Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Another thing that's been keeping me from the blog was the fact that I got a sneak preview of Catherynne M. Valente's Descent, a series of long-form poems dealing with various "Descent-Into-The-Netherworld" legends, which are coming out in separate hardcover limited editions (awwww!) and will subsequently be collected in a paperback edition (yaaaay!). Someone, somewhere, for some strange reason gave the editor the impression that I might be interested in this. I can't think why. (Heh. Thanks, Cheryl!)

Anyhoo, Erzebet Yellowboy at Papaveria got in touch to see if I fancied a sneaky peek at the first in the series, a retelling of the Sumerian story of "The Descent of Inanna" to which, of course, I said YES! LET ME SEE IT NOW! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE! And I can happily say that I can highly recommend it. Valente's version is rich as the earth; you can smell the dirt under the fingernails, taste the rotting leaves in the mouth. And as someone who's pretty familiar with the source text (though not, I hasten to add, in the original all-but-impossible-to-learn Sumerian), I love the way she's balanced faithfulness against her original perspective, making the "right" changes, to my mind, and avoiding the "wrong" ones. She's updated the poetic technique, and "translated" the ancient ritualistic (and highly repetitious) poem into an idiom that makes sense to a modern reader, without trivialising, without exchanging the strange, rotted flavour of the original for too-contemporary banalities. Maybe it's just my own interests and attitudes coming to the fore here, but she seems to me to be doing something similar to what I try to do. Which is to say, a straight word-for-word translation from a text this old can't read the same way to a modern audience as it would to the audience of the day; the context is too different. But retelling these texts as fantasy stories (as has been done with Gilgamesh by various writers, say) often renders them prosaic, loses some of the ritual and rhetorical quality of the text, and can be less than faithful to the mythic strangeness. Anyway, I tend to want to find the balance between those camps when I'm doing some weird-ass palimpsest of Prometheus Bound (for example), and I think this is something Valente's achieved with her Inanna.

If I was a limited edition book collecter type, I'd snap up one of the hardcovers. As it is, I'm sorely tempted, but for the fact that they're really *really* limited and I'm a bit scared to ask how much. I definitely fancy one of the collected paperbacks when it's available though, as I'm keen to see what she does with the other "descents" that she's tackling.


Anonymous Jay Tomio said...

Will definitely look forward to this. I have become somewhat of a Catherynne M. Valente fan last year, and this sounds terrific.

11:31 am  
Anonymous Jay Tomio said...

Shit! I need to check my email more often! I got this preview to!

12:00 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Ah... and I just sent an email to Erzebet suggesting you might well like to see it. Oh well.

12:32 pm  
Anonymous Jay Tomio said...

Thanks for looking out regardless!

12:12 pm  

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