“I hear you're writing pornography now."
Thus spake one of the acquaintances of Philip José Farmer recently. The question seems simple and straight-forward. It was, obviously, asked by a man who honestly felt he could define his own terms, and probably that the terms he used were so self-evident that they didn't need defining.
There is a vast number of honestly simple-minded people who can, without hesitation, define pornography science fiction God communism right freedom evil honorable peace liberty obscenity law and order love and think, and act, and legislate, and sometimes burn, jail, and kill on the basis of their definitions. These are the Labellers, and they are without exception the most lethal and destructive force ever faced by any species on this or any other planet, and I shall tell you clearly and simply why.
Simple truth is hard to come by. Virtually everything which looks like the truth is subject to question and modification. "Water runs downhill." At what temperature? Where—in an Apollo capsule, for example, or in the input end of a siphon? "Skirts are for girls." Would you like to face up to a battalion of the kilted Black Watch or a company of the hardbitten Greek evzones?(They even have lace on their skirts.) "E=MC2," said that burnished deity of the relative, Albert Einstein, "may after all be a local phenomenon."
The lethal destructiveness inherent in Labelling lies in the fact that the Labeller, without exception, overlooks the most basic of all characteristic of everything in the universe—passage: that is to say, flux and change.
If he stops and thinks (which is not his habit) the Labeller must concede that rocks change, and mountains; that the planets change, and the stars, and that they have not stopped because of the purely local and most minor phenomenon that he happens to be placing a Label on in this place at this point in time.
Passage is more evident in what we call life than in any other area. It is not enough to say that living things change; one must go further and say that life is
That which does not change is abhorrent to the most basic laws of the universe; that which does not change is not alive; and in the presence of that which does not change, life cannot exist. This is why the Labeller is lethal. He is the dead hand. His' is the command, Stop! He is death's friend, life's enemy. He does not want, he cannot face, things as they really are—moving, flowing, changing; he wants them to stop.
I think it's because of a perfectly normal desire for security. He wants to feel safe. He does not know that he has mistaken stasis for stability. If only everything would stop, if only today and tomorrow would be just like yesterday (he never looks really carefully at yesterday, you understand, so he thinks everything was motionless and peaceful and law-abiding yesterday, which of course it wasn't) he could really feel safe. He doesn't realize that he has become anti-life and pro-death - that what he is actually about is a form of suicide, for himself and for his species. He doesn't realize that in the sanctuary of the church of his choice, any given Sunday (or Saturday) morning, he will see respectable matrons dressed in clothes which would have been forbidden, not only on the streets, but on the beaches, within the memory of the older parishioners. He has forgotten that it was only a few short years ago that something close to cultural shock swept through our species because Clark Gable, as Rhett Butler, said
"Damn" in a movie. He overlooks all evidence, all truth, and he Labels; and he is absolutely deadly, so
watch out for him.
Philip José Farmer is a superb writer and in every sense a good man, who seems to have been born with the knowledge that the truth—the real truth—is to be sought with the devotion of those who sought the Holy Grail, and to be faced openly, even when it turned out to be something that he and the rest of us would much rather it wasn't. Ever since (in 1952) he exploded into science fiction with an extraordinary novelette called The Lovers, he has continued to call it what it is, show it as he finds it. The book you hold in your hands is a perfect case in point. The Labellers will be gone from here long about page 5, crying "Stop!" (A word which of all words is most against God.) A handful of poor tilted souls, whom the Labellers have frustrated and perverted, will drool wetly all the way through, skipping all the living connective tissue and getting their jollies out of context.
(Some of these will thereafter destructively Label the book, to Stop anyone else from getting any.) The rest of you will take these pages for what they are: truths (for many of these things are truly within us all, whether you find that a pleasant truth or not) and the seeking for truth; the symbols and analogs of truth and of the quest for truth—and a hell of a good story.
After I had read The Image of the Beast
, and before I wrote these comments, I called Phil Farmer for
one clarification. In all my reading and researching, and in all my hardly impoverished imaginings, I have never run across an image like the one concerning "the most beautiful woman in the world" and the long, glistening thing, with a golf-ball-sized head complete with a face and a little beard, which emerged from her womb and entered her throat. Aside from the amazement and shock which it evokes, it filled me with wonder, for it is unique, and was, to me, without literary or psychopathological referents. They are, he tells me, Joan of Arc and the famous/infamous Gilles de Rais (which in itself is an odd coupling!), and he went on to tell me that they are part of a far larger symbolic structure, to be elucidated in two more books. This is why IMAGE
has the subtitle-note An exorcism: Ritual I. Therefore, like everything else Farmer has written, IMAGE
That is to say, like all of Aesop and a lot of Shakespeare, the story is larger than the narrative—the play
means more than the events described. Calculated discomfort is a well-known path to truth. The lotus position is at first an agony. A fast of forty days and nights is only for the dedicated, and while it might lead to a meeting with Satan, it is recorded somewhere that Satan can thereupon be defeated. I take Farmer's structured shock accordingly, and go with it, and eagerly await the completion of his pattern.
For you can't keep a good man down, friends and Labellers—neither his goodness nor his manhood.