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Too Far From Home: Selected Writings.

I am pleased that this compilation of Bowles's writing - stories, essays, letters, poems - is available. It will surely be the first volume future readers will explore. It is indispensible.

Although Bowles has often been praised for his wonderful evocations of horror, he has never received recognition as a philosophical novelist - a novelist interested in the way we interpret the world in the manner we know what we know. He has always been associated with Poe - remember that he went to the University of Virginia because Poe spent a year there! - and, like Poe, he has been dismissed as a technician, a master of "effects." I want here to suggest that Bowles - who respects Poe and the Aiken of "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" - has to be looked at in a radically new manner. In an interview with Halpern, Bowles says that he isn't a "secret lover ... of horror." He then goes on to say: "In certain sensitive people the awakening of the sensation of horror through reading can result in a temporary smearing of the lens of consciousness, as one might put it. Then all perception is distorted by it." Bowles uses the words consciousness and perception, he implies that we construct the world, that we see it through a lens. At another point Bowles insists that: "Of course I'm interested in myself, basically. In getting through my life. You've got to get through it all. You never know how many years you've got left." He suggests here that knowledge is always elusive; at the same time, he seems to contradict himself because he refers to "his life"' as if it were known - by some Other?

I believe that these clues help us to understand why Bowles is interested in translation. He realizes that language itself cannot define exactly perception or consciousness, that it is "smeared." By translating other writers, he searches for the right words; these words have a kind of uncanny (but limited) power.

I have been reading Kafka's Parables and Paradoxes; the entries resist interpretation because they demonstrate how little we know of language, consciousness, and higher law. Bowles reminds me of Kafka because his "pure" style forces many readers to disregard his metaphysical tendencies.

I end with a mysterious statement Bowles takes from a character in A Life Full of Holes: "I didn't know I was going to sleep until I woke up." Do we ever know what we are going to do until we do it? And, for that matter, do we ever know after we do it?

I have tried to find "the figure in the carpet" - the figure unseen by most admirers of Bowles. Perhaps there is no figure, no carpet. (But is that "nothing" a philosophical statement?) I don't know; I ask these questions to force future readers of Bowles to see his work as delicate "prayer."
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Author:Malin, Irving
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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