Preface to the First Edition
The exercises in narrative prose that constitute this book were performed from 1933 to 1934. They are derived, I think, from my rereadings of Stevenson and Chesterton, from the first films of von Sternberg, and perhaps from a particular biography of the Argentine poet Evaristo Carriego. Certain techniques are overused: mismatched lists, abrupt transitions, the reduction of a person’s entire life to two or three scenes. (It is this pictorial intention that also governs the story called “Man on Pink Corner.”) The stories are not, nor do they attempt to be, psychological.
With regards to the examples of magic that close this book, the only right I can claim to them is that of translator and reader. I sometimes think that good readers are poets as singular, and as awesome, as great authors themselves. No one will deny that the pieces attributed to Valery to his pluperfect Monsieur Edmond Teste are worth notoriously less than those of his wife and friends.
Reading, meanwhile, is an activity subsequent to writing — more resigned, more civil, more intellectual.
May 27, 1935
Preface to the 1954 Edition
I would define the baroque as that style that deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its own possibilities, and that borders on self-caricature. In vain did Andrew Lang attempt, in the eighteen-eighties, to imitate Pope’s Odyssey; it was already a parody, and so defeated the parodist’s attempt to exaggerate its tautness. “Baroco” was a term used for one of the modes of syllogistic reasoning; the eighteenth century applied it to certain abuses in seventeenth-century architecture and painting. I would venture to say that the baroque is the final stage in all art, when art flaunts and squanders it resources. The baroque is intellectual, and Bernard Shaw has said that all intellectual labor is inherently humorous. This humor is unintentional in the works of Baltasar Gracian but intentional, even indulged, in the works of John Donne.
The extravagant title of this volume proclaims its baroque nature. Softening its pages would have been equivalent to destroying them; that is why I have preferred, this once, to invoke the biblical words quod scripsi, scripsi (John 19:22), and simply reprint them, twenty years later, as they first appeared. They are the irresponsible sport of a shy sort of man who could not bring himeslf to write short stories, and so amused himself by changing and distorting (sometimes wiithout aesthetic justification) the stories of other men.
The learned doctors of the Great Vehicle teach us that the essential characteristic of the universe is its emptiness. They are certainly correct with respect to the tiny part of the universe that is this book. Gallows and pirates fill its pages, and that word iniquity strikes awe in its title, but under all the storm and lightning, there is nothing. It is all just appearance, a surface of images — which is why readers may, perhaps, enjoy it. The man who made it was a pitiable sort of creature, but he found amusement in writing it; it is to be hoped that some echo of that pleasure may reach its readers.