segunda-feira, 8 de julho de 2013
Pico Iyer’s Kinship With Graham Greene
By LIESL SCHILLINGER
THE MAN WITHIN MY HEAD
By Pico Iyer
242 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $25.95.
“Wilson sat on the balcony of the Bedford Hotel with his bald pink knees thrust against the ironwork.” Those who love Graham Greene — and their numbers are legion — will recognize this sentence, the first line of his quietly devastating novel “The Heart of the Matter,” published in 1948.
Why didn’t Wilson deserve an honorific? What terseness, scorn or unceremoniousness did the omission of “Mr.” imply? Why was a grown man wearing shorts, and why were his knees pink? Where was the Bedford Hotel and where, to be precise, was Wilson? Was he in England, the country of Greene’s birth? Hardly. Like the author, Wilson was spending a stretch of World War II in West Africa. And who was Wilson? That would take longer to answer. This same aura of enigma-disguised-as-directness hovers over the meditation Pico Iyer has written about his lifelong obsession with Graham Greene, numinously titled “The Man Within My Head” — a nod to Greene’s first novel, “The Man Within.”
Iyer, a journalist and world traveler, the author of seven books of nonfiction and two novels, begins his own memoir this way: “I was standing by the window in the Plaza Hotel, looking out.” Where is this Plaza Hotel? In New York? Hardly. It’s in La Paz, Bolivia, a country where Iyer and a friend nearly died in a car crash on a mountain road one New Year’s Day. And who is Iyer? The answer to that question unfolds in the ensuing pages, emerging from behind a scrim of other characters — not only Greene, but the author’s philosopher father, Raghavan Iyer, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as Iyer’s old traveling companions and school friends and the women he has encountered along the way.
Iyer is far from the first Greenite to write about this prolific figure, whose long and illustrious career encompassed scores of novels, essays, short stories and plays. Greene’s official biographer, Norman Sherry, devoted more than 2,000 pages, gathered in three volumes, to an exploration of the author’s boyhood and manhood, his conflicted Roman Catholicism, his love affairs and friendships, his devious psychology.
Greene teased out the knotted skein of attitudes that tangled his psyche in his published works, whose overall theme can be usefully (if reductively) condensed to the sentence that appears in his play “Carving a Statue,” in which a sculptor describes the subject that shapes his work: “My indifference and the world’s pain.” But Iyer writes that he was “never much interested in Greene the man of politics or Greene the Catholic, Greene the rumored spy” because in his estimation Greene was not “much interested” in such questions himself: “all were mere symptoms of some more fundamental trembling.” Diagnosing this trembling, in Greene and in himself, is the work of this contemplative, idiosyncratic book, a kind of side trip that diverges from the routes of Iyer’s usual writing.
Back in 1988, when he was 31, Iyer attracted considerable notice with a captivating journalistic travelogue, “Video Night in Kathmandu,” that took the reader along on his eventful journeys across nearly a dozen Asian lands. At the time, it was popular for travel writers to betray little surprise at their surroundings and to write with the dispassionate, nonjudgmental eye of a social scientist. But Iyer reverted to the more piquant tastes of an earlier era, in which writers transmitted the weird magic of distant cultures, pretending to no complacent understanding of these alien settings but conveying instead the vitality of their otherness. “Abroad, we are not ourselves,” Iyer wrote, combatively adding, “I make no claim to be authoritative about the places I visited.” Greene took a similar tack in his travel books, “Journey Without Maps,” written when he too was 31, and “The Lawless Roads,” published three years later.
“Serendipity was my tour guide,” Iyer announced, acknowledging his embrace of the unknown, “assisted by caprice.” But if he shares Greene’s appetite for travel without preconception, the extent to which he has imitated his role model in other ways should not be exaggerated. Greene, Iyer wrote, in “Sleeping With the Enemy,” a soul-searching essay in Time magazine in February 1995, was “a self-styled scapegrace” who openly confessed in his works to an endless list of “treacheries and transgressions” and stirred compassion in his readers both for his undisguised grief at his own failings and for his efforts to forgive both betrayers and the betrayed. “If he could be unusually tender toward his enemies,” Iyer observed, “he could be unnaturally negligent of his loves.”
After writing that essay, Iyer went back to his home in Japan (where he still lives with his wife, Hiroko), then returned to California, where his parents lived. On the answering machine at his desk, Iyer found a message from his father that shocked him. Raghavan Iyer, normally even-keeled and “famous for his fluency and authority,” had phoned to praise his son for the Greene essay, which had reduced him to “racking sobs.” His father was most touched, Iyer speculates, by the observation that the truest enemy anybody confronts is internal, is one’s own self. His father died in June of that year. “The Man Within My Head” is the product of more than a decade of Pico Iyer’s reflections about the dual influences his father and Greene exerted upon him.
It's peculiar, reading Iyer’s deeply felt revisitation of his own experiences and his recapitulation of Greene’s, to come across his comment that, “I’d never drunk; I never felt the need to escape unhappiness or bring new drama into my life.” One wonders why a man possessed of such equilibrium would feel an irresistible pull to someone like Greene — considering that Greene did drink, did feel the need to escape unhappiness and did foist so many dramas upon himself. But this seeming paradox doesn’t constitute a contradiction — or, at least, not one that exceeds the contradictory nature of any person’s self-image. It’s “only through another, sometimes,” Iyer writes, that you can “see yourself with shocking clarity. A real father is too close for comfort.”
Greene, as Iyer’s chosen father figure, couldn’t weigh down his devotee with any “burden of obligation” or intrude on his “sacred privacy.” Nor could he, existing as he did for Iyer as a kind of inspirational construct, ever abandon him — even though Greene died in 1991, four years before Iyer’s father. “He never grows too old, or loses his memory,” Iyer explains. “He’s always there for you. Like a god, Greene might have added — except that a human, faltering, contradictory god is sometimes easier to believe in.”
Reading that summation, I thought of another writer of Indian descent, V. S. Naipaul, who also writes in Greene’s mood. In his autobiographical novel “A Way in the World,” Naipaul observed that “We cannot understand all the traits we have inherited. Sometimes we can be strangers to ourselves.” And yet, as “The Man Within My Head” demonstrates, there’s fellowship to be found in the community of eloquent strangers, an eternal literary companionship.
Liesl Schillinger is a regular contributor to the Book Review.
Book author Graham Greene
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 16:34