I have gone back, further in time than I ever thought, in this move from country to country, town to town, to the one liners that used to define my life I wrote in some tiny notebooks, with no covers now, I used to buy, a boy who knew one or two streets in a city he thought he would never love more, would never be unfaithful too.
There’s Camus with that first stunning line that never ceases to amaze, “Mother died today. Or, maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure,” from his novel The Outsider. Some call it The Stranger. It is not the Camus line that has stayed with me all through my reading and feeling life though it is a line I could understand and that spoke at a time when you could hate and love someone at the same time and believe you hated them when your hate really concealed a deeper love than you wanted to acknowledge anymore.
But that was not the Camus line that has lived with me, trench coat wearing author who nearly made me take up smoking because you smoked, that is not the line. Or the Jesus figures in The Plague that had me staying after school, to miss a hostel orgy, because staggered under the load of pain these characters incarcerated inside a city’s walls were going through mirrored certain mental prisons and I wanted to know how was it all going to end. No, not lines from The Plague, a book I dread to read again but I know I must read once more when I’m ready.
Camus you have been with me because, “In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer,” though I have never touched snow and felt my fingers becoming cold and brittle as it melted through them, I have carried those lines with me, from Camus, all my life. Albert Camus too, his heritage much debated; French Algerian or Algerian French or Algerian or French, in the years when I did not know the name of one African author and I needed an author a white man had endorsed as great, reeling from Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, John Milton, Spencer and I did not want to go with the slave narratives of Frederick Douglas anymore. So there was Camus.
“There is never any ending to
Of all the authors in my modest and shrinking library, it is to Hemingway for the last five or so years I have continually returned! Outdoors man of American literature, famous drunk and backstabbing envious friend, womanizer reputed to need a new wife for each new novel and hater of his own mother, mocker of his father, macho bearded like 19th century Victorian writers, masquerader among the modernists, most famous writer of the 20th century, Spain praise singer, bull fighting aficionado, Hemingway taught me what D.H. Lawrence meant when he said, "Never trust the artist. Trust the tale." Nor the critics either! You’re the best critic of what you’re reading, never forget that.
The writer did not have to be a timid pussy or interested only in writerly things, Hemingway taught that. Of course I could have learned all this from Tolstoy but have you seen how fat War and Peace is? Then again R L Stevenson was never a stay at home writer but he did need the cuddling of wet nurses all his life and have you read the topics of his essays? Okay, Jack London was so adventurous he was once the nicknamed the Prince of I think Oyster bay in his pirating days but who is going to take seriously a writer whose most famous creations are talking dogs in the wild? I needed Ernest Hemingway, racing through the novels and then I found A Moveable Feast,
In a few days, maybe a week at the most, I should be reading Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov. I have been warned that it is perhaps the best written memory book. But I have heard such trumpeting before for other memoirs and books that fall in this gray area, lately Soyinka’s Ake. I have that book on my shelf too, unread still, because I’m not yet ready for Soyinka. It has taken me years to be ready for Nabokov though dirty mind that I’m, yeah, I used to own a copy of Lolita, read it, was thrilled and gave it away though it is a book that induces minor orgasms in a reader throughout. Maybe Speak Memory will dethrone, I have loved the Russia Nabokov speaks of way back since I started reading Gogol’s Dead Souls, read his short stories, discovered unsung gems like Oblomov, then the Chekhov’s. Ah!
The things I could tell you about Chekhov and Maupassant and Flaubert and oh my, I read the love letters of John Keats to his girl with a delicious name Fanny! Could they choose ‘em or could they choose ‘em! There’s a whole essay, an article, a film, an art gallery show in the lovers and wives of great writers. Oh my! Did you know that actually Joyce day so seriously celebrated by academia enshrined in one of Joyce’s letters to Nora celebrates the first day, “without prompting from Joyce, Nora slid her hand inside his trousers, grabbed his member, and pleasured him to orgasm, in the first sexual act Joyce had never paid for.” I could have kicked myself! James Joyce Day is actually celebrating famed writer James Joyce’s first, how do the English delightfully put, wank!
I love James Joyce’s The Dubliners by the way. Those short stories, unsurpassed yet! To be poor is romantic in retrospect but Hemingway was so right that “hunger was a good discipline.” But when it comes to the novel, when it comes right, F. Scott Fitzgerald! The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night; in those two novels are all the novels of some writers who have written a whole library shelf of novels. Baby, I still love you because…
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further…. And one fine morning----
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.”
It is still the most beautiful ending of any novel, written anywhere in the world, I have ever read and I challenge you to quote me a better one. I dare you!
This is for the writers and the readers who love the writers, who, not turning up their noses and sensibilities, Chaucer-like, dive into the murk of their everyday and make their pages pulsate with the lives and concerns, the beating heart of life, want to say…
This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm’d--- see here it is---
I hold it towards you.