picking up a copy here.
Legendary weirdmonger D.F. Lewis describes the novel thus:
…a bombardment of incidents and names, evocatively conveyed through passages of honed prose and dialogue. After a tearful farewell to Modesty, I could actually sense with many senses the sea trip, the sea battle, the sea-sickness, the subsequent ceremony. I wallowed in the emerging Imperial politics, the description of the Empress who takes more than just a simple fancy to our fiscal inspector heroine.
Meanwhile, our own Quentin S. Crisp says of Jane:
A breathless adventure, full of the gentle poetry of place and time, it manages somehow to combine pagan fertility comedy with Sapphic science fiction. Not a combination you come across every day.
In other news, the winner of our March prize draw is Ben Hostmark. A specially inscribed copy of Steve Rasnic Tem’s Onion Songs has already been sent to him, along with a limited-edition-of-one story, specially written by the author, ‘Benjamin’:
The Prize Draw copy of Onion Songs, with the very limited edition chapbook 'Benjamin'.
Prize Draw for an inscribed copy of Jane
And now for the promised details of this month’s prize draw. For the May prize draw we are, of course, giving away a uniquely inscribed copy of Jane. For anyone unfamiliar with them, here are the oft-repeated rules : To be entered for this draw, please sign up here to our mailing list (or using the ‘Free updates’ widget on our home page) and send an e-mail with the subject heading ‘The Surrey girls came marching in’ to info at chomupress dot com. If you are already on our mailing list, of course there is no need to sign up again – simply send an e-mail with the ‘The Surrey girls came marching in’ subject heading to the address mentioned. Only one entry allowed per person. Deadline for draw, the 31st of May, 2013.
Those on our mailing list can also expect exclusive interviews from Chômu authors. The next interview is to be with P.F. Jeffery.
Boasting wraparound art from Jessica Fortner, our first release of 2013 is Onion Songs, by Steve Rasnic Tem, a career-spanning collection of 42 short stories, representing over 30 years of work and surely consolidating Tem’s reputation as a writer of impressive scope and vision. The stories collected in this volume showcase the off-beat and experimental side of Tem’s fiction. With universal themes, such as aging, death, loss, relationships, and with imagery that is both gritty and bizarre, Onion Songs peels back the layers of human existence like no other story collection, strangeness and realism alternating until they become, ultimately, interchangeable. Sample the taste of onion soup for the soul by picking up a copy here.
Tem lets his characters, their situations, and their emotions creep up slowly on the reader. His style is thoughtful and poetic, and the tension he builds effectively sustains well-crafted plots. He has found a perfect balance between the bizarre and the straight-forward…
Meanwhile, Peter Tennant says:
Consistent in quality and diverse in content, as impressive as it is impressionistic… Onion Songs is the strongest collection of short stories that I’ve read in the last year.
The winner of December’s prize draw is Johnny Core, in the south of England, to whom a signed and bookplated copy of Brendan Connell’s Lives of Notorious Cooks has been sent. And now, below, this month’s prize draw:
Prize Draw for an inscribed copy of Onion Songs
This month, the prize draw is for a uniquely inscribed copy of Onion Songs. The author also promises that he will write and print out an entirely new piece of flash fiction, as a first edition of one, which he will inscribe to the winner. Here are the rules for anyone unfamiliar with them: To be entered for this draw, please sign up here to our mailing list (or using the ‘Free updates’ widget on our home page) and send an e-mail with the subject heading ‘The world is just a great big onion’ to info at chomupress dot com. If you are already on our mailing list, of course there is no need to sign up again – simply send an e-mail with the ‘The world is just a great big onion’ subject heading to the address mentioned. Only one entry allowed per person. Deadline for draw, the 29th of March, 2013.
Those on our mailing list can also expect exclusive interviews from Chômu authors. The next interview is still with Anna Tambour, author of Crandolin.
This will be, in all probability, the last post on the Chômu website until 2013. If you’ve enjoyed our releases in 2012, please do continue to support us. Next year will see us release books by Steve Rasnic Tem, P.F. Jeffery and others yet to be revealed. We hope that your holidays are sufficiently irreal and suffused with yuugen. And now, let us leave you with overdue pictures of some of this year’s prize draw books:
Artist Ben Baldwin won all this Joseph S. Pulver loot simply by entering the Chômu prize draw at FantasyCon 2012 (computer not included, probably).
A very elegant package put together by Anna Tambour for the winner of the Crandolin prize draw.
Part of a fragment scrawled in the prize draw copy of All God's Angels, Beware!
May you never lack yuugen, in the year ahead, or for the rest of your lives.