Collected Stories 1939-1976 – Paul Bowles

“After an early false start as a poet and a substantial career as a composer, Paul Bowles began his career as a short story writer in his mid-thirties, when he was asked to edit an issue of a magazine on Central and South American culture and felt an urge to invent some myths of his own. He hoped to inhabit the primitive mind, and resolved to adopt ‘the old Surrealist method of abandoning conscious control and writing whatever words came from the pen.’ In ‘By the Water,’ for instance, a young man enters the baths of a strange and unfriendly town, and after following the long dark corridors to the pools, happens to run into the proprietor of the place: ‘The creature’s head was large; its body was small and it had no legs or arms. The lower part of the trunk ended in two flipper-like pieces of flesh. From the shoulders grew short pincers.’ These early stories contain the stuff of myth, all right, but can seem a little fragmented and unsatisfactory: one can sense around the outlines the highly intelligent writer who has invented these myths. It was when Bowles allowed this side of himself to enter the stories that he found his real theme, the conflict between the civilized and the primitive, the intellect and the unconscious. … In the quintessential early Bowles story the protagonist is a traveler, often a kind of innocent, at least innocent of the extraordinary situation he is entering. The physical conditions are extreme, and generally the extreme of climate is an overwhelming heat. The protagonist finds himself at the edge of things, the border where a town gives over to a forest or desert, the edge of a ravine, the section of town where the lights give way to darkness. There is an overwhelming sense of menace. Something apparently unnatural, irrational, takes place — harm might be done to some harmless thing — and we enter a world that is starkly primitive beyond anything we had imagined. A Bowles story is a journey to an alien place, but also into the depths of a human being, as the linguist, for instance, discovers what sort of man he is without speech. …”
The Sun Magazine
The Stories of Paul Bowles by Paul Bowles

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