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.
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.