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Jack Dann

interviewed by Kilian Melloy


Jack Dann has been writing fiction of the most fantastic sort for years. His stories and novels delve into the murky folds and creases of life experience and root around, in the most gleeful Jubilee by Jack Dannspirit of curiosity, to feel out the strange and sometimes non-rational edges of whatever world lies behind the world we think we see and know. But Dann remains rooted in our consensual reality by merging his metaphysical meditations with sharp-eyed observation of human psychology. In The Silent, for instance, his young narrator wanders through an almost mystical battle-ravaged South as the Civil War rages; he follows a spectral dog. It's an eerie tale, one told in retrospect by the narrator, who has been left mute by the trauma of his experiences. In The Memory Cathedral, Dann imagines that some of Leonardo De Vinci's flying machines actually worked, and takes good advantage of the actual possibility that Da Vinci may have spent some time as a military engineer in the employ of an Arabian noble; against that "secret history" are moments of spiritual mystery as Da Vinci finds his own psyche becoming a battle ground between the pure beauty of reason and the primal emotions that drive war and lust. In Dann's latest work, the new novel The Rebel: An Imagined Life of James Dean, the theme of memory is explored anew, this time in an alternate history where Dean is not killed in the car crash that took place in the mid-1950s, but instead survives to become a witness, and a prime mover, of the turbulent 1960s.

Aside from his novels, Dann is the author of numerous short stories. Last year saw the publication of two volumes of his collected shorter works, Visitations and the larger, more comprehensive Jubilee.

Jack Dann corresponded from Australia with infinity plus recently, in a chat about his short stories, the thematic connections between his novels, and this profound, unsettling mystery we call life.

The interview

Kilian Melloy: What took you to Australia? Are you an artistic exile or expatriate in some sense, or is it more a matter of that's how life worked out (you married an Aussie, maybe?).

Jack Dann: Ah, got it in one! Yes, I married an Australian, critic and author Janeen Webb. Met her at a conference in San Francisco. Three months later I had moved to Melbourne. Love at first sight. Never looked back. All that. So, yes, in a sense, it is more a matter of how life worked out, but being an expatriate is another transformation; it changes you profoundly. You become the quintessential outsider. You feel like a stranger everywhere, even in your home town, yet you are comfortable everywhere. An odd mix, but a good one for a writer, I think. Since I've been living in Australia (over ten years now), I've been writing about America. Distance seems to give a certain perspective.

Kilian Melloy: The Silent seems to transcend genre (much of your work does, really) in that it is an examination of a dark and troubled corner of human existence; the work seems highly metaphorical, and brings to mind works like Moby Dick in its level of sophistication. Was this what you planned on when setting out to write The Silent?

Jack Dann: I've thought of my work, certainly my more recent stories and novels, as crossing genres. I've been writing essentially mainstream stories that use genre tropes, and in certain instances, even the tropes get left behind, as in my road novel Counting Coup (titled Bad Medicine in the Australian edition). But I consider Counting Coup to be a work of magical realism, and I believe that Americans have developed a down-home form of magical realism, which isn't particularly influenced by the South American literature. The Silent could be considered a work of magical realism, but I wrote it as a psychological study of a boy caught up in the horror of war. Like Jerzy Kosinski's protagonist in The Painted Bird, my character Mundy McDowell translates the terrible reality of what he sees into a magical reality that he can make some sense of. In the opening chapter, he witnesses the murder of both his parents and the torching of the family home. He bears his own survivor guilt, and believes that the only way he could have possibly survived was by being...invisible. He sees a dog -- an apparition of the legendary ghost dog, which is part of Civil War folklore -- and he follows the apparition. He becomes, in effect, a ghost: mute, invisible...protected.

Ah, writers cannot just answer a simple question, can they? Well, possibly not this writer. Okay, did I set out to write a metaphorical work of fiction? 

Truth to tell, no. 

I believe that it's the author's job to describe the surface action, to describe as precisely and with as much detail as needed exactly what is going on. The reader should be able to see, hear, and smell a story. A novel is essentially collaborative, in that the reader re-imagines and translates what the author has written. I believe the author's job is to facilitate, to conduct that re-imagining; and, to my mind, good fiction works through the author's handling of time and transition and the detail of description and action. As I often tell young writers, if you've done the research, if you know the characters and place absolutely cold, if you can describe what's going on on the surface, then -- if you have the juice, if you're writing material that speaks to you -- then the shadows might just be revealed. Then the work might have depth, coruscation, and perhaps true brilliance. Then the story might work symbolically and on all the levels of metaphor. But it's not the author's job to worry about that. It's enough to try to describe what's going on, line by line.

For me, writing is an act of ridiculous ego and profound humility. That I can believe my stories will speak to the world is an act of hubris (but if I didn't believe it on some level, I would never put pen to paper). Yet when I sit down to write, I feel humbled by the enormity of the task... to try to enter the great conversation, to speak across time. And with every word I realize that most everything anyone writes will disappear into remainder racks, into the dead shelves of library basements and fifty-cent Sunday sales, to end up moldering in attics and basements. (And that's being optimistic!)

But there is always the chance that we will speak to our generation... that someone out there will hear us.

And somehow that makes it worth it all. That someone out there will be touched by the symbolism and metaphor...

Kilian Melloy: You mention your road trip novel Counting Coup, which is perhaps my favorite of your novels. As you put it, Counting Coup is about two men out to show the world (and themselves) that they still -- as Charlie puts it -- have the "juice", the "jizzum," and they ain't dead quite yet! But in the course of their adventures they break an awful lot of laws and do an alarming amount of damage to other people's property. Is this an example of the Trickster spirit at work? Should we honor and tolerate that spirit of anarchy and chaos more than we do -- would we be a better society for it if we did? In brief, are you saying that bad behavior can be good medicine?

Jack Dann: That's an interesting question, one I didn't consider when I wrote Counting Coup. Can bad behavior be good medicine? Perhaps ... perhaps. John and Charlie, my main characters, are two old men out to prove that they're still vital, that they're still "young," even though they're old men; and the job of youth, it seems to me, is to explore, confront the status quo, and try to work out new patterns of being in the world. That's what my characters try to do. Their quest is futile and doomed, yet in a more profound sense, although their wild spiritual binge brings death and destruction, it also brings healing and reconciliation. So, yes, I guess I'm saying that we should tolerate the wild and unpredictable, lest we all end up wearing double-breasted suits and voting Republican. <Grin>

Kilian Melloy: You mentioned in your afterword to Counting Coup that the story was inspired by things that occurred in your own life -- at the time you were writing the afterword, those things were too personal for you to want to share them. How about now? Are you comfortable talking about the things that went into that book directly from your own experience?

Jack Dann: Actually, I shared quite a bit of my personal history in the afterword. A lot of that book comes out of my personal experience. But my personal history is personal, and I leave it to my readers to guess which parts are John and Charlie, and which are John and Charlie and Jack.

Kilian Melloy: Taking a broader view of your works, it seems that in your longer form work you return again and again to an element of the fantastic that can only be called spiritual in nature -- though you like to approach that spiritual element from different cultural perspectives. You have spirits and magical realism and a kind of magical warfare going on in Counting Coup; you have a fascinating case of possession (love as an image that can take one over) in The Memory Cathedral; and there is the ghost dog you had referred to previously in The Silent. What draws you to this aspect of the fantastic as opposed to, say, aliens with ray guns and flying saucers?

Jack Dann: I think I'm drawn to the fantastic elements of "the lived life," if that makes any sense. Much of my work is closer in texture to magical realism than science fiction or traditional fantasy, perhaps because my interest is to use the fantastic to illuminate what might laughingly be called real life. Of course, science fiction and fantasy can do this with a vengeance; but I often use fantastic tropes to thicken and expand and (to use that word again) illuminate what are essentially mainstream stories. I think that can be easily sighted in Counting Coup and The Silent. In my latest novel The Rebel: an Imagined Life of James Dean, my concerns are outside of what we commonly think of as genre fiction, yet it is definitely and absolutely alternate history. But it is alternate history in the same sense as Ada by Vladimar Nabakov.

I might also mention that the case of possession in The Memory Cathedral was based on an actual exorcism. I often find that what appear to be the most fantastical episodes of my novels are actually taken from real accounts. 

Kilian Melloy: Let's talk a bit more about The Memory Cathedral before addressing The Rebel. Would you The Memory Cathedral by Jack Danncharacterize The Memory Cathedral as a work of alternate history? Certainly, there are stretches of time in Da Vinci's life when he might have gone off to the East and been of some service to the Arabian Devatdar, as you mention in the books notes, but it does seem unlikely, in our reality anyway, that Da Vinci put his ideas for flying machines to use in a war against the Turks.

Jack Dann: It was Leonardo's great dream to be a military engineer, and he did work for the Borgias as an engineer later in life. But did he put his ideas for flying machines to use in a war against the Turks? Well ... let me say, not that we know of. I took advantage of a few cracks in known history. I based the idea of Leonardo being in Syria on letters Leonardo wrote to the Devatdar of Syria ostensibly when he, Leonardo, was in the Middle East. Most historians don't take these letters seriously and shrug them off as tall tales and fables.

But Jean Paul Richter, who compiled the definitive two volume set, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, wrote: "We have no information as to Leonardo's history between 1482 and 1486; it cannot be proved that he was either in Milan or in Florence. On the other hand the tenor of this letter (the letter to the Devatdar) does not require us to assume a longer absence than a year or two. For, even if his appointment as Engineer in Syria had been a permanent one, it might have become untenable -- by the death of perhaps the Devatdar, his patron, or by his removal from office -- and Leonardo on his return home may have kept silence on the subject of an episode which probably had ended in failure and disappointment."

So I extrapolated, wriggled around in the cracks of history, and put Leonardo in a position to be of use to the sultan of Egypt in a small war that wasn't recorded in the history books. I wanted to see what Leonardo would do if he could actually bring his inventions to life. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Leonardo might have been employed by the sultan, if, indeed, he were really in the region. He tried to convince Lodovico Sforza, ruler of Milan, to take him on as a military engineer. Most of Leonardo's inventions would have worked.

So is this alternate history? I think I am probably picking the nits here, but I would think it is secret history, the history that could have been, but we don't -- or can't know -- if it had been. I excerpted a story from The Memory Cathedral, which I reworked and [to which I] added 5,000 words of new material. It was titled "Da Vinci Rising," and Gardner Dozois bought it for Asimov's Science Fiction. In that story I have Leonardo's flying machine affecting Florentine history, changing history. To my mind "Da Vinci Rising" would be alternative history. Something different from the secret history of The Memory Cathedral.

Kilian Melloy: Which brings me to the next question. In the afterword to your collection of stories Jubilee, you mention that the idea for writing about Da Vinci arrived in the form of a visual idea -- while reading about Da Vinci, you say, you imagined "a squadron of high-Gothic looking airplanes flying over Renaissance Florence." That's an irresistible image, to be sure! What happened along the way to writing the book -- why did the airplanes turn into gliders and the actually flying take place in Arabia?

Jack Dann: Yes, that was a wonderful, hallucinatory image, and it was the engine of the novel ... yet no Gothic looking airplanes ever fly over Florence in The Memory Cathedral. Why? It's difficult to say, difficult to see into one's own creative process. I started writing the story, and wrote myself away from that central image. I could say -- and it feels psychologically correct, albeit a bit superstitious -- that the characters drew me away from that central image for their own purposes. Writers seem to imbue their characters with a kind of numinous life that spills off the page, or at least this writer does. The airplanes turned into gliders because as I researched Leonardo's thoughts and attempt at flight, I discovered that he had done a series of sketches, which can be found in the Codex Atlanticus, that experts agree to be the first European conception of gliding flight. I wanted to keep Leonardo's flying machine as simple as possible. Rather than create a science fictional fix for the ornithopter, I opted to extrapolate the idea of a fixed wing glider, which Lawrence Hargrave explored centuries later. However, I did get to have my cake and eat it! I managed to get the flying machine in the air over Florence in my story "Da Vinci Rising."

Kilian Melloy: Perhaps this is dipping back into the topic of the fantastic elements that crop up in real life, but throughout The Memory Cathedral it seems that Da Vinci is wrestling with the problem of living mentally in a Platonic world of form and idea, while physically occupying space in a rough and sometimes ugly human world where blood is spilled and character assassination is routine. That disparity of living in both an ideal, mathematical world, and a vicious world of politics and competition, and trying to reconcile that disparity, seems to be the driving engine of The Memory Cathedral.

Jack Dann: Yes, exactly. A good metaphor for the Italian Renaissance itself.

Kilian Melloy: At times, Da Vinci's ability to live in that abstract and perfect world of form seems akin to a religious ecstasy -- I love the passage in which, and allow me to quote, "He memorized the faces of those around him, as if they were caught in the instant forever, a painting without brush or pigment; this, this was the moment of art, the choking second before pain and grief, the vibrating, shimmering opening up, as if one could see from every angle, every perspective, through every eye." And this is while he stands in the midst of a frenzied crowd!

There are other episodes, too, where ugly physical reality seems to drive Da Vinci higher into a transcendent state of some sort, rather than pluck him down from the realm of the eidos and Platonic forms. There are moments in pitched battle when he is killing and at risk of being killed when he seems to be both partaking of human brutality and divine placidness all at once; there are a few moments of sexual near-violence when he's grasping for something sublime and tantalizing; it's as though moments of extreme passion are just as useful as deeply still meditation for approaching the numinous and eternal. Do you see these episodes as defining a disparity, or perhaps as reconciling seemingly opposite sides of human nature?

Jack Dann: When I was doing research for my novel Counting Coup, I spent a year with traditional Native Americans -- Sioux people -- and I participated in physically demanding religious ceremonies that pushed me to the edges of consciousness. I found myself experiencing moments of what seemed like extreme clarity, of double-vision in a larger sense, if you like. I was experiencing something that was non-rational and which, I discovered later, was a shared hallucination. On one level I understood I was hallucinating, but on another level I believed that what I was seeing was somehow real ... sublime.

I believe that heightened experience of whatever form translates, sometimes automatically, into what can be experienced as the sublime. I probably haven't answered your question. But I believe that passion, whether it be violent or still, is the very core of art. Passion and violence and the sublime defines Leonardo and his age. Perhaps all ages.

Kilian Melloy: You write in an introduction to one of your books about being gravely ill in your 20s and almost perishing -- in fact, you say that in a sense, you feel that you did perish, and then came back into this life. Does that experience color your writing and is that where you get the blend of physical passion and spiritual striving that shows up in Counting Coup and The Memory Cathedral?

Jack Dann: Yes, my experience in hospital, which is probably best depicted in my story "Camps," was one of the defining experience of my life. It was in the stranglehold of great pain that I would focus my attention like a laser beam upon the mundane objects in the room until everything would seem to glow with its own 'thingness.' Plato sneaking out of the dark cave. I believe that I learned to live then with a minute-by-minute intensity, something I haven't lost (for better or for worse) in the thirty-five years since I stared down death in that hospital room in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Kilian Melloy: While we're on that topic, there are at least two short stories that reflect your stay in the hospital and reference the "blue land" you mention having hallucinated; in one, the main character dies, going off with several ghosts attending his sick-bed; in another, the young man survives, but has had some sort of experience in which he projected himself into one of the Holocaust's concentration camps. Are these twists a way of explaining or clarifying for yourself the sense of transformation you imply you brought with you after being so ill?

Jack Dann: Yes, I wrote "Visitors" and "Camps" as a way of working through my experience of being so close to death. Transformation is a theme that works through my stories and novels, and, indeed, it probably stems from my time in that terminal ward. Another theme in my work, a minor theme, perhaps, is that of "testifying" to the Holocaust, even by writers such as myself who didn't experience it directly. To misquote Santayana: "Those who forget the past are forced to repeat it."

Kilian Melloy: Some of your shorter fiction delves into territory that is more recognizably speculative, or even (I mean this in the best sense) pulpy -- like the wonderful story "The Diamond Pit" that appeared in last year's collection Jubilee, or the story about the "seelie" and the "unseelie" (Celtic supernatural entities), "Fairy Tale," in the same book -- outrageous fun, not at all credible, but a real hoot! What are you going for in stories of those sorts?

Jack Dann: "Fairy Tale," which I wrote in 1981, was written as an exercise -- to see if I could write humor. I enjoyed the hell out of writing it, and to my amazement, it was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Go figure. "The Diamond Pit" was a homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer I admired as I made my bones as a writer. I read his brilliant (and pulpy) story "The Diamond As Big As the Ritz," and the image of the richest man in the world who lived on top of a mountain of diamond stayed with me through the years. I finally indulged myself and wrote "The Diamond Pit," extrapolating Fitzgerald's story. I used his style, and, yes, it was pulp fiction; and, again, great fun.

Kilian Melloy: Another characteristic of some of your shorter work is that they take the reader to some very disturbing, challenging places. In Jubilee there are two stories in particular that I found to be both fascinating and sinister -- both "A Quiet Revolution for Death" and "Blind Shemmy" were full of sex, death, revelry, and civilized, ritualized forms of violence. Are you warning us here about what the right wing likes to call "the culture of death?" Or perhaps are you meditating on something more universal and elemental to the human psyche?

Jack Dann: Yes ... and yes. "A Quiet Revolution For Death" is about the culture of death, and it is simply an SF update of the medieval fascination with death. In the Middle Ages, people picnicked in cemeteries and held revels, as revealed, if that's a proper way to put it, in my story. It's about ancient truths that we've perhaps forgotten. "Blind Shemmy" is a story that I cut out of my novel The Man Who Melted, and it, too, is about the universal obsession with death ... or perhaps just my obsession, an old obsession. I find as the years go by, as I approach that dark horizon, that I'm becoming obsessed with life, living so goddamn hard and fast that not a moment is wasted.

Kilian Melloy: Some (no doubt cynical) people have suggested that James Dean dying when he did is what gave him such status as an icon of film. Obviously, in your book, you disagree. If not the timing of his demise, what was it that made Dean so extraordinary and such a legend?

Jack Dann: Dean was obsessed with death, and said something like "Live fast, die young, and leave a good corpse." Dean and Monroe ... they died young and became instant icons. But there was something more. They both were absolutely radiant on the screen. The camera somehow concentrated, magnified, and embraced their particular charisma. Dean starred in only three major films -- Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden, and Giant. If you get a chance to see them again on the big screen, you'll see what I mean. The films might have dated, but Dean is charisma itself, absolutely compelling. The same is true of Monroe's best films. Icons of youth and beauty and yearning. Had they lived, I believe they would have lost their iconic stature. They would have remained famous, perhaps, as Marlon Brando did.

Kilian Melloy: What caused you to make James Dean the point man for another avenue for the 1960s to unfold?

Jack Dann: Dean was an overwhelming icon of the The Rebel by Jack Dann1950's. I felt compelled to resurrect him as the drunken god/guide of the 1960's.

Kilian Melloy: In The Memory Cathedral, you meditated on St. Augustine's idea that the past and present could be contained in the present moment and even could be glimpsed by the spiritually enlightened. In The Rebel you seem to take this one step further: you seem to be peering into the moment so deeply as to see what might have been. Did The Rebel grow, in some way, out of the process of writing The Memory Cathedral?

Jack Dann: I think the techniques that I used to write and extrapolate The Rebel grew out of my wrestlings with The Memory Cathedral. Both novels are, of course, about memory. In The Rebel, many of the memories are personal, my own, and I can't help but think of the novel as my autobiography of the 60's.

Kilian Melloy: There are definite traces of that earlier book here, in the way Marilyn Monroe constructs a "memory garden" and in how James Dean, like Leonard Da Vinci, struggles with the persistent, cutting edges of his early memories: grief and loss torment him throughout the book. Were both books meant from the outset to be mediations on the power of memory and the paradox of wanting to remember (and thus preserve) one's life, versus the need to be shielded from memories of loss and pain?

Jack Dann: I think most writers are unconsciously working through their own powerful, personal, overarching themes. Mine are memory, the nature of time, etc. Not unusual, as they are overarching human themes. Novels, for me, reveal themselves through my research, and I suppose I then assemble the parts in the unconscious darkness. Marilyn actually had a memory garden, if my memory serves. I am obsessed with memory, with how we construct or rather reconstruct our past and our present by what we remember and how we remember it. We are our own constructions in large part, and that fascinates me. When I wrote my autobiography for Contemporary Authors, I titled it "A Few Sparks In the Dark," because I imagine that memory is our construction of those few numinal bits that shine in the darkness of recollection. We transform and polish those bits until we don't really know what they were originally.

Kilian Melloy: All the women in The Rebel have real problems with self-esteem; from what little I know of Marilyn Monroe, she really did have psychiatric problems. In your book, it's left somewhat ambiguous as to whether, in the story, Monroe was a victim of a murderous, shadowy conspiracy, or simply succumbed to her own self-destructive impulses. What seems most likely to you to be the real story there?

Jack Dann: I purposely left Marilyn's death ambiguous. I had a brief discussion about Marilyn with Anthony Summers, author of Goddess: the Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe and The Kennedy Conspiracy. Summers believed that Monroe was murdered. So do I, and I do indicate the possible perpetrators in the novel. I also had a discussion with my friend Dr. Michael Engleberg, whose father was Marilyn's physician. Michael believes Marilyn committed suicide. So there you go. What is important in the novel, however, is that Jimmy can't know for sure whether Marilyn was murdered and by whom, and his relationship with RFK must transcend his doubts.

Kilian Melloy: James Dean, and Elvis also, are just as insecure and fearful as Monroe and as Pier, the character Dean ends up marrying in your imagined life for him. Was Dean as easy to manipulate and as given to bouts of fear and -- is it depression? -- as you depict him? Are these qualities that you would say are prevalent in performers, or in people who seek fame?

Jack Dann: I don't know if Dean -- the Dean in my novel -- was that easy to manipulate. He allows certain people to manipulate him, but he is a manipulator himself, and thus always has his own manipulative agenda. From my reading of biographies about Dean, yes, he was given to bouts of fear and depression. I tried to depict all my characters as accurately as possible. I did a lot of research, I researched until I could hear their voices. It's the way I work. I trained as a method actor, and that's the way I write. I don't know if Dean's qualities are prevalent in performers or people who seek fame. I think it just depends on the individual. For every depressive, you can probably find an actor, such as Paul Newman, who is very well adjusted.

Kilian Melloy: You point out in The Rebel that James Dean and Marilyn Monroe were able to "turn it on," to light up and become charismatic -- to become stars, in a word -- at will, despite their inner turmoil. If performers do tend to be people who suffer inner demons, is that ability to "turn it on" a survival mechanism or an adaptation of some kind? Is it a form of schizophrenia? Or are you actually hinting, as you seem to in the book, that there is something spiritually otherworldly about people like James Dean, Elvis Presley, and other great stars?

Jack Dann: Dean and Monroe and Presley were light bulbs, able to turn on their powerful charisma at will. I know people who have ... charisma, who can electrify a room, and it remains a mysterious phenomenon to me. I don't think it is a form of schizophrenia. Does it come from insecurity? Perhaps, but I feel ill at ease trying to generalize.

Kilian Melloy: This book seems, as much as anything, to be your love letter to the 60s. Given that it's now somewhat fashionable to blame the 1960s for various present-day social ills and to view that decade with distaste, are you answering back to that sentiment here?

Jack Dann: No, none of that. I wrote the novel to try to understand the decade and, on a very personal level, to work through how those events had effected and changed me.

Kilian Melloy: Without meaning to give anything away, may I ask whether you ended the novel as you did as a way of re-imagining the outcome of the 1960s, and even in some sense -- imaginary or maybe trying to evoke something from that time for us to make use of now -- restoring some of the positive things from those years?

Jack Dann: As dark as this novel is, or might seem, it really is optimistic. And in that way, it reflects the generation. I think the message of the 1960's was positive, the idea that youth and the disenfranchised could make a difference.

Kilian Melloy: In The Rebel, there's some indication that James Dean was receptive to the sexual attentions of other men. Was he bisexual? Was he in such need of affection that it didn't matter where it came from? Is this part of the character in the book based on any evidence that the real James Dean might have been involved with other men?

Jack Dann: Yes, Dean was bisexual. When asked about his bisexuality, his famous response was "I won't live my life with one hand tied behind my back." Dean was involved with other men, and I don't know if he was in such great need for affection that he didn't care where it came from or whether he was simply sexually polymorphous. I wrote a novella called "Dharma Bums," which is an outtake from The Rebel. It's the story of Dean and Kerouac's trip to Tangiers to help William Burroughs rewrite Naked Lunch. "Dharma Bums" is alternate reality fiction, but Kerouac, who was also bisexual, was aggressively anti-gay. In this story, they rationalize that they are not gay ... and then have sex. It's reasoning 1950's style.

Kilian Melloy: You have James Dean quoting Greek playwrights. Was Dean something of a classicist?

Jack Dann: I think Dean was enthralled with the idea of literature. He was probably not a deep reader or a deep thinker, but he was an enthusiast.

Kilian Melloy: Finally... for my own edification... how do you go about creating a memory cathedral? I'd heard of this before, and tried it, but I can't ever remember the mnemonics that are supposed to help you store and retrieve information! Is this something you yourself make use of?

Jack Dann: I would recommend reading The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci by Jonathan D. Spence. It's a great overview of the idea. For a look into the general subject of mnemonics, try The Art of Memory, by Francis Yates. It is difficult to get a full picture of the earlier mnemonic systems, as much of it is coded; vital information was passed on from teacher to student. As for me, I've tried various mnemonic systems -- with little result. But this probably reflects on me rather than the techniques! I do use techniques such as lucid dreaming (not a memory system), but, alas, I don't have my own memory cathedral ... as yet.

© Kilian Melloy 2004.

The Rebel by Jack Dann

Jack Dann's The Rebel is published by William Morrow (July 2004, ISBN: 0380978393).

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