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Thursday, December 5, 2019

My Memory

A few days ago I began to read a novel by Paul Bowles that I picked up at a used bookstore. In the prologue, an American man identified only by his last name is at the house of some Moroccans he knows well, in Fez. It is the mid-fifties of the last century. It is midnight and his hosts insists on hiring him a guide to get back to his hotel. There is an argument here, because he doesn't think he needs a guide, but they insist and hire a Berber man, paying him in advance. The streets are very dark and they take a circuitous route. Everything is focalized through the American man's consciousness, but in third person. He tries to take out a flashlight, but the Berber guide thinks it makes up too much noise. There is a discussion of the "Moslem mind" and two perspectives, one minoritizing and one universalizing. The minoritizing perspective is that Westerners will never understand the complications of the Eastern mind. The universalizing perspective is that people are the same everywhere, with just different rituals and gestures. The narrator refers to the minoritizing perspective as hypocritical. There is reference to another Western man, "Moss," who is English. There is a long discussion of how the American man can find his way in the dark very easily through a process almost like echolation, by listening to the echoes of own footprints and to the sound of water flowing in the river. There is obviously something different about tonight, when the city is darker than usual. There is an air of danger here, because of the darkness and what seems the excessive paranoia of the guard.

They get to the hotel. The Berber disappears as the hotel watchman appears quicker than usual. The watchman tells a lie, saying that he wasn't waiting close to the door. There is a narrative digression about lying.  Moss summons the American to his room, and when the door opens, there is another stranger there along with Moss... He wishes he hadn't come to Moss's room.  


I read this text carefully, reading the first paragraphs of the book several times and reflecting on everything I read, looking for tropes that I might recognize from other literary works. In short, I read it like a professor. Now I could come in to a class and teach this text easily, without even looking at a it, because I retained all of it. This is just a summary of some important things, but I remember more than this. I would have to look up again the proper names, (Denham?) which have escaped me, except for "Moss." I could do the same with a text of literary theory.  Things jump out at me and I take them to be significant.  

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