Urban exploration

Somewhere, sometime, people made all the machines that made all the artifacts and buildings that make up all cities. Somewhere, sometime, everything made has answered to a purpose. But try one day to walk, or be driven through, any section of any city—the older the better, but new will do—under the aspect of an alien or an artist; try, if you can, to notice everything—the strange knobs and wires and pipes, the bits of metal, the shapes of concrete, which make part mystery of every structure. Can one know what every knob and lever is for? There are devices on the old buildings that are remembered only by scholars. No one comes to fix them; no one comes to check them.

It must be a bracing and bewildering thing for those who were part of the great world-spanning, ceaselessly and frenetically active age of dawning industry—that age, in glories and horrors, so much belonging to the spirit of youth and youthful strength—to realize that the world is not, in fact, made anew with every generation; that time may carry forward their works, made in unquestioning faith in the future, until they have become all they were contemptuously meant to supplant: not just old-fashioned or obsolete, but quaint and curious; artifacts lingering through time, inscrutable relics brought out from the strange country or planet of the past.

And it has happened. Young people armed with flashlights and cameras crawl over and among the picked bones of Leviathan-industry. This is not the archæology of labels and measurements and excavations; nor the piracy of the past that first sunk shafts and cut tunnels into the immemorial streets of Pompeii; nor the romanticism that would bring young Englishmen to Italy to roam over and around old marble and fancy that a statue might drop its staff and admit it had only been pretending. They make me think instead of some mediæval Italian shepherd—for such there must have been—who uncovered the door into, or just fell into, some lost grotto dedicated to a god he never knew nor would know; who must have shivered and wondered at such a place, sensibly sacred though unholy (by his teaching); who withdrew and covered it again, only having marked its ceiling with the smoke of his fuming lamp. Such there must have been; such there are.

An urban explorer seeks context, not knowledge. Among the great machines on the factory floor they want to know what each is for, nor how they worked. They are satisfied to see the buttons and levers; they do not need to know which does what. They are satisfied to know where to stand; they do not need to know what to do. They take the pictures for their walls or accounts; they do not need to know the names of what they contain. They are not designers, planners, scientists, engineers, even artists—I do not think you could satisfactorially paint an abandonment. Only the unaffected lens can capture the appeal.

Of all the pictures I have seen brought out of abandonments—not that many, but enough to form a taste—one is unrivalledly the best. It was taken by one Marc Reed, at Bethlehem Steel. I am not an urban explorer, so I confess that I would like to know what is in them—but that would be missing the point and appeal of the photograph. It is not knowing, and it is not not knowing; it is not ghosts; it is not even the beauty of patination or of ruins; it is the sight, the memory of the sight, that the photograph stands in for. The ruin of Bethlehem Steel does not reach the part of the brain that assays the arts. It follows a different way, reaches something deeper. One wanders and delights in abandonments for the same reason one wanders in the forest: the beauty of these ruins-to-be is only the beauty of nature, an analogue of nature humanity makes and has made for itself. For the deepest part of the brain the old abandoned factory and the dense, spooky wood have the same appeal.

When I was a boy my father took me to see many old forts, too many to remember. They have run together in my mind; unilluminated tunnels branching from the lighted tourist-track; huge rooms with massive doors and the knowledge that were they to be closed you could starve or suffocate here unheard; condemned outbuildings of weather-striated concrete, darkened by late rains, overgrown and seen through screening leaves; that low fence (you know you could climb it) in front of the sight-passing vaulted tunnel, the paled and rusting sign bearing a now-indecipherable warning, the same leaves under your feet lining the floor of the tunnel—I know the urge. I was a boy, and did not climb. I am glad others have done it, grateful that they have let me share at lens distance.

The sleep of reason

Introspection is always an delusion. The mind cannot fold back on itself. We know ourselves only as far as we consciously create and re-make ourselves (by entering the orbit of a hero), or by recognizing something of ourselves in a work of art made by another. This is something that most people find only while young, and only in songs or stories. The song, its subject or style, becomes a mirror in which they see themselves: it is assimilated and becomes part of the mental equipment, recalled or physically replayed as the mind's mirror. The story is absorbed to become the model and index of experience. It is a strange phenomenon, for it must be someone else's work (it may be your own only if so old that it is practically someone else's—for even after abstracting part of parts of yourself, you cannot get a good look at them.)

I have had this experience only once, and then it was a picture. No other image, and no other phrase, haunts me like Goya's Capricho no. 43, El sueño de la razon produce monstruosThe sleep of reason produces monsters. I return to it over and over like a regretful lover to a hidden photograph. They run through my head, those words, over and over, like a strain of music, like a formula of prayer.

At times it has meant to me everything worth standing for. When I first saw it, it frightened me: I had a faith in watchful reason which I had never imagined might sleep. I was a child, so it was not me, but all I wished to be that I saw slumped on that table, and in the thronging night-gaunts overhead was all the barbarism I feared in and for the world, and all the weakness to be dragged along from without or swept away from within I feared in myself. Very little suprised me growing up. I figured out for myself and thus cushioned with the pride of precocity that virtue could go unrewarded, merit unnoticed; good could lose to evil, books could be burned and libraries—darkness could win—love be in vain, hard work for nothing—but this I had never thought, this came as a shock: reason could sleep. Reason could be asleep and helpless. I remember the first time I saw it, a little thing in the margin (the words illegible, the caption reproduced beneath it), and a feeling in my eyes like a hand on a hot stove, and a compulsion to come to terms with it which I have yet to fulfill or exhaust.

Goya has been mistaken for an ally of the Enlightenment; now he is being mistaken for a collector, along modern lines, of the freakish and disturbing. Goya, it is true, did not investigate and illuminate the corners of society and the mind with reforming intention; but he also did not look just to see—he looked to understand. He sought not the curious, but the representative. He entered in as the detachedly eclectic modern cannot. He was a great artist; he was restless and attentive; he had a strong stomach—these qualities suffice to explain him, without foisting a project or a pose on him.

The roots of this picture have been sought in essays of Addison's—a sub-series of The Spectator, "The Pleasures of Imagination"—and in a frontispiece of Rousseau's. I have not read the one, nor seen the other; but I am satisfied that there was nothing in Addison's polish or Rousseau's defiance capable of giving on to this vertiginous depth. There was not enough rope in either of them to even fathom this picture.

A contemporary glossed it: "Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters; united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the source of their wonders." It is tempting to think of reason as the directing principle which harnesses the energies of the wild unconscious. So, in many ways, it is: but you will not harness these monsters. You cannot master them; you cannot cage them; you can only wall them out, and wander in the narrow streets of the ever-embattled city of reason.

I always balk at efforts to betray the overall impression of a picture by a tunneling attention to its nice details, but I must point out that the sleeper is not being attacked. The cat poised on the back of his chair, the owl on his back screeching for his attention, indicate it; the great cat seated to his left, composed, even protective, confirms it; and the owl to his right explains it. It imperiously extends to him one of his own porta-crayons. The monsters are not the issue of the sleeper's diseased imagination; he is not their victim and not their radiant center; they are emissaries, come from elsewhere to the sleeper to compel and to rule his work.

It was made as the introduction to Los Caprichos, but it could make for an introduction to The Disasters of War, itself an introduction to, and a catalog of, the stirrings of the age of horror to come: the trench and the machine gun, the tank and the bomber, propaganda and secret police, stage-managed orgies of hate, idols in uniforms or suits and their political cults, revolutions and purges, the atom bomb and the world for fifty years of cold war in the throne of Damocles, frenzied to forget itself. What reason made by day—science, industry, democracy, mass culture—became by night the instruments to realize old nightmares of the world's ending—but worse, because the world lingered through the tides of blood and the overthrown cities and the sacrificed generations and the slaughterhouses of the ensouled and through one anti-Christ after another. The sleep of reason produces monsters. And there are more dreams to come. We declared an age of reason; we left behind the dark woods; but the open sky has its own monsters our philosophy cannot name to warn us against—and what is worth watching for here out in the open is seen too late. The sleep of reason produces monsters. I do not know if it is a warning, or a curse, or a doom.

History of Thankyouism

It is agreed by all, even those of other faiths, that Mother Thanks (research has revealed her birth name and background, but here we may acknowledge her belief that her old name and life were irrelevant to the work she was called to do) was a great woman, a living saint in her own time, and one of the great spiritual leaders of the XXth century. In our own time, when her message has become so familiar and Thankyouism so generally established, it is easy to forget how radical it was when first introduced: no dogma, no hierarchy, no liturgy save the disciplined everyday business of cultivating and expressing gratitude (and despite the claims of some sects, Mother Thanks's own expressions were various) to the Divine, or the One, or Love. These last two were the only names Mother Thanks employed.

It would be out of our way, however, to offer a history of Mother Thanks's movement during her lifetime, or of Mother Thanks's own spiritual journey. The reader is referred to I. Bickerstaff's comprehensive history, Giving Thanks; to W. Wizard's biography, Goodness Gracious; and the forthcoming selection of annotated primary sources, Thanks Be, which should be available from Exham Press, Miskatonic's new religious studies impression, later this year.

Before the Schism.
The scope of this article is only briefly to relate the history of the movement after Mother Thanks's death. Most laymen and outsiders will at least be familiar with the broad division between Wholists and Partists, which is nicely illustrated by the famous incident of Mother Thanks's funeral; but some further background should be provided before relating that all too common anecdote.

Those who would become the Wholists were those who met twice weekly with Mother Thanks in the famous Convention Hall to be guided by her in their personal search for occasions of gratefulness. Partists generally cast these as being only the rich and bored, who did not take Mother Thanks seriously. Tickets were, indeed, sold; but a substantial portion, usually from one-third to one-half, of the seats were reserved for "special populations": the homeless, terminally ill patients, schoolchildren, visiting congregations of other faiths, etc.; and many of those ticket-holders would by their writings and testimony make Mother Thanks the famous and revered figure she is today.

The origin of the Partists is less clear. Their motto—"Others sit and listen, we stand and seek"—is, as they tell it, their literal origin: the Partists were a small group of seekers whom Mother Thanks taught separately from the "Conventioners" (a term often used in early Partist documents to refer to Wholists), while standing, and to whom she conveyed a secret wisdom and message of which the masses were unworthy. Wholists say that the Partists were simply the Convention Hall cleaning staff, who took Mother Thanks's kind words for them as bearing secret significances. Few historians ascribe to either view; but most are agreed that the Partists probably originated among some kind of retinue or entourage to Mother Thanks.

The Schism.
Partists of all sects have a similar idea of how the schism took place. A party of Partists appeared during Mother Thanks's funeral and began, part by part, to offer thanks for Mother Thanks. Their enumeration of parts was sufficiently close and detailed to offend the priggish sensibilities of the Wholists, who ejected them. Wholists concede that there was an ejection, but claim it was only because the Partists had crowded around, and were blocking access to, Mother Thanks's coffin.

The Second Generation.
The sects of Thankyouism are divided by scholars into several generations. Assignment of particular sects, especially beyond the Second Generation, have been a matter of contention; but the scholarly consensus today is for, inasmuch as the record will support, a distinction between the actual emergence of organized sects, and the separate phenomenon of the emergence of a group of sects sufficiently similar to be classed together, but which did not originate by schism from an older sect corresponding to that class. Such ancestry can, however, be difficult to trace.

Second Generation Wholists.
The so-called Effusers—a name they do not apply to themselves, regarding themselves simply as the true Thankyouists and the direct heirs of Mother Thanks—claim to comprise a majority of Thankyouists, and are the most commonly encountered; most people will have seen a Thanking House or witnessed a High Thanking, and many Categorist devotions have been assimilated to other sects, and even other spiritual paths and traditions.

The distinction between High Thankers and Simple Thankers is not a reliable one. High Thankers gather on Wednesdays, usually in public parks, to pronounce, in a service usually lasting between two and three hours and enlisting the service of a chorus, a single, nonspecific, "Thank You." Simple Thankers gather on Thursdays in Thanking Houses (usually former storefronts, maintained empty) to say "Thanks" to one another, again nonspecifically, recognizing the One in each other. Syncretism is common, and High Thankers and Simple Thankers are often seen at one another's services; however, many Simple Thankers regard High Thankers as forgetting Mother Thanks's message, and many High Thankers regard Simple Thankers as somehow anti-social.

It is not certain, but generally agreed, that Categorists are the most common end-sect of Thankyouism (while still part of the most common generationally categoric—not Categorist—sect, Effusers). The only Second Generation sub-sect, however, is the so-called Historists, who ostensibly draw their categories of thanks from "history and natural language"; but the categories actually heard in a given Thanking Circle tend to be determined largely by their needs, the situation, and the composition of the group.

Some scholars do not believe that there ever existed such a thing as a unified Second Generation Quotist movement, but a survey of Thankyouism for the Endower Institute (whose founder's name represents a curious case of destiny fulfilled in the most obvious way), during the period of ten years between Mother Thanks's death and the Congress usually considered to constitute the period of the Second Generation, mentions:

Another, minor sect, call themselves Quotists. This sect asserts that it is the responsibility of each individual to establish for themselves a quota of thanks. Members of the sect meet weekly to report on the fulfillment of their quotas. Quotas are set for stated time periods, as so many thanks per day or week, or even in one's lifetime.
—J. Dandy, Endower Institute Report on the Demographics of Gratitudinousism, Appendix B: Known Sects. (Endower Institute Proceedings, 2005; Hoboken, New Jersey.)

However, oral histories have not confirmed that such a sect ever existed; it is, however, suggestive of the mechanism by which the many Third Generation Quotist sects, especially the shortest-lived, might have emerged.

Let it be noted that Quotists of whatever generation are closer in sympathy to Effuser than to Possessionists—themselves the inventors of the name Effusers. It is the belief of the Possessionists that one can offer thanks only for what in some sense one already has. During the Second Generation period Posessionists defined themselves only as a more conservative alternate to Effusers. It is said that at this time Possessionists would carefully compile "thanking books" of their posessions, but attempts to link these books to the compilations of the Bookers (q.v.) have so far failed.

Third Generation Wholists.
The period known as the Third Generation began in 2010 with the All-Thanks Congress, on the tenth aniversary of Mother Thanks's death. It was intended by its organizers, who managed to secure the presence of leaders, or serious representatives, of every Wholist or Partist Second Generation sect (largely by spreading the rumor that Mother Thanks was to be disinterred for the occasion, which every sect was eager to prevent), to foster fellow-feeling among all Thankers. It is here that the name "Thankyouism" was first used, although not officially adopted by the Congress. Indeed, the Congress did nothing officially, not even adjourn. The Congress served for the most part only, first, to re-inforce a sense of disparity between sects with well-articulated doctrines; and second, to set those sects not so well-defined on the struggle to define themselves which produced the schisms of the Third Generation.

"Historist" Categorism produced two sister sects in this period, the Scientists and the Psychists. Both groups arose as a rejection of the tolerance for supernatural phenomena in existing Categorist congregations. Both held it absurd to thank for what could not be real. Scientists, always with an eye to the latest data, use scientific categories from multiple disciplines—the biological kingdoms, the divisions of the periodic table, the states of matter, etc.—as the occasions on which thanks are to be offered. However, Scientists offering thanks with chemical categories must not be confused with the entirely distinct Third Generation Partist sect of Chemists (q.v.). Psychists base their thanks on what they apprehend (the choice varies between congregations) to be natural psychological categories. Some approach Kant, but most are loosely based on Jung. Psychists despise Scientists for their sterility; Scientists despise Psychists for their sentimentality; and Historists despise them both as unwholesome fanatics.

One of the most bitter divisions in the whole history of Thankyousim, of course, is the schism of the Possessionists into Accountants and Anticipators. These names are used strictly by outsiders; both sects call themselves Posessionists, and each other respectively, Slavers and Commies. They are divided over the significance of the word have. Anticipators believe that to have, it is enough to have the use of. Accountants believe that to have, one must actually own. Accountants accuse Anticipators of attacking the concept of property and thus inviting Communism; Anticipators point to Accountants' own willingnes to accept metaphorical concepts of ownership, as of children, to either mock their position as absurd, or now and then to seriously charge them with attempting to justify slavery with their maxim that "You can thank for nothing until you have thanked for what is yours."

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of Third Generation Wholism is its extraordinary fecundity of sects which outsiders would group together as Quotists: the Dozeners, the Scorers, the Fourty-Twoers, even the short-lived Thousand-and-Oneërs. From this mileu only two viable sects emerged: the Diurnalists, whose quota is simply to give thanks for something every day; and the Thirtiers, whose quota is of 25 thanks every day—it is said there were originally thirty members of the sect, which derives from the old Hundreders, who made 99 thanks each day. There are signs of instability among the Thirtiers today around a dispute, very heated, over whether it is permissible, in whole or in part, and at what intervals, to re-use one's list of thanks, or whether one must start afresh every day. This dispute has not riven the sect so far, however, perhaps due to one aspect of its devotions which divides it from other Quotist sects: thanks are given silently.

Second Generation Partists.
The schisms of Partism have generally been more sudden, more bitter, and more public than those of Wholism. This is, it is generally agreed, because Partism spread mostly through college campuses.

The largest body of Partists is the Constructionists, rivalled by the Chemists, and infrequently vexed by the tiny and much-despised sect of Processists.

Chemists have always claimed that confining thanks to materials liberates all Thankers from oppressive discourses and worldviews, and allows all to come before the One without any artificial, socially imposed (whether rooted in education, wealth, or privilege) difference in quantities of thanks to be rendered. They further assert that their discipline promotes ecological and social-justice awareness by demonstrating the deep connectedness and likeness of all things.

Constructionists assert that Chemists dilute their thankfulness by removing it from the realm of the humanly perceptible. They adhere to the visible or relatable components of a thing's construction. Chemists assert that Constructionists' reliance on specialized knowledge (in anatomy, for example) makes their position contradictory, but Constructionists point out that even internal organs carry human-level associations as sources of disease. That is, not many people will have occasion to handle a pancreas (though all have felt a heart); but many will meet diabetics. Chemists would point out that insulin is the important thing here, not the pancreas itself. Public debates between Chemists and Constructionists, frequent as they are, tend to dissolve into this sort of chicken or egg problem.

(Late in both their lives, this author had the opportunity of conducting interviews with the great Dutch Molecularist (q.v.) Jan Dough and the great American Booker (q.v.) Onkel Ausamerika. When each discovered that this author was interviewing the other—they were being traeated in the same hospital—they used this author to relay messages to each other. It was only after both interview series had been concluded that this author looked over his notes and realized that the observations they had been exchanging on gestation, calcium accretion, cultural utility and feed value were, in fact, a literal chicken or egg debate. Both men had very dry senses of humor, and it never became clear whether this was a last debate in earnest or an elaborate joke at this author's expense.)

The origin of Processism is not clear. It was, according to some scholars, actually a First Generation sect, having been established during Mother Thanks's own life; but why the absence of any background confirms this notion is not clear. Processism was discovered by accident in 2025 flourishing in two very small towns in eastern Kansas. Each now practises its own variation of Processism, but it is generally agreed that there was, at least, at some point a single Second Generation form.

Third Generation Partists.
The schism of Constructionism, although the most important development of this period, is so extraordinary that we will consider it last.

The division of Chemists into Molecularists and Atomists seems, in retrospect, inevitable. The processes of thanking for each are practically irreconcileable; the difference in liturgy, insurmountable. Atomists, in congregation, repeat together a list of atomic constituents of the cosmos, the planet, the atmosphere, and the human frame, then diverge into private lists. (The opening of the Atomist Liturgy will be very familiar, even if its source is unknown, as it has frequently been set to music: "Thanks be for Hydrogen; for Silicon; for Oxygen; for Carbon. Hydrogen to Helium, thanks be; Helium to Oxygen, thanks be," etc.) Molecularists gather, traditionally, around a projector, though screens are sometimes used in Europe, and upon the display of a chemical formula—traditionally beginning with H20—antiphonally offer their thanks. This will happen three to four times a minute; still, the Molecularist ritual is much longer than the Atomist, and usually provided with at least one intermission.

Processism implies, generally, offering thanks for each step of the process by which something is made. When the two towns practising this sect were discovered, it was found that each had adopted a distinct form of Processism. One sect (inhabitants of Tweedledale), labelled somewhat unimaginatively Industrialism, offers thanks for each step of art by which something is made; this often means industrial methods and machinery, but may as well be artisanal or artistic. Humanists, the other sect (inhabitants of Tweedledun), offer thanks only for the people involved in making something. The schism was so bitter that not only do the towns have not traffic with one another, but as has been observed several times by researching, inhabitants of each town will shun inhabitants of the other town who visit. Where the sect crossed family lines, blood ties were cut, and in the center of each town a stone has been engraved with these names. Early researchers, to their alarm, took these for true mass graves. It has been lately decided by Tweedledale that Humanists engaging, publicly or privately, in the vexatious debate over Action or Actor, shall be exiled. Civil liberties groups circle, but the ordinance has yet to be enforced.

Some Guessers, or Old Constructionists, have gone so far as to call the Bookers a conspiracy of academics; but evidence suggests its informal beginnings were among white-collar workers who had to create lists of aspect of construction to be thankful for. These lists were often merged online, and eventually taken over by the purpose-created Grateful Institute, which is responsible for the maintenance of the so-called Book of Thanks, the print edition of which runs to over thirty volumes and is further the subject of a yearly supplement. Most Bookers, of course, have never even seen or consulted the full Book; they rely on a variety of easy abridgements, which make popular occasional gifts: The Little Book of the Thankful Marriage, The Chaplet of Grateful Grieving, etc., which many non-Thankyouists will have received or even given.

In Summary.
Outsiders tend to be remarkably ignorant of the divisions of Thankyouism, and many who should know better have concluded that they are an unfriendly lot after being rebuffed in their praise of a Booker abridgment to a High Thanker, or in their expression of support for declaring the Convention Hall an historic site to a Chemist, etc. It is important for outsiders to be able to distinguish among the sects of Thankyouism, and to be familiar with its remarkable history, if they expect to be able to understand the significance of its increasing prominence in today's culture and politics.


Fanfiction is new. It is possible to find antecedents for it only by diluting the concept. The Aeneid is not fanfiction; Hamlet is not fanfiction; Paradise Lost is not fanfiction. Not even Sherlockian pastiche is fanfiction. Fanfiction has the form and the ethos of its environment, the fandom.

I should give an example of this kind of distinction. The periodical essay series is distinct from its offspring, the newspaper column. The column is of regular length, usually short; it must maintain a predictable uniformity of tone, subject, and approach; it must have unobjectionable (and therefore unambitious) language; it must be honed to local or party appeal (and therefore perishable). The periodical essay and the column have the same muse, but they are different things.

Why is the Aeneid not a fanfic? The gambit of raising a minor to a main character irresistibly recalls fanfiction. Aeneas is the Blaise Zabini of classical literature. But no one writes a fanfic to prove the power of their language or to glorify their sovran. As the proof of Latin's equality in poetic power with Greek; as the scripture of Rome's world-conquering and law-giving destiny; as a renewal of the Roman spirit after the end of the Republic; Virgil achieved with the Aeneid what fanfiction would never dare to aim at—not because it is new, but because it is fanfiction. The Aeneid mattered to Virgil and Virgil's age, and it is written like it matters. Fanfiction, even the best fanfiction, does not try to matter. It always means less than its model. It is secondary entertainment, something to do between volumes or seasons.

It has been argued, I recall, that Shakespeare was able to dispense with introductory exposition to Hamlet because the story's shape was already known to his audience. The story of Amlethus was old before Shakespeare, and had been dramatized before. But this was not fanfiction. Authors of fanfiction alter and re-invent as tribute and experiment, not judgment. Hamlet is better the story of Amlethus. Hamlet throws Amlethus into shadow, but a fanfic can never overtake its model.

I cannot see that Paradise Lost fulfills any instrumentally religious purpose. Who has Milton converted to Christianity? To Protestantism? No one mines Paradise Lost for sermon texts. Paradise Lost is a proof of the equal literary dignity of Christianity with Paganism, but no one was asking. Those who take Christianity seriously need not take literature seriously. Those who take literature seriously, but not Christianity, will not be moved to reconsider Christianity by its exposition along Homeric lines unless Homer moves them to Zeus-worship. To those who take both literature and Christianity seriously it is a delightful confirmation of their harmony, and of the worth of maintaining a balanced position. But it is after the fact.

What Milton produced was not an apology or a tract, but a statement of his own faith as a learned man, an (idiosyncratically) religious man, and a poet, who believed that these plainly good things went together and did each other good. Fanfiction makes no statements at all. It is as ephemeral as a mood; it is easily found and easily lost; and it always obeys the literary democracy of a fandom. To make statements a writer must be a despot. Nothing abstract forbids such despotism over borrowed characters, but that would not be fanfiction.

Sherlock Holmes is one of the first modern characters. A generation earlier his coolness and calculation would have made him a fine villain; he is modern because he is the hero. Why can't new adventures for Sherlock Holmes be fanfiction? Many are: stories of Holmes time-traveling or displaced through time, or slashed, or crossing over into Yog-Sothothery may be fanfiction. (I think that the first Mythos story I ever encountered was a Lovecraftian Giant Rat of Sumatra.) But The Case of the Man Who was Wanted, or Rathbone's World War II Holmes, or Edith Meiser's radio plays, are not fanfiction: not only because they were written for profit, but also because they were written to stand alone. You could, without prior knowledge of Sherlock Holmes, go to see Terror by Night or tune into Death is a Golden Arrow and come away with a sense of Sherlock Holmes. But fanfiction is written to expect knowledge of the original work. The original may be less a model than a shared vocabulary of allusions (as classical mythology has been to all Western literature).

Fanfiction is not folklore. Fanfiction is democratic; folklore is the people's. The changes of folklore are like the changes of unwritten languages and dialects. No one decrees or enforces them, but they do not express popular consent. They have their own laws which indifferently roll the masses along. Illiterate or isolated individuals cannot be truly creative because, having nothing to compare their stories to, they cannot know that they could have been different, and might be changed. There is an adventitious fanon for every fandom; but there is also a stand against plagiarism between authors of fanfiction. Writers of fanfiction observe the idea of authorship that printing formed.

The phenomenon of fanfiction says something good about the modern world. To me it seems to be rearing a generation of good readers, at once hungry and discriminating.

Most fanfiction is bad; but it is gainfully bad. It is badly constructed, badly thought out or not thought out at all. The characterization is flat or inconsistent. When the plot moves, you can see the strings. Of course. These are first attempts. These are young minds finding their legs, or old minds stretching atrophied limbs.

If they do no more than try, they still gain, and where there is a small gain for some there is gain for all. A mind that has failed in the rigor and endurance composition requires is superior to the untried but confident mind—"I could write, if I could just find the time"—because it respects what it cannot do.

But some succeed by rising steps. They begin to learn the art of writing, along with the practical, writerly side of criticism, not acquired from precepts but burned in by trial and error. This will not multiply masterpieces; they have their own law that keeps them rare. But even an apprentice or journeyman writer becomes, in literature at least, impatient with affectation and intolerant of bullshit.

Fanfiction shows that there is still blood in civilization. As it is a rude, raucous, lawless thing, as it is grotesque and rantipole, it proves that it grows in good soil. The roots it is growing may yet keep that untended soil from washing away.


Beauty is a philosophically well-tilled field. The soil is loose, airy and ready for the roots of any fruit or flower. No one need fear being bound to an inelastic definition of beauty, or being required to supply or use a definition at all. But, even without venturing a definition, it would be an honorable office to philosophy to rescue the idea and thus the experience of beauty from scientists who take the perception of beauty for a judgment and not a faculty, from artists and others who would smother beauty with idolatry, and from the shouting moralizers, puritans or relativists, who respectively would have it that beauty is a snare or a delusion.

Scientists mistake beauty for a puzzle. Beauty is never proved, only recognized; never composed, only achieved. It is vain to try to show that any one thing is one with beauty. Symmetry may be beauty or boredom. Ruins may thrill or disgust. In this sense only beauty is in the eye of the beholder—it has no table of recombining elements. If beauty is not confused with taste, with the accumulated experience of an individual, then it is always recognized, if not always enjoyed. Beauties that are to your taste are sweet; beauties revolting or exceeding your taste are disgusting; but the phenomenon is something beside taste: something is beautiful, whether it appeals or not, not as something is tasty, but as something is edible.

Beauty is always individual; things are beautiful only if each is beautiful of and by itself. There is no characteristic, abstractable beauty of paintings, of buildings, of faces. Paintings flock in museum; buildings are passed on tours or captured on postcards or in picture accounts; faces succeed each other in crowds or on the big or the small screen; and weak habit makes us think, "That is a beautiful painting, or building, or face." But it is proper only to say—when we trouble ourselves to mean what we say—"That painting, that building, that face, is beautiful." And beauty is undeniable. It differs with individuals only in how it affects them. Classical beauties may make harmonies to the eye of one, or slip like a razor on the flesh of another. Romantic beauties may demand the enthusiasm of one, and bewilder another. But no one, who is not afflicted with inattention or arrogance, is insensible to beauty. They may be unmoved, but not untouched.

Poets, artists, musicians, designers, and lovers, mistake beauty for a religion. Beauty is not obeyed, only found or made. There is no secret law in beauty, not of art, not of music, not of face, no secret truth. Truth is always ugly to some, because it comes to the table like a fish with eyes: it does not let you forget, or take for granted. Beauty may lie or be true, but beauty has no secrets; no sanctuaries; beauty is cheap and easy as a leaf, as the patina of a wall, as the elementally fragile yet powerful machinery of the hands before you. Finding beauties is but a habit, making beauties—or drawing the attention of others to those you have discovered—is but a task.

Photography has made this obvious only for vision. Auditory beauties are not rarer. There are fine, subtle, beautiful sounds in the world, every day, which compilers of sound libraries alone trouble to note. There is a connoisseurship to be acquired in this connection, but not a satisfying one. In nature's inescapably visual beauties, in leaf or cloud, we may lose ourselves as long as we wish; but a single sound, whatever pleasure or interest it brings, lasts too briefly. It required the appearance of intelligence, the songbird's brain, to originate an auditory experience comparable with vision; and we who are born with speech, its tones and rhythms, have perfected sound with harmony and satisfied the ear with beauty not merely broad enough to become lost in, but actively abducting. And the other senses: smell, taste, touch. The chef and the perfumier concert smells and tastes (every strong smell has an element of taste). The sense of touch is more neglected. Certainly there are harmonies of physical sensation, and they are the strongest part of memory (neglected in favor of smell because harder to recreate) and experience. There are characterizing chains of physical sensation in everything indulged in with no view to further reward: in beaches, gardening, sport, sex— but I know no art that concerts them.

Beauty is to art as truth is to science: always the end, always the test, but definable only in part because apprehended only in part. Opinions as to truth are varied, and truth is, that far, relative in practice; but truthfulness and fidelity are not relative. Mistakes are relative; deception is absolute. Beauty is subject to confusion, has been fought over and abandoned as unwinnable, because there is no distinction in æsthetics parallel to that of truth and honesty. It is obvious that one may be honestly wrong; but our vocabulary only gives us a contradiction, not a distinction, when we say that something is beautifully ugly or ugly-beautiful. Sometimes critics borrow the parallel word and call a work of art honest. It is the unobjectionable meeting of a necessity, but it further confuses the question, by entangling æsthetics with concerns not its own. Fashion hears the word honest and creates a standard of judgment for art taking honesty for truthfulness—which, by subjecting beauty to truth, becomes the straight road to dishonesty in the æsthetic sense.

If the distinction's applications are not obvious, I will exemplify. The beautifully ugly, or the honestly ugly, does not correspond to the acquired taste or the personally distasteful. Guqin music, for example, is very beautiful and very hard on Western minds; gamelan music on Western ears. That is not what is meant; that is something outside one's experience, a distant speciality, an unmapped land. You can no more like or dislike it than some newly discovered alien race or planet. Your reaction to it is only the index of your attitude toward any novelty. Most free verse is, I judge, finally ugly; but a poem may be beautifully ugly, it may be like an honest mistake; and if so, it deserves respect. Now, much—most—of XVIIIth century poetry is ugly-beautiful. It shows all the device and imagination and dress of poetry; but its didacticism, its putting of morals, it deconstructibility—it is eminently quotable because it is eminently miscellaneous—have denied it the readership of the more honest—in our sense, here opposing the original—Romantic XIXth century poets who swept them aside—and who still dominate over XXth century poets who thought that they could save poetry from science by pinioning a few angels of their own. But the worst example of the ugly-beautiful, of lying beauty, may always be found in old war poems.

There is nothing relevant to this distinction about whether a work appeals to public taste, in general or sectorally. Hogarth and Rockwell comes to mind as artists who were what the people wanted. The precincts of genre fiction are generally honest, and sometimes beautiful; but a characteristically higher proportion of mainstream fiction is ugly-beautiful or ugly-ugly—damn ugly, I call it, with an appeal like straight spirits—one proves you a man, the other an intellectual.

The eye for beauty, it is apparent in the training of the artist, is capable of indefinite refinement. With sufficient discrimination anything, it would appear, may be found beautiful; with sufficient skill anything may be presented so as to appear beautiful. This raising of beauty from unlikely places may even earn the name of genius if the place is unlikely enough. Writers drag the broadest nets in this connection, making beautiful things which are as terrible as human beings may conceive or bear—without necessarily making them appealing.

Still, the mind revolts at the idea, and is revolted by the idea, that everything is beautiful. The problem of æsthetics is not without connection to theodicy. We are revolted by the notion of beauty everywhere as by the notion that ours is the best of all possible worlds. Any serious venture in theodicy begins with Anselm's contention that given that all things are good, and pursue their own good, it is not therefore necessary that all the goods they pursue are compatible. It may be found the same with beauty. It is plain even in experience that not all beauties are compatible: city or wild wood or desert, sun or night. It is the same in taste. The slightest preference in taste, conceived arbitrarily, educationally, or innately, by placing one beauty before another creates the perception and the fact of ugliness. This is not a matter of training; it is a necessity. To see beauty here is to see ugliness there; to love this beauty is to hate that ugliness. This is not an escapable naïveté—as we must choose among goods which are our own and where we stand, as we must say that this good is more important than that one or be cowards—there is a quality like courage—judgment—conditional to æsthetic experience.

Essayists' coinages—excepting essai—have a personal flavor and do not easily catch on. I will not attempt a neologism. Pretty has acquired a sufficiently pejorative air to be bent to this purpose—but there are things that are just pretty, and nothing else, and I will not abet or approve the loss of this distinction and the innocuous faculty of, and willingness to appreciate it. It will, I think, be enough to produce the right reaction to speak of flat beauty and deep beauty.

Flat beauty is always mirror-flat: it only reflects, without or with distortions—distortions yielding the art which relies on the first reaction. Deep beauty is always sea-deep. This finishes us—this suffices, for the sea is the model and measure of all beauty. It would be no loss to take beauty as another name for the sea, beautiful for sea-like or sea-recalling. It is not that every beauty is first the sea's. Its waves' rhythm is not the origin of music. Its wave-jagged reflections are not the first images. Not everything is beautiful which comes from the sea, nor is everything made beautiful which goes into the sea. But the love of beauty is the same as the love of the sea. There is no love of or experience of beauty which does not begin in or come to sea—or at least, unknowing, to a space for the unmet sea. If beauty is the Creator's concern, the sea embodies it; if beauty is an adapted and adaptive instrument of life, the sea taught it. Æsthetics is not a subject for philosophical debate, sociobiological fantasy, or critical caviling or febrility. The sea is not the answer to every problem of æsthetics. But as there is a scientific method where the answer is not nature but the way to the answer is go to nature—so there is an æsthetic method: go to the sea.