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.


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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