- Paul Bowles: The Inner Geography, and: Reading Stanley Elkin, and: Thor's Hammer: Essays on John Gardner
As prefaces often indicate what we may immediately expect of a book's content and style, so Pounds's initial remarks encapsulate the difficulties facing readers of his Paul Bowles: The Inner Geography:
I have tried to place Bowles in American literary history in relation to Edgar Allan Poe and to the native tradition of using landscapes to externalize extreme states of mind. The essential project of Bowles' fiction, as he himself reiterates, is the destruction of the old ego, and the fictional landscapes reveal a psychic structure essentially the same as that described by R. D. Laing in The Divided Self. The schizoid personality and schizophrenia itself, as the works of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Felix Guatarri make abundantly clear, constitute a radical critique of the insane violence of bourgeois industrial capitalism in the West. The schizoid personality reflects the selfs assimilation of cultural violence and makes the revolutionary gesture of refusing totalization. Like Laing and Foucault, Bowles teaches the reader to locate the nexes of power structures at home and to see power not as a process we undergo but a praxis in which we participate.
Although Bowles has indeed talked about "the destruction of the ego," the phrase "old ego" is assigned by Pounds not to Bowles but to D. H. Lawrence; and by page 83, Pounds has equated "old ego" with "Western ego." Ostensibly a study of Bowles's works, this book is actually a study of how those works confirm the theories of Laing or parallel the thoughts of other writers—Edgar Allan Poe et al.—whose connection with Bowles frequently seems metaphoric rather than apodictic.
This book began as a dissertation. In its present form it claims the privilege of "psychiatric disourse":
Only gradually, in working out these essays and revising them, have I come to learn what I have to say. . . . To my own mind, the real break in the book is between the first four chapters, which were substantially written in 1976, and the last, which was written in 1984. Although I have planed the rough edges of the early chapters to fit a subsequent eight years' experience of Bowles' work, I have not tampered with their larger structures and arguments. Thus they seem to me to retain the smell of the study in which they were written. . . . For whatever the reader may find it worth, the last chapter has the advantage of an experience of North Africa, and it is written with greater self-confidence.
May not the reader legitimately expect that the entire work should have been revised and unified in the light of this later experience, reflection, and wisdom? On other occasions Pounds has been clear and persuasive: his restructured argument, "Let It Come Down and Inner Geography" (RCF [Fall 1982]), shows how [End Page 289] he can control material. But in the present book when Pounds covers much of that same ground, we are given the 1976 version, and it is less effective.
To appreciate this published volume one needs a basic grounding in and sympathy for Laingian theory as well as a willingness to accept the jargon of sociology and psychology in a literary discourse. Because the book lacks an index—though it has a copious bibliography from which Pounds has modestly eliminated his own articles on Bowles—it is difficult to pull together Pounds's thoughts about a specific work. The careful reader also needs to be wary of relying without question on the details that Pounds here recounts from Bowles's writings. Anxious to find literary parallels or make a point, Pounds occasionally fudges the evidence. He should be reminded, for example, that the Professor at the conclusion of "A Distant Episode" does not die but...