It was a strange image, but one which stuck with me through those bloody years. And beyond. Perhaps it was only later that it formed itself fully in my conscious mind. A figurative memory which allowed the kind of closure which is no closure at all – the kind of all-too-easy closure we are now so used to from the literary and filmic landscape which has begun – not without the odd intervention from myself, may I add – to shape the minds of this century. Whether it sprung from my mind fully-formed or foetal, it was nonetheless a very strange image indeed.
To say that the lines of the image drew themselves before my eyes would be not entirely true. It felt more as if they drew themselves – in both senses of the word – beneath my eyes. They settled somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, in the figurative, filmic and literary no-man’s-land which somehow inhabits all of those from our particular generation. And though they now draw themselves over a whole other history, a whole new constellation of cross-hatched lines which connect and interweave, they still come to me when I close my eyes at the end of each day, and they draw me along with them each time.
An outline first. Across the top of my vision my eye follows the line, which in turn follows smooth and long crenellations until the fingers of a hand come clear. I realise, each time as though for the first time, that it is my hand. Eventually, complete with lines and folds, my left hand is fully recognisable in front of me, as though imprinted on my retinae by an invisible sheet of tracing paper. The deep grooves of my palm are caked with dirt – a mixture of cold sweat, grease and mud. After an indefinite moment, another hand – not mine – reaches over with a strip of white cloth and begins to wind it, starting at the top of my palm and slowly, turn-by-turn, winding the cloth up along my fingers. And slowly, turn-by-turn, the cloth becomes tighter, cutting off the circulation in my fingertips and bringing about a numb, tingling sensation. When the anonymous hand finally withdraws, the image remains.
It is a numbness of which I am ever aware, an associated sense memory which remains as clear as the image itself. Whenever the lines trace this familiar, engrained picture, my senses dim, as though the blood in my fingers and my hand was somehow actually the blood pumping through my brain, and the anonymous hand is actually squeezing every last drop of energy from me. And, between sleep and wakefulness, the numbness remains to this day. And each time, as the futility of a bandaged, incapacitated hand spreads from out this strange image to envelop my outer senses, I stand outside of myself, dislocated, split into two, and I watch myself succumb to this numb paralysis, fully aware of what is happening and yet completely unable to prevent it.
It is easier than it may first appear to stand outside of oneself, a passive viewer of this active screenplay that filters itself into your brain with each mind-numbing moment. I feel as though I am an actor in re-runs of some two-bit Maugham drama, left with just enough self-respect to bear the pretense of the scene. When I was a younger man, I used to imagine which actor would be playing the characters whom I wrote so carefully and thoughtlessly into existence, but I was always hampered by the knowledge that someone with as little thought but much less care would almost certainly ruin my little fantasy. Now that I am little more than an old man with delusions of adequacy, I find myself wondering just who the handsome old devil sat in this chair is, dictating himself both out of and back into existence for the edification of those who may one day come to unearth his figure. I can only hope that somewhere beneath the unassuming exterior is a semblance of a Bogart, or, better still, a Cary Grant.
I do not possess the pubescent vigor of a dying man in denial, much as I would like to. Equally I do not even have the good manners to have drunk myself one drink over the lethal line of consumption. I drink more in the English manner – enough to forget a tawdry day yet with too little nerve to do away with the next. But I have never shied away from the barbed hook of comment, and though whatever I leave behind materially will be forgotten, a few words here, a quick story there, and one can live in the eyes and mouths and minds of others long after one has ceased to breathe the same air as they. So it is that I have come to this decision, as this particular semblance of a Cary Grant (permit a dying man a flattering comparison) sits alone in this room and narrates himself into existence before slipping off this mortal coil.
Berlin, circa November 1984
I suppose it comes to every generation, or at least to those who have lived through such a turbulent time and lived on — or should I say survived — to tell the tale. It is only so far along a certain path that we can go before we reach thorns and stingers crowding over, under, and around us, impeding our progress so that we are compelled to stop. To stand still, only able to glance through the twists of green at that which lies ahead.
We live in a post-satire world, someone once said. I forget who. Research is not my strong suit. But whoever passed on to us that particularly uninformative nugget of information was, for all intents and purposes, correct. Everything is post something, and we’ve come so far along this particular timeline — which cannot be altered, erased, reordered or accurately described — that we can only define ourselves by that which we succeed. Time pushes on against us, anticipating both physical and cultural decay to such an extent, that the modern has been twisted into an absurd, caricature-like, defiantly meaningless post-modern, no matter that defining one’s cultural existence as ‘meaningless’ is a paradox as big as they come.
Post-modern. It is a prefix which signals the arrival of those thorns and stingers and the end of progress. Fin-de-siecle, one used to call it. But at the turn of the 20th century, when we were still kind enough to lock away famous homosexual men for their private ‘indiscretions’, at least a few of us were smart enough to know that we weren’t smart enough to know very much. I never thought much of his dramas or poems but it’s clear that old Oscar knew this: all is forgiven if you spread yourself — like a shameless veneer of credibility — just thinly enough around a room of half-baked writers.
And so back to Mr Delaney’s troubles. [ends]