Quentin S. Crisp, Defeated Dogs, Introduction

July 27, 2013

I wrote the introduction for Defeated Dogs, a collection of short stories by Quentin S. Crisp, published by Eibonvale Press.

This is the introduction:

“The masses are prone to perspicacity in minor facts, but to stupidity in the major ones.”

This is what Ko Hung said.

Never, since history began, have more people been able to speak English. Never, since the language began, have fewer people been able to write it well.

Who can find joy in its depths, appreciate its magnificence—its abundance?

The Earth is engulfed in a deluge of words—words clumsily skewered together like expired meat on a kebab, charred by the fires of inanity and seasoned by the clumsy hands of technology.

“Verbiage-fakers: you gulp down all that is on the plates, before wise men can dine or even get a bite.”

Hermias said this; and that some are grateful for the rush of this never-ending sewer, in which bawdy romances whirl about the precincts of gauche volumes intended for the pre-pubescent members of our society, we can have little doubt. But we also know that, ultimately, beauty attracts. Bandinelli is forgotten; Michelangelo forever remembered.

Mr. Crisp was born in North Devon in 1972. His parents were vegetarians and ran what might well have been the first vegetarian guesthouse in England. Crisp has, for the most part, avoided meat to this very day, giving “strength to his body so that it might contain his soul,” as Eunapius says.

The first word he spoke was ‘brontosaurus’. While he was still at a tender age, his family spent a period in Israel, and young Crisp returned with a cage full of smuggled preying mantises. Being naturally inclined to humour, in Secondary School he secretly put woodlice in his hair and then shook them out on his desk, causing a crisis, as the teachers thought they were giant headlice. The following year he hitchhiked to High Wycombe in drag in order to attend a concert of the German heavy metal band Accept. One of the band’s roadies, a middle-aged transsexual who went by the name of Robin Roma, was able to get the young Crisp backstage. The two afterwards corresponded with great frequency and at Roma’s suggestion Crisp had his first foray into ‘publishing’ by producing a photocopied magazine of mermaid pornography, the discovery of which earned him two weeks suspension from school.

This same Roma later became a Buddhist monk in Thailand, and it was through him, in fact, that I first discovered Crisp’s work, him giving me a soiled copy of The Nightmare Exhibition.

“Where you see bodies, I see forces tending towards each other by a creative impulse.”

So said Balzac.

One of Crisp’s GCSEs was Television Studies. As he could only find one other boy to work with, he convinced this latter to film him putting on a wedding gown and marrying himself, the footage then being used for a video for the song ‘Woman’ by the Anti-Nowhere League.

Ikku Jippensha said, “travelling means cleansing the life of care”.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in Japanese from the University of Durham, he went to Maebashi, Japan, where he spent ten months studying Japanese at Gunma University. He boarded with a barber and received complimentary haircuts; went back to England, and then back to Japan again, to Kyoto, having received a Monbukagakusho Scholarship, through Kyoto University, in order to study the works of Higuchi Ichiyo.

There is a rather amusing anecdote about his return to England after this second stay. It would seem that one of the first people he met upon his repatriation was Mark Samuels, the noted writer of strange stories. This latter found Crisp’s speech patterns so distorted from his continuous study of classical Japanese that communication was almost impossible. The incident was the inspiration for the Franklyn Crisk character in his story ‘Glyphotech’.

Crisp is known for his vital prose, his legendary green woolen scarf, his love of tea, his fear of certain kinds of fruit, and his suspicion of all things digital.

“My lowly self has sat quietly out of sight, for I was not fitted to the times, and my work has been out of tune with the day. Whatever I said ran counter to popular belief; every step I took was against the direction of the masses.”

So said Ko Hung.

For many years his work has been followed by a rather elite group of readers and its quality has placed him amongst a unique group of writers, not as part of any particular school, but rather as one of those who should be read.

“Great desire to begin another story; didn’t yield to it. It is all pointless.”

So said Franz Kafka.

To earn a living, Crisp has done various things, such as testing software for mobile phones, freelance writing, and teaching English at a nursery school in Taiwan. At one point he was employed in London as a ‘Green Champion’ which entailed him going to low income housing blocks and informing the tenants on various ways they might be greener, such as getting them to recycle, ride their bicycles to work, put bricks in their toilets, etc. And throughout all this, he has, fortunately, continued to write, despite not being petted by the soft hands of the large publishing houses.

He has written numerous short stories, several novels (a number of which are, as of this writing, still unpublished) and lyrics for the band Kodagain.

“Why talk about insects when the whole world is before you?”

This is what Shih Nai-An said.

To call Crisp’s stories simple would be to malign them; to say that they are complex would be to slander, for the highest art is that which, in its directness, its naturalness, says what it has to say without pretence.

The stories are not marked by imaginative paroxysms in which vapid thoughts are tethered together with the tails of absurd beasts, and neither are they studded with knowledge flaunted. There is in them much of the sort of realism used by Patricia Highsmith—much of the same sort of introspection. In Crisp’s case, however, the introspection has a much quieter tone—and the strokes of his brush, so to speak, are more often broken, giving the stories a heightened sense of mystery. The world is not always exactly what it seems.

Gold and vermillion rarely enter into his palette which consists primarily of white, indigo, grey-green, and yellow—the colours used to paint trees, flowers, mountains and people—but even then, the ink is not wasted and is treated as if were more valuable than money.

One might call these stories restrained, but the word naturally calls to mind tension, and in them the reins are let loose and quiet observance given its chance to roam.

Lu Ch’ai said, “Neither complexity in itself, nor simplicity is enough.”

In other words, great distances are pointed towards with a simple gesture. Simple things are made beautiful with direct presentation. The composer sees the common with eyes uncommon and finds the sublime in the poverty of his surroundings.

“To be a man, that is to say a participant of the infinite, one must abjure all fraternal conformities and wish oneself special, unique, absolute.”

These words Remy de Gourmont wrote.

With powerful simplicity Crisp evades banality. Detail is perfect, but gives way to sweeping gestures. Eccentricity, the most precious thing in good writing, is achieved without violating natural order.

“So many people have stood in my way,
But I am not afraid.
I brush my teeth each day
With new, improved yuugen.”

These are words written by Crisp for the Kodagain song ‘The Iowa Writers Workshop Lacks Yuugen’.

Some new reviews

October 5, 2010

Two reviews today:

1) Ian Pickens, at Mass Movement Magazine, talks about Metrophilias.

2) Ros Jackson, at Warpcore SF, tackles Unpleasant Tales.