Fiction Collective Two is an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction.

A History of the Imagination


A History of the Imagination
by Norman Lock

Paperback
2004
Price: $15.95

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A History of the Imagination is a postmodern tale of adventure that reshapes the parameters of time and space, thought and action. In a metaphorical Africa, replete with nostalgia (but no dimensions), anything can happen and usually does, from raising the dead to wrestling with God. The narrator defends his magical departures, saying his is a history of possibilities, where fiction is "no less real for [it's] being so." But when Darwin's corpse begins to lust after Colette and the African porters go on strike because the author hasn't acknowledged the important role they play, we are left to wonder: just how far is reality from dreams?


Norman Lock juxtaposes remote times and places, historical facts and literary fictions, to create an absurdist collage reminiscent of Guy Davenport and Donald Barthelme. In this world it is not impossible to sail from Mombasa to Cinncinati, or to set out from the City of Radiant Objects, where "things are free of the obligation to signify," hunting icebergs, in a quest to avenge the Titanic at last. Borne aloft by Wilbur Wright, Jules Verne, Ziegfield, and Houdini, we find ourselves lost again in a "seam in the world…between History and Imagination."


 

"Lock's genius is how he plays the edge for uneasy laughs." —Outlook


"In truth, Lock writes it, Lish reads it! ­ which is a damn sight more than Lish will say for Proust." —Gordon Lish


"This book may be called a novel, but a more correct designation might be narrative-as-heaped-mirror-shards...Everywhere lurk stilletto asides, snappy puns, buried quotations...the fickle dalliances of this History make for a skillful and distinctly unnerving funhouse reflection of our own 'present action.'"—American Book Review


"The writing is engaging, sly and frequently hilarious, and Lock provides passages of genuine beauty all the more enjoyable for having emerged from farce." —Bookslut


"Although it closes – morally – with a defense of immorality, the conclusion cannot be taken seriously at so obvious a level or allowed to spoil the extravagance and ingenious riot of the rest of the novel. As a venture of the imagination it is a brilliant success and makes a thorough exploration of the expressive possibilities of conjoined incongruities. Here is a book that will always surprise and never disappoint." —The Compulsive Reader


"Lock's History is both Modernist and post-modern: wry, witty, dour and even silly in a very contemporary way; and yet as wide-eyed, incisive, erudite and open to the world of dreams as the Modernists and surrealists were. There is an archness, a deliberate overplaying of vocabulary and emotion that recalls the most intelligent aspects of contemporary popular culture, but in a setting and with characters that popular culture wouldn't touch, characters full of ideas and an eagerness to discuss them, often using their sly and sardonic manners to disguise (or heighten?) the earnestness of their intentions and emotions." —In Dissent


"A History of the Imagination is a novel, but reads more like a series of frame stories than a tale of intrigue or high adventure structured on conventions of plot. A narrator, whose identity remains tantalizingly vague throughout, continues a single thread through each story, acting as a thinly disguised voice of the author, an endocrine system to the book's hormonal conundrums, as the chief luminaries and icons of the twentieth century are introduced in stimulating situations....Lock's language, though basically sleek and minimal, combines the high gloss and perspicuity of the Edwardian age with the robustness and vigor of American inventiveness, leavened by a facility for maximizing to marvelous effect the dichotomy between the sign and its object." —John Olson, First Intensity


"A strange, unforgettable book." —Stephen Schenkenberg, Playback


"Wise up -- and get all you can get of Lock. His writing was written by a writer exquisite in the singularity (read for this "genius") of his utterance." —Gordon Lish, Webdelsol


"A History of The Imagination reads like a collection of short vignettes that are each able to hold water on their own . . . but when collected together in such an imaginative faux-historical context, we really see the holistic brilliance of Lock’s mind." —Derek White, Sleepingfish.net


"Lock's weapon is words, and he uses them well....like a nightmare that wakes you up shaking, forcing you to reassess your life." —LA Life


"Lock's genius is how he plays the edge for uneasy laughs." —Outlook


"...It is Lock’s gift for concocting eccentric characters and devilishly comic situations..." —Downtown News, Los Angeles


"Émigrés is a fine piece of writing … genuinely poignant and moving …. Like Cornell himself, Joseph Cornell’s Operas remains in the realm of the mysterious and fanciful." —Guy Davenport


"I just read Émigrés all in one gulp – it’s a phenomenal piece of writing." —Dawn Raffel


"There are the fictional fictions in Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. There is the fictional encyclopedia, which refers to the fictional Uqbar, in Borge’s wonderful story. And now, in that great tradition, there is the fictional non-fiction of Marco Knauff’s Universe." —Michael Kimball


"One can only stand in awed astonishment that these “Notes,” which in truth cannot be said to exist at all, are there in one’s left hand." —RM Berry


"A compact set of lyrical declarations, metaphysical in ambition and sublime in their effects … a book of gnomic and exquisite sentencecraft … a wonderwork in miniature, reperplexing infinitude." —Gary Lutz


 

Excerpt


A TREATISE ON DESIRE


Mrs. Willoughby woke, because of an insinuating pressure on her thigh. Hearing her stir on the other side of the thin wall that separated her room from mine, I went to her. "My sleep was disturbed," she said. "By someone who entered through the French windows without invitation and stood -- there, at the foot of the bed. He stood a long time, watching me sleep, with his hand clutching my thigh. Don't ask me how I know."


"Perhaps you dreamt it," I suggested.


She lifted her nightdress so that I might regard five small bruises on an otherwise immaculate leg.


I regarded them gladly.


"One doesn't expect a nightmare mauling to leave marks!" she replied tartly.


"Was any further harm done you?" I asked, turning away to conceal my anxiety.


She was silent a moment, taking stock. Out in Kilindini Harbor, a hippo snorted. A hyena laughed somewhere in the night. She shook her head and sighed: "It is always so when Mr. Willoughby is out seeing to his affairs."


Mr. Willoughby managed the Uganda railroad. I considered placing my hand on Mrs. Willoughby's thigh in his absence, but didn't.


"And what of Lenin?" I asked instead.


She regarded her bruises, then said: "It's been ages since I've had him in my bed."


I cleared my throat meaningfully.


"Oh, Vlady is a very nice lover," she continued, "but too serious. He is death at a dinner party."

She sniffed the midnight air, delicately, through her finely shaped nose. I did, too, though mine is not nearly so handsome.


"There!" she said. "Underneath the gladiola -- can you smell it?"


I smelled nothing.


"A pungency," she said, sniffing once more. "It is always so after I have been alone a while in bed: the pressure of a hand sufficient to wake me, the bruises, and a pungency underneath the gladiola."


In sympathy I put my hand on hers. In sympathy for her bruises the blood came out on my cheeks and my loins congested.


Heavy footsteps sounded on the veranda. I turned in time to see a shadow shamble into the topiary, to be swallowed by the greater darkness of a moonless night.


Mrs. Willoughby leaned over the marmalade dish.


"Will you stay the night with me?" she asked.


My heart jumped inside my safari jacket.


"Of course, delicious lady!"


"You misunderstand," she said in a tone of unmistakable reproof. "I want you to watch."


"Watch?"


(Was Lenin about to take up unlawful residence under Mrs. Willoughby's mosquito net once again while Mr. Willoughby tended to his railroad?)


"To see what visits me in the night."


My heart sank.


She dabbed my mustache with a napkin, to rid it of a crumb of toast. Her eau d'cologne lingered in the breathless Mombasa morning.


"Come; I want to show you something."


She took me lightly by the arm and guided me into the topiary. Beside the carefully clipped thorn-bushes taught to grow up outside her bedroom (ah, Beauty!), she pointed out the trampled grass and, in earth still impressionable after the recently ended rains, two enormous footprints that could only be characterized as simian.


I didn't know it at the time, but the footsteps trodden into the rain-sodden earth outside Mrs. Willoughby's bedroom had been left there by Prince Kong. (The same Kong who, as King, would ravish a jodhpured Fay Wray in the 1930's. In 1910, however, he was a moody young gorilla with as yet no appetite for virgin sacrifice.) He had left the family's hereditary stomping-grounds in Central Africa and, after a long and circuitous peregrination, found himself in Mrs. Willoughby's topiary garden on the outskirts of Mombasa. At the time, many people were helplessly tramping the length and breadth of the continent, transfixed by the walking sickness, which then held sway. To my knowledge, however, no instances of animal contraction of the mysterious malady have ever been verified. Kong, as I would later discover, had been drawn to the open French windows by the strength of Mrs. Willoughby's desire.