1980 - All The Lies That Are My Life

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Laurie
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1980 - All The Lies That Are My Life

Postby Laurie » Sun Apr 01, 2007 1:10 pm

Image

Image
The limited edition

The "All The Lies" story I just re-read is from my copy of Dreams With Sharp Teeth which includes 3 volumes of Ellison stories: I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream, Deathbird Stories and Shatterday. "All The Lies" is from Shatterday.

According to Ellison's Introduction, the story is meant as an elucidation of the concept and experience of friendship. It is a fictional account of the memories and impressions of a friend of an intense, quirky, passionate writer not unlike Ellison himself. However, as Ellison states in the intro, it is not meant to portray HE but rather to describe friendship as perceived from HE's point of view.

The story appears to pose an interesting question--maybe someone out there has an answer.

Warning--I don't, so all of this is going to be rambling speculation. Bear in mind that I don't consider myself a literary scholar or anything like that. But this story intrigues me.

Toward the end of the story, the friend of the writer, Larry, remembers a conversation he had with the writer, Jimmy. He states in the story that of all the years he had known Jimmy, this was the thing he remembered most clearly. His writer friend Jimmy tells him that he, Larry, knows the one thing about Jimmy that Jimmy is terrified for anyone to find out. Jimmy describes it as, "The one lie that makes all of my life a lie." He tells Larry that Larry already knows what it is but doesn't know he knows. Jimmy says that he is afraid that Larry might tell his secret and when Larry protests that he never would, Jimmy points out that Larry might tell it without knowing he's let it slip. Jimmy ends the conversation by saying, "I'll have to find a way to keep you quiet after I'm dead."

At the end of the story, when Larry is present for Jimmy's videotaped will reading, Larry finds he has inherited all of Jimmy's copyrights, thus making him the keeper of Jimmy's literary flame.

What is the secret that Larry knows about Jimmy but doesn't know he knows?

Here are some speculations:

Jimmy, who seems so much a part of his contemporary world, and who doesn't seem to need anybody, at least not very much, does need to know that his work will transcend his own time and place, that his literary reputation will not be lost when he is gone. And that he is willing to presume upon his closest friend to make sure that he won't be a forgotten writer.

I was touched by the writers mentioned in this story who had their literary reputations damaged by those who came after them. I really jumped when I read the name, Thorne Smith. Truly a wonderful writer who has, indeed, very unjustly been forgotten (although he does live to some degree on the Internet now). I read every Thorne Smith novel when I was growing up and have often felt sad to think that he is no longer read. Reading that name made me feel how awful it would be for a writer of Jimmy's ability (and Ellison's) to be forgotten after his death. Was this the fear mentioned?

Friendship may also be in this answer. Jimmy needs friends, as we all do, for emotional support but Jimmy also needs his friend Larry to validate him as a writer and to carry on his work of reaching his audience with his stories. Does this pollute the concept of true friendship? In other words, is Jimmy using Larry? We all need many different things from our friends. Does this part of the story indicate that Jimmy puts the immortality of his work above friendship?

In the intro, Ellison describes a situation in which he was stuck in jail with no food to eat for a long period of time and a man in the jail gave him a candy bar. He describes that man as his friend. He compares that short friendship with another friendship in which he was betrayed by a long time friend during a legal dispute. So friendship, according to Ellison, is about what we are willing to sacrifice for a friend, not about length of acquaintance. Larry is willing to give up a part of his life and career to care for his friend's literary legacy and Jimmy trusts him to do so.

These are my speculations on this story. I would like to know what others here think about this story, and particularly the answer to two questions:

What secret does Larry know that he doesn't know he knows about his writer friend Jimmy?

What comments does this story make about friendship?

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Davey C
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Postby Davey C » Mon Apr 02, 2007 9:05 am

Er, I thought Posterity was Jimmy's big fear -- will his work still be dug by both the hoi and the polloi after he bites the big one? -- and that that fear was fairly well explicated in the last page or two.
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Laurie
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All the Lies...

Postby Laurie » Mon Apr 02, 2007 7:34 pm

Yes, it was clear that fear of his work not continuing was Jimmy's fear. But that is not unusual for a writer. In fact, one of the reasons that people write is transcend their own time and place. Why would Jimmy say that he is terrified of people knowing this about him? Wouldn't they know it anyway?

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Davey C
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Postby Davey C » Tue Apr 03, 2007 7:54 am

Wullyeahbut....

What I've always gotten out of the story was that Jimmy was (or at least was generally perceived as)(or anyway cultivated the image of) a hyperconfident über-self-contained total to-the-fullest life-livin' mad invulnerable bastard who wouldn't care about Posterity; the fact that he was uptight about it is the lie that he sought to hide.

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Postby Carstonio » Tue Apr 03, 2007 8:22 am

Davey C wrote:What I've always gotten out of the story was that Jimmy was (or at least was generally perceived as)(or anyway cultivated the image of) a hyperconfident über-self-contained total to-the-fullest life-livin' mad invulnerable bastard who wouldn't care about Posterity; the fact that he was uptight about it is the lie that he sought to hide.


I like that view. I've read the story twice, but I never thought about it that way.

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Postby Davey C » Tue Apr 03, 2007 9:37 am

You probably got what I meant anyway, but I put that badly & won't be able to sleep if I don't fix it: Jimmy's preoccupation with Posterity wasn't the lie, but it would make a lie out of the way he lived his life, the persona that he'd developed.
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David Loftus
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Postby David Loftus » Tue Apr 03, 2007 10:03 am

I gotta reread this story.

Preferably before I go to LA and see Harlan at the screening.
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

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Postby Davey C » Tue Apr 03, 2007 11:31 am

I haven't read a significant number of Harlan's essays (both Teats and another short book whose title escapes me, and none of it less than twenty years ago), so I haven't read much of his rantage about Not Writing Diary vs. Dredging One's Life for Stories, but this story is the one I have the most trouble reading without placing Harlan as both main characters.

I'd wondered for years (until I joined this board, in fact, and got the the distinct impression that I was fulla shit) whether one of the angles of this story wasn't Harlan envisioning himself either as Jimmy -- observing himself bounding through life through the slightly jaundiced eye of Larry (a superego to Jimmy's id?) -- or as both characters, two extreme nodes of his own personality, one galloping with wanton rapaciousness down Life's Rich Banquet, whooping and knocking over the fondue pots, the other placidly munching crackers over by the potted plant in the corner . . . but balancing each other, perhaps symbiotically, and occasionally coming one to the rescue of the other, whether physically, emotionally, or whateverally.

Ooo, lunchtime. More later.
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David Loftus
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Postby David Loftus » Tue Apr 03, 2007 12:16 pm

I'd be willing to bet Harlan would readily say he's both, "of course."

Which makes this story a sort of different version of "Shatterday."
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

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Jan
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Postby Jan » Wed Apr 04, 2007 12:07 am

This 1980 novella was another high point in Harlan's writing career, like most of his novellas. He only choses that form if he can combine more than two ideas with major aspects of his own life. If you write something as long as a novella, you have to be able to sustain interest for a longer period of time, and if you look at the introduction, you can see that Harlan is aware that people don't come to him looking for novels or novellas.

His main tachnique here seems to be raising questions and defering the answers. Generally, the questions are in the main story and the "answers" seem to be in the flashbacks.

The themes of the story are friendship and posterity. One could suppose it was partly influenced by his reading the book about Poe he mentions, as well as attending a funeral or two, which generally make people think about what happens after they're gone. Of course, a writer is still kind of THERE after he or she is gone, only they can no longer control what happens.

Harlan is very concerned with the ability to control what people do with his books and what they think about him. So any writer who thinks he's any good would try to make the right choices in their testament.

Like Harlan says in his introduction, he first tackled this story a few years before he finished it, but he had to wait for himself to be up to it. As a result, it mainly looks back at the 50s, 60s and early 70s. It's not about 1980. It's easy enough to see that Harlan modelled Jimmy after himself, using mainly facts from his own life (the mother, the bad sister, his wildness, the house, the writer-as-landlord, the Hemingway and Poe references etc.) to make him real, subtracting a bit here, adding a bit there. Larry was based mainly on Robert Silverberg, or the essence of him, with aspects of Harlan mixed in. (And no, Harlan did not die, and he did not appoint Silverberg to manage his estate.) :-) Since the story is about Jimmy, not Larry, it doesn't really matter who Larry is - Harlan didn't want to talk about Silverberg but portray a meaningful friendship without sentimentality.

The scene of their first encounter was later retold by Silverberg himself, and Harlan has spoken enough about his friendship with Silverberg to put the scene in context where Jimmy visits Larry to cry his heart out. The two of them were close buddies in New York when they were writing for the pulps, and there would always be some element of competition between the two of them simply because they started around the same time and submitted to the same markets. It would be reasonable to assume that Harlan actually did call Silverberg's work "cold" in the early days, although with some spite involved. That would have to have taken place before around 1970. Whether they actually had the same taste in women or not, I don't know, but in all likelihood there was a sense of envy and self-doubt when another writer accomplished something you didn't.

The same scene shows a number of other things - the role Larry plays in self-validating Jimmy, for once. This reminds me of Harlan statements to the effect that you cannot prove your talent to those who have none. The recognition from a writer whom he respects would mean more to him than those of critics or audiences. If I remember correctly what Harlan said here elsewhere, he turned THE DEATHBIRD into what it is after Silverberg had dismissed the first draft. (I doubt this scene took place the way it did, the alcohol involved being an obvious clue, it probably was a distillation of a number of such encounters.)

I think one shouldn't attribute too much importance to the "lie" that makes all of Jimmy's life a lie. What's important here is that Jimmy is concerned about his image, like Harlan, who had to find a middle ground between being a "legend in his own time" (I THINK this is a quote from the story) and the confessional nature of his writing. The lie is a MacGuffin part of Jimmy's motivation, and I'm sure Harlan had something in mind, but it's NOT in the story.

Does this part of the story indicate that Jimmy puts the immortality of his work above friendship?

No. I think Larry would be within his rights if he declined to do what Jimmy asks of him, but he has "no defense" because he feels that Jimmy could only ask him, as a friend, and there will be money to more than compensate him for his efforts. Harlan has done the occasional comparable thing for other writers, I think, without money involved, of course.

What comments does this story make about friendship?

It's interesting that Larry did not consciously think of Jimmy as a friend. Perhaps, if there is no doubt, the word never has to be spoken. I think that what the story mainly says is that friendship doesn't necessarily look like friendship in the more traditional sense of the word. It can involve not seeing each other for long periods, a sense of competition, an awareness of character defects. I think friendship involves knowing that you can trust someone, as well as knowing what makes the other one tick, which doesn't have to be the same thing that makes you tick.

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Postby Carstonio » Wed Apr 04, 2007 7:22 am

Davey C wrote:I haven't read a significant number of Harlan's essays (both Teats and another short book whose title escapes me, and none of it less than twenty years ago), so I haven't read much of his rantage about Not Writing Diary vs. Dredging One's Life for Stories, but this story is the one I have the most trouble reading without placing Harlan as both main characters.


Yes, both chararacters seem to remind me of Harlan as well. His essay "You Don't Know Me, I Don't Know You" explains his approach to the story. As I understood the essay, he was using the Dredging approach with both his life and Silverberg's.

One of my wife's old friends from high school writes comic novels, and he says he uses the Dredging approach with his life and the lives of his friends and acquaintances. Incidents will show up in the stories, reshaped to fit the needs of the plot or the development of characters.

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Postby Davey C » Tue Apr 17, 2007 10:10 am

I was skimming bits of All the Lies... (the collection) last night while I was waiting for the charcoal to gray over, and realized another broad hint to the Will They Miss Me When I'm Dead theme in All the Lies... (the story) lay in the Irwin Shaw quote that appeared in the collection's intro, Mortal Dreads: "Since I am not particularly devout, my chances for salvation lie in a place sometime in the future on a library shelf."

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Davey C
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Postby Davey C » Tue Apr 17, 2007 10:24 am

Er, shit. Shatterday is the name of the collection, not All the Lies....

Never been so embarrased.

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David Loftus
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Postby David Loftus » Tue Apr 17, 2007 10:27 am

I should think any writer or artist who DOESN'T employ the dredging technique is missing a huge cache of potential ideas -- probably the biggest.
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

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Postby Jan » Wed May 09, 2007 4:24 am

By the way, I found that Harlan had already used the phrase 'The Dismal Swamps of all the lies that are my life' in 1966 when he wrote the introduction to "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" (anthology). He's right, it's a brilliant phrase, and it would have been a shame to let it go to waste.


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