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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in new york (31)

Tuesday
Mar032015

In Which We Are Going To Love Living In Paris

Hard People

The poet Charles Henri Ford was gay, he had a boyfriend, and he was open to other things. Say, for example, he saw a man passing by on the street. He might think of him later, assuming he had a particular flair or gravitas. Years later the individual might appear in one of Ford's poems, for the only thing he enjoyed more than sex was immersing himself in his art. 

In his diaries, Ford proves himself the best American journaler of his century. He makes Kafka's cogent observational entries seem clunky and unaware of themselves in contrast, because he takes so much of what the world is in without flinching. In his primary relationship with the painter Pavlik Tchelitchew and the other affairs he consummated in full view of his partner, Henri Ford brings the sex life of his period into full and magnificent display in all its decadence, glory and shame.

The entries that follow are highly excerpted from the original manuscript, which you can purchase here.

The masculine type of simple boy who goes with girls and yet has something passive about him. The incredible looking gymnast who appeared in the weightroom yesterday at the Y: face of a soap-sculpture athlete (baby face), expressionless corn-blond hair contrasting with double-thick black eyelashes which gave the final artificial touch - what can you do with a big doll like that? Why, it's too heavy to pick up.

+

We were sitting in the front row, someone pinched my ear from the back, I turned around and it was Carl Van Vechten. Carl is editing some works of Gertrude Stein, I sent him recently this quotation from Jung: "...only when we have found the sense in apparent nonsense, can we separate the valueless from the valuable."

Gertrude Stein told me, in 1933, after she learned of my liaison with Pavlik: "Americans are strong but Russians are stronger. You'll come out the little end." And when she couldn't "break it up" she stopped seeing me.

+

Pavlik, as he went to bed last night, "I don't love anybody." "Not even me?" "Not even myself." His work is at the point where he can't go back and cannot see his way forward.

Yesterday afternoon we went to New Haven to see the Sartre play. Jed Harris' "restrained" direction is more strained than directed. The casting is abominable Boyer no more than a voice. The play has been disastrously cut and mauled it's cheap with a cheapness even Edward, My Son doesn't touch. If this is the theater, take me away from it.

Bert told me of the women he'd had in Milwaukee, Philadelphia - and in Newfoundland, where they wanted to go out and fuck in the snow... "And when you jerk off do you try to make it last a long time?" Bert: "No, I like to get it over with as soon as possible." He told me of how they used to extract the alcohol from shellac, on board ship, by straining it through a loaf of white bread. And he said, "It's been so long since I've had a woman that it's pathetic."

The human, being there - one is moved, that's all.

+

Where does sleep go when we get enough?

We float on a cloud of sleep through a landscape of dream.

Is sleep, like the sun, always there even when we don't see it?

And if I married a girl, I'd want to sleep with her both of us naked, in a double bed, the light would go out and we'd begin to fuck. Sex would be no problem. The problem would be: would she bore me the next day?

On arrival in Weston Friday before tea, Bert jumped into his Levis, looking more sexy than ever, and we three took a walk. Vorisoff, our neighbor, came to dinner. Shortly after dinner Bert and I went upstairs, he wanted to look at the pornographic playcards and since there was nothing else to do he suggested we go to bed so I went back downstairs and said goodnight to Vorisoff and Pavlik. Bert was going to spend the night in my bed. "Fuck me between the legs," he said and hollered when I hit the piles which seem to be practically out because the next afternoon even my tongue hurt them (I had taken him in his bathrobe downstairs and washed his ass for him.) So after we had both come (I sucked him after shooting between his legs I can see him now in bed lifting one leg to wipe the come off his crotch with the towel I tossed him), he said he was hungry so we had scrambled eggs, then he said he felt "jumpy," that he wanted to take a walk and wanted me to get dressed and go with him. We had had Scotch after we got back. I shall make a list of "What's beautiful about Bert." Not now it's too long.

+

Last evening before bedtime Pavlik had another of his crises, in which he unloaded his feelings about our relationship. The most terrible thing he said was that he had the feeling I was waiting for him to die and that when he did die I wouldn't shed a tear: "Americans are the hardest people in the world..."

He said that when I was away from the apartment, then he "bloomed," that there were other people who "calmed" him when he was nervous, but that I drained him "I feel your pulling, pulling all the time, that's why you look so young, you age me, if you were to stay away from me one year you wouldn't look like you do now, like your portrait, just look in the mirror after one year, you'll see!"

I told him, "If we are only staying together out of convenience and cowardice, then it's pathetic, a break should be made..."

+

The voice of Leonor over phone - soft, and low pitched, very seductive.

I like the idea of liking girls and going to bed with them but I'm afraid I'm much too conditioned by boy-loving. On the boat, in the group Tanny-Bobby-Betty (latter a dark skinned ballerina traveling with Tanny), it was always Bobby who set off the sparks and whom I liked to look at, touch, listen to I'm made that way, that's all.

+

Concentration is like an animal or rare plant that must be hunted I'm on the road. "My shitting is of a completely different kind now," Pavlik announces, on the road to recovery.

Up at six and found a feather in my bed, as though, while I was sleeping, I'd been a bird.

+

There was a tremendous circle around the moon last night ("like the asshole of the universe," I told Pavlik.) Even the sun can embrace but half the world at once.

+

In the marketplace: a little girl's pushing a littler girl's screaming face in the placid face of a munching sheep. A trembling white duck being weighted in hand-scales: part of the trembling world, part of me.

Mountains change, even the bare rock ones with their melting leaves of snow.

Pavlik is absolutely as wild as a domestic cat always ready to be petted or frightened.

A gypsy woman asked me for 10 lire for bread for a child then proposed to read my hand and I let her - she said I had an amico who wished me well from his heart but that an end would soon come to our friendship.

+

Dear Jung is so sensible about sex: "A direct unconstrained expression of sexuality is a natural occurrence and as such neither unbeautiful nor repulsive. The 'moral' repression makes sexuality on one side dirty and hypocritical, on the other shameless and obtrusive.

Gino is here. He is unbelievably sweet and pure. We took a nap together after lunch and he was very affectionate and caressing but "If you were a girl..."

He kissed me goodnight but wouldn't let me sleep with him.

+

Gino's asked me never to say again that I'd like to sleep with him. I'd kissed him on the lips and he'd responded with the information that men never kiss men on the lips.

Pavlik came and sat on my bed and asked me if I were "fallen in love." I said, "No how can I fall in love with someone who refuses to go to bed with me?" and Pavlik said, "That's exactly when one falls in love!"

+

Gino tells me: You're different today than on other days. I tell him: I change like the lake, not only every day but every hour. He asks, Why? I say: I'm water.

The three C's of (novel or) dramatic writing:

Create Character Continuously

+

He's leaving this morning on the 10:20 bus.

He says he came here like a baby and that I took his hand and told him how to eat.

Gino has gone... gave me a goodbye kiss - on the mouth. "Very clever of him not to go to bed with you," says Pavlik.

+

Dream: I fled, but with not enough speed (I felt) to put a safe distance between myself and three black horses wildly dashing in my direction. "There are two people in you," Pavlik told me, "and the bad one is very strong."

+

"La fatalite" is not, as Antonin Artaud implies, "the materialization of an intellectual force" - but the result of millions of things which happened independently of each other but whose combinations and conjunctions cause what seem to be single occurrences. One thing at a time is never one thing.

It's the desire to go to new extremes: either down (like Sade) or up (like Rilke). Baudelaire embraced both extremes: crime and the sublime.

A big egg-truck came down the hill with a sex-beast of a truck driver at the wheel who smiled at me, saying, "Kind of slippery, ain't it?" I smiled back and then knew he'd set the mechanism going which would end in my jerking off.

Why not have children instead of continuing in pursuit of the deformed image?

+

To get back to poetry: it's leaving the world in order to find it. To write: grasp the magic wand (phallic symbol) and trace your words with it after the trance is induced.

When Hart Crane perceived that he had exhausted the exhilaration derived from drink and sex and poetry, he drowned himself. He had lost contact with the thread that leads up, Poetry, and took hold of the Whirlpool and didn't let go.

The moon was shining. The valley was full of mist. "Nice night for a murder," said Bert.

Coral (my ten year old niece ) tonight. "You ought to get married." I reply, "Why should I get married when I'm happy the way I am?" She said, "That's just what I'm afraid of. You're happy and may never get married!"

+

No travel to beautiful places, no children, no lovers none of these can give me "consolation" only my work poetry can give me the pride in existence that seems so important.

And so I wrote a prose poem. That feeling of being lost in creation a forgetting of self is one I haven't felt in a long time.

+

The annoying, symmetrical flies.

What a lot of fun we'd miss if we were born wise. We wouldn't run the risks.

Well, there are dreams we do not remember; but they exist, nevertheless.

+

Are not the winter trees nude? They are not skeletons but "undressed", says Pavlik.

The image I want to catch is harder to capture than a butterfly with bare hands.

I mean, "it's the end of a year" becomes meaningless to me if I imagine it's being said by everyone in the world.

To be what you are - infinitely.

 

I took a terrace walk and saw the most brilliant falling star I always make the same wish: Love.

+

Why is everyone always foolish enough to think that a sexual partner will make life happy?

I went ahead and became a homosexual no matter what. Not everybody does that who should (or would like to). All the fucked up lives just because they weren't fucked.

A virtue of necessity? More usually a vice is made of it.

+

One of the most attractive "sections" of the bodies of young people: from the bottom row of ribs to the pubic hair. (Pav would include the pubic hair.) It's so flat, and intact, so undisintegrated, unmarked with sags or superfluous fat. It's beautiful. I think of that section of Rocco, of Benito, of Vito.

+

The shapes of the head of the soul. When bell-mouthed, what is the significance?

+

I enjoy life when, as Virginia Woolf puts it, "Quiet brings cool clear quick mornings, in which I dispose of a good deal of work and toss my brain into the air when I take a walk." But Djuna and I didn't thrill to Woolf's Orlando. Did I not read some of it aloud to her, that winter on the rue St.-Romain, in that lovely apartment, the heart- shaped big mirrors framed in gold, the studio bed, piled high with pillows covered in a variety of "ecclesiastical" cloths, some gold-embroidered? Her big bed, in the bedroom, had lots of little lacey pillows on top of it in the daytime. She'd go once a week to get her hair curled and tinted, strawberry blonde.

I was infatuated by her (rather than with her). And she was attracted by me all the way to Tangier but there I lost my charm for her because of my selfishness I didn't give her enough (my re-typing Nightwood was hardly enough, and a drunken lay now and then). I spent mornings at the beach, leaving her alone in the little Casbah house. And when she ceased being charmed, she quickly lost her charm for me. I didn't like the kind of mirror she became.

"This ravaging sense of the shortness..." (V.W.) I don't have that. I sense, rather, that life will be long too long.

+

Gino would have spent the night in my double bed but I decided not to let him he said he could feel friendship for a man even imagine sacrificing his life for that friendship but it's the woman whom he feels made to make love to... if he makes it at all.

He's a pleasant friend, nice to have around, handsome to look at, true-hearted, and I'm glad he came on this visit, though he is less a poet now and admits it.

Pavlik: "He just thinks you're a selfish American bitch he's not very far from the truth if you think you're something else you're mistaken."

+

I could write a comedy (but would I want to) with three main characters as follows:

A young writer.
An older painter.
The young writer's mother.

The "plot" as made by the characters would be the mother's attempt to get her son away from the older man and her failure.

The setting: a New York penthouse.

One of subsidiary characters: a balletomane (based on Lincoln Kirstein's personality), who is a close friend of the painter's, and would also like to see the "household" broken up.

+

I met Isak Dinesen. She was wearing a deep cloche of tobacco-colored straw. She talks rhythmically, and sounds as if she were reading one of her own stories. She said I am like what she expected me to be. I said, "You are beyond my expectations." She wore a fur jacket with longish shiny fur.

+

Thornton Wilder just phoned, asked me to come into Rome and lunch with him tomorrow... It's five to four, I'll put the water on for tea. Will no one call on me today? I'll peep through the peephole before opening door. The new breadboy is cross-eyed, curious as a cat.

I've told Pavlik that he should "paint flat." (Upstart to Master.) Anyway, he told me some days later (a couple of days ago): "I would like to paint flat." I nodded my head: "Then that would be being painting instad of painting something."

"You want to know the truth?" (I to Pavlik.)

"What?"

"Matisse couldn't draw."

"That's what Gertrude Stein said."

"As for Braque he drew worse than Matisse."

"I know that."

+

We are taking off at this moment from La Guardia. It will be a nonstop flight to New Orleans, Washington fogged out so no landing there possible. The plane, therefore, is not full, and there is a free seat between me and the Spanish-speaking woman on my right. On that seat, in a woven basket from Mexico, is the box which contains the sealed jar of Mother's ashes.

In New York I saw Djuna and took her a little bottle of perfume (Lancome). Djuna told me over phone that she couldn't receive me for tea chez elle but perhaps they'd give us "a bun" at Luigi's. She wasn't at Luigi's when I arrived but it wasn't long before I saw an old and stooped woman walking with a stick pass by the window and I opened the door for her.

Djuna's old-time snappishness wasn't there, though she tried to bare a false tooth now and then... She did say, when she first saw me, "You've grown hardly any older - it's disgusting!" She said various London literary lights had raved over her new play (Eliot, Muir, Read) and she's mailing the revised version to Eliot on Monday.

We may value old friends, but we can't go back to them.

+

To know when to leave alone those chance happenings.

+

If I'm going to love living in Paris I'll have to get used to even like that pearl-gray sky which ones sees on opening the curtains in the morning.

I told him, Perhaps it's only physical, maybe I don't love you at all. He said, I think you love me.

1948-1957

Paintings by Amy Shackleton.

"Slow Breathing Circuit" - Inventions (mp3)

Monday
Jan262015

In Which We Reveal All In The Time And Place Of Our Choosing

12 1/2 Months

by LINDA EDDINGS

January. He is the surprising replacement for the host's brother at a themed dinner party held by my oldest, most literal friend Janet. "Here is Simon," she says. "That is not his name, but it is what he likes to go by." I never ask the story behind it, because I am truly tired of the games we play, naming things, asking what everyone wants to be called.

Simon is dressed very finely, but only if you take careful notice. "My apartment just burned down," he announces to everyone, and receives a round of condolences. He is living in a hotel. He confesses that he could move out of it, live in a short term lease that would be less expensive, that offers more space, but he does not really want to.

I ask what it feels like to have all of his things gone, and what started the fire. "It feels terrible," he said, "but I don't remember what's gone. When they asked me to make a list, I could not even do it." "You had insurance?" He doesn't answer, but Janet tells me that he did. I ask her if she was ever in the apartment. "Once," she tells me. "It was a sty. I'm not surprised in the least that it no longer exists."

February. He asked for my number. I gave it to him, not really thinking much of it. Lately, that is how it goes with these flimsy meetings. There is never anything like an attachment being formed; all contact seems so preliminary.

He does not call until the middle of the month. He asks what I want to do. Whatever I suggest, he says he has either already done it, or is not interested. Finally he tells me to show up in Bryant Park. I come early to write; he is already there.

He walks around looking at all the people. I ask him what he does for a living, but he does not tell me that either. The only thing he wants to talk about are the other people. Who did I think they were, where did they live, what were they doing in the park in the middle of the day?

He asks me to show him my apartment. When I say no, he reaches into his back pocket and gives me a little blank book, like some curio journal you would purchase in a small bookstore. He tells me not to open it until I leave. On the first page is a detailed, highly realistic drawing of my face.

March. Simon did not call me for all of March, and I figured I would not hear from him again. He left a message with Janet, who I gathered he had hit it off with, perhaps better than he had with me. She told me that he was in Los Angeles working on set design for a small film, but that he would be back in a month, and that he wanted to see me again.

I asked Janet, "Isn't it strange that he would use you to relay that message to me? It's kind of insulting." She said, "That's the way he is. Perhaps he sees me more accurately than you see me."

I bristled at the time, but now I think that is no doubt true.

April. He calls me the day he comes back, and he asks if I wanted to get dinner. I hate that stinking phrase, and I tell him so. "You're not the first eccentric person I've met," I tell him. "It's not funny, or more entertaining. Surprises aren't an artistic medium." He apologizes, and says our evening will not be like Bryant Park.

I wish I had not said yes, but I did. His body is surprising muscular underneath his light clothing. No one could be like that through no exertion of effort, of time spent in the gym or natural world. He showed no sign of this. He had, then, long blonde hair tied up. The one thing I did not like about that night was the apologizing. He seemed genuinely sorry about our previous meeting, but it went overboard. At first I thought I was seeing him as he is, but after some time I discerned it was simply another layer.

May. When he wakes in the morning the first thing he does is draw. He is basically non-responsive during this period, so I learn to do other things while he crouches over himself. It is a relief to not have someone desperately trying to get away from you. I am grateful he allows me into that space, and then I pity myself for being pleased by something so innocuous.

His mother visits from Sweden. She stays at a cheap hotel near Times Square. She is a small, insensate woman with grey and blonde hair who is always putting herself down. She strains her hip bending over to pick up a quarter she has dropped, but she won't let Simon take her to the doctor. "A little thing," she scolds herself, "a little thing."

His father couldn't make the trip, Simon tells me. I want to ask Janet if she knows what the story is here, but she is no longer returning my phone calls. The sex we have while his mother is here is multidimensional and very satisfying, like a lozenge on a sore throat.

"This is not exactly what I mean," Laura Riding wrote, "any more than the sun is the sun."

June. His mother flies out of JFK, giving me this weird, wooden hug. I felt embarrassed when it is the three of us. I want to explain how uncomfortable their coldness makes me. I'm not writing very much these days. It feels like my life is my writing, and my writing is my life, a state of affairs Levi-Strauss referred to as a "double-twist."

l am a bit tired, I start to think, by the time I spend with him. We have grown closer, it is true, but it is the kind of interdependence I have never sought from other guys. My friends tell me that they miss me, and suddenly I feel the same. I am not this kind of person to be so wrapped up in someone else.

Before I do anything, I try to talk to Simon about it. He is placid, then excitable, like a child who has never had to defend his playtime. (Somewhere in there he cut his hair down to a low buzz.) My therapist says this behavior was probably returned to him by his mother's visit. It scares me that someone I care for is so transparent.

With a start one night, I recognize the taste of the herbal tea his mother drank at every meal.

"We spend all our time in my apartment," I say. "Don't you think that is strange?" Cowed and dutiful, he finally agrees to take me to his hotel room. Drawings and whiteboards are everywhere. Plates of eaten and uneaten food. Stack of burned and bruised pages float on trays and underfoot. It is a mess, the kind you would not know how to start cleaning up. "I have another week here," he says, and reclines on the bed, his eyes darting back and forth like ping pong balls.

July. This is the month that I end it.

Before that, I let him keep everything salvageable in boxes within my apartment. A few of his friends show up to help him move; a Bangladeshi girl who could have walked right off a runway, and a medical student named Artis who chuckles when he sees the scene. "This is nothing," Artis tells me. "You should have seen what burned."

I am surprised at how much these two know about me; his mother barely remembered my name. We sit down for dinner in a Burmese restaurant where no one comes in for anything but takeout. Janet shows up unexpectedly, practically jumping into my arms. When I tell her that I missed her she says, "Yes, me too. Second place is the first loser."

Once Simon finds a new apartment with a roommate who is a lawyer in midtown, I tell him how things are with me. I force myself to breathe. I think he might cry, but he never does, just watches the people walking by, swiveling his head to get the full view.

August. By next week he has taken it in stride and asks if he can still see me at all. I hesitate - those last few times we had sex resembled a light frenzy, like the last burning off of a storm's horizon.

A few weeks later he wants to know what they all want to know. It is the word that haunts every romance that has never been witnessed by others, that remained hidden from view. Something that is half a secret is still a secret. If he doesn't know why, Simon says, he will never know how to grow from this. "How can I stop thinking about you?" he asks me. I tell him that I will let him know when I figure it out.

September. It is so hard to be alone again. Sundays are particularly unbearable. The only comfort is knowing I was right. Wasn't I?

I had to close the curtains because the trees lost their leaves.

October. Janet tells me that Simon has found a new girlfriend. Do I want to know who she is? At first I resent her for putting it to me in this fashion. It's not like I would have found out if she did not tell me. But I would have wondered.

So often now my curiosity is satisfied again and again. This constant satiation never happened in another age and time. I wish I did not know the end of every story, although I suppose I may never know what has become of Simon's mother, or why she came to visit her son at all if she was not going to touch him. I could write it myself, but I do not wish to do so, this time.

Simon's new squeeze is an artist, small and blonde, of intensely tiny paintings. In what Janet regards as a solid put-down, she informs me that they represent the size of the painter's world. She graduated from a New England college where she could not have amassed much more information about life than a squirrel does from living in one tree.

These are Janet's observations only. I go to see the paintings myself one morning when the gallery opens. Despite being of ordinary objects, for the most part, they are so finely focused I find myself staring in utter absorption before having to look away.

November. Simon calls me before Thanksgiving. He is living back in Brooklyn now, he says. He has a new place. Would I like to come over? The first time he asks, I manage to decline.

Almost everyone else I know has left New York to visit friends and family. I am not going home for Christmas. The city empties out, stores and restaurants are closed. The avenues are left to tourists. Wood floors in his apartment shine, newly buffed. He is not seeing Jacqueline any more, he says, if he ever was. She had another boyfriend, a businessman who travels a lot. The man promised to work from the home office from now on. His choice changed my life.

December. I say, "Some women want to know there is a specific type of future available, one that they can comfortably fit into. Maybe she did not think you were capable of providing that." Even as the words escape my mouth, I realize that they are meaningless.

His smell. One whiff is like the next day after you roast nuts, but just a bit sour. I cannot believe I was ever able to escape from this sensation of someone so fine, interwoven through and around me, an irrestible aspect of Linda. Without meaning to, I have impressed myself.

January. I turn him away when he comes to my door. At the end of my building's hallway, a mirror shows his despondent face. "Thought looking out on thought makes one an eye," offered Laura Riding.

Linda Eddings is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. Experience our mobile site at http://thisrecording.wordpress.com.

Paintings by Edite Grinberga.

"Aluminum Crown" - of Montreal (mp3)

"Virgilian Lots" - of Montreal (mp3)

Tuesday
Jun242014

In Which Malcolm Lowry Despised New York

Substance Abuse

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

Malcolm Lowry's biggest bout of binge drinking began when his suitcases were lost en route to New York in 1954. His wife Margerie was used to dealing with his inebriation; his other caretaker in the city was David Markson, a young novelist who had written a critical appreciation of Lowry's 1947 novel Under the Volcano. Markson later wrote,

The man could not shave himself. In lieu of a belt, he knotted a rope or a discarded necktie around his waist. Mornings, he needed two or three ounces of gin in his orange juice if he was to steady his hand to eat the breakfast that would very likely prove his only meal of the day. Thereafter a diminishing yellow tint in the glass might belie the fact that now he was drinking the gin neat, which he did for as many hours as it took him to. Ultimately he would collapse sometimes sensible enough of his condition to lurch toward a bed, though more often he would crash down into a chair, and once it was across my phonograph.

During a subsequent party held in his honor, Lowry pre-gamed by drinking a bottle of shaving lotion. Markson recalled that during the event "suddenly, cupping his hand to his mouth, he began to make sounds that can only be called beeps."

Lowry's favorite drink was a constantly evolving subject. He was not a mean drunk, particularly, although he was always careless. His constitution was actually state-of-the-art to be able to absorb the kind of damage he inflicted on it and survive. He saw drinking not as an art, or a path to understanding, but an inescapable part of his daily existence. Once Markson opened his eyes in the morning to find Lowry leering, "Do you have the decency to offer me a drink?"

Lowry and Aiken in Spain 1932Through Malcolm Lowry's life, people were always trying to get him clean. If they liked his writing, they were far more inclined to put up with his behavior, which perhaps seems obvious, but the one thing really has little to do with the other. 

When he first arrived in the United States to stay with Conrad Aiken, he carried only a ukelele and a bunch of notebooks.

with conrad aiken 1931

He absolutely despised New York. He wrote,

In my experience odi et amo that particular city it favors brief and furious outbursts, but not the long haul. Moreover for all its drama and existential fury, or perhaps because of it, it's a city where it can be remarkably hard or so it seems to me to get on the right side of one's despair.

Acapulco in march of 1946

In his drunken state, he often wrote letters. He would usually start penning screeds to his friends, agents and publishers just when he had approached rock bottom, so they took on something of a desperate tone. Writing to his agent in 1967, he managed, "Please don't say I'm a shit...for not writing more when you have dealt so kindly with me. It's just that my mind won't work. I am having a lot to contend with right now."

Lowry believed that versions of mescal he imbibed might provoke useful hallucinations, although in reality he was making a common error. The drink had nothing to do with mescaline. 

He was capable of getting in any amount of trouble while under the influence. On occasion he would drink himself under so badly that he resorted to asking witnesses if he had been violated sexually. But for the most part his tolerance was high enough that he did not black out completely.

February 1946

It seems stupid, in writing about Malcolm Lowry, to wonder why he drank so often and so much. Yet in his case, alcoholism constituted such a destructive act it almost demands an answer to a silly question.

Douglas Day wrote in his biography of Lowry that "Orally fixated types are prone to excessive drinking. Sons of austere and autocratic father are apt to express their rebellion against that parent by drinking. Guilt and fear, of sexual origin, are likely to express themselves in drinking. Reaction against a rigidly authoritarian religious upbringing may manifest itself in drinking."

March 1947

Day continues, explaining that "Lowry drank not so much because he chose to, as because he had to: from one source or another, he had acquired, by the age of eighteen, enough guilt — sexual and otherwise — and resentment and insecurity to have made it almost impossible for him to be anything but an alcoholic. He must have been an utterly miserable young man."

what became the Calle Nicaragua in "Under the Volcano"

The protagonist of Lowry's most famous work, Under the Volcano, spends about two-thirds of the novel under the influence. Even the book's most dedicated admirers seem to grow tired of this. The Consul's intoxication, at some point, ceases to be charming. He drinks primarily because he is lonely, but also because he is is afraid of sex, other people and the possibility he may be attracted to men.

Of the book Lowry argued that it was "designed, counterdesigned and interwelded that it could be read an indefinite number of times and still not have yielded all its meanings or its drama or its poetry." If only this did not sound like an excuse for his life rather than a strength of his literature.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about Simone de Beauvoir.

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