Below, Paul Bowles writes to James Purdy about his summer in Tangier, which was spent “with the Beat nucleus throbbing in our midst.”
TO JAMES PURDY
October 3, 1961, Tangier
Thanks so much for sending a letter in exchange for a postcard. I’m really ignorant of who owed whom; if it was I who owed, I see you’ve let it pass…
I’m busy writing a novel to which I shan’t sign my name. At least, I’m writing it, which is all I want. Do you never go years without working, the way I do? I started my last novel in 1953, finished it in ’55. Better if I could write one to which I wanted to sign my name, but not all that much better. Did you like “A Friend of the World”? I’m delighted. Three short stories are all I’ve managed (plus another long story which isn’t published) in the past four years; that seems shocking. The pieces I take on for Holiday and Life and The Nation take as much energy and time as novels, and don’t exist once they’re printed. Eager to see your rape-novel, or anything else you write.
We had a hectic summer this year here in Tangier, with the Beat nucleus throbbing in our midst. They’ve scattered now—Burroughs to Harvard, Ginsberg to Greece, Corso to London and Orlovsky to Istanbul. Where they are at the moment is anyone’s guess, however. I hear Burroughs couldn’t stick it at Harvard, and is already back in London, although that may be false, since it came from Jane via a chain of most unreliable British beats. I did get a querulous letter from Burroughs sent from Massachusetts, in which he swore he’d lost his reason if he stayed long in the United States.
Religious, yes; I know what you mean. (You applied it to the group.) There were about two dozen beats in town at once at one point in the season, and the manner in which they attacked the native cafés and the native kif convinced the Moslems that they were members of an American religious sect. I suppose the beards helped, and the long hair of their women, and their symbolic uniform, in praise of universal poverty. Whenever I was told about them by a Moroccan, I confirmed the theory of the religious cult, saying: “Oh, yes. It’s well-known in America. They are often put in jail for their views.” Many of them spent time in prison here, as well, for various offences, so it was not difficult for the Moroccans to believe that part of it, either. “They like Kennedy?” I said no. “They like Khrushchev?” No, I said. “Who do they like?” “Only God. But they say that’s the same as themselves.” The Moroccans were generally scornful. “Maybe they think God likes them, but if they do, they’re crazy,” was one café-man’s reply.
If Andrewski gets in touch with Jane, she’ll surely answer. She is very busy writing. I’m not sure what, because she doesn’t like to discuss it. Perhaps the reason why I never answered your question about [Charles Montagu] Doughty is that I’ve never read Arabia Deserta. Someone asked me the same question yesterday. Obviously many people have done so before, and my answer always has to be the same one. Is it particularly good? I’ve asked that before, too, and got various opinions, most of them favorable, naturally. But why do you ask? Do you think I ought to read Doughty? That is to say: do you think I’d enjoy it? Is it his style one remembers, or his content? Or the two? As the bomb comes nearer, one thinks of various ways of cheating it, of slipping out so as not to have to meet it. That could add a certain flavor of recklessness to living, I suppose. The revolt of the masses: an illicit mass death-wish. Cheat the Bomb! Any occupation which could be considered dangerous would be a forbidden activity. Driving a car would be listed as a subversive act. Leaning out the window could get one twenty years. I see the paper now, and must stop.
For Susan Sontag’s review of Purdy’s ”rape-novel”, click here.
For an interesting essay on Purdy by Gore Vidal, click here.