1976 - Jeffty is Five

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franklin
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Postby franklin » Tue Jul 12, 2005 7:10 pm

This book introduction by Michael Chabon has similar themes to Ellison's story and recent essay on this message board.

http://www.michaelchabon.com/archives/2 ... _to_2.html

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Ben
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Postby Ben » Tue Jul 12, 2005 9:54 pm

This story was a painful experience, but in a different way from THE WHIMPER OF WHIPPED DOGS. The pain was a whole lot more personal, as I felt I could relate to Jeffty's loneliness, his imagination, and his ability to resurrect the long-dead. His destruction was sad enough, but the sheer, oppressive inevitability behind his destruction was downright terrifying. The inevitability of progress...

tke3
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Postby tke3 » Tue Jul 12, 2005 11:33 pm

P.A. Berman wrote:I'm going to ask the unpopular question now: is it wrong to come up with a reading of this story where Leona kills Jeffty/ purposely contributes to his death? I know Harlan says that's not what happened, in no uncertain terms,

I think it's anything but certain. Ellison says she put the radio up there and maybe Jeffty would turn it and maybe he'd die. Well, jesus christ, that sounds like negligent homicide at the least. If I were a prosecutor, I'd at least pursue a mansalughter charge. She's a fucking monster, I don't care what bullshit excuse you give, the child was her charge and there lots of options besides pushing him to the precipice of a cliff and hoping he'll jump. She could've given the kid to child services, they or their equivalent existed in the 50's. Nope, no mercy killing, I say fry the bitch.

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Harlan Ellison
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ANSWERING VELVET'S FINAL QUESTION / SLAPPING tk3

Postby Harlan Ellison » Thu Jul 14, 2005 11:11 am

Velvet:

Here's your answer, informed by my warning that you leap to a dangerously unfounded and jejune conclusion when you ASSUME that a writer necessarily reveals PERSONAL BELIEFS when s/he espouses them in a fictional setting. Your ASSUMPTION, which IS over the line, that I am in favor of mercy killing, turning off Terry Schiavo, Nazi culling of "inferiors," and etcetera, is presumptuous. What my position on these matters might be, is my business; and you can play the Contemporary Lit 101 game all you like, abetting idiot academics in "probing the author's psyche" -- but it is all spinach, m'dear. Because I have written stories, many of them (let me say that again for emphasis), MANY of them, in which I've taken exactly the opposite position of what I personally, strongly believe.

So here's your answer.

For me (and for most authors, I'd surmise, though this is just a gut guess), one of the core important reasons for writing any specific story is to get the reader to see through the eyes of an "alien" character. When I say "alien," I don't mean a Martian or a silicon-squid from Cygnus 421...I mean someone who thinks differently about something basic, as opposed to the way YOU, the reader, would ordinarily think of it.

What a reader--you--bring to the story is both the treasure and the dry-rot of the endeavor. Without your experiences, your past, your life's sum of memories, what you've learned and what you feel, a story would be cold, flat, and at best white noise. So the concretized total of what you know, and what you are, is what you bring to, say, "Jeffty," and it is what we mine, together, to supplement what I wrote, which is merely code and road signs. I broadcast the code, you decipher it, filtering it through your past. That's your smarts.

But the obverse of that excellent coin of the realm is the additional baggage: what you think you know, what you ineluctably KNOW you know, what you remember (altered by "that sweetest of all liars" -- memory), and what traumas you're still damping. It is the static that interrupts and misdirects the code. It slants and bends and translates (sometimes in cockeyed fashion) what is to the author a very clear and specific dollop of information, intended to allow/compell you to see through others' eyes, to unfetter your compassion and openmindedness, so you will understand and be responsive--in whatever way the author intends--to that "alien" attitude.

Clearly, your emotional and intellectual baggage keeps you from "going with" my intent, which was to put you in the shoes of Donny and Leona, who had been doing the job of protecting Jeffty from The Killer Shark Future and its deadly minion The Voracious Present for at least 20-25 years, probably more.

Now, you can stand on the sidelines and cross your arms and take a righteous position on what Donny and Jeffty's parents did, how they felt, how they suffered...and express your opinion that YOU would've done it differently...as Tony Isabella has said, "Hell hath no fury like that of the uninvolved"... but the attempt of the story, the success FOR ME of having written the story, is to get you to give-it-the-barest in musing, "Well, it's not the way I would've solved the problem, but I can see what 20-25 years of unceasing torment can lead a decent person to do."

If I get you, at last, to say, "I understand how this alien thinks," then in my auctorial terms, I've written a successful story.

Does that answer your question?

As for tke3:

What a bloodthirsty, self-righteous prig you seem to be. From your post, strictly from your post. (Kindly do not backpedal by telling me you give milk to orphans, or that you misspoke, or that I've taken you out of context.) How fucking arrogant of you! "Fry the bitch" indeed, you sadly encased-in-emotional-concrete fulminator! I have failed to get through that plate-steel wall in your consciousness with "Jeffty." I don't take it as a personal failure (readers like you NEVER cop to the blame of coming to a piece of fiction already so twisted into knots by their past that NOTHING a writer could do, no matter HOW articulate or talented, could get them to open up enough to give-it-the-barest), I take it as an indication that--like those who blindly join lynch-mobs--you are imprisoned by your beliefs. And no matter that I wrote as penetratingly and insightfully as Dostoevski or Fritz Leiber or Kit Reed or Anna Kavan ... you'd continue to foam at the mouth and itch to pull the switch.

I don't want you to AGREE with me, I only ask that you give-it-the-barest and try to COMPREHEND what tortures can take an otherwise decent, loving person to the place Jeffty's mother finally, horribly, arrived at.

What Velvet asks, when she wants to know what that line meant, is this:

Did she hate the child?

No.

Did she fear the child?

No.

Did she fear for Jeffty's life?

Yes.

Did Donny, by saying what he did, by asking the question he aasked, express Velvet's own ambivalence?

I can't do ALL the work for you.

Respectfully,

Harlan Ellison

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Jim Davis
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Postby Jim Davis » Thu Jul 14, 2005 3:07 pm

Thanks for taking the time to write, Harlan. I have to admit, I was leery of your chiming in--the story should be the final word, if the author's any good--but you've illuminated a couple things for me that I managed to miss, even after years of rereading. Though my grasp of the actual mechanics of the ending was more or less on target, I think, for the longest time, I didn't give Leona's love for Jeffty the weight it deserved, only seeing her "mercy killing" as the removal of a unwanted burden. Yes, it was partly that, but the notion that she didn't want Jeffty to suffer the thousand cuts that the Present had in store for him makes a lot of sense, even if it's hard for some to understand. I've cared for a terminally ill person, so I know very well that awful nexus of love, frustration, guilt and resentment that can form, and how death can look like a blessed release for all concerned. Even if Jeffty recovered fully from the beating and went back to his happy, healthy, bouncy former self, that wouldn't last forever. Time is often compared to a river, but sometimes it's nothing more than a meat-grinder, and Jeffty was fated to become pulp. Why not stack the odds against that happening?

As for the Kinzers' "plan", however inchoate, for Donny to take over one day and become a parent to Jeffty . . . I can honestly say that never occurred to me. In that light, Donny's subsequent failure to protect Jeffty becomes all the more tragic, and the story more moving as a result.

--Jim

P.S. Though it may have generated a good amount of misunderstanding and confusion over the years, the ambiguity of the ending makes "Jeffty" what it is. I've tried to imagine an additional paragraph after Donny runs up the stairs, explaining how Jeffty died and what was going through Leona's head, and you know what? It would've killed the whole mood you were trying to create. In the end, I'm glad you wrote it the way you did, even if it's caused me more than a few wrinkles in my brow trying to figure it out. (Huh, so the author did know what he was doing here! Drats, foiled again!)

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Yelena Virago
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Re: ANSWERING VELVET'S FINAL QUESTION / SLAPPING tk3

Postby Yelena Virago » Thu Jul 14, 2005 4:56 pm

Harlan Ellison wrote:Velvet:
Your ASSUMPTION, which IS over the line, that I am in favor of mercy killing, turning off Terry Schiavo, Nazi culling of "inferiors," and etcetera, is presumptuous.


Ai-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi. that wasn't my presumption at all! I was just disappointed with the fact that you referred in your post to the lives of disabled adults whose parents had to care for them as tragic.

That's it. Nothing else presumed, I swear it.

Velvet

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Subey2
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Permutations

Postby Subey2 » Thu Jul 14, 2005 5:51 pm

Everyone has missed the point of the story completely (even the author)

I will descend magnanimously from my high horse and explain it ;)

The issue isn't Jefty being trapped in the past, and it certainly isn't the issue of whether or not Jefty's mom is a good or bad person in the actions she took leading up to his death. These are all tricks you might find in Wonka's factory, no more.

The issue is *us* as revealed in the parents behaviour.

*****
Jefty is frozen at age 5. BUT, and this is the key of the whole story, the parents are frozen at
depressive acceptance
. That's the story. Jefty can't develop physically. They can't develop mentaly! It's the same story that Harlan has written about many times before. And we've all experienced it personally.

Here it is again, taken from the lonegungirl's S.P.I.D.E.R. #10

lonegungirl wrote:Tolliver actually seems clinicaly depressed to me. I would agree that his construction/financial problems are considerable, but certainly not life-crippling as he makes them out to be. It would be hard to believe that he could become so totally paralyzed by it if I hadn't seen so many people in real life trip over some small pebble in their life's road and never get up again...


Tolliver is Frozen as much as Jefty's parents.

Want to see it again? The "selfish" Peter Novins. Want to see it again? Look in the mirror.

Everywhere we look, all around us are people frozen in for lack of a better term "negative" states. Just as Jefty keeps tuning into and hearing the same things around him; when we are in a "negative" state we do the same.

***
Why can't Jefty's parents change their perspective about their son? Re-evaluate it, celebrate it, rejoice in it. But they dont'. They are unable to. Just as Tolliver is unable to fix the ladies violin, just as Peter Novins can't do the right thing, just as Weisel can't just do a good job on people's bathrooms.

It's an older story (77), and ultimately its a manifestation of the Zitgeist that is recognizing that as a species we are collectively in a rut. So many of us frozen in negative forms. We want to Roll fowards.

tke3
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Postby tke3 » Fri Jul 15, 2005 11:33 am

[A couple of off-topic posts and comments deleted around here. - Mod.]

Actually, all I mentioned was Last Dangerous Visions and the general atmosphere of really amazing sycophancy (or perhaps sadmasochism would be more accurate than sycophancy) here. As you're quite aware there are about a thousand other things I could have mentioned, none of them originating on the 'net. In fact, LDR was the only thing I mentioned that didn't originate from his posts here.

Ellison said: "What a bloodthirsty, self-righteous prig you seem to be." Gee, that sure seems like an insult to me. How different is calling someone a dick, as I called him, from calling them bloodthirsty, self-righteous prig? Keep in mind that this unrestrained rant came only because I didn't have the emotional response Ellison wanted me to have for this monster who slays her child. I said nothing of him, or the quality of his work, etc.

If the rule is "Ellison can rant and abuse whomever the fuck he wants, that's his name in the address bar, not yours" ok, fine. But I resent this mischaracterization of my words.

Tony
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I may be silly, but...

Postby Tony » Fri Jul 15, 2005 4:22 pm

when I read the story (and it has been a while and it was without the benefit of any preface in the Troublemakers book) my take on it wasn't that Jeffty died in a physical sense. I believed that the rock music playing/getting beaten up was the future finally catching up with Jeffty. His world of old radio shows would now be gone and he would continue his life on from that moment and actually begin to age.

All of this being because I didn't pay enough attention to the lights flickering and then the music ending. I still have always like the story even though (and I apologize if it's been mentioned somewhere before) I never understood the second "F" in Jeffty's name - or maybe it's the "T". I chalked it up to being like a nickname or a child-like saying of a name. Maybe he was a Jeff, but he always said it wrong or something. What do I know, I'm an idiot.

Tony

tke3
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Postby tke3 » Fri Jul 15, 2005 4:49 pm

Jeffty's mom really should do time. I'm not sure she should actually be put to death, but it wouldn't especially bother me. She might be able to claim extreme emotional disturbance, but I think that's unlikely since Ellison describes her as having been in that state for awhile--I think EED has to be rather sudden.

I realize it might sound silly to examine the story from a legalistic perspective, but in this atmosphere of explaining away the terrible wrongness of the mother's actions, I think it's justified. I'm thinking the same thing as I read through the disturbing Skeeter chapter of Rabbit Redux. Now I can't say for sure how much the author of the latter supports harboring teen runaways or letting your girlfriend fuck your pubescent son or letting some criminal come into your house and threaten your and your child's life because he's black and you're white and for some reason feel guilty, all while giving you crazy drug-induced lectures with tropes that must've been jejune even by the 60's. But it doesn't matter, because I think it's bullshit. It's important to ask what are an author's underlying assumptions and whether you agree with them and to what conclusion the author would like them to lead you to.

That's not Lit 101, or any other cute phrase that tries to dismiss the perfectly legitimate education people get at university. That's the result of defining your own moral boundaries like a lapidary, and understanding how they operate even in world's where the prevailing moral boundaries are inverted.

When a skilled professional writer lays down a story and we don't pick up on the facts, that probably is the readers' fault, who is either too lazy or dumb to pick up the facts. But being repelled by his moral conclusions is the sign of courage and independence, as well an indication that you wouldn't accept slavery just because it's 1825 America or pedophilia just because it's ancient Greece.

Eric Martin
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Postby Eric Martin » Fri Jul 15, 2005 5:38 pm

TKE, you might taken more seriously if you didn't pepper your entries with profanities. You're not impressing anyone, especially in this rather literary group. A good rule of thumb, when publishing anything (and that included forum posts) is to rewrite it at least twice. Try giving yourself and editorial screen every now and then.

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Postby BrianSiano » Fri Jul 15, 2005 6:21 pm

In an earlier message, I characterized Jeffty's mom's acts as murder. I understand that's not what Harlan says it is, but I'd like to make some comments about that and the current shitstorm.

I used the word "murder," but I'm not terribly interested in whether Mrs. Kinzer could be convicted or not. That's not anywhere near as important as what went through her mind. This is a discussion of literature, and the only discussion that could bear fruit must be about the characters, their motivations, desires, and actions. We can talk about what Mrs. Kinzer did, what she wanted to do, what she feared, why she enabled Jeffty's fate, whether she could have acted differently, whether we would have done what she did if we were in her shoes... That's a discussion worth having.

Adopting a legal argument here makes for a nice academic exercise, but it's _not the point of the story_. And frankly, TKE3's now-deleted comments about this point did reveal a degree of bloodthirstiness-- or, at least, anger disguised as moralism. Sorry, dude, but you showed a side of yourself that ain't pretty. And we're a pretty perceptive bunch here. (Even when we don't agree with Harlan, we're pretty perceptive.)

tke3
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Postby tke3 » Fri Jul 15, 2005 7:31 pm

Eric Martin wrote:TKE, you might taken more seriously if you didn't pepper your entries with profanities. You're not impressing anyone, especially in this rather literary group.

Wouldn't "might taken" be an example of something that should have been caught by someone who's revising twice? Not to mention the superfluous "rather"? But I'm sure my post will have twice as many such mistakes.

I haven't read that many Ellison books but all five or six I have were "peppered" with profanities. If your sensibilities are so easily offended, why are you here?

While I respect you. Eric, I can't respect inexplicable bourgeoise rules of language. It's true that profanity can be a wasteful modifier or some ill-guided attempt to look hip. But if you'd bother to read my post carefully, instead of just instinctively repelling from it, you'd see my "fuck" and "bullshit" were pretty damn warranted. To illustrate a point I took a detour into a 1970 Updike book fresh in my memory. Fuck was the word used in the book, fuck befit the situation. They weren't procreating. They weren't making love. They were engaged in sloppy, unsafe, sweaty fucking. Updike's--to me--was a classic example of an older writer trying and failing to capture a younger generation by overstating its differences; meaningless, loveless sex, then, is far more prevalent in such a book; that is, fucking is far more prevalent.

And commiting child abuse, which I think is what Rabbit's actions and inactions amounts to, is bullshit. Bullshit is actually a fairly restrained term for letting your hippie girlfriend sleep with your kid and shoot up around him and so on.

Now I realize that the reflexive response is to make some sort of slur against my intelligence or whatever because I've chosen to employ those terms. But I've done so with thought, and not merely to shock or to conceal some other deficiency. I wish I could get you to bring as much thought prior to criticizing me for using them.

tke3
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Postby tke3 » Fri Jul 15, 2005 7:44 pm

BrianSiano wrote:In an earlier message, I characterized Jeffty's mom's acts as murder. I understand that's not what Harlan says it is, but I'd like to make some comments about that and the current shitstorm.

I used the word "murder," but I'm not terribly interested in whether Mrs. Kinzer could be convicted or not. That's not anywhere near as important as what went through her mind. This is a discussion of literature, and the only discussion that could bear fruit must be about the characters, their motivations, desires, and actions. We can talk about what Mrs. Kinzer did, what she wanted to do, what she feared, why she enabled Jeffty's fate, whether she could have acted differently, whether we would have done what she did if we were in her shoes... That's a discussion worth having.

Adopting a legal argument here makes for a nice academic exercise, but it's _not the point of the story_. And frankly, TKE3's now-deleted comments about this point did reveal a degree of bloodthirstiness-- or, at least, anger disguised as moralism. Sorry, dude, but you showed a side of yourself that ain't pretty. And we're a pretty perceptive bunch here. (Even when we don't agree with Harlan, we're pretty perceptive.)


But you don't disagree with him much, or only very meekly, was kind of the point.

I wish, Brian, you could follow my lead and keep the comments to the story instead of trying to divine my intent, which was merely to express my irritation with someone who attacked me without reason. Sycophancy has always bothered me, and there's no thirst for blood there. I'd take your comments more seriously if you'd stop trying to defang my arguments by making attacks on me.

In any case, who are you to say what the point is? For that matter, who is Ellison? Why can't a story be a touchstone for many different avenues of thought?

But even if I were to accept the dictatorial notion of literature--that a story is what an author say it is and no more--which I emphatically do not accept--even if I accepted that, Ellison himself seems to think one of the points of the story is to make you understand the mother's pain, how weary she was, how she wanted a few moments to herself. Well, ok, that's his assertion--but I think it's bullshit. Ellison's wrong, or at least I think he is. It's just solipsism dressed up to tug at your hearstrings, to cloud your judgement, to make you forget what a despicable thing this so-called mother does.

Fiction, engaging fiction anyway, should be a conversation, a dialogue, in which the reader interacts with the text and asks herself what resonates with her and what doesn't; what is the author saying and does she believe it. It isn't, and shouldn't be, an exercise in which a reader's and writer's performance are judged by how expertly the latter manipulated the former.

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Harlan Ellison
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CENSORSHIP

Postby Harlan Ellison » Fri Jul 15, 2005 7:58 pm

You may add me to Eric's cadre of loathers in re the deletion of tke3's post and replies. While I suspect his therapist has often discussed with him his anger management issues, I did--in fact--wallop him upside his pointy li'l head, and he has every fuckin' right to come back at me as hard as he delights. The fact that he went all bugfuck and called me a dickwad may not be responsive to the substance of my pillorying of him, but it wasn't particularly offensive.

THE LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS is a millstone I schlep uneasily, and with much, and with daily, angst. Were I seeking the approbation of mingy, bloodthirsty fans/readers, I suppose I'd do the stately gavotte of sackcloth& but as it is a complex and long-enduring trauma, I shrug away sneak-jabs like this one sans discomfort.

As for tke3's assertion that I am as big a prick as second/third/google to the billionth power/hand mythology says I am ... well, shit, son, I'm a bigger sonofabitch than you can imagine. Without ethic, without loyalty, without reason, and incapable of accepting criticism of even the mildest sort, which is why I only LOOOOOVE this website, because of the proliferation of slavish, semiliterate, ignorant toadies who accept my every thought as if handed down by Lao Tzu.

Did you think it was otherwise?

Anyhow, the point is, Moderator, too much rest is rust. Let 'em go at it. I despise censorship, as you know; and I'm a big boy (as well as an ENORMOUS TALENT, tke3)(only impaired by my humility, which is also no less than ENORMOUS), and I can handle it. One of them gets my goat, I'll tear 'em a new one. That's how us unregenerate bastards do it.

Yr. pal, Harlan

P.S. What a little pus-filled pimp sack you are, tke3. Now THAT'S an ad hominem insult!


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