Here to Learn: Remembering Paul Bowles

Outside of Tangier

“… I immediately sent away for an application form, and when it arrived, I carefully filled it out and put it in an envelope along with a couple of short stories, the quality of which, according to the enclosed information brochure, would be the determining factor in my being accepted. I gave the envelope to the purser and it went off with the next batch of ship’s mail. My hopes of being accepted were not high. I’d only published a few poems in John Bennett’s Vagabond, written barely a handful of short stories, and didn’t yet think of myself as a real writer. But my ambitions were of the larger-than-life variety. We sailed out of Norfolk to lay a long stretch of cable in the Atlantic, a job which would take an estimated six weeks. I tried not to dwell on the possible outcome of my application, while working as much overtime as possible, just in case I might actually need a sizable bankroll for a trip to Morocco. Several years back, a friend of mine had given me a book of Paul Bowles’s translations of the stories of Mohammed Mrabet, and I had been an admirer of Bowles and his work ever since. Although best known for The Sheltering Sky, which first appeared on the postwar literary scene in 1949, I didn’t find it to be his best work. I thought his short stories and translations of Moroccan storytellers, especially Larbi Layachi’s A Life Full of Holes, had more depth and created a greater resonance. Mainly it was the persona and the character of Paul Bowles that I found so intriguing. For me, he was the American expatriate artist non plus ultra, the bohemian incarnate. Bowles had turned his back on America in a quiet gesture of rebellion in order to follow his true calling as a writer and composer, traveling the world and finally coming to rest in distant, exotic Tangier. The fact that he’d dropped out of college and run away to Paris to rub shoulders with the literati and surrealists, and had managed to be received by Gertrude Stein, was in exact accordance with my nonacademic view of how one could move up in the world. And the fact that it was Gertrude Stein who suggested to Bowles that he stop writing poetry and that he should visit Tangier confirmed my belief in the life-altering power of synchronicity. Above all, it was Bowles’s unique stance as an outsider in the otherwise clubby world of literature that appealed to me the most. Although frequently associated with the Beats, other than a few snapshots where he appeared in the company of Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Corso, he really didn’t have much in common with the Beats. And despite the fact that Bowles had also experimented with drugs and their relation to creativity, the similarity stopped there. …”
Empty Mirror

Bowles’ study in the the Immeuble Itesa.

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