1975 - Shatterday

The SPIDER Symposion: in-depth discussion of specific Ellison stories and works.

Moderators: Moderator, Jan, Duane

sjarrett
Posts: 113
Joined: Tue May 27, 2003 8:43 pm
Location: Winston-Salem, NC
Contact:

1975 - Shatterday

Postby sjarrett » Sat Jan 22, 2005 3:45 pm

Image

SHATTERDAY

A quote from Jim Freund's blog Hour of the Wolf, July 2, 2008:
I had recorded a writer, Harlan Ellison, at the School of Visual Arts. (...) Two teachers there, Leo and Diane Dillon, presented Ellison with a painting that he was supposed to turn into a short story and read it to their class. He spent some time in a hotel and then proceeded (with the great showmanship which is his trademark) to read it in from of the class with a bunch of celebrities in attendance.

--Moderator out

_____

Owing to circumstances beyond anyone's control, the batting order has been shuffled and I have been asked to go ahead with my story suggestion in place of Dorman, who will give us his at another time.

“Shatterday” has long been one of my all-time favorite Ellison stories, not only because of its diamond-perfect structure, but also because of its use of a simple but effective fantasy trope to tap into one of the most fascinating aspects of the human psyche. The notion of the duality that informs human nature goes back at least as far as Zoroastrian thought. It has been the subject of theoretical musings ranging from Descartes’ mind-body dualism to Freud’s id and superego to the Jungian archetypes that are directly referenced in the story, to Ernest Becker’s characterization of the human race as “angels with assholes.” It has been the subject of creative works ranging from “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” to “The Wolfman” to the familiar trope of the angel sitting on one shoulder and the devil sitting on the other shoulder of the person who is sorting out an ethical decision.

I love the fact that the story plays out in terms of dialogue; a conversation between Peter and Jay. This is reflective of the fact that we do, in fact, talk to ourselves. When we are sorting out what we think, we do it with language. Even if we don’t actually vocalize them, we use words when we reflect internally. George Mead, in his theory known as “symbolic interactionism,” deals with this idea in an interesting way, noting that social reality is negotiated day by day in our interactions with our social contacts. Similarly, Mead suggests, our own internal, subjective reality is something that we continually negotiate with ourselves, through an ongoing internal dialogue. “Shatterday” brings this theoretical construct vividly to life in a fantasy context.

Also, I love the fact that the story does not necessarily present us with an evil Novins and a good Novins, one of whom needs to be eradicated. It seems clear to me that there is an integration of the two at the end. (The hotel bill, after all, is paid not by Peter or by Jay, but rather by “Peter Jay Novins.”) There hasn’t been an utter rejection of Peter by Jay. Rather, there has been a re-ordering of priorities by Peter Jay Novins, altering the balance of power between Peter and Jay so that the integrated whole can meet the world in a healthier, more responsible way.

By the way, for anyone who needs access to the story, it can be purchased from Fictionwise.com for 99 cents.

Steve J.

User avatar
lonegungirl
Posts: 22
Joined: Tue May 27, 2003 9:40 pm
Location: Los Angeles

Postby lonegungirl » Mon Jan 24, 2005 1:55 am

Also, I love the fact that the story does not necessarily present us with an evil Novins and a good Novins, one of whom needs to be eradicated. It seems clear to me that there is an integration of the two at the end.


I'm not so sure I agree with that--all the dialogue between the two seems to me to point at Novins as being reprehensible to Jay. I never get the sense that it's an "Enemy Within" sort of situation where the two halves need to be incorporated to make a decent whole. At most, it seems that the Novins half is present only in some limited, paralyzed fashion within Jay, as Jay was previously in Novins.

Interesting coincidence that the forward mentions Johnny Carson. Time is a fleeting thing--good thing the works are not...

User avatar
Jan
Posts: 1817
Joined: Thu Aug 19, 2004 2:25 pm
Location: Köln

Postby Jan » Mon Jan 24, 2005 4:21 am

I tend to agree with lonegungirl that no integration of the characters takes place. What we see is a character changing by getting rid of a part of himself. The story is about personal ethics and responsibility in the context of the modern world (symbolized by the office buildings and the cold). Novins thinks at one point it's no wonder people are falling apart, looking out his window. I have a feeling the disintegration of Noving was a result of him not being able to live with himself anymore. He had given in too much to outside demands and personal convenience. The rift between the kind of person he wanted to be and the person he was, had become too big. He had allowed himself to be guided by purely egoistical consideration, not always, but certainly too often. He had shown little courage and little empathy. He couldn't live with himself any longer and got rid of a part of himself in order to become a responsible, caring person. Thus, although Jay and Peter appeared to be the same person in the beginning, it subsequently became clear they weren't the same after all.

One of the things this story seems to say is that it is never too late to change. It also recognizes that the modern world has a tendency to corrupt us, which is why we need to be courageous (see The Deathbird) and stay true to ourselves (Ticktockman). It's always easier to let yourself go, live the easy life, but how long before your conscience kicks in? The use of Peter as a personification of the self-centered bits of himself that Jay wants to be rid of serves to illustrate how we are tempted to let ourselves get away with things we wouldn't let other people get away with. This explains some of the hostility between Jay and Peter. Jay takes Peter to task because he is in the unique position of knowing all about him and his sins. How would it affect us if we had a conversation with someone who knows all about us and who makes higher demands on us than we do? What would we be afraid of being pointed out to us that's true? The image of insects reminds us of a kind of life that sometimes may seems preferable, because it is easy: a life without particular responsibilies towards other people.

Sidenote: Often Harlan doesn't do himself a big favor by writing his own introductions, and I would say that definitely goes for the "Mortal Dreads" essay that points to a particular part of the story. The story certainly isn't about mortal dreads to me, it's much more complex and particularly clever.

Steve: Thanks for informing us about the history of the story device. It should be mentioned, though, that every writer does his of her own thing with it. I would consider the story to be only technically in that tradition - the tradition it's more in is Harlan's own tradition of stories and essays about basically the same recurring themes.

Adam-Troy
Posts: 301
Joined: Sun Jan 23, 2005 10:05 am
Contact:

Shatterday (continued)

Postby Adam-Troy » Mon Jan 24, 2005 8:23 am

SHATTERDAY was the first story adapted in the first episode of the mid-80s version of TWILIGHT ZONE, a fact I mention only because it had long struck me as the most Twilight Zonish of Harlan's stories: a more-or-less single set drama featuring one character in extended dialogue with himself, over points of life choices and moral responsibility. Serling's TWILIGHT ZONE had done a couple of similar tales, one involving a wretched man in hock to a gangster, whose better self, seen in a mirror, harangues him at length about the many failures of his life until, at long last, it is the good self who leaves the room while the bad self is reduced to trapped reflection. There was another, less successful version of the basic story told in an episode with Mickey Rooney: again harangued from a mirror, the protagonist engages in lengthy debate about the failures of his life until an evil miracle renders him too large to return to his own life.

So SHATTERDAY was, in form at least, familiar at the onset.

It's not one of Harlan's more dazzling tales, but it is a memorable and powerful one, in part because characters who confront their life's failures are always fruitful ground for fiction, and in part because the tale engages sympathy with the asshole Novins as well as the good one. It's hard not to feel his horror at his forcible divorce from his life, and his growing realization that he deserves no less.
Coming in 2007: THE SHALLOW END OF THE POOL! Plus THE UNAUTHORIZED HARRY POTTER (Ben Bella Books).

Coming in 2008: EMISSARIES FROM THE DEAD!

Steven Prete
Posts: 3
Joined: Wed May 28, 2003 7:50 pm
Location: Boston, MA
Contact:

Postby Steven Prete » Mon Jan 24, 2005 8:25 am

Just a few observations. At the beginning of the story, when the two discover they have split, Peter Novins is outside of the house, while Jay is inside the house. Peter Novins is the "outside" of the name, while Jay is the "inside". Peter decides to abandon the house, signifying the abandonment of his inner self. Novins seems to have spent most of his life focusing on the exterior, his appearance, his job, dating women who are merely trophies to him. Jay represents the neglected inner being, made clear when they mention the Jungian archetypes. Peter is almost like a sloughed off skin, expelled by the inner self and left to whither and fade. At the end of the story, Jay has "regrown" the outer shell, thus acquiring the full name Peter Jay Novins again.
Regarding sjarrett's comments, of course the story is part of a literary tradition. One would be hard pressed to find a story that isn't. But Harlan takes the rough clay of idea and shapes it into his own unique vision. I'm not suggesting that you meant the comment in a derogatory way, because I don't think that. Your thrust seems to be similar to comparing and admiring other works in a similar medium, like limestone sculpture, or oil painting. I personally like this story because of what it does with the motif. I like to contrast it with "William Wilson" by Edgar Allan Poe and "Camels and Dromedaries, Clem" by R. A. Lafferty.

sjarrett
Posts: 113
Joined: Tue May 27, 2003 8:43 pm
Location: Winston-Salem, NC
Contact:

Postby sjarrett » Mon Jan 24, 2005 11:52 am

Jan wrote:I tend to agree with lonegungirl that no integration of the characters takes place.


I certainly agree that the story can be read that way, which is why I was careful to say that the story doesn't necessarily involve the utter destruction of the "bad Novins." Here's why I like my reading better: if Jay has managed to entirely banish the reprehensible Peter from his psyche, then he has ceased to be human. To be human is to struggle with our inner demons on a daily basis. For most of us, as we mature, our better natures slowly, painfully gain the upper hand, but we never banish our baser impulses entirely. And from time to time they get loose again and make us look really, really bad until we can once again assert control. If Peter Jay Novins no longer retains any trace of "Peter," then he has transcended his humanity, which makes him, in my view, far less interesting.

Steve J.

User avatar
Jan
Posts: 1817
Joined: Thu Aug 19, 2004 2:25 pm
Location: Köln

Postby Jan » Mon Jan 24, 2005 12:36 pm

Steve: I see your point, but I still disagree. The story isn't about impulses, it's about actions. Peter and Jay *both* have impulses (they are both complete in that way), only Jay doesn't permit the impulses to rule him anymore, which is what Peter does. The way I read it, the separation of the characters doesn't involve anything but differing attitudes. I haven't "transcended humanity" if I decide not to give in to temptation anymore, have I? It just means that I try harder than before, like Samuel Jackson at the end of Pulp Fiction.

User avatar
P.A. Berman
Banned
Posts: 211
Joined: Wed May 21, 2003 5:04 pm
Location: *ITHACA*
Contact:

Postby P.A. Berman » Mon Jan 24, 2005 5:07 pm

This story was probably my first introduction to Ellison, though I didn't know it at the time. I saw the ep on the new Twilight Zone, with Bruce Willis as the pro/antagonist.

How do people think the story stacked up with the TV interpretation?

User avatar
Barney Dannelke
Posts: 894
Joined: Sun Jan 09, 2005 10:16 pm
Location: Allentown, PA.
Contact:

Postby Barney Dannelke » Tue Jan 25, 2005 12:50 am

I've been hanging back on this one. Partially because I've been hammered doing things like shovelling and helping people move. Three truckloads of furniture transported in a blizzard tends to take the piss and vinegar out of me. But MOSTLY because I just can't decide how I feel about this story in relation to Harlan.

I mean, I like the story. It's in my personal top 20 Ellison tales. I have a strange list after the top 5. It's clever, the way that Wilde's THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY is clever, and I think it resolves nicely.

What's always struck me as unusual is that it seems as though Harlan is almost looking for - or rather, attempting to give himself, absolution through fiction. I know that's an awkward word [absolution] since Harlan is, well, not steeped in the tradition of Catholic absolution to say the least. Nor, for that matter, am I.

USUALLY, Harlan is very unforgiving of his characters flaws and of his own flaws. Here in SHATTERDAY he creates a duo of characters that mirror his own troubles with his mother and sister and then has one of those characters make ammends and heal old wounds.

SOMETIMES I think the story is very selfish in that he gets to write an ending that is better than his real life behavior. OTHER times I think it's incredibly brave to write a character with so many parallels that in the end comes off looking better than Harlan's depictions of his own real life relations with his mother and sister.

I would like to tie this up in a neat bow and come to some conclusive opinion about how good the story is or how meaningful the biographical elements are but it's damn near 30 years old and I'm as conflicted about it as ever.

- Barney

[edited from this were long paragraphs about watching the decline of ones parents while passing through middle age and a tedious and pedantic comparison to some bits in PUDD'N'HEAD WILSON. Another couple of bullets dodged.]

User avatar
P.A. Berman
Banned
Posts: 211
Joined: Wed May 21, 2003 5:04 pm
Location: *ITHACA*
Contact:

Postby P.A. Berman » Tue Jan 25, 2005 9:09 am

I think this story, like "The Deathbird" and "Repent!," is an allegory. Does Harlan tend to favor analogies as his medium? I never noticed it before, but it seems quite obvious to me now, as I think about it.

"Shatterday" is the reversal of the evil twin story. In it, a bad guy is kicked out of his life by a good guy, who proceeds to right the wrongs committed by his formerly predominant bad self. The inversion of the classic horror concept of your life being taken over by a malignant being who forces your out of your own body (ala Body Snatcher, Dreamcatcher, The Thing, etc.) is interesting because it goes against the trend of depressing stories that end with the good guy losing. It's heartening to think that sometimes, the better angels of our nature DO prevail.

PAB

sjarrett
Posts: 113
Joined: Tue May 27, 2003 8:43 pm
Location: Winston-Salem, NC
Contact:

Postby sjarrett » Tue Jan 25, 2005 8:04 pm

Barney Dannelke wrote:What's always struck me as unusual is that it seems as though Harlan is almost looking for - or rather, attempting to give himself, absolution through fiction.


In this connection, it strikes me that one of the perks of being an artist is the ability to take personal flaws and weave them into gold. Like Gustav Mahler in the first movement of the Ninth Symphony, imitating the arrhythmia of his heartbeat in the opening bars and building a monument for the ages on that foundation; like Van Gogh, transmuting the fever-dreams of a tortured mind into canvases that will live forever; like Proust, weaving a sickly and solitary final decade of life into the capstone of literary impressionism. The artist's life can be financially unrewarding, to be sure, but in other respects, like the ability to -- just maybe -- confer absolution, it's a pretty good gig.

Steve J.

User avatar
Barney Dannelke
Posts: 894
Joined: Sun Jan 09, 2005 10:16 pm
Location: Allentown, PA.
Contact:

Postby Barney Dannelke » Tue Jan 25, 2005 8:18 pm

Just wanted to say I really loved these last 2 posts. - B

User avatar
lonegungirl
Posts: 22
Joined: Tue May 27, 2003 9:40 pm
Location: Los Angeles

Postby lonegungirl » Tue Jan 25, 2005 9:32 pm

PAB's post gave me another thought--we know that the two are different parts of the same person because we are told so, and because they both like Yorkshire Pudding, etc., but...if they are so different in priorities, ethics, morals, can they really be considered to be the same person? Is the situation of Jay taking over Novin's life intrinsically different from Rudy shriking Spanning in "Mephisto in Onyx?"

This is the thing I never get about reincarnation. If you do come back, but don't remember anything about what happened before, how are you in anyway the same person? What's the good of that?

User avatar
Chuck Messer
Posts: 2089
Joined: Wed May 21, 2003 9:15 pm
Location: Lakewood, Colorado

Postby Chuck Messer » Wed Jan 26, 2005 2:27 am

Just wanted to thank sjarrett for the link to fictionwise. It's the first time I've gotten to read Shatterday. I'm going to have to think about this one a little longer. I have enjoyed the discussion so far.

Chuck
Some people are wedded to their ideology the way nuns are wed to God.

User avatar
Jan
Posts: 1817
Joined: Thu Aug 19, 2004 2:25 pm
Location: Köln

Postby Jan » Wed Jan 26, 2005 6:09 am

lonegungirl wrote:but...if they are so different in priorities, ethics, morals, can they really be considered to be the same person?

Absolutely, we have many potential of being many different people. The various 'sides' of us are in conflict with each other to a certain degree, and we should aspire to be the best possible person we can be.


Return to “Literary Symposium”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests