I start reading Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller’s correspondence. The former’s early gushing over Tropic of Cancer is effervescent, and it is striking to read Durrell’s appreciation of the book in the context of the interwar years. He recognises in Miller’s deeply transgressive prose not a moral evil but an affirmation of life beyond trauma. “It’s rather curious,” he writes, how the book expresses a “state of being beyond damage somehow. A bright, hard immunity to life.” But this is not an innate talent of Miller’s. It is a passionate wrangling with error.
“I recall distinctly how I enjoyed my suffering,” Miller writes towards the beginning of Tropic, not so much for its control over him but the exciting negotiation of a life lived alongside a wild beast:
It was like taking a cub to bed with you. Once in a while he clawed at you — and then you really were frightened. Ordinarily you had no fear — you could always turn him loose, or chop his head off.
These are people who cannot resist the desire to get into a cage with wild beasts and be mangled. They go even without revolved or whip. Fear makes them fearless… His courage is so great that he does not even smell the dung in the corner. The spectators applaud but he does not hear. The drama, he thinks, is going on inside the cage. The cage, he thinks, is the world. Standing there alone and helpless, the door locked, he finds that the lions do not understand his language. Not one lion has ever heard of Spinoza. Spinoza? Why they can’t even get their teeth into him. ‘Give us meat!’ they roar, while he stands there petrified, his ideas frozen, his Weltanschauung a trapeze out of reach. A single blow from the lion’s paw and his cosmogony is shattered.
A few weeks ago, I could hardly stand to be on my own. Pursued by events with teeth, I cowered and trembled, sheltering from my own thoughts in company. Medication has become a whip to crack the air of the cage with, but I am still within it. Leashed, I take the lion on strolls around the periphery. I write until I feel content and then… On the rest, I must plead the fifth. I have done things this week I never thought I’d do and feel empowered, albeit still aware I am acting dangerously, recklessly, exploring parts of the city I have no business being in, with nothing but a pen in my pocket and a notebook in my hand. Fear makes me fearless. The anxiety that overwhelmed me becomes a jousting partner as I stare into thoughts and dare them to make me blink. I live a peculiar double life under the cover of darkness and solitude, propelled by the lion’s roar, which I translate into unspoken secrets, and act.
Wounds are healing. All I have left are patches of hot pink skin, newly grown, like slats of fresh light breaking through tattered old curtains. A new day dawning. The only wound left sits on the knuckle of my ring finger, a pressure point. My handwriting at school was always awful. I never did learn how to correctly hold a pen. Now my hand is used to its cramped drifting. The hardened callus is raw and angry but it does not bother me. It encourages the scrawl.