Dear Phil Letter #5

by Frank Bertrand
(Read Frank’s First “Dear Phil Letter“)


Dear Phil,

I recently finished rereading, Phil, your 1964 novel Martian Time-Slip (serialized in 1963), while recovering from right inguinal hernia surgery. And I’m not too sure, at this point, which had a more deleterious effect, because I found your novel even more dark, depressing and somber than I had remembered it. It’s as if Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” were put in a literary Cuisinart with most anything by Kafka to which is added a strong dash of Beckett. I mean, the indigenous Martians in that novel are aptly named, Bleekmen. Bleek, indeed, even more so than A Scanner Darkly.

Then I happened to recall an essay by one of your favorite intellectual heroes, Carl Gustav Jung. It’s the one titled “Psychologie und die Literaturwissenschaft”, from 1929, also available in his 1933 collection Modern Man In Search Of A Soul. No, Phil, I don’t think this was caused by the post-op Percoset fog I was in but by two particular phrases in Jung’s essay: “…for it is a vision seen “as in a glass, darkly,” and, “…it is awakened whenever the times are out of joint…”. Sound familiar, don’t they? Say, you didn’t lift these from him, did you?

Anyways, in his essay Jung writes primarily about two modes of artistic creation, the “visionary” and the “psychological”. Of the latter he states:

“I have called this mode of artistic creation psychological because in its activity it nowhere transcends the bounds of psychological intelligibility. Everything that it embraces – the experience as well as its artistic expression – belongs to the realm of the understandable.”

These experiences are drawn from the realm of human consciousness, that is, emotional shocks, lessons of life, passion, and crises of human destiny. The writer psychically assimilates them and gives “…an expression which forces the reader to greater clarity and depth of human insight…”. As examples Jung cites “many novels dealing with love, the environment, the family, crime and society, as well as didactic poetry, the larger number of lyrics, and the drama, both tragic and comic.” In particular he noted the first part of the Faust drama, in that “The love-tragedy of Gretchen explains itself; there is nothing that the psychologist can add to it that the poet has not already said in better words.”

Now, I don’t know, Phil, if you’re familiar with this Jung essay, but regards his “psychological mode” and the examples he gives, I found the drama, both tragic and comic intriguing because I know that in a September ’81 interview with Gregg Rickman, you said about Martian Time-Slip, and other novels you wrote in the early 60s, “They all had the same element of humor – they were balanced, they were beautifully balanced between humor and tragedy.” If there is humor in Martian Time-Slip, it is, I think, of the “black humor” variety, in the sense Max Schulz defined it in 1973: “…a comic perspective on tragic fact and moralistic certitude,” or perhaps what T.S. Eliot, in a different context, wrote in “Little Gidding” (1942): “the conscious impotence of rage / At human folly, and the laceration of laughter at what ceases to amuse.” That is, the world is seen as a dark and hopeless place with no light in any direction – a setting void of excitement and color. And to survive in such a world a defensive type of humor is used to laugh at things which are cruel, unusual, absurd, or sad. There is a black and humorous juxtaposition of the noble and the alienated, the heroic and the foolish. Actually, I’m a bit surprised, Phil, that more hasn’t been made of your use of black humor in many of your stories and novels.

I mention this because of Jung’s second artistic mode of creation, the “visionary”, which he describes as:

“…a strange something that derives its existence from the hinterland of man’s mind – that suggests the abyss of time separating us from pre-human ages, or evokes a super-human world of contrasting light and darkness….It arises from timeless depths; it is foreign and cold, many-sided, demonic and grotesque.”
He finds this, amongst others, in Dante, the second part of Faust, in Nietzsche’s Dionysian exuberance, Wagner’s Nibelungenring, the poetry of William Blake, and Rider Haggard’s fiction-cycle that turns on She. By such works, Jung writes, “We are reminded in nothing of everyday, human life, but rather of dreams, night-time fears and the dark recesses of the mind that we sometimes sense with misgiving.”

As I was reminded of night-time fears and the dark recesses of the mind when I reread Martian Time-Slip, in which you just happen to allude to Jung in chapters 7 and 11. I wonder, then, what Jung would think of this novel? I suspect he might say, as he writes in his essay, that it’s a “…disturbing vision of monstrous and meaningless happenings that in every way exceed the grasp of human feelings and comprehension [that] makes quite other demands upon the powers of the artist than do the experiences of the foreground of life.” Perhaps more to the point, as I now reconsider Martian Time-Slip, is what he states about writers of such works:

“Being essentially the instrument for his work, he is subordinate to it, and we have no reason for expecting him to interpret it for us. He has done the best that in him lies in giving it form, and he must leave the interpretation to others and to the future. A great work of art is like a dream; for all its apparent obviousness it does not explain itself and is never unequivocal.”

That last sentence, Phil, is an accurate characterization for me of Martian Time-Slip – bleek, doesn’t explain itself, and is never unequivocal.

Yours in Kipple,


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