June 12th, 2007

Katherine Dunn 2


“Act or practise of feigning to be what one is not, or to feel what one does not feel.”
------Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

    It’s a delicate tool, and powerful. Too much makes you a slime thing. Too little and you’re not fit to be loose on the street.  Under polite nicknames-- manners, respect, sensitivity-- it is the essential lubricant that allows millions of the planets’ most dangerous predators to live claw to jaw in urban mazes without constant bloody mayhem on every corner. “Sorry,” we say, “ Beg pardon,” “I’d love to, but...” 
    It is the first socializing lesson for the savage infant. “No Missy,” scolds the parent,” you do not hate your brother.” Which is nonsense of course. We all yearn, occasionally, to sink a hammer in our brothers’ skull, but we don’t admit it, much less do it, because there are consequences. If the truth is a brass knuckle to the listener, it’s a busted nose or worse for the teller.
   If our host’s pie lacks sugar we may scruple to call it delicious, but blithely pronounce it “Gorgeous!” When we do not yield to our natural impulses to brain the lady who shoves in the supermarket line, or pitch our bosses out the top floor window, we are hypocrites, and a good thing too.
   Courtesy and restraint are hypocrisy, which is to say, the core of all civilization. This is the social contract-- that we swap the truth of our ferocity for the security and comfort of cooperation. It is a fair trade and we learn it early. The best of us convince even ourselves, and project the fantasy upward, demanding the appearance of decency from industry and government. Our leaders must seem to wear white hats because we--the constituency-- insist on believing we are the good guys.  Condemning hypocrisy is the purest functional form of hypocrisy. It’s a delicate tool. It works.

-----Katherine Dunn

(This appeared first in a magazine called Self in November of 1995)
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Young Katherine Dunn

As loyal readers will recall, when I was profiling US MAGAZINE #2, from 1969, I noted the appearance of an item therein by one Katherine Dunn. You'll see the opening two pages above. I believe I mistakenly characterized it as an essay. But of course if I had paged to the end, I would have discovered this blurb:

"Katherine Dunn was raised in Colorado, went to Reed College, bummed around Europe awhile, and wrote like flaming shit. This piece is an excerpt from her first novel, ATTIC, which will be published soon by Harper and Row. She'll have finished her second book before the galleys are dry."

I'd like to use this serendipitous find as an occasion for Katherine to ramble and reminisce about this period in her life. Born in 1945, she would have been 23 or 24 when this story appeared, and of course even younger during the writing of it. Was it her first? How did she feel to see it published? How did she come into contact with US MAGAZINE? What were her hopes and expectations for her career at the time, her literary aspirations? What social scenes was she involved in? How does everything look in hindsight?

I'll make one observation of my own: that this excerpt strikes me as exhibiting a kinship to the work of the late, great Kathy Acker, whose tenth death-anniversary occurs this year.


Katherine: do you feel you share any affinities or sympathies with Acker and her work? It's telling I think that you share the same birth year, and possibly other youthful circumstances.

Rather than respond in the comments section, where folks might miss it, perhaps a full separate post is in order.
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While continuing my slow enjoyable trawl through THE SEUSS, THE WHOLE SEUSS, AND NOTHING BUT THE SEUSS, I chanced upon this passage:

"In April 1943...Paramount Pictures released George Pal's Puppetoon version of THE 500 HATS OF BARTHOLOMEW CUBBINS... Puppetoons were the precursor to Claymation. For eight minutes of film, about 9,000 wooden figures would be carved and hand-painted with colored lacquer. The artists had to paint each figure precisely because 'the slightest deviation in color or line will make the figures jerk on the screen.' Those eight minutes of footage required about 12,000 stop-action photographs, with the figures being repositioned or new ones substituted after each 1/24 second exposure..."

I was utterly ignorant of this early accomplishment of Pal's. I further remedied my lack by checking out the Wikipedia entry:


Then of course I hit YouTube, and found two examples available. And they're mind-blowing. However you rate Pal's live-action SF films, these show him as some kind of genius.

"Philips Broadcast of 1938 George Pal Puppetoon"

"Jasper and the Haunted House"