I turn from the TV which shows the hero of an Australian national sports team, flexing & grimacing on the sidelines, his face possibly already showing signs of concussion. Yesterday an Australian cricketer was allowed to sit on a panel of Indian personalities and public figures seriously, no, in deadly earnest, discussing the priorities for the country; his contribution: boxing ring sound effects. Brett Lee I might have understood, he possesses a truly androgynous empathy.
My house companion had just returned from visiting an exhibition of Spanish drawings, with a roomful of Goya’s work. I remember recently visiting a nearby university in order to propose a doctorate project to three supremely self-important academics. More memorable had been the Goya etching in the corridor outside, of atrocities he attempted to come to terms with, but had succumbed instead, to permanent irrationality in a landscape where Roman Catholicism perpetrated its unique illogic and hypocrisy.
I have just finished reading Graham Greene’s The Honorary Consul, written in 1973, filled with plentiful details of female sexuality, enough to slake any str8 man’s lust. It has a dismissive definition of the detective novel genre, that of a verbal jigsaw puzzle. But its major preoccupation is with machismo, set in a liminal area between Paraguay and Argentina. I mentioned reading Graham Greene’s work to my steadfast friend, and he recalled reading him in his youth. Greene describes his moral theatre as absurd not tragic; with absurdity anything can happen; and Greene makes sure that it does.
I note that Waiting for Godot is currently playing in town; Lucky & Pozzo would have been quite at home delivering many of the novel’s dialogues.
The book would be difficult to recommend, so replete is it with the conundrums that sent poor Goya loony tunes; paradoxes of the catechism, that I remember so well, that poisoned my childhood and youth, that allowed a young priest to believe it was okay to lay hands on newly pubertal boys for his personal sport.
In one of my rare returns to mother church and the Latin rite, I even went to confession in one of the uber-Gothic booths of St Mary’s Cathedral. I began the recital of my transgressions but there were so many moments of doubt that the priest impatiently rejected my account as SCRUPLE rather than sin. I have never been able to separate the two; there you have it, my mittel-european consciousness.
Somehow I persisted with the Greene novel in spite of the religiosity: at one tortured point in the narrative I even reassured myself that I still remembered the Hail Mary, word perfect. But, as the Jesuit said, give me a child at 5 [or whatever] & he is mine for life; post the Royal Commission on Clergy child sexual abuse, the quote is rancid, in so many ways. Note also, the emphasis on the male gender; a club of men for men.
Greene’s world is ABSURD; what else could it be after the second World War and the nazi holocaust; events by Greene’s definition turn up unexpectedly. Greene writes novels like film scripts. As one reviewer noted, there is an alternation of close up description and the long panned action sequence. So it is in the Honorary Consul. No spoiler alert will be given here; the ending should spring spontaneously, upon the imagination of the persistent reader. It is certainly as rewarding as any well made film. Machismo is outlined in all its absurdity; alongside its pompous heroes stands the feminised, whiskey priest, whose vocation has been corrupted by grog and a wife. Throughout the novel, Jesus and Marx vie for the reader’s attention, while the novelist and the poet contest their appropriateness in this alienated landscape. The old fashioned novelist of machismo, who struggled to make metaphor contemporary and universal, finally triumphs in his verbal metier by delivering a funeral eulogy; it’s a wry twist to the tail of the beast. No ethics however, survive the macrame plot.