SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (24)

By: Ran Xia
September 19, 2021

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite unfinished masterworks, legendary obscurities and cherished almost-weres.

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LORD BYRON’S FRAGMENT

I can never accomplish anything in the summer.

How could I? The heat smothers all the creative pores — if only I was somewhere else, somewhere idyllic and soul-affirming…New Mexico, for instance:

Santa Fe, elevation 7,199’, high wind, the chimes at my Airbnb ring out in pleasant cacophonies by daylight — the howling can get a bit menacing at night. It’s not exactly a vacation, as much as a self-guided writing retreat; after more than a year of looking at only my bedroom walls, I was longing for anything else at all. So here I am, sitting at the dining table for 8+ hours a day, swigging on my 5th cup of coffee (of the morning), typing away on the keyboard…

To be honest, the lifestyle of a writer is ultimately quite similar to that of a vampire: we are vain, we’re hopeless in outdoorsy situations, and would rather “rage against the dying of the light” in a literary way than confronting any actual storm. So in true Byronic fashion, I’m taking pride in my two permanent dark circles and lack of enthusiasm for sightseeing — we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, an additional excuse for me to stay put. It does make me pause to think about George though: George and his gang of geniuses, and their particularly generative summer of 1816 at Lake Geneva.

April 1815, a volcano erupted in Sumbawa; a year later, across Europe and North America folks were getting sick of the “incessant rain” of that “wet, ungenial summer.” Lord Byron rents Villa Diodati for 6 months straight (because that’s what you do when you’re a lord and you want to get away from paparazzi who only want to ask about your marriage problems and your affairs with your half-sister). Anyway in June, the weather was particularly dreadful, so the Byron gang turned to fantasy novels during their quarantinelity time.

And then they started writing their own. A summer of cold, and storms, and darkness — rather ideal for the birth of goth fantasies, don’t you think? Mary went on to produce Frankenstein, and turned out to be the most influential of them all — but back then she was still the 19-year-old girl trying to make her mark in a dude’s world, with a romantic poet for a husband and a major fuckboy for a group leader. But here we turn instead to George’s fragment (“Fragment of a Novel” (1816), or, “A Fragment”, or “The Burial: A Fragment”).

“A Fragment,” indeed, was not the first time Byron revealed his interest in vampirism. Back in 1813, he wrote of them in The Giaour: A Fragment of a Turkish Tale (lines 757-768). Except George, being George, denied it completely. In April 1819, he wrote in a letter, “I have besides a personal dislike to ‘Vampires,’ and the little acquaintance I have with them would by no means induce me to reveal their secrets.”

That letter was, of course, probably a reaction to what happened on April 1, 1819, when the novella titled The Vampyre was published, with the attribution “A Tale by Lord Byron,” which was false, since his personal physician John William Polidori wrote the thing and based the main character on Byron himself.

Whatever his view on vampires and vampirism truly was, Lord Byron’s name (and fashionably-starved pallor, and perhaps even his death, now thought to have been hastened by doctors’ bloodletting) would forever be bound with the origin of that particular subgenre of horror, in which vampires could be characters that we lust over as much as fear, giving the world the charismatic aristocratic fiend as a prominent member of the modern horror canon — otherwise we’d only be chewing on the bones of Nosferatu instead of dressing up as the glamorous Dracula on Halloween, or writing fan fictions about a particularly sparkly boy.

At the end of Lord Byron’s “Fragment,” the narrator buries the elderly Augustus Darvell, heeding his command to conceal his death from every human being. It was still dark, and gloomy, and the storm was raging on, so the trendsetting fragment ended there, quite abruptly — but it did start something new.

You’re never meant to finish anything in the summer anyway — and here I still am, sitting in the same spot in sunny Santa Fe, hoping that I’ll be starting something brand new as well. I might even try to finish it.

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SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: SERIES INTRODUCTION by Adam McGovern | Luc Sante on WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | Peggy Nelson on THE CURSE OF QUIXOTE | Adrienne Crew on POOR DEVIL | Bishakh Som on KATE BUSH BOOTLEGS | Douglas Wolk on BIG NUMBERS #3 | Devin McKinney on THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA | Mandy Keifetz on BACKFIRE | Heather Quinlan on TRANSITIONAL DISNEY | Michael Grasso on STEELY DAN’S 2nd ARRANGEMENT | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on THE GREAT MOVIE RIDE | Josh Glenn on LE HIBOU PHILOSOPHE | Lynn Peril on 70, GIRLS, 70 | Ron Wimberly on SHIRATO SANPEI | Holly Interlandi on LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT |Stan Chou on TYRAEL’S MIGHT | Nikhil Singh on JOURNEY TO IXTLAN | Brian Lozano on BLOWN BANNER | Adam McGovern on THE LEON SUITES | Sajan Saini on BRISCO COUNTY | Heather Kapplow on LORD OF LIGHT | Greg Rowland on SOLARNAUTS | Christopher-Rashee Stevenson on FLEDGLING | Crystal Durant on TURN-ON | Ran Xia on BYRON’S FRAGMENT | Carolyn Raship on BURNT BRONTË.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2021): TIME | THE POST OFFICE | ARDUIN | PAGE EDGES | SUMMATIONS | & 20 other nerdy passions. SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2021): WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | 70, GIRLS, 70 | TYRAEL’S MIGHT | SHIRATO SANPEI | THE LEON SUITES | & 20 other never-realized cultural productions. FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2021): DARK SHADOWS | MANNIX | GET SMART | THE ADDAMS FAMILY | I DREAM OF JEANNIE | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) TV shows. FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): STEVEN UNIVERSE | TOP CAT | REN & STIMPY | SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER | DRAGON BALL Z | & 20 other animated series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.

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Enthusiasms

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