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The dead level of mortality
Posted by: Minicthulhu (IP Logged)
Date: 18 May, 2020 03:00PM
Hello.

In the short story "The Primordial City" by C.A.Smith one can find the phrase "The dead level of mortality." What do you think it could mean? Does it refer to the human race in general?

"Polder and I were exultant; and yet we both shivered with a curious terror when we tried to read certain inscriptions that were still deeply engraved on the worn stones. No living man, though erudite in all the tongues of Earth, could have deciphered those characters; and perhaps it was their very alienage that frightened us. We had sought diligently during many years for all that transcends the dead level of mortality through age or remoteness or strangeness; we had longed for the elder and darker secrets: but such longing was not incompatible with fear. Better than those who had walked always in the common paths, we knew the perils that might attend our exorbitant and solitary researches."

Re: The dead level of mortality
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 18 May, 2020 04:20PM
The fact that Smith is using 'mortality' and 'dead' in the same sentence, but that they mean two quite different things is a bit confusing (although I think the juxtaposition is deliberate) - by dead level, he just means completely flat, something that is apparent by his use of the word 'transcends'.

The dead level of mortality is ordinary human experience. What transcends this plateau is anything 'above' the norm - ie, the supernatural, the unknown, etc.

Just my two cents' worth.

Re: The dead level of mortality
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 19 May, 2020 01:38AM
I think CAS meant that they were searching for things, ancient and vast cosmic things, beyond the puny limited perspectives of short-lived humans, and that this was something frightening, beyond our grasp and control. "Dead level of mortality" would then signify that human insight and wisdom is dead, because our mortal shells die much too soon for us to develop in any significance. (Even collective wisdom, from our limited mundane outlook, gathered by the race over centuries and millennia, can easily be forgotten and erased, because it is not consistently harbored in any single entities.)

From where we stand today, CAS's observation is correct. I one looks at it from a longer perspective, and more optimistic, like Arthur C. Clarke liked to do, genuine collective wisdom may come slowly and gradually through evolution, over thousands, millions of years. But even that is not certain. We might as well be wiped out, and replaced by some other mortal entity that starts the climb all over again. Insect, crustacean, bird, reptile, perhaps? I think birds stand a good chance of superseding us. But of course, for now, our human point of departure, is to keep struggling and perfecting.

Re: The dead level of mortality
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 19 May, 2020 09:17AM
Possibly garbled text. THE FANTASY FAN, where this appeared, was full of misprints, and I don't know if there is any other source for this story. The typical FANTASY FAN misprint is no problem, as it is obvious what is intended, and the later editor merely fixes it. This may be one of those rare instances where the text has become garbled in such a way that it is impossible to guess the original intent.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 19 May 20 | 09:25AM by Platypus.

Re: The dead level of mortality
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 19 May, 2020 11:02AM
"the dread veil of mortality" ??

Re: The dead level of mortality
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 19 May, 2020 11:39AM
I've seen/heard "dead level" used in the context of home construction and plumbing.

It refers to a centered bubble in a level. Dead centered, hence "dead level".

In the CAS context he could be referring to mortality as the Great Leveler of humanity. Everyone is alike (level) in death. The narrator and his friend were therefore searching for indications of something that transcends death.

Perhaps more to the point, he used the notion of death as representative of "the normal state of existence", and hence they were seeking the abnormal.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 19 May 20 | 12:13PM by Sawfish.

Re: The dead level of mortality
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 19 May, 2020 12:47PM
Given that Smith was a self-taught writer, I reckoned the bible might have been a formative influence as it's often a feature of most households. So I did a quick google. Based on the quotation below, I'm guessing Smith was paraphrasing Saint Paul?

"Would it not be grand if we could so go through life, as that all should be not one dead level, but one high plateau, because all rested upon “Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus”?

Just to complicate things, Saint Paul uses the term 'plateau' in the correct sense of the word. I used it to just mean flat. But a plateau is actually flat, elevated area. To Saint Paul, the ordinary life is dead level; to embrace Christ is to enter an elevated plane of existence. Smith is subverting the original quotation - he's not talking about God, but the supernatural.

Re: The dead level of mortality
Posted by: Minicthulhu (IP Logged)
Date: 19 May, 2020 01:49PM
Thanks for your comments.

Re: The dead level of mortality
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 19 May, 2020 05:20PM
Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I've seen/heard "dead level" used in the context
> of home construction and plumbing.
>
> It refers to a centered bubble in a level. Dead
> centered, hence "dead level".
>
> In the CAS context he could be referring to
> mortality as the Great Leveler of humanity.
> Everyone is alike (level) in death. The narrator
> and his friend were therefore searching for
> indications of something that transcends death.
>
> Perhaps more to the point, he used the notion of
> death as representative of "the normal state of
> existence", and hence they were seeking the
> abnormal.

I understand "dead level" to mean completely flat. For instance, if you place a marble on a "dead level", it will not roll in any direction. Similarly, a car in neutral will roll neither backwards or forwards on a dead-level road. I've also seen it applied to a flat landscape or country.

It still does not make sense to me as written. Had he said they were trying to transcend "the dead level of normality", that might make a bit more sense to me.

Re: The dead level of mortality
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 19 May, 2020 09:58PM
Platypus Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sawfish Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > I've seen/heard "dead level" used in the
> context
> > of home construction and plumbing.
> >
> > It refers to a centered bubble in a level. Dead
> > centered, hence "dead level".
> >
> > In the CAS context he could be referring to
> > mortality as the Great Leveler of humanity.
> > Everyone is alike (level) in death. The
> narrator
> > and his friend were therefore searching for
> > indications of something that transcends death.
> >
> > Perhaps more to the point, he used the notion
> of
> > death as representative of "the normal state
> of
> > existence", and hence they were seeking the
> > abnormal.
>
> I understand "dead level" to mean completely flat.
> For instance, if you place a marble on a "dead
> level", it will not roll in any direction.
> Similarly, a car in neutral will roll neither
> backwards or forwards on a dead-level road. I've
> also seen it applied to a flat landscape or
> country.
>
> It still does not make sense to me as written.
> Had he said they were trying to transcend "the
> dead level of normality", that might make a bit
> more sense to me.

it was a very labored metaphor.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: The dead level of mortality
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 26 May, 2020 01:01PM
Sawfish Wrote:
> it was a very labored metaphor.

Could be. But usually CAS's writing is clearer and cleaner than that. So I think garbled text, by way of THE FANTASY FAN, is also a possibility. But I don't suppose we can reliably guess what the original reading was, so we're probably stuck with what we have.



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