Lafferty Quotes

I have been taking some time off of intellectual pursuits and writing for the last several months while I gel – intellectually. Also, after Thanksgiving I will have an additional 25 hours a week to devout to writing and reading. So, I have been rather njoying a bout of laziness.

But, in-between time, on occasion, there should be no reason not to enjoy a wordsmith at work. So I provide a fiction and real life quote from the only original, R.A. Lafferty.


Should she not be a platinum woman, scatter-ornamented and beautiful, according to the norms? Or a shining ebony or a creamy chocolate? Should she not be adjusted and legal? Flowery and scatter-eyed? Should she not be of the multiplexity, nonlineate, a Scan, an Agape Apple, a Neutrina, a Pop Poppy? A Poster Coaster at the very least? Should she not be a Happy Medium, a Plateau Potato, a Twanger, a Mime, a Dreamer, and Enhancer Dancer? Are these not the aspects of a heroine?

Nah, she wasn’t like that at all. She was a Morning-Glory, which is illegal. She was a Gown-Clown, which is also illegal. She was not flowery, not scatter-eyed. She wasn’t even quite beautiful though she rather wished that she were. And yet perhaps she was, in another way, in an old and almost private way.

She had form. But was it not now bad form to have form? She had grace and face. She had a forky tongue and a willful way. She even had a measure of gaiety. She was tall and full. Her hair was midnight-black with green starlights in it (really). Here eyes were even blacker with deeper lights. She had a strong element of stubbornness in her, which is illegal.

-R. A. Lafferty, Ishmael Into the Barrens (1971)

And another from an interview from 1976. I took both of these from the Lafferty FaceBook page – the only Facebook page I look at.

At the world convention in Toronto in 1973 I won a Hugo (the highest award that the world can give, according to s.f. people). […] I’ve always believed that people should have the grace to die quietly after touching the top. I’ve put it off for one reason or another, but I know that’s a shoddy thing to do. There are even some who repeat the award, but that is in very bad taste.

(From Robert J. Whitaker, “R.A. Lafferty: An Interview,” The Hunting of the Snark 10 (1976), P. 12)


17 thoughts on “Lafferty Quotes

  1. He is playing with the very sound of words and the suggestiveness of meaning in referents that don’t strictly have a coherent meaning (”a Scan, an Agape Apple, a Neutrina, a Pop Poppy? A Poster Coaster at the very least? “).

    Is this an abuse of the medium? Of course not. We — or most of us — experience the text and find enjoyment in it. Who knows, this aesthetic principle might even work to the (gasp!) — visual arts.

    1. Sorry, Tai, I lost power over the weekend for two days and then the work week, blah, blah, blah.

      I agree, but only to the extent that I still refuse to call a lump of metal (or smears of paint or someone’s cans of feces) art.

      In prose you have plenty of, say, time or elbow room to resolve such play and flourishes. To move a story forward to change focus, have dialogue, whatever. If Lafferty merely rambled on and on with no story no characters doing or saying anything, nothing happening, no grammar or punctuation, it would be merely a collection of scatological ravings of interest, perhaps, to a psychologist or a philologist.

      That is not to say there exists some rule that says you could not do that at all no where in any story. There are no such rules as that. But there are guidelines by which something is defined by what it is. Take away those things and you have (in the case of a story) paper with black marks on it and story becomes whatever someone who proclaims themselves to be a writer says it is.

      The Lafferty quote I took from a website and was not even a full quote. It’s missing the first sentence and a chunk of the last paragraph and one final paragraph that goes with it. I have the story in my collection. There is another description that parallels this one although much shorter.

      Here is the hero. Should he not be a Swing, a Slant, a Cut, according to the norms? A Spade, a Buck, a Whanger? Should he not be a Head, a Flash, an Etch, a Neutrino yet, a Burn, a Vein, a Flower?

      Yeah, but he wasn’t like that. He wasn’t that kind of hero at all.

      And it goes on a little more. Some of the dialogue follows a similar form and is distinctly Lafferty.

      “Crudity, nudity; presbys and lesbos; monophony, cacophony; profanity, urbanity; muggery and buggery. Narcosis. Doggery. Flesh-mesh. Much else. Does that stuff not curdle the convoluted ears of you? It should.”

      I thoroughly enjoy his wordplay and nuttiness even when large chunks are flying over me dumb little head. But it is not just wordplay and nuttiness (well its all usually a little nutty) some basic minimums are required.

      The problem with the visual arts is they are single frames. Paint splashes can’t resolve themselves into anything except the subjective interpretation of the subject – purely. There absolutely is subjectivity in art don’t get me wrong. And in particular the written form and music. Simple test is we could both read the exact some book and have very diverse experiences of it. I don’t mean simply our emotional/cognitive estimation or evaluation of the work, but in every detail of experience. [I’m simply stating the obvious here, but it bears mentioning.] From the image of the girl in our mind’s eye, to the location, connotations etc, etc. In some ways a book is more of a suggestion than a strict work of denotation.

      That is why stories that are made into movies get such dramatic differing opinions. There is no definitive translation of a book into a film. There is not even a definitive translation of a screenplay into a film.

      But a book is, say, a commentary on the sexual norms of the Victorian error or it is not. But to use a book with a crystal clear message – Atlas Shrugged – it is not a commentary on the possibility of extraterrestrial life. It just isn’t. A pile of metal can be made to “say” anything at all because it is formless.

      Take a simple scene for a movie let’s say. A beautiful woman walks into a diner. How many different ways do you think we could create that scene. I don’t think we could exhaust the possibilities. Where is the camera? Who is in the diner? What are their reactions to the woman. Are there any reactions? Do we focus on her shoes? Do her heels click with an echo the diner being silenced? Is All Out of Love by Air Supply playing or Judas Priest’s Hell Bent for Leather? Is it a sequential scene or is it out of sequence? Do we film it backwards or forwards? Slow motion, in a haze – what?

      Damn, I just ran out of time. Gotta walk the dogs etc.

  2. I still refuse to call a lump of metal (or smears of paint or someone’s cans of feces) art.

    A smooth, shiny surface, for example, does not have to represent something to evoke an aesthetic response. So too, a bright splash of red paint may elicit a reaction similar to hearing a trumpet blast. An intricate composition may touch the part of the brain that finds satisfaction in the relation of things (pure math, after all, does not refer to any fixed subject matter). Does that mean that all such works employing these properties constitute good art? No. But representation is only one of many element that can induce a form of emotional appreciation we associate with art.

    The material comprising an object does not have to be feces — your employment of it as an illustration appears to be a reductio ad absurdum argument bound up in the additional fallacy of an argumentum ad passiones “emotional appeal” (in this case, to disgust). Sure, you can find actual examples of works that are meant to shock, but that does not prove that all abstract art is to be rejected out of hand — or even that all works employing shock elements are bad.

    I am once again reminded of the early criticism of jazz as, “not following the proper musical conventions and acting as a corrupting influence by exciting the beastial appetites of lust and aggression.”

    1. This is a quick dash because I didn’t find these comments until it was almost my beddy-bye time.

      So too, a bright splash of red paint may elicit a reaction similar to hearing a trumpet blast.

      Ah, but those two are incommensurables. A trumpet blast is part of an ensemble, it is a part of a whole. Someone could come out with an album that consists of 9 songs say, but the 9th “song” consists of nothing but a trumpet blast, that’s it done. What would we call that. Most people would think it was an error a funny way to cap the prior song. I love the simple sound of an E7 chord played through a clean Marshall stack, we can call that a guitar blast. But it is just a tiny piece like the crack of a snare, or the crisp sizzle of a high-hat hit.

      We have to take that piece and incorporate it into a whole – a form of some kind. I am pretty open to what that whole is.

      The feces is not reductio ad absurdum but a “work” by Piero Manzoni called Merda d’artista, or, Artist’s Shit. It is an actual piece of shit, I mean art. I can list any number of other items; it is the more innocent case that that name sticks in my head (think of the connotative meaning and you see why).

      I am once again reminded of the early criticism of jazz as, “not following the proper musical conventions and acting as a corrupting influence by exciting the beastial appetites of lust and aggression.”

      This is not at all the sort of thing I am saying. Look at the wording “conventions”. I am seeking that under which conventions must sway. I am saying that there is all the world of difference between the breaking of musical convention a la Jazz and the breaking of so-called convention of some modern art.

      I still don’t know how you get out of the position of art being whatever an artist declares it is.

      Ps. This is one of my all-time favorite discussions (insert happy face)

    2. A smooth, shiny surface, for example, does not have to represent something to evoke an aesthetic response.

      A crystal has a smooth, shiny surface. Is it therefore art?

      If it needn’t represent anything, it need not represent any shape either, correct? If something is spherical (assuming we are saying it belongs in the class of art) then it, at least if nothing else, represents a sphere. And it doesn’t need to be shiny, it doesn’t need to be smooth. The material doesn’t matter because we can sculpt in many mediums: various metals, clay, wood. So why can’t I drag a tree stump into an art gallery and call it art?

      Man, I got to look this stuff up after I think it up as an absurdity, then type it! It’s not a tree stump, but a dead tree, but can we see any reason why it couldn’t be a stump rather than a whole tree?
      $460,000, that’s why!

      Would you qualify as to say the material requires transformation by human hands? I could hack off some pieces of the tree stump before I bring it in. Doesn’t have to represent anything. Of course one could say that the tree stump is representing a tree stump

      I agree there is a large element of subjectivity in art. But your characterization of art, unless I am misunderstanding what you are trying to say, is 100% subjectivity. Nothing at all is required of the artist, no restrictions at all on the identity of the art work (does it need to possess existence? ) only of the subject, and that is to have some reaction, any reaction. Art becomes merely the reaction of the subject to the stimuli.

      I don’t deny the value (if it is required for a piece, or just in a piece if it fits) of a shiny surface, or a trumpet blast but they are merely tiny fragments of, what should be, a whole. You are taking parts, making them wholes, and then taking something attributive to the whole, namely representation, and making it a part, a dispensable, unnecessary part.

      Does that mean that all such works employing these properties constitute good art?

      I do not understand, under your view of art, how we can even employ words such as good or bad, skilled or unskilled, sublime or slime, or junk plain junk or garbage. Since all that you have is the reaction of the subject as your guide, you don’t even have the art’s existence as a necessary characteristic. If some lady has a “reaction” at the Museum of Non-Visible Art, how could you possibly criticize it (the “art work” not the lady, she’s allowed to indulge in whatever fantasy she wishes)? She had an “aesthetic reaction” that’s it, you’re done, the requirement, the litmus test has been passed.

      I realize I am a dying breed. Just ask one of the most successful artists of the modern era, Jeff Koons whose Orange Balloon Dog sold for a whopping $58.4Million. We both win with his art however, his dogs are boast smooth and shiny surfaces and it actually represents something – a dog. Still not art, but it is something.

      And he expresses the core of modern art (and probably can get a lot of people to agree with him his stuff is cute balloon doggies!).

      Stephen Colbert probably summed up the meaning of Koons’s balloon animals best in an interview with the artist on The Colbert Report last year. “A lot of them are shiny, you know,” Colbert observed, “so when I look at them I can see me, and then I’m really interested in it.” Koons agreed, arguing “art happens inside the viewer… and the art is your sense of your own potential as a person.” These reflective balloon sculptures “just trigger that information in you.”

  3. Just to be clear: this is only another round in our ongoing discussion. Please don’t take it as a personal attack. That is certainly not my intention.

    1. ROAR! You sonofabitch! [Rips off shirt showing unmanly dearth of chest hair and muscle tone..] I challenge ye to a duel you scoundrel for… for… what?

      Seriously though I fail to see how I could take it as a personal attack. We’ve been going at this discussion for a couple years now. I still find it entertaining.

      One observation about the discussion in general before I make more expansive comments tomorrow or Sunday. I don’t really think we are in as much disagreement as we sometimes seem in this. What I think is we are in a classic boat rocking scenario. I posit that art has to have some form, and, whether through my failure to communicate or your rejection of all form, seem to think I am arguing for some rigid set of restrictions that are arbitrary. I am certainly willing to accept I haven’t succeeded in elucidating my point as yet. I don’t find great shame in that as these arguments have gone on for centuries just with different actors donning the hats.

      Likewise when you reject my argument and posit your own, I don’t think you are rejecting all form nor all standards or even guidelines, but, like you perhaps, I am not quite sure then what you are trying to say.

      I think we can both agree that it is a subject of enough depth, complexity and some subjectivity that it can’t be an easy one.

  4. Humans make things and those things basically fall into two categories: those with a utilitarian function and those that are made primarily to please the percipient of the work. By “please,” I mean to excite a response that, broadly speaking, creates an acceptably satisfying* emotional connection between the subject and object.

    However, this categorical division has been challenged in contemporary aesthetic theory. Traditionally, architecture has been granted a special hybrid category that combines utility and art, but the dividing line is not sharp in many other cases. Plato’s dialogues are not transcriptions of historical discussions; they are carefully composed works of literary art as well as philosophical discourses (Plato was once an aspiring playwright — which is ironic considering how the topic of art is treated in the dialogues).

    This fuzziness between functional and aesthetic properties of an object was highlighted by Marcel Duchamp when he submitted a urinal he titled “fountain” to an art exhibition in New York in 1917. It was his way of thumbing his nose at art (a tame version of your feces example) and many critics were outraged. However, many more have subsequently come to view the work as a conceptual reflection on the distinction between an object as a mere tool and as a thing that actually could be admired for features such as shape, texture, color, etc. Whether this was Marcel’s intention is beside the point (not to say that intention is always completely arbitrary).

    Can anything be art? No. But consider the story of Giotto’s circle. Vasari says Giotto painted a freehand perfect circle as an example of his craftsmanship for the Pope. If the story actually happened and if we had that painting, would it be exhibited in a museum as a work of art? I would say, yes. It’s provenance alone would elicit an aesthetic appreciation even though a single circle is a rather boring image.

    * ”Acceptably satisfying” is unavoidably vague. What may be acceptable to some may be repulsive to others, though I think we can identify some moral standards (e.g., actual snuff films as opposed to, say, works in the Grand Guignol tradition).

    1. This move in argumentation is called goal-post moving, but I’ll bite. Unless you’re simply ignoring the train of conversation and pursuing something else.

      We didn’t need Duchamp’s urinal to highlight any fuzziness between the functional and the aesthetic. If our knowledge of art consisted of the Chauvet Cave then blank-out to the Sistine Chapel and then blank-out until Duchamp, then maybe there would be some point. But we have all the evidence of the functional and aesthetic vases, and various earthenware all through ancient history. These are recognized as art and as utilitarian objects.

      How about the medieval functionality of tapestry in castles in winter months?

      The categorical division is in their heads. The fuzziness is historically evident.

      Whether this was Marcel’s intention is beside the point…

      See, unless we have a definitive quote from him saying, “I was expressing art is something to be pissed on and art can go suck it,” people are free to make any sort of rationalization of his intention, statement or behavior. It’s a fucking urinal! And people can get tenure, write books, make money, and sound highbrow (stroke their ego) making up all sorts of goobly-gook to get in on what is plainly a nihilistic game. By its very nature it can mean literally anything and, therefore, means nothing. And these “theories” expose the fact that the “art” (this specific sort of “art”) isn’t by its nature able to convey such convoluted information. That is why the elitist screams that the common man is “too crude” to understand the “deep messages and meaning” of the trash that floods the museums, even though even in his own drool the common man grasps The Creation of Adam quite easily. If only on an aesthetic level appreciating the work.

      But let’s consider a piece that the so-called common man may not so easily grasp but is still considered great art (maybe not, I don’t keep avant garde, perhaps it is laughed at now) Raphael’s The School of Athens. Now, at a certain level he can of course appreciate the skill and detail of the composition, etc. He may recognize the two central figures vaguely. He can grasp that these are two important guys in a serious debate and he may have some level of experience with the painting.

      But if he knew about philosophy his appreciation of the painting would grow in direct proportion to the knowledge.

      Now you may say that both people, in some way, are being fed information from the outside to inform their appreciation in the art. But it is in fact in Raphael’s painting. Duchamp’s Fountain receives all its appreciation outside the object itself. In the end, it is just a urinal. The only meaning is exterior to it, 100% subjective.

      I am not holding out The School of Athens as a model of what art must be, for a simple sunset is also art, but because it highlights better than anything else I know what is wrong with rationalizing something like Duchamp’s prank. Hell, I love Dali and he was a competent, talented artist unlike Duchamp (which is the real key to the Fountain).

      Can anything be art? No.

      Why not? If an “artist” presents something, anything, and calls it art and is accepted by others as art, what principles, standards, definitions can you marshall forth to claim that it is not? Forget about principles and standards, perhaps just a notion, some general guideline.

      I think a piece of the puzzle is how this happened almost completely in the visual arts (painting and sculpture) but not so much in music (most of it is horrendous now, but still, mostly, is music) film and literature. Of the last I would say it takes too much work on the part of the subject to ingest the literary equivalent of the Fountain. While taking a look at trash on a wall is a glance and you go home, drink the rest of the night away, and largely forget about it by morning.

    1. I gave you two options: moving goalposts or simply ignoring the train of conversation. Coupled with the fact that each of your comments are not indented to the conversation but stand out on their own like isolated tidbits. It is like two people are on the same topic but are having two different conversations with two other people who are off-stage.

      You address nothing I say at all but wander off as if I have said nothing. Am I being Duchamp’ed?

    2. Also I think a definition of art may be too lofty a goal. I always liked Rand’s definition because it was loose enough include all the major art forms without dictating specifically, or concretely, strictures that would create artificial (classicist style) constraints. Unfortunately, although it carried (I think) some indispensable fundamentals, that definition’s looseness also meant it was hard to apply.

      Is the song “My Sharona” by The Knack a valid example of “a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments?”

      The definition gets fuzzy under the art form music, but music is art, but how is it a selective recreation?

      A more realistic goal would be to define each form of art: painting, literature, music – if possible. And then, perhaps, cull a general definition that subsumes them all.

      Because really, how do we argue whether Tree #11 is art or not, answer it according to some (assumed) definition of art in general without answering its (the assumed definition) application to music?

      Also note one must be very careful with definitions. A definition is supposed to distinguish one class from all other classes that’s all. It would be, is, very easy to make it too restrictive or too inclusive and, thus, fail in its function.

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