Friday 4 August 2017

Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave

It takes a chapter or two of Cyril Connolly's The Unquiet Grave for this reader to enter his angry, depressive, diary mode, to take on board his nostalgia, his obesity, his mother and his idealism. He uses the persona of Palinurus, helmsman to Aeneas, who falls overboard and dies, in order to pursue his own introspection. Connolly's reading list has been mine, too; I have a sizeable, half-submerged, Franco-European peninsula in my head. World War Two prevented him going to France. He wanted to proclaim his faith in the unity and continuity of Western culture. And now, when it's all robotics and economics and Brexit, how can I not lap up the back thoughts of Cyril Connolly, another diarist?
Working on the manuscript for another year, Palinurus began to see that there was a pattern to be brought out; in the diaries an art-form slumbered,—an initiation, a descent into hell, a purification and cure.
Palinurus, Cyril Connolly, and me.
While we re-live the horrors of the Dark Ages, of absolute States and ideological wars, the old platitudes of liberalism loom up in all their glory, familiar streets as we reel home furious in the dawn.
Among his recollections of France, one rang startlingly clear. In February 1929, Connolly went to the premiere of Un Chien Andalou at Studio 28 on the rue TholozĂ©, in Paris. There was a surrealist book stall in the foyer and a gramophone played Ombres Blanches.
The picture was received with shouts and boos and when a pale young man tried to make a speech, hats and sticks were flung at the screen. In one corner a woman was chanting 'Salopes, salopes, salopes!' and soon the audience began to join in. With the impression of having witnessed some infinitely ancient horror, Saturn swallowing his sons, we made our way out into the cold of February 1929, that unique and dazzling cold.
At the end of May 1968, I went to Studio 28, my neighbie art cinema to see Polanski's Dance of the Vampires. I lived on rue Durantin, round the corner, I was recovering from foot and mouth disease, Paris was at a standstill but I was awash and my diary with me, thanks to the Justabovit pills the doctor had given me: Paris on strike was running with cherries.
Slowly, from doubtful beginnings, the day turned into a holiday, so it was all dandy and shining to eat cherries and go to the little purple cinema down the road to see Polanski's Le Bal des Vampires the audience at one with catcalls and laughter, the boy in front of me chewing a cigar, then three of them as we came out, talking quite warm and young as if we were all staying on the same holiday island. I felt I should be suntanned, there should be grains of sand between my toes. On the corner of rue Tholozé and rue Durantin, some kids were singing loud and warm in an unknown language. How enormous, you can't help thinking, how deliriously enormous it all must be..
Justabovit, as I now learn, was an anabolic steroid; just what you need for the revolution.

What Cyril Connolly needed for World War Two:
May 1st: Today we begin a new pincer movement against Angst, Melancholia and Memory's ever-festering wound: a sleeping-pill to pass the night and a Benzedrine to get through the day. The sleeping-pill produces a thick sleep, rich in dreams that are not so much dreams as tangible experiences, the Benzedrine a kind of gluttonous mental anger through which the sadness persists —O how sad,— but very much farther off. Whether they can ever combine in the mind to produce a new energy remains to be proven. 
Sadness and War. The Sadness of War. The War of Sadness. Sadness during and after War. Read your way out of and into everything, over these years, over a lifetime, of darkness.
And what illness performs for the individual, war accomplishes for the mass, until total war succeeds in plunging the two thousand million inhabitants of the globe into a common nightmare. 

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