Balthazar is the second volume in Lawrence Durrell’s “The Alexandria Quartet”. (The exclamation mark is mine).
When I first read Durrell’s quartet a long time ago, I remember Balthazar being the most intriguing of all. The reading of it left me with a feeling of sensuous delight in the language so astutely manipulated and managed … for language as a written experience is one of the greatest and in my estimation, the most acclaimed achievements of the arts of humanity … and while painting as art is devilishly skilled, it is still a copy of many natural surroundings, likewise music is imitation of nature’s beasts and birds … wind and storm and song the cry of an estranged soul familiar in tone and pitch to a rising tumult of mild zephyr to wild wind.
But to take an alphabet of uniquely constructed letters that are assembled into accepted words and then to arrange those unfamiliar nouns, adjectives and verbs into sentences of not just legible script, but to frame them in descriptive design that can capture the sound and imagination of a reader to direct them down a road toward adventure, horror, love and desire demonstrates the dexterity of pure mental discipline to build, word by word, paragraph by paragraph that mood picture that we would wish to describe.
I have written many articles and stories … some of which have appeared on this site. Loving the fluidity of the written word, I find delight in just the sounds made in the pronunciation of those words … I always have from a long, long time ago. Some names of places have caught and held my awe in the wonder of place names:
Where is Samarkand?
Is it cry of bird strangely,
Or is it man?
A pealing of great bells, where
The name; Pliny, is but a tinkle.
And Jerusalem, Jerusalem … syrup,
As sticky as a bruised sugar fig.
Dar-Es-Salaam … a command?
If so, then consider its neighbour;
Like the last whispered word
From an unsettling dream …
… Zanzibar! …
So it came as a surprise to me a week or so ago when a young refugee, Samad Abdul, posted his story on this site where he opened with this sentence; “That’s such a moment of blessing when you are with your best friend but that’s such a horrible moment when friends get separated forever.”
And which brought a cavalcade of accusation and degradation upon the spirit of his plea and the generic hopes of so many desperate peoples wanting a feeling of that “moment of blessing”. The disgrace that was inflicted upon that young man’s story through nothing more that I can see than a envy of his desire for a dreamt of future whereas those who would deny him are trapped in a mire of mediocrity and drudgery unforgiving but materially secure … no longer do they seek, having become satisfied with such mediocrity, they are quick to condemn those who still hunger for life’s promises.
In the novel ‘Balthazar,’ the search for truth demands confronting some rather unsavoury imagery and realities..this demands an unflinching courage to stare at and stare down such in the face of sometimes social adversary. As the paragraph below says, from the Marquis de Sade’s story of Justine:
“Yes, we insist upon these details, you veil them with a decency which removes all their edge of horror; there remains only what is useful to whoever wishes to become familiar with man; Inhabited by absurd fears, they only discuss the puerilities with which every fool is familiar and dare not, by turning a bold hand to the human heart, offer its gigantic idiosyncrasies to our view.”
Backing up the young refugee’s article, I posted a story of another refugee from another time just last week; “Saying Goodbye to Ferrucchio”. It also was in reality a love story … a love story between the travails and sorrows of humanity that can come together in adversity and tragedy. We love as humans, we embrace as lovers, it is the continuity of life itself that neither work, duty or politics can stop. So it was a kind of weird moment when I read of many twitterers demanding of the “Barnaby Affair” that we please make it so that; “It is about the rorting, not the rooting!” … weird … as if such salacious dollops of metaphorical body-fluids could be overlooked for the everyday garden variety of possible rorting behaviour.
And it was this hypocrisy where the story of the young refugee was met with accusations of misleading, deceit, possible lying and being requested to “prove” his legitimacy of persecution … and yet, in the Barnaby Affair, we get the demand that we not ask about his private behaviour or life and do not inquire or require him to explain his tangled relationships. ”Leave his private life out of this!” we are admonished … yet demand the most intricate details of the life of a refugee, any refugee from the time of their first fears of danger to how, what, when, where and why they fled their homeland … and not any subsequent explanation by myself or others who had witnessed or experienced such fears could or would be accepted by these criothans of the self-elected “truth police” who in the face of so much detailed explanation stubbornly refused to shift ground.
‘Truth is what most contradicts itself in time,’ said Lawrence Durrell. I would add that “the telling of a truth gives strength and power to an argument, whereas a lie weakens the most legitimate claim”.
I’ll leave these last words in their sensual beauty to Mr Durrell:
“Profligacy and sentimentality … killing love by taking things easy … sleeping out a chagrin … This was Alexandria, the unconsciously poetical mother-city exemplified in the names and faces which made up her history.”
“Any concentration of the will displaces life and gives it bias in motion. Reality, he believed, was always trying to copy the imagination of man, from which it derived.”
But it is the blind, merciless cruelty that I find most offensive and disgusting, particularly from such whose greatest woe in life would be in equivalence to that which is lost by the refugee to the suffering of a mild toothache!