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About the Author
Born in Jalandhar, British India, in 1912 to Indian-born British colonials, Lawrence Durrell was a critically hailed and beloved novelist, poet, humorist, and travel writer best known for the Alexandria Quartet novels, which were ranked by the Modern Library as among the greatest works of English literature in the twentieth century. A passionate and dedicated writer from an early age, Durrell’s prolific career also included the groundbreaking Avignon Quintet, whose first novel, Monsieur (1974), won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and whose third novel, Constance (1982), was nominated for the Booker Prize. He also penned the celebrated travel memoir Bitter Lemons of Cyprus (1957), which won the Duff Cooper Prize. Durrell corresponded with author Henry Miller for forty-five years, and Miller influenced much of his early work, including a provocative and controversial novel, The Black Book (1938). Durrell died in France in 1990.
Read an Excerpt
or The Ripper's Tale
By Lawrence Durrell
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1985 Lawrence Durrell
All rights reserved.
The train bore them onwards and downwards through the sluices and barrages which contained the exuberance of the Rhône, across the drowsy plain, towards the City of the Popes, where now in a frail spring sunshine the pigeons fluttered like confetti and the belfries purged their guilt in the twanging of holy bells. Skies of old rose and madder, flowering Judas and fuchsia, mulberry and the wise grey olives after Valence.
They were met by the long-lost children they called "the Ogres" accompanied by the faithful Drexel. They had come to carry out the long-promised plan of retirement to the remote chateau which the brother and sister had inherited. Here they were to bury themselves in the three-cornered love which had once intrigued Blanford and caused him to try to forge a novel round the notion of this triune love. Alas, it had not come off. The idea, like the reality, had been too gnostic and would, in the reality also, fail. But now they were happy and full of faith, the beautiful ogres. Blan greeted them tenderly.
For their own part they looked rather like the members of a third touring company of a popular play – the two fair women and the boy, Lord Galen, Cade, Sutcliffe, Toby and so on. Be ye members of one another, he thought. If each had a part in the play perhaps they could also be the various actors which, in their sum, made up one whole single personality? The sunshine slumbered among the roses and somewhere a nightingale soliloquised. He had made one gesture which adequately expressed his feeling that this was to be a new beginning to his life. He had thrown away all his notes for the new book, shaking out his briefcase from the window of the train and watching the leaves scatter and drift away down the valley of the Rhône. Like a tree shedding its petals – slips of all colours and sizes. He had decided the night before that if ever he wrote again it would be without premeditation, without notes and plans, but spontaneously as a cicada sings in the summer sunlight. The fat man, his alter ego, watched him as he did so and expressed a certain reserve by shaking his head very doubtfully as he watched the petals floating away in a vast whirl just like the pigeons over the town. It would be like this after the atomic explosion, he was thinking – just clouds of memoranda filling the air – human memoranda. The sum of all their parts whirled in the death-drift of history – motes in a vast sunbeam.
Cade suddenly laughed and struck his thigh with his palm, but he did not share the joke with them. Perhaps it was not a joke?
Sutcliffe said with dismay: "But surely we aren't going to let the ogres reenact the terrible historic mistake which was the theme of your great epos – the heroic threesome of romance? Come! It didn't work in life any more than it worked in the novel, admit it!" Aubrey did, but with bad grace. "Three into one don't go." Pursued his alter ego: "Though God knows why not – we should ask Constance, for perhaps the old Freudian canon can tell us why. Anyway, if it was good enough for Shakespeare it is good enough for me!"
"What do you mean by that?"
"The Sonnets. The situation outlined in them would have made perhaps his finest play, but he fought shy of it because instinctively he felt that it wouldn't work. We must really try to save the poor ogres from the same fate – not let them come round again on the historic merry-go-round with the hapless Drexel. Save them! History, memory, you promised to avoid all those traps: otherwise you will simply have another addition to the caveau de famille of the straight novel and Sylvie will remain forever in the asylum, lying under her tapestry and writing ..."
"She has been trying to write my book, the one I am just about to begin by marshalling all these disorderly facts into a coherent maze of language where everyone will find his or her place without jostling or hurry. But I realise now that if you don't have the built-in intimations of immanent virtue as described by Epicurus, say, you will end up with an excessive puritan morality, and overcompensate by unscrupulousness, even by sheer bloodlust, marked by sentimentality. At the same time one must tiptoe and with care, one must advance au pifomètre, 'by dead reckoning'." It was obvious to both that the sort of book they sought must not repeat the misadventure of Piers and Sylvie for what they wanted to refresh and reanimate was the archaic notion of the couple, the engineers of grace through the act. Actually it had happened, and thanks to Constance, her massage and her physical pleading had suddenly awoken his spine and with it the whole net of ganglia which revived and tonified his copulatory powers. Thaumatology! the death-leaps of the divine orgasm like a salmon: the two-in-one joined by an immense but penetrable amnesia which they could render gradually more and more conscious. To hold it steady to the point of meditation where it is blinding and then slowly melt one into the other with a passion which was all stealth ... Who abdicates in love wins all! "The Garden of the Hesperides" is within the reach of such ... The kiss is the pure copula of the vast shared thought. "I love you!" he said with amazement, with real amazement.
"Christ!" he said. "Thanks to you I have come awake for the first time. The horrible sleeping dummy awakens! Lady Utterly, fancy seeing you! What brings you here?" She settled more closely into the crook of his arm, but did not speak. She knew that the information she had passed on came from her dead lover, Affad. He had always said: "What is too finely explained becomes inoperative, dead, incapable of realisation. Never talk about love unless you are looking elsewhere when you do. Otherwise the self-defeating pillow-music will lead you astray." Blanford was saying: "Darling, you will be able to exhibit me in a glass case outside your consulting-room as 'The man who came back from the dead – the ape erect!'" Ah! but she knew that science is not interested in happy endings – that is the privilege of art!
As Sutcliffe used to hum:
What he believed in cannot be expressed,
That's why his ideas seem partly undressed
When insight hardens into dogma it goes dead, so they kept everything fluid yet kept on praying for more and yet more insight with which to discipline the heart. How dull the old world of "before" seemed now with its inappropriate lusts and dilapidated attachments. In the Camargue on the verandah of their little house they sat in silence watching the night falling and the fireflies twinkling like minds realising themselves briefly, abruptly before disappearing. Meanwhile she was making notes for her psychoanalytic essay on that forgotten novel Gynacocrasy the reading of which (it was comically pornographic in the stark naivety of its love scenes) had brought them both so much fun. It had clearly been written by a woman and Constance was setting out to prove the fact (which was nowhere stated) purely by internal evidence of a psychoanalytic-sexual kind. Blanford was amazed when he thought how much she had taught him, even physically. She had learned that the priapic conjunction is a force-harness which builds the field in which the future, as exemplified by the human child, can secure a foothold in reality. Half-joking she could say: "Now you know what you are doing when you couple with me you will never be able to leave me – it would be dangerous for your insight! For your art, the merchandise of breath, oxygen! We've done it, darling! The orgasm if shared in this way admits you to the realm between death and rebirth, the workshop of both past and future. To grasp this simultaneity is the key. Meanwhile in between births – the orgasm is a shadow-play of this chrysalis stage – we exist in five-skanda form, aggregates, parcels, lots, congeries. They cohere to form a human being when you come together and create the old force-field quinx, the five-sided being with two arms, two legs and the kundalini as properties!"
"Well," he said somewhat ironically, "in the new age it will be the man who is the Sleeping Beauty and who is kissed awake by the woman! Their paths join and bifurcate at the command of nature. And human truth, damn it, must become coeval with nature's basic nonchalance for the miracle to come about. As if one had to stop caring and start improvising! Of course love can be reduced to a pleasant conviviality but the wavelength or scale is low and it cannot fecundate the heart or the insight. A mere discharge cannot instruct!"
"You need to go away from me for a bit now. Not for too long. But to get your focus right for what you want to start building."
"I know," he said. "I shan't be happy until I have had a real try to make it the way I want – being serious without being grave. (The malevolence of too much goodness is to be feared!) If I could create such an edifice it would point the finger at the notion of discrete identity as being very much in question –'Be ye members of one another' or 'spare parts', pièces détachées!"
"What else?" she said in loving triumph.
"Make a playdoyer for coexisting time-tracks in the human imagination. Deal seriously at last with human love which is a yogic thought form, the rudder of the human ship of fools: for hidden in the blissful amnesia we have just shared is the five-sided truth about human personality. Meanwhile the text should show high contrivance as well as utter a plea for bliss as being the object of art. Am I talking rubbish? It's euphoria, then!"
But in fact he was right for the idea of chronology had become disturbed – history was not past but was something which was always just about to happen. It was the part of reality that was poised! He would have gone out of his mind with all these intimations of another version of reality but for the indispensable beauty and loneliness of her presence. She had said: "If you want to do good without moralising write a poem", and this is what he began to feel might lie within his powers one day soon!
"You will soon be in a position to write a study of the woman as placebo – the therapy takes place even if she is not a goddess but an ordinary woman!" (Sutcliffe sounded a little jealous, perhaps he was.) She said: "But you areright. It's her role. And each orgasm is a dress rehearsal for something deeper, namely death, which becomes more and more explicit until it happens and revives the whole universe in us at a blow. Knowing this you know that everything is to be forgiven, none of our trespasses need be taken too seriously. Fundamentally everyone is panning for gold."
"I hate this kind of moralising," he said, "because it smells of self-righteousness. I want to be bad, just bad. It's also a way of loving – or isn't it? I know you are thinking of the philosopher Daimonax, but was he right when he said that nobody really wanted to be bad? We must ask Sabine."
And fortunately Sabine was there to ask, sitting at the table on the balcony with her eternal spread of cards before her, scrutinising the future. She was smoking a cheroot as she worked – for skrying is hard work. She said: "It's better than that, even, for the whole universe; the whole of process, to the degree that it is natural, becomes pain-free, anxiety-free, stress-free. The lion was made to lie down with the lamb only anxiety causes fear, causes war. The same with us. Love and lust are forms of spiritual traction which a girl knows instinctively how to handle – the push and pull of sexual and bisexual feeling, the dear old Oedipus group. Unless one grasps this one goes on living with sadness – the horror at the meaninglessness of things keeps on increasing. But reality is really bliss-side-up if we want it so. Constance must purge your nursery desires, evolve your feeling for emptiness, develop the vatic sense, and persuade the heart to become festive!"
"Yes!" said Constance slowly. "And birth is no trauma but an apotheosis: here I part company with my Viennese colleagues for they were born into sin. But in reality one is born into bliss – it is we who cause the trauma with these mad doctrines based on guilt and fear. Pathology begins at home!"
"Instinct has its own logic which we must obey, we can't do otherwise. We must roll with the hunch, so to speak. It is independent of the quantitative method which just brings up samples to analyse, all parts of an incommensurable whole."
It was now that she told them the tale of Julio, the gipsy poet, and the story of his legs. He had been the only child produced by the Mother and nobody knew what his origins were for She had never been seen to "accept" a man in her caravan. It was understood that such a weakness would have in some way qualified her "sight", diminished her powers of prophesy. Julio grew up into a godly magnificence, physically of fine stature, and composed as if he had already lived on earth before. Not to mention une sexualité à tout va ... He made up for his mother's shortcomings and had all the beauties of the tribe in love with him. He became the tribal bard, so to speak, though among gipsies there is no such thing. His compositions were improvised to the guitar but the words were so striking they became popular sayings. He still lives on in quotation, so to speak.
"But it was not only love-making that Julio favoured, he was also an athlete and enjoyed cattle-rustling and cockade-snatching – the variety of bullfighting favoured by all Provence. He liked the taste of danger in the cockade fight and became a champion – unusual for a gipsy. Then came his downfall." Pain entered Sabine's quiet voice. "He was matched against the famous bull Sanglier who was also a champion, and a fierce combat ensued. Julio almost flew in this battle, and the old bull used every trick in his repertoire, for he was a seasoned defender of the little red cockade. Then came the climax. Julio slipped as he came to the barrier and lost his advantage over the bull. Sanglier bustled him to the barricades and with an experienced maliciousness savaged him. When you are passing in the Camargue and you come across the tomb of this heroic Homeric animal, say a prayer for the ghost of Julio for he had both legs so badly crushed against the barrier that they were forced to amputate them. We thought he would die of misery and physical humiliation but after a period of despair, during which he selected and rejected every form of suicide, he took on a new life. His poetry increased in vigour and gravity. He had asked for his legs back, and these he had beautifully embalmed as an ex voto for Saint Sara. They were placed in the grotto with the spring at the Pont-du-Gard and a cult of fertility grew up about them. But this was after his death, for he lived on for a number of years just as a stump of flesh with arms, and strangely enough his success with the women increased rather than diminished. He never wanted for women. It was said that the infertile conceived after a love-bout with Julio. All the sexual power of his lost legs seemed to have entered his member. It grew enormous, he was in permanent erection it seemed. I went to him myself once or twice out of curiosity and he was extraordinary. He seemed to bore to the very heart of the orgasm – the psyche's point of repair, the site of its sexual health. With the missing legs one could see that the spinal column was really a sort of Giant's Causeway towards the yogic self-comprehension – the kundalini, serpent-erect business. Julio had imbibed this from his mother's milk. I myself realised for the first time that sex is not dying, it is coming of age with the freedom of the woman. Its real secrets are as yet only half-fathomed in the West. The mathematics of the sexual act remain obscure. The power of five is really the riddle of the Quinx – solve it if you dare! But the problem of Julio is a very grave political one for us. Unless they are rediscovered and the shrine of Sara given back to us the Tribe can neither march nor procreate!"
"Two down and five across, a ruling passion."
"Tagged by the Greeks as psyche-fed?"
"No. No. Five letters, love. I love you!"
"But psyche-fed no less, for love's the
Four-letter word we most recall with
Never a crossword or dull moment. Two
Across and one up, never a cross word!"
To codify the appetites by yoga – all kisses and sweet stresses, sweet stretches and breathwork, guarding the deep vascularity of muscles and veins. Then meditation, like crossing the dark garden of consciousness shielding a lighted candle which the least puff of wind might extinguish. You protect this small precarious flame, treasuring it in the palm of the hand. So very gradually your meditation affirms and strengthens the flame and you can cross the dark garden with it triumphantly erect – the yoga erection of the adept in Tao is this, no? Yes, in Taoist terms even love is a predicament due to the wrong angle of inclination towards the universe.
He sees no contradiction in contradiction, and to know this is the beginning of a freakish new certainty. His poetry is concerned with the transmission of an inkling, a breath of the supreme intuition which makes you laugh inside forever!
"I am grateful to Egypt – having my back shot to pieces. I might never have bothered with this yoga jape and so missed a deeply transforming experience. A religion which harbours no ifs and buts, not even the shadow of a perhaps. No sweet neurosis this, no mental chloroform pad! Formal logic dissolves and as you orchestrate the body you exchange lard against oxygen. The hunger is not to possess, to own, but to belong."
Excerpted from Quinx by Lawrence Durrell. Copyright © 1985 Lawrence Durrell. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsONE Provence Anew,
TWO The Moving Finger,
THREE The Prince Arrives,
FOUR The General Visited,
FIVE The Falling Leaves, Inklings,
SIX The Return,
SEVEN Whether or Not,