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GEORGE TOLES The Toy Madness ofJane Bowles This problem you will never have to face because you have always been a truly isolated person so that whatever you write will be good because it will be true which is not so in my case because my kind of isolation I think is an accident, and not inevitable. . . . Not only is your isolation a positive and true one but when you do write from it you immediately receive recognition because what you write is in true relation to yourself which is always recognizable to the world outside. With me who knows? Jane Bowles to Paul Bowles August, 1947 t is typical of jane bowles to brush aside all the ordinary pains ofhuman isolation for the sake of an anxiety so unusual that it might at first glance seem comic. How many ofus, after all, brood about the accidental quality of our distance from others, or regard our proneness to this kind of accident as a demonstration of bad faith? Bowles is convinced, at least for the moment, that her experience of isolation is less genuine than her husband Paul's. She fears that it has become a problem for her chiefly as a result ofher habitual carelessness and insincerity —an accident, that is to say, which she has allowed to happen and is consequently to blame for. Jane has not earned Paul's right to be isolated, since she had access, at various times, to escape routes from isolation, and Paul never did. Paul's deep separation from others is a root condition of his being and he establishes an immediate claim on readers' attention because he is incapable ofpresenting his perfect solitude falsely. Jane, on the other hand, is condemned to triviality and easy dismissal since her isolation, as she sees it, is by and large the product of self-indulgence.1 Arizona Quarterly Volume 54, Number 4, Winter 199S Copyright © 1998 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004-1610 84George Toles At stake in this discussion of true and false versions of isolation is what Antonin Artaud once described as the awful knowledge of "whether or not I have the right to continue thinking, in verse or prose" (9). In the same letter to Paul, Jane describes herself as "serious" to the point of solemnity in her relation to writing, but defensively observes that "her experience is probably of no interest ... to anyone" (33). She is prevented from communicating effectively because she cannot overcome the suspicion that she is a fraud, whenever she is alone with herself. There has been much debate among literary theorists , in recent years, about where exactly the writer might legitimately be looked for in a text. Writing is often envisioned, for a variety ofreasons , as a solvent or continuous vanishing point for the aimless, thick, non-transferable (because untextual) presence of a writer. Jane Bowles would happily endorse any program of self-abdication as a pre-condition for defensible art. She does whatever she can to clear away her negligible, lumpish personality before writing, so that something at home with silence and solitude, "lighter" in spirit, less colored with postuting and frivolous attitude, might have a chance to appear in its place. Her dream of the literary work is one that Maurice Blanchot might be said to share. The "space of literature" is deeply impersonal and not at all concerned with giving us a "surer grasp" of the solid things around us. The literary work, in the words of Blanchot's translator , Ann Smock, "wants to make us hear, and become unable to ignore, the stifled call of a language spoken by no one, which affords no grasp upon anything. . . . This distress, this utter insecurity, is, Blanchot states, 'the source of all authenticity'" (3). Compare such an ideal with John Keats' determination, as he neared death, to make his poetic language speak, with minimal distance, his passion to survive as nothing less or other than the brimming-over sensibility declaring itself at the present moment. A remarkable late poem considers how "this living hand, now warm and capable / Of earnest grasping" might retain its power and extend its reach when it retires, "cold," to...


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