THE DEEP ONES: "Larger Than Oneself" by Robert Aickman
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Discussion begins on May 23, 2018.
First published in Powers of Darkness(1966).
SELECTED PRINT VERSIONS
The Dark Descent
The Late Breakfasters and Other Strange Stories
Painted Devils: Strange Stories
The Collected Strange Stories, Volume I
The Dark Descent 1: The Colour of Evil
This story brought to mind a review I just read in Doug Anderson's Late Reviews of an unpublished philosophical work by Aickman entitled 'Panacea: The Synthesis of an Attitude' which runs to over 1,000 pages in manuscript. Aickman wrote it when he was in his early 20s, and the review provides a fairly detailed summary of its contents. It's a real philosophical-politcal-religious-mathematical-etc smorgasbord, and I can't help but wonder if 'Larger Than Oneself' contains an element of Aickman poking fun at his earnest younger self.
Google books links are problematic. They work one day but not the next. The one above didn't work for me just now until I refreshed the screen three times and it suddenly popped up.
'Panacea: The Synthesis of an Attitude'
As much as I enjoy reading Aickman, I think I'll wait for the Centipede Press Masters of the Weird Tale: Robert Aickman volume, which I'm sure will also be about 1000 pages. The cover for it was just posted on their web site this past weekend.
I just tried refreshing repeatedly, to no apparent effect, so I guess I'm sitting this one out, unfortunately.
References I chased down online:
The architect and urban planner Patrick Geddes.
Various crucifixion images by Edward Burra, who allegedly read HPL and kept Weird fiction in his library.
Arthur Koestler's Arrival and Departure
Einsiedelei (mis-spelled in the online version, translated as hermitage or meditation retreat)
The Hibbert Journal
Mrs Iblis's quotation:
Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"
Wannabe-philosopher Coner's breakdown in the face of a real metaphysical event is a nice touch. The utter strangeness of the occurrence, from the all-infusing light to the "vast shining figure", successfully evokes not just the awe, but also the fear that such an event might induce. And what was it, anyway? I'm glad we're not told, but in this case, merging with something "larger than oneself" might not be such a good thing. Be careful what you wish for, in other words.
Thanks for those illuminating annotations!
The general point, though, is clear enough. As noted in >6 Crypto-Willobie:, there's reason to believe Aickman is pointing fun at himself, too.
As has been noted, the social comedy in "Larger Than Oneself" plays a larger part in this story than is usual in Aickman's stories, making the dawning realisation that it runs through most (all?) of the fiction somewhat redundant.
In his introduction to the Tartarus Press edition of Powers of Darkness, Mark Valentine tells us that one of Aickman's favourite books was The New Republic by W. H. Mallock a kind of mid-Victorian update of Thomas Love Peacock's conversation novels. Valentine calls this story "a sort of mangled, chaotic anti-masque" to Mallock's book (which I haven't read, but I did spot the, a bit more than superficial, resemblance to Peacock's novels).
The names of Peacock's characters are clues to their characters. Is it significant that the main character in Aickman's story is named after the Islamic version of Satan? Perhaps holding onto her individuality, not wanting to merge with something greater, could be a rebellion against God? Is her unease around Sister Nuper and her adoring young men a fear of sex, for similar reasons? (Kenton Sem draws parallels with Madonna and Lady Gaga - I remembered the story of Tallulah Bankhead and 6 Eton schoolboys).
Another fine touch of Aickman-humor: "Looking for an ashtray, she noticed the Sister's bedside book: entitled Bowel Discipline, it was a lesser work by a well-known member of the Labor party."
Modern pop stars because they might well adopt sexy nurse's uniform shtick, but Bankhead could well have inspired Aickman.
I didn't know that, appreciate the mention and it lead me to this article on Jinn. Evidently Iblis has the same complex character as does Lucifer or Satan in Christian lore, it would be a mistake to interpret the reference as simple Evil incarnate.
It is worth listening / watching, and he drops a number of recommendations along the way.
I don't recall knowing about that canals interest of his, his efforts and his writings are interesting to me, as well. Again I'm reminded of Iain Sinclair, as I was recently with another DEEP ONES read, that link to an earlier time and how it affected those who lived then, as well as affecting those who came after.
Nuper seems to be a possibly symbolic name. Translated from the Latin, it means "recently", "newly", or "the other day". (I'm relying on online translation. I don't speak Latin.)
Here's only some of the questions that occurred to me.
What were Nuper and crowd up to? An orgy? A religious rite which does bring something new, as per her name, into the world? Is she some sort of Antichrist with her own twelve apostles?
Why do we have a character married, at least in her name, to the Devil? A character who sees danger in this quest for transcendence, or, at least, distaste for its result? Has the modern world birthed something to abhorrent for the Devil and his mate?
Then again, maybe something that makes the Devil’s wife recoil at its joy is a good thing.
What’s up with Nuper’s sexy nurse’s garb and reading about bowel habits? An Aickman comment on body obsessions of the modern world?