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Beyond life : dizain des démiurges

by James Branch Cabell

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1145186,107 (3.61)1 / 24
Beyond Life is yet another wholly original work from Virginia writer James Branch Cabell. It's an imagined conversation between John Charteris, a successful author, and a young editor. They sit in a library lined with books categorized as unwritten masterpieces or intended editions--a wry commentary on the business of publishing by one of America's overlooked masters. The two discuss writers and writing, especially those who published in the early 20th century and the demands of the market. Anyone interested in the act of writing and publishing will find an amusing and thought-provoking discussion in Beyond Life. JAMES BRANCH CABELL, a native of Richmond, Virginia, wrote more than fifty books. He is best known for his novel Jurgen, which he wrote in 1919, and his octodecalogy, Biography of the Life of Manuel, which features the mythical world of Poictesme and the castle Storisende. His writing features many anagrams, puns, and wordplay, features that have made him a cult figure to many readers. The Virginia Commonwealth University established the James Branch Cabell Library in 1970.… (more)
  1. 20
    Hieroglyphics by Arthur Machen (Crypto-Willobie)
    Crypto-Willobie: Similar kinda thang. A literary manifesto by an early 20c man-of-letters/fantasist, in the form of a discursive dialogue.
  2. 00
    From the Realm of Morpheus by Steven Millhauser (Crypto-Willobie)
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» See also 24 mentions

Showing 5 of 5
This is a set of essays that Mr. Cabell places in the mouth of an avatar, John Charteris. They are more than a little pretentious, but Mr. Cabell had no great need to publish for money, and indulges himself. I find them amusing. ( )
1 vote DinadansFriend | Jul 26, 2019 |
Romance, the first and loveliest daughter of human vanity .... [152]

My purpose in picking up Beyond Life, and not another unread work from this favourite author, was to gain some clarity around the Cabellian concept of Romance, in particular the three modes he's elsewhere named Gallant, Chivalric, and Poetic. Cabell refers here explicitly to both gallantry and chivalry, but not to the poetic; and there is no clear demarcation between those two he mentions. I did not gain much clarity by way of distinction, but there is much offered by way of depth of description and myriad example.

Cabell employs here the same narrative voice used for his fiction --witty, convoluted, ironic-- to discuss literature and the aims of authors in creative fiction. The narrative frame he chooses is that of a defense of his aesthetic creed, cast in the form of a rebuttal to a critique which in fact was never written. And yet, once the rebuttal is complete, Cabell invites his imagined critic to supply the preface thereto, and the critic (Guy Holt) obliges. That essay is printed here as "Introduction". Already this premise provides a glimpse into what lies ahead, the nested structure of Cabell's argument and his slippery way of crafting it.

Cabell's (and Holt's?) resulting argument is eminently readable but is not reducible to a 3-sentence summary.

I observe instead that Cabell's subtitle supplies a clue. He postulates that Romanticism adopts the view that man's creativity mirrors the Deity's; we can make our life real by dreaming it. Realism in the sense of mirroring our actual circumstances is not creative. Put another way: Romance is driven by a demiurgic spirit [152-53], to falsely urge us to create and yet thereby lead us to truth in our creation. Romance treats of humans as they ought to be, and not chiefly as they are.

And to end, it is perhaps enough (for now) to observe Cabell takes Romance broadly and not only or even primarily as "that especial manifestation of Romance which is sold in book form" [16]. Rather, Cabell's Romance is an outlook on all human activity, on civilisation, the way we best engage the hostile world in which we find ourselves.

I ask of literature precisely those things which I feel the lack in my own life. [345] ( )
2 vote elenchus | Jan 22, 2018 |
Here are three hundred fifty-eight pages wherein Cabell demonstrates over and over how fiction prefigures history. Done in a most interesting and entertaining style and seen by some as extremely subversive. I give it: ( )
1 vote Farree | Jan 27, 2008 |
As much an admirer as I am of Cabell's writing, I'm not sure what to make of this book. Some consider it a manifesto of great genius. I might admit that, but I also find it hard to slog through. I don't believe I've ever read it through in one sitting, or set of sittings, but read it piece here and piece there.

Nevertheless, this is the primary source for Cabell's own reflections on literature. He retrod the same ground later, in more readable fashion (if you ask me) in a later volume of "The Biography of the Life of Manuel," but this is the first and most important, written, as it was, as a function of his arguing with Guy Holt, the genius at the publisher's desk at Robert McBride and Company.

It's in this book, after all, that Cabell trots out that strangest doctrine of literature, that of the Economic School:

"[P]eople think of Marlowe simply as a poet, whereas his real daring, like that of all the elect among creative writers, was displayed as an economist."

What does he mean by that? Read the book to find out. ( )
1 vote wirkman | Apr 1, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James Branch Cabellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Godshalk, William LeighIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holt, GuyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Whenever I am in Fairhaven, if but in thought, I desire the company of John Charteris.
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To spin romances is, indeed, man's proper and peculiar function in a world wherein he only of created beings can make no profitable use of the truth about himself. [Section 9 of Chapter II, "Which Deals With The Demiurge"]
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Beyond Life is yet another wholly original work from Virginia writer James Branch Cabell. It's an imagined conversation between John Charteris, a successful author, and a young editor. They sit in a library lined with books categorized as unwritten masterpieces or intended editions--a wry commentary on the business of publishing by one of America's overlooked masters. The two discuss writers and writing, especially those who published in the early 20th century and the demands of the market. Anyone interested in the act of writing and publishing will find an amusing and thought-provoking discussion in Beyond Life. JAMES BRANCH CABELL, a native of Richmond, Virginia, wrote more than fifty books. He is best known for his novel Jurgen, which he wrote in 1919, and his octodecalogy, Biography of the Life of Manuel, which features the mythical world of Poictesme and the castle Storisende. His writing features many anagrams, puns, and wordplay, features that have made him a cult figure to many readers. The Virginia Commonwealth University established the James Branch Cabell Library in 1970.

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