Monthly Archives: April 2013

A page a day

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Note: I’ll add pages of the book as posts, so I can use categories and tags, but I’ll also add to A page a day, so it can be read more easily.

Author’s Note

The details of Richard’s disappearance filtered through to me slowly. Or perhaps I filtered them slowly. I had lost touch, ceased to keep in touch with him several years before, having run out of patience with his lack of focus, his failure to get on. When getting on, one needs the company of those who are getting on, one needs to leave people behind.

He was last seen on Millennium night, as midnight struck, AD 2000.01.01, 00:00:01, :02, :03, swimming out towards Durdle Door, an arch of rock fifty yards from the Dorset shore. He was seen by chance, by a bivouacking fisherman, who happened to peep out of his little tent, pitched on the shingle, as a few desultory fireworks crackled over Lulworth, illuminating briefly the swimming figure. The sea was busy but not stormy, the fisherman reported, and the man was still swimming strongly when he zipped up his tent and returned to his radio and beer.

And that brought him back to me so clearly. For it was somehow characteristic of Richard, this dramatic even melodramatic act, calculated, and yet observed only by accident, his head bobbing through the waves, disappearing into the dark. The secret exhibitionist. He’s not there, he’s gone. Disappearing. Into death? Into a carefully prepared new life? Taking an unconsidered step into the unknown? I had no idea.

That might have been how it rested. He would have come to mind sometimes in quiet, evening moments, alone or with old friends, but gradually he would have faded, yet another of the unresolveds of one’s life. Then the box marked “GREECE 1966 –1999” arrived.

It came from a solicitor in Shaftesbury, with a note from Richard asking me to do what I could or would with it. ‘I’m sure there’s a book in there. But as you know I’m not very good at finishing things, and anyway I’m too close, it needs distance. And perhaps I’ve actually done with it? It’d be your book, your copyright, “I renounce all rights” etc. It would be unfair to say I’m counting on you. I’m counting on you.’

There was a lot of it, I was busy, I put it aside, “The Unexamined File.”

When at last I opened the box, I was plunged into several worlds simultaneously that threw my well-ordered life into disarray, and set me on a task that would take far longer than I’d expected.

There were photographs, the earliest clear black and white, and then fading colour. How young we looked, so full of sap, insouciant, ready for anything. Girls I’d never known, one especially, hauntingly beautiful. There were illustrations, sketches and maps. There were layouts and flow charts with circled words, connected by lines and arrows multiplied to illegibility. Pages of diary entries, beginning in his round, schoolboyish certain hand (in fountain pen, permanent blue-black ink, his favourite an Osmiroid 65 with interchangeable nibs, bought in Boots … enough), through looser, more agitated writing, to word-processing printouts. There were travel journals, short stories, paragraphs of fiction, notes and meditations on history, mythology, philosophy, pages of quotations …

As I lifted out layer after layer, laid them out on the carpet around me, I was unpacking Richard’s relationship with Greece. Where had he gone?

At first I thought only an exhibition could do justice to the complexity and interconnectedness of the material. (Not unlike, I realized later with a smile, his “Perseus Project.”) But that would simply have displayed it. He had asked me to resolve it, to repack it not into a box, but into a book. For him? Or had he really ‘done with it’? Was there something in it for me? Might he reappear if the book came out?

As I looked at, read through the material, I saw that Greece, its history, art and ideas, its landscape and people, its existence, the very idea of it, was something against which he measured himself. A home, like the home key in music, he could return to and depart from; a source to drink at; an omphalos to reconnect with. As one of his characters says, ‘Greece isn’t so much a place I visit as a state of being I enter into. I go there to be there.’ He always went open-eyed, open-hearted, innocent. Although a student, he was more a fan. He never stayed long, never mastered the language, he was always the stranger in a strange land, but a land that was uncannily familiar. He was a very unGreek hero, more Parsifal than Perseus.

But what to do with all this material? How to combine the story of a life with descriptions of places and expositions of myths, marry speculations on the development of religion and consciousness to encounters with disparate characters and strange utopian communities? A publisher asked, what is your market? A friend asked, who is it for?

When I, and Richard, first went to Greece, it was exotic and distant, and yet welcoming and familiar. We felt we’d ‘arrived home,’ however strange that home was. Aby Warburg wrote of the “mnemonic wave” of the flow and ebb of the Greek presence in European life and thought. Richard’s work is preoccupied with that wave, its strangeness and familiarity, and how it clarifies and illuminates our world.

At one point Richard mocks himself for writing that, having given up his career, he had ‘rented an empty corner shop in a poor part of the city, and set about finding myself.’ ‘Had I mislaid myself?’ he asks. And yet his whole life was a search for himself. He kept coming back to a sentence of Pindar’s, “become who you are.” The full line is, “Having learnt who you are, become who you are.” The learning occupied his life. Most of us ask, ‘what shall I do?’ He asked, ‘who am I?’ He slipped through the life of society, avoiding money, status, affiliation, attachments. Heroic individualism, or narcissistic irresponsibility? He once said, ‘I want to arrive at my death knowing how to live my life.’ ‘But your life will be over!’ I cried. He shrugged and smiled.

The Delphic gnothi seauton, “know thyself,” had three connotations for the ancients: know you are mortal, not as the gods; pay no attention to the multitude; reevaluate not the truth but established custom. He applied all three. But “know thyself” was supposed to be the beginning of life, not its end. And yet he had such a rich inner life, in the hemisphere of the bicameral mind (I use Jaynes’s terms) once inhabited and now abandoned by the gods. I don’t know.

I have used the form of the novel, folding and embedding as much of the disparate material I felt could reasonably be fitted into a narrative of his first visit to Greece in 1971. I have added notes to expand upon, reference and, I hope, clarify. It may seem odd that Simon’s story is inserted in the middle of Richard’s: it is there because it offers insights that illuminate Richard’s subsequent adventures; also it establishes narrative strands that will be explored in a second volume, Odysseus’ Island, set in 1999.

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Unpacking the book

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I published the novel Dionysos’ Island in December 2012. It is set in 1971.

A novel is a story. You pass through it quickly, following the line of the narrative. But, like a road through a landscape, a corridor in a house, you pass towns, rooms that you don’t have time to stop at, that may be worth entering, pondering.

This website is about the book, in which I stop at the towns, the rooms, walk along streets, open doors. Explore.

I hope individual aspects will be of interest in themselves. And that they will add to an understanding of the book.

Keith Walton

A page a day. I post one page of the book each day.

Places. Expands on the locales that are important in and to the book.

Reviews and comments. Will give a flavour of responses to the book.

Themes and variations. Says more about the ideas and theories broached.

Art. Does the same for artworks.