Monday, July 7, 2008

“A Slim Chance of Mimetic Redemption, or:

“A Slim Chance of Mimetic Redemption, or:
Fun With Your New Soul,
An Open Letter to
The Now Closed Thomas M. Disch”
Gene Stewart

Dear Mr. Disch,

You were, they say, depressive, and prone to the vicissitudes of being gay in a world that was not. White Fang Goes Dingo, indeed. These were things I never knew, although there were probably hints in your elegant stories too subtle for this reporter. You missed your partner, Charles Naylor, and remained kind and generous to individuals with temerity enough to approach you while maintaining a reputation as a cantankerous and often regally vicious curmudgeon.

It has, yes, occurred to me that your suicide may well prove, down the line, to be another of your seamless literary hoaxes.

You wrote and published poetry at award-winning levels and issued theater and opera criticism, all matters guaranteed to confuse this reporter, who liked his opera in space, his theater sf’nal. And it was in those realms you never disappointed. From Camp Concentration and The Puppies of Terra to 334, your work shown with intelligence, irony, and wit absent from the majority of whiz-bang dreams our stuff was made of, and always there were eye-widening ideas offered or subversive, sly angles taken to startle readers into glimpsing what science fiction could, sometimes, aspire to in the literary realm.

Even your horror -- The Businessman: A Tale of Terror for the consumer unit who likes to think about what’s being done to him; The M.D.: A Horror Story, a deliciously dark mockery of what we laughingly call medicine, which first does grave harm; The Priest: A Gothic Romance, touching, dare one say groping, on pedophilia; and The Sub: A Study in Witchcraft of the sort performed on malleable young minds by teachers -- spun new yarn from old thread, and wove it into patterns delightful and dark. Behind the fun, a cynicism breathtaking took wing, darting with the light touch of bats avoiding blows.

You were home-schooled, always advanced, and you were Catholic, always looking back in piercingly critical observations about the church and its ways, as in The Priest. You reserved your loathing perhaps too much for yourself, given how much legitimate contumely you had to spread among the types represented by your horror novels.

Like another well-known curmudgeon mysteriously called Harlan Ellison, you found the Army, and regimentation of any kind, maddening, a fact reflective of the freedom, including of sexuality, found celebrated so well in your book On Wings of Song.

You supposedly once said this: "I have a class theory of literature. I come from the wrong neighborhood to sell to The New Yorker. No matter how good I am as an artist, they always can smell where I come from.” And you were as good as the best of them, those others, the snobs and elite who kept tight ranks in the literary deer park that reserves big money and, more importantly, serious acclaim and the possibility of success that lasts generations for itself, specifically withholding it from the likes of genre writers like you. Bitterness set in, did it not, sir? And your best work was as pearls before swine.

To subvert them by reaching into the delicate minds of their children, you gave us all The Brave Little Toaster, later sending him to Mars, thus luring them into science fiction as well as fantasy. Even the animated version, in a touch of grace, retained your fundamental qualities, brilliantly offering hope even to the mere appliances of a world run by other orders of being, an optimistic, if sarcastic, dream for the useful work-doers such as us. Such work detonates in young minds like 102 H-bombs.

But now we learn you have finally gotten into death, an exclusive club from which you were barred for 68 wearisome years. Your reputation will echo ‘round the bones of your work left for us to gnaw upon, and the genocidal writers among us especially will have no idea how best to remember you, even as their own work shows influences of your elegance, your antic irony, and your dry wit. You died a prisoner of neighboring lives, leaving us only the word of god pinned against the wall of America; we can but hope you have fun with your new soul as we read again and again the words you arranged for us before you left.


Black Alice (Clara & Alfred Reeve)

P.S. - Mr. Disch apparently used the sounds of the Fourth of July to cover the sound of his gunshot, a courteous celebration of a kind of freedom most of us lack the courage to engage.

No comments: