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Observations placeholder

Harlan Ellison on the nature of inspiration and on Frederic Prokosch



Type of Spiritual Experience



Harlan Jay Ellison (May 27, 1934 – June 28, 2018)[4] was an American writer, known for his prolific and influential work in New Wave speculative fiction, and for his outspoken, combative personality. Robert Bloch, the author of Psycho, described Ellison as "the only living organism I know whose natural habitat is hot water".

His published works include more than 1,700 short stories, novellas, screenplays, comic book scripts, teleplays, essays, and a wide range of criticism covering literature, film, television, and print media.

Some of his best-known work includes the Star Trek episode "The City on the Edge of Forever", his A Boy and His Dog cycle, and his short stories "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" and " 'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman". He was also editor and anthologist for Dangerous Visions (1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions (1972). Ellison won numerous awards, including multiple Hugos, Nebulas, and Edgars.

A description of the experience

Harlan Ellison on the nature of inspiration and on Frederic Prokosch

[interview the AV club]

Frederic Prokosch

My favorite book in the world is The Seven Who Fled, by Frederic Prokosch. … It's a novel about seven people fleeing a Chinese warlord across the Gobi desert. And there is one section near the beginning, in a chapter called "Layeville," who is one of the characters, where he describes the desert. And it is the most mesmerizing writing I have ever read.

And there is a flow to it, because Prokosch was also a poet.

And this was the Harper Prize novel, I think in 1933, or '34, something like that. And it was not his first novel—his first novel was The Asiatics—but it was his second. And for someone that young to write that brilliantly sets a mountaintop for people such as I to aspire to. …..I will take that book with me when I do writers' workshops, and I will read them just that one section. It's not much, it's about a page. And I say, "When you can write like that, then I will bow down and I will kiss the hem of your garment."

On inspiration and bifurcation

Well, look. It's standard bifurcation.

There is Harlan Ellison the human being, who takes a crap a couple of times a day, and who farts, and who eats, you know, chicken croquettes, if I can find them. And then there is the writer, this writer-person, who is a much finer person than I.

Much more orderly, much more meaningful. Worthier, that's the word, worthier than I. 

Early on, I said,  "Well, you know, the human being is hag-ridden by the talent. I have very little control over it. There's an onboard computer, if you will, that when I sit down to write, tells me everything I need to know. I trust it implicitly."

And people say, "Well, how often do you rewrite?"

 I say, "I don't rewrite. When I sit down at the typewriter—and I still use a manual typewriter, not an electric and not a computer. I can't stand to work on a PC. I mean, I know how to operate a PC. But I don't use 'em, I still go to my typewriter and I produce a real manuscript, the way I have for 50, 60 years.

That other Ellison, that bifurcated Ellison, takes over.

And trying to integrate the two is the great paradox and the great problem in every writer's life, in every artist's life, in every person's life. I mean, everybody has a talent, whether it's scrapbooking, or kite-flying, or brain surgery, or writing, everybody has a talent. And if they discover it, and they turn it to their purposes and make a living out of it, well, then they become not "that person," but they become "that writer" or "that doctor" or "that supervisor." Am I making any sense at all?...............

I think art must be tough! I think art has to be hard. I don't think it should be easy. I think it should take foot-pounds of energy to produce that art, otherwise we would have more mediocre writers, and we don't have room for any more mediocrity in the world. There's already enough of it being visited on us night and day through the Internet, and through television, and through politics. These are places where the human soul should aspire. These are places where great things should happen, and in fact they are not. And that's probably one of my biggest gripes with the Internet, that it settles for mediocrity and disinformation, which puts all information on the same level

The source of the experience

Prokosch, Dr Frederic

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Science Items

Activities and commonsteps