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.


About johnbrucecairns

I'm a retired history teacher who's written for most of his life with a book readied for publication.
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