Monday, March 10, 2008

under the volcano

malcolm lowry wrote a book called under the volcano around the middle of the last century. finishing the work, by accounts, was a painstakingly difficult process involving a great deal of back-and-forth and often contentious editing with his wife, and perhaps as an explanation, an even greater deal of alcohol (lowry was an alcoholic to the point of caricature - he was essentially physically incapacitated and resorted, at least on one occasion, to drinking aftershave when out of booze). despite these troubles, the book was ultimately completed and was widely praised; the los angeles times subsequently called it, "one of the ten most consequential works of fiction produced in [the twentieth] century." there were some pretty good books written in the last 100 years so, considering most people have never heard of this guy, that's a pretty interesting comment. part of the reason lowry isn't better known is that he was essentially unable to finish another work, including what would have been his magnus opus, october ferry to gabriola, despite working on it for years. though lowry wrote almost constantly, he spent as much time fighting with his wife and even more time drinking heavily. after a productive stint in british columbia, where he completed volcano, he moved around quite a bit in various abortive attempts to get clean. the new yorker, as always, does a brilliant job in discussing his life and raising some doubt as to the circumstances surrounding his death. a tragic figure to be sure, it's a shame he couldn't squeeze more out of his considerable talent. at least we'll always have under the volcano. here's an excerpt:

The water still trickling into the pool - God, how deadeningly slowly - filled the silence between them... There was something else; the Consul imagined he still heard the music of the ball, which must have long since ceased, so that this silence was prevaded as with a stale thudding of drums. Pariah: that meant drums too. Parian. It was doubtless the almost tactile absence of the music however, that made it so peculiar the trees should be apparently shaking to it, an illusion investing not only the garden but the plains beyond, the whole scene before his eyes, with horror, the horror of an intolerable unreality. This must be not unlike, he told himself, what some insane person suffers at those moments when, sitting benignly in the asylum ground, madness suddenly ceases to be a refuge and becomes incarnate in the shattering sky and all his surroundings in the presence of which reason, already struck dumb, can only bow the head. Does the madman find solace at such moments, as his thought like cannon-balls crash through his brain, in the equisite beauty of the madhouse garden or of the neighboring hills beyond the terrible chimney? Hardly, the Consul felt. As for this particular beauty he knew it dead as his marriage and as willfully slaughtered. The sun shining brilliantly now on all the world before him, its rays picking out the timberline of Popocatepetl as its summit like a gigantic surfacing whale shouldered out of the clouds again, all this could not lift his spirit. The sunlight could not share his burden of conscience, of sourceless sorrow. It did not know him.


4 comments:

rananda said...

i'll note that the picture is of a howling sunset in halang bay, vietnam, and bears no relation to lowry or under the volcano, except in that it captures a sun that will never care about any of us. as you were.

rajeeananda said...

beautiful picture and your comment

Sandip said...

Hi Aunty!!!

Jeff said...

This is hard for me to admit, but your blog is too smart for me. My head hurts.