“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic. Worlds had to be in travail, that the meanest flower might blow…. And how charming he had been at dinner the night before, as with startled eyes and lips parted in frightened pleasure he had sat opposite to him at the club, the red candleshades staining to a richer rose the wakening wonder of his face. Talking to him was like playing upon an exquisite violin. He answered to every touch and thrill of the bow…. There was something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence. No other activity was like it. To project one’s soul into some gracious form, and let it tarry there for a moment; to hear one’s own intellectual views echoed back to one with all the added music of passion and youth; to convey one’s temperament into another as though it were a subtle fluid or a strange perfume: there was a real joy in that–perhaps the most satisfying joy left to us in an age so limited and vulgar as our own, an age grossly carnal in its pleasures, and grossly common in its aims….” – Portrait of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
you know not how to love, you know not how.
in vain I loved you so.
you know not how to love, you know not how.
And you will never know.
– The Age of Reason, Jean Paul Sartre
I finished Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation, a rather circular but intriguing read, and have started on The Doors of Perception by the very talented Aldous Huxley. It has proved an even more addictive and brilliant read than I thought, and the way the people in his background just melt away – Huxley’s obsession on chairs in his mescalin haze – his curiosity is intoxicating. Even as Huxley weaves through a stream of consciousness, each strand of his memories is clear and evocative. He is a connoisseur of vintage art and the accompanying pleasures. He claims not to be a visual person but it is as if his words acutely paint the soul of the objects he encounters in the course of his drugged haze. Each phase in his experiment joins together for a common, if not twisted, theme. It is as if I had followed from Portrait of Dorian Gray for a reason- for Doors of Perception reads like a diary of a Dorian Gray in a contemporary century, and the elusive quality of his enlightenment is traced in the intensity of the colours and phenomena he describes. Each step in his experiment was clear, defined, intricately planned with a fanatical level of detail. I hear his wife’s voice in the background asking about the cloud of light and suddenly I feel closer to the haze of darkness itself.
Aldous Huxley broaches the possibility of mescalin as a religious practice to draw nearer to God. In itself I would have immediately turned away, but how beautiful his logic in advancing towards the argument! It is deceptive, this, and how as scientists and artists you can fall in love with the experiment, the psychological introspective steps where all in your experience suddenly surfaces as images, symbols, single words and forgotten expressions. Those who love detective fiction, as I admit myself to be very fond of, will know how authors hide these single moments unabashedly and cloud them with practices of human nature. Yes, St Mary’s Mead would be the same, every where else! And here it is that everything is binding together rather nicely – I still feel a little lonely yes – with so many reports to finish and so little time- but the abundance of literature, and all the stories to start- makes the week a little better.
This is what Aldous Huxley says about good books. They sink deep within you, and surface days after like forgotten bubbles, and these bubbles choke you deep in a thought and you are left wondering, pondering over what they mean. And here it is. Dorian Gray has really quite an indelible impression on me.
I met a very interesting individual for lunch this week for the first time, and excitedly wrote to Irving afterwards that she was ‘one for us’. It was tremendous for me to find another who had the same starry eyed look at the mention of jazz, who recognized Irving Berlin at once, who watched Great Gatsby and adored Robert Redford and actually dared to say to me that she thought Katherine Hepburn was awfully boring! We chatted about fashion and japanese fashion trends and our favourite magazines and styles, and we have a very special project planned in the works…
She also shared with me that Melissa Tham, my favourite local jazz singer, will be having a gig this Friday. Fancy that! I think its fate to be told like this, as after my favourite jazz bar closed down at the Esplanade, I had been mourning on the loss of good local music in Singapore. Apparently she’s been performing at the Oriental. Her version of Stairway to the Stars and Honeysuckle still lingers in my mind, I just don’t know why I haven’t bought her album yet. Only wish you were here, Irving! Do you remember the night in Ronnie Scotts where the jazz was so brilliant over vanilla ice cream and sorbet, that we sat in honeyed silence all night in that Chinese restaurant for supper and gave each other foolish smiles. You were so good to me, and smiled properly for me as you ought to all the time, too. I think only jazz and tiramisu gets you there like that.
And the following, sounds a little bit like me introspecting, doesn’t it? Irving, I think I can only fall in love with genius, ain’t I a selfish duckling.
But this feeling of hers for Rex Donaldson was different; it went deeper. She felt instinctively that here there would be no passing on…. Her need of him was simple and profound. Everything about him fascinated her. His calmness and detachment so different from her own hectic, grasping life, the clear, logical coldness of his scientific mind, and something else,imperfectly understood, a secret force in the man masked by his unassuming slightly pedantic manner, but which she nevertheless felt and sensed instinctively. In Rex Donaldson there was genius–and the fact that his profession was the main preoccupation of his life and that she was only a part–though a necessary part–of existence to him only heightened hisattraction for her. She found herself for the first time in her selfish pleasure-loving life content to take second place. The prospect fascinated her.
I wish right now to keep another secret, like the painter in Dorian Gray! But I don’t think any-one would be interested in my secrets. Imagine keeping a thunderous, wondrous secret, like a fridge full of ice cream! I think you will be able to keep from me tons of secrets, Irving, and I’ll never be able to guess them until you tip them to me one day, or decide to write me a note. I tell you of killer hamsters, of new songs, of Dorian Gray, of all these little things in my life, and all the time, do we wonder if both of us are keeping secrets? And if we do, will it all come tumbling out when we finally meet in Green Park (as planned one year ago) and have violet tea? How devilish, how cruel! You will be John Keats and everyone will care about what you write but I will be a secret Fanny, a society girl hidden away. I think before we left, we ought to have buried a time capsule in some stranger part of London. And imagine if a whole, big apartment block had been built on our time capsule!
“Oh, I can’t explain. When I like people immensely, I never tell their names to any one. It is like surrendering a part of them. I have grown to love secrecy. It seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvellous to us. The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides it. When I leave town now I never tell my people where I am going. If I did, I would lose all my pleasure. It is a silly habit, I dare say, but somehow it seems to bring a great deal of romance into one’s life.”