ECCENTRICITIES IN COMMON
The Diary of Angelique de Mars, November 12, 1986, 4 AM
Artists have always inspired worship, so I know I am not the first one to adore him … But hasn’t this man, David Manfred, been sent to me by the demons? As already I am imagining myself his creature – how else explain this instant obsession?
This is the first real attack I’ve felt upon my year-long celibacy.
We met for the first time today – David and I – seventeen floors above Central Park, in the studio of Paula Scott – as I was being photographed by the famous bitch herself. Andre, my worthless agent, had been trying to engineer our meeting for weeks – some idea for the cover of the book. He kept saying David and I had “the same eccentricities in common” – I didn’t know exactly what he meant by that, but I now see: he possesses, along with other interesting faculties, the taint of the sadomasochist.
And he is thrillingly beautiful to gaze upon.
There is something in the very letters, David Manfred! that compels me. Irrationally I repeat his name, David, David Manfred. In every syllable’s a frisson of omen – how is it that a plain name can inspire such joy? Some promised exaltation of Mind that is to be between us keeps me wide awake and enlivened at this hour.
I am actually, already, in love with a man I do not know.
I’ve looked up Byron’s poem MANFRED to help me – for isn’t there some Fate in a Name? So Manfred wanders alone, in his remote castle:
My slumbers – if I slumber – are not sleep,
But a continuance of enduring thought
Which I then can resist not : in my heart
There is a vigil, and these eyes but close
To look within: and yet I live, and bear
The aspect and the form of breathing men
There is something in this very like the man; he does seem not of this world, but from another time … And David did mention he had (like me ) a chronic insomnia …
But grief should be the instructor of the wise
Sorrow is knowledge; those who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o’er the fatal truth.
The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.
Oh lovely ‘fatal truth’! That all existence is meaningless, but for the contemplation of Beauty. And this man is beautiful, though his face looks worn … he seems to be a true artist, a painter of some fame, though not much talked of lately. Does the indifference of the world make him suffer? If it does, I would hope it only fuels his original Will, impels him from the painful core to create again! Are his powers still potent? Or are they, like his namesake’s, in decline? He does seem not the vigorous specimen.
Well, I must set down the day’s events, record every detail, not to forget this day which I believe is one of the Momentous of Destiny.
Paula’s studio was filled with the smoke from the several cigarettes of half-a-dozen babbling folk, all of whom had at that moment one important, historical task to fulfill: they were creating an artist!
I have always scorned these parasites; but nothing in this overcrowded world has much of a chance of being noticed without their ‘hype.’ Whether the work be sublime, or base is no longer of force – whatever can jockey slavishly to the front of the pack will get a chance to live. (And we know how the base are so much less inhibited about selling themselves than are We Sublime. They don’t mind the degradations, actually love to sell it – as I guess We don’t.)
I am under no illusion as to what sort of money a first novel such as mine will earn its publishers. But in printing my book, even at a loss, the company fans the illusion that they, the publishers might still be a serious literary engine, as it had been in former days of relatively higher public literacy. So I might eat the publisher’s cream, as we try to forget the money is actually being made by cookbooks, diet books, romance novels and other ephemeral pap.
So (I must reassure myself) these minions are not strictly creating me as an author, but only molding me for a type of gourmet consumption … as I am already self-created as an artist, and will ever be so, with or without their machinations.
I try to appreciate Andre’s function – agent and publicist – as a kind of royal temptation. His pleasure (which I cannot help experiencing as a sadistic need) is to drag the artist from the rough bed that spawned her … mine her from the dull occluding rock (but that gave her her hardness and strength) … polish her dark planes to a faceted brilliance, to set her gleaming under spotlights of acclaim – well – but gods upon gods – who could resist such a worthy occupation?
To market, to market … pigs atop pigs.
I dressed for my Author’s Portrait in a pure manifestation of Dandyism: black stock neck-binding, collar unfurled like a lily … the long black leather cutaway coat (let me revive every style of pre-Revolutionary France) … skirt to the ground, with train … Louis heels languidly bowed and buckled with Great-Grand-Mama’s diamond lozenges. These diamonds were the first thing David told me he noticed – as per the Adept, who well-comprehends the great responsibility the Diamond confers.
We-Who-Would-Be-Served must not err, as once we did.
We in our Advancement were born to Rule others,
But this conferment shall be kept hidden, must be —
Lest we lose our heads again.
David’s appearance was announced by Paula hissing, “Get out – you’re early – go, I’m not done with her yet.” I turned to see him, and he with a slight, courtly incline of his head acknowledged me.
Already I had been rather charmed by the idea of him, but upon this first sight, I, who rarely let myself go a-straying, did at that moment fall in love with him.
He was wearing an elegant suit of black silk, cut in that slouchy Italianate manner … collarless black shirt buttoned to the neck. Over his arm was a plush camel coat, which he, as I watched, threw to the ground. The suit was crumpled and dusty-looking, as if he had slept in it. This insouciance, the deliberate hard, indifferent use of things fine – appeals to my aesthetic of the perverse. With trepidation I glanced at his hands (they make or break my interest in a person) and was oddly moved. They are not only of that ‘cerebretonic’ cast (indicating the excess of Mind over flesh) – that is, gratifyingly long and thin, but one was held at a strange, crooked angle to the wrist. They were, as well, too white, and slightly trembling – a strangely uncertain hand that perhaps cannot compel its full force.
I watched him take a cigarette from his lips – then I was looking directly into his eyes to note a somewhat sardonic gaze back . He raised his chin a couple of times like a mettled horse might, and I discerned in that prideful stir of the head the ‘absolutism’ of a congenital sadist … so much so, that the sudden force of my attraction had too much logic. I instantly affected to fail to notice him at all (utterly impossible – I could not keep my attention away.)
Paula was whining at me to look into the camera. She continued the shoot with bad grace, slamming the frames into the box, barely watching what she did, chain-smoking, talking to the others. Obviously she wanted to get me over with, and out… and I realized her to be under some kind of an imperative in her relations with him. (If she is in love with him – if they are involved – I must know).
When we were at last done, David and I were formally introduced by Andre. Our words segued instantly into a strange recognition; I felt his attention rivetted upon me. Paula made a clumsy attempt to dismiss me, pointedly remarking that she had to go out, and she would walk me to a taxi. Andre winked at me, and loudly urged her on, “Go ahead, Paula – don’t wait for us – I need to speak with Angelique about some bookings …” In that he helped me to ignore her discourtesy. She ended by staying and doing her most to deflect David’s attentions away from me. But it was no use … and what his interest in me portends I love to imagine …
More details of his person: black hair, worn longish, pulled back in a fine wavy mass from a high brow. A square jaw portends a strong will – or obstinacy, The nose, sensuously molded, is semitic in profile. I realized his lips have a naturally bemused curve … his eyes are liquid, dark-brown and deeply shadowed. But it is in the stiff, haughty tilt of the head that my subjugation is complete. (As Byron flaunted a satanic pride, so too he evoked a more exalted spirituality. Now this mystery compels me more than ever.)
By way of conversation, Paula complained that David would never sit for her anymore. Andre teased her, “Don’t you have enough of him, by now?”
When she glanced at me nervously I felt certain she had to be in love with him!
David drawled, “If anyone takes just one more picture of me, I will cease to exist!”
Paula insisted he must, saying what she had of him was outdated.
“Do you really imagine I want to have other than the portraits of my splendid youth at large?” I ventured to remark that his youth must have indeed been ‘splendid.’ and he gave a delightful groan of false anguish, “I’m positively ancient now – ancient!”
When I repaired to the kitchen, it seemed that he followed me … we resumed conversing on a more personal level, somehow again instinctively intimate. We entered that place where words have double meanings … as though we had spoken them all before. Where an old strain of intelligence sounds again … where a certain glance cuts an indelible mark …
I felt this – and he affected to feel nothing. But that too is as it has ever been.
He regaled me with a sarcastic appreciation of the dinner-party where he was expected. This particular social foray he said would leave him richer, & and more well-knit into the art-world’s volatile fabric… he made me laugh, upon a sudden burst of basest intention:
“Is there any reason anymore for us to go out, except to ravage these pigs for their cash? So we might soldier on another day, to slave on, still essentially unappreciated.”
When I demurred, that he had to be, certainly, most highly appreciated, he disabused me, “Naive, still naive, I like that! And no doubt idealistic too. You don’t know yet what a punishment it is, to have been born into this Age of Mediocrity. And Manhattan is the psychically destitute capital of our bankrupt civilisation.”
As he spoke I noted a strange, almost ecstatic shuddering going through his body, as he pressed upon certain words: idealistic… punishment… mediocrity ….. bankrupt. He sensed my closer watching, and I caught in his eye a sharp, familiar hunger. That look reminded me, for an instant, of the eyes of my slaves. That terrible, fanatic need. He too then took in my whole person in one gaze, and gave forth with a sigh, bowing his head slightly and covering it self-consciously with his hand.
He began to prophesy, as if to ‘entertain’ me … “One day I can see you’ll be very rich – and famous!” Then, out of nowhere, “And you’ll be able to quit that job of yours.”
I challenged him, “And why should I want to do that?” This did disappoint me … Was he yet another banal male assuming that I am dying to give up being a Dominatrix? Why ever this eternal fantasy of ‘Save-the-Whore?’ Which, I might add, none of them ever even start to try to do.
I restrained myself from making my usual crude response – that if he was so concerned, I would be glad to receive a check for a year’s expenses!
Paula came into the kitchen for the tenth useless time, and Davis snarled in her direction, “WHAT – IS – THAT – WOMAN – DOING?” glaring as though she were a bug. She stood quite still, coloring, unable to fight back. But she did leave, throwing me a look of real hate. I’ll probably end up with the worst of the roll sent to the publishers – must warn Andre about it. (Why can’t I get used to it – the way I create enemies everywhere I go? I admit I wield the false social grease hypocritically – I can’t help but feel that being ‘friendly’ is commonplace. So is their detestation but a function of my natural grandeur.)
David and I watched all the rest packing up to leave, managing to still maintain a conversation… this strange concentration of ours not going unnoticed. PauIa was again lingering by the kitchen door as David was telling me how he had ‘discovered’ a metal. It seems he layers thin sheets of palladium over the oil of the canvas. He was describing how from silvery it turns to black under this Operation… whereupon I suggested it was only Black on its way towards Gold. He understood the alchemical reference at once, exclaiming with pleasure,
“But what would you say if I told you – it is an evil metal?”
“Oh, brother! You guys are ridiculous,” Paula then exploded, “And David, just for once, could we ‘chill’ on the ‘evil’ bit?”
It appalls me that he allowed her to speak to him that way. Long ago I learned to totally reject anyone who would confound me so. Why shouId We of the Elect tolerate any depredations from the uninitiate?
But David just gave her a pat and snickered, “Now Paula – come come. We know how much Evil scares you! ” then brought me again into the Gaze that said
Yes it frightens her – unlike yourself – for whom Evil is an Old Friend.
I wanted to rush to him then, somehow get hold of him. I heard Andre cracking wise through a mounting pressure in my head, my blood pounding in my ears along with his bellow,
“That’s our David – ‘s’made a career outa playin’ the Evil One – hey I’m starvin’ to death – so’s everyone goin’ Downtown?”
But once on the sidewalk David and I somehow rid ourselves of the others and walked East. He began complaining again about his dinner-party… lamely I urged him to go. We stopped at The Oyster Bar for a drink, though neither one of us drank and sat there behind glasses of mineral water, much to the waiter’s disgust.
At one point David began to rather archly laugh, and thanked me in an over-formal manner for ‘helping with Paula.’ I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, or rather, it was too much for me to admit? that while he did not welcome her emotions, he might be open to mine. Or did I imagine this? We shall see.
Before we parted he let me know that he has no lover, and is alone. He seemed to approve when I told him I figured likewise. We made a date for dinner tomorrow – he told me he would call.
Chapter Two: FIRST STOP, AVENUE C
… it’s just not worth the tips they throw, to pick up these junkie scum.
Working nights in downtown Manhattan’s nowadays a real drag. Every other fare after midnight needs you to be their goddamned sport, and wait “Just five minutes, just ten minutes,” just a fucking half-hour or even an hour outside some god-forsaken burnt-out hell-hole in Alphabet City, while every kind of psycho jigaboo jumps all over you, hot to cut your throat for a dime. Every kind of freaking degenerate swarming
The cab-driver disgustedly uncrumpled the moist twenty his fare had just tossed him. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his fingers, pushed the button to open the back windows and air out the compartment.
…that’s the last time I take a swanky dirt-ball on a first-stop-Avenue-C junket.
Pick them up on Fifth Avenue, and they want to go to fucking hell. Then the creep can’t even wait until he gets home – right there in the backseat, sucking it up like a sweet through his nose. Peh! Real pretty picture, especially if the cops’d got on their ass. With that ‘aiding and abetting’ crap they try to hang on you, you can lose your vehicle. Isn’t worth it!
David Morgan slammed the door of the cab as hard as he could — the driver hadn’t even bothered to thank him for the tip. What was getting into people these days? Couldn’t they provide even the tiniest service, without hating your guts?
His hands were still shaking as he stood before his elevator. This dope – called ‘Model’ – was supposed to be the current best. But when the hell was it going to kick in? He could taste it, could tell it wasn’t beat, but still it was taking too long.
He slapped his hand against the UP button, the elevator taking its usual sweet time coming. David waited… waited… the car slid down the shaft, and came to rest on the lobby-level. And as the door meditated on whether or not to open, and then, with a gentle squeal, shuddered back, the drug hit David in a rush from his heart-veins to his brain.
Into the little cubicle … such a nice little elevator. He gazed happily at its brass control panel. Some time later, his arm floated up to press the button 5. The machinery hesitated to respond – as usual – but David was no longer impatient.
Three, four, five, and David drifted along the hall, slid his key into the lock – so gratifying! The way a key could turn so perfectly, and let him into his warm, quiet room, where no-one might come for days to bother him.
He shed his gorgeous suit onto a heap of other dusty clothes, flung his calfskin loafers dangerously near a murky fish-tank. He then achieved the end of all endeavor — bed.He stretched his spidery frame across the rumpled surface. When he had attained a perfect stillness, his nose burrowed in a particularly friendly curve of the pillow, the golden warmth began to spread throughout his whole body. Each empty, hungry cell opened up, and was fed, by the heroin.
The golden warmth he now perceived as a light, that broke through the boundary of his mere flesh, dissolved his aching body, and steeped the exhausted soul in a serene, glowing and silent ecstacy. Again, he became royal —
WHY SUFFER, EVER? He loathed that silly ethic — that in order to prosper, we must work and suffer, suffer and work. Why can’t we make our way to the pinnacle, in whatever way, and stay there? This dreadful constant effort – to have to go on ‘evolving.’ David considered himself evolved enough —
What are we anyway, some kind of lettuce? Must a lettuce SUFFER … in order to grow?
And at this point in his development, he felt he had suffered enough – vegetably or otherwise.
I deserve to know this pleasure – I’ve earned the privilege — to thank you, feel nothing, at last, nothing at all?
These and other profound conundrums wrangled with the demon who sat so high enthroned in David’s mind, as he curled into the fetal bliss, safe and warm and floaty.
David began to scratch. Every place his nails raked, a trail of thrilled nerves followed. His jaw dropped slightly as the stimuli overcame him. His mind swam, languidly elated, overclouded in pale, fair suspension of light — where ricocheted the lineaments of his dream in its thin, pale soup.
Grateful, his interior eyes opened to a denser brightness … he was walking again that long corridor, which sloped ever sinisterly downward.
This path was cut into the ledge of a mountain-face, the edge of it barred with broad, plain columns. The path was thus cloistered and protected. As the light shuddered through his imagining, bathing in the rapture of his cells, thought ebbed away in a soft suspiration… and he was THERE.
To his right were the doors – the Doors Between Two Worlds. On his left were te columns, and below the infinite drop into mist-enshrouded emptiness.
But there was someone behind him – it was that woman, Angelique!
He snapped out of the vision with a start. How did SHE get in my dream? She IS very beautiful. But she seemed oddly old, for her age he thought — rather like himself. For a moment the memory of the evening briefly shared with her flickered to mind – and in his ‘sublime’ state, her face and certain words she had spoken came back with a cynical force.
“Bring the Gold out of the Black!” Ha, yes that could be done — according to any qaballah. Naive creature. Seems a little bit in love. Well all the women go through that.
Her bearing is so eighteenth — that outfit, her jeweled buckles.
Does she use? Probably not. But you never know. Idly he wondered what would they have gotten high on, in the eighteenth century.
Chapter 3: MASOCHISM FEELS LIKE LOVE
Angelique’s Diary, 13th of November
Could not be bothered to answer the slave phone all day long
though it rang and rang – I’m letting them starve a while. I’ve been too well-worshipped by another order of minion: publishing’s pilot-fish and bottom-feeders. I have such the plethora of superficial ‘worship.’ Where is my one true-hearted acolyte?
Still, as far as doing any real Work today, I was ruined. Utter wastrel that I am, became immersed in thinking upon David, my David! I feel this awful inclination towards you, some subterranean striving… my thousand-and-one walls, gates and locks are not enough to hold the feeling back – that I am not to remain alone for long. He said he would call, oh dread! I am waiting – please call, will you please my genius!
14th November, after Midnight
… just talked to him for over three hours…my hand is almost useless, dead from holding up the receiver. But I am writing down everything, do not want to forget a word of it.
I feel sick and dizzy from lingering so long upon the edge of this Abyss – between what I must now understand is his indifference to me as anything but a friend… and my infatuation with him.
He started by saying he did not feel up to dinner… some indisposition started last night, in the middle of the dinner party… perhaps he had the flu. He sounded very depressed. I told him there was ‘of course no urgency to meet that night’ though of course I felt devastated.
I have discovered more about our eccentricities in common, as we began almost immediately discussing sex. I made light of my one year in the confines of a celibate state; he expressed admiration for it, avowing a similar ambition: to be done, at last, with that strenuous nightmare of the intimate human conjunction.
As I regaled him as to the advantages to be gained, it amused me to realize how very rapidly I would give up every one of them: the privacy, the ability to concentrate exclusively upon Art, the refined pleasures of the ascetic disciplines… for him, in one instant.
So was I further disturbed to learn that he is strictly homosexual.
Would anyone believe, after that — that I actually desire him the more? Just to know this man exists is transforming my consciousness in a fashion it is difficult to describe.
For I am now more avidly impelled than ever, towards the ultimate goal of my celibacy. To love him assures me of a deep, nay, ETERNAL well of aspiration, never to be requited in flesh, but which will spur me on towards the sublimative, creative point of Art. So shall I be well-stimulated by this Never-To-Be-Known Beloved.
It all sounds so very Ideal, does it not? Yet the real challenge is that I may allow myself to love him – but only as long as I may never have him – which ought to last somewhere deep into the realm of forever.
I described for him the arcane pleasure to be derived from a taste for celibate restraint. One requires no touch of the flesh, nor exhausting orgasm, to achieve ecstacy. Such practices, based on a denial of sex, are paradoxically the most erotic.
They require, first of all, a total mental reversal. The psychic effect is what is aimed for; and though cruelty is not an essential element, cruelty is one passageway towards our nirvana.
Such pleasures may appall the average square, but such as they may remain in their slough with our fervent blessing. We agreed sado-masochism is an Initiate’s Path, and its sudden gross popularity is but another symptom of our culture’s inability to recognize the Sacred, as they clamour towards the Profane.
“There’s nothing I hate more than the square on holiday, trying to find out what S&M is all about.”
The catch to all this is that to attain pleasure in celibacy one must know everything about sex, in order to really, profitably, then deny it – a point the prude always misses. Such practices have piquance indeed for such as we who have passed through the long, seriously-studied libertinage of the 1960s and 70s … wherein we were deeply, terribly made surfeit of flesh. (Ah yes my dear Manfred, the ‘Knowledge that is not Life’ ?
When I asked him if he had ever made love to a woman, he became very quiet, then replied, “I have.” I wished I might have seen his face at that moment. “But I am one of those rare 100% faggots,” he quickly filled in the silence, discerning my interest, perhaps, despite my vaunted self-denial.
More eccentricities? Our unlovely, unloving childhoods … yes, this was what kept us so very long on the phone. Once you gets started on that subject, how do you ever stop? I analysed how those early starvations create, in the damaged adult, a certain insatiability, which may drive one to have as much sex as possible. But still, one is never satisfied.
I recited my ‘set piece’ – how I recognized I did not need a slave, or even a martyr, but some kind of obsessive psychopath to love me as I require.
He in his turn paraphrased Byron, insisting that he preferred to be obeyed, rather than be loved. For, as he said, ‘those who love you insist on a response – which I can no longer give’. I parried that no-one should be quite that jaded… but of course I have somewhat overdosed on that ‘famous obedience’ (paraphrase of Madame de Merteuil!)
He admitted that his own overweening neediness has led him to appreciate cruelty as a kind of hygiene… to keep others from asking him for anything… while he permits himself to be absolutely demanding.
He makes a point of being violent, and never concerns himself with his partner’s needs. “You would be surprised how many gay men there are just like me,” he complained, “Though it may shock you, being the way I am assures me many more partners than otherwise!”
I confessed that while I had never been cold to my lovers, often I became simply absent. I have a sense that I only ‘service’ their sexuality… He responded that was perhaps why I found celibacy ‘easy’ – because I had a natural inclination to expect nothing from others.
I had to laugh, “Don’t think it’s easy for me just because I seem to want nothing. If anything, it’s become much harder – as the bad memories fade, my heart hopefully re-springs – more fantastically than ever!”
He countered, “I ask my boys for everything … I demand it all. They can’t deny me anything – they aren’t allowed to deny me anything.”
(As he said this, I wrote it down and traced it over and over again, embellishing the letters of it: they are not allowed to deny me anything! It put me in a veritable ecstacy … and how I loved his voice as he said it …how I wish… oh god, please, I must stop!)
He remarked how curious it is, how masochism feels like love. He wondered if my clients ever fell in love with me.
“Well of course, the chronic cases… they mistake their sessions for a love-affair. That suffering DOES feel like Love…”
“Something else that ‘feels like Love’ is heroin,” he strangely interjected.
I shuddered, knowing whereof he speaks. That treacherous Elysium where all messy life resolves into order, sense and beauty, though only for a few hours at a time. He described for me briefly his past struggles with the drug. (Andre had mentioned that, too, in passing.)
He said for over a year now he has been ‘clean,’ but that many of his friends are still crushed by it. He gossiped that Paula was using… this completely shocking me – such an ambitious, strong, successful woman? Maybe that explains her strange negative behaviour. David said he was still trying to help her, though he hardly felt up to it.
Having passed through sex, and over drugs, we at last arrived at the field of Love – land of warfare and horrors – land of the past! He admitted to ‘a near total destruction of the heart.’ He intimated that someone in his past had committed suicide over him… we agreed on how shattering it is to realize that at our advanced age neither of us has been in a real love-affair… despite all my submissions, and all his triumphs.
We ended by concurring that the very idea of love makes us, by turns, bored and snappish. We agreed we no longer had the strength to suffer another one of those violent upheavals. The truth is I feel quite strong enough…
“I can’t stand it when they fall in love with me!” he snarled. And while I agreed it was ‘certainly a nuisance,’ I thrilled to the sound of his voice, to feel him confiding in me. I never tire of hearing him speak… towards the end I was just saying whatever, to make the voice go on. Has some deep reflection gone into those suave tones, how they might enrapture a soul, or is he just naturally mesmeric?
He received a call on his other line, decided to take it, and promised he would phone me tomorrow.
Chapter 4: RENE LEPINE
The call that David took, that interrupted the important effusions of Angelique with her Beloved, was from another kind of Angel.
“David! How much cash have you got?”
“Rene? I’m on the other line …”
“Well hang up! This is important! I just got out of the fucking clinic.”
“My God! You must be in agony … hold on.”
He made his adieux to the lady, who, he remarked, failed to disguise her regret at his departure. But David got back on the phone with his pal — “You maniac! Where are you?”
“Not so far away – I’m coming up! But DO you have any cash?”
The famous poet and debauche, Rene Lepine had somehow escaped from the punishing embrace of the latest in swank upstate clinics for addiction.
Now David, in the last wash of the heroin leaving his body, lay as immobile as he had since midnight. Dawn was breaking, but he moved not to douse the artificial lights. He sighed and ground out his next-to-last cigarette. On the brick wall above his head, his fellow-addict ‘Rene the Blessed’ had inscribed in large red oil-stick letters:
SPLEEN SPLEEN AND NEVER THE IDEAL
Ever the burlesque tragedian, Rene had dusted the greasy letters with gold glitter. David wondered, does the mad thing keep an ever-ready supply in his pockets?
For the last half-hour, David had been staring into the ‘I’ of Ideal… his fascination alternating between awe and stuprousness. A streak of white along this ‘I’ was revealed to be a scrap of cobweb. Does Rene realize what a virtuoso stroke that is… in his handwriting? And how had he gotten that cobweb — just so? Why did that repetition of Spleen SPLEEN make him want to cry? (Though it had ended by making him vomit.)
One idle query after another wandered through the gelatinous medium of his enfeebled attention… he giggled at the thought of Rene dancing round town with pockets full of glitter. Fairy dust! David yawned and stretched his stiffening limbs. He supposed he might try to fall asleep.
Somehow Rene was still a living, breathing poet – despite all his trials. Fresh from this latest tour in a rehabilitation ward, he had rushed over in the hopes of a
renewal of their… collaboration, David guessed you could call it.
The poet looked no better than the last time David ‘d seen him …. still skeletal, still shrieking, but with hair gone totally white. The man is only one year older than me, kind of shockingly awful, could that be me in a year?
Yet David had awaited Rene’s return from Madame Anya’s – where the better grades of Southeast Asian dope could be had – with a perverse sense of triumph. There was no escaping it. No matter how much money was spent on elegant cures in the country. Not any amount of Branford Causewell’s fine cash, from his successful show at Cosetti’s, could appease the demon that helped animate the complex genius that was Rene the Blessed.
Spleen, spleen – as long as they went on getting high, their powers would remain in default. Rene still had a reputation as a fashionable art-critic, but when was the last time he had made a discovery?
Never the Ideal! Disillusionment, lost opportunity, dissatisfaction, disorderly conclusions, despair – all such decadent symptoms were hardening into a permanent condition.
David had tried not to sneer at Rene’s hopeful delusiveness — all that babble about a new start. And his rant, rebottled, about the “Lives of the Artists,” — a thing that he had talked about writing, “after Vasari,” for the last fifteen years. Even as he had palmed David’s last hundred dollars cash for their drugs –
“I really ought to call it ‘The WIVES of the Artists.’ They’re alot more interesting, after all, they’re the ones who know what to do with all that money!”
Rene’s only legacy of his once thriving intellectual concern had been an enormous modern art collection – gifts from the grateful, whose careers he had, in many cases, literally made, with the visionary imperative of his pen. This collection would have settled him nicely into retirement – had he not incinerated the lot. The misplaced flame of a boyfriend’s ‘crack’ pipe had set the tenement apartment afire. Acrylic and oil on canvas proved to make quite the hot blaze.
Not that there is ever a real retirement for an artist – or for a ravening junkie. No rest for the wicked! One of Rene’s set-pieces was to complain, “If only I’d been immolated, too — with the rest of les objets precieux!”
David turned uneasily on his couch. The thought of his friend kept arising to disturb him. Somehow, Rene was still intact. It proved to David that it was a lot harder than he had imagined to kill oneself. Fresh reserves had arisen from somewhere within that burnt-out shell, The man was pitifully eager to re-enter the torturous foray that was the downtown Manhattan art-world. Why did he still want to? Didn’t he know he’d burnt down nearly every bridge?
To think of Rene and his possible renewals made him feel strangely aggravated. Perhaps ‘the Blessed’ would have a regenerate career – but David’s world was in eclipse, and blackening by the day.
As his belief in the value of any further effort had nearly evanesced, David was, figuratively speaking, dead already. His once-powerful construct of himself as an artist was taking on the aspect of a fantasy. And worse – it was becoming that for others too.
David’s essential nausea with himself had everything to do with the recognition that his talent could be destroyed. He did still know what Beauty was – he still remained her acolyte – and he believed, deep within himself, that he might create Her anew. He had done it before, and even among successful artists, how many could lay claim to that distinction?
But for too many years David had been working a dangerous test upon himself. An Imp of the Perverse had taken the Left-Hand place at his table – capered by his side at every public appearance – had lain down next to him uneasy at night. Even in his prime It had feasted on his Flame, and now danced him cross a desert to the hideous ledge – where It dared him
If you are a God Indeed
Throw your body over
for your Angels will save you
But what Angel was there to save the souI of the demoniac he had become?
The look on Rene’s face as he’d come into the studio again harassed his nerves. He saw how his friend had tried to hide his disappointment at the derelict state of the studio. No canvas on the easel in progress, no interesting sketches scattered about – no enlivening scent of oils. He cynically recalled how their conversation had faltered and stopped, in the light of the only subject of any real importance, anymore, to either of them.
And he was partly responsible for Rene’s first back-sliding. “Well it’s not his first – and it won’t be his last,” he muttered into the pillow. But the queasiness stayed with him. If Rene had been able to walk into a prospering studio, might he not have felt inspired? If he’d seen him, David, working away in full form, would he have felt like ringing Madame Anya’s bell, entering her depraved Salon where all the old ghouls were gleeful to embrace him? And drag him down again.
The blankets on his couch were strangling him … he thrashed and threw them to the ground. His Imp nagged at him: since these God-given talents could be destroyed – well wasn’t it somehow proper that they should expire? If they weren’t strong enough to last a man’s life through?
Isn’t there some sort of survival of the fittest — even amongst visions?
Thus, we see, David’s error in thinking… as sloth and disabused vanity overcame more delicate considerations. He was strangely satisfied to gaze with pity upon his fragile genius dying, hardly remembering it was by his own hand that it did. He readied himself to submit to the final caresses of the Imp – more humiliation, more degradation, and more sick pleasure in it all as he submitted.
But how could it be, that there was little left of David Morgan but this hateful exhausting struggle against just one thing, a vulgar drug? Could his Divine Will really agree to let him die, to end as a smear across a certain sidewalk of the Lower East Side? Was he just another junkie, just another slave –
SPLEEN, SPLEEN, AND NEVER THE IDEAL ?
Chapter 5: RED-PENCIL FENCING
Angelique’s Diary, 14th November, high noon
Was most rudely awakened by the resounding poots of that big whale, my Grand-Pooh-bah, Lady Jane Morris, her royal Red-Pencilness. First thing in the morning, tooting into the answering machine. Ugh is all We can say.
It seems Our especial naughtiness has come to her attention, and to that of the upper stratospheres, in their Towering Maelstrom of Babble-On-ian Paper. Neither they, nor the old sea-cow believes Us when We say We CAN rewrite the last two hundred pages of “Salvatore” in a month. That We would have it to her before Xmas.
But of course she doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the novel (a sign of the stubbiness of her Red-Pencil). Since “this is the third time you’ve done this to me!” as she so charmingly bellowed,
why should We care?
And just who DO I think I am? Answer: only the bloodie Creator and Source of it ALL, peon harridan!
What difference DOES it make if the novel doesn’t come out “on time?” What TIME is that, in the Grand Aeon of my Conception? Genius-At-Work submits to no bloody advertising schedule, because anyhow the public has already waited their entire lives for it.
What’s a couple more months?
I called the Lady Whale back, and tried foisting my hifaluten conceptions thus upon her. That I have my own imperatives. Within a couple of breaths I believe I discerned the mumble-grumble of “breach of contract.” Bah, Grand Pooh-bah, in a week at the Dungeon I would make your pathetic advance back, with interest!
Bah to your contract!
But aside from all vitriol, at bottom I just do not comprehend why my rampant creativity does not thrill her. It is really quite depressing to know that she really does NOT want the best possible version.
I then mentioned I could finish in just two weeks if I had another small subsidy… say a thousand dollars. This set her to foaming and popping her blow-hole, all just a bloodie con, of course. “You’ve gotten enough!” she shrieked. Three thousand dollars is enough?
Have I slaved for three years just to pay for their mob of middle-management minions, their squads of secretaries, all polishing their nails and filing their claws in those vast and overpriced office-chambers – in the hideous towers of the publishing conglomerates? Have I honed my verbs, cultivated the adjective, mined for a semi-colon, done the toil over a lilting weight of phrase – just to gratify a board of bloodie directors?
Mmm … mine blubbery Pooh-bah Red-Pencil-Stub so thinkest. Methought I heard her actually weeping as I went on plying her with mine arguments incontrovertible. That’s a good sign – she should feel guilty.
I could withdraw the manuscript, and to hell with her and all of them. I’m more than tired of being a sacrificial lamb, it’s just corporate egotism, nothing to do with Art! Who ELSE in this degraded excuse for a culture is paid so little, after years and years of constant, disciplined work? Artists deserve more money than any CEO!
But for such as We, money is not the point. That is, not originally – but when faced with ham-fisted buyers, We feel it is Our Duty to make the most exorbitant demands.
Meanwhile, back to the typewriter, oh true bondage! It is so luxurious to scribble on in this journal, whatever I happen to be fussing about – to insult everyone, and enjoy myself
…. well enough delirious babble, creature, submit again to strict syntax.
All Rights Reserved and Copyright Held
by the Author Terence Sellers
1985 – 2015