Not a Chance

the last werewolf glen duncan-01

Dracula by Bram Stoker

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R.M. Renfield, acetate 59. – Sanguine temperament; great physical strength; morbidly excitable; periods of gloom ending in some fixed idea which I cannot make out. I presume that the sanguine temperament itself and the disturbing influence end in a mentally-accomplished finish; a possibly dangerous man, probably dangerous if unselfish. In selfish men caution is as secure as an armour for their foes as for themselves. What I think of on this point is, when self is the fixed point the centripetal force is balanced with the centrifugal; when duty, a cause, etc. is the fixed point, the latter force is paramount, and only the accident or a series of accidents can balance it.  – pp. 75, Dracula by Bram Stoker

Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane

  • ‘Where lies your landmark, seamark, or soul’s star?’ – Gerard Manley Hopkins (1886)
  • ‘The hardest thing of all is to see what is really there.’ – A. Baker, The Peregrine (1997)

  • The substitutions made in the [Oxford Junior] dictionary – the outdoor and the natural being replaced by the indoor and the virtual – are a small but significant symptom of the simulated life we increasingly live. Children are now (and valuably) adept ecologists of the technoscape, with numerous terms for file types but few for different trees and creatures. For blackberry, read BlackBerry.

    The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words introduced to the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.

  • Ammil: A Devon term for the fine film of silver ice that coats leaves, twigs and grass when freeze follows thaw
  • ‘Language is fossil poetry,’ wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1844, ‘[a]s the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceases to remind us of their poetic origin.’ Emerson, as essayist, sought to reverse this petrification and restore the ‘poetic origin’ of words, thereby revealing the ordinary role of ‘nature’ in language. Considering the verb to consider, he reminds us that it comes from the Latin con-siderare, and thus carries a meaning of ‘to study or see with the stars’.
  • Books, like landscapes, leave their marks in us. Sometimes these traces are so faint as to be imperceptible – tiny shifts in the weather of the spirit do not register on the usual instruments. Mostly, these marks are temporary: we close a book, and for the next hour or two the world seems oddly brighter at its edges; or we are moved to a kindness or a meanness that would otherwise have gone unexpressed. Certain books, though, like certain landscapes, stay with us even when we have left them, changing not just our weathers but our climates.
  • ‘I knew when I had looked for a long time that I had hardly begun to see,’ – Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountains
  • Wolfsnow: dangerously heavy and wind-driven snow; a sea blizzard – Gerard Manley Hopkins

  • ‘Raptor’ comes from the Latin rapere, meaning ‘to seize or take by force’.
  • Hummadruz: a noise in the air that is unidentifiable, or a sound in the landscape whose source is unlocatable. The white noise of a place, an ambient murmur that lacked referent or source.
  • ‘A little stone jetty in still water: water like pewter, extraordinary water.’ – Peter Davidson

  • It was, he explained, a cabinet of curiosities of his own devising, in homage to the great Wunderkammern or ‘wonder-rooms’ of the Renaissance and the Baroque, jn which examples of natural history (naturalia), precious artifacts (arteficialia), scientific instruments (scientifica), findings from distant realms (exotica) and items of inexplicable origin and form (mirabilia) were gathered and displayed.

    He reached into the cabinet and retrieved object after object, explaining to me the skein of stories that each drew behind it. For the individual compartments of the cabinet held remarkable things, among them a little dog modelled in unfired clay, Babylonian in origin; a sixteenth-century armourer’s trial piece of a long face framed by a helmet in the form of a wolf’s head with open jaws; an engraved brass box of seventeenth-century Low Countries manufacture, which once held one of the straws which fell drops of the blood of the Jesuit Henry Garnet, executed in London on 3 May 1606, bloodstains which were said to have formed a likeness of his face; a slice of marble from a quarry near Bristol, in which the veinery had, by geological chance, formed into a perfect facsimile of a sad Victorian landscape of misty ploughlands at evening; and the oval case of an original Claude glass, the small, blackened pocket mirror designed to reproduce in its reflection of any landscape the softened tones and single focal point characteristic of the art of Claude Lorrain.

    [This reminds me of Aunt W.’s cabinet of curiosities – little bourgeois objets d’art she would purchase in every country that she visited – animal figurines fashioned out of glass swirling with aquamarines and yellow and vermillion, frozen to represent the 12 Chinese zodiacs; ornately patterned and bejewelled sterling or pewter Turkish jewellery boxes that opened to reveal stones of undeterminable origin, folded pieces of paper with nothing scribbled on it; Japanese good-luck pouches that were red or pink and fastened with little tinkling bells; a huge jar of key chains with many different countries’ names on every one of them, sometimes two or three of the same ones; little vials of unopened liquor embellished with French or Russian names we were too young then, to pronounce; magnets propped along the back of the cabinet with the decorative plates depicting green landscapes dotted with the odd sheep and cottage; a plastic Sphinx that lit up and changed colours; a wooden Dutch shoe; a paper umbrella like those you find in tropical cocktails – touristy knickknacks that we loved to pore over and wonder at, if more to while away the boring hours that my parents would spend at her place discussing nothing at all, than sheer curiosity, for it always appeared like a showcase, when all the lights were on inside, something that you can only gaze at through the dusty glass, as if all my aunt’s travel memories were too precious to be handled and marvelled at with the discovery of touch. I remember how my sisters and I would point and she would lift each item out and give a short recount of where she had gotten it and what it meant in its native country, and we would be thrilled at the rare times when she handed to us a memorabilia to hold and feel – the treasure box, the colourful cloth Indian elephant, the Tibetan hat.]

  • Atmospheric duct:
    In telecommunication, an atmospheric duct is a horizontal layer in the lower atmosphere in which the vertical refractive index gradients are such that radio signals (and light rays) are guided or ducted, tend to follow the curvature of the Earth, and experience less attenuation in the ducts than they would if the ducts were not present. The duct acts as an atmospheric dielectric waveguide and limits the spread of the wavefront to only the horizontal dimension.

    Atmospheric ducting is a mode of propagation of electromagnetic radiation, usually in the lower layers of Earth’s atmosphere, where the waves are bent by atmosphericrefraction.[2] In over-the-horizon radar, ducting causes part of the radiated and target-reflection energy of a radar system to be guided over distances far greater than the normal radar range. It also causes long distance propagation of radio signals in bands that would normally be limited to line of sight.

    Normally radio “ground waves” propagate along the surface as creeping waves. That is, they are only diffracted around the curvature of the earth. This is one reason that early long distance radio communication used long wavelengths. The best known exception is that HF (3–30 MHz.) waves are reflected by the ionosphere.

    The reduced refractive index due to lower densities at the higher altitudes in the Earth’s atmosphere bends the signals back toward the Earth. Signals in a higher refractive index layer, i.e., duct, tend to remain in that layer because of the reflection and refraction encountered at the boundary with a lower refractive index material. In some weather conditions, such as inversion layers, density changes so rapidly that waves are guided around the curvature of the earth at constant altitude.

    Phenomena of atmospheric optics related to atmospheric ducting include the green flash, Fata Morgana, superior mirage, mock mirage of astronomical objects and the Novaya Zemlya effect.

  • John Muir epigrams:
    ‘The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
    ‘Writing…is like the life of a glacier; one eternal grind.’

Mountains of the Mind by Robert Mcfarlane

  • James Hutton, Theory of the Earth: ‘The result therefore of our present enquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.’
  • Above all, geology makes explicit challenges to our understanding of time. It giddies the sense of here-and-now. The imaginative experience of what the writer John McPhee memorably called ‘deep time’ – the sense of time whose units are not days, hours, minutes or seconds but millions of years or tens of millions of years – crushes the human instant; flattens it to a wafer. Contemplating the immensities of deep time, you face, in a way that is both exquisite and horrifying, the total collapse of your present, compacted to nothingness by the pressures of pasts and futures to extensive to envisage. And it is a physical as well as a cerebral horror, for to acknowledge that the hard rock of a mountain is vulnerable to the attrition of time is of necessity to reflect on the appalling transience of the human body.
  • …the calligraphy, the majuscule of the valleys and peaks, the intricate engravings of streams and rivulets, and the splendid serifs of ridge top and valley bottom.
  • ‘If there be a precipice, a cataract, a mountain of snow, etc. in one part of the scene, the nascent ideas of fear and horror magnify and enliven all other ideas, and by degrees pass into pleasures by suggesting the security from pain.’ – David Hartley, 1749.
  • Then, unexpectedly, it began to rain: plump raindrops which splashed upon the pale grey of the rocks we were sitting on. The rain partitioned the air, bruised the stone, and plucked the lake up into a field of fleur-de-lys.
  • How strange is this wild urge for rapid locomotion seizing people of all nations at the same instant. ‘The dead go swiftly,’ says the ballad. Are we dead then? Or could this be some presentiment of the approaching doom of our planet, possessing us to multiply the means of communication so we may travel over its entire surface in the little time left to us?
  • Galleons of cloud were at full sail, racing slowly over the blueness. The sunshine was hard and bright, the snow turning the light to its own white frequency.
  • Cairngorm mountains, the empty wilderness of the Monadhliaths, the Grey Hills, the great peaks of the Rough Bounds of Knoydart-Ladhar Bheinn, the Hill of the Claw; Meall Buidhe, the Yellow Hill; and Luinne Bheinn, the Hill of Anger.

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

Ardent, adj.
It was after sex, when there was still heat and mostly breathing, when there was still touch and mostly thought…it was as if the whole world could be reduced to the sound of a single string being played, and the only thing this sound could make me think of was you. Sometimes desire is air; sometimes desire is liquid. And every now and then, when everything else is air and liquid, desire solidifies, and the body is the magnet that draws its weight.
Ersatz, adj.
Sometimes we’d go to a party and I would feel like an artificial boyfriend, a placeholder, a boyfriend-shaped space where a charming person should be. Those were the only times when my love for you couldn’t overcome my shyness. And every degree of disappointment I’d feel for you – whether real or of my own invention – would make me disappear further and further, leaving the fake front to nod, to sip, to say, ’Finish your drink, we’re leaving.’

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin

  • I thought I could detect an erotic subtext to these astrophysical models, and my conviction was growing that Stephen Hawking wasn’t writing about physics at all, but about sex – only not about squalid human intercourse, but the grandiose cosmic coitus that gave birth to matter. Surely it’s not accident that this great explosion is referred to as the ‘Big Bang’. All the most sacred mysteries of the universe are concealed in the darkness of black holes, but it’s impossible to look into a singularity because it doesn’t emit any light, like a bedroom when the lamp’s switched off…Basically, I thought, astrophysicists are nothing but voyeurs. Except that voyeurs sometimes manage to glimpse someone else’s act of love through the gap between the curtains, but physicists have been cheated by fate, and they have to imagine absolutely everything as they stare into the ink-black darkness.
  • The cause of error by living beings is that they believe it is possible to cast aside the false and attain unto the truth. But when you attain unto yourself, the false becomes true, and there is no other truth to which one need attain after that.
  • Autocephalic uroborus
  • Beauty does not belong to a woman and it is not her specific quality – it is just that at a certain time of her life her face reflects beauty, as a windowpane reflects the sun that is hidden behind the roof of the houses. And so we cannot say that a woman’s beauty faced with time – it is simply that the sun moves on and the windows of other houses begin to reflect it. But we know the sun is not in the windowpanes that we look at. It is in us.
  • One should not become attached to words. They are only required as fleeting footholds. If you attempt to carry them with you, they will drag you down into the abyss. Therefore, they should be cast off immediately.
  • ‘In this world there is nothing but dust. But when a heavenly being sees the dust, she remembers the light that makes the dust visible. While a tailless monkey only sees the dust on which the light falls. That’s why, when a heavenly being dies, she becomes light. But when a tailless monkey dies, he becomes dust.

    ‘Light, dust,’ he said, ‘so there’s something there after all! There is some kind of individual personality. You’ve definitely got one, Ginger. I’ve felt pretty strongly just recently. Or will you tell me I’m wrong?’

    ‘This personality, with all its quirks and stupidities simply dances like a doll in the clear light of my mind. And the more stupid this doll’s quirks, the clearer the light that I recognise over and over again.’

    ‘Now you’re saying ‘my mind’. But you only just said it’s not yours.’

    ‘That’s the way language works. It’s the root from which infinite human stupidity grows. And we were-creatures suffer from it too, because we’re always talking. It’s not possible to open your mouth without being wrong. So you shouldn’t haggle over words.’

 

[Despite the bleak overtone of a post-Soviet outlook, The Sacred Book of the Werewolf remains cheerful with a certain Nirvanic lyricism. This beautiful, tragicomical Russian satire is about the deepening loneliness of cynical souls embedded in 21st-century emptiness searching for fulfillment.

I picked up this book on the sole premise that I thoroughly enjoyed Helmet of Horror and it did not fail to please. A modern-day philosophical fairytale threaded through with quantum physics, existential nihilism and literature, this book is a treat and deserves a rereading many times over.]

 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

  • Thus he died, and all the life struggled out of him;
    And as he died he spattered me with the dark red
    And violence-driven rain of bitter-savored blood
    To make me glad, as gardens stand among the showers
    Of God in glory at the birthtime of the buds.
  • Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves? We want to be devoured by it, to hide ourselves in that fire which refines us.
  • …and I was initially attracted to her because she seemed like an intelligent, brooding malcontent like myself; but after about a month, during which time she’d firmly glued herself to me, I began to realise, with some little horror, that she was nothing more than a lowbrow, pop-psychology version of Sylvia Plath. It lasted forever, like some weepy and endless made-for-TV movie – all the clinging, all the complaints, all the parking lot confessions of ‘inadequacy’ and ‘poor self-image’, all those banal sorrows.

 

[The Secret History isn’t the kind of narrative that would move or wrench powerful emotions out of you, but once in a while it does bring back the stink of inflated pubescent self-worthiness and might make you recall (if albeit fondly) about the over-glorification of being ‘cool’, ‘popular’, being in ‘love’ or ‘different’, that you and your peers might have strove (secretly, resignedly – knowing you will fail, or outrightly) to achieve.

It might remind you of your unsteady transition from post-adolescence into adulthood, or of the times when reason evaded you on why you were working so hard to complete your dissertation, why you were attending classes in the morning or why you had to show up for group projects. It might also remind you of the shallow fear that grips you unexpectedly when you were unsure if wearing a particular article of clothing might tip the scales ever so slightly away from looking like you have a genuine passion in acquiring knowledge to appearing pretentious and dilettante-like.

This book is fraught with the loss of time and youth. Lost time, wasted time. Blighted youth, smeared by alcohol and drugs, wasted youth. It draws to light the filth in which we emerge from to become adults and makes you ponder – long after you have turned the last page – how many of us actually manage to leave it behind when we journey into the next phase.]