Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce and Yorick.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, one of Ambrose Bierce’s more famous stories, hit me at just the right time – I think I was sequestered in Atherton High School’s ISAP (in school suspension) room flipping through my lit textbook when I stumbled onto this creepy tale. Beyond being a captive audience, though, the story united several strands of thought and were preoccupying me at the time – death, time, illusion, self-delusion. It’s not quite as beguiling now, but it’s well worth a look if you’ve never read Bierce.

Bierce’s strange life and mysterious death (he vanished somewhere in Mexico while on the search for Sancho Panza. He was 71.) magnified my attraction to Bierce’s strange, fierce sensibilty, and he became a bit of an obsession for a time. Thankfully, the nearly forgotten author of The Devil’s Dictionary (for instance: Absurdity, n.: A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion; Destiny: A tyrant’s authority for crime and a fool’s excuse for failure; and Pray: To ask the laws of the universe to be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.) is now getting a bit of contemporary attention.

Jake Silverstein spends a lot of time on Bierce in his wonderful – and wonderfully strange – Nothing Happened and then It Did. And in The Nation Victor LaValle has published a very nice summary and critique of Bierce. Give it a look.


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