Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Notes to "It was only during the age of candlelight that the race of ghosts really flourished," or, Edmund Wilson as uncanny anthologist

* Which is worth reading in its entirety if only so that you can compare the incredible number and type of ads in that May 25th, 1944 issue of the New Yorker to what appears in today's New Yorker. In a review that stretched across ten pages, there were six full pages of ads, the majority of them advertising liquor: Philadelphia Blended Whiskey, Hennessy, G&D American Vermouth, Aqua Velva, Kentucky Tavern Whiskey, Harvey's Old World Wines, Ronrico ("the best rum bar none"), Abbot's Bitters, Fox Head "400" Beer and Ale, Carstairs White Seal Whiskey ("every drop is coming from our limited pre-war reserves"), Valliant burgundy ("Meet the challenge of rationing with this smooth full-bodied burgundy."). Throw in the Chris-Craft ad, which urges you to put a Chris-Craft at the top of your list for after Victory--and until then to buy war bonds with the money you might have spent--and you've got dual pictures of very different personal and corporate worlds than those suggested by the contemporary New Yorker, for all its undeniable virtues.

**Elsewhere in the interview, which is collected in The Paris Review Interviews II, King says that his sort of story,
should be a kind of personal assault. It ought to be somebody lunging right across the table and grabbing you and messing you up. It should get in your face. It should upset you, disturb you. And not just because you get grossed out. I mean, if I get a letter from somebody saying, I couldn't eat my dinner, my attitude is, Terrific!
And thus Wilson and King part ways . . .

*** Of whose The Turn of the Screw he writes, "It is probably that James, like Kipling, was unconscious of having raised something more frightening than the ghosts he contemplated."

**** In as stark a reminder of the distance between 1944 and now as I've come across in a long time (along with the aforementioned ads, that is), Wilson (and, one presumes, his editor) feels that he needs to explain that The Metamorphosis
deals with a young traveling salesman who suddenly wakes up one morning to find that he is an enormous cockroach, to the great horror of his parents, with whom he has been living and who have been counting on him to pay off their debts.
It's hard to even imagine a world in which this story isn't yet universally familiar to readers with any sort of claim to literary knowledge--to say nothing of the ensuing decades of parody, homage, and riffs on its central metaphor, all instantly familiar to the serious reading public.

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