Up Above the World – Paul Bowles (1966)

“‘You must watch your universe as it cracks above your head,’ Paul Bowles once told an interviewer. Mr. Bowles has cocked a wary, ironic eye at a tumbling universe since 1929, when he left the University of Virginia for an expatriate’s life on the Left Bank. His subsequent wanderings in North Africa, Latin America and India have provided the overriding theme of his fiction: the civilized Anglo-Saxon consciousness in sometimes fatal confrontation with the irrational, perverse, violent realities of alien modes of life. His first novel, ‘The Sheltering Sky,’ published in 1949, amplified this theme with a skill that ranks the book, in my opinion with the dozen or so most important American novels published since World War II. The book describes the gradual psychic destruction of two American tourists caught up in a weird net of circumstances in North Africa. Mr. Bowles invests his ominous African landscape with a tremendous symbolic charge, so that Port and Kit Moresby, his protagonists, come to stand for 20th century man overwhelmed in a Sahara of moral nihilism. ‘The Sheltering Sky’ is that rarity, a novel that functions perfectly on both the intellectual and the narrative levels. In his subsequent fiction, Mr. Bowles continued to explore variations on his theme. ‘Let It Come Down,’ his second novel, concerns a spiritually bankrupt American who goes to Tangier to seek, in corruption and violence, a new self-knowledge. Mr. Bowles presses his sense of evil to the outer limits of horror. The book reaches its climax in one of the most shattering scenes in modern literature. When Nelson Dyar, the American, insane with hashish, hammers a nail into a sleeping Arab’s head, it is as though Mr. Bowles had offered the ultimate confirmation of man’s capacity for degradation. His short stories are filled with similar concusive [sic] insights. His third novel, ‘The Spider’s House,’ which was not a success, also dealt with the futility of the quest for salvation in a blasted universe. Among American writers he stands in the front rank for the substance of his ideas and for the power and conviction with which he expresses his own particular vision, which, if hellish, is totally appropriate to the times. …”
NY Times: The Destruction of Innocence (March 12, 1966)
W – Up Above the WorldPaul Bowles
Tangier Days: Conversations with Paul Bowles, 1984–1988
Guardian: Paul Bowles
amazon: Up Above the World

About 1960s: Days of Rage

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