Review of The Picture of Dorian Gray

It’s true, in Wilde’s preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, that thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.  In fact that’s pretty well a truism, isn’t it? since the art, if art, would in this case be of written language.  We are being nudged into believing what we’re to read is art, that he’s an artist.  The first time I read this novel I found it cold and repellent.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t art.  It might be all the greater an artefact to make for that effect.

How is it the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors?  What does that mean anyway?  The artist in his art is mirroring the spectator – of the art? the reader? or the artist, as a spectator, of life?  Wouldn’t it have to be the former since the artist is making the mirror for the spectator to look at and see himself?  That’s likely a shelving of responsibility from the artist to the reader, by likening the artefact to a mirror, a reflective surface, diverting attention from itself, its makeup, who made it and why he made it as it is or was, cold and repellent.  Was I seeing myself or the artist himself in his artefact? or neither?  This is a preface to a fiction which deals with the relationship of an artist to what he puts himself into and that of a spectator who sees himself in it.

How flame-like can laburnum be?  I’ve struck a match to see.  Honey-coloured the flame may be above the blue but nowhere near as yellow as laburnum which hangs down.

For goodness’ sake! I exclaim, incredulous at an affected character’s saying ‘I can believe anything provided that it is quite incredible.’  Really?  Is that supposed to be wit? A paradox? That the basis of belief is unbelievability?  Mind you I have heard somebody insist the resurrection is so unbelievable it has to be true.  The Xian did affect to believe what he was saying; the character doesn’t.

His friend, a painter, is inspired by another character into putting love for him into his art.  The witty one observes how useful passion is for publication.  ‘Genius lasts longer than beauty.’  You use the love to make the art rather than waste it on the beloved.  Never trust what a poet says about love.  Poets don’t know.  They’ve never finished that course.  They’re running quite another.  Venus may rule both love and art but under separate signs.

Beauty is not so superficial as thought is, says the would-be witty one.  Really?  Food for thought there.  I remember noticing one in ten men on the tube gape at me.  It couldn’t be at my clothes which, like theirs, were drab.  It had to be my face.  None acted further on its effect.  I was with somebody I thought beautiful.  Now, was my beauty less superficial than my thinking on it?  I set no store by it.  How superficial was that! since it’s also an aspect of soul and its goodness, that this novel explores.

Wit is an accomplishment in saying something from your perspective that others suddenly understand from theirs but once you’ve established wittiness you can, experimentally, say something that’s not funny and they’ll laugh anyway.  Written wit is a greater accomplishment, even the greatest, because you’re laying a mine in one time for any reader’s eye at a future time to trip over and trigger an explosion in his brain that bursts out as an involuntary guffaw.  Oh, the power, the power!  ‘The only difference between a caprice and a life-long passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer’ evoked not a laugh but an ‘och’ and face averted in disgust at the failure of intended wit.  I’ve since done my research; I looked up the dictionary.  Incontrovertibly a life-long passion lasts the length of a life.  If, as may be inferred, for somebody other than yourself, for your mother, till she dies or hers, for you, till she dies, if you’re lucky.   A caprice is by definition an unaccountable change of mind or conduct, on a whim, a turn on a sixpence, in an instant.  If I have a life-long passion for anything it’s for life itself and to make art of it. This book is about making art from life though you’d have to suspend you disbelief an artefact which isn’t life can do that.

The idea is brilliant, like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and deftly worked out.

Aristotle defined man as a rational animal.

There are nice touches.  A character smiles at missing where he was going from having been lost in thought.  Without giving the content the author conveys the brio of an improvisation by a wit keen to fascinate one of his hearers.  I’ve done that, working out why I was being witty and turning about to find the one I entranced following me upstairs.

It can also be a bit forced.  A character excuses himself for being late because he had to haggle for hours over a piece of brocade simply for the author to get in ‘people know the price of everything and the value of nothing’ as a witticism bolted onto the character though it makes little sense in the context of him as a prospective buyer arguing to reduce the price of what he thought valuable.

It’s true women are always bothering us to do something for them, though that nothing is ever quite true is also true, but …acting is so much more real than life?  Please!  The statement it is, however, is relevant since the actress Dorian loves can no longer take acting for real on loving him and acts badly.  Unfortunately it’s for her acting he loves her.  I was morally outraged at his ensuing behaviour, as I was supposed to be, though it did bring to mind my own with the girl from Millau I encouraged to come to London and on our meeting up there unceremoniously dumped.  That was entirely different!

The actress has an uncouth brother who you know just exists to make an appearance later as nemesis.

The fear of god to us all?  We no longer all fear god.  How times have changed!  It’s still possible to appreciate the exasperation in ‘women never know when the curtain has fallen.  They always want a sixth act, and as soon as the play’ of love ‘is entirely over they propose to continue it!’  He was too clever and too cynical for Dorian to be really fond of him, Lord Harry.  I’ll say!  All that wit becomes quite wearisome, as his wife agrees by action if not words.  You keep wanting to see the reality behind the mask.  His clever tongue gets on one’s nerves.  Looming over all is what you know of the author.  There are moments, the narrator says, when the passion for sin, or’ – he excuses himself – ‘for what the world calls sin, so dominates a nature, that every fibre of the body …seems to be instinct with fearful impulses.  Men …at such moments lose the freedom of their will.  They move to their terrible end as automatons move.  Choice is taken from them.’  Wilde is anticipating himself when, urged to flee by Robbie Ross, he would wait to be arrested.  He quite rightly, artistically, doesn’t make explicit what Dorian’s corruption of young men might be, leaving that to our imaginations.

It wasn’t Nero who had the velarium stretched across the Colosseum which was built where his golden palace had been razed.   Probably Domitian.  Dorian Gray was looking on evil as a mode through which he could realise his conception of the beautiful.  I had to laugh at his ‘Poor Basil!’ of the painter character, as if he’d nothing to do with the ‘horrible way’ he died.

‘Ten years’ marriage ‘with Monmouth must’ve been like eternity,’ isn’t witty but ‘with time thrown in’ is.  There’s a nice indirectness about Dorian’s reaction to what Harry said being conveyed through another character’s dialogue but, while her teeth showing like white seeds in a scarlet fruit is supposed to be beautiful, I had the ugly impression of a smashed fruit, a water melon say, with its seeds thus revealed.  The reappearance of nemesis is nicely disguised and dealt with.  I was a bit disoriented by the upper class milieu depicted but the working classes weren’t yet educated enough to write fiction with a different setting though Hardy was doing pretty well.

There are nice throwaway lines like ‘Scotland Yard still insists that the man in the grey Ulster who left for Paris …was poor Basil’ and ‘“What do you think has happened to Basil?” asked Dorian.’  And funny ones: ‘The man with whom my wife ran away played Chopin exquisitely’ and ‘I dare say he fell into the Seine off an omnibus and that the conductor hushed up the scandal.’

Dorian ‘had often told the girl whom he had lured to love him that he was poor and she had believed him.   He had told her once that he was wicked and she had laughed.’  It was no laughing matter.  The soul may keep receptivity but badness hurts it and makes for unhappiness.  I’d say it was driving Dorian insane because how else explain a most satisfactory ending.

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My reading of Quentin S Crisp’s Aiaiglas

I like the poems which are dated and can be correlated with the prose of Aiaigasa which occasionally refers back to them. ‘On the path I kissed/You, but didn’t say/How I felt like an actor’ epitomises self-consciousness. ‘The Café de Paris was/Closing in thirty/Minutes. I left. Then came back. /“Tomorrow?” I asked. “We’re closed,” amusingly shuts the door on that afterthought. ‘As/Time passes so you/Begin to doubt free will.’ It is only conscious, I remark. By then I’ve worked out 5, 7, 5, 7, 7 is the tanka syllabic scheme. ‘Poetry’s a thing/Of such high definition/You can keep zooming/In, endlessly. This is how/We slow time.’ Telepathy is/how we slow time to a stop. ‘Time …does not stop,’ he says. It does, when you think fast enough.

Quentin S Crisp’s travelling companion is Beehive Crick who provides the good illustrations.

‘I knew, as I might know of someone I loved, that however I stared and caressed, I could not finally possess them because I could not become them.’ He’s talking about ceramics. Why possess who you love? Is the assumption of possession that he’s making true? As a child I was interested by love and asked my mother why she loved me. Because I was hers. Would that answer do? It’d have to since it was the only answer she had. That would seem to corroborate his assumption of possession if not that of a drive to become the beloved. A piece of pottery? Not all children are lovable, she went on, so a child could be intrinsically lovable and incite love, along with the wish to possess. I don’t think I want to possess whom I love. I don’t know I love anybody. I might do but if so it’s a different kind of love from past ones and not possessive. Anything such in the past I left to my unconscious which did possess others with their consent to further its ends. It did possess an inanimate object once, the shaft of spade I’d borrowed, found the weak point, broke it, so that it was hanging by a thread when I returned it.

He interprets another’s tanka: that the poet, ‘like the pines [at Takasago beach]’ still stands and I agree ‘But,’ the poet goes on, ‘they are not my friends.” They don’t know him from those long gone days, nobody does. That poet was lonely, as was ours, writing prose, when a student in Japan, feeling like a ghost in relation to the other students. He’s only saved from becoming a ghost by being recognised by another human being, a homeless alcoholic. He seems to be taking his reality, not from his own spirit, but from others’ recognition of it. Rich used to keep his eyes on me, either to ensure his own existence or confer existence on me, I was unsure which. My intimation was his unconscious thought itself king but had difficulty placing me in its self-conception. The narration of Aiaiglas is a bit too consciously deliberate – laid on thick – to be taken as true to fact, a suspicion substantiated when he admits he did have a friend after all.

On p 46 it should be ‘heedless’. [He says not. ‘Headless’ it is] P 51 a ‘be’ is missing after ‘smell’. I questioned ‘(How else could I bear to be English?)’ to explain why the rationalisation that the reality of a Japan deformed by social repression is a sophisticated culture persuades him. I’m British, so that doesn’t affect me. Interesting that Japanese farmers were of higher status than artisans or traders. The writer explains why an epigram equating a butterfly’s taking wing with the leaves (that its caterpillar ate) taking wing might indicate how an intuited benevolence intrinsic to existence unfolds into life. I see.

I could only exclaim ‘for god’s sake’ at the solecism of a misspelt ‘benefited’ on p 63. ‘In a reliquary are kept some bones said to belong to the Buddha.’ Yeah, right.

Aiaigasa is an umbrella built for two and I could’ve done with more interaction between the two it sheltered or shaded. But that’s me. I was delighted – ‘heh, heh, heh’ in the margin – at ‘It had been her’ Beehive’s ‘suggestion …to stay in a ryokan [inn] at some point whether it was strictly necessary or not and this room [in Nagoya] appeared to be exactly what she had in mind.’ Starving, I devoured that morsel. The next bit of this chapter of the travelogue, The Robot, the writer read out at the book launch. Reading it is different but the impression it gives, if subdued, is much the same, of good writing. ‘That I was seeing one [a robot] now naturally suggested that this world and that of science fiction had merged.’ Oh, ‘naturally’! I wrote in the margin and I couldn’t’ve done that at the hearing or thought to. Nor did I note then the American spelling of ‘sceptically’. It’s not as if he hasn’t been told!

‘To know how indifferently I am forgotten by the world, and how hard is the ground I must tread while I’m alive – this is to meet death. …And what then? Well …if it is possible, I will then come back as a ghost for you, dear reader, whose eye too seldom I meet with mine ’ to which affectation this reader can only reply, No, you won’t, I assure you.

‘It is one …skill to recognise what is evocative for oneself …but …another …to judge what will be evocative to a broad mix of people [and] linked to …understanding of the dreams …humanity shares.’ He believes that’s what TS Eliot meant by the objective correlative. I looked it up. The purpose is to express a character’s emotions by showing rather than describing feelings, thereby creating an emotion in the audience [of a play] through external factors and evidence linked together and thus forming an objective correlative, producing an author’s detachment from the depicted character and uniting the emotion of the work. Eliot thought ‘King Lear’ met this criterion and ‘Hamlet’ didn’t. It couldn’t since Hamlet characterises the conscious will and the author his unconscious Will. Does Aiaiglas? The emotion I’m experiencing at this point, Local Trains and Place Names, is I think exasperation. The only thing the two railway lines, one in Japan, the other in Devon, have in common is that the author rode them. The umbrella theme goes for a burton unless he’s the umbrella but where’s the romantic connexion?

He asks if we could explain to an alien why …’Life’s Not Hollywood, It’s Cricklewood’ is funny, implying we couldn’t. I think we could. He has an inexplicit romantic memory of Eggesford his friend doesn’t share. He spins a conscious fantasy about Morchard Road. Then has the cheek to suggest the reader spend time alone in a quiet room or on a train journey to examine the lists of station names and to dream of what they might mean, to which the only answer is – in the margin – no. Oh, really? He’s compelled only by artistic integrity to narrate another fantasy he remembers having when first learning Japanese in which he giggles at the inherent supplication in saying ‘water, please.’ I had to laugh, however, when he describes the irony entailed in using a space heater; when you turned it off, you had to open a window to get rid of the fumes – and the heat. His Proustian madeleine is the fumes of a paraffin stove.

It’s more interesting for me when Bee-chan’s involved. She likes her lie-ins and he doesn’t, occupying himself with morning things but taking less trouble to be quiet as time went on, making me laugh. There really was nowhere else he wanted to be and no one else he wanted to be with. Ah! He thought some hours are golden because we let them slip, retrospectively gilded. He lost the umbrella! symbol of their shared journey and felt helpless distress. Oh just accept it as an unconsciously deliberate symbol. He ditches another umbrella.

Describing a standing bar as slightly larger than the wardrobe on one side of the hallway of his small flat is not useful to a reader though the elaboration does evoke Night Hawks. Interesting that Japanese wear masks to protect others from their germs. Abdul always shakes my hand but wouldn’t because he’d a cold till I insisted. I knew what was causing the locker’s smell, as will you. ‘These – are a nightmare,’ says B in a pickle, throwing them away and making me laugh. There’s a glossary and her map of the voyage, usefully dated.

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Book Launch

Dressed in my slimfits and red bootees I went off to the book reading, walking from Kennington, asking directions from an obliging girl, to Fitzalan St where it took place in the Royal Oak.  David Rix shook my hand and Quentin laid a table with books.  I said Kevin had wanted to come.  “The more the merrier,” quoth Q.  I bought Aiaiglas, his recent book, having him sign it (and Beehive when she arrived, looking lovely but her hair split-ended from too much dyeing.  Outside I advised cutting it short and wearing a wig meanwhile.  She wasn’t having that and jeered at my wearing a tank top in the heat but I was dressed for the whole day and old people have to keep warm.)  I parried with Roseanne, whose launch this primarily was.  I refused a drink then and thereafter didn’t.  Exchange with Ruth on what I’d had published and would.  Ralph shook an introductory hand and adhered to Ruth pretty consistently thereafter.  One could only conjecture why, and one did.  (“Which book did Ralph buy?”  Ralph said what.  “What?”  Quentin told me.  I scanned the titles to see which fitted the strange three syllable sound he’d made best.  ‘Aiaiglas’.)  Rhys Hughes shook my hand.  (His reading was of an intrusive dame, told through word disassociation.)  I then talked with Richard, a self-proclaimed one-man publicist for David, who himself writes as yet unpublished historical fiction I suggested he make horrible and sleep with Quentin to get published, “a walk on the dark side”.  He shrugged off it would be dark.  “We’re all liberal these days,” I said.  “As we should,” said Richard.  It was, however, Quentin we were talking of.  I took a website from Richard of groups including writing ones, his in Camden.  He thought Dan Brown a bad writer but The Da Vinci Code a page-turner.  Devika also approached and made notes on her phone of my literary credentials as I relayed them and found me on Facebook to request friendship.  “I’ll accept on Monday.”  With both her and Richard I was explaining what I was doing there, not one of the authors on show, how I knew David through Quentin, a fellow founding member of my writing group, who’d published a short story of mine in ‘Dadaoism, An Anthology’ that went down well with the inmates of Wandsworth prison and the MP for Tooting who was attending the reading group there, and through Quentin I’d met Dan who published my poems in Sacrum Regnum 2.  Independently of them I’d another publisher for my book of an archived correspondence with another writer.

Natalie came after Beehive and was technicoloured, her lashes of different hues, the top ones yellow, her hair multi-dyed, blue at the back (bluer than Beehive’s which was fading, as Beehive said, comparing).  I noticed a Japanese girl sitting impassively by and was directing Quentin to speak to her in Japanese when he said, “That’s Isami,” his sister-in-law I’d met before.  “You’re as beautiful as ever,” I wasn’t just being polite either; she is.  She said I didn’t look too bad myself, for my astounding age, coming up eighty.  Once upon a time, yes, I was beautiful, I modestly assented.  She wasn’t convinced beauty deteriorated with age.  It was in the eye of the beholder, “as some poet said,” I added, “Never believe a poet,” but compromised, using pretty Joe as an example whose prettiness was enhanced by a shade of maturity.  I love Joe.  He stroked and petted me when he came in.  A dog can grow attached to whoever rubs the erogenous zone just below the ears as I was periodically doing to the pub’s, not that Joe was doing anything such – it wouldn’t work – but if he blew in them….  This is quite inappropriate since I had no such thought at the time.  It is a deconstructive inauthenticising obtrusion.  Tch!  But I’ll keep it in.  It’s my diary entry and I can do what I like.  “How do you keep fit?” Isami continued.  “I walk fast, if I’m not ill.”  I couldn’t think of anything else.  I remembered the pronunciation of Isami’s name throughout but have forgotten  how as I write and the spelling’s correspondingly gone for a burton but I have it in my more comprehensive diary to look up, always assuming it’s correctly spelled there.  I’m bad at names, also at picking up what other people are saying though they themselves have no such problem.  Naiem arrived though keeping his eyes off me.  Dominika too who’s married Jackson, who,  working, wasn’t.  “She’s always married before I hear about it.”  “You can’t say ‘always’,” said Quentin, “she’s only been married twice.”  She, Isami and I discussed the difficulties posed for her, a Pole, and immigrants generally by Brexit though Europe had pushed hard for its citizens, gaining more than it gave to ours there, unless no final agreement was reached, in which case….  And it wasn’t just Britain.  However economically irrational, there was anti-immigrant populism all over.  Dominika hadn’t stayed continually in the country enough to qualify for rights of residence.  I recognised Leon, Quentin’s brother at the end of the table.  Isami said he was weight lifting and paragliding, and they took several days off a month to go somewhere.  “For variety,” I concluded, “to jazz the relationship up.”

Roseanne read first and last.  Quentin came second last and asked for water.  “He’s a performer,” commented Naiem on Q’s keeping us waiting.  He was the best: unfunny to begin with, droll in the middle and sunk like a stone with a portentous end.  Very good.  He used the word ‘immiscible’ well.  “Like the atmosphere of Jupiter,” I’ve read.  Dan caught the end of it only.  He gave me a hug.  Isami sold a book, while Quentin joined the smokers in the garden.  Natalie said my plant was the moon orchid, which pleased me until I found out Dan along with Joe also was, so it was changed with a picture of my profile on her phone to viper’s bugloss.  Viper’s something.  I’ve looked it up in my book of plants and since the second word wasn’t one syllable ‘bugloss’ it most probably was.  “That’s better.  I am a snake in the grass.  Have you got thinner?” I asked Leon who looked at me shyly.

Dominika was all over Quentin who took it neutrally without knowing exactly what to do with it.  She was too tired to go on with us, proposing she come to Richmond for a walk.  “I’ll take you to Ham Fields where you can watch the poofs disport,” the Greater Spotted and the Lesser.  Ruth was at length excusing Quentin for not selling a lot of books on the grounds he was a better writer than that.  Isami can’t drink alcohol or milk.  When diagnosed coeliac, “That was the first thing I asked: can’t I drink!”  Dandy Dan was going outside.  His shiny cinnamon shirt “matches his hair or his hair it.  Is that Dan’s girlfriend?”  He’s wider of beam and thicker of trunk though, since it took me ages to work out he was tall, and I’ve no conscious remembrance of state of beam and trunk, the comparative might be erroneous, so make that wide and thick merely.

We walked to the Elephant and Castle for food in Mamuska’s.  Natalie was about to lead us the wrong way but Leon and I thought it was in exactly the opposite direction.  It was.  I asked Quentin en route how many books he’d had published.  Sixteen, “sixteen readers for each.”  “I didn’t want to stop Ruth’s flow by saying you wanted to be Dan Brown.”

You order at one counter, pay and collect at another when your number’s up.  I followed Natalie and Beehive’s lead.  Natalie apprised me: my number was up and flashing.  “What’s the number on your receipt?”  117.  How did she know it’d be mine?  I had goŁabki and kefir, sitting by Joe who asked how I liked Quentin’s father, who cut down his tree when his mother was the father’s girlfriend, and, Quentin added, did it again.  He was a serial arborophobe.  After twenty years Joe had come to terms with it and bore the father, who’d had a stroke, no ill will.  “I wouldn’t, if it were my tree.”  I’d give him multiple strokes.  Joe was amazed I was coming up eighty, same age as the tree-hater.  I asked why.  It wasn’t because I looked amazing, for my age, just he hadn’t thought it five years since I was seventy-five.

I left before nine.  Found, by asking, the underground and went the wrong way but changed at Kennington to the Northern for Waterloo, catching the Teddington train home.



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Review of Quentin S Crisp’s The Paris Notebooks

The cemetery whose name escapes Quentin S Crisp at the time in The Paris Notebooks most likely is Père Lachaise, and the tortured unfortunate, who challenged Apollo to a musical duel, Marsyas.  He’s right – Quentin that is, not Marsyas with his cursèd flute – to hold to the ignorance of the time and not make inauthenticising correction later.  That may also apply to two mistakes.  His seriousness is cause for laughter, as on the Mona Lisa.  I do trust in saying that that I am in no way whatsoever being condescending.  Asked if it’s overrated, he says it has to be, it can only be overrated.  His deepest fear has already come true: he’s failed at what he wanted to do – he doesn’t say what, for artistic reasons, unless I’ve missed where he does or forgotten it (I have been accused of not reading what he says) – and he’s ended up alone.  Much can change in the ten years or so since that was written.  A friend read the first three chapters and gave up before they became depressing.

What he wants to do in writing is catch a living moment.  I thought of a butterfly pinned down but it’d be deadened by the pinning.  Better a beautiful brooch, heavy and lifeless but what’s the alternative?  A butterfly landed on my clothing as I went shopping and stayed pinned by its will and mine all through the supermarket and walk home to give me what I wanted to know.  ‘Catch’ is the wrong word.  ‘Convey’?  How may I convey a pleasure I barely remember from an experience you cannot have.  If the butterfly was conscious it might rationalise what it was doing as having a prolonged rest or, at best, because god, me, willed it – god knows why! – wondering the while why I had no wings before feeling released, free to flutter off for sustenance and sex.

Call me perverse if you will but I find him droll eg on his sexuality.  He has one but it seems somewhat vestigial, like a man’s nipples, and he goes on to define what vestigial means, otiosely I would say.  Tautologously.  It’s the ‘somewhat’ I want explained to banish the image of third ‘nipple’ loosely hanging like a witch’s teat from …a place no teat should be!  Brrr.  But it is for the devil’s convenience.

Oh dear: ‘the great homelessness of  the world, where there is nothing in the end to find, no destiny waiting, no soul mate, nothing….’  My friend might be right.  That is depressing.  It shortly evokes a laugh however.  A friend had left him a bottle of red.  ‘I decided that I needed it now.’  Fortified, he then bravely overcomes timidity to go out, the carrot cigarettes and wine.  He is not afraid of showing himself up, off-setting it in the writing with the use of the word, ‘ridiculous’, before ‘mime of smoking, only to discover that the man understood the word ‘cigarette’ anyway.’  It would’ve been funnier without the ‘ridiculous’ unless it’s put in to convey that at the time he felt ridiculous performing his mime.  He goes back to the flat to work on a novel, The Lovers.  Whatever happened to that?  I’ve read it and liked it, the protagonist propelling himself or pulled upwards without quite breaking surface or through it.  It had drive.  That puts the events of The Paris Notebooks into chronological context for me.  He’s the more lonely from coming out of a failed love, writing it out.  A Japanese writer, ‘it is better to keep the …dream of an unfulfilled love than …have the love fulfilled and …become commonplace,’ consoles him, though better still to use the love to write out what’s on the unconscious memory as he might’ve been doing with his novel.

A barman likes an American writer ‘responsible for LA Confidential.  I smiled indulgently, since language failed me,’ which is funny, from the double meaning of inadequate French and inexpressible recrimination against whoever was responsible for that.

He has to choose a café, he says.  Whatever he chooses only seems to become his life.  His dream remains in whatever he failed to choose.  Whatever that means I’ve commented in the margin.  He’s generalised from choosing a café to that of choosing anything, with a presupposition of failure whatever his choice.  Since there was no reason to choose a café to go into on his way home, I suspect the postulated choice of one – he doesn’t go into – was a means to the generalisation in order to conclude the chapter with where his dream might reside, obviously nowhere it can be realised since whatever the choice it’s life and failure.  The deck’s stacked.

Wherever he went he was still him and couldn’t take a holiday from himself, he tells a friend.  True.  I once remarked to a friend who sought to change her situation by going to America that she took herself with her.  She did come back with a husband she was going there to find.  “There’s always divorce,” she reassured me should I ever change my mind about marrying her.

He and a friend walk into a greasy spoon café and order a veggie full-English breakfast for a hangover, at which I could only exclaim, in the margin, though I suppose had it been me I’d’ve asked had it anything gluten-free.  He goes on, greasy spoons should be greasy and grimy and smoky.  And not vegan.

His job he enjoys is to nudge people into sustainable living while his own life is financially unsustainable.  Oh the irony, Ivy, the irony!  And, ooh, Mark Samuels gets a mention.  I know him, Horatio.  Usually people are referred to as an initial capital letter and a dash, to preserve the privacy of people you’re unlikely to know anyway and suggest the writing is true to living fact, though a first name would be more convincing or so I was thinking till he gives that of Drapeau.  Flag?  Mark Samuels gets not only a first name but a surname as a known published writer.  How true to life writing may be is up to the belief of the reader, which is generally false.

On the job he mistakes an open doorway in a block for a toilet and wasn’t entirely mistaken, to my amusement, since it led to lifts and a stairwell used, yes you’ve guessed, as a toilet.  His initial suggestion for overpopulation is sterilisation.  He isn’t optimistic man will solve this problem but it will ultimately be solved by its effect, presumably runaway global warming from the unwillingness to curtail.  It tends him to believe existence is inherently evil.  I enjoy life too much to share that belief.  You don’t have to agree with him to enjoy his writing which is not pre-digested thought regurgitated but thinking on the page.

‘What if I demanded that we should stop bringing into the world those who have never asked to be born?’ made me laugh, at the inherent presumption of that ‘I demand’, and that we should only have been born if we asked.  I was asked my greatest wish, for a school magazine.  ‘Never to have been born’ was my reply.  I didn’t know Sophocles had anticipated me with his never to be born is best.  We didn’t think we had a choice.  “I didn’t choose to be born,” I told my mother whose choice it was.  The author makes play, by repetition, of people being born who never asked to be as if that they didn’t consent to it makes their existence a bad thing from their helpless suffering in an uncaring world as he is conceiving it to be, though finally all that concerns him is his own suffering in the face of what he conceives.  You have to read this.

He’s told a long philosophical essay on why human life is inexcusably horrible is available on download.  ‘Naturally, I leapt at the chance to read it.’  Naturally I laughed.  And louder at this: until a verdict was returned on whether the universe was entirely evil or entirely good, he was erring on the side of caution in refraining from procreation.  I myself decided against procreation, if not for his reason, but my unconscious had other ideas.  I was refusing, on the grounds of the woman’s deceitfulness, but, as my will said, how else is she going to get it out of you!  It was a compelling argument.

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While with a nail unpicking at the seal,

tearing to check the wrapping paper –

for recycling – I went into the room

where John was seated.  “That’s the first time

I’ve seen you undo a bar of soap,”

with delight at something new, of me, he knew,

I was revealing.

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Review of Living on Paper, Murdoch’s letters

The introduction assesses the author’s promiscuity and effect on a wartime lover.  She was being honest in the letters to him I read.  (I hadn’t realised Theo died shortly after as a result of Vincent Van Gogh’s suicide. )

I’ve never accepted that the labour put into a product had much to do with its value to the consumer.  Her favourite word, ‘muddle’, makes an early entry and stays the course.  She’s naively a communist, a useful idiot as so many of her university peers were.  She writes ‘living this easy pleasant life I have a perpetual sense of guilt and desire to hurt myself,’ she does find the means to do.  She’d almost given up thinking of people and actions in terms of value but her tutor makes her re-evaluate her thinking in that respect and give credence to the moral value of an inner life not subject to others’ observation.  She spied for the communist party when working for the Treasury.  She was onto Kierkegaard.  I was too, at university before the theology students got to him in their course, and from that I found her as a philosopher, on Sartre.

She noticed a general tendency to want to be loved without reciprocating and goes on to describe what would make a good psychological novel, living with a man she didn’t love, falling in love with another a friend was ditching and causing misery bien sur to the first man, saved by the friend’s falling in love with him, while she was finding out the man she did love was the very devil and so she ended up hating him and herself but quite unable from fushionlessness to end the suffering being inflicted on all four.  I can’t compete with that.  Terrific and probably artistically useful.  What I was doing comparably was being candidly in love with Christo de Wet in the Divinity Students Residence, defeating his god who was endorsing his impotence and exhausting myself in the process.

She’s conscripted into the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration which doesn’t have the imagination to understand what the displaced person problem really is.  Her French came in handy though.  Her fiancé meets somebody better and is let off the hook, leaving her relieved but with an increased horror of all ties, especially marital.  He wants back but she says no.  I think this may be where she gets her idea of ‘chance’ from.  She might have married him, hooked by sex, as she would have the one who got himself killed or another who died just in time.  It’s all looking pretty chancy.  She can’t take up a fellowship at Vassar; the Americans won’t give her a visa on account she’d been a communist.  She does get in later but has to apply for an eighteen month visa each occasion and on one the embassy loses her passport.  That’ll larn her.

She becomes a Xian again but is persuaded to rethink her religious views by yet another charismatic man who, incidentally, thought her a British bore.  The ‘net’ of the title of her first novel, ‘Under the Net’, refers to that of language Wittgenstein identified as barrier to truth and translation of thought into language.  Looking for a book, under the direction of my unconscious my arm rose and hand picked out ‘Under the Net’, written by someone I’d thought of as a philosopher only.

Bad faith is defined as when someone under social forces adopts false values and forfeits his innate freedom to act authentically, a small price to pay for social acceptance I’d’ve thought like the lie of Christ resurrected.

‘I must say the thing and be rid of it,’ she says.  Me too.  I read out a story that moved a friend to tears, thinking I was in love when I’d written it out.  Murdoch visited an abbey out of remorse and drew on her knowledge of it in writing The Bell.

Oxford gets her down because it’s so intellectual and she’s not and doesn’t like intellectuals, so she says while knowing nobody else much.  When a friend calls her genteel, I’m inclined to agree.  ‘Are you happy?  Do you love and are you loved?’ she asks, ‘I know that compared with this jobs are as nothing.’  ‘How much I want to be admired.  People said how much they’d enjoyed my voice on the radio and I felt pleased with myself.’  ‘I can certainly live without you – it’s necessary.  You know what it is for one person to represent for another an absolute.  There is nothing I wouldn’t give up for you if you wanted me.  I know from my own experience how in a moment of need one is just as likely to rely on someone one met yesterday.’

She doesn’t meet the expectations of her publisher.  Good for her.  Giles Gordon, the agent, would’ve taken me on if I’d met his.  I stopped CORRESPONDENCE at the printer’s because the publisher was obdurately insisting on misattributing the book.  In her second novel Murdoch proffers attention to reality as the means by which obsessive masochistic fantasies may be overcome and goodness made accessible and learned, good being the object of love.  The editors’ commentaries relate the fiction to the life.  Murdoch championed the novel of character.  A Severed Head prefigured the Profumo Affair.  The intense and reckless liaisons within her novels reflected the sexual mores of the time and her own.  She is she thinks like her books.  Her characters are all her.  ‘I can’t divide friendship from love or love from sex – or sex from love.  If I care for somebody I want to caress them.  I am not a lesbian, in spite of one or two unevents.  I am strongly interested in men but don’t really want normal heterosexual relations.  I am a male heterosexual in female guise, evident from the novels where it is male queer relations which carry the most force from the unconscious.’  She does initiate a sexual relationship with another woman to remove emotional barriers.  ‘I cannot think of any corner of the universe where sex is not present.’  ‘I don’t portray real people; it would inhibit imagination.’  Magic, like sex, is everywhere ‘just over a certain borderline when a kind of will-to-power radiation takes possession of up till then innocent or harmless or spiritual images or activities or states of being,’ an intimation of the unconscious coming out and taking over perhaps.

I sent her my novel and had a critical letter in reply.  I’m thinking of sending a copy of it to the editors who asked for such.  She tells off a friend for making a carbon copy of a letter to her he showed to somebody else.  He should not make copies of personal letters.  Why not?  I discarded the idea myself in writing to Betty Clark because it’d militate against spontaneity.

She says Islam is a rotten religion which owes much of its popularity to its absolute and fundamental degradation of women.  Ireland likewise is an awful country, of bogus charm, although she regards herself as an Anglo-Irish Protestant.  She loathes the IRA and objects to American support for a united Ireland.  She’d be a Leaver on the grounds of our sovereignty that we’ve had for a very long time whereas France and Germany want to run Europe between them.

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Review of Murdoch’s Existentialists and Mystics

Murdoch says, in a revised conversation with Magee, ‘any artist must be at least half in love with his unconscious mind which after all provides his motive force and does a great deal of his work.’  Mine was behind Sketch of a Just Man, An instance from which telepathy can be proved…, the poems, The Man Who Stopped Time, where it took over my writing hand to achieve exactly the effect it wanted, CORRESPONDENCE of John Cairns with Betty Clark (Joan Ure), Phoenixflower, Dark Side of the Moon, the lot.  Murdoch didn’t want to be obviously present in her artistic work.  ‘Literature could be called a disciplined technique for arousing certain emotions.  If nothing sensuous is present no art is present.  Art is close …play with unconscious forces.  Art is mimesis and good art is… anamnesis, memory of what we did not know we knew.’  That about sums up ‘the book’, lived by unconscious direction and realised at unconscious instigation from its intact memory.  ‘The unconscious mind is not a philosopher,’ she says.  It’s not a mind either but a spirit informing the mind, both the unconscious and conscious mind.  Art, she thinks, is a battle with obsessive unconscious forces… although the unconscious… is also the source of art.  Mine liked I didn’t let consciousness get in his way whereas Betty Clark inhibited his and her unconscious’s expression.  Art goes deeper than philosophy, she writes.  Formalists want to cure us of the realistic fallacy of imagining we look through language into a separate world beyond, like taking what the writer is imagining in words as depicting what’s there, I suppose.  When Johnson kicked the stone to refute Berkeley he was protesting against the latter’s metaphysical attempt to remove a necessary distinction between self and the world.  She thinks words should be seen as a medium through which one relates to the world, whatever that world is, including that of works of art.  The world of people, and things, is more malleable than she thinks.  Art is truth as well as form, she says, representational as well as autonomous, suggesting a relative truth, true to something other.  Art has got to have form, she avers, life need not.  It may.  Mine did.

I was interested in what she had to say about truth in art.  She says literature is often criticised for being in some sense untruthful, using words like sentimental, pretentious, self-indulgent, trivial, vulgar, banal but primarily fantasy, to impute some kind of falsehood.  The Greeks exonerated fiction from being a lie but she’s defining truth in art from what falsifies it.  I’m no clearer knowing how it can be true except to a writer’s unalloyed imagination recognised as true by an appreciative reader, a not very convincing criterion.  She later writes the good artist is a vehicle of truth in that he formulates ideas which otherwise would remain vague and focuses attention on facts which can then no longer be ignored, without exemplifying this contention.  The artist must tell the truth about something he has understood.  The paradox of art is that the work itself may have to invent the methods by which we verify it, to erect its own interior standards of truthfulness.  Hmm.

Modern writing is more ironical and less confident than that of the nineteenth century, the story more narrowly connected with the consciousness of the author who narrates through the consciousness of a character, without direct judging or description by the author as an external authoritative intelligence.  To write like a nineteenth century novelist now would seem like a literary device.  In a novel the conflict between the representational and formal may appear as that between characters and plot.  A bad writer gives way to personal obsession, exalting some characters, demeaning others, without concern for truth or justice ie without a suitable aesthetic explanation.

In paraphrasing Ayer on the mind she refers to overt public conventions she defines as what govern the inward utterance of words which is all that ‘thinking’ can properly consist of, as if all thinking is conscious and uses language.  The Turk didn’t speak English nor I Turkish yet… I stopped and turned to look back to see how far we’d come down the slipway all the while fluently communicating without vocalising.  The slipway, of course, would be physical symbol of what we’d been doing and I wouldn’t have been thinking ‘fluently communicating’ or ‘vocalising’, more likely ‘talking’ and ‘without speaking’ ie communicating without verbalising.  In that mode of communicating he asked if I wanted to go back to my friends, so interpreting my stopping and looking back.  No.  What I was unconsciously doing was raising a buoy to the surface so that on looking back I’d see something there, look at it more closely and pull on the line, bringing memory after attached memory up into consciousness until I’d realised the incident from unconscious memory.  I’ve put it metaphorically.  At the time I realised we hadn’t been actually talking, stopped and looked back, measuring how far we’d come while communicating without using language.  I’d avoided using the word ‘realised’ before because it’d convey consciousness and I’d still be unconscious but perhaps nearing the interface of the unconscious with consciousness.  The young Turk probably got the gist at the time or later forgot it entirely because unconscious then.  The means to an end wouldn’t interest him anyway.  I can’t myself be that interested in a conscious thinking which excludes that of the unconscious and presumes therefore that all thinking is done linguistically, in English, French, Turkish or whatever.

Morality is pictured without any transcendent background because there are no metaphysical entities, though will is.  In our society we believe in judging a man by his conduct, she says.  He’s not fully conscious of what he is.  The current view is his moral life is a series of overt choices and acts.  She holds it’s not only his choices but his vision that constitutes his morality.  Marxists, Xians, Moslems believe we are immersed in a reality which transcends us and moral progress consists in awareness of this reality and submission to its purpose.

She defines Sartre’s idea of consciousness, that it’s for itself ie nothing although the source of all meaning.  Its nothingness is freedom that it has to realise in contention with things that exist in themselves and with other selves making an object, a thing, of it.  Sartre refuses to accept that emotion consciousness is aware of has a meaning of which it is unconscious.  It is that we are not reflectively aware of the configuration we have consciously framed to achieve the purpose of the emotion.  No wonder she thinks Sartre stupid.  If freedom founds all values why, she asks, ought she to will it for herself and others?  If it’s to be defined in terms of what she chooses, does not that imply making a distinction between true and false values which can’t be derived from free choice?  Sartre’s man inhabits a universe which contains no transcendent objective truth.  Man is an emptiness between two inaccessible totalities, of an impenetrable world of objects and an unattainable world of intelligible being.  He wants to be a living transparent consciousness and simultaneously a stable opaque being, impossibly contradictory.  It’s an aspiration to be god but no project satisfies him, all tending to fall dead into the region of the reified, thus all projects are equally vain: ‘ça revient au meme de s’enivrer solitairement ou de conduire les peuples.’  Nothing from the outside confers sense on one’s actions.  Bad faith, the illusion one can be something in a thinglike manner, comes from consciousness’s wish to be in-itself, rendering sincerity impossible.

Murdoch says Hampshire argues will is dependent on desires, some of which are dependent on beliefs, in turn dependent on thinking.  It’s true mother and I could think ourselves into emotion but not I don’t think into beliefs – belief a form of thinking – and on to will.  In any case, if from thinking, all this is to do with consciousness as if because one is aware of emotion it is attributable to consciousness, engendered by it.  It’s only if an unconscious, trapped inside and only able to act through consciousness, is reinforcing conscious will that the latter has any emotional heft eg I had the intimation of a Greek looking over his shoulder at his unconscious, protesting he was heterosexual when she wanted him to take an interest in me.  He went along with it because any direction from within was also of his self and therefore acceptable.  I received this intimation from my man, my unconscious will, who put it pictorially to my inner eye.  I was imagining it.  Unconscious thinking uses the same ways as imagination.  It’s an exercise of will.  The unconscious will comes first and puts on desire, love or emotion to make one focus and do what it wants, bait on the hook, and it is transcendent.

Jim took me to Lawrence’s trial at Richmond magistrates’.  I cowered beside Jim until I realised Lawrence didn’t know me.  I wanted nothing to do with him!  My man told me, ‘It’s your job.’  Whereupon I wouldn’t mind the odd buffet or two since I didn’t see how I could treat him with policemen on either side restraining his arms.  My man assured me I wouldn’t be hurt.  Jim brought a reluctant Lawrence to me after stealing booze from Marks.  Within twenty minutes Lawrence wanted me.  That desire would alter his will but it was my transcendent will preceded and brought that situation about.

Love, she says, is the imaginative recognition of ie respect for the otherness of an irreducibly dissimilar individual.  I’d go further: it’s the acceptance of an alternative criterion for oneself always provided the other decides for one.

Goodness, she says Moore says, is a function of the will.  Mine is.  The psychopath’s badness was a function of his in taking being good at menace as good though it hurt his soul and made for an unhappiness he didn’t know how to mitigate.  She thinks goodness is connected to knowledge,… a refined and honest perception of what is really the case.  That would be quite beyond the psychopath who was dim and drunk all the time so his unconscious might be out causing havoc.  It wasn’t necessarily beyond me in dealing with his case.  He liked me because I wasn’t afraid of him.  “I am,” I said, giving hostage to fortune.  The fear had to be suppressed for me to function, as I may also very well have told him.  Angst she would describe as a kind of fright which the conscious will feels when it apprehends the strength and direction of the personality not under its immediate control.  She actually believes the will is conscious and that’s it.  Even if her unconscious will were acting on and through consciousness she wouldn’t know it was but take it as conscious because conscious of it though not enough to know a difference in her willing when her unconscious will was engaged.  It may be when she attends properly and has no choices, the ultimate condition she aimed for.  Freedom’s not having multiple possibilities of action; the ideal situation is represented as a kind of necessity, that would be when there’s only the one.  Good she thinks is indefinable because of the infinite difficulty of apprehending a magnetic and inexhaustible reality.  No magnetic good for the psychopath unless mine.  Good, not will, is transcendent, she emphasises, but then she only knows of conscious will which can’t be.  As far as she can see there is no metaphysical unity in life, which is subject to chance.  I have a metaphysical unity, that of my unconscious will, and if I do, so must you, from yours, like the psychopath had unhappily from his and, less unhappily, after I and mine had effected a correction to it.  Patently that metaphysical unity need not be good.  When true good is loved, the quality of love is refined, she says.  It wasn’t my active unconscious will the psychopath loved but my receptive will, let’s say my soul or that half of my soul, and his love was refined by love; he wouldn’t hit me in my room because I felt safe there and only lightly because he didn’t think I could take too much.  What was most for his good was his irretrievable loss of me.

Steiner gives biographical details.  She exemplifies her philosophy not from life but art, a procedure she defends as valid.  She analyses Plato and her philosophy is summed up in her two Platonic dialogues.

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