Sleepless Night in the Procrustean Bed
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by Harlan Ellison
Description: Master essayist, gadfly, literary myth-figure and viewer of dark portent, Harlan Ellison has been, for the greater part of his life, a burr under the saddle of Complacency. His two books of TV criticism, The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat, are taught in more than 200 universities and colleges. In this, his former assistant and confidante, Marty Clark, has culled from hundreds of rare and unreprinted works twenty wide-ranging essays that demonstrate why the monstre sacre of imaginative literature won the prestigious Silver Pen award of P.E.N. International for his journalistic frays in 1982.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 1984
eBookwise Release Date: March 2009
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [348 KB]
Reading time: 200-280 min.
INTRODUCTION BY MARTY CLARK
For the serious Ellison reader, there are few tasks more difficult than staying current with his nonfiction output. Harlan's work appears all over the literary map, so that it is impossible to know where he will turn up next. This is also true of his fiction, but one can always count on the publication of a new fiction collection every few years to gather together those stories which one has missed. Until now, this has not been so of his essays. They have occasionally been included in other collections and, as with the four essays which appear in Harlan's short story collection Stalking the Nightmare (Phantasia Press, 1982), have received raves. Also much in demand are The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat (Ace, 1983) which collected the columns of television criticism which Harlan wrote over a period of four years in the Los Angeles Free Press. However, Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed marks the first time that a book has been devoted exclusively to the best of his general essays. The twenty reprinted here are from such disparate sources as Video Review, Heavy Metal and the Saint Louis Literary Supplement.
Credit for suggesting this collection of Harlan's nonfiction belongs to our publisher, Robert Reginald of Borgo Press, who approached Harlan with the opinion that "These Menckenisms deserve a permanent home; they've been undeservedly neglected by both readers and critics, who tend to focus on your more flamboyant short stories."
At the time this book was proposed I had spent over two years with Harlan in the enviable position of personal secretary, administrative officer of his professional corporation, and occasional grammarian. Modesty compels me to point out that the opportunity entrusted to me in assembling this book derived in large measure from being in the right place at the right time. In addition to that qualification, I brought to the task of editing these essays other qualities, among them familiarity with Harlan and his work, and a great enthusiasm for the idea of making the essays available to a larger audience. I am also probably the only person ever to read straight through the entire body of Harlan's nonfiction work (all twelve file drawers of it), a distinction which I do not expect to relinquish any time soon.
I was initially enthusiastic at the prospect of editing this collection of essays simply because I admired them and felt that they deserved to be read. It was only after I began research for the book that I came to appreciate how startlingly well-suited to Harlan's talents the essay form is. I suspect that Harlan himself is unaware of the degree to which his gifts match the requirements of the essay. In point of fact, if the form did not exist, Harlan would have had to invent it. Fortunately, this was not necessary.
In the judgment of scholars, the essay was invented by 16th-century French nobleman Michel de Montaigne. His two volumes titled Essais (meaning "attempts, experiments, endeavors") were the first to be identified as such, although of course "the word is late, though the thing be ancient." As with all literary forms, the roots of the essay stretch back to antiquity; Harlan is one of the ablest contemporary practitioners in a form favored by such honored writers as Swift and Emerson and Thoreau. Today he shares the form with columnists and commentators as diverse as William F. Buckley, Jr. and Ellen Goodman, Joan Didion and Sidney Harris, Shana Alexander and Tom Wolfe.
The 20th century has seen a broadening of the concept of the essay. Because of the huge circulation of periodicals (magazines such as Newsweek, Esquire, and the proliferating city magazines which publish essayists; newspapers which carry numerous syndicated columnists), the essay has become a major vehicle for the communication of ideas. Harlan is toiling in a literary form which is currently very popular, and therefore powerful.
As presently evolved, the essay is a short prose form which deals with a single subject. Although historically essays have ranged from the length of aphorisms to the extended essays of de Tocqueville, relative brevity characterizes modern essays. Harlan's range from a length of less than one thousand words to a maximum, in this collection, of 9400 words.
Although each essay addresses only one subject, over the years hundreds of subjects have been the target of Harlan's wandering reflections. He is conversant on nearly every subject one can think of, largely due to the fact that he is one of the most widely-read men alive. Harlan samples everything, and the input that can't be had from reading, his peripatetic mind seeks from judicious viewing of thirty channels of cable television, faithful attendance at film screenings, and constant association with colleagues and friends who are similarly well-informed. Topics for his typewriter are limited only by his interests, which is to say, not limited at all. This collection includes essays on topics from gun control ("Fear Not Your Enemies") to video dating ("True Love: Groping for the Holy Grail").
Many of Harlan's strengths as a writer are the salient characteristics of the essay form, in particular informality of structure, highly distinctive style, and a strong personal tone.