Authors: Russell Hoban
Tags: #Literature, #U.S.A., #20th Century, #American Literature, #21st Century, #Britain, #Expatriate Literature, #Amazon.com, #Retail, #British History
ZIP … POW … LOVES ME
George Herriman, ‘Krazy Kat’
Same old story, same old song;
it goes all right till it goes all wrong.
Will Jennings, ‘Same Old Story (Same Old Song)’
I was shocked but I can’t honestly say I was surprised when Istvan Fallok told me about Gösta Kraken. It could have been any one of us; art is a tough business.
I’m going to tell about what happened last November and early December. Whether it’ll be of any use to anybody I don’t know but I’ve been getting it all down on paper as it happened so here it is, beginning with the night when the flyer came through the letterbox.
Nnvsnu Tsrungh, said the green letters on the monitor screen of my Apple II computer that rainy night in November. This screen isn’t like a piece of paper; the words come out of a green dancing and the excitation of phosphors. I’m the one who makes the words appear but I don’t always know who or what is speaking.
Who’s there? I said letter by letter on the screen.
Speak up, I said. What are you afraid of?
NNVSNU TSRUNGH, it said.
You’re afraid that you exist.
You don’t want to exist.
NNVSNU RRNDU TS’IRNH TS’IRNH TS’IRNH NNGRH.
An existence such as yours is too dreadful to be thought of. Is this the Kraken speaking?
DON’T THINK OF ME. IF YOU THINK OF ME I MAY BE REAL. LET ME NOT BE REAL.
What was I to say to it? The reality of the Kraken isn’t up to me, I’m not the final authority on such things. With its first words this creature was already as real to me as anything else; it was more real than the VAT figures that had appeared on this same screen the day before. The Customs and Excise Office isn’t real to me in any way that really matters, it isn’t there at three o’clock in the morning when the words come out of the green dancing and the singing comes from thousands of miles away.
No, what passes for reality seems to me mostly a load of old rubbish invented by not very inventive minds. The reality that interests me is strange and flickering and haunting. For example:
987 A SUPERB FIGURE OF A FISHERGIRL WITH A GIANT SQUID, the girl reclining with a contented expression as she
embraces the huge beast, whose skin is stippled, giving a mottled effect, its eyes inlaid in pearl with dark pupils, the group forming a long flat composition, the details are finely carved and the slightly worn ivory has a remarkable colour and patina,
early 19th century.
Ex F. Meinertzhagen collection. This is a magnificent Netsuke of a smooth compact form, ideal for its use.
There’s a drawing of it in the book as well: the fishergirl entranced as with her left hand she grips the mantle of the squid whose eyes look up at her. She speaks to me, this fishergirl, and not simply as herself. Letter by letter words appear on the monitor screen:
Always in the dream are
the sea and the dream of the sea.
In the dream I am the fishergirl in
the twining embrace of the giant squid,
its dark eyes are on me as
it penetrates and inseminates me.
The giant squid has been dreaming of me age-long,
rising in the black night,
rising in the moony ocean night and never, never finding,
never until now finding
the mystery of me so long dreamt of, so long lusted after.
Eurydice, whispers the long sea, Eurydice, Eurydice, and the giant squid is frightened by the beauty of me, it trembles as it holds me in its twined embrace.
At three o’clock in the morning Eurydice is bound to come into it. After all, why did I sit here like a telegrapher at a lost outpost if not to receive messages from everywhere about the lost Eurydice who was never mine to begin with but whom I lamented and sought continually both professionally and amateurishly. This is not a digression. Where I am at three o’clock in the morning – and by now every hour is three o’clock in the morning – there are no digressions, it’s all one thing.
LET ME NOT BE REAL, the Kraken said again.
There was nothing I could do about that and I didn’t know what to say so I said nothing.
YOU DON’T TELL ME THAT I’M NOT REAL.
Again I didn’t say anything.
THEN I AM REAL. I HAVE BEEN THOUGHT OF TOO MANY TIMES UNTIL THERE HAS COME TO BE SUCH A THING AS I, THE KRAKEN, LIVING WHERE I LIVE AND PERCIPIENT ALWAYS.
Tell me about your beginning.
IN THE BEGINNING OF ALL THINGS WAS MY BEGINNING, IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE TERROR.
Whose was the terror?
THE TERROR WAS ITSELF AND THE TERROR WAS OF ITSELF. THERE WAS NOTHING ELSE, THERE WAS NO ONE TO HOLD THE TERROR, THERE WAS ONLY THE TERROR.
Terror of what?
TERROR OF WHAT MIGHT BE, OF UNIVERSES AND WORLDS THAT MIGHT BE, AND THE ILLUSION OF TIME.
What came then?
FROM THE TERROR CAME THE AWARENESS OF IT. FROM THE TERROR CAME A TREMBLING AND A WRINKLING OF THE SILENCE THAT LISTENED.
Nothing else? No one to listen with the silence?
NO ONE TO LISTEN, NO ONE TO HOLD THE TERROR; ONLY THE ELECTRIC SILENCE THAT SHOOK AND WRINKLED AS IT BECAME YOUR MIND.
My mind holding the terror, my mind alone.
YOUR MIND HOLDING THE TERROR BUT IT WAS TOO MUCH FOR YOU TO HOLD ALONE. YOU THOUGHT OF ME AND YOU MADE ME HOLD THE TERROR THAT YOU COULD NOT HOLD. YOU THINK OF ME STILL, YOU THINK OF ME NOW.
I have always thought of you, have always had you in mind, have always heard the circles of your terror widening in the deeps. I think of you as the great cephalopod, ancient of the deeps, great thinking head in the blackness of the ultimate deep. I think of you as the Kraken. Even little children have an idea of you, they draw a great head with all the limbs growing out of it.
I AM THE KRAKEN, ANCIENT OF THE DEEPS, MONSTROUS CEPHALOPOD, GREAT HEAD AT THE CENTRE OF MY MILES OF WRITHING TENTACLES IN THE BLACKNESS OF THE ULTIMATE
DEEP; THE KRAKEN, MY DARK MIND WILD WITH THE TERROR OF ITSELF, SHUDDERING, WRITHING, AFRAID TO SLEEP, AFRAID TO DREAM BUT SLEEPING AGE-LONG AND DREAMING OF IMMENSITIES, OF BURSTINGS AND TRANSITIONS AND UNIMAGINABLE STATES OF BEING, DREAMING A UNIVERSE IN WHICH THERE IS SUCH A THING AS THE KRAKEN, DREAMING THAT I AM THE KRAKEN.
Will you show yourself to me?
I WILL SHOW MYSELF TO YOU IN SEVERAL WAYS AND WITH SEVERAL FACES.
Have you so many faces?
The Kraken said no more that night. But Eurydice has said in those three-o’clock-in-the-morning dancing green phosphors:
Of me the terror, I squatted and gave birth:
born of me the Kraken in its terror
at the bottom of the sea. Born of me
its terror of Eurydice.
My name is Herman Orff. At parties when people ask me what I do I say I’m a novelist and then they say, ‘Oh, should I have heard of you?’ and I say, ‘I think not.’ Then we both find somebody else to talk to.
My first novel,
Slope of Hell
(Mumchance Press, 1977), sold 1,731 copies before being remaindered.
found the writing ‘a little slippery’; the
noted that the story was ‘a downhill sort of thing’. My second one,
World of Shadows
(Reedham & Weap, 1978), sold 1,247 copies before the publisher went into receivership. What I do for a living is write comics. I came to that via an advertising agency called Slithe & Tovey where I used to write copy for Orpheus Men’s Toiletries, Hermes Foot Powder, Pluto Drain Magic, and several non-classical accounts. When we lost Hermes I was sacked and so was Sol Mazzaroth the account executive. Soon after that he became Editor in Chief of
and that was the beginning of my freelance comic career.
became for Sol Mazzaroth the earthen ramp by which he reached higher things, namely his own hardback imprint, the Avernus Press, where he published such rising talents as Boumboume Letunga, Hermione Thrust, and Juan de Fulmé. It was understood between us that my non-comic writing was not quite the thing for the Avernus list; I hewed wood and drew water at
but I led my muse into insolvency elsewhere.
wasn’t too bad; it wasn’t all that different from Slithe & Tovey: it was one of many bright and tastefully decorated places in London where people can neither speak nor write English and they say concept when they mean idea. The building was a posh little Bauhaus-style thing in High Holborn with a genuine Calder and a pseudo-Rothko in the waiting-room. Sol Mazzaroth had a big office full of layouts and proofs pinned up on corkboard and a lightbox littered with transparencies. It was better than Slithe & Tovey because I
only had to be there when Sol wanted to talk to me about the work or when I delivered the finished adaptation of
or whatever. After a few years of it I tended to see all speech in balloons and hear all sounds in expressionistic capital letters but that seemed a small price to pay for having the hours of my days under my own control.
Not having done terribly well with my first two novels I thought I might be third time lucky and I tried very hard to write another one but nothing came. Every afternoon I worked on my comics and every morning and night I tried to get a novel started. I could feel that there was life in my head, there were all sorts of things going on in it but nothing that could be made to act like a story for two or three hundred pages. Eight years had passed since I’d finished
World of Shadows
and so far page one of the next novel hadn’t turned up. I thought of giving up writing but I didn’t know how to do without that rush of panic and well-being that comes when I sit down at the word machine.
The night is my best time. At my lost outpost in Fulham I listen to my Drake R7 shortwave receiver while I work; it’s a proper three-o-clock-in-the-morning radio, a black longdistance machine with two blue illuminated windows and a frequency counter with luminous red numbers. By now the two blue windows have gone dark and only the red numbers light up. As my thoughts appear letter by letter on the screen the voices come in from All India Radio or Radio Moscow or the Voice of Greece or Rias in Berlin or whoever’s transmitting the music I crave at the time. I seldom listen to English broadcasts; I don’t want to know what the words mean – I just want to hear those voices coming from far away in the night, coming round the curving ionosphere and the great globe-encircling miles, night miles, ocean miles where the deep fish glide in the deep, deep dark and the Kraken waits in the uttermost deep with its dark mind wild with the terror of itself and of Eurydice.
I tape a lot of the music that comes in; I seldom get a really clean recording of Bismillah Khan or Tatiana Petrova or whoever it might be but I like to hear the crackling, the twittering and tweetling and whispering, the sudden storms and surges of that particular transmission as it comes to me in
the night. Far, far away in the darkness are live human beings whose breathing can be heard as they speak and they’re looking at their illuminated dials as I look at mine at this end of the thousands of great globe-encircling miles, ocean miles in the night, the heave and swell and the deep fish gliding in the dark. And always on the night air sweet women singing in all the tongues of humankind, singing to the accompaniment of strange instruments, strange rhythms in places unseen but existing at this very moment, perhaps with red dust rising on the plains or monsoon rains beating down or snow on mountain peaks impassable. And while I hear those sweet voices singing words that I cannot understand I watch my thoughts appear letter by letter in the green dancing of the phosphors on the monitor screen.