July 15th, 2019

The Shadow or Welles Hatted

Life's Replacement Shadows

Shadows and ugly new buildings menace people in the new Sirenia Digest released on Sunday, in a new story from Caitlin R. Kiernan, "Untitled 44". Kiernan's stories for the Digest, which have for most of the publication's history focused on wonderfully weird Lovecraftian horror and erotica, have increasingly mined plentifully sinister and weird contemporary issues. But I imagine there are few people who aren't in some way personally impacted by gentrification in the U.S. at this point. "Untitled 44" reflects Caitlin's own experiences moving back home from Rhode Island to Alabama to find so much of her old home replaced and she evokes the troubling, elusively defined sense of violation with the images of disconnected dreams and strange shadows.

Set in an art gallery, the story consists of a dialogue between two characters, viewing an exhibition of photographs apparently influenced by the work of Andre Kertesz--his photograph of strange, long shadows of people featured at the top of this entry also appears in the Digest. There's no mathematical allegory here--the strange shadows aren't precisely the menace of useless, hard, expensive buildings displacing the more human and familiar and the shadows aren't precisely the ghosts or lives of those displaced. They're both and neither, the sense of the whole loathsome economic digestion in one appropriately difficult to pin down concept.

With so much of popular art being derived from the soma of heroic plots where the threat is a concrete, eventually conquerable foe, it's always refreshing to read a story like this. The real threats in life are so often things that happen around you, constructed of perhaps even truly innocent or at least benign components, but something terrible accumulates into a cloud or a shadow, strange forces that can't be checked any more than they can be solidly defined.