Digressions and Men Within My Head.

Huxley in Guatemala.Tonight, after cooking dinner and settling down to eat, I picked up a copy of Jonathan Lee’s Fifty Great Escapes. Not to be deceived by the title, I bought this at Booksale because of Lee’s definition of travel which he outlines in his introduction:

Travel is so much more than an act of relocation. It can entertain and revitalize, enlighten, enrage, appall, or scare you witless. It can help you forget, relive or reinvent. Travel can throw burning issues into stark relief, camouflage them behind palm fronds or smother them in a fug of cocktails. The best kind of travel, though, reveals some kind of truth about yourself or the world.

The book features creatives and the places that inspire them. For instance, this first entry features Aldous Huxley and his beloved Lake Atitlán (Lago de Atitlán) found in the Guatemalan Highlands.  These images struck me so I neglected most of the book just to keep coming back to this one. Perhaps it had to do with my surprise–Huxley isn’t someone I imagined to have lived a very exciting life. He wrote of utopia and was, in my limited world view, someone who was probably not satisfied with his life. To read of him as one who has lived in many places including South America which he would later immortalize through the travel classic Beyond the Mexique Bay–and to learn that his was a varied and itinerant life gave different meaning to utopia. But that’s subject for another post. If anything it just helped me understand why someone like Pico Iyer who has already seen and lived so many lives in different places would have looked up to Huxley, of all people.

Digressions. I’ve been reading Iyer again–I always seem to when I am most unsure of myself. He once described his writing as intimate letters to strangers and reading him often feels like reading Rilke’s own letters to young Kappus. This time he is the man within my head, brought to me by coincidence and sheer lack of options. I had begun his other book, Falling Off the Map–describing lonely places and the lonely people that inhabit them–only to leave it at my parent’s house. His introduction there triggered synapses and made me recall Paul Theroux who once wrote that all travelers are lonely. This was gripping, especially in light of the January Doldrums but seeing as the reading gods made it impossible to continue, I settled for another Iyer. This time: The Man Within My Head.

It’s part travelogue, essay and memoir detailing the close affinity between himself and Graham Greene. They have much in common and because of this book I’ve resolved to read more of Greene whom I often dismiss for reasons I can’t quite understand.

Today, all I hoped for was a meaningful digression. The uncertainty in the air coupled with my routine has finally caught up with me and I struggled to wake this morning on account of it. Hopefully a little more of Iyer and his reflections on Greene will help me ask the right questions and climb out of this rut.


Note: Realizing now that all these people, writers alike, who were summoned by the synapses are male. Perhaps I imagine them all as lovers? Notes for another post.

Note 2: “The most remarkable thing about these Indian costumes is that they are not Indian at all, but old European. Little scraps of seventeenth and eighteenth century Spain have been caught here and miraculously preserved, like flies in the hard amber of primitive conservatism.” From Aldous Huxley’s Beyond the Mexique Bay. — This I will return to because Iyer writes about this “preservation” too in Falling Off the Map.


3 thoughts on “Digressions and Men Within My Head.

  1. I fell in love with Graham Greene during my undergrad. Just before first term papers were due and I was losing my mind with “required readings”. So I wandered down the stacks in search of a distraction, something to read for myself and I found a small green leather-bound novel titled The End of the Affair. No flap jacket, no information, just the first page and the first line:

    “A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”

    I was hooked. That the novel was equal parts romance/suspense/mystery/religious treatise was a pleasant surprise. Greene is one of those under-rated writers, not quite “Literature” with a capital L and yet you cannot just place him in the bulk box with all the other mystery novels. He had a very fascinating life. I’ve wanted to pick up Pico Iyer’s semi-autobiography for a while now. I’ve been making my way through Norman Sherry’s 3 Vol. Biography. Its a biography I pick up off and on. It’s massive but I love picking at his life. Such a fascinating man. Great post.

    • To be honest, I’ve held End of the Affair but never read it. The book came at me once but I wasn’t prepared to face it so I put it donw and haven’t found it since. The one that I remember is the Quiet American. I took it with me to Vietnam the first time I visited and it became my lucky charm. The reading only happened much later and it was so meaningful.

      Let’s pick at it together and please, please, read Iyer. Also, guide me through Greene? I can’t seem to concentrate on him.

      • End of the Affair is a great place to dig back into Greene. I hate to mention it because it was a pleasant surprise for me but it might provide some context and help prepare you for a kind of sudden turn that takes place half-way through the novel. Affair is considered one of his major “Catholic-novels”. I’m sure Iyer has mentioned how Greene converted to Catholicism for his wife (at least one of them if I am recalling things properly, but whatever). The novel is about the power of belief and about half-way it turns into an epistolary novel.

        Looking back it’s one of his more odd novels in that it straddles several genre and this odd writing form suddenly enters the text.

        I’ve read Quiet American but I honestly cannot recall much from it, though I did enjoy it. Brighton Rock was brilliant and beautiful. A Gun for Sale and The Ministry of Fear are both proper “spy” novels. Greene finds a way of humanizing these “villains” in such a way that you almost….ALMOST feel badly for them.

        Definitely let me know what you think as you enter into his fiction. He’s someone that will surprise you. Cheers.

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