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The short fiction of American literary cult figure Paul Bowles is marked by a unique, delicately spare style, and a dark, rich, exotic mood, by turns chilling, ironic.
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Many intellectuals had no time for Bowles, who claimed to write largely from his subconscious. I suppose it was bulldozing the subconscious, dredging up ooze.

Bowles had his issues with the Beats. Jane Bowles died in , at Bowles himself lived another quarter-century, mostly in Morocco, and he ultimately published dozens of books, including novels, poems, books of stories and translations.


He remained distant, just out of sight. You must watch your universe as it cracks above your head. Tell us what you think. Please upgrade your browser. See next articles. Newsletter Sign Up Continue reading the main story Please verify you're not a robot by clicking the box. Invalid email address.

Please re-enter. You must select a newsletter to subscribe to. Sign Up. You will receive emails containing news content , updates and promotions from The New York Times. You may opt-out at any time. The desert, as dramatized especially in Bowles's first novel, The Sheltering Sky , where it becomes indeed the protagonist, is dominantly masculine, a world of negatives where the flesh is denied.

Because Amar wants to find someone related to him, he goes on a pilgrimage to a neighboring city where he thinks relatives may live.

Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider (1995 Documentary)

There, as in a dream, he finds a fearful image of the parental sources he is seeking. Taking refuge for the night in a bathhouse, Amar discovers himself in a sinister grotto ruled over by a creature, half crab, half human, with pincer-like arms - an animal disguished as a human being - named Lazrag DP, Details of the scene recall "The Scorpion" - the spring, the dripping water, the cave. The animals of both of these stories, the crab and the scorpion, are scuttling creatures attracted to darkness, hard-shelled, with pincers that become the focus of fear.

Amar, like the son in "The Scorpion", is a young adult whose search for his parental sources brings him to a cave inhabited by a creature neither wholly human nor wholly animal. Both creatures represent an alienating principle at the springs of human life. But Amar, unlike any other character in The Delicate Prey, is saved by human contact, through friendship with a young boy he meets in Lazrag's grotto and who accompanies him in his flight.

These three fables from The Delicate Prey define the terms "myth" and "primitive" as Bowles uses them when he explains the impetus for his fiction as having been initially the desire "to invent my own myths, adopting the point of view of the primitive mind". The sense of "myth" deriving from these stories is not a way of ordering transcendent knowledge or belief but a way of defining the significance of those crises of human experience which are personal and cultural : birth, initiation, friendship, marriage, relations to the natural world n.

The action does not emerge from the presence of some taint in humanity which might be a vestige of Calvinist belief, perhaps a relic of Bowles's New England parentage.

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Instead, the action is the effect of a deep anxiety working itself out in human relationships, relationships simplified and reduced for dramatic purposes. The term "primitive" is identified with the absence of conscious control, or will, which is indeed eminently the civilized faculty and one that is lacking or defective in many of Bowles's protagonists.

The behavior of the old woman in "The Scorpion", who is passive in relation to the poisonous principle she receives, and who relinquishes the civilized community for an animal existence in solitude, may indicate that it is a defect of will in Bowles's characters which draws them to primitive experience. Transcendence, or release from a kind of consciousness felt to be stifling, is envisioned, but only invertedly, in a phylogenetically backward course ; the frontiers of the mind turn out to be zoological, a potential for bestialization.

This word, which in most contexts would probably be translated as "treachery", in Bowles's work should be rendered as "distrust" Distrust is an all-important concept for understanding the functioning of the predatory principle, for it is distrust that links the predatory animal to the pattern of destructive parentage described in the stories and novels. In Without Stopping the ominous mother first makes her apperance in a neutral disguise, as one picture-card in a game consisting of several dozen cards, "each bearing the likeness of a person one might conceivably have met on the streets of a big city in America in the 1 's".

All of these figures seem malignant to young. Paul, "the honored ones only slightly less than the others" the others include a wife-beater and an assassin , but the most malignant of them all is a "tall formidable creature, wearing eyeglasses and dressed in a black cloak, labeled 'Strong-minded Woman'.

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I would study the picture of her as she advanced frowning along a street under trees", writes Bowles. All of these attributes of the strong-minded woman - the exaggerated size, the quality described by the recurring adjective "formidable", the questionable humanity implied in "creature", the glasses, the black garment, even the intellectual development implied in "strong-minded" - reappear in the various mother figures in the stories in The Delicate Prey, as well as in such grotesque matrons from the novels as Mrs. Rainmantle of Up Above the World. The child Paul, struck by the card, wants to know what a strong-minded woman is.

His mother responds,. It's not bad at all. It's very good". Paul has seen through both the neutrality of the card and his mother's deception - deception because her statement defending Grandmother Bowles is deceit, as Paul is soon in a position to see for himself. Grandmother Bowles disapproves of Mother and disapproves of Paul to the extent that she sees his mother in him. Paul's mother plainly feels Grandmother Bowles's hostility : " Mother was afraid of Daddymama [the curious title by which Paul is asked to refer to Grandmother Bowles], dreaded being with her, and occasionally became so ill in her presence that she had to go to bed".

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Given what to her are more acceptable terms, Mother can describe Daddymama quite forthrightly. She tells Paul, "Your grandmother Bowles is the most suspicious woman I've ever seen. And your father is just like her. Don't let yourself get to be like them.


It's terrible! It poisons everything" WS, In the adult world of distrust and intrigue Paul's mother is not wholly an exception. Though for the most part she seems a passive victim, she shares the poison of distrust, as is clear enough in her warning Paul against the other members of the family. Mother colludes with Paul in asserting that Father is not to be trusted ; in turn she colludes with Father in distrusting Paul, as in the pretence about her feelings toward Grandmother Bowles. Also to the point is the transformation that she undergoes in reading to Paul from the stories of Poe.

If I looked at her, I did not wholly recognize her, and that frightened me even more" WS, Similarly, the sons in the scorpion-mother's dream do not recognize her ; nor is it certain that the son in the waking part of the story recognizes her at first ; nor does she know which son he may be. Nor does Lazrag recognize Amar ; and Amar's failure to properly respond to the creature's archetypal question of identity, "Who are you?

Paul's father's place in the family web is still more suspect, for the hostility between father and son is overt.

She tells of Father's stripping the blankets from the sleeping infant at the height of a blizzard and opening the window by his crib WS, 26, Father makes the story credible by letting Paul know from a very early age that he blames him for Mother's illness, which he believes her to have incurred in giving birth to Paul WS, Father's supposition about children is "A kid will always go as far as you let him", and no doubt he is responsible for the family's sternly implemented theory that "the prohibition itself was the supreme good, because it entailed the sublimation of personal desire" WS, 23, By the age of four Paul already takes for granted that his father's "mere presence meant misery The phrasing here implies the adult's repudiation of the childhood vow, but Bowles's summation at the end of the childhood section of Without Stopping returns to the issue of trust : "Imagining that I were given the power to relive my childhood, but under any conditions I chose, I should be content with the same sequence of events all over again, provided my parents made it clear to me that they trusted me" WS, Without Stopping portrays in detail what is only implicit in The Delicate Prey : how the self develops defensive inner splitting as it confronts experience whose persecutory nature it is not allowed to recognize as such because the persecution is parental in origin 1J.

The division is little different from the divided self known to psychiatry as the schizoid personality. In the model R.


Laing describes. Bowles's best description of this strategy comes when he tells of his early attempts at poetry, at age twelve, under the inspiration of Arthur Waley's translations from the Chinese. He pauses to recall the diaries and newspapers he had kept and printed at an earlier stage of his childhood, beginning when he was four :. When I had kept the imaginary diaries and printed the daily newspaper, I had thought of myself as a registering consciousness and no more. My nonexistence was a sine que non for the validity of the invented cosmos. Now with the poetic definitions [i.

I received and recorded them ; others were people and had "lives". Perhaps two years later I found an even more satisfactory way of not existing as myself and thus being able to go on functioning ; this was a fantasy in which the entire unrolling of events as I experienced them was the invention of a vast telekinetic sending station. This method enabled me to view, rather than participate in, my own existence. WS, The position made famous by Flaubert and Joyce of the artist sitting invisible out in the wings of his staged creation has here been carried over into personal life as a defensive stance, with the theatrical metaphor updated to an electronic apparatus This kind of splitting of the personality does not differ in any essential way from the pattern described in the beast fables discussed earlier, involving the introjection of a predatory animal principle beneath the complaint behavioral shell.