And with this… came a firm belief that the whole fabric of life in which he moved was sunken, past all thinking, in the grossest absurdity; that he and his friends and acquaintances and fellow-workers were interested in matters in which men were never meant to be interested, were pursuing aims which they were never meant to pursue, were, indeed much like fair stones on an altar serving as a pigsty wall. Arthur Machen, A Fragment of Life
The effect of the weird tale is subtle and insidious, it is designed to get under your skin. Arthur Machen manages to turn a humdrum existence of buying Australian mutton with his wife from The Worldwide stores in Shepherds Bush and chewing resolutely on his mince in the cramped summer evenings (note the heaviness of meat and digestion as the anti-enlightening agent– the opposite of self-raising dough)with a narrative of self discovery catalyzed by a dream of fountains and silvery vapour, a silvery mist he sees occasionally in his wife’s eyes.
Machen shows us that the reality we preoccupy ourselves with only scratches the surface of things, human life is necessarily a process of reduction. We look but we cannot afford to actually see because that would require a level of absorption which is anti-temporal. Machen wants us all to be stone-breakers, to attack with pick axes and sledge hammers that self-limiting pigsty wall which we erect in our self-defence. Do we really dare to throw in the towel and engage in a lively mystic dance, turn the water of reality into intoxicating wine when instead we can eavesdrop conversations on the bus about whether ‘rhubarb is a fruit or vegetable?’ Continue reading