Demons by rail-light: Stefan Grabinski’s weird fiction


Thanks to the demons of distraction it’s taken me a long time to find my way to these books by Polish author Stefan Grabinski (1887–1936) but I’m very pleased to have done so at last. Grabinski was one of several writers first drawn to my attention by Franz Rottensteiner’s The Fantasy Book: The Ghostly, the Gothic, the Magical, the Unreal (1978), a lavishly illustrated popular study that charted the history of fantasy and horror fiction. The book is inevitably dominated by Anglophone authors but Rottensteiner was looking at the genres from a global perspective, to an extent that some of the writers in the sections devoted to Continental Europe were either difficult to find or, as with Grabinski, hadn’t yet been translated into English. Robert Hadji’s Grabinski entry in the Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986) further stoked my curiosity. Neither Rottensteiner nor Hadji mention how they came to read these obscure tales but I’d guess it was in the two collections published in Germany under the Bibliothek des Hauses Usher imprint, Das Abstellgleis (1971) and Dunst und andere unheimliche Geschichten (1974); several covers from the imprint appear in Rottensteiner’s book. Wherever it was that they read the stories, both writers praised Grabinski as an overlooked master of weird fiction. Rottensteiner notes that he was a contemporary of HP Lovecraft, and with a similar biography—briefly married and suffering artistic neglect during his lifetime—but neither Rottensteiner nor Hadji use the common shorthand descriptions of Grabinski as “the Polish Poe” or “the Polish Lovecraft”. These labels are intriguing but misapplied.


Bearing in mind that these stories are translated works, one of the surprises of finally reading them is how fresh they seem compared to so many British ghost stories from the same period. Grabinski was writing during the birth of Modernism but the stories of his Anglophone contemporaries can often read like the products of an earlier epoch. His economical prose lacks the ornamentation of Poe and Lovecraft, just as it lacks Poe’s morbid Romanticism and has nothing of Lovecraft’s cosmic scale. But there are recurrent themes, particularly that of possession, whether by the spirits of the dead, by inhuman elementals, or by idée fixe. The latter provides the subject of The Glance, a story that also demonstrates Grabinski’s knack of finding horror in the most mundane situations: a man whose wife died prematurely is troubled by the sight of an open door, the same door through which she walked out of his life, and subsequently, out of her own. The man’s obsession with the door grows into a fear of closed doors and the implicit tragedies they may conceal, an obsession that soon extends itself to anything that hides too much of the world: curtains, rugs, the sharp corners of city streets… Edgar Allan Poe was fond of cataloguing madness in this manner but Grabinski’s stories go beyond glib formulations of insanity. “Metaphysical” is a word often used in discussion of the Grabinski oeuvre; the fixations of his protagonists reveal truths about the world to which others are blind.


Continue reading “Demons by rail-light: Stefan Grabinski’s weird fiction”

Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd


Cover art by Grey Malkin.

The folk horror revival wasn’t really a revival as such, it was more an identifying of trends which hadn’t been noticed or named before, the grouping together and labelling of which created a sub-genre ripe for further exploration. Over the past few years I’ve done my share to promote this loose affiliation, but I confess to feeling a lack of interest of late. Or rather, I’m less interested in its current manifestations. Genres in any medium have a tendency to follow a growth pattern which eventually arrives at mannerism and stereotype; something that was fresh because it was new (or rediscovered) is pushed through repetition into formula.

One of the exciting features of the first flourishings of Hauntological music in 2005/06 was the absence of a discernible formula. The areas of interest, and their hybridisation, were unpredictable, especially the first few releases on the Ghost Box label. Folk horror was incorporated into the Ghost Box project from the outset but it was never the sole concern. The debut album from Belbury Poly, The Willows, contains a range of references to rural horror, with a title lifted from Algernon Blackwood, and two tracks referencing Arthur Machen. But another of the tracks refers to Pauwels & Bergiers’ unique and influential occult study, The Morning of the Magicians, while the cover design is styled like an educational paperback from Pelican books, or an Open University prospectus. Belbury may be an old village with strange customs but it’s also home to a modern polytechnic. Elsewhere on the label, Pye Corner Audio operated at a remove from the folkiness, unsurprisingly when Martin Jenkins’ music is wholly electronic. The first Pye Corner Audio album on Ghost Box, Sleep Games, featured a typical mid-century housing estate on the cover; many of the track titles–Experimental Road Surface, for example—are closer to Kraftwerk than Blood On Satan’s Claw. The late Mark Fisher was credited inside with “cover concepts and research” which may explain the quotes from JG Ballard, French anthropologist Marc Augé, and theory fictioneer Reza Negarestani. The final track on Sleep Games, Nature Reclaims The Town, suggests the triumph of the wild but urban concerns dominate the album.


Cover art by Jackie Taylor.

Metropolitan horror and urban strangeness is the theme of Urban Wyrd, a two-volume anthology of new writings edited by Andy Paciorek which provides a welcome counterbalance to the over-ploughed furrows. This is a companion volume and sequel to Field Studies, a collection which featured my essay about the plays for theatre and television by David Rudkin. My contribution to the new collection, Phantoms and Thresholds of the Unreal City, is a discursive meander through the streets of Paris, New York and San Francisco, threading together the lives and works of a disparate group of writers, artists and photographers: HP Lovecraft, Eugène Atget, Robert W. Chambers, Max Ernst, Berenice Abbott, Roger Caillois, Fritz Leiber and others. My original intention was to write solely about Atget’s celebrated views of Paris but, as is often the case, one thing led to another and I ended up with something that’s more about the metamorphosis of cities and architecture by writers and photographers, and what their transformations may suggest to us.

The huge contents list for both books follows below. Both volumes are available from Lulu here and here, and at a reasonable price considering the page count. Books like this are always good for indicating further avenues of exploration. I’m looking forward to going for a wander.

Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd – 1. Spirits of Time

• Foreword
• Urban Wyrd: An Introduction by Dr Adam Scovell
• Spectral Echoes: Hauntology’s Recurring Themes & Unsettled Landscapes by Stephen Prince
• Quatermass and the Pit: Unearthing Archetypes at Hobb’s End by Grey Malkin
• The Haunted Generation: An Interview with Bob Fischer
• On a Thousand Walls: The Urban Wyrd in Candyman by Howard David Ingham
• Protect and Survive: Dystopian Drama – A Jolly British Apocalypse by Andy Paciorek
• The Bad Wires: Reflections on The Changes by Grey Malkin
• The Hands of Doom: A Short Perspective on Divine Intervention by Leah Crowley
• Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Spiritualist Missionary by Jim Peters
• A Tandem Effect: Ghostwatch by Jim Moon
• Interview with Stephen Volk
• The Cookstown Ghost: Poltergeist Phenomenon in Urban Ulster in the Nineteenth-Century by Jodie Shevlin
• The Last Key That Unlocks Everything: Ghost Stories by Andy Paciorek
• A Very Urban Haunting …The Echo of Noisy Spirits by Jim Peters
• These Houses Are Haunted: Supernatural Dwellings in Film by Andy Paciorek
• The Photography of Carmit Kordov
• Wyrd Technology by Andy Paciorek
• Voices of the Ether: Stone Tapes, Electronic Voices and Other Ghosts by James Riley
• Urban Witchcraft by Darren Charles
• Video Nasty: Moving Image in The Ring and Sinister by Andy Paciorek
• An Interview with Richard Littler – Mayor of Scarfolk
• The World Falling Apart: Jubilee by Stuart Silver
• Doll Parts: Marwencol by Andy Paciorek
• Chocky: The Haunting of Matthew Gore by Grey Malkin
• The Sun on my Face: Demon Seed by Andy Paciorek
• The Photography of Sara Hannant
• A Hive Mind: Phase IV by Andy Paciorek
• Wired For Sound: The Auditory in Horror by Andy Paciorek
• “We Want You to Believe In Us, But Not Too Much”: UFOs and Folklore by S. J. Lyall
• A Space Flower: Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Andy Paciorek
• Under The Skin of the Man Who Fell To Earth by Andy Paciorek
• Silent Invasions by SJ Lyall
• I Am Not A Number: The Prisoner by Stuart Silver
• All For the Hunting Ground: Wolfen by S.J. Lyall
• Urban Wolves by Richard Hing
• Reclaiming the “f” word. A conversation between The Black Meadow’s Chris Lambert and Pilgrim’s Sebastian Baczkiewicz
• Sounds from a Haunted Ballroom: The Caretaker by Andy Paciorek
• Uncanny Valley: Spielberg’s A.I. by Damian Leslie
• Sounds and Visions: MKUltra, Number Stations, Hallucinogens and Psychological Experiments in Film by Andy Paciorek
• Concrete, Flesh, Metal, Blood: The Worlds of Ballard & Cronenberg by Andy Paciorek
• The Eternal Snicket by Professor Phillip Hull (From an interview with Chris Lambert)
• The Voice of Electronic Wonder: The Music of Urban Wyrd by Jim Peters
• Age of the Train: Rail and the Urban Wyrd by Andy Paciorek
• Mind The Doors: Death Line by S.J. Lyall
• Step Away From The Meat: The Midnight Meat Train by Andy Paciorek
• Evil Dream: Q The Winged Serpent by Scott Lyall
• These Cities are Ours: Notable Kaiju in Cinema by Richard Hing
• Wild Rides: Taxis in Cinema by William Redwood
• The Photography of Jackie Taylor

* * *

Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd – 2. Spirits of Place

• Foreword
• Urban Psychogeography by Stuart Silver
• Spirit of Place by Andy Paciorek
• Through Purged Eyes: Folk Horror and the Affective Landscape of the Urban Wyrd by Karl Bell
• Glasgow’s Occult Ancient Geometery: The Obsessions of Ludovic McLellan Mann and Harry Bell by Kenneth Brophy
• Post-Industrialism and Industrial Music by Simon Dell
• Towering Infernal: The Inner City in Contemporary Horror Films by Andy Paciorek
• God Will Forgive Them: Dead Man’s Shoes by Andy Paciorek
• Phantoms and Thresholds of the Unreal City by John Coulthart
• Holy Terrors – Whitby: An Interview with Mark Goodall
• The Burryman of South Queensbury: The Past Within the Present by Grey Malkin
• Saturnine: An Urban Meander by Andy Paciorek
• Devil’s Bridge: The Satanic Rites of Aclam by Bob Fischer
• Urbex, Haiyko and the Lure of the Abandoned by Andy Paciorek
• Wyrd On-screen: Urban Fears and Rural Folk by Diane A. Rodgers
• Spontaneous Shrines (Flowers Taped to Lamposts) by Howard David Ingham
• Between Two or More Worlds: The Urban Mindscape of David Lynch by Andy Paciorek
• Suburbia by Richard Hing
• Welcome to The League of Gentlemen … You’ll Never Leave by Jim Peters
• A Search for Aberdeen’s Lost Treasures by Peter Lyon
• Scovell & Budden: Greenteeth by Andy Paciorek
• The Photography of Neddal Ayad
• City in Aspic: Don’t Look Now by Andy Paciorek
• Bricks and Stones in The Pool of Life by Cat Vincent
• The Trumptonshire Trilogy by Andy Paciorek
• The Derive of Doom by Chris Lambert
• Iain Sinclair: Spirit Guide to the Urban Wyrd – Interviewed by John Pilgrim
• Review: Concretism – For Concrete and Country by Chris Lambert
• Shadow of the Cities: The Weird and the Noir by Andy Paciorek
• Black and White Dreams: An Interview with K.A. Laity
• Occult Detectives: An Interview with John Linwood Grant
• The Art of Andy Cropper
• Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles by Andy Paciorek
• The Photography of Peter Lagan
• Involute of Space / Time: An Interview with Will Self
• High Weirdness: A Daytrip to Hookland by Andy Paciorek
• Cyclopean Ruins and Albino Penguins: The Weird Urban Archeology of H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness by Kenneth Lymer
• Sordid Smoke Ghosts: The Worlds of China Miéville by Colin Hetherington
• The Magic Kingdom: A Conversation with Walter Bosley by John Chadwick
• The City That Was Not There: ‘Absent’ Cityscapes in Classic British Ghost Stories by Anastasia Lipinskaya
• York: Albion’s Capital of the North by Oz Hardwick and John Pilgrim
• Urban Folklore: An Interview with Diane A. Rodgers
• Gripped: The Nine Lives of Thomas Katz by Howard David Ingham
• Place of Light and Darkness: Durham by Andy Paciorek
• Athens of the north: Edinburgh by SJ Lyall
• Service Station to Station by Andy Paciorek
• Miles Away: Hush (2008) by Andy Paciorek
• Sorcerers’ Apprentices and Industrial Witches: The Uban Wyrd as Magick in Leeds. West Yorkshire by Layla Legard
• Black as Sin: Possum and Spider by Andy Paciorek
• The Apartment Trilogy by Andy Sharp

Previously on { feuilleton }
A Year In The Country: the book
Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies

Weekend links 318


The Meaning of Life by Alice Wellinger.

• A Kickstarter for A Hidden Landscape Once A Week edited by Mark Sinker: “How UK music-writing became a space for unruly curiosity, in the words of those who made it happen”.

• RIP Steven Young, one of the musicians in a cult group of mine, Colourbox, and the “S” in M|A|R|R|S, creators of Pump Up The Volume in 1987.

• At Greydogtales: The Pale Brown Thing & A Dose of De Quincy—Fritz Leiber, Dario Argento, Megapolisomancy, and The Three Mothers.

Pye Corner Audio lists some influences. Zones by Head Technician, another Martin Jenkins project, has just been reissued on vinyl.

• Mixes of the week: The Middle Eastern & African playlist For July by John Doran, and a Pye Corner Audio mix for 20jazzfunkgreats.

Evan Kindley on how the Proust Questionnaire went from literary curio to prestige personality quiz.

• To Surprise a Voice: Max Nelson on the subtitling and translation of foreign-language films.

• How the ’70s dethroned the ’60s as popular music’s Golden Age: Judy Berman investigates.

• “It puts a spell on people.” Ryan Gilbey on Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.

• “Dennis Cooper fears censorship as Google erases blog without warning.”

Charlie Kaufman on freedom, the future, and the failure of Anomalisa.

Danny Heitman on why Nabokov’s Speak, Memory still speaks to us.

Daphne Oram‘s radical turntable experiments finally come to life.

Adam Kirsch on Walter Benjamin’s genius for surreal visions.

Shotgun (1983) by Colourbox | Baby I Love You So (1986) by Colourbox | Looks Like We’re Shy One Horse/Shoot Out (1986) by Colourbox

Weekend links 315


The Deluge (1920) by Winifred Knights.

Dennis Cooper‘s favourite fiction, poetry, nonfiction, film, music, art & internet of 2016 so far. (Thanks again for the nod to this blog!)

• At Literary Hub: Jonathan Russell Clark on Jorge Luis Borges, and Jon Sealy on why indie presses [in the US] are opening bookstores.

• “It’s not just about the music.” A conversation on the occult practices in the arts between poet Janaka Stucky and Peter Bebergal.

• Daisy Woodward talks to Andreas Horvath about Helmut Berger, Actor, a documentary about Visconti’s muse and lover.

• More Fritz Leiber: Brian J. Showers on his decision to republish Leiber’s horror novel, The Pale Brown Thing.

• Mixes of the week: Sextape 4 by Drixxxe, and Radio Oscillations #96 (Richard Pinhas/Heldon) by Iron Blu.

• The 5th Young One: Pay No Attention to the Girl Behind the Sofa; John Reppion on a television mystery.

• More reading suggestions: Cheerless beach reads for gloomsters and saddies by S. Elizabeth.

• Never the same film twice: Seances by Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson.

• How painter Winifred Knights became Britain’s “unknown genius”.

• The Journey & The Destination: An interview with Hawthonn.

Robert Latona goes in search of the grave of Constance Wilde.

• Invisible by Day: photos by Mikko Lagerstedt.

• A Queer Lit Q&A with Evan J. Peterson.

• RIP Michael Herr and Bernie Worrell.

Bridget Riley: The Curve Paintings.

• The typography of Blade Runner.

Japanese matchbox labels

SOS by Portishead

A Rainbow In Curved Air (1969) by Terry Riley | The Great Curve (1980) by Talking Heads | Dangerous Curves (2003) by King Crimson

Weekend links 314


Avebury Kite (2006) by David Alderslade.

• “Klaus Mann, son of Thomas Mann, author of Mephisto, was one of the first in Germany to write gay novels and plays.” Walter Holland reviews Cursed Legacy: The Tragic Life of Klaus Mann by Frederic Spotts.

The Pale Brown Thing, a shorter/alternate version of Fritz Leiber’s supernatural masterwork, Our Lady of Darkness, is given a limited reprinting by Swan River Press next month.

• “Not only is metal not directly harmful to adolescent minds, as the thinking goes, it may actually be helpful.” Christine Ro on the reappraisal of a once-suspect musical genre.

Something of that tension between past and future is visible in Beardsley’s work. It is the art of a dying era peering, with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, into the next. For all the prancing and bravado, Beardsley’s art was really about finding something in which to believe—and if Beardsley came to believe in anything it was the deep black line. Shading held little interest for Beardsley, and color fascinated him not at all. The black line and white space were all he needed.

Morgan Meis on Aubrey Beardsley

• More of my art for Bruce Sterling’s forthcoming Dieselpunk novella, Pirate Utopia, has been revealed. Tachyon will be publishing the book in November.

• “Secretly, though, I frequent junk shops because I am wishing for some kind of transcendence,” says Luc Sante.

• Mixes of the week: Gizehcast #28 by Christine Ott, and a mix for The Wire by Asher Levitas.

• “It took centuries, but we now know the size of the Universe.” Chris Baraniuk explains.

Barnbrook Studios creates identity for Kubrick exhibition at Somerset House.

• Watch a haunting video from Subtext Recordings and Eric Holm.

• Folklore Tapes: A Rum Music Special by Joseph Burnett.

Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine is on sale again.

Rhys Chatham’s favourite albums.

A Guide to Occult London

Skulls and Bones

Zero Time (1979) by Chrome | Zero-Gravity (1996) by Sidewinder |  Zero Moment (2016) by Contact