An Honest Ghost
A novel by Rick Whitaker
...his greatest ambition was to produce a work consisting entirely of quotations...
Happiness is an imaginary condition, formerly often attributed by the living to the dead,
now usually attributed by adults to children, and by children to adults.
I am unpacking my library. I have been able to start work again on my novel. It is growing very slowly. There are limits to what can be said. Life lived by quotations.
You go back into your mind. The subjective universe.
There was an overflow of books on the floor, and on the coffee table I noticed a copy of Simone Weil's essays. It seemed neither appropriate nor necessary to David that he should get out of bed. "How can you do all that before coffee?" he asked through a yawn. He was twenty-four, and handsome in the way that makes young Englishmen, when they are handsome at all, the handsomest young men in the world.
At the moment, this romance is happy.
David said, "I keep reading about tribes or hordes of peoples who came sweeping out of Central Asia." My splendid David! My daily recreational activity. "What color were the Huns?" David said.
Our little love affair began one Monday afternoon when I received a telegram from Paris signed, so help me, Madame Marquis.
Oh! How long shall we have to wait for the resolution of the chord?"
Well! I was dealing with a dangerous man who at any moment might burst into a selection from "The Paul McCartney Songbook." He was really sexy though; he was like a vast swimming pool I wanted to dive right into.I wrote in my notebook that meeting him I felt like Hazlitt meeting Coleridge for the first time: bowled over by his warmth and energy. There was something rather "doggy," rather smart, rather 'cute and shrewd, and something warm, and something slightly contemptible about him. To be in his company, to hold his hand, to feel his large fingers tighten round my own, made me feel very humble, very fortunate, very chosen.
Sometimes he purred. He often pretended he was eating me. The action signaled his love of the illicit, his need to infect the scene with the fumes of a mésaliance.
I could spare him the time as my affairs were, surprisingly, rather stagnant at the moment. I would lie in bed every morning reading Cicero. I have never married, I have always lived quietly, and, apart from my interest in dahlias, I have no hobby. A few years ago I was a lawyer in Paris and, indeed, a rather well-known lawyer. I lived in the most serene, most chaste of surroundings. It was very agreeable in the springtime, with the chestnuts in the Champs Élysées in bloom and the light in the streets so gay. These arrangements turned me into a penniless dandy. Few men have the divine grace of cosmopolitanism in its entirety; but all can acquire it in different degrees. Occasionally I had nightmares, but in those days just about everybody had nightmares from time to time, though some more often than others.
David frowned. He was not well: he was a walking horror. It had been a difficult summer. When his friends asked what was going on, he remained silent or replied with some quote from his beloved Oscar Wilde, but even his characteristic wit had grown sluggish, and those quips, delivered so despondently, provoked only puzzlement and pity. His irony, intended to arouse sympathy, backfired. Once, when I asked him how he was doing, he said he was always terrified. His rage had no one cause, not that he could discover, but bubbled up, a poisonous vapour, out of a mess of boiling emotions. The most innocent-seeming stranger, or even someone he thought he knew, might suddenly by a look, a word, deliver the secret message: beware. Cops always questioned him, though he never did anything wrong.
His early childhood was happy, but when he was six his parents separated and three years later his mother married a man whom her son would come to loathe. He was a balding, somewhat overweight, nervous man in his early forties. He died of a brain tumor in 1999. He lived a brief, passionate, unhappy life.
Shall I describe the arrangements of their home life at this time? I found it hard at first to disguise the contempt which they inspired in me, but gradually I became accustomed to their way of life.
His mother had mental problems. After one first disappointment she had taken leave of the major emotions. She attended to the nearest matter at hand, no matter how trivial it was. The immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life like a flood of lava on a doomed city had changed her from a plump active little woman with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into something as vast and august as a natural phenomenon. She could be mistaken for a drag queen. She drank, she aged, she suffered terribly from her dissipations. Her clothes seemed to be all darts and buttons fastened mostly to show what they could not entirely contain. She had a fancy for tiny ivory or jade elephants; she said they were luck; she left a trail of tiny elephants wherever she went; and she went hurriedly and gasping. Her family, her husbands, her son, would have crushed any other woman I have ever known. David admires her prodigiously; he thinks her so good that she will be able to get him into heaven, however naughty he is.
How tender people are towards oppressors and how inexorable towards the oppressed!
David leaned my way to fix me with a sad-eyed look. He was stretched out on his little mattress, and I noticed he had exchanged his dinner jacket for an embroidered kimono and was displaying the affected ease of the opium smoker.
I'm rough and tough," she said.
One often makes a remark and only later sees how true it is.
"What a sweet pair of fairies you guys are,? she said. Her voice was as hypnotic as a tom-tom, and as monotonous.
I will not be commanded, she thought.
If there is mésalliance, as for the purists there must be, it was there from the start.
Though he was both rich and young, he knew how to control his passions. Even more commendable was his attitude to women, for he never pretended to scorn them and never boasted of his conquests. Very quickly, he discovered all the tricks of love: but being such a natural at them, he became entangled in the very love that caused them.
He talked incessantly about himself, yet was such good company that one could listen to the story of his ague forever. He was adequately vicious to stand apart from the rest of the world without being aggressive or disagreeable, save on rare occasions. Flushed with his impassioned gibberish he saw himself standing alone on the last barrier of civilization. I?ve been told so often that I would be helpless without him that I am slightly inclined to believe it, but only slightly.
David recalled dimly that he was getting drunk again, as usual, he reasoned, to escape. Not that there was much happiness in a life of pleasure. That is how it is: life, tight-buttoned life, fits him ill, making him too much aware of himself and what he glumly takes to be his unalterable littleness of spirit. He spent his life fleeing boredom, and he had no real goal beyond that.
A bell beat faintly very far away.
Although none of the rules for becoming more alive is valid, it is healthy to keep on formulating them. I am interested in wisdom. But it could hardly be otherwise. Some of my best friends are pedants.
It is impossible to return to the state of mind in which these sentences originated. Today is not like yesterday.
I swear I have rarely felt saner. But what kind of soundness is sanity? We long for a little weakness, darkness, and fiction, for the crowded, the smut, the closeness and malice of things. Life and death and death and life.
I believe in doing what I can, in crying when I must, in laughing when I choose. My life is all downhill. I live in my mind. (Like Holden Caulfield, I don?t know exactly what I mean, but I mean it.)
All of us, even when we think we have noted every tiny detail, resort to set pieces which have already been staged often enough by others.
The story that I am about to tell, a story born in doubt and perplexity, has only the misfortune (some call it the fortune) of being true: it was recorded by the hands of honorable people and reliable witnesses. To say that the story is true is by now a convention of every fantastic tale; mine, nevertheless, is true.
The Zen masters have the saying, "Examine the living words and not the dead ones."
All work is the avoidance of harder work.
Shall we make war or shall we make peace?
This is my own story, told in different voices. Not my usual method of composition.
An Honest Ghost: Hamlet Act 1 Scene 5
...his greatest ambition: Walter Benjamin Illuminations 4 (introduction by Hannah Arendt)
Happiness is an: Thomas Szasz The Second Sin: Some Iconoclastic Thoughts on Marriage, Sex, Drugs, Mental Illness and Other Matters
I am unpacking: Walter Benjamin Illuminations 59
I have been: Andre Gide The Counterfeiters 180
It is growing: Hart Crane Complete Poems and Selected Letters 358
There are limits: Rob Stephenson Passes Through 26
Life lived by: Susan Sontag I Etc. 15
You go back: Samuel Beckett Nohow On 46
The subjective universe: Ludwig Wittgenstein Notebooks 1914-1916 41
There was an: Teju Cole Open City 166
It seemed neither: Carl Van Vechten Parties 105
?How can you: Max Ewing Going Somewhere 47
He was twenty-four: Max Ewing Going Somewhere 22
At the moment: Adam Thirwell Delighted States 38
David said, ?I: Don DeLillo The Names 260
My splendid David: James M. Barrie The White Bird 274
My daily recreational: Charles Kaiser The Gay Metropolis 243
?What color were: Don DeLillo The Names 108
Our little love: Alfred Chester Looking for Genet 161
?Oh! How long: Andre Gide The Counterfeiters 165
Well!: Jacques Lacan Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis 109
I was dealing: Glen Baxter Returns to Normal (no page numbers)
He was really: David Wojnarowicz Memories That Smell Like Gasoline 39
I wrote in: Benjamin Sonnenberg Lost Property 93
There was something: D.H. Lawrence Sons and Lovers 99
To be in: Anita Brookner Look at Me 92
Sometimes he purred: Lincoln Kirstein By With To and From 37
He often pretended: Ben Marcus Notable American Women 130
The action signaled: Elizabeth Hardwick Sleepless Nights 15
I could spare: Thomas Bernhard The Joiner in German Short Stories Ed. David Constantine 271
I would lie: Virginia Woolf Orlando 90
I have never: Graham Greene Travels with My Aunt 3
A few years: Albert Camus The Fall 17
I lived in: Theophile Gautier Mademoiselle de Maupin 144
It was very: Somerset Maugham The Razor?s Edge 187
These arrangements turned: Edmund White Nocturnes for the King of Naples 2
Few men have: Charles Baudelaire The Mirror of Art 192
Occasionally I had: Roberto Bolano By Night in Chile 85
David frowned: Eleanor Porter Just David 202
He was not: John Banville Doctor Copernicus 123
It had been: Brenda McCreight Parenting Your Adopted Older Child 187
When his friends: Roberto Bolano Amulet 79
His irony, intended: Susan Sontag I Etc. 48
His rage had: John Banville Doctor Copernicus 78
The most innocent-seeming: John Banville Doctor Copernicus 112
Cops always questioned: Alfred Chester Exquisite Corpse 27
His early childhood: James Schuyler Alfred and Guinivere viii (introduction by John Ashbery)
He was a: Rick Whitaker Assuming the Position 128
He died of: Alex Ross Listen to This 8
He lived a: Gilbert Highet Poets in a Landscape 174
Shall I describe: Neil Bartlett Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall 240
I found it: Theophile Gautier Mademoiselle de Maupin 317
His mother had: Don DeLillo The Names 225
After one first: Max Ewing Going Somewhere 51
She attended to: Max Ewing Going Somewhere 50
The immense accretion: Susan Howe My Emily Dickinson 105
She could be: Lydie Salvayre The Power of Flies 1
She drank, she: Elizabeth Hardwick Sleepless Nights 19
Her clothes seemed: Victoria Redel The Border of Truth 39
She had a: Djuna Barnes Nightwood 84
Her family, her: Willa Cather Youth 85
David admires her: James M. Barrie The White Bird 132
How tender people: Robespierre 28 [need attribution]
"I'm rough and: Rudy Wilson The Red Truck 140
One often makes: Wittgenstein Notebooks 1914-1916 42
?What a sweet: Nathaniel West Miss Lonelyhearts 29
Her voice was: Miss Lonelyhearts 49
I will not: Jane Gardam Flight of the Maidens 211
David leaned my: Don DeLillo The Names 131
He was stretched: Colette Pure and Impure 44
If there is: Samuel Beckett Disjecta 65
Though he was: Voltaire Zadig 21
Even more commendable: Voltaire Zadig 21
Very quickly, he: James Blake The Joint 183
He talked incessantly: Virginia Woolf Orlando 91
He was adequately: Andre Gide The Counterfeiters 205
Flushed with his: F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby 137
I?ve been told: Montaigne Selected Essays 15
David recalled dimly: Andre Gide The Counterfeiters 205
Not that there: Edmund White City Boy 80
That is how: John Banville The Infinities 7
He spent his: Alan Bennett Writing Home 570
A bell beat: James Joyce Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man 191
Although none of: Susan Sontag I Etc. 15
I am interested: Susan Sontag I Etc. 72
But it could: Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer Studies in Hysteria 189
Some of my: Robert Frost Notebooks 299
It is impossible: David Lehman ed. Great American Prose Poems 221
Today is not: Gioia Timpanelli Sometimes the Soul 14
I swear I: Elizabeth Bishop One Art 529
But what kind: Adam Phillips Going Sane 17
We long for: Robert Lowell Collected Prose 192
Life and death: Gertrude Stein Wars I Have Seen 121
I believe in: Noel Coward Lyrics 73
My life is: Great American Prose Poems 146
I live in: Susan Howe My Emily Dickinson 38
(Like Holden Caulfield: James Blake The Joint 234
All of us: W. G. Sebald Austerlitz 71
The Zen masters: Daisetz Suzuki Zen and Japanese Culture 7
All work is: Great American Prose Poems 112
Shall we make: Robespierre 115
The story that: Danilo Kis A Tomb for Boris 1
To say that: Jorge Luis Borges Collected Fictions 480
This is my: Christopher Priest The Glamour 2
Not my usual: David McConnell The Firebrat 3