A Universe of Its Own

Periodically, I find myself in need of inspiration — struck by the desire, I am more susceptible than usual to a good yarn. It was in just such a moment that I re-encountered Paul Bowles yesterday.

My partner and I were at a client’s house, cleaning, when I happened to notice a book on a table. One has to know these particular clients and their habits to realize it is quite remarkable that I would notice any book in particular at all. This particular house has books on every available surface, book shelves lining every intact wall in one room, books hanging from the walls, books, books, books, and more books. Rather like the library of my dreams, if you want the honest truth.

So anyway, there are always books around, and if I could be disturbed at all by the riotous and ever-changing cacophony of competing memes I would probably find this house more of a challenge in which to work than I do. As it happens, though, the flittering of ideas, governing themes, and new literary faces suits my pallet and my temperament, so I tend to exist in a hyper-aware state when I am there. Snooze even for a moment and I might miss a potentially life-alteringly great read.

On this particular day, I just happened to glance down at the right moment to catch an all too familiar face peering back at me from the cover of a book. I am ever the voyeur when it comes to other people’s reading habits, but the charge that went through me was more than just that. I have encountered this author before, but it has been at least twenty years since and in radically different circumstances that I first made his acquaintance.

When I was in junior high going into high school, I became enthralled with Bohemian culture and it’s many anti-heroes. It started with the Lost Generation of 1920’s Europe courtesy of a highschool teacher’s life long obsession with Ernest Hemingway, careened almost simultaneously through the 1960’s drug culture of Timothy Leary and Hunter S. Thompson, who was at that time still writing for Rolling Stone, which I also read) and merged with the Beat Movement (Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs) and their compadres, of whom Paul Bowles was one. One encounter lead to the next and I was deeply into before I knew it. I have long felt that with a little more direction and forward momentum, I might have found myself in grad school getting a degree in liberal studies with a concentration in Bohemian culture.

But I digress.

In my obsession with the Beats and with immersing myself as completely as possible in their lives and their world, I found myself rubbing shoulders with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and their friend and compatriot, Paul Bowles, who lived for 52 years in Tangiers, in the Kingdom of Morocco. It started with a simple picture, one of many in the Allen Ginsberg collection, of Ginsberg, Burroughs, and friends sitting with Bowles in front of a house in Tangiers. At that time, I knew Bowles only as the indulgent host who allowed William Burroughs to stay with him for long periods of time in the 1950’s, while Burroughs was writing the fragments of prose that Ginsberg would help him turn into The Naked Lunch. (Burroughs, though a remarkably visionary writer in his own right, was at that time addicted to and later strung out on various opiates and other hard drugs that made coherent writing difficult at best.)

Although I made note of Bowles, I had many literary interests, and as the source I was immersed in at the time was a Ginsberg biography ( or a history of the Beat Movement) there wasn’t enough salient detail about Bowles to keep me enthralled, and thus, I soon moved on.

A good half a decade or more later I was a late night DJ on a local Memphis radio station (a gig which itself lasted about ten years). I worked in an a very organic electronic format, with lots of room for experimentation, and so found myself with a still heady interest in the Beat Movement and, even better, a media outlet for my experimentation. As a result, I began incorporating audio clips of the Beats and other like minded authors reading as well as the more experimental audio outpourings of Bohemian culture. It was at this time and in this environment that I encountered a CD produced by Bill Laswell (an audio syncretist and musical hero of mine) of Paul Bowles reading from _The Sheltering Sky_ and other works on top of highly discordant and experimental soundtrack. Needless to say, I loved it and played from it (& with it) frequently. I was at that time passingly familiar with Paul Bowles and his life and works, but even so, I was stuck by the power and cold beauty of his prose.

Now another half decade later I am happy to encounter a new collection of shorter works by Bowles organized around a subject that is central to my own life as well: the art of travel, the power of place, and the traveler’s life. _Travels: Collected Writings 1950-1993_ by Paul Bowles looks well worth reading, touching as it does upon a central theme of my own life, travel and the power of place.

Thinking about Paul Bowles again and finding myself in need of more information, I found myself at his official website, Paul Bowles. There I found a number of intriguing side notes from those whose encounters with him and his works were a good bit more intimate and personal than my own. One of my favorites is this interview with the man himself: interview