Friday, December 9, 2016


            Discovered in a book as I was moving other books.  A relic.

I was asked by Cornelius Anthony Murphy (Assoc Prof)--- as it is listed on his e-mail---to write about Aidan Higgins as I had contributed to the Review of Contemporary Fiction a piece entitled "51 Pauses After Reading Aidan Higgins" now many years ago.
         Cornelius Anthony Murphy (Assoc Prof) decided it was not for his book of essays on Aidan Higgins.

         Aidan Higgins wrote two great books LANGRISHE, GO DOWN and BALCONY OF EUROPE.  He also wrote some very good short descriptive travel pieces and short pungent notices in Hibernia, a newspaper in Dublin… and then he made the mistake of writing and writing and writing and writing.
         NOW: Actually READING a book (LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD by Aidan Higgins.

         Got to find some therapy./This treatment is taking too long.  "Twenty four Hours"  ---Ian Curtis.  JOY DIVISION
         Letters from Cornelius Anthony Murphy (Assoc Prof):  Any word on the Higgins article?  Sorry to be a pest but the publisher is on my trail. I am hoping…
         I really hope you can pull something together, about LIONS, or something else even (Balcony?) as I really…
         Just checking to see if you've been able to muster any enthusiasm for the Higgins piece.  I too re-read LIONS recently and am less taken with it than previously--- bad time in the game for me to shift my point of view!  I hope you've found some way through the thickets that appear to have sprouted around you…
Letter in reply:       You will have an essay… but since you asked for something I will write and have I think a way into Higgins.

         I must have bought LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD by Aidan Higgins in January of 1994 because in those years I was going to London in that month for a few weeks every year.  As I open the paperback, as I have been opening the paperback during the summer of 2008 and now it is the autumn and I am still opening the book:  it is falling apart and the pages long ago began to brown and I am sure it will not survive for many more years.
         The edition I have was published by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd--- then part of Reed Consumer Books --- as paper original with what they fall French flaps.  The name of the author is printed in a golden box.  That year Secker books had a distinct look and that ended rather quickly.
         Currently LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD seems out of print both in the UK and in the US.  It is available for 99p in the UK and for eight dollars in the US.
         As many know Dalkey Archive has taken to reprinting many of Higgins' books and it is a noble endeavor.  From the very start of that press the publication of Higgins' work was a priority. 
         I do not know if Dalkey will be publishing for the first time LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD in the US… but I am pretty sure all the people who want a copy of this Higgins title already have it and it is unlikely that many people would be seeking it out. 
          Of course I could be wrong and hope I am wrong as everything that Higgins writes is of interest as he and Desmond Hogan and Dorothy Nelson are pretty much it when it comes to prose writing in Ireland after James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Flann O'Brien, Francis Stuart.  Of course there are many many prose writers in Ireland: almost as many as the standing army of Irish poets but but but…
Berlin is a fascinating place, maybe less so now that it has been reunited and become a sort of entertainment zone for the privileged subsidized international artistic middle class.  During the time of a divided Berlin Uwe Johnson--- as readers may actually remember--- wonderfully perceptive hard earned and authentic books were set in Berlin and in that moment of  two Germanys… but now as the years have gone by  writers as good as Julian Rios and Ceese Nooteboom have fallen under the sway of Berlin and come to a certain defeat… and part of the reason is that they are not prepared to admit their ignorance of the complexity of Berlin--- they have to use it as background, mere background painted on…
         Higgins's book is based on his own residence in Berlin--- just before the actual fall of the Berlin Wall as a guest of one of those international sinecures that the German government uses to get people to come to Berlin for a period of time…
         Higgins gives into the mostly deadly of all traps: the academic literary satire… and crosses it with a sentimental entanglement of the central character Dallan Weaver who is a guest of DILDO (Deutsche-Internationale Literatur-Diesnt Organisation   and it is probably right there in that footnote attached to a listing of characters, just after the CONTENTS that the book falls apart.
         ---It is understood that LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD is Higgins's favorite book

The trouble continues right in the prologue with a slice of jazzed up or down -potted history:  "Zukov's men, the advanced spearheads, entered Berlin through the northern suburbs, screeching as they ran. The infantry went in first over the mine fields and tank traps to be blown to glory; others came on screeching wave after wave. Then the tanks went in."(P.1-2)
         This is immediately followed by, "The sneery sculptor who had fluent Spanish asked Weaver what was his astrological sign." (p.2)
         The word sneery, astrology and the previous ham fisted allusion to the Battle for Berlin got me to close the novel right there the first time I tried to read the novel though I had noted that Rudolf Hess is helpfully listed with the others characters in the book as "the last Nazi in Spandau Prison." (P. x)

So, one tries again in the summer, so many years later, having remembered having defending Balcony of Europe for an early issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction-- when it was neither profitable or even useful for a resume to echo Flann O'Brien.
Well, the Weavers ( should we really read Higgins, wife and child?) house hunt for a place during their Berlin stay.  There is party going.  Mention of Rudolf Hess comes before two mentions of the "bullet riddled Amerika Haus" (p33) and "Amerika Haus was bullet riddled." (p46).
"And where had the brainy Prof read that all whales have syphilis?" (p.33) It is that word brainy coupled with Prof that makes the sentence read like a bad translation…
Early on and sadly dominating the book THE AFFAIR complete with the wife Nancy, "the dispossessed and disgruntled spouse." (p.97)  There will be the other woman, Lore, who will having been made pregnant:  "Their child's life  had been terminated in The Hague by the sinister lady abortionist…"(p.267).
Another un-necessary word: "The right-hand window of Margot Schoeller's famous bookstore…" (P.71)  How could  Higgins allow his man Weaver to think that or he to write it?  But it sets up a moment of letting us know that Higgins, Weaver knows Samuel Beckett who has just received the Nobel Prize.  AS good anecdote is recorded, "Watt (dismissed by its author into Weaver's ear as not so much shit as dysentery." (P.73).

But the book is not all heterosexual.  After all this is Berlin: "Two sad sodomites  frantic with grief and betrayal  were copulating in the snow, lit by the headlights of a parked car… Weaver averted his eyes as he would have looked away from a bloody  traffic accident. (p.56).

12 pages are given over to Weaver's child's writing.  Enough said.  A sort of filler, I guess.  Allows for a ink drawing by the "brilliant son" (P.87) of the author.
         3 pages of dreams.  No check attached for listening.  At the going rate today of 150$ per fifty minutes…how many sessions would they require?
But followed up by more Dublin gossip:  well that old warhorse Brendan Behan hungover demanding that his wife, "Come up here with you now, Bethrice, an' thrim me  toenails." (p.135)  and there is mention of "wild Ralph Cusack" (P.134) and I would have liked to have had him about for more than a name drop.
And then the reader is off to drunken Spain but we have been there and in far better verbal company in BALCONY OF EUROPE but we are quickly--- since these pages are read quickly out of embarrassment--- though it takes ages as is said but we are back in Berlin right smartly: "The British Council always gave good parties."(p202);  "Lore(the mistress, girlfriend whatever as the kids might say) had discovered a good Japanese restaurant near Fat George's flat…" (P.211); "In the summertime (when the living is easy) it was a very different story."(p.216)  The parenthetical phrase is Higgins and he bears full responsibility for it, sadly.

But off to Munich during Olympic season.  Israelis will be murdered ( it is THAT Olympics) and now it gets cloudy.  Is the following the author, Weaver or who? "When a pure negroid (small n) American could run faster, jump faster and fly first over hurdles faster than any white man, that only  confirmed his own conviction abut racial degeneracy: those fellows had just come down out of the trees. (p241)   
         I missed listing some more "famous" people who appear or are mentioned: Per Olaf Enquist, Leni Riefenstahl, Volker Schlondorff, Margarethe von Trotta who you might like to know, "spent some time under the table retrieving poor shots, sulking 'shitshitshit!"(p243)

And not to let a name go: "Hess was still serving pit his life sentence in Spandau Prison, the Russians would not him go. (P.252).
Now that we are nearly at the end of the book a selection of letters from Berlin to Weaver and one letter from Lore that prepare us for the disappearance of the wife and how true something lives… some years after the body of the book.
And an epilog he (whether it is Higgins or Weaver?) conflates a meeting between Gunter Grass and Max Frisch and manages to drag in Uwe Johnson and an allusion to Ingeborg Bachmann which is supposed to?... beats me, I have to point out that one of the he's or the proofreader overlooks the misspelled Frishe (p299) while making some point about the Gauloises smoked by Grass and the pipe tobacco stained fingers of Frisch…
I found a book marker reminder (though I can't explain the dates because as we know LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD was published in 1993) of an earlier reading of LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD in the form of a newspaper clipping, now a darker brown than the pages of the book:  from the December 25, 1978 THE VILLAGER ( a local paper in Greenwich Village, NY:

DEATH ON 12TH STREET: At 6 pm on December 12, a resident of 343 West 13th Street was found by two friends hanging by the neck in his apartment.  The 31 year-old resident, wearing a leather-studded collar, a gas mask with the air vents closed and other assorted sexual equipment, apparently choked to death.  The case while is may be an accidental death, is being investigated by the First Homicide squad.

But this scrap can serve as a telling commentary for we know that much of LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD appeared in previous books and while movie directors are endlessly providing new versions (think of Oliver Stone's various Final cuts of ALEXANDER) I would have had no problem---as is said--- with a book solely of observation and quotation but the sheer dreariness of the love/sexual triangle: why not just publish the divorce degree and parts of the hearing transcript if such exists?
         I would like to read a NEW book by Higgins of his life in Ireland.
Aidan Higgins is still the best English-language prose stylist in the country.
                                    ---Nuala Ni. Dhomhnaill.

New York

1 October  2008