Op. 15

 

LOGAN'S INFLUENCE

OR

CARNAL SACRIFICE

 

Long Prose

 

Copyright © 1980-2010 John O'Loughlin

____________

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Keith Logan hadn't been to a party in years and, now that he had met the hostess and been escorted into the tightly packed room where the festivities were taking place, he felt curiously shy and embarrassed, like a young adolescent on his first date.  The room was certainly more crowded than expectations had led him to believe, and with the crowd went the noise of chatter and laughter, occasional coughs and shouts, elaborate gestures and sudden jerks.

     Casting around for psychological support amidst the welter of strange faces, Logan's gaze fell upon the rather large head of the art critic Martin Thurber, and he immediately set about drawing the man's attention with a clear if rather brief wave of his hand, which, as if by a miracle, duly produced positive results.  It was Thurber who had invited him along to the party in the first place, so it was only proper that the one familiar and vaguely sedate face in the room should act as a kind of life-support harness and straightaway come floating to his rescue through the choppy sea of animated faces swimmingly at large there.  The hostess, who had so promptly answered the door to him a moment before, was already being pulled away by the call of duty to answer it to someone else, leaving Logan stranded in her turbulent wake just inside the large brightly lit drawing room in which he now floundered.  Hence the curious shyness and embarrassment which had so suddenly descended upon him, in the absence of his customary self-confidence.

      But Martin Thurber was coming to his rescue, brimming over, it appeared, with self-confidence and pleasure.  "So glad you could make it, Keith," he announced, extending what seemed like a life-saving hand to the new arrival's nearest shoulder and gently patting it a few times.  "I was beginning to fear you weren't coming."

     Logan smiled in an ambivalent cross between apology and reassurance at the fair-haired, clean-shaven face before him, the light-blue eyes of which twinkled mysteriously and even a shade mischievously, it seemed to him, in the festive atmosphere.  It was a wonder to himself that he had actually come, since the prospect of visiting this Highgate house unaccompanied, and without any foreknowledge whatsoever of who or what he would encounter there, had more than once cast a serious shadow of doubt over his prior resolution to turn up.  But to have backed down at the last moment, after he had assured Thurber of his pressing desire to attend, would hardly have contributed towards the friendship which had recently sprung-up between them and, since he had precious few friends anyway, he thought it expedient not to disappoint the poor fellow.  "I didn't want to turn up too early," he averred, following the termination of his ambiguous smile.

     "And no difficulty finding your way here, I trust?" Thurber remarked.

     "Nothing to grumble about," Logan declared.

     "Good."  Thurber's eyes twinkled in an even more mysterious, not to say mischievous, fashion.  He was just about to add some banality about no address being easier to find when a burst of piercing laughter from a group of revellers to their left interrupted the flow of his thoughts, inducing him, instead, to say: "Well, now that you've arrived, allow me to introduce you to our host."

     A few yards to their right a well-groomed, silver-haired man of average build but more than average height was standing on the edge of one such group, gracefully chatting to an attractive young woman with light-green eyes who peered into his handsome face like a person intent upon discovering the secrets of the universe there.  It was towards him that Thurber boldly advanced, dragging his reluctant acquaintance along by the sleeve.

     "Allow me to introduce a highly talented novelist by name of Keith Logan," he respectfully interposed, compelling the man's attention.  "Keith, this is Edward Hurst, our magnanimous host!"

     Hurst smiled magnanimously before extending a rather clammy hand, which the newcomer dutifully clasped.  "Delighted to meet you," he announced, focusing a sharp pair of dark-grey eyes upon the latter's aquiline nose.  "I've heard a little about you from Martin, though I haven't yet got round to reading any of your books.  But let me introduce you to someone who may have - Miss Greta Ryan, who is something of a writer in her own way."

     He was of course referring to the attractive young woman beside him, whose attention had, in the meantime, shifted down a gear, so to speak, in its change of direction.  She extended a slender hand and smiled shyly through a moist pair of sensuous lips.  "I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you too," she confessed, as Logan tentatively responded to her gesture.  "I'm only familiar with your name; though I understand you mostly write, er, nonsense, if that's the right word?"

     Logan blushed slightly and emitted a gentle self-deprecatory laugh.  "Not quite nonsense in the usual sense," he insisted.  "But certainly novels that make no sense."

     "He's purely an abstractionist," Thurber revealed, coming to his social rescue again.  "So what he writes is senseless from a representational or, rather, narrative and descriptive standpoint."

     "Really?" Hurst exclaimed in a show of surprise mingled with incredulity.  "Whatever next?"  He gulped down a mouthful of wine before adding, on a slightly reproachful note: "All of which leads one to assume that your novels are completely unreadable?"

     "Not 'completely'," Logan responded a shade despondently.  "It's just that what you read doesn't tell you anything.  It simply makes you conscious of words, of their sound and symbolic nature."

     The dark-haired woman to whom he had just been introduced wanted to know why readers should be made conscious of the 'sound and symbolic nature' of words instead of being told a story, as with most novels.  It didn't quite make sense to her, she confessed.

     "It's not supposed to make sense!" Hurst facetiously reminded her.

     "No, in actual fact it only makes sense from a philosophical and avant-garde angle," said Logan, briefly turning towards Greta.  "I mean it's doubtless right, at this juncture in time, that the more progressive writers should be engaged in exploring the tools, so to speak, of their trade rather than simply constructing traditionally-inspired literary works out of them.  We've got beyond the purely representational stage of literature and are busily exploring abstract or non-narrative possibilities, in accordance with the transcendental Zeitgeist of the age, which, in my opinion, stems from the radically artificial influence of the urban environment.  We've been exploring such possibilities since at least the beginning of the century, and until we transcend literature, not to mention art and music, altogether, we must continue to explore them, in the interests of progress."

     "Even to the extent of writing meaningless novels?" Hurst queried, less the magnanimous host than the sceptical critic.

     "Absolutely," Logan confirmed, nodding bravely.  "For, as we evolve to a higher and more spiritual level of life, so we must get beyond symbols, transcend words and their meanings, in order to penetrate to the pure truth which lies ahead of us, and thus attain to the goal of our evolution in spiritual bliss - total enlightenment."

     This opinion could hardly be expected to win much approval from people like Edward Hurst and Greta Ryan, who were already a trifle tipsy and therefore not particularly interested in hearing what a sober abstract novelist had to say concerning the justification of his craft.  If Logan had arrived an hour or two earlier, the people concerned might have been a shade more receptive and willing to hear him out.  But now, under the influence of their wine and the ensuing frivolity of the party atmosphere, even Martin Thurber, who was ordinarily sympathetic to contemporary trends, appeared somewhat disinclined to pay much attention to or encourage further explications from the 'highly talented novelist' whom he had impulsively, and some would say rashly, introduced to their influential host.  On the contrary, he was rather upset that Logan should have been obliged, through no particular fault of his own, to touch upon the thorny subject of his literature, and was almost afraid that, with further encouragement from either of the two unappreciative and slightly irresponsible people in front of him, the novelist would extend his penchant for the didactic out of all proportion, transforming the party's predominantly frivolous atmosphere into something more attuned to his own expository soberness.  So, in an attempt to preclude any such thing from happening, he drew Logan's attention to the subject of booze and offered to fetch him a glass of wine or beer, if that was to his taste.

     It wasn't really, but Logan pretended otherwise, saying: "Yes, a beer would do fine," as he briefly turned towards the table on which bottles of wine, sherry, gin, whisky, and beer stood packed closely together waiting, like whores in a brothel, for prospective clients.  Although the table was partly obscured by intervening guests, enough of it was visible from where he stood to leave him in no doubt as to the heterogeneous nature of its alcoholic contents, about which he felt obliged to entertain a private misgiving.

     But Greta Ryan, who was less under the influence than their magnanimous host, seemed unwilling to let the matter rest where Logan had so awkwardly dropped it and asked him, in a slightly-strained and mocking tone-of-voice, whether he really thought what he wrote would induce people to turn away from symbols and dedicate themselves to the elusive attainment of pure knowledge and enlightenment instead?  Wasn't it more likely that they would simply become bored with it and return to something more meaningful?

     "Well, whether or not they do, the essential thing is that I should continue to explore the field in which I'm working until it wins wider approval, and not be disheartened or deflected by the indifference and even hostility it may incur from various people in the meantime," Logan replied confidently.  "As a pioneer in the realm of literary progress, I must continue to forge ahead, in accordance with an appropriately pertinent response to the contemporary urban environment, no matter what others might think.  If a majority of the reading public prefer straightforward stories of one kind or another, that's too bad!  I can't force everyone up to a level transcending the fictional or, indeed, expect them to appreciate what I'm doing when they're insufficiently motivated or qualified to do so.  I can only set an example, lead the way forwards in response to my duty as a serious writer, and hope that the comparatively small percentage of persons who now appreciate my work will be augmented, in due course, by a much wider public.  By which time, however, the equivalent of the present few will doubtless have given-up reading altogether, having attained to a more transcendental context than currently exists, in which abstract literature, no less than abstract music or art, would have ceased to appeal to them."

     Thurber had meanwhile returned with a glass of foaming beer, which he handed straight to Logan.  As for himself, he had poured out a little extra German wine and was just about to comment on it when Greta cut across him with a response to the novelist's argument.  "So you're of the opinion that your abstract approach to literature will eventually catch-on and appeal to a wider public, making them contemptuous of conventional fiction?" she said, having grasped the gist of Logan's comments.

     "Yes, I feel that it may be of some significance in furthering the rapidly escalating process of de-intellectualization upon which we're currently embarked, and thus contribute towards freeing us from the tyranny of verbal concepts," the abstract novelist averred.  "It's merely a milestone on the road to total emancipation, timeless bliss.  Whether we outgrow language, and hence literature, in another century or after several centuries ... is relatively unimportant.  The essential thing is that we should eventually outgrow it, and I have no doubt that this is what we're currently engaged in doing - each according to his own fashion.  If primitive men were beneath language, then it seems not unlikely that future men will be above it, especially the most advanced future men - those on the point of becoming godlike."

     Thurber shook his head slightly and tipped back a stiff draught of wine.  The conversation was much too serious for his liking, and hardly the kind of thing he expected Eddie Hurst would take kindly to, bearing in mind his hedonistic nature.  The beer in Logan's hand had received only the most perfunctory of sips.  It was still virtually untouched.  He was on the point of regretting that he had invited him along to the party in the first place, when the host claimed his attention by asking whether he agreed with Logan that we were engaged in a process of outgrowing language?

     "Well, in a way I suppose I do," Thurber replied half-heartedly, unsure of whether to take a conservative or a libertarian stance.  "At least I'm of the opinion that, largely thanks to media like cinema and television, we're now taking pure seeing and abstract contemplation more seriously than ever before.  Some of us are, at any rate."

     "And would you agree that we're in the process of becoming godlike?" Greta asked, an ironic smile on her lips.  "Or even goddess-like?" she added, as an afterthought.

     Thurber glanced uneasily at Keith Logan and noted the slightly pained expression on the latter's ordinarily bland face.  "Well, that's not really for me to say," he confessed, "since I don't make a study of such matters - unlike my, er, learned friend here.  But for what it's worth, I do believe that we're closer to the godly these days than to the beastly.  We're advanced men of sorts."

     "Yes, I think it's fair to say that the principal tendency of human evolution is towards the godlike," Logan opined, desiring to clarify the subject.  "Though this by no means implies that everyone is on the same level or that we're on the point of becoming godlike ourselves.  If we're still engaged in the process of outgrowing our humanity, I think it's only fair to say that we have a long way to go before attaining to a post-human millennium, a heavenly stage of evolution beyond man.  As yet, we're still in transition, it would appear, between middle- and late-stage life and are, at best, inceptive late-stage men, not those on the point of actually becoming godlike.... Or goddess-like," he added, for Greta's dubious benefit.  But he was aware, as he spoke, that his opinions weren't being properly or even partly appreciated, and that a wall of sceptical detachment now existed between himself and his new acquaintances, preventing true understanding.  Really, he was beginning to feel annoyed with himself for having allowed Martin Thurber to lure him along to the place, not knowing who or what lay in store for him!  He hadn't been to anything like a party for so long that he had completely lost contact with the party spirit, the ethos of party-goers, and accordingly felt unable to enter into the general atmosphere of frivolity and revelry which even now vigorously prevailed, especially among the younger guests, at this particular party.  Somehow he was too serious-minded to be at ease in such an atmosphere, temperamentally too austere and independent, too much the teacher and leader to be at home in the Dionysian realm of lustful Bacchus.  He had never particularly enjoyed parties anyway, even as a youth, when the temptation to attend them was greater and the number of invitations correspondingly more frequent.  Then they had usually struck him as a bore.  Now, on the evidence of the affair before him, it was more a case of having one's dignity and self-respect affronted by all the frivolity afoot!

     "And how, pray, do you conceive of the godlike?" Greta wanted to know, taking up the challenge.

     "Yes, how do you?" Hurst echoed in a fiercely impatient, not to say condescending, tone-of-voice, which induced Thurber to shake his head again - this time not so slightly - and seek temporary refuge in another draught of wine - one even stiffer than the last.

     Unruffled, Logan replied: "The godlike appertains to a condition of life beyond man, in which the superconscious completely triumphs over the subconscious, and consequently egocentric dualism, appertaining to man at virtually any stage of his evolution, is transcended."

     "The superconscious?" Hurst queried, looking decidedly perplexed.  "I'd no idea we had one!"

     "Neither had I," Greta echoed, with a titter of disrespectful laughter.

     "Well we do, which is why we happen to have a consciousness," Logan averred in deadly earnest.  "For if we didn't, we'd be completely in the dark, floundering around in the dungeon of the subconscious."

     "Really?" Hurst exclaimed.  "How strange!  I had always thought that the mind was simply divided into subconscious and conscious, or ego, as old Freud and a fair number of other psychologists maintained.  I must say, I am surprised to hear you disagree with them!  It's the superconscious that gives us consciousness then, is it?"

     "More correctly, the fusion-point between the subconscious and superconscious parts of the psyche which, translated into physiological terminology, corresponds to what have been called the old brain and the new brain, as discussed by Koestler in, amongst other works, Janus - A Summing Up," Logan replied, "the old brain being predominantly an emotional and sensuous phenomenon, the new brain, by contrast, having intellectual and spiritual implications which set it morally apart."

     "I'm afraid I haven't read the book in question," Hurst confessed, with what seemed to Logan like an impertinent relish.

     "Well, whether or not you've read it," the writer rejoined, "the fact remains that a dichotomy in the psyche has long been acknowledged by psychologists and thinkers, and this dichotomy should be equated, in psychological terminology, with the subconscious and the superconscious, the meeting-point of which gives rise to everyday consciousness as we generally understand it."

     Edward Hurst appeared to be even more perplexed than before.  He didn't like the idea that Freud and the few other psychologists he had bothered to read in the past may not have said the last word on the psyche or, indeed, that what they had said may not always have corresponded to absolute truth.  He didn't like it one little bit!  Even so, he wasn't prepared to believe that this abstract novelist, whom he hadn't even set eyes on prior to Thurber's impertinent intrusion, was in possession of a more comprehensive assessment of the psyche than the textbook authorities themselves, irrespective of whether the textbooks he happened to have read weren't exactly the most up-to-date ones but, like their authors, a shade time-worn.  Still, let the novelist speak, let him entertain!  Consciousness, then, was a consequence of the fusion of subconscious and superconscious minds, and all one had to do to become godlike was transcend this fusion and break away into - what?

     "Pure spirit, in which the ego ceases to have any say and we attain to the post-human millennium, to the blissful salvation which, in its wisdom, Christianity has been promising us for centuries," Logan affirmed.  "Only by overcoming the subconscious will we enter the realm of spiritual beatitude, and thus cease to be human ..."

     "You mean our future descendants will," interposed Thurber, who was reminded of what he had already learnt on the subject from previous discussions with the novelist.

     "Yes, precisely!" the latter rejoined.  "Not us personally but, rather, those who'll correspond to the culmination of human evolution and thus vindicate, through their spiritual perfection, the long and often difficult struggle of humanity to perpetuate itself.  We exist, believe it or not, as mortal links in the chain of human evolution, as means to a higher end, torchbearers on the road to ultimate truth.  Even the great mystics, such as Saint Teresa and St John of the Cross, were no more than links, if relatively important ones, in the evolutionary chain - pointers, as it were, in the general direction of millennial salvation.  Their occasional moments of ecstasy, of spiritual enlightenment, during which the ego was eclipsed by the superconscious, would indeed appear paltry by comparison with the ecstatic experiences of people living, say, hundreds of years into the future, who will doubtless be able to tune-in, as it were, to their superconscious minds on a much more frequent, not to say intensive, basis.  And compared with beings who spent all of their time in the superconscious, who had become completely godlike, such transient ecstasies of transcendent beatitude as were experienced by the leading mystics of the past would indeed pale to a comparative insignificance - highly significant though they undoubtedly were to their recipients at the moment of experience!  But anyone who had transcended the subconscious - and hence egocentric reference - to the extent of existing wholly in the superconscious wouldn't be concerned with what had gone before anyway, with the comparatively modest degree of enlightenment attained by those who'd had the misfortune to have been born into a lower stage of human evolution.  For his consciousness would be totally immersed in the divine light, and, as such, no reflections on the thorny subject of spiritual progress through the centuries would occur to him.  He would have ceased to relate to the world of human evolution, having left the last vestiges of humanity behind."

     At this point, Greta Ryan cast a dubious glance at her host and sought temporary refuge in the sweet wine to-hand.  For his part, Hurst could hardly believe his ears.  It was completely new to him, this subject of spiritual salvation in a post-human millennium, and not something of which he particularly approved!  Though not a practising Christian, he had long cherished a belief in an afterlife in which the Good, meaning the financially successful, would be rewarded by eternal bliss, and the Bad, meaning the financially unsuccessful or crooked, be obliged - if they weren't cast into eternal perdition - to return to the world.  He had a kind of smug, old-fashioned view of the Afterlife as something that occurred following death rather than at some indeterminate point in the distant future ... when those who had been sufficiently biased on the side of the superconscious attained to Nirvana, or whatever it was, and thus to the culmination of human evolution in spiritual bliss.  He wasn't at all partial to the notion that the greater number of humanity lived and died as no more than mortal links in a chain to some post-human millennium, and that only the trailblazers of evolution in the distant future would experience the equivalent of Heaven.  Somehow it failed to appeal to his self-importance as a successful citizen, an upright bourgeois with vague hankerings after eternity.  If the saints could be reduced, in Logan's stringent estimation, to the paltry level of spiritual beginners, where, for heaven's sake, did he figure in the spiritual hierarchy?

     No, he didn't like the idea of being no more than a fragile link in a terribly long chain one little bit!  Yet although he was impatient with the conversational trend, and annoyed that a perfectly frivolous evening was becoming, in spite of alcoholic indulgence, a matter of serious debate, he couldn't resist the temptation to ask his guest what he thought about the Afterlife - in other words, about the prospect of life-after-death - and whether it didn't have more applicability to salvation than this business of a post-human millennium.  "I mean, don't you think that salvation will come, if it's to come at all, the other side of the grave?"

     Keith Logan emphatically shook his head.  "I've no use for traditional concepts of life-after-death," he confessed, casting his gaze upon all three listeners successively.  "Neither in the sense of a paradise to which the Good are admitted, nor in the rather more puzzling sense of a disembodied state which enables spirits to travel around, visit elderly females and dictate messages, dream their own dreams, perform miraculous feats of a mathematical order, or do any number of other things scarcely imaginable to the living."

     "What about the Oriental concept of a posthumous Clear Light ... with which the spirits of the dead either merge, and thus experience spiritual salvation in undiluted transcendence or, assuming they can't bring themselves to do that, continue to dream their past and, indeed, certain future experiences until such time as, circumstances permitting, they can return to the world in the guise of a new-born child?"  This time it was Greta who was putting the question, and she was of course alluding to the type of afterlife hypothesis explored by Aldous Huxley in Time Must Have a Stop - a novel in which Eustace Barnack, its principal character and afterlife 'guinea pig', is given a choice between merging with the Clear Light of the Void or retaining his egocentric personality, and eventually opts for the latter, thereby necessitating reincarnation.

     Again Logan shook his head, this time even more emphatically than before.  "I can't go along with that concept either," he confessed, unable to suppress an involuntary shudder, "and for the simple reason that it puts the possibility of salvation after death rather than in life, and posits a Divine Ground separate from and anterior to man as something towards which the Dead are led as a matter of course, irrespective of the degree of their individual spiritual standings and the likelihood that, under existing or traditional environmental situations on earth, the vast majority of them would be foregone candidates for rejection, and hence  reincarnation.  But I can't believe in reincarnation, any more than I can believe in a posthumous Ground towards which one's spirit is led, following death.  Somehow, this Ground has a strong suggestion of the Creator about it, which I regard as increasingly irrelevant to the modern consciousness - a consciousness which, in an ever-growing number of cases, pertains more to the superconscious than to the subconscious and is thus beyond both the primitive soulful stance in subconscious dominion, where worship of some creator deity prevails, and the more worldly stance in egocentric balance, in which Jesus Christ, or some such avatar-like anthropomorphic equivalent, assumes the mantle of God, as the focal-point of religious awareness.  Today, however, it's essentially the Holy Ghost that reigns over the religious awareness of the more evolved people, and this, the third and highest component of the so-called Holy Trinity, may be equated with spirit - with the spirit, more precisely, that leads us and can be traced to the superconscious mind in which, believe it or not, only inner light prevails.  Thus I have no use for the Ground as a something-apart from man towards which the Dead are led and with which they either link, in consequence of their own superconscious mind and the extent of their allegiance to it or, as a result of subconscious interference, and hence egocentric nostalgia, from which they flee in hope of a return to the world.  Indeed, I can't believe that the Ground would be the setting of ultimate salvation.  For the Creator, not least of all in the undilutedly objective guise of Jehovah, has long been associated with negativity, cruelty, fear, jealousy, strength, power - in other words, with pagan blood-sacrifices and the desire to propitiate a vengeful deity, as befits a people subjected to the tyranny of subconscious dominion in response to sensuous nature.  One could hardly associate the Ground with light therefore, least of all the Clear Light.  On the contrary, the only feasible association would be with darkness, comparatively speaking."

     "That isn't a view Aldous Huxley would have agreed with," Greta countered, recalling to mind what the great author had written on the subject of the Ground and its relation to the Father in The Devils of Loudun.

     "I quite agree," Logan admitted, offering her a mildly ingratiating smile.  "But, in my honest opinion, Huxley was quite mistaken to assume what he did, and no less mistaken to equate enlightenment, full enlightenment, with the equivalent of a simultaneous allegiance to the Blessed Trinity - as union with the Ground, union with the manifestation of the Ground in human consciousness, and, finally, union with the spirit that links the Unknowable to the known, or whatever his exact words were, so that the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are regarded as part of a simultaneous experience rather than a projection of successive stages of religious evolution.  But to me, the Father is largely a figment of pre-Christian imagination, a consequence of subconscious illusion rather than a truth which can be taken seriously by the modern mind, so that any attempt to equate the Ground with Him can only lead to one's taking the Ground for illusion too.  And as for Jesus Christ, well, I view him as half-illusion and half-truth, reflecting Christian man's dualistic balance or compromise between subconscious and superconscious minds in the ego.  As far as the god is concerned - illusion.  I cannot regard Christ as God.  But as a man - yes, I'm not inclined to quibble with his historicity, which can, I believe, be proved.  However, the Holy Ghost, or third so-called 'Person' of the Trinity, seems to me to reflect the religious awareness of man under the sway of superconscious enlightenment, and can thus be equated with truth, which is to say, with joy, light, spirit, peace, bliss - in short, with whatever pertains to the superconscious.  The path of evolution accordingly leads from an illusory god conceived externally, out there behind the self, to the truth of God perceived internally, as spirit, via a compromise god who is both external and internal, illusion and truth.  It leads, in other words, from the Dark to the Light."

     "So, according to your assessment of religious evolution, the Ground is purely illusory," Greta rejoined in a solemn tone-of-voice.

     "I find it difficult not to believe so," confirmed Logan, who was now obliged to compromise with the reference he had made to Huxley's theory and not deepen the discussion to include a distinction between the Creator as Jehovah and the Creator as Father, Judaic and Christian alternatives, and the possible closer association of the Ground to the former than to the latter, which, after all, was less an Oriental extrapolation from, in all probability, a major star of the Galaxy ... than one partly extrapolated, in Occidental fashion, from the sun and partly from the phallus of pagan precedent, in order to accommodate both the earthly Mother and the lunar Son - a thing which the Jews, with their religious objectivity in regard to the concept of Creator, had been unprepared to do.  And for good reason, since there is no contiguity between what is truly stellar on the alpha plane of creative deity and what is extrapolated from the moon as a 'Son of God', and therefore no possibility of a solar Father in the Christian sense.  "All that really concerns us as post-Christian transcendentalists," he went on, "is this intimation of God - as joy, light, spirit, etc., - in the superconscious mind.  Outside of it there is just the world, the planets, stars, galaxies.  If the Holy Spirit is to emerge from anywhere, it can only be from the superconscious."

     Having maintained a discreet if peeved silence during the preceding rather too esoteric conversation for his liking, Edward Hurst now ventured to ask the novelist whether he really thought that man would eventually become godlike by transcending the subconscious mind altogether.  "After all," he continued, snorting slightly in supercilious detachment, "isn't it somewhat unlikely that man will ever desire to live wholly in a transcendent state-of-mind, and thus forsake all consciousness of the outside world?"

     Greta endorsed this question with a snigger.  "And how would he survive?" she wanted to know.

     "Obviously, I'm not in a position to know for sure what will happen," Logan confessed, blushing faintly under pressure of this philistine opposition.  "Nor how long it will take man to attain to the post-human millennium.  But if and when he does, I think you can take it as axiomatic that he or, rather, his godlike successor won't find the transcendent state-of-mind in any way inconvenient or excessive, but will be perfectly resigned to living on a purely spiritual plane, freed from the human obligations to eat, drink, sleep, work, think, dream, walk, etc., which characterize our own lives.  Having broken free of the subconscious, such a life-form would automatically have abandoned the sensual and emotional, automatically have abandoned the flesh of manly appearance, and thus become godlike - as different from and superior to man as man is different from and superior to the apes from which he is believed to have evolved."

     At this remark, Hurst burst into a peal of derisive laughter, tilting his head back and spilling some wine in the process.  To some extent both Greta Ryan and Martin Thurber were affected by his amusement, though the latter, mindful of his friend's earnestness and sensitivity, endeavoured not to show it.  "And you really believe this will happen?" he snorted.

     "I shouldn't be at all surprised," Logan averred, trying not to look hurt by their host's highly sceptical response to his opinion.  "After all, it's rather difficult to believe that man will just continue being human century after century, millennium after millennium, world without end, as though there were nothing better to become.  The fact that we have evolved this far, since our first appearance on earth, should give us reason to assume that we'll carry on evolving, becoming ever more spiritual, ever more disposed to the superconscious, until, at some momentous turning-point in evolution - more momentous by far than that which thrust us out of the pre-human beast-like stage - we leave our humanity behind us altogether and enter a discarnate realm of pure spirituality, a realm incomparably superior to anything we can know as men."

     "Really?"  Hurst seemed less than convinced.  Indeed, he wasn't particularly convinced that man had evolved from apes, and said as much.

     "Well, I'd find it extremely difficult to believe that we just appeared on the face of the earth, kind of out-of-the-blue, especially in a world where everything can be claimed to have evolved from something lower, including the apes themselves," Logan retorted, frankly surprised by Hurst's naiveté.  "After all, we know that the earliest men tended to look more beastly, more ape-like in appearance, than their properly human successors.  In all probability, their immediate predecessors were if not apes then certainly something correspondingly bestial and pre-human.  They doubtless went on four legs, or two legs and two arms, more often than they walked."

     "And presumably they were subject to subconscious dominion," Greta suggested, returning to the fray.

     "Certainly to a greater extent than the earliest men," Logan remarked.  "But not, of course, to an extent which ruled out superconscious influence altogether.  For even beasts, even man's predecessors, had a consciousness of sorts, which enabled them to get about the face of the earth, to clamber through the jungle in search of food, drink, sex, or whatever.  As I said before, consciousness is ever a product of each part of the psyche acting upon the other part to a greater or a lesser extent, depending on the stage of psychic evolution, and what applies to man must surely apply, in some degree, to the beasts, who aren't devoid of consciousness, even if what they happen to have is relatively dark and uninspiring.  No, if there wasn't at least some influence from the superconscious, they'd be totally in the dark, unable to take cognizance of what was going on around them - immobile.

     "For a life form completely dominated by the subconscious," he went on, warming to his theme, "one has to turn to the plant world - to vegetables, trees, flowers, shrubs, etc., which are wholly sensuous and constitute the lowest level of organic life, a level which evolution is gradually working away from in the guise of man who, if he subsequently succeeds in transcending his humanity, should attain to a level radically antithetical to that of subconscious stupor ... in superconscious bliss, and thus bring evolution to completion.  Thus it isn't so much the beasts that are antithetical to the godlike as ... the plants - those victims of perpetual darkness.  And because a life form exists which signifies complete enslavement to the subconscious, we have no reason to doubt that a life form can't eventually be brought into existence which will signify complete freedom from the subconscious and, consequently, total allegiance to the superconscious.  The fact of the existence of the one presupposes the possibility of the future existence of the other - the former in diversity, the latter in unity.  We have no reason, therefore, to deride it out-of-hand."

     Hurst's face suddenly turned red from suppressed rage.  For it was principally to him that Keith Logan addressed these words, turning his sceptical detachment and derisive humour back upon himself in a manner which made it perfectly clear how presumptuous he had been to dismiss the novelist's theories of enlightenment.  Even Greta looked suddenly less sure of herself and, despite her dislike of what Logan had said concerning the illusory nature of the Ground and his rather sweeping dismissal of posthumous survival, felt more disposed to sympathize with his viewpoints than previously, even if they did somewhat contradict what she had already read and thought on the matter.  At least they possessed a certain logical consistency, which couldn't be ignored.

     "So it would appear that earthly evolution is a journey, so to speak, from plants to gods or, rather, the godlike," Thurber remarked, feeling it was about time he contributed something to the debate again, "and that animals and men are the in-between developments en route, the sharers of utilitarian consciousness."

     "Precisely!" Logan confirmed, nodding vigorously.  "Though the burden of transmutation from animal to divine consciousness is exclusively the prerogative of man, who, unlike the beasts, must continue to evolve in accordance with civilized necessity, until the last vestiges of his humanity are discarded and he enters the post-human millennium.  Thanks to his cities, modern man is generally more under the sway of his superconscious than of his subconscious and, consequently, closer to the godlike than ever before.  Assuming his cities continue to develop, we have no reason to suppose that he won't become ever more biased on the side of the spirit, and thus draw still closer to the godlike."

     "You must have a poor opinion of nature," Greta deduced, following a short pause.

     "Generally speaking I suppose I have," Logan confirmed, nodding thoughtfully, "insofar as, being under subconscious dominion, nature is a sensual phenomenon and accordingly indifferent, if not opposed, to man's evolutionary progress.  It has no sympathy with the spirit."

     "But surely nature is a part of God's creation," Hurst objected, frowning menacingly, "and that if one is to worship God, one should do so through His creations, through the beauty of the flowers and the goodness and wholesomeness of the fruit, vegetables, grain, etc., which He has caused to grow.  Not to mention through the beauty of the autonomous life-forms He has also made."

     "It's all very well to worship what you call God through such natural creations as we can take pleasure in or deduce some profit from," Logan retorted.  "But what of those creations that we can't?  What, for example, of all the stinging nettles that exist and would doubtless exist in far greater abundance if man didn't take the trouble to root them out or cut them back?  What of all the weeds that likewise would exist in far greater abundance if allowed to do so?  What of those trees or bushes upon which grow various types of poison berry?  What of the prickly thorns, dense bracken, destructive creepers, poisonous toadstools, hurtful brambles?  What, too, of the disease-ridden swamps, treacherous quicksands, man-eating plants, active volcanoes, periodic earthquakes, suffocating jungles?  What of tarantulas, vipers, piranhas, sharks, mosquitoes, vultures, lice, rats, skunks, barracudas, stingrays, men-of-war, wolves, foxes, pythons, flies, gnats, crocodiles, locusts, wasps, etc., ad nauseam?

 

                                      Tiger, tiger, burning bright

                                                     In the forests of the night.

                                                     What immortal hand or eye

                                                     Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

 

     "And what of all those creatures who go on two legs whom one is unable to take pleasure in - congenital lunatics and criminals, ruthless oppressors and exploiters, mass murderers and torturers, hypocrites and liars, bullies and vandals, rapists and perverts, et al?  Is one to thank God for having put them into the world, too?"  He looked from face to face, dwelling more lengthily on Hurst's, which once again turned red from suppressed anger - the anger of a man whose superficial notions had been exposed for what they were!  Confident that he had scored a point, with or without William Blake's help, Logan continued: "No, it seems to me that to worship God through His creations, as I believe Thomas Traherne did, is either to worship Him for only a restricted number of them or to include within one's worship the whole gamut of Creation - the dangerous, evil, and low creations no less than the safe, good, and high ones.  In both cases, it seems to me that one would be deceiving oneself.... But really, this notion of worshipping the Creator, whether through His creations or not, is a little out-of-date now and conveniently overlooks the Fall, which rather puts nature beneath God in a worldly realm which was and remains its own creation - at least beneath Jehovah if not the Father Who, as already noted, was in my opinion partly derived from pagan phallic sources.  Yet that kind of deity is largely a figment of the imagination which may formerly have been pertinent to human life, but which has ceased to have any real applicability to matters as they now stand - matters, in other words, in which the superconscious has come to play an increasingly pervasive role in shaping our destiny, and it's therefore much more relevant to equate God with that rather than with some primordial creative force held responsible, in large degree, for the shaping of sensuous nature, its bad as well as good components.  And God, as incipiently manifested in the superconscious, isn't there to be worshipped, but simply experienced!  God stands at the furthest remove from sensuous nature, and when we or our distant descendants become truly godlike, truly recipients of superconscious bliss, then we, too, shall stand at the furthest remove from it and thereupon experience the 'Kingdom of Heaven' which, consciously or unconsciously, Christianity has been directing us towards since its inception, but which Transcendental Meditation will ultimately bring about."

     "So you assume!" snapped Hurst with the air of a man who knew better, and, desiring to restore himself to the party spirit the intellectual intrusion of Keith Logan had effectively dampened, he abruptly turned away from the three people in whose presence he had spent the past thirty minutes and swiftly headed in the direction of a vivacious group of conversationalists across the far side of the room, whose revelry suggested that they were oblivious of anything Logan might have said.

     "Well," sighed Greta, suddenly conscious of an uneasy vacuum created by their host's departure, "I suppose I ought to refill my wine glass while the opportunity prevails."  And, so saying, she took herself off in the general direction of the booze.

     Thurber shook his head slightly and sought temporary refuge in his own glass of wine.  The evening hadn't really turned out as he had hoped, and largely because he hadn't expected Logan to behave in quite such a didactic fashion.  Glancing at the latter's glass, it was evident to him that no more than a few tiny sips of beer had been consumed, and that its bearer was still, to all appearances, as serious and sober-minded as when he first entered the room.  Really, Thurber was forced to admit to himself that he had quite underestimated the fellow!

     "Well," Logan sighed in turn, after he had taken stock of the room's other human contents, most of whom looked pretty unprepossessing to him, "is there anyone else you wish to introduce me to?"

     "Er, yes, I suppose there is," Thurber responded somewhat shamefacedly, and this time he emitted a faint but audible grunt of despair.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

"You do find yourself some strange friends, don't you?" Greta chuckled, as she ran a playful hand over the back of Martin Thurber's neck and drew herself a little closer to him on the settee.  "Talking all the time about evolution and God and the superconscious, when we ought to have been enjoying ourselves over much lighter matters!  One would have thought we were at a college lecture rather than at a perfectly innocuous party!"

     Thurber smiled in agreement and cast her an apologetic glance.  "Yes, Keith Logan is a somewhat serious man," he conceded.  "Though I dare say that, had I known more about him before tonight, I'd never have invited him along to Hurst's party in the first place.  But it was more a good-will gesture on my part, a means of breaking the ice between us, of extending our acquaintanceship and acquainting him with one or two of my friends, including yourself."

     "Well, let's hope you don't live to regret it," Greta commented, becoming a shade more serious.

     "How d'you m-mean?" he stammered.

     "Oh, through Hurst's response to the perfectly gratuitous introduction you imposed upon him," Greta conjectured.  "After all, he didn't particularly want to meet the guy, and was far from happy at the tone of his conversation.  In fact, he was positively upset and clearly angered by a number of things, not least of all Logan's denial of the Afterlife.  I could see the wine glass shaking in his hand from time to time."

     "Yes, you needn't remind me!" exclaimed Thurber, who then sighed and rested his head on the back of the settee, eyes staring up imploringly, one would have thought, at the whitewashed ceiling.  "But what could Hurst seriously do to avenge himself on me for directly or indirectly spoiling his evening?"

     "That's not for me to say, is it?" Greta rejoined, removing her by-now inconvenienced hand from behind Thurber's neck and resting it on his nearest shoulder instead.  "Though the most likely response would be to leave you out of the guest list he draws up for any future party he may hold."

     "I could quite live with that!" averred the art critic with gusto.

     "Maybe, but that's only the most likely response," said Greta.  "There's always the possibility, on the other hand, that he might do something worse.... Like prohibiting you from contributing any further articles to his periodical out of fear they would reflect Logan's influence."

     Thurber suddenly swallowed hard and sharply turned his head in Greta's direction.  "You’re kidding!" he cried.

     "I wish I were," she responded.  "But where someone as temperamental as Eddie Hurst is concerned, one can never be sure."

     "It's a sobering thought," Thurber admitted, his head still somewhat tipsy from the combined effects of little over ten glasses of white wine.

     "Well, as yet it's only a thought, so let's hope it remains one," sighed Greta, before relapsing into silence.

     For the past six months Martin Thurber had regularly contributed to the arts magazine which Hurst edited, and throughout that time he hadn't given so much as a single thought to what would happen to him or where he would alternatively send his art reviews if the editor decided to dispense with them.  He had been so confident that they would continue to meet with Hurst's approval that the prospect of being left without a magazine to regularly contribute to ... seemed no less remote than the prospect of being left without regular material to contribute to it.  Yet what if Hurst were to drop him?  He mentally shuddered at the thought of it!  He wouldn't necessarily find another quality magazine so willing to publish him - at least not immediately.  Had it not been for the fact that he knew Hurst's son at school and been acquainted with one or two of the magazine's regular contributors, it's most unlikely that he would have got his reviews accepted in the first place.  Another time he might not have such luck.  But, of course, it was only supposition on Greta's part, and he knew from experience that her imagination tended to run off the rails - especially after she had imbibed a few too many drinks!

     "A curious thing actually, but I didn't see much of Hurst after he abandoned Keith Logan's impromptu lecture," Thurber at length remarked.  "I mean, he didn't have anything to say to me and tended to ignore me on the couple of occasions when I could have got drawn into conversation with him again.  At the time, I didn't think anything of it, preferring to believe that he may have been keener to talk to some of his other guests.  But now that you've mentioned it ..."

     "I shouldn't worry yourself," Greta advised him, patting his nearest shoulder.  "After all, it isn't fair on the others that we should expect him to be talking to us all the time, is it?"

     "No, but ... well, did you get an opportunity to talk with him again?" Thurber asked.

     Greta shook her head.  "As a matter of fact I spent most of the remaining time in conversation with Yvette Sanderson and Sheila Kells, plus a little time with you," she revealed.  "Frankly, I'd had enough of his conversation before Logan arrived on the scene, so was glad of a change.  In fact, I found even his conversation refreshing after that."  All of a sudden Greta burst into a spontaneous titter.  "To think that he writes novels which make no sense!" she exclaimed, reminded of what she had first heard and indeed read about him.  "Really, I don't know how he can force himself to do it!"

     "I expect it comes with practice," Thurber commented matter-of-factly.

     "Yes, but really!" Greta exclaimed.  "You might incline to believe he's an imbecile when, in reality, he seems to be one of the most intelligent and enlightened of men.  And not unhandsome either, if his large eyes, thin nose, and neat little mouth are anything to judge by!  I'm surprised he turned up alone.  Doesn't he have a wife or girlfriend, then?"

     With a gentle shrug of the shoulders, Thurber replied: "I don't honestly know, though I shouldn't be surprised if he doesn't, what with that air of saintliness about him.  As yet, I haven't inquired that deeply into his private affairs, partly from fear of giving offence and partly because he hasn't given me any encouragement to, but I'm under the impression that he's more accustomed to solitude than company, at any rate."  Indeed, had he been completely honest with his girlfriend, Thurber would also have admitted to being under the impression that she had taken a fancy to the novelist in spite of her surface objections to much of what he said that evening.  But because he didn't wish to offend her in any way, least of all now that he was in her flat and had it in mind to ravish her seductive body in due course, he contented himself with intimating, instead, that Logan had taken a fancy to her, if only to gauge her responses.

     "Oh, what makes you say that?" she asked, breaking into an intrigued smile.

     "Simply what he told me concerning the attractiveness of the young lady he'd been standing near prior to Hurst's departure."  In reality, Logan hadn't mentioned her at all.  But the temptation to assert the contrary was too much to resist.

     "How flattering!" Greta exclaimed.  "I wouldn't have expected him to say such a thing, especially as we didn't exactly see eye-to-eye during the greater part of our conversation."

     Thurber felt a trifle disconcerted by this all-too-evident admission, but he could tell, all the same, that Greta was secretly gratified.  "Well, the fact of your mental differences evidently didn't preclude him from appreciating your physical ones," he facetiously declared, lying through his teeth.

     "And when, exactly, did he reveal his impression of me to you, if that's not an impertinent question?" Greta wanted to know.

     Slightly disconcerted by the necessity of improvising yet another lie on the spur-of-the-moment, Thurber said: "Whilst you were having your glass refilled and I was about to introduce him to someone else."

     "Oh, I see."  Greta emitted a faint laugh and drew her legs up closer to him.  "Well, I suppose I am attractive, aren't I?" she remarked.

     "Naturally," he admitted, placing a deferential hand on her nearest knee.  "Even in dark-blue stockings and a light-grey skirt."

     "Perhaps more so where men like Logan are concerned?" she conjectured ironically.

     This time it was Thurber's turn to laugh.  "Yes, that could be true," he agreed.  "Such an appearance would doubtless appeal to his serious-mindedness."  He rubbed his hand gently backwards and forwards across that part of her thigh just above the knee, and then softly asked what she was wearing underneath her skirt?

     "See for yourself," she blandly advised him, smiling.

     He lifted up the rim of her skirt and shyly peered underneath.  "Hmm, a short pink slip and ..." he deliberated a moment, lifted up the slip and peered underneath that too, "... oh, complementary colours!  What taste!  What discernment!  A prim exterior and a naughty, seductive interior!  One of your favourite ploys!"

     "And one that you well-nigh insist on!" she reminded him.

     "Yes, prude and whore in one," Thurber confirmed.  "What could be more alluring?  Outside - the perfectly respectable, responsible, and admirable social lady.  Inside or, rather, underneath - the ... well ..."

     "Yes?"

     "Not exactly the converse of all that," he remarked, teetering on the brink of shame, "but certainly something approximating to it."

     "Martin!"  She playfully slapped his wandering hand.

     "The shameless seducer and arch-sensualist whose sexy undies make it perfectly clear that the lady in question has a private life and, at times, a rather active one, too!" he exclaimed smilingly.

     "Only because you make it so, you dirty brute!" she retorted, pouting sensuously.

     "I wish I could believe you," he laughed.  "But when you dress like this ..." again he lifted up the rim of her skirt "... well, who's to say to what extent I'm responsible for my behaviour?"

     "Anyone would think you were an old-fashioned behaviourist!" Greta objected.

     Thurber smiled and said: "Well, you're my stimulus, my motivation, as Schopenhauer would say, and when I tell you to sport an arse, I do so in response to the very obvious fact that you happen to have one, and that it happens, moreover, to be an exquisitely proportioned and admirably shaped arse - an arse in a million, if you'll permit me to flatter the panties off you in Logan's stead."

     Greta blushed faintly and giggled in apparent confirmation of her lover's estimation.  "And are you going to tell me to sport it this evening?" she joked.

     "Certainly not!" he replied.  "But the fact remains that I could do so if I really wanted to, couldn't I?  I could even avail myself of the clysters if I thought an old-fashioned enema would be of any sexual use to you?  I could spank or strap your behind until it was as red as an acutely embarrassed or even angered face, like Eddie Hurst's.  I could even stand you on your head and stare down at your rear-end from above."

     "You horrible bully!" Greta protested ironically.

     "Well, of course, I won't do any of those things," Thurber declared, lowering his voice a little.  "For they would only bore or depress me.  Yet the fact remains that I could get you to do more or less anything I wanted, couldn't I?"

     There was a modest silence on Greta's part.

     "Couldn't I?" he repeated, almost threateningly.

     "Hmm, I suppose so," she at last conceded.  "Provided, however, that it didn't unduly inconvenience me or cause me too much pain."

     Thurber smiled his satisfaction - the satisfaction, one might be forgiven for imagining, of a baby who had just received its dummy and was now perfectly content with life.  "Yes, quite," he confirmed, nodding.  "But the fact that you are prepared to obey most of my orders is one of the things I particularly admire about you.... If, on the other hand, you were as modest and prudish in private as you generally aspire to being in public, I should never be able to stand you.  But the contrast between your two selves - the public-spirited lady and the private-sensuous whore - is exquisitely endearing to me and rarely fails to arouse my desire.  To think that the well-educated and highly-cultured person who is discussing evolution and some kind of futuristic millennium with a fanatically progressive novelist like Keith Logan, one hour, also happens to be the highly seductive sensual creature who allows me to raise her skirt and, hopefully, stimulate her clitoris the next - well, it's always a source of amazement to me!  To say that we live in one world would indeed be a gross understatement!"

     Greta listened in half-humorous resignation to the sordid confessions which issued, in hyperbolic disarray, from the indiscreet mouth of the somewhat wine-intoxicated art critic beside her, while his hand continued to rove, as though by remote control, over her blue-stockinged thighs and even, she could barely fail to notice, over parts of the more ample flesh above the level where the stocking came to an abrupt end!  She had heard variations on this crazy theme before anyway, so they came as no great surprise or revelation to her.  Had it not been for the fact that she knew exactly how Thurber's paradoxical little mind worked, she wouldn't have taken the trouble to conform to his specifications of the split personality, the lady/whore, in the first place, but would have dressed in some other way - possibly with a more flamboyant or sexy external appearance than tonight.  But by now she was perfectly acquainted with his needs, and thus in no doubt as to the best ways of satisfying them.

     Not that she always made a point of dressing according to his ambiguous requirements.  For there were days, fortunately to say, when she didn't see him or he her, times when it was possible for her to return to a less formal appearance and even dispense with the antithetical complement of sexy undies.  On such days - less frequent, alas, than formerly - she would simply dress to please herself, whether that entailed a reversal of her customary role or, alternatively, a complete negation of it in either a totally prim or a totally seductive one-sidedness.  But as soon as it became known that Thurber would be visiting her or vice versa, back would come the dual images he particularly admired.  And, of course, he would take her out to dinner, sport her around town, revel in her ladylike appearance and conduct, her ennobling and educative turns of speech, the generally prim mien she was under obligation to maintain as much as possible, especially at the concert hall or theatre where, invariably, they would witness one of the more serious and spiritually edifying performances or productions - a Beethoven concerto or a Shakespeare tragedy, a Tchaikovsky symphony or an Ibsen indictment of bourgeois convention.  Finally, after a decorous return-journey to either his or her flat, he would deprive her of her outer garments, her ladylike persona, and, goaded-on by the tantalizing spectacle of what lay seductively beneath, proceed to revel in the very opposite qualities from those he had previously esteemed, dragging her through the most excruciatingly carnal of sensuous abandonments, whispering and sometimes fairly bellowing foul epithets or denigrating phrases into her tiny ears, and behaving, in short, with all the undisguised relish of a full-blooded satyr bent on completely dominating the object of its lust.

     Oh yes, there could be no doubt as to the kind of relationship Martin Thurber particularly liked, and, despite occasional lapses of conduct or appearance, Greta had done her best to make sure he damn well got it!  She had done her best tonight, at Hurst's party, to play up to her public image of decorous lady, and now she would do her best to let her hair down, as it were, and adopt the very opposite role.  It suited her to play along with Thurber's demands, since she also profited from them.  And even if, to a superficial eye, it might appear rather constricting to dress in a specific way, according to the aforementioned criteria, she knew from experience that there were numerous possibilities to be exploited - possibilities which encompassed anything from dark, tight-fitting knee-length skirts and dresses for the public image ... to brightly coloured slips, panties, suspender belts, G-strings, and brassieres for the private one.  Once one had mastered the basic rules of the game, in Koestlerian parlance, there was no shortage of viable strategies!  The very fact that Thurber had been agreeably surprised by her all-pink attire was sufficient proof of that!

     "So now I begin to understand why you specifically invited Keith Logan along to Hurst's party," Greta commented, after the confessions from her companion had run their predictable course.  "Simply because you knew him to be a sober, serious-minded individual who would provide me with ample opportunity to respond in an equally sober and serious-minded fashion.  Now I have it!"

     Thurber smiled defensively.  "That's only part of the truth," he conceded, continuing to stroke and fondle her thigh as though she were no more than a lump of dough to be kneaded into some sort of commercial shape prior to a pressing transaction.

     "And were you pleased by the performance we gave you?" she inquired of him.

     "Yes, in general," he replied.  "Though I was less than pleased by the fact that Hurst didn't take all that kindly to a number of the things Logan said, as you already know.  But as far as your performance was concerned - yes, I was indeed pleased!  I had a feeling he would bring the best out of you."

     "Unlike you, who can only bring out the beast," Greta quipped, simultaneously proffering him another of her playful slaps.  "But, really, you could have told him that I was your regular girlfriend or something.  Had you done so, he might not have said what he apparently revealed to you about me, when I was out of earshot."

     "What, that you were attractive?"  And all of a sudden Thurber began to blush, and to a degree quite untypical of the man.  "Well, I soon let him know who you were once he had said it," he lied.  "That shut him up!  But I didn't really have time to introduce him to you earlier, for Hurst took over the reins and introduced you to him instead.  And did so, moreover, in a manner which would have made it difficult if not impossible for me to add anything.  Once the conversation about abstract literature and then religious evolution got under way - well, I had no option but to bear with it and leave you to reveal or explain yourself to him as best you could.  Which, to some extent, you of course did."

     Greta smiled her acknowledgement of this rather cryptic statement and momentarily abandoned herself to picturing the novelist's face in her mind's eye - seeing once again the dark-brown hair, smooth brow (rather Nietzschean in its elevation, she thought, and obviously that of a highbrow), gently aquiline nose, firm lips, and angular chin.  She imagined him sitting next to her on the settee instead of Thurber, imagined his hand on her leg and his breath on her hair.  Would he be as good at loving her as at lecturing her about evolution and the coming post-human millennium, she wondered?  Curiously there was no reason to suppose the contrary, not if he really found her attractive and was as romantically disposed as his handsome appearance might have led one to suppose.  Yet if he didn't have a wife or even ... no, there was no point indulging in idle conjectures about him.  Better to concentrate on what lay to-hand than to imagine greater and probably illusory pleasures elsewhere.  At least Thurber could be depended upon to come to the point eventually, even if he did have a rather strange way of going about it.

     She abandoned her little erotic reverie and returned to the real world, to the face and hands of the art critic with whom she had shared most of her body and a good part of her mind in unbroken fidelity these past eight months.  She could tell that he was gradually coming to the point, gradually extending his caresses beyond the confines of her thigh and the sartorial barriers of her public modesty.  But not yet, alas, had he arrived at that point, preliminary to the ultimate one, where he was fully committed to her body and conscious of nothing else!  There was still something which made it necessary for him to draw out his petting as long as possible.  Perhaps all the wine he had drunk at Hurst's party had had a depressing rather than an uplifting effect on him, and thus reduced his desire for carnal pleasure?  Knowing him to be the possessor of a high metabolism, she needn't be surprised.  Yet, despite her slight impatience with the course of events, she was still somewhat intrigued about the novelist and curious, in her sly way, to find out more about him.

     "So who did you introduce Keith to after our little group broke up?" she nonchalantly inquired of her lover.

     Thurber looked surprised.  "Didn't you see?" he exclaimed.

     "I was too busy talking with Yvette," she confessed.

     "Oh, well, as a matter of fact I was on the point of introducing him to Colin Patmore when Paul Fleshman came wandering over and thrust himself upon us," the art critic explained.  "He wanted to talk, curiously, about his latest exhibition at the Fairborne Gallery, and hoped that, if I was intending to review it for Hurst, I would find something encouraging to say about it.  Naturally, I assured him that I'd do my best to comply with his wishes, since he's an old pal of mine.  But that doesn't mean to say I'll automatically turn a blind eye to anything I particularly dislike.  He knows from experience how I generally tend to respond to his work anyway."

     "And what, if anything, did Keith Logan have to say to him?" Greta asked.

     "For once, believe it or not, I did most of the talking," Thurber answered, "so he didn't overtax his voice.  Other than being keen to discover what kind of an artist Fleshman was, he contented himself with listening to what we had to say to each other and savouring the taste of his beer.  As it happened, he was rather relieved to learn that Fleshman's art is mostly abstract, and duly accepted an invitation to attend the exhibition with me next week, when it opens.  It should be interesting to hear what he has to say about it - assuming he'll turn up."

     "Hmm, so it should," Greta murmured and, with a sudden impatience for the subject of art, she nestled-up still closer to Thurber and ran her hand through his wiry hair, thereupon causing him to renew his assault upon her modesty with greater resolve than before.  It was now becoming increasingly apparent to her that he was approaching that point where parties, novelists, artists, exhibitions, and art criticisms counted as nothing, and only the lure of her flesh mattered.  In another minute she would find herself deprived of even the last rather flirtatious vestiges of her modesty, as he tore the remaining clothes from her and forcibly, almost brutally, thrust himself upon her in a frenzy of obsessive carnality.  She would have ceased to be the decorous lady and become, instead, the indecorous whore - to her considerable relief!

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

It was somewhat later than usual when, the following Sunday morning, Edward Hurst arrived down to breakfast and, with a faint air of embarrassment, greeted his wife and the one guest who had remained overnight, that being the tall, thin, dark-haired thirty-seven-year-old by name of Colin Patmore, who had at one time been a literary critic but was now, like his bleary-eyed brother-in-law, the chief editor of a monthly arts periodical based in London's West End.  He had been speaking to his elder sister of the ups-and-downs of this periodical prior to Hurst's appearance.

     "Feeling any better this morning?" he asked, as the latecomer took a seat at the opposite end of the small rectangular table and, before his wife could do anything, proceeded to pour himself a cup of black coffee.

     "Slightly," Hurst admitted.  "Had a dreadful night, though."

     "It was really rather silly of you to have drunk so much wine, wasn't it?" scolded Valerie Hurst, who looked completely refreshed by her night's sleep.

     "Well, I suppose I must have got carried away," her husband responded, as he gently sipped the steaming contents of his cup.

     "Which is a thing we all do from time to time," Patmore sympathized, smiling.

     Hurst began to nibble bravely at a slice of plain toast.  "But what particularly contributed to my downfall, if I may so term it, was an overwhelming desire to forget as much as possible of what I'd heard, earlier in the evening, from the lips of a certain, ahem, Keith Logan, who was thrust upon me by that Thurber scoundrel almost before I got a chance to properly enter into the party spirit."

     "Oh, really?" Patmore exclaimed, holding back the uneaten part of a slice of thickly buttered toast which he had been about to put into his ravenous mouth.  "I'm afraid I must confess to having been similarly saddled with the asshole later on, and by no less a person than the little scoundrel in question."

     "Ah well, perhaps you can understand how I felt about the matter last night," said Hurst ruefully.  "It was like being introduced to a messiah or saint, the way he kept going on about God and the Millennium, evolution and the superconscious, the Afterlife and technological progress.  Dear me, to think I should have had to listen to all that baloney when I ought to have been enjoying myself in the company of less sober-minded individuals!  No wonder I had to drink more afterwards!"

     Valerie Hurst poured herself, Patmore declining, a third cup of tea - tea being her preference to coffee - and confessed to not having had the dubious privilege of being drawn into conversation with the man herself.  "All I can remember is answering the door to him when he arrived," she lightly concluded.

     "It would have been better had you not admitted him!" her husband asseverated with an air of outraged innocence.  "He hadn't come to enter into the party spirit.  Only to defy and override it."  There was an anguished pause while Hurst sipped some more coffee, before continuing: "He thinks we'll all become pure spirit, recipients of superconscious bliss, at some future time which he calls the post-humanist or, rather, post-human millennium.  Have you ever heard of such nonsense?"

     Colin Patmore smiled a shade patronizingly, and then said:  "Fortunately, he didn't have much to say on that subject to me, but contented himself, instead, with discussing literature and the arts, in accordance with his apparent capacity as an avant-garde novelist.  He was of the opinion that any art form which doesn't reflect our growing allegiance to the superconscious is essentially anachronistic or reactionary."

     Hurst frowningly admitted: "Yes, he must have said something similar to me.  At least he endeavoured to justify his nonsense-writing in terms of a desire to get beyond illusions, or symbols, and experience pure truth.  Apparently, future man will be as much above language as the beast is beneath it.  Hence one must do one's bit, in Logan's radical estimation, to open-up the path towards pure seeing.  And writing nonsense is evidently the first step in that august direction!"  He smiled ironically, and then returned to the gentle sipping of his coffee.  His head still ached from the hangover he had brought upon himself, and his eyes were no less bleary now than before.  It was not a Sunday to which one could have contributed any worshipful ideals.  On the contrary, nothing but a sort of purgatorial perseverance could reasonably be expected!

     "Well, I take it you won't be inviting Thurber to any future parties you may throw," Patmore deduced, swallowing the rest of his toast.

     "Not if he brings people like that here again, I won't!" Hurst sternly averred.  "In point of fact, I seriously have it in mind to dispense with his contributions to my magazine and take on someone else, someone with a different attitude to contemporary art."

     "Really?"  Hurst's fellow editor-in-chief looked both surprised and intrigued in equal measure.  "And do you think you'll find a suitable replacement?" he asked.

     "Oh yes, quite easily!" Hurst affirmed, almost seeming to smile.  "There is no shortage of potentially suitable art critics around these days.  On the contrary, there tends to be a frigging glut of them."

     "Yes, you may be right," Patmore conceded, nodding vaguely.  "Though, as you well know, I have more experience of literary critics myself, and there doesn't seem to be too many of those around - at least, not good ones.  But supposing you do drop him, he'll still be able to find himself an alternative publication, won't he?"

     It was really meant as a rhetorical question, but Hurst nevertheless elected to answer by saying: "Possibly.  It depends what other magazines have to offer, whether the gaps are adequately filled, and so on."

     "Isn't his girlfriend a journalist?" interposed Valerie Hurst inquisitively, pushing her half-empty cup of mild tea to one side and leaning forwards onto the table with fingers crossed in a businesslike manner.

     "Yes, but only on a rather intermittent freelance basis," her husband confirmed.  "She's essentially a short-story writer, as I thought you knew."  And he might have added something to the effect that she was a rather attractive one too, had he not preferred, for his wife's sake, to merely call her good looks to mind and momentarily dwell on the possibility of taking sexual advantage of them in due course.

     Yes, it had indeed been a pleasure talking to her prior to Thurber's rude intrusion, one doubtless motivated by a degree of jealousy, and he now sincerely regretted that it hadn't lasted longer.  Still, there was always the possibility they would meet again sometime and endeavour to renew their acquaintanceship, even if on a relatively clandestine basis.  But whether Greta Ryan would have any bearing on Thurber's immediate fate was another matter, and not one that he really cared to entertain.  After all, he couldn't very well expect her to take kindly to any intentions he might have to dispense with the journalistic services of her current lover - assuming the critic really meant anything to her.  He would certainly have to make up his mind on that score, indeed he would!  For if he sincerely wanted to avenge himself on Thurber for the humiliating experiences of the previous evening, not to mention this morning's hangover, then he had better resign himself to sacrificing the possibility of future meetings with the latter's girlfriend.  On the other hand, if he wanted to see Greta again ...

     "... and quite a good short-story writer, too," Patmore was saying, evidently in response to his brother-in-law's previous comment.  "I've read and published one or two of her more recent stories."

     "Yes, well, it's highly unlikely that Thurber would find alternative publication in any literary magazine," Hurst stated, pulling himself together a bit, "so we needn't expect her to come to his rescue if I do decide to dispense with him."

     "I see," said Valerie for no apparent reason.  "But what about Mr Logan, does he contribute articles to magazines?"  The question was primarily addressed to her brother.

     "To tell you the truth, I don't honestly know," Patmore replied, frowning.  "Though if all his writing is nonsensical or, rather, non-representational, then I rather incline to doubt it.  After all, what self-respecting magazine would seriously consider publishing stuff like that?  Not mine, at any rate!  And, as far as I know, it has never been expected to do so, either."

     "And yet he has had so-called abstract novels published," Hurst declared with gravity.  "What could be more surprising than that?"

     "Indeed," Patmore judiciously conceded, his thin brows raised in an appropriate show of puzzlement.  "Evidently by one of the metropolis' more avant-garde publishers who have a rather poetic sense of literary abstraction.  Probably a firm always on the brink of liquidation, like himself.  I mean, he can't be making that much money from them, can he?"  Which rhetorical statement was followed, after a short pause, by the question: "How many people do you know who read - if that's the correct word - completely abstract novels?"

     "None," the Hursts replied simultaneously.

     "Well, there you are!" said Patmore reassuringly.  "Unless he gets a subsidy from the Arts Council or has some private means that we don't know about ..."

     "Or also writes less unconventionally for some periodical, possibly under a pseudonym which none of us has ever heard of," Valerie suggested.

     "Yes, that's always possible," Patmore conceded, nodding vaguely and even a shade regretfully.  "After all, if he can still talk sense, there's no reason for us to suppose that he can't also write it, if circumstances oblige."

     "Sense?" Hurst objected, casting his fellow-editor a distinctly sceptical glance.  "I should sincerely hesitate to call most of what he said to me last night by that name!  The idea that our future descendants may some day turn into discarnate spirits, with no further desire than to spend their time rapt in self-contemplation, would hardly constitute sense to me!  On the contrary, it's just another form of non-sense!"

     There was a titter of disrespectful laughter from Hurst's wife and a faintly commiserating sigh from Patmore.  "Yes, it does sound a shade farfetched," he agreed.  "This whole idea of a utopian millennium which somehow transcends man strikes me as essentially nothing more than a figment of the imagination."

     "Exactly what I think" Hurst confessed with, in spite of his hangover, a slight show of amusement.  "Part of the overall spectrum of socialist mythology - the far-left of it, so to speak.  Indeed, I shouldn't be at all surprised if he were a Marxist, you know, what with his disavowal of the Afterlife and emphasis on evolution as a means to spiritual salvation.  There was nothing very Christian about all that, nothing even very Oriental, since he disbelieves in reincarnation and karma, and consequently rejects a number of things Aldous Huxley wrote on the subject."

     "It takes a brave man to do such a thing," Patmore opined.  "Either that or a lunatic."

     "Well, you can guess what he is," Hurst rejoined, snorting contemptuously.  "Anyone who turns against nature to the extent he has apparently done, on the misguided assumption that it's inherently evil and opposed to the spirit, can't be all there, if you ask me!  There's something decidedly Baudelairean and corrupt about such an opposition, something fundamentally perverse.  One could hardly have expected someone like Powys to sanction it!  And neither could that self-styled high priest of nature-worship have been expected to sanction the superconscious, a psychic postulate which strikes me as being but another figment of Mr Logan's perverse imagination.  For, to him, the superconscious is antithetical to the subconscious and eventually leads to an experiential knowledge of God.  It's the fusion, apparently, between these two contrary parts of the psyche which makes for everyday consciousness, for the egocentricity common to most human beings.  And modern man, according to this hypothesis, is less balanced between these contrasting psychic entities than were his egocentric forebears in the heyday, as it were, of Christianity, and consequently is more given to the light of superconscious influence!"

     Once again, to the accompaniment of a further titter of disrespectful laughter from Valerie Hurst, a faint sigh emerged from Colin Patmore.  "Yes, so I was led to believe from a few educative words the novelist had with me," he ironically declared.  "Perhaps that explains why Christianity is no longer as influential as formerly, bearing in mind the diminishing status of the subconscious, and hence of the Devil and all his followers.  The concept of Hell no longer inspires any great fear in the great majority of people because it has ceased to correspond to a major psychological reality, ceased to dominate our consciousness to the extent it must have done when mankind was more psychologically balanced between the dark and the light."

     "Bah! You sound as though you actually believe it," Hurst protested, wincing perceptibly.

     "Well, to a degree I suppose I do," Patmore confessed, blushing slightly, "insofar as it is generally true to say that we no longer go in any great fear of Hell.  The question then presents itself - are we therefore prepared to take the concept of Heaven more seriously, and, if so, can it be deemed compatible with a belief in some utopian millennium of a post-human order?"

     "But I thought you didn't approve of that?" Valerie objected.

     "I don't," her brother confirmed.

     "Yet, presumably, you're still prepared to give more credence to Heaven," Hurst observed.

     "Only when it's equated with a kind of posthumous Clear Light, as in the context advocated by Aldous Huxley," admitted Patmore with an affirmative nod.

     "Ah, but that's precisely what Mr Logan wouldn't approve of!" Hurst countered, thumping the table as though for reassurance.  "For, to his way of thinking, there's only the prospect of a post-human millennium, and whatever corresponds to posthumous salvation is illusory or, at best, inadequate.  He most certainly does equate Heaven with a utopian outcome to history."

     "And would doubtless think poorly of anyone who didn't," Valerie Hurst confidently surmised in the swift wake of her husband's retort.

     "Well, he can think what he bloody-well likes," said Patmore sternly.  "But I, for one, have no sympathy with the idea.  To me, an afterlife in which some kind of spiritual salvation is possible seems a more feasible, not to say tolerable, conjecture than an evolutionary climax of indefinite spiritual bliss being posited as occurring at sometime in the distant future."

     "Ditto for me," Hurst seconded, breaking into something approaching a genuine smile for the first time since his arrival at breakfast that morning.  "But you wouldn't succeed in convincing Mr Logan of that!  He has no faith in a personal afterlife.  All we are, apparently, are tiny links in a chain of life which leads from the inception to the hypothetical culmination of human evolution, with no other duty than to live for our progeny and do what we can to assist the progress of that evolution while we're still alive.  After death - whoosh, that's it!  We've served our term and must leave the duty we abandoned to those who remain behind."

     "Not very flattering to our egos, is it?" Patmore deduced, frowning characteristically.

     "Quite," his host sympathized, with a vaguely reproachful nod.  "But, curiously, Mr Logan would seem to be a little less egocentric than us, a little further ahead of us along the path of evolution, as it were, and thus not quite so upset by the likelihood that salvation, when and if it comes, will only come to those who are at the end of the path rather than to those who, like ourselves, are approximately at the half-way stage or maybe a little beyond that."

     "You mean he has proletarian leanings," Patmore inferred, letting the ideological cat out of the bourgeois bag in which posthumous salvation complacently slumbered, to the detriment of millennial futurity.

     "So it would appear," Hurst solemnly concurred.

     The guest smiled knowingly.  "Well, maybe that explains why he didn't quite enter into the spirit of your party last night," he opined, offering each of the Hursts an ironic wink.  "He must have taken one look around him, realized he was in the enemy's camp, and decided there and then that if he couldn't get out of it again, he'd do his level best not to be impressed by it but, rather, to subvert and undermine it."

     "Which, to all appearances, he damn-well succeeded in doing!" Hurst averred, sighing peevishly.  "And to such a deplorable extent ... that I was duly obliged to compensate myself for the polemical interruption of my festivities by consuming far more alcohol than would otherwise have been the case ... with a consequence which is all-too-apparent to you both this morning!"  At which point, he rubbed a tender hand across his furrowed brow, as though, on the contrary, it was anything but apparent to them.

     "Have another black coffee," his wife dutifully advised him, noticing the empty cup in front of his plate.

     "Yes, I think I'd better," he meekly agreed, accepting her suggestion without demur.

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

As arranged in advance, Keith Logan met Martin Thurber outside the Fairborne Gallery in the Strand and, stepping through its revolving glass doors, they paid the requisite entrance fee at a nearby kiosk and calmly proceeded in the general direction of the exhibition, which, despite the early hour, was already attracting a fair amount of critical attention.

     "Have you ever been here before?" Thurber asked, as they respectfully approached the inner sanctum.

     Logan shook his head.  "Can't say I have," he confessed.

     "Well, as you'll see, there are two rooms here, and Paul Fleshman is exhibiting in one of them," the art critic revealed.

     "Who's in the second?" Logan asked.

     "A younger and less controversial artist by name of Joseph Philpott, whose works we shall also be viewing."

     They had arrived at the larger of the two rooms, in which a cross-section of Fleshman's work now reposed and, one behind the other, the two friends stepped into its brightly lit interior, where at least twenty people were already viewing the various exhibits.

     "Ah!" cried Thurber, who was positively dazzled by the profusion of lights.  "Just as I had expected!"

     "It's almost like walking into an Ivres Klein void," opined Logan, noting the spotlessly clean white walls and ceiling.

     "Quite," the critic confirmed.  "Except that, with Fleshman, there's something in it - as you can see."

     Almost immediately, they came to a halt in front of a large abstract canvas on which thousands of tiny silver points glistened and sparkled in the bright light, like the powdered-tinsel decoration on certain Christmas cards.  It appeared to be alive, as one moved slightly to-and-fro in front of it, with tiny insects, so unstable was the surface texture.  Towards its centre the glitter of the tightly-packed silver points was more intense than elsewhere, suggesting some kind of heart or cynosure.

     "Evidently one of his new optical experiments," Thurber observed, extracting a blue notebook and biro from his jacket pocket and proceeding to jot down its title, 'Dazzle 3', to which he added a brief outline of the work and a few terse comments.

     "It's pleasingly transcendental," Logan declared, stepping up closer to the canvas which, as one approached it, appeared to waver and then recede.

     "Quite," the critic acknowledged, and he scribbled down 'pleasingly transcendental' in his notebook.  "Not inclined to glorify the subconscious, at any rate."

     Before long they moved on, past another viewer, to the next exhibit, which was hung about four yards farther along the same wall and seemed to undulate as they approached it.  Composed, in the main, of closely-knit wavy black stripes on a white ground, the stripes becoming sharper and more closely packed towards the centre, this work was distinctly reminiscent of Bridget Riley and Jeffery Steele, being more traditionally Op than the previous one.  It took longer to properly come to life too, yet when it did succeed in giving rise to visual hallucinations of a predetermined character, the overall effect was much more interesting, with greater tonal shifts and more radical undulations.  Thurber again scribbled down the title, 'Forcefield R', in his notebook and added a few brief descriptive notes.

     "One of his more traditionally optical experiments," he remarked, moving his large head gently backwards and forwards in front of it from a distance of about three yards.  "Primarily focusing on heat rather than light energy, on movement rather than dazzle.  A little outmoded perhaps, but a competent grasp of optical techniques all the same.  What d'you think of it, Keith?"

     Logan scratched his head a moment.  "It's quite good," he replied after a few seconds, during which time he, too, proceeded to shift his point of focus according to the rules of their little game.  "Though I'd rather it gave off more light, since I tend to prefer the light effects to any others.  It's, above all, the effect of light rather than movement or heat energy which justifies Op in my eyes, prevents it from degenerating into a mere play of illusion, becoming a kind of technological game with no real claims to serious art.  Fortunately, the best Op never does that, but remains intensely relevant to the age and to our growing bias for superconscious transcendentalism.  Yet there is, however, a plentiful supply of examples from, in the main, lesser artists which strike one as being somehow less relevant and accordingly open to accusations of aesthetic superficiality."

     "To be sure!" the critic agreed, nodding sagely.  "I know exactly what you mean."  And he immediately scribbled 'would rather it gave off more light' in his notebook.

     However, the particular species of Op Art to which Fleshman had paid passing tribute in his 'Forcefield R' was succeeded, in due course, by a large circular project, hung against the white wall at a height of about four feet from the ground, which appeared to radiate colours from its centre in a manner reminiscent of Peter Sedgley and Wojcieck Fangor.  Standing in front of it the two men beheld a small, intensely bright globe of white paint surrounded by a slender band of yellow paint, which was surrounded, in  turn, by a broad band of red paint, this latter duly surrounded by a slender band of blue paint - the total composition somewhat reminiscent of an archery target.  Overall, the effect wasn't particularly optic, though the small central globe could be seen to expand and contract as one stared at it over a period of 30-60 seconds, producing an hallucination of colour shift as the white expanded into the yellow and that, in turn, influenced the red to change into orange, with a corresponding transformation in the blue ring to mauve or purple, depending how long one stared at it.

     Thurber dutifully noted the title and scribbled a few complementary notes.  "One gets more light from this one, don't you think?" he commented, focusing his attention on the bright globe in the middle.

     "Certainly," Logan admitted.  "Although he might have made more of the white paint, had he wanted to create a stronger light-equivalence from it.  He seems to be more interested in colour and the fusings or clashings which result from their juxtaposition."

     "Yes, that could well be the case," Thurber conceded, blushing slightly as, disdaining further curiosity, he led the way along to the next exhibit, which, like the previous one, also took a circular form.  "But what of this one here, the central globe of which is so much bigger and the overall effect so much brighter?" he remarked.

     True, and it was with this exhibit that Logan took the greater pleasure - indeed, couldn't help but reflect on its transcendental nature.  For the large globe of white paint shone with an intensely pure acrylic lustre which quite dazzled the eye, whilst, in complete contrast, the slender band of black paint around the edge assumed a totally matt appearance, its three-inch width seeming to recede from the viewer as the white globe expanded towards him.  Where the latter fairly pulsated with energy, the former appeared dead, a mere negation of life.  Despite its extremely simple composition, this painting had more to say to the abstract novelist than the previous three put together.  For, in the complete contrast between the black and the white, he couldn't help seeing a parallel with the subconscious and superconscious minds - the one submerged in darkness and receding into the past, the other elevated in light and proceeding towards the future.  Whether or not Fleshman intended it thus, this work had all the trappings of great art, an art intensely relevant to the age and able, by the most straightforward means, to illustrate the progress of human consciousness away from the darkness of subconscious ignorance towards the light of superconscious enlightenment.

     True, it might be something of an exaggeration to contend that we were already as biased towards the superconscious as this painting, with its commanding white globe, could have led one to infer.  But the fact nevertheless remained that the imbalance it signified had a certain relevance to us which could only be heightened in the course of time, as we grew progressively more transcendental.  As a religious or psychological work, it undoubtedly possessed the qualities of insightful leadership one expected from genuine art.  To push it further into the future, however, the artist need simply expand the white globe's circumference at the expense of the black band by another inch or two, in order to signify an even greater degree of spiritual progress and thus attain to a still more radical manifestation of such leadership.... Though, of course, to get rid of the black band altogether would indeed be to point towards the post-human millennium, if at the risk of making one's art too forward-looking, at this juncture in time, to be properly intelligible to the general or, indeed, specialist public.

     But irrespective of whether or not, in doing what he did, Fleshman had aspired to spiritual leadership, the resulting impression it created on Logan certainly wasn't without relevance to his theories of psychic evolution, but, on the contrary, more than adequately confirmed them.  As long as the black continued to recede and the white to expand, everything was going according to plan.  The post-human millennium would come about eventually.  "Yes, I can't help but admire this work," he proclaimed, as he stood next to the scribbling critic and continued to gaze, as though entranced, into the acrylic lustre of its indisputable cynosure.  "It automatically marks Fleshman out as a major artist."

     "Indeed!" Thurber concurred, nodding deferentially.  "I've always thought highly of his abilities, though more especially so during the past couple of years, when he has matured so much.... Not that he doesn't have his lapses from time to time, as I think we've already seen.  But at least the general direction of his creativity tends increasingly towards the transcendent."

     "As this painting well-attests," Logan confirmed, crowning his bright smile with a nod of his own.  "To the uninitiated, it would simply appear the height of banality and tedious simplicity.  But to anyone with a philosophical grasp of what is happening in the world and where evolution is tending, it encourages the most optimistic and spiritually satisfying reflections!"

     "Quite so!" the critic seconded, and, quick to exploit the most apt phrase, he scribbled down the latter part of his companion's statement, underlining the fact that it referred to the exhibit 'White on Black'.

     They had got to the end of the first wall by now and were obliged to proceed in the direction of those works which lined the second one or, as in the case of a couple of larger exhibits of a vaguely sculptural appearance, stood just in front of it.  The thirty or so viewers of as many persuasions who had entered the gallery ahead of them had been augmented, in the meantime, to more than twice that number, with a consequence that the viewing of exhibits was not quite as straightforward a matter now as formerly, owing to the groups and even queues which formed in front of everything.  Nevertheless, with a little ruthless determination, one could still obtain a fairly advantageous viewpoint if one so desired, and it was precisely with a mind to obtaining such a viewpoint that the critic and his viewing companion elbowed their way to the front of the next exhibit - a kinetic-styled work with a distinctively moiré, or watery, background, above which three coloured plastic circles of slightly different sizes appeared to hover at indeterminate distances from the bright background, thus causing the viewer some difficulty in establishing the actual perspective before him.

     "Undoubtedly revealing Soto's influence," Thurber opined, going up closer to the work in order to get a better look at the moiré background in question.  "Except that where Soto uses squares and rectangles, our hero has opted for the circle.  Nevertheless, the result obtained is not without kinetic merit.  There is still a flickering of sorts, isn't there?"

     With an affirmative grunt, Logan agreed there was.  "Especially when one moves in front of it," he added.

     "Yes, the circles tend to float in the air at different distances from the background - the black one seeming, on account of the tendency of black to recede, the closest to it, while the white one appears to be floating towards us, and the red ... lies somewhere in-between," Thurber estimated.  "Rather effective, don't you think?"  He backed away a few paces and took another critical squint at it.  However, someone who had been standing in front of an exhibit to the right suddenly moved across to the left and interrupted his view.  He had no option, therefore, but to move in the opposite direction, which duly took him to a position in front of another Soto-inspired relief, this time one in which the moiré background, rather than serving to heighten the illusion of indeterminate spatial relationships between flickering circles suspended in front of it, served instead to optically disintegrate the thin, vertical metal rods which stood in their place, thus causing the entire surface to shimmer and quiver as though dissolved in a faint, ethereal mist of nebulous light.  Akin in substance to Soto's Vibrating Structures, the work nonetheless exhibited certain phenomena not characteristic of that master, the most prominent being the division of the moiré background into gold and silver horizontal strips, some ten in all, which had an effect of intensifying the vibration or flickering obtained through the viewer's movement.  In addition to this, there was the division of the vertically-suspended steel rods into two or more different colours, thus producing variations in the vibration-illusion which corresponded to the nature and tone of each individual colour, and further complicating the indeterminate spatial relationships which existed between each of the differently-coloured metal rods in relation to the moiré background and, last but hardly least, the work as a whole in relation to its viewer.  For example, in the case of the first rod on the left of the line, the white segment appeared to detach itself from the rest of the rod and to subtly approach the viewer, all the time vibrating in response to the moiré background, while the black segment tended, by contrast, to recede from him, creating the illusion of a separate rod - a procedure which was utilized on each of the ten rods either with further black-and-white divisions along their lengths or with the use of various other colours, including pink, orange, violet, red, yellow, and brown, each with its own vibration and spatial tendency.  "Rather complex, don't you think?" the critic thoughtfully concluded, after he had experimented with a variety of head and body movements in front of the relief, and this in spite of the close proximity of other viewers and the inevitable consequence of one or two minor cranial collisions.

     "Indeed!" Logan agreed.  "It would appear that the division of the rods into different colours and lengths has enabled him to dispense with the necessity of positioning them at various distances from the moiré background in order to establish a certain spatial indeterminacy.  Looking at them from the side, it's perfectly clear that they're all arranged in a parallel row."

     "So it is!" Thurber confirmed, going up to a position opposite Logan on the other side of the relief.  "Which shows that he is more than just an imitator, doesn't it?  I mean, Soto's influence has clearly led to novel results."

     Logan nodded with alacrity.  "And not just in terms of the colour contrasts and parallel arrangement of the rods," he declared, "but also in relation to the moiré background, which, in its alternate strips of gold and silver tone, undoubtedly marks a fresh development."

     "Quite," the critic concurred, briefly inspecting the closely-packed horizontal strips in question.  And, once again, he made judicious use of his notebook.

     There were, however, one or two other exhibits in the immediate vicinity to view and, despite the general crush to get at them, it was towards these that the two art lovers now advanced, momentarily shielding their eyes from the dazzling diffusion of light being emitted by the exhibits in question.  For there, no more than four yards from the second relief, stood the first of two kinetic light-sculptures which attested to the influence, as Logan interpreted it, of Dan Flavin, and shone with a fluorescent splendour worthy of the superconscious.

     "Another surprise for me, I must admit," Thurber confessed, as he approached the nearest exhibit - a cube-shaped arrangement of fluorescent construction in which some twenty tubes of equal length though, in the main, unequal diameter shone with a variety of intensities, some slightly less forcefully than others.

     "A lot of phosphor for the electrons to bombard," Logan pedantically observed, standing to one side of the exhibit and endeavouring to ascertain which of the tubes was the brightest.  But it was virtually impossible to fix one's attention on even the slightly less-dazzling and narrower ones for very long, so he sensibly abandoned the attempt.  Undoubtedly the variations in light-intensity were either a consequence of different amounts of phosphor being used in each of the tubes or, alternatively, down to the nature and thickness of the glass itself, which could well have varied in proportion to the degree of light allowed to pass through - some of the tubes being either more or less translucent than others, and so on.  Whether or not different intensities of electron bombardment could simultaneously be directed onto the phosphor in each of the tubes ... was a matter about which Logan didn't feel qualified to speculate.... Though it seemed rather unlikely in the event, as here, of a single electricity source.

     "Rather puzzling, isn't it?" Thurber declared, before scribbling down 'Light Variation 7' in his pocket-sized notebook.  "It must cost a bloody fortune to run."

     Logan smilingly agreed.  "But a rather fine work all the same," he opined, moving between a couple of other viewers to a different vantage-point.  "It's by no means a discredit to sculptural light-art."

     "You think Maholy-Nagy would be impressed, then?" the critic joked, referring to the father-figure and most consistent early practitioner of the genre.

     "At least he'd be gratified that light is being given the importance it deserves," Logan conjectured, turning away from the work in question and approaching its counterpart, which stood at a relatively safe remove in an ambience of its own and shone not with varying degrees of white light but with a variety of different-coloured lights which issued from the variegated tints of its individual tubes.  Not only was each tube in this cube-like composition tinted a different colour but, as in the case of the metal rods on the kinetic relief, it was tinted from 2-5 different colours, making for a correspondingly more complex and intriguing, not to say mind-boggling, overall effect!  Thus at its most simple level, one tube might be equally divisible between red and blue light and be positioned vertically opposite a tube with blue and red divisions, so as to emphasize colour contrast.  Whilst, at its most complex level, a tube might be equally divisible into red, white, yellow, black, and blue segments, and be positioned horizontally opposite a tube with these colours in reverse, or some such contrasting arrangement, which gave rise to a much more puzzling and altogether intriguing relationship.  Depending on one's vantage-point, it seemed as though the lights were either trying to break away from one another, as in the examples emphasizing contrast, or to approach and mingle with one another, as in the examples where complementary colours had been juxtaposed or, alternatively, placed in parallel positions - the overall effect being a slight displacement of the tubular cube through colour, as though indicative of the triumph of mind over matter, of truth over beauty.  "Hmm, quite an interesting concept," he resumed, after his preliminary investigations of the colour relationships had run their technical course.  "The interplay of so many different colours is most effective, even given the blurs and violent disharmonies which occasionally result.  It's rather like Abstract Expressionism in a way, albeit the use of light rather than paint sharply distinguishes it from painterly precedent."

     "Yes, and also the fact of its kinetic potential," Thurber averred, warming, in turn, to the spatial displacements on view.  In fact, the clash and fusion of so many different colours made him feel dizzy, obliging him to avert his gaze and grope for psychological support in his notebook.  Yet there were so many after-images in his mind from the glare of the fluorescent lights that he couldn't see the page he was intending to write on properly, and had to abandon it before he had so much as scribbled a single word there.  His mind was fairly aflame with vibrant colours, some of which were more elongated than others, almost causing him to lose his physical balance and tumble to the floor.  Fortunately, however, Logan was on hand to support him with arm at the ready, and together they slowly made their way through the crowd towards the next exhibits, which were arranged along the wall opposite the one their attention had been drawn to when first entering the gallery.  Here, to the critic's optical relief, the exhibits were mainly Op, and consequently less dazzling than the coloured and plain lights already encountered; though it was some time before the last of the glaring after-images completely disappeared from his mind and he was accordingly able to give them his undivided attention.  "Not wavy stripes or large circles this time, is it?" he observed, swaying slightly backwards-and-forwards amid the jostling throng of fellow-viewers.

     "Indeed not," confirmed Logan, who cast an appreciative gaze over the nearest of the four canvases which lined the third wall, its hundreds of tiny black-and-white squares arranged in contrasting areas of light and shade, suggestive of certain works by Morellet and Schmidt - notably the former's Aleatoric Distribution, 1961, and the latter's Programmed Squares II, 1967.

     "It's simply amazing how much thematic and tonal variation can be obtained from the simplest elements," Thurber remarked, as though to himself.  "How seemingly infinite are the creative possibilities inherent in such a form!  Even the placing of slightly different-sized white squares on a black ground, or the alternative arrangement of different-sized black squares on a white one, produces countless tonal and graphic changes."

     "Absolutely," said Logan, smiling.  "Although, in this case, the result isn't quite as optical as with the wavy-stripe works, is it?  Rather than suggesting movement or energy of one kind or another, it's more akin to computer art, in which the mathematical or serial placement of squares is of greater importance than any visual hallucination resulting from it.  One is dealing here more with the beauty of the tonal and geometric patterns than with any purely or predominantly optical effect as such."

     "A thing, presumably, which you find less satisfactory?" Thurber inferred, simultaneously scribbling down the relevant information in his, by now, image-free notebook.

     "Only to the extent that I personally prefer works with an emphasis on light-equivalence," Logan confirmed.  "Which isn't to say that this type of work leaves me cold.  On the contrary, I find much to admire in the finest geometric works of Vasarely, who generally employs the simplest means to obtain a complex and intellectually gratifying result.  But I still prefer works that give off more light, if you see what I mean."

     "Perfectly," admitted the critic, who quickly led the way towards the next exhibit - a similar cube-based work which, with the incorporation of small circles, was indeed more reminiscent of Vasarely - and, following a brief deferential pause in front of it, on again towards the remaining two canvases lining the wall, the first of which was pretty much a conventional zebra-striped abstract, whilst its neighbour, composed of thousands of tiny tinsel-like points which sparkled in the gallery's neon glare as one moved backwards and forwards in front of it, reminded them of the first exhibit they had seen.  Unlike its companion piece opposite, however, this exhibit was tinted gold and seemed to Thurber the more impressive of the two, especially with regard to the star-like radiance which appeared to emanate from the centre and to spread its dazzling rays beyond the edges of the canvas - a strongly centrifugal tendency about which Logan, by contrast, entertained some private reservations!

     However, if natural light-equivalence was what the artist had in mind here, then with the last exhibit on display one was brought very conclusively back to the realm of artificial light, and on no less a scale than a work composed entirely of slender neon tubing, which was attached to a hardboard base reaching to the height and stretching almost the width of the final wall.  On this hardboard base, the neon tubing had been curled and twisted in every conceivable direction, some of it forming small patterns of surprising complexity, some of it winding through larger patterns which covered as much as two-thirds of the total space, but all of it contributing to an overall impression of unity and harmony of design - the pink tubing no less than the light-blue, the white no less than the green, the red no less than the yellow.

     "Sheer magic!" Thurber exclaimed, as soon as the initial shock of encountering something that bore more than a passing resemblance to Piccadilly Circus or Times Square had worn off and he was accordingly able to formulate a coherent response.  "Just look at the way the tubing is twisted to form such graceful arabesques and intricate hieroglyphics!  And the way the colours blend!  Really, I had no idea Fleshman was into neon to such an alarming extent.  It's a veritable revelation!"

     "Yes, this is definitely the most transcendental work we've encountered this morning," Logan opined, fixing his gaze on the brightest of the neon patterns - a Catherine-wheel-like effusion of pure white light.  "Not that it's a particularly novel concept," he went on, "for there have been quite a few artists experimenting with slender neon tubing over the past 20-30 years, including the Hungarian-born Gyorgy Kepes, whose light murals are of course world-famous.  And more recently there have been interesting experiments from Keith Sonnier and Robert Watts, whom I believe are Americans.  But, really, this example is every bit as intriguing as anything I've seen in the genre.  It's a credit to Fleshman's genius."

     "I entirely agree," said Thurber, who immediately scribbled down a few lines about Gyorgy Kepes and the long-established tradition of light murals and associated works.  "The fusion of art and technology has really blossomed during the last few decades, hasn't it?"

     "Not only blossomed, but acquired the recognition it so richly deserves - certainly as far as the more enlightened elements of society are concerned," said Logan solemnly.  "For to rave about representational painting or even about certain types of abstraction, in this day and age, would indeed be to display an anachronistic bias!  The present and, hopefully, the future belongs to such art as we have witnessed today - that is, to art which has a real relevance to the age.  Whatever isn't unequivocally on the side of the superconscious is of little contemporary importance - indeed, is fundamentally outmoded and thereby deserving of our contempt.  It's to be hoped, however, that, in the future, art will be even more transcendental, that its light will be even clearer and more luminous than at present, so that we can be under no doubt that evolutionary progress is being made."

     A few nearby heads had turned in curiosity or bemusement, as Logan delivered this little spiel to Thurber in response to the psychic illumination evidently vouchsafed him by the brilliant neon spectacle before them.  One man coughed condescendingly and another, evidently an opponent of evolutionary progress in such matters, sniggered softly and made a deprecatory remark to a stern-looking woman standing beside him, whose mouth nevertheless remained shut tight.  The art critic, on the other hand, was too busy scribbling in his notebook to be particularly conscious of the negative responses of those who chose to react unsympathetically to Logan's radical harangue.  It was only when he looked up, to take another squint at the neon patterns and cast an eye to left and right, that he realized both the abstract novelist and himself were the subjects of a fair amount of critical interest from those in the immediate vicinity!

     Be that as it may, the task of reviewing this room's contents had now been attended to, so he was free to take his leave of it and conduct Logan on a tour of the other one - assuming, of course, that the avant-garde writer was still interested in touring it, which remained to be seen.  Underlining 'Neon Vortices', the title of the huge work before them, he closed his notebook with a sigh of relief and slowly proceeded towards the exit, scarcely bothering to look back.  Logan, too, had by now had his psychic fill of the largest exhibit on display and duly followed-on behind, content to wait until they were both safely out in the entrance hall again before verbally expressing himself to the effect that Fleshman was a much better artist than he had at first imagined.  "Even bearing in mind the incontestable fact that much of his work is somewhat derivative," he added, "it's sort of redeemed, in some measure, by the embellishments and refinements he brings to the influences which have shaped it.  Instead of getting bogged down in any given influence, he has enough native talent to enable him to contribute significant innovations of his own, which shed further light on the original influence."

     "Quite so," Thurber concurred, coming to a sudden standstill not far from the entrance to the second room.  "His work is really rather eclectic, isn't it?"

     "He's certainly very versatile," Logan rejoined, smiling gently.  "More versatile, in fact, than any other major artist I've had the privilege of viewing in recent years.  Yet that doesn't necessarily imply that he's superior to those who specialize.  On the contrary, he's more a jack-of-all-trades than a master of any given one.  But a very interesting and talented 'jack' all the same, whose creative eclecticism doesn't overlap the boundaries of abstraction, as could so easily happen."

     "No, that's quite true," the critic confirmed, with a thoughtful nod.  "At least, not in the exhibition we've just seen.  Though he does paint representational works from time to time when the fancy takes him.  But the artist we're about to view in this second room is far less abstract on the whole, if what I've already seen of his work in the past is any indication.  So are you still interested in coming in or ...?"

     Logan briefly consulted his watch.  "Hmm, 12.20pm," he mused.  "I really ought to be getting along, since I have a dental appointment this afternoon and must get some lunch in the meantime, just in case he gives me an injection and I have a numb mouth afterwards.  But I suppose I could spare another 20-30 minutes."

     "Excellent!" Thurber exclaimed.  "Then let's get on with it right away."  And with that settled, they boldly entered the second gallery.

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

Greta Ryan pulled herself up sharp and stared unbelievingly at the rear view of the tall, silver-haired man not ten yards away.  He was buying a newspaper from a pavement vendor and stood proudly erect in front of the cream kiosk on which lay the afternoon edition of the Evening Standard.  Attired in a dark-blue suit with a pointed umbrella perched on his arm, he looked altogether suave and businesslike, quite a contrast, in fact, to how he had seemed the last time Greta saw him.  For, even without a full facial view, the hair and height of the man revealed that he was none other than Edward Hurst, editor-in-chief of 'Art and Artist'.

     Undecided what to do, Greta remained locked where she stood, intently staring at the all-too-recognizable figure in front of her.  She wondered whether she oughtn't to quickly turn round and proceed at the double in the opposite direction; for she was afraid that if he noticed her he would detain and bore her with his conversation.  But there was something else on Greta's mind which prevented her from immediately taking flight, and it was the recollection of what she feared Hurst would do to avenge himself on her boyfriend for the humiliations of the weekend - namely, to dispense with his art reviews.  After all, there was a fair chance that she would learn one way or the other if Hurst did see her and set about making polite conversation.  And if, as she feared, he was intending to drop Thurber from the magazine, there was also a chance - a slim one, perhaps, but nevertheless a chance of sorts - that she could dissuade him from carrying out his intentions.  All this occurred to her subliminally, in a split second, and prevented her from turning on her heels and beating a hasty retreat from the odious proximity of a man she didn't much care for - indeed, if the truth were known, found highly repugnant.

     Yet it was her own self-interest that seemed to be winning out, getting the better of her concern for Thurber, reminding her of the conceited bore that Edward Hurst actually was.  Although she couldn't bring herself to turn completely about and walk back from whence she had come, she was just on the point of turning to the right and making a belated effort to cross over the busy main road when, as though by psychic intuition or telepathic pre-warning, Hurst paid for his paper and turned towards her, spotting her immediately among the dense throng of fellow-pedestrians.  He raised his folded paper in recognition and advanced towards her.  Her heart sank slightly, but, all the same, she was secretly relieved that the crisis had been resolved, the indecision rectified.  She faked a smile.

     "What a pleasant surprise!" Hurst exclaimed, coming up to her with a spring in his step.  "I was just thinking about you, actually."

     Greta paid him the compliment of a faint blush.  "Oh, in what way?" she daringly inquired.

     "Oh, pleasantly enough," he replied, beginning to feel a trifle hot under his starched collar.  "Yes, I was wondering when I would have the pleasure of seeing you again."

     "I see," Greta responded, feigning another smile.  "Well, it just goes to show what a small world it is."

     "Indeed," Hurst chuckled, nodding.  He rustled his newspaper a moment and then firmly tucked it under his umbrella-carrying arm.  "So what brings you out at this time of day?" he asked.

     Greta would have preferred to say business, but with the large plastic carrier bag in her hand and the desire still bubbling under the surface of her mind to find out more about his attitude towards Thurber, she replied: "Just pleasure.  Or, rather, the desire to buy myself some new clothes, including a dress."

     "Which is presumably what you've just bought?" Hurst observed, eyeing the carrier bag.

     "Right."

     "And what are you intending to do next?" he asked, smiling.

     She hesitated on the brink of speech, not quite knowing how best to answer.  Should she tell him that she was on her way home?  She couldn't think of an alternative at present, and, besides, it corresponded to the truth.  So she admitted as much to him.

     "Splendid!" Hurst averred excitedly.  "Why not allow me to accompany you.  After all, we both have to go in more or less the same direction anyway."

     "Well, if you're sure it's no inconvenience," Greta murmured through clenched teeth, "I'd appreciate some company."  Which was considerably less than true, though she could hardly say so!

     Within a couple of minutes they were seated together on the back seat of a taxi, heading away from the crowded West End streets, and before half-an-hour had elapsed it duly arrived at Greta's East Finchley address where, in response to certain crude hints from Hurst about having plenty of time to spare, she invited him indoors.  In a sense she didn't have much option, since he was on the pavement ahead of her and offering to carry the large carrier bag to her door, which, despite nominal objections on her part, he duly did; though not before paying their fare and dismissing the taxi into the bargain.  To have left him stranded on the doorstep would not, in the circumstances, have been the most polite or ladylike thing to do!  So, resignedly, she unlocked the front door and, together, they entered her flat.

     "Ah, how pleasantly clean and bright!" Hurst exclaimed, as soon as he had stepped across the threshold of her living room, which faced onto the passageway leading from the front door.  "Especially after having been cooped-up in a stuffy old cab."

     She acknowledged this fact with another fake smile and motioned him to take a seat.  He was content to avail himself of the room's velvet settee and did so with an almighty sigh of relief, resting her carrier bag against the leg of a nearby coffee table.  Then he watched her activate a small electric fire to his left and take off her light-brown coat.  He could sense that his presence made her slightly nervous, so hastened to break the silence with a word of admiration for her pale floral-patterned dress, which he considered very tasteful.

     "Thank you," she responded, unable to prevent herself from blushing faintly at this frank reference to her sartorial appearance.  For it was one of the dresses she didn't ordinarily wear in the presence of men, being, from Thurber's viewpoint, too gay and seductive.  Its low neckline and gentle flounce, coupled to the partial transparency of its thin gauzy material, would have met with his public disapproval.  She would have been insufficiently the lady.  But today she wasn't in his presence, nor had she arranged to meet him, so what she wore was entirely her own affair.  And because she wanted a change, she had opted for one of her sexier dresses.

     "I'm surprised you didn't wear something like that to my party the other evening," Hurst declared, still manifestly appreciative.

     "Yes, I was rather formal, wasn't I?" she admitted, becoming more embarrassed.  "I didn't really know what your party would look like."

     "Not to worry," he apologetically rejoined.  "You looked delightful anyway."

     She faked yet another smile and offered to fetch him a non-alcoholic drink, since she didn't keep alcohol indoors.  He agreed to a coffee, so she took herself off to the kitchen to make it, including one for herself.  This respite from him came as something of a relief and enabled her to gather her thoughts together.  She was more than ever convinced that she disliked him and had made a serious mistake in not turning around in the street and walking away while the opportunity still prevailed.  It was fairly obvious that he intended to have his way with her, no less by the unabashedly flattering tone of his conversation than by his crude insistence on accompanying her indoors.  His attitude towards her at the party had been friendly and, to say the least, admiring, in spite of his wife's proximity.  No doubt, he hoped to consolidate what he had gained there by a fresh onslaught of admiration here, since he clearly wouldn't have gone out of his way to accompany her for any other reason.  And she?  What could she do to resist him?  Was there anything?  No, it didn't seem so.  Willy-nilly, he would probably succeed in his objectives.  Yet if she was destined to be had by him, there was at least the possibility that it could take place on certain terms - terms assuring her that no action would be taken against Thurber if the editor got it in mind to dispense with his reviews.  Yes, there was always that possibility; though she had no proof, as yet, that he actually did have such an action in mind.  Perhaps she would soon find out?

     Having done what there was to do in the kitchen, plus a couple of additional things besides, she returned to the living room with tray in-hand and set it down on the small coffee table in front of the settee, sitting down, at the same time, on the space Hurst had at the last moment provided for her.  "Help yourself to sugar," she advised him, as he reached forwards to take his mug.

     "Gladly," he responded with facetious self-assurance.

     She noticed, as he straightened up again, that he had in the meantime taken off his jacket and loosened his tie.  Close-up he was apt to appear younger than at a distance, despite his silver-grey hair.  He couldn't have been more than fifty.

     "Hmm, that's better!" he remarked, sipping the coffee into which he had put two large teaspoonfuls of brown sugar.  "I really needed it."

     Despite the fact that she was a grown woman of twenty-four, she felt curiously shy and insecure beside him, almost childish.  He was more than old enough to be her father and she sensed something of a father/daughter relationship in his company.

     "Yes, I like this room," he declared after a minute's steady sipping, during which time his eyes had embraced its contours and visible contents.  "It's very cosy."  He eased back in the settee and turned towards her.  "So this is where you do your writing, I presume?"

     "Well, in actual fact I have another room to write in," she confessed, momentarily abandoning her coffee.  "This is more a place to relax in."

     "So it is."  He smiled appreciatively.  "And do you usually relax here alone or in the company of another?" he asked.

     "Both," she replied, blushing anew.

     Hurst nodded thoughtfully, and then said: "Presumably when you're in company it's with Martin Thurber, is it?"

     "Usually," Greta admitted, "though I also have one or two other friends."

     "Not bed friends, by any chance?"

     "No, just friends," said Greta, who continued to sip her coffee, more than ever conscious of her shyness and insecurity beside him.

     "I imagine you must be quite fond of Thurber," he murmured, following a brief pause.

     "Yes, I am actually."

     Hurst looked at her more intently, almost insolently so.  "And what about that character he invited along to my house on Saturday evening - what d'you think of him?" he asked.

     Greta averted her face from his gaze and buried it in the coffee.  She didn't quite know how best to answer that question.  "Well," she at length replied, suddenly mindful of what Thurber had told her about him, "I suppose fondness wouldn't be the exact word where he's concerned."

     "I should think not!" Hurst sternly exclaimed.  "I personally found him highly obnoxious, most decidedly so!"

     Greta was hardly surprised or shocked to hear this, and merely commented: "Presumably because of what he said and the authoritative way in which he said it?"

     "Yes, and also the time he took in saying it," Hurst declared.  "He quite spoilt my evening, I can tell you!"

     "I'm sorry to hear that, but Martin didn't really know all that much about the man in the first place," Greta remarked.

     "Then, damn it, he shouldn't have invited him at all!" cried Hurst, who was no longer the shameless flatterer but, clearly, the outraged innocent, the offended host, the affronted bourgeois.

     "No, I guess not," she responded, briefly turning towards him in spite of her private disgust with his want of self-control.

     "As it happened, I had one of the worst nights of my entire life," he averred, "and a frightful hangover the next day!"

     "I'm awfully sorry to hear that," Greta repeated, though she was far from sure what the frightful hangover could have to do with her boyfriend or, indeed, with Keith Logan.  Still, it was pretty evident that Hurst wanted to stew in his own misery a while, to arouse her sympathy and, if possible, make her feel guilty, share in the responsibility for his suffering, and thereby obligate her to propitiate him in due course.  It was an excellent way of softening her up, and she could hardly fail, under the circumstances, to respond to it.  Pushed a little further, she would have no option but to console him, to extend her feminine sympathy to his body, even given the fact of her childish insecurity beside him.

     "Yes, well, I dare say you'd be even sorrier to hear that I'm now considering whether to dispense with Thurber's contributions to my magazine, in consequence of what he directly and indirectly inflicted upon me the other night," Hurst continued, renewing his attack.

     It was just as Greta had expected, but she did her best to feign alarm.  "Seriously?" she cried, this time giving him the privilege of her undivided attention, as though the matter were of supreme concern to her.

     "Perfectly," he assured her, nodding curtly.

     "Indeed, I am sorry to hear that!" she confessed, and, as though in confirmation of the fact, immediately returned her half-empty mug of coffee to the tray in front of them, since its presence in her hand seemed somewhat irrelevant to the serious matters under discussion.  It was a gesture, curiously, that must have impressed Hurst.  For he duly followed suit, discarding what remained of his own coffee.

     "Well, I don't quite honestly see why I should continue to befriend Thurber when he has quite obviously ceased to befriend me," the editor complained with rhetorical relish.  "He deserves to be punished somehow, and I intend, before the week is out, to damn-well punish him!"

     Greta had more than an inkling of how Hurst really intended to punish or, rather, avenge himself upon her boyfriend, but she couldn't very well let-on at that moment.  Instead, she pleaded with him not to drop Thurber's contributions, since they were his chief source of income at present and greatest pride in life.  She pleaded with all the feminine tact and guile at her disposal, reminding Hurst that this very week - indeed, that very day - Martin Thurber was at work in the service of 'Art and Artist', reviewing an exhibition of one of the finest contemporary artists, an artist known to the editor personally, as his presence at Saturday evening's party had adequately confirmed, and someone, moreover, who would undoubtedly be glad of the critical appreciation of one of the country's foremost art critics - indeed, if academic and artistic opinion were to be believed, the foremost art critic of his day, a direct descendant, as it were, of the great twentieth-century tradition of British art critics and historians ... from Roger Fry and Clive Bell to Herbert Read and Kenneth Clark.  Surely the editor couldn't fail to appreciate the importance of the services rendered to his periodical by such a knowledgeable and tasteful critic?

     But Hurst wasn't to be mollified by Greta's opinions.  "Frankly, I don't much care for Fleshman's work," he confessed, somewhat to her dismay, "and only invited him to my party because I thought he would amuse me.  What he's currently up to I honestly don't know, because I didn't get an opportunity to ask him about it.  But from what I've seen of his work in the past, I'd be inclined to doubt that it has improved very much in the meantime.  On the contrary, it can only be getting steadily worse, which is to say, ever more Americanized and ... barbarously heathen!

     "As, however, for Martin Thurber - yes, he's undoubtedly a competent critic, though I would seriously hesitate to place him in the front rank," Hurst went on, warming to his subject.  "To be perfectly honest with you, his writings are anything but distinguished, especially in view of his bias for abstract art at the expense of representational works, which necessarily narrows his range and gives to his reviews of the more conservative painters and sculptors a perfunctory quality for which I don't much care!  A recent review of the Stanley Spencer exhibition, for example, was anything but eulogistic, whereas he virtually raved about an exhibition of abstract art, held at approximately the same time, by some little-known painter of foreign origin whose name eludes me!  In my opinion, he permits too much of his personal bias to come through in his criticisms - a thing which a truly first-rate critic should never do.  However that may be, there's one factor which could sway me from my intention to dispense with him and his current review, which could even dissuade me from taking the slightest retaliatory action against him, and that factor, believe it or not, is you, my dear."

     "Oh?"  Once again Greta was obliged to feign surprise for something she had anticipated all along.  Deep down she really loathed him!

     He drew himself closer to her and rested his arm on the back of the settee, just behind her head.  "Maybe we could come to some sort of arrangement together which would, ahem, render it unnecessary for me to consider Saturday evening to have been entirely wasted?"

     "What kind of an arrangement?" Greta innocently inquired of him, blushing slightly in response to his intimate proximity.

     He ran his other hand over her cheek and softly caressed her neck, smiling all the while in an unequivocally emotional answer to her question.  And just as emotionally he brought his face closer to hers, peered into her bright eyes, as into a crystal ball, and placed a silent kiss on her lips - a kiss which caused her to tremble with a mixture of desire and disgust.  God, how she loathed him!  And yet, at the same time and by a curious paradox, how she secretly yearned to be taken by an older and possibly more experienced man, to revel in her helplessness and childish insecurity before him!  Since she had never been taken by someone she disliked, she was curious to discover exactly what it would be like, to experiment, as it were, with the possible degradation resulting from such an unattractive encounter.  If, as Aldous Huxley had led her to believe, the urge to downward self-transcendence was manifest in sex, would not such an experience prove even more self-negating than if indulged in with someone she liked, someone, for instance, like Martin Thurber?  And would she not be less the public lady and more the private whore than ever before?  Would not the contrast between her public and private selves be correspondingly greater, and all the more authentic?

     Yes, she partly trembled with disgust at the touch of his fingers upon her cheek and the pressure of his lips upon hers.  But not wholly!  For a demon of desire was indeed manifesting itself in her at that very moment, egging her on to comply with its lustful wishes.  She knew that it was vain to protest against this demon, and not least of all because she preferred to believe it was in Thurber's interests that she should sacrifice herself on his behalf.  What he would personally think of such a sacrifice was quite a different matter, but she chose not to speculate.  Better to give way to the temptations to-hand ... than wonder whether Martin might not prefer having his reviews rejected, to having his girlfriend sexually mauled by the man who was intending to reject them.  Absolutely!  And as those temptations were now more pressing than before ...

     "You promise not to take any retributive action against Martin?" she ironically requested of Hurst, as he became bolder, drawing himself still closer to her and making a determined effort to slide his hand under her dress.  She checked its advance, however, and repeated:  "You promise?"

     "Yes, provided you cease to resist me!"

     Reluctantly she relinquished her grip on his hand and it immediately resumed its methodical progress, exposing her dark-stockinged thighs to his gaze, the sight of which considerably emboldened him.  For, with the spectacle of such copious flesh, he ceased to be a gentleman, a giver of gentle kisses and caresses, and effectively became, as though by some Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation, a wild animal intent upon ravaging its prey as quickly and ruthlessly as possible.  A deep abyss of carnal sensuality had suddenly opened-up before him and he now plunged down into its murky depths, dragging his helpless victim along with him.  A downward self-transcendence was certainly in the offing, which promised to be more obliterating than anything either of them could have anticipated.

     In vain did she implore him to be gentle as, wrenching the panties from her groin, he rolled her onto her stomach, pushed her dress up her back and, quickly unzipping his flies, released his rearing penis from its increasingly strained confines, dropping his pants as he grabbed hold of her thighs in order to manoeuvre himself into a rear entry position beneath the curvaceous mounds of her alluring buttocks.  As he drove himself into her, his hands reached around to her breasts and took hold of them with a pressure that dislodged her brassiere and momentarily distracted her from the pain of his phallic assault.  Then as this pain was gradually replaced by a reassuringly familiar numbing sensation and that, in turn, by a mounting tension of orgasmic response, she found the last vestiges of her ego relapsing further and further into subconscious dominion, and completely abandoned herself, beast-like, to the mutual pleasures of their flesh.  Here was the degradation she had secretly craved.  Now she was really a whore, delivered from her self-pity, free-falling in the abyss of sexual abandon, irrevocably damned, in worldly submission, to a fiercely lustful predator!

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

It was towards eight o'clock when, in response to an invitation from Thurber at the Fairborne Gallery the previous day, Keith Logan rang the doorbell to Paul Fleshman's fashionable Chelsea flat, to be courteously admitted by a young woman whose face he had first seen at Hurst's party, but with whose name he was still unfamiliar.

     "Yvette," she duly informed him, before inviting him to take off his zipper jacket and hang it by the door.  Then he followed her through the vestibule and into an adjoining room, from which a steady stream of conversation could be heard.  He was flushed and slightly apprehensive as he stepped into its neon glare.  The three people gathered there simultaneously turned their attention upon him.

     "Ah, good to see you again!" Fleshman exclaimed, and, extending a welcoming hand, the artist advanced towards him.  "We hoped you'd come."

     "Thanks," responded Logan, who held out his hand to be shook.  "It's an honour to be here."  He visually greeted Thurber and Greta, who blushed in the process, and readily accepted the seat offered him in one of the room's three leather-upholstered armchairs, opposite the couch on which the other two guests were seated.

     "Yvette's my girlfriend, in case you didn't know,” Fleshman revealed, with a broad smile.

     "Ah yes, I had surmised as much," Logan admitted, offering the dark-skinned brunette a friendly nod.

     "Can I get you something to drink?" she asked.

     "Yes, have what you like," insisted the artist, who happened to have a beer in his hand.

     "Thanks," said Logan, who duly arranged to have a can of cola.

     Meanwhile Greta took-in his appearance with quiet satisfaction, her gaze ranging over his face and clothes with subtle ease.  He seemed more handsome than at Hurst's party, possibly because he was now seen in a better light, that is to say, not as a stranger with a fiercely didactic turn-of-mind but as an acquaintance and admirer - yes, an admirer of herself.  After all, if what Martin had told her about him was true, she had no reason to suppose that he thought badly of her, associating her with Edward Hurst.  On the contrary, she was evidently an attractive young lady to him, and that suited her fine.

     "I understand from my friend here that you were quite impressed by my small and partly retrospective exhibition in the Strand yesterday," said Fleshman, briefly referring his attention to Thurber.

     "Yes, I was indeed," Logan confirmed.  "Especially by the last and largest work on display - the 'Neon Vortices', which outshone all the others.  It was reminiscent of Gyorgy Kepes."

     "How generous of you!" cried Fleshman, blushing slightly.  "As yet, I haven't constructed all that many works of that nature.  But it's a field of creativity in which I'm becoming increasingly interested."  There was a short pause, before he added: "I take it you preferred the 'Neon Vortices' to my Op exhibits, then?"

     "Only to the extent that it involved actual light rather than painterly intimations of or approximations to such light, a fact which strikes me as constituting an altogether better and more radical stance," Logan averred, slightly surprised by his boldness.  "It was more transcendent than those works which were purely painterly.  The latter were undoubtedly good, but the former, including the two smaller light works on display, signified a much higher development - one relative to the proletariat rather than to what I would regard as petty-bourgeois intimations of proletarian futurity, if you see what I mean."

     "Yes, I have to agree," Thurber commented, bringing a little professional opinion to bear on the matter.  "The connection with technology is far closer where such works are concerned."

     "And you believe it must continue to develop along ever closer lines, do you?" the artist asked, turning towards Thurber.

     "Yes, definitely," the critic replied.  "After all, what else can it do?"  He looked imploringly at Logan, as though for assurance.

     "Not a great deal," the latter conceded deferentially.  "Though there is still scope, I believe, for it to align itself with transcendentalism as well as with technology.  I mean, it's not just the machine that counts, but also the spirit, the degree of our spiritual evolution, which such art can reflect and encourage."

     "Quite," Greta seconded, breaking the spell of her attentive silence.  "Technological progress isn't everything."

     Fleshman nodded his balding head in tacit agreement, then, turning to his latest guest, he asked: "And do you think my art reflects and encourages our spiritual evolution?"

     "Some of it does," Logan opined, smiling.  "For instance your light works, both large and small, are more than just a consequence of technological influence and fidelity to contemporary materials.  They're also, I would say, indications of our growing predilection for the superconscious mind and are thus, to a certain extent, religious works as well.  For it seems to me that the superconscious is the spiritual part of the psyche, in opposition to the sensuous influence of the subconscious, and, since God is spirit rather than sensuality or nature, it follows that any art-form which reflects a superconscious influence must have religious connotations.  The more artificial light any given work manifests, the closer it will be to the spiritual essence of God."

     "I don't personally think of God when I construct such works," Fleshman confessed with a dismissive and slightly apologetic smile.  "But there may be something in what you say, since electric light is certainly a spiritual rather than simply a material phenomenon - not hard and solid, like iron or steel.  However, what you say also sounds like a species of Manichaean dualism, in which nature is considered evil and only spirit good, and I'm not absolutely sure I can go along with that."

     Greta nodded sympathetically.  "We were discussing something similar at Eddie Hurst's place the other evening," she announced, "Keith discounting the idea that God should be worshipped through His creations and insisting, instead, on the primacy of the spirit."

     "That's correct," Thurber confirmed, recalling to mind the discussion or, rather, extempore lecture in question.  "God and nature instead of God in nature was Keith's viewpoint."

     "And still is," the latter admitted.

     Fleshman's face assumed a puzzled expression.  "But why do you choose to distinguish between them?" he asked, patently intrigued.  "I mean, why is nature evil?"

     "Yes, do tell us!" Yvette insisted.

     There was a short pause before, screwing up his brows, as was his wont when obliged to justify a tricky position, Logan confessed: "Well, it's not an easy question to answer in a nutshell, but, putting the matter as briefly and simply as possible, nature is fundamentally evil because it's a manifestation of subconscious life rather than a combination of subconscious and superconscious life, like all the autonomous life-forms ... from the beasts to man.  It lacks the divine spark of spirit which makes for consciousness, and is consequently antithetical to the spirit, being darkness as opposed to light.  As a purely sensuous phenomenon it stands as the lowest mode of life, beneath even the insects.  Naturally, one has to make use of it, to cultivate the fields and avail oneself of what it produces, thereby treating it with a degree of respect.  And, needless to say, there's even some pleasure to be obtained from it - from the flowers, bushes, trees, fields, etc., which one would be a hypocrite or a fool to deny.  Nature in moderation is by no means a bad thing.  After all, for all our divine aspirations, we are still human beings and therefore subject to a certain amount of subconscious life, on which we depend for our sanity and integrity as people.  Yet to worship nature, to make a point of regularly associating with it, especially in this day and age of more advanced civilization, would seem to betray a rather poor sense of priorities.  In the Middle Ages, when man was closer to nature and accordingly less civilized, less urbanized, it was only natural that he should have attached greater importance to the natural.  But now that the vast majority of us are habituated to a much more urbanized, and hence artificial, lifestyle - how irrelevant it would be for us to treat nature with the same degree of importance!  As our environment evolves, so we evolve with it.  And as our environment becomes progressively more anti-natural or artificial, so it's inevitable that we should become such as well and consequently grow more partial to the superconscious, the light of the spirit, which stands above and beyond nature.  Thus instead of being pagan nature-worshippers, we should increasingly become transcendental experiencers of what is potentially God ... as manifested in the superconscious mind.  We discover, on this level, that God is not a something out there, still less a creator of or resident in nature, but a state-of-mind, an entirely introspective experience.  He or, rather, it ... is what the great historical mystics have always known God to be - a spiritual transcendence of the flesh.  But despite their determination to know or see God, they could only do so in small doses, with brief glimpses of their own inner light - glimpses that were necessarily brief because they were less under the divine sway of the superconscious, overall, than their latter-day counterparts and, indeed, intelligent city people in general tend to be.  Living in smaller communities, in closer contact with nature, they were more balanced between the subconscious and superconscious minds, and consequently would have found it harder to break through to the superconscious and experience pure spirituality.  By dint of sheer effort and persistence they obtained, every now and then, a glimpse, but that was all!  A glimpse was all evolution could then spare them.  The influence of the subconscious was always there, keeping them tied to earth."

     "Yet, presumably, it's always there with us too, preventing us from living entirely in the inner light?" Fleshman deduced.

     "Indeed, though not to the same extent as in the Middle Ages," Logan rejoined.  "For, thanks to our great cities, we're generally biased towards the superconscious, and thus more partial to the inner light than at any former historical time.  Our dependence on and sanction of electric light is further proof of this, a reflection, as it were, of our need and desire to shut out the darkness to a much greater extent than ever our ancestors could have done or, indeed, would have dreamed of doing.   To regularly sit in a large room in the dark evenings with a tiny candle-flame burning beside us - ugh, how deprived we would feel!  How constricting, depressing, and primitive it would appear to us!  Fortunately, however, we don't have to be victims of the dark.  We turn to our electric lights and carry on as before.  Our days are extended.

     "However, we're not so spiritually advanced that we can tune-in to the superconscious whenever we like and thus experience pure spirituality on a lengthy basis," he went on, having paused to gulp down some cola.  "Those of us who specifically dedicate ourselves to breaking through to the spirit still have to contend with a fair amount of subconscious influence, which makes it a difficult business and virtually ensures that if, by any chance, we do break through, it's only on a relatively transient basis - not, alas, for hours on end!  We may have progressed a little from the Christian mystics, but, in spiritual terms, scarcely to any appreciable extent, least of all to an extent which enables us to dally in the presence of what is potentially God for very long.  Most of the time we live in a kind of diluted or superficial relationship with it, in which normal consciousness, as a fusion between the subconscious and superconscious parts of the psyche, tends to predominate.  Only, these days, the subconscious has less power over us than formerly, and we can therefore look down upon it from a post-dualistic, as from a post-egocentric or post-humanistic, vantage point."

     "Perhaps some of us more than others," Fleshman commented, breaking into an ironic smile.  "But what about you - have you experienced Infused Contemplation, or whatever the expression is, and consequently come face-to-face with true divinity?"

     Logan shook his head.  "Unfortunately not!" he confessed.

     "But you do meditate?" Yvette conjectured curiously.

     "Yes, though not to any great extent."  He paused a moment, as though to gather his thoughts, then said: "What little I can manage, whether it's twenty minutes a day or half-an-hour every two days, isn't sufficient to bring me intimate knowledge of ultimate divinity."

     "Then why do it?" Fleshman wanted to know.

     "Well, I suppose one has to begin somewhere," Logan declared modestly.  "What little time circumstances allow me to spend meditating, and what little time I desire to do so ... are undoubtedly better than nothing.  Admittedly, I realize that, having a profession to follow and various domestic and social duties to attend to, I'm unlikely to experience Infused Contemplation, even were I to dedicate twice as much time to meditation.  Nevertheless - and irrespective of the fact that I also realize I'm subject to a fair amount of inhibitory influence from the subconscious - I find it expedient to cultivate the habit of meditation at least to some extent, and thereby condition myself towards a mystical viewpoint.  After all, the trend of evolution is towards greater knowledge of the superconscious, so one might as well do one's bit to respond to that trend, no matter how feebly."

     "But if one doesn't experience the inner light to any appreciable extent, what's the point?" Greta objected, shrugging her shoulders.

     "Quite," both Thurber and Yvette seconded doubtfully.

     "Well, with this particular approach to meditation, one can at least experience something on the fringes of pure spirituality," Logan averred.  "Providing one doesn't relapse into the subconscious by going into a trance, one's alert passivity should vouchsafe one experience of the lower levels of superconscious mind, bringing one peace, stillness, silence, freedom from thoughts, a gentle waiting on enlightenment."  He paused a moment, as though to gather his thoughts, then continued: "Of course, if one chooses to utilize certain breathing techniques, one can amass a greater quantity of oxygen in the blood and thus enliven one's consciousness, making for increased awareness.  Or, alternatively, a gradual suspension of breath, resulting in a higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the lungs and blood, can lead to a slight alteration of consciousness in the general direction of visionary experience.  Yet that would, I believe, require more time and effort than I usually have to spare, so I can't speak with any personal authority on the subject.  All I know from personal experience is that a certain amount of time spent in quiet, alert passivity provides a merciful relief from the usual gamut of egocentric worries, thoughts, grudges, and wishes.  One is certainly brought a little closer to Heaven than would otherwise be the case."

     "So you'd incline to consider anyone who regularly meditated and laid claim to direct experience of the inner light but hadn't experienced Infused Contemplation to be a fraud, would you?" Fleshman suggested, selecting from the wealth of available material what he took to be the crux of Logan's argument.

     "Yes, absolutely," the abstract novelist affirmed.  "Though I'd be inclined to consider anyone who regarded himself as godlike, but wasn't the recipient of a total and permanent eclipse of the subconscious by the superconscious to be an even bigger fraud.  For unless one's consciousness is entirely eclipsed by the inner light, one is still a man, no matter how talented, clever, or spiritually earnest one may happen to be.  Man is ever that which stands, on a higher evolutionary level than the beasts, between the plants and the godlike, between the lowest life-forms that currently exist and the hypothetical highest life-forms which have yet to come into existence - though hopefully they will in the not-too-distant millennial future.  As man evolves to ever greater spiritual heights, so he'll have correspondingly less to do with nature, less interest in and respect for that which stands at the furthest remove from him ... in subconscious dominion.  At present, however, a degree of interest in and respect for nature is still required.  For we're not, with very few exceptions, so spiritually advanced that we can afford to be over-ambitious in our determination to dispense with nature altogether, and thus run the risk of seriously jeopardizing our integrity as human beings.  The disastrous consequences of being too idealistic and progressive in this respect were aptly demonstrated, in The Devils of Loudun, by Father Surin who, as a result of too radical an allegiance to Manichaean idealism at a time when the compromise with nature was greater than at present, went mad and would doubtless have remained so, had it not been for the help and care of a certain Father Bastide, who eventually brought him back to sanity.  Returned him, in other words, to an attitude less Manichaean and correspondingly more compatible with the degree of environmental evolution characteristic of his time."

     There was a confirmatory nod from Greta.  "Yes, I recall the chapter dealing with Surin's madness quite well," she revealed, "and thoroughly agree with the conclusion you draw from it.  Huxley certainly castigated the Manichaean attitude which Father Surin initially fostered, deeming it a mistaken viewpoint.  To him, nature couldn't be separated from God's Creation but was inextricably tied-up with Him - was, in fact, a phenomenal manifestation of the Divine Mind.  He wouldn't have sanctioned the anti-natural attitudes of those latter-day Surins such as Baudelaire, Huysmans, and Mondrian."

     "Probably not," Logan conceded, smiling wryly.  "Yet, if you want my honest opinion, Huxley was quite mistaken in believing that God and nature were one and the same, and that man should always relate to nature as a manifestation of Divine Creation.  For man to relate to it as such when he's more under its subconscious domination, I fully understand.  But to infer, thereby, that he should always relate to it in such fashion is to overlook the fact that man continues to evolve away from nature, in response to the development of civilization and the concomitant expansion of towns and cities, and accordingly ceases to be dominated by it to anything like the same extent as before.  And because of that, he ceases to be dependent on it to anything like the same extent as before - ceases, in a word, to be its victim.  For a human being who, thanks to regular confinement in one or another of our major cities, has been conditioned to living in an artificial environment, is in a better position to adopt a Manichaean attitude to nature than one who, like Father Surin, hasn't, and can thus get away with a greater degree of superconscious bias.  Compromise, by all means, when compromise is due.  But when it isn't or, rather, when the balance has been tipped in favour of the spirit - well then, a more Manichaean attitude becomes possible and should, if possible, be encouraged.  Hence the significance of Baudelaire and Mondrian, believers in the superiority of the spirit over nature - as, up to a point, was Huxley, as most of his late works adequately attest."

     "But if God didn't create nature, then who or what did?" Greta queried, somewhat puzzled by Logan's standpoint.

     "Presumably the Devil," Fleshman ventured, allowing himself the pleasure of a roguish snigger, which duly infected both Yvette and Thurber.

     "Well, in a manner of speaking, one could equate subconscious, and especially cosmic, phenomena with the Devil," Logan averred, nodding, "since the tendency to equate God or, rather, what is potentially God with the superconscious has already been acknowledged.  Thus life-forms which are exclusively or, in the case of animals, predominantly dominated by the subconscious can be regarded as more evil than those that aren't.  The beasts are given to the darkness to a much greater extent than us, while the plants are exclusively given to it, and are accordingly still more evil."

     "Even sunflowers?" Fleshman humorously objected.

     "Yes, I dare say so," Logan responded, breaking into an ironic smile.  "Though they may appear less evil, less sensuous and torpid, than a majority of their humbler fellows, especially those plants which blossom in the depths of some dense forest or jungle.  Admittedly, we do recognize a kind of hierarchy of plant life, with the more colourful or picturesque flowers at the top.  Yet, even so, those plants more subject to heliotropic leanings are still subconsciously motivated, and therefore evil to a degree.  They're not blessed with animal consciousness but are rooted to the earth, and mundane they remain.  Thus one could speak of natural creation as being partly of diabolic origin, insofar as it's the sensuous rather than the spiritual which prevails there.  However, man's concept of God, particularly in the pagan ages of subconscious lopsidedness, has embraced the Diabolic, or something approximating to it, so what he formerly understood by the term 'God' is quite different from what he now understands by it, and therefore not something capable of being identified with it.  The god of our pagan ancestors was essentially a force of evil rather than good, a vengeful deity to be propitiated by sensual sacrifice, and was thus quite the converse of the god whom some of us - mainly proletarian - relate to as pure spirituality.  Their god was purely sensuous, and hence equivalent to our concept of the Diabolic.  If He created nature, then we needn't be fooled by the term 'god' into thinking that it was truly of divine origin.  On the contrary, their Creator and our Devil are fundamentally one and the same - a psychological projection of subconscious tyranny."

     "I recall your saying something similar last Saturday, concerning the successive nature of the Trinity rather than its assumed simultaneity," Thurber announced, alluding to Logan's conversation at Hurst's party, "so that religious evolution in the West may be regarded as a progression from the dark to the light, from the Father to the Holy Ghost via Jesus Christ."  He blushed to hear himself talking theology.  For, like most of his race, he was pragmatic and empirical, and normally avoided anything so subjective as religion, which, when genuine, was less concerned with the given than with what could conceivably materialize in the future, if men put their trust, or faith, in evolutionary truth and hence, by implication, in messianic redemption.

     "Right," Logan confirmed, with a brisk nod.  "And what I said then has a direct bearing on what I'm saying now, as regards the Divine as pure spirituality, or superconscious mind, over against the Diabolic as pure sensuality, or subconscious mind.  And, in between, one has Christ, the dualistic compromise in which sensuality and spirituality are simultaneously acknowledged and given their atomic due.  One has Hell and Heaven, not just Hell, as effectively in the case of pagan peoples, still less just Heaven, as in the case - to some extent now and, hopefully, to a much greater extent in the future - of transcendental peoples.  Like I said earlier, the further we progress into superconsciousness the less importance the subconscious, and hence all manifestations of subconscious life, will have for us.  Nature, or what is left of it, will simply be ignored."

     "Doubtless no-one will deign to believe that a spirit could have created matter, and that nature therefore has a divine origin," Fleshman remarked.  "In fact, what you're saying leads one to the conclusion that, just as a colourful flower has its roots in the soil and thus springs from a rather mundane source, one which signifies a fall from cosmic sensuality, so pure spirituality has its roots, so to speak, in man, and only comes into being gradually, as a consequence of our progressive evolution away from nature.  Rather than being the source of all life, as has traditionally been believed, God is essentially the consummation or culmination of it, the goal towards which ascending life aspires."

     "Precisely!" Logan agreed, visibly gratified by the artist's receptivity to his ideas, which were broadly expressive, in Nietzschean parlance, of a 'transvaluation' of traditional values.  "God evolves with man and depends for man on His or, rather, its existence.  If we cease to evolve and regress, so God ceases to evolve and regresses with us.  If we continue to evolve and eventually attain to a condition where the superconscious reigns supreme, we shall see God face-to-face and thus become divine.  If, on the other hand, we regress to a point where the subconscious reigns supreme, we shall see or, rather, feel the Devil and thus become diabolic.  However, the chances of our doing the latter are, despite the reactionary attitudes of writers who revel in sensuality, like D.H. Lawrence and John Cowper Powys, extremely remote.  Evolution drives us on, fortunately, and it's as the willing servants of evolution and master of our destiny that we shall eventually attain to the goal of superconscious bliss, the 'peace that surpasses all understanding' and the light of lights.  Even your lights, Paul, will be totally eclipsed by it, dependent, as they are, on the electron bombardment of phosphor."

     "Which is something I should dearly love to see," Fleshman confessed, smiling radiantly.  "The artist, paradoxically, can only intimate of ultimate truth, even with the use of lasers, since his lights are forever external to the spiritual self and thus no more than a symbol for that which, as pure spirit, resides in the mind."

     "Yes, I guess so," said Logan and, tilting his head back, he gulped down the rest of his cola.

     That evening during diner Keith Logan continued to assume the didactic role and to dominate conversation, spurred on by pertinent and prompting questions from Fleshman, who seemed to regard him as a sort of oracle or guru.

     The subject of lasers having already been touched upon in the sitting room, the abstract novelist now proceeded to expatiate on the superiority of the purer light they produced to the comparatively chemical, diffuse light obtained through fluorescent tubes and light bulbs.  Laser beams, he contended, would come to assume an increasingly important role in the evolution of art, and so, too, would holograms, which perfectly reflected our growing predilection for the immaterial, or de-materializing of matter, in deference to a superconscious bias.  Holography, in which virtually true three-dimensional images could be obtained of the object exposed to laser light, was undoubtedly an art form of the future, capable of achieving visual wonders as yet scarcely imagined.  Where further developments of this medium would lead, it was difficult if not impossible to foretell.  For there was certainly no reason to believe that we had seen everything yet, nor any reason to doubt that what we had seen of works constructed from ordinary electric or fluorescent light couldn't be refined upon or expanded into new concepts, as Fleshman's exhibits at the Fairborne Gallery had adequately shown.  There was certainly potential for further development in that field, too!

     To which opinion the artist readily concurred, intimating, in the process, that he was also interested in the production of laser works and would in future be dedicating more time to them.  But what did they, Thurber as well as Logan, make of the other exhibition - the one containing works by Joseph Philpott?

     This time it was Thurber who answered first, by revealing that they hadn't thought so highly of it, although there were a number of abstract works in the geometrical and precisely-calculated manner of Max Bill on display which they had preferred to the representational ones.  Somehow these latter were of a lower order of painting, though not as low, he was obliged to concede, as could have been the case.  And here it was Logan's turn to come to the fore again, positing the contention that there existed a kind of hierarchy of representational painting - as, indeed, of abstract painting - in which the city took precedence over nature. 

     Thus such works as they had witnessed, mostly of skyscraper-type buildings and a variety of machines for industrial application, were certainly of a superior representational order to what would have been the case had either of them been confronted by a landscape artist.  With the representational canvases of Joe Philpott one was at least looking at civilization, not at something prior to or beneath it.  And the fact that he concentrated on the big city, or metropolis, with never a hint of verdure, made his work of a transcendentally superior order to artists who might alternatively have chosen to concentrate on a small or medium-sized town, with views of hills, trees, and bushes either surrounding it or in the background.  Yes indeed!

     For just as there was a hierarchy between those who specialized in natural phenomena, so a hierarchy existed between the artists of civilization, which was no less apparent.  In the former case, the worst offenders against the spirit, in Logan's estimation, were those who painted nature in the raw, especially where the sensuous was strongest and a kind of jungle or forest-like terrain accordingly prevailed.  To paint a scene in which the most sensuous, subconsciously-dominated plants predominated would indeed have been to put oneself at the bottom of the creative ladder as, from a spiritual viewpoint, the most contemptible of artists.  Certain of Le Douanier Rousseau's works, for instance, were open to criticisms of this order, and Logan lost no time in assuring his companions at table that his spiritual eye had on more than one occasion been grossly affronted by this modern 'primitive', this 'naif', whose eighteenth-century namesake he personally abhorred.

     But, still, not all naturalistic paintings were quite as extreme, and it was possible to take slightly more pleasure or, at any rate, less displeasure in those artists who preferred a more temperate zone, where the landscape was less sensuous.  Then, of course, there were those who placed an animal or animals in the landscape, and thus lifted their work above the subconscious, even if, by the incorporation, say, of pigs, cattle, or sheep, they didn't lift it very far towards the superconscious.  But at least animal life was higher than plant life, in consequence of which it should be possible to judge a landscape with animals spiritually superior to one without any, the more animal life in proportion to landscape, or nature, and the higher the type of animals the better the painting.  And then, on a still higher level of representational art, would be those paintings which included human life in the landscape or natural surroundings, the ratio of the one to the other determining their relative status, so that paintings in which humanity predominated over nature would be spiritually superior to those in which the converse was the case, and so on, through all manner of subtle gradations of content and context.  Frankly, it was possible, Logan maintained, to form an exact scale of thematic assessment where most if not all naturalistic and/or realistic paintings were concerned, in strict accord with the immutable criteria of lesser or greater life forms.  In this way, virtually every representational painting to-date could be morally categorized according to its level of content, from the crudest jungle to the most refined portrait, with all due gradations in between.  An exact science, as it were, of representational context.

     But what applied to naturalism applied no less to the various levels of civilization depicted, which, as already noted, were open to a similar scale of thematic assessment, beginning with the meanest village and culminating in the greatest city, through all degrees of natural/artificial content in any number of realistic/materialistic contexts.  Thus Philpott's big cityscapes, eschewing all traces of nature, were evidently of the highest order of artificial representation, signifying the most advanced level yet attained by civilization in the face of nature.  Together with the machines he painted, they attested to evolutionary progress not just with regard to large-scale urbanization and industrialization, but also, and no less importantly, with regard to art, which, in evolving beyond naturalism, had attained to an unprecedented level of representational importance.  Whether it could progress any further in such terms remained to be seen; though, providing cities continued to expand and become ever more sophisticated, subject to new orders of architectural innovation in which more synthetically advanced materials were utilized to a transcendental end, there seemed to be no reason for one to suppose otherwise.

     As Keith Logan had already intimated, however, Philpott's representational works were, for all their relevance to the contemporary world, of an inferior order of painting to his abstract works, which, seemingly inspired by the geometrical principles of Neo-Plasticism, attested to a higher and altogether more spiritual realm of creativity - one necessarily idealistic rather than materialistic in scope.  For, in the development of the modern, it was, above all, the progress of abstraction that counted for most, as this was a species of art which, properly speaking, had only come into existence in the twentieth century and signified a level of creativity beyond and above the purely representational, in which the spiritual came to predominate over the material, and the individual accordingly managed to assert a new importance over society.

     Thus the small number of abstract canvases on display in the Philpott exhibition was, in Logan's estimation, of greater moral significance than the representational ones, since aligned, no matter how crudely or indirectly, with the spiritual.  For it was, above all, the liberation of spirituality that counted in modern art, and its consequent triumph over materialism - 'Second Religiousness' over 'the Civilization', in Spenglerian parlance.  Where abstract art came to an end, light art had taken over, and now, as Logan flatteringly liked to remind his host, it was the latter which chiefly prevailed, whether in the guise of fluorescent tubing or, more idealistically, with the use of lasers.

     Opposed to this or, rather, on the level of proletarian materialism, were the most recent developments in machine art, whether in the form of auto-destructive machines, as with Jean Tinguely, or of highly-complex programmed machines, such as the American James Seawright had invented.  And, of course, aligned with this were the experiments being made with computers and video-recorders, which were generally of a secular, or technological, order.

     Thus whatever was essentially concerned with light could be said to constitute the new religious art, an art pertinent to transcendental man which, now as before, took precedence over the materialistic art-forms currently in existence.  A Gyorgy Kepes was therefore, from Logan's standpoint, a superior type of artist to a Jean Tinguely, a Takis to a James Seawright; though, as the writer was at pains to remind his audience, a clear-cut distinction between religious and secular artists couldn't always be inferred, there being major artists who, like Nicholas Schöffer, experimented in both fields, thereby attesting to a kind of liberal compromise between the two extremes.  However, as regards Paul Fleshman, there could be little doubt that his work, culminating in light art, was of a superior order to Philpott's, since predominantly and intrinsically religious.  Apart from the low-level abstracts, the latter artist's work was mostly secular, if of a relatively high order of secularity within the, by and large, petty-bourgeois context of contemporary painterly art.

     To be sure, Fleshman was indeed gratified by this opinion, and hastened to express his gratitude by offering Logan some more liquid refreshment - a gesture which was much appreciated by his knowledgeable guest.  As, indeed, by the other guests, whose empty glasses were likewise replenished in due turn, albeit with beer and even wine rather than simply cola, like the more markedly transcendental Keith Logan.  Yes, there could be little doubt that Philpott's work was generally of an inferior nature to his own, even given the fact of that artist's evident technical facility and ample command of his thematic resources.  His choice of subject-matter, though good, could easily be bettered, and simply by omitting all objective subject-matter in loyalty to a truly subjective requirement.  If his temperament was predominantly materialistic, he could hardly be expected to produce the highest kind of art but would have to rest content with what he customarily did.  He had his place, of that there could be no doubt, but it was decidedly amongst the second-rank in a kind of painterly parallel to a right-wing democratic context.  And he would remain there - would he not? - even if he became the greatest secular painter who ever lived.

     To which, of course, they all agreed, particularly Logan, who elected to assert that beyond light art there was nothing higher, especially where the use of fluorescent tubing and laser beams were concerned, which, in the hands of the finest artists, had taken religious art to its highest ever peaks.  For the progress of art meant that, these days, the world's leading artists were second-to-none - indeed, were superior to all the so-called great artists the world had already produced.  Where the great masters of the past had been obliged to express the spiritual in terms of Christianity and through the medium of paint, their contemporary counterparts had the benefit of religious evolution to draw upon and a much more spiritual medium in which to work.  Paint was still paint - a kind of liquid matter that solidified.  But electric or neon light ... who could touch or feel that?  Who could deny its spiritual essence or intangibility?  And because God was spirit or, more specifically, the pure spirituality that would emerge from the superconscious at the culmination of evolution, who could fail to perceive the analogy with God which the finest light art evoked, even though such an analogy was paradoxically based on chemical or electrical means?

     Here it was not Christ so much as that which, as pure spirituality, stood above and beyond Him ... with which one was essentially concerned.  No longer Christian symbolism, but the truth of God per se.  How therefore could one fail to recognize the moral superiority of this art to whatever had preceded it in the paradoxical realm of religious representation?  How could one fail to see in artists such as Kepes, Takis, Schöffer, and, indeed, Paul Fleshman himself, the culmination of the spiritual in art thus far, whether or not such artists were consciously aware of producing religious art?  The very fact of human evolution virtually guaranteed one a certain knowledge that art, no less than everything else, continued to progress through the centuries until such time as it attained to a maximum approximation to the spiritual essence of God, and thus completed its destiny.

     Whether, in fact, art had already arrived at its ultimate goal was, to say the least, a debatable point.  For there were still many interesting experiments and refinements on previous attainments being made which, providing the world wasn't suddenly plunged into a nuclear holocaust, would probably continue for some time to come, bringing the approximation to God's spiritual essence ever closer through the use of a brighter, purer inner light.  After all, art wasn't just an arbitrary affair.  On the contrary, it was a very definite procedure with an ever-present responsibility to evolution.  Once it had attained to its zenith, there could be no deviations into dilettantish irrelevance.  Its final flowering was what ultimately mattered.  And if it hadn't already reached that stage, then, as Logan now chose to remind them, it must soon be on the point of doing so - an observation which Fleshman's most advanced work could only confirm.

     Indeed, the artist was, of course, immensely gratified to hear this, especially as he had occasionally entertained serious doubts concerning the validity of his own work.  Now, on the contrary, he could tell himself that he was one of the Chosen Few blessed with the responsibility of bringing art if not to its climax then certainly to something near it, and that he, personally, was artistically superior to any of the men of the Italian Renaissance or of the German Baroque or the French Rococo or whatever, being the recipient of a much higher phase of artistic evolution.  With the use of slender neon tubing and brightly coloured lights, he was producing work that Michelangelo couldn't even have dreamed of, so far was it above and beyond the leading imaginations of the Renaissance.  And even the importance subsequently ascribed to light by the leading men of the Baroque, what could they do to compete with him?  By comparison to the maximum brightness he could achieve, their light was indeed dim, scarcely a close approximation to the spirit of God which they vainly strove to represent, compliments of anthropomorphic necessity, through representational means.  Their religious sense, commensurate with the level of evolution manifest in the seventeenth century, was hardly such as to cause any enlightened latter-day artist to envy them.  No matter how earnest their desire to approximate to the essence of God, they could never transcend the anthropomorphic limitations of their time.  By comparison with the finest modern artists, they lived in a kind of purgatorial twilight between the sensuous darkness of the Father and the spiritual light(ness) of the Holy Ghost, an emotional realm of the loving heart to which they were obliged to reconcile themselves as best they could.

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

Sitting at his desk in the editor's office of 'Art and Artist', Edward Hurst stared across at the stooped head of his sub-editor, Stuart Hill, who was at that moment bent over the closely typed pages of Thurber's latest review.  The critic had submitted this review in all good faith, and now that Hurst had read it and noted a more than favourable attitude towards its avant-garde subject-matter, he was having second thoughts about publishing it ... in spite of his promise to Greta Ryan.  Frankly, he hadn't bargained for anything like this, least of all the highly enthusiastic praise of Fleshman's light art!  It seemed to him that he could detect something alien about the writing which betrayed an outside influence, since he had never known Thurber to pen such a review before, and was under some doubt that he had in fact done so.  Hence his need for the support and confirmation of someone else.

     "Well?" he demanded, refocusing his eyes on the sub-editor, who had in the meantime completed his reading of the text.  "What d'you make of it?"

     Hill blinked rapidly and shrugged narrow shoulders.  "I'm not absolutely sure," he confessed, with an appropriately puzzled expression on his middle-aged face.  "It's certainly in Thurber's style but ..." and here he briefly referred his attention back to the typescript and shook his head "... I find it extremely difficult to believe that he would have expressed himself in exactly these terms."

     "Ah, you mean he wouldn't have held so many of the opinions expressed there?" Hurst ejaculated.

     The sub-editor nodded vaguely, then said: "Yes, it's the content that especially puzzles me.  I mean, since when has he ever referred to a bright monochromatic canvas as 'pleasingly transcendental'?  Indeed, have we ever encountered the word 'transcendental' in his reviews before?"

     "Not to my knowledge we haven't," Hurst replied confidently.  "Hitherto, he has certainly not been impressed by monochromatic canvases!  He has said what we expect him to say and damn-well pay him to say."

     "Quite so," Hill confirmed, nodding sharply.  "He has taken a sensibly rational view of them, such as would appeal to the majority of our readers, and thereby regarded the results as either poor art or, more usually, as no art at all!  He has never considered them pleasing, much less 'pleasingly transcendental'."

     "And what do you make of his response to that exhibit comprised of a large globe of white paint surrounded by a narrow band of black paint?" Hurst asked, alluding to one of the Op works.  "I believe it was entitled 'White on Black'."

     "Yes, that really puzzles me," Hill confessed, frowning down at the review in his trembling hands.  "Especially where he contends that it 'encourages the most optimistic and spiritually satisfying reflections'.  One wonders what he can mean."

     "Absolutely!" Hurst agreed with considerable alacrity. "That such a simple and altogether banal composition should encourage anything but the most pessimistic and spiritually barren reflections, I absolutely fail to understand!  God knows, the other Op exhibits are bad enough, what with their stark abstractions, but that surpasses them all!  One would think he had gone mad at the sight of it!  Either that, or become possessed by an alien spirit."

     "And a rather anarchic alien spirit too," Hill opined, reading on.  "For not only does he embrace Op Art with an enthusiasm I wouldn't ordinarily associate with him but, to crown one's bewilderment, he goes on to apply a similar enthusiasm to the Kinetic works on display, deeming their creator a disciple of J-R Soto and a credit to Kinetic ensembles in general.  Frankly, this is hard to believe!"

     "You needn't remind me," said Hurst, who sighed in heartfelt exasperation.  "His attitude to Kinetics was always what we would have expected it to be.... Not that he was given that many opportunities to come into close contact with it.  However, if that's hard to believe, what follows is downright impossible!"

     "You mean his eulogistic attitude towards the neon tubes?" Hill nervously suggested.

     "You bet I do!" Hurst growled, frowning fiercely.  "Since when has he allowed his reason to be eclipsed by neon light?"

     "Since he wrote this would appear to be the most obvious answer," Hill remarked, in a mild attempt at humour.  "And to an extent, moreover, which makes it possible for him to regard an anarchic arrangement or, rather, derangement of variously-coloured neon tubes as 'a rather fine work'.  Really, one ought to feel sorry for the poor jerk!  He even goes so far as to imagine that Moholy-Nagy would have been impressed by it."

     "Who's he?" asked an angry Hurst.

     "One of the originators of light art, I believe,” Hill replied, momentarily looking-up from the typescript on his lap, as though to reassure himself that his senior colleague was still serious.  "But whether or not Moholy-Nagy would have been impressed, it's above all the fact that Thurber was impressed by it which worries me.  It's really out-of-character.  As you say, impossible to believe."

     "Absolutely," Hurst rejoined.  "Never before has he said or written anything eulogistic about lights!  Indeed, I find it difficult to believe he actually wrote all that, even bearing in mind the regrettable fact that some of his previous reviews haven't always done us anything like proper justice."

     "You mean, someone may have suggested it to him?" Hill conjectured doubtfully.

     "That's the most probable explanation," admitted Hurst, who had got up from his leather-backed swivel chair and was slowly pacing backwards and forwards on the narrow space of wooden floor behind it.  He appeared to be deeply absorbed in thought, completely withdrawn from his surroundings.

     "But who?" Hill asked in exasperation.

     "I have my ideas," said Hurst, his expression grave and thoughtful.  "Indeed I have!  But it wouldn't be anyone known to you personally."

     "I see," sighed Hill in evident relief.  "And you think this someone may have gone along to the exhibition with him and influenced his review?" he cautiously suggested.

     Hurst nodded his worried head but didn't speak.  He was privately angry with himself that it hadn't occurred to him to ask Greta whether Thurber was intending to visit the Fairborne Gallery alone or accompanied; though, naturally enough, there wasn't any guarantee that she would have known, not being his wife.  Nevertheless, he could still have inquired into the matter a little more deeply and found out what he could about Thurber's own attitude towards the abstract novelist who had turned up, evidently at the critic's prompting, at his party on Saturday.  For he was pretty sure that Logan was at the root of it all and anxious to make a further nuisance of himself.  But of course, what with his desire to get on the most intimate possible terms with Greta, he hadn't really given the exhibition that much thought, being otherwise preoccupied.  He had simply sought a way of exploiting his grievance over the Logan affair to his own advantage, and as far as that went he'd been eminently successful.  Yet not for a moment had it occurred to him that the novelist might be at work behind his back ... influencing Thurber to write the review in the radical manner presented.  On the contrary, he had automatically dismissed the man together with the party.  And this fact made it easier for him to promise Greta not to take any dismissive action, in a wider sense, against her boyfriend, since the review would be entirely his own responsibility.

      But now that the completed text was before him and, even granted Thurber's usual puritanical preference for the abstract over the representational, quite clearly bore the mark of an alien influence - how could he keep his promise?  How could he possibly allow himself to fall victim to a further humiliation at Logan's hands?  Really, it didn't bear thinking about!  It would be even worse than the subversion of his party.  For not only would his personal reputation as an editor be at stake, but also, and more seriously, the reputation of 'Art and Artist', which had always been careful not to infringe the predominantly conservative taste of its readers by championing anything which they would be unlikely to appreciate and at which, in the circumstances, they could only take umbrage.  As a rule, traditional representational art received a much warmer review than anything overtly modern or abstract - the latter being considered symptomatic of a civilized decline in the direction of heathen barbarism.  And, in the main, Thurber adhered to the general policy of the magazine, though not as wholeheartedly or consistently as would have been preferred, particularly since the emergence, within the past few months, of a growing bias towards abstraction.

     Yes, it was precisely on account of this comparatively recent change of emphasis on Thurber's part that Hurst had sought a pretext for dropping him, and the affair of the party had provided him with precisely the excuse he required.  The altogether different and more congenial affair with Greta, on the other hand, had brought about what seemed to be a change-of-heart - at least temporarily.  But now that he was in possession of easily the most objectionable review the young art critic had ever submitted, he was becoming acutely conscious of just how temporary that change-of-heart had been!  Somehow he couldn't force himself to accept the review and yet, at the same time, he felt under moral obligation to do so, if for no other reason than he feared the consequences of what might happen if Thurber got to hear about what had happened between Greta and himself, as would surely transpire in the event of the review being rejected.  It was a rather tricky situation.

     However, it was the sub-editor who broke the psychological deadlock - at least in Hurst's mind - by saying: "Well, it looks as though we shall just have to reject this review, if that's the case, and select something more suited to the democratic requirements of our public.  We can't very well publish material which not only puts the Fleshman exhibition in a light we wouldn't wish, as decent Christians, it to be seen in, but also bears the stamp of an outside influence, can we?  That would be quite unfair on both us and Martin Thurber, after all."

     "I suppose so," Hurst conceded offhandedly, turning back towards his desk and once more taking his seat there.  "But ..." he was on the point of adding it wasn't quite as simple as that, when he checked himself and sighingly relapsed into a brooding silence instead.  He almost regretted having shown the review to Hill in the first place and thereby committed himself to his verdict.  For now that the sub-editor had passed negative judgement on it, there was virtually no possibility of its being accepted.  He couldn't very well pretend that Hill's opinion was of little account, particularly as he had often sought his advice or confirmation in the past.  No, he would just have to take the most obvious course.... Which, alas, meant that he could no longer keep his promise to Greta Ryan, and what that would lead to he scarcely dared imagine!  In this tussle between his private and public selves, the latter was being called upon to exert itself and take the appropriate editorial measures, but the former was restraining it.  He could hardly bear the tension.

     "Yes?" Hill pressed, anxiously peering into his senior colleague's worry-strained face.

     "Oh, nothing," Hurst responded, patently embarrassed.  "I was just thinking how hard it will be on Thurber, after all the work he has obviously put into this review."  It sounded ridiculously false and sentimental, but he couldn't bring himself to say what was really on his mind - not, at any rate, to Hill, who would almost certainly have despised him for it.

     "Perhaps it will be a little hard on Thurber," conceded the sub-editor, who was slightly surprised by Hurst's apparent concern for him.  "But if we publish his review, it will be even harder on us.  A lot of people will be so perplexed or offended by it that they'll simply stop subscribing.  Needless to say, you know how prejudiced most of our regular readers are against the type of art which Fleshman generally purveys."

     Hurst wearily nodded his editorial confirmation.  "Yes, well, that settles it then," he concluded, with an air of resignation.  "I'll get on to him about it as soon as possible.  I've had it in mind to dispense with his damn reviews for some time, actually.  But now that we're left with no real alternative, I'll actually do so."

     "And score one off against that jerk Fleshman in the process," Hill declared.  "For I'm convinced that nothing would give him greater satisfaction than to receive a favourable review in our periodical."

     "Damn fool!" Hurst exclaimed, screwing-up his face in disdainful dismissal of the man.  "I had never thought particularly highly of his art anyway, but now that I'm confronted by this ..." he pointed to the typescript in Hill's hands "... well, one can only conclude that he has gone from bad to worse!  One can consider oneself fortunate that one didn't have to visit the Fairborne Gallery in Thurber's stead!  The sight of all those coloured lights would have made me vomit.  If they dazzled Thurber, they would almost certainly have sickened me.  Especially the last and biggest exhibit on display, which he or, rather, his acting mentor apparently regards as 'the most transcendental' of them all, if I remember correctly."

     "Oh, you mean the 'Neon Vortices'?" Hill observed, immediately turning the page to the exhibit in question.

     "Yes, that's the one," said Hurst.  "Composed of variously-coloured slender neon tubing.  The mind fairly boggles at the thought of it!"

     "Doesn't it just?" the sub-editor concurred, smiling wryly.  "Though it boggles even more at the fact that our reviewer regards this work as the fruit of a long tradition of neon projects that should extend into the future on a still brighter and more transcendental basis.  One wonders what-the-hell he can mean?"

     Hurst coughed contemptuously and fidgeted nervously in his chair, causing an involuntary swivel, which only served to underline the general uncertainty.  "Well, whatever he damn-well means, it won't extend into the future in our publication," he solemnly averred.  "We shall continue to maintain a twilight bias against the light."

     "Naturally," Hill confirmed.  "And, in that respect, Philpott's art would generally appear to be closer to our mundane requirements than this other business.  Unfortunately, his representational canvases don't appear to have received the warmest of critical appraisals from our official reviewer, do they?  Which is a great pity since, from what I already know of the man, he seems to be a highly talented artist - indeed, one of the most accomplished figurative artists currently at work."

     "Quite, and one who knows how to draw a line, so to speak, between sanity and madness, genuine art and sham art," Hurst averred with enthusiasm.

     Hill nodded his professional agreement and thereupon returned the review to the editor's desk.  "Oh well, since we're not going to publish this we needn't fear that Philpott will be offended by what's written in it," he said.  Maybe we can arrange to give him a better deal, critically speaking, in future - assuming he continues to exhibit quality work?"

     "Yes, I can't see why not," Hurst agreed, smiling.  "After all, there's no reason why we shouldn't, is there?"

     "None whatsoever."  Hill had got up from his chair and was striding towards the door.  "I'll leave you to take care of Thurber," he said, turning round when he reached it.

     "Thanks," Hurst rejoined on an ironic note.  And, once his colleague had disappeared from view, he emitted a heartfelt sigh of relief!

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

Light, just light and peace.  Let the true and deeper self reveal itself!  Let there be an end to distracting thoughts!  Just light and peace.  Yes, and then perhaps one would be closer to pure spirituality.  Then, sooner or later, one would experience revealed truth - the light of Infused Contemplation.  At present, however, nothing that could be described as union with ultimate divinity.  At present, just this fringe higher consciousness of waiting upon truth, waiting upon bliss.  Such a long way to go, but not to despair!  Never lose hope that eventually the day of deliverance will come and only pure spirituality reign supreme.  Not personally, however, not for you - the latter-day aspirant.  No, at best a few seconds or perhaps even a minute or two of ultimate truth, such as one could be expected to bear.  Something equivalent to or maybe even greater than what the foremost saints experienced in the past.  Yes, in this day and age hopefully something greater than that.  A clear intimation of what it would be like to live only in the superconscious mind, freed altogether from subconscious constraints.  Freed, in other words, from the daily round of egocentric influences and dualistic consciousness.

     Dualistic?  No, not quite!  A different consciousness, certainly, from that experienced by medieval man.  Less under subconscious dominion and therefore correspondingly less egocentric.  Different, too, from the consciousness experienced by pagan man, with his penchant for the 'dark gods of the loins' and horrible blood sacrifices.  Much less under subconscious dominion than him!  No longer in fear of a vengeful deity, thank goodness!  No longer beastly and a nature-worshipper, with a guilty conscience for essentially being in rebellion against the sensual, and thus somehow different from the beasts.  No, and still less under subconscious dominion than the caveman, that creature who was almost a beast and dwelt among beasts as among equals in the struggle for survival.  No, most definitely a different kind of consciousness than would have been acknowledged by one's distant ancestors!  Rather, a post-egocentric consciousness, incipiently transcendental, growing all the time more biased towards the superconscious and thus less under the sway of its dark antithesis.  Surely approaching a time when even to own a dog would be to render oneself too exposed to commerce with beasts, and dogs are accordingly banished from society as no longer acceptable or relevant?  Phased-out, in conjunction with other unnecessary animals, because we can no longer tolerate their beastliness and desire only to be surrounded by that which reflects our superconscious idealism?

     Yes, so not a dualistic consciousness now but, still, a consciousness which can only expect a relatively brief intimation of what it would mean to be entirely beyond the subconscious.  Yet, even so, a consciousness that is certainly better and higher than any consciousness which has preceded it in the long history of our race, and one, moreover, that will continue to improve, to grow ever more enamoured of the inner light, ever more attuned to the artificial, the development towards greater environmental perfection of the city and its salutary spiritualizing influence.  But little by little, generation following generation, refinement superseding refinement, dedication eclipsing dedication, towards ever higher peaks of spiritual attainment.  Until at length, after decades or even centuries of spiritual progress, our descendants attain to the culmination of human evolution and become completely godlike, the worthy recipients of superconscious bliss, a life form at the furthest possible remove from the beasts - the ultimate life form ... eternal and complete, the consummation of Christian prophecy in the heavenly side of the Last Judgement!  But, in the meantime, now as before, a series of temporal judgements, the dividing of the wheat from the chaff and the subsequent damnation of the latter.  In the meantime, evolution continues its journey, whatever one's beliefs or status, towards its ultimate goal.  It can do nothing else.

     So light and peace for those who want it, those who wish to draw nearer to ultimate divinity.  Nearer certainly, though not, except possibly at rare occasions and in minute doses, right into the divine presence.  Not yet, at any rate!  Only by degrees, a little at a time.  God as pure spirituality, inner light, ultimate truth, superconscious bliss, known and knower at once.  A condition that is always potentially with one and yet diluted, impeded by the subconscious from showing itself in all its glory - except, that is, on rare occasions and for brief periods of time for those who seek it.  But a condition that is destined to shine through to a much greater extent in the future, to extend its influence over all its devotees until such time as nothing but the inner light exists and they become One with it.  Man evolving towards God, away from the Devil.  Towards ultimate positivity, away from primal negativity.  Man in his prime as man - in balance between evil and good.  Man past his prime as man - predominantly good.  Man become godlike - entirely good.  Perfect!  At present, less imperfect than formerly, becoming purer, less diluted by the sensual.  Gaining a slow but sure spiritual victory over the Devil, which is impure darkness.  Climbing ever closer towards the heavenly light.

     So let there be light and peace!  Let the truth have a chance to reveal itself if I am worthy of it!  If not, then I mustn't lose heart but should continue to offer myself in waiting, continue to make myself available, so that the highest in me comes shining through in self-revelation.  Yet if, after years of perseverance in such waiting, the highest in me is still unable to fully reveal itself, then I must resign myself to my impure condition and accept its diluted state as just.  I must not doubt the existence of the ultimate 'promised land' of the spirit because of this, but should take fresh confidence in the hope that those who come after me will be in a better psychic position to glimpse it, and perhaps dally in it for awhile.  So I'll rest content to be merely a humble link in the chain of the generations stretching from alpha to omega, Hell to Heaven.  I shall accept my fate as just.  For the great majority of men are inevitably doomed, not so much to Hell, these days, as to simple human death.  I shall understand the logic of my position in relation to the subconscious, which presumably still has more influence over me than is commensurate with the full revelation of undiluted truth.  Tomorrow's generations will be superior to today's.  Therein lies our hope for the future.

     But now I have thought and reasoned too much!  I have quite forgotten the duty I had set myself in preparing my mind for the divine presence.  I must refrain from thinking and so grant the higher level of superconsciousness an opportunity to become manifest.  Thought pertains to the lower level, and therein lies its limitations.  It isn't pure, even when at its best.  So let there be light and peace ...

     At that moment, the sharp ringing of the doorbell to his flat interrupted these psychic ruminations and put an abrupt halt to his good intentions.  It quite startled him, making him forsake whatever equanimity he was in the process of achieving.  Who-on-earth could that be, he wondered?  He hadn't been expecting anyone to call that evening.  It was more than a little inconvenient!  And so he waited, listening a few seconds, hoping that the bell wouldn't be rung again.  But such wasn't to be the case.  For a second and more insistent ringing duly followed in the first one's wake, obliging him to clamber to his feet.  He didn't have the nerve to ignore it - not, at any rate, when he had worked himself up into an honourable frame-of-mind with the intention of meditating.  Yet it was inconvenient to him, all the same, and he couldn't help cursing his luck, as he staggered out of the brightly lit all-white room and into the comparative shadow of the dimly lit hall.

     "Just a minute!" he shouted, while he fumbled his way along the narrow passageway that led to the front door.  He was quite dazed by the sudden change of light and the accompanying exertion of bodily movement, the sudden surge of blood from compressed channels, hardly recognizing his face in the hall mirror.  But he seemed presentable enough, even given the fact that he was still attired in his all-white meditating clothes - teeshirt, flannels, socks, sneakers - and looked somewhat like a ghost.  Too bad if the caller didn't like his appearance!

     Again the doorbell sounded in his ears, but this time he was ready for it and immediately pounced on the door, as though to silence it.  His recognition of the caller wasn't so immediate however, partly because of his dazed state-of-mind and partly, too, because he had only seen her twice before.  But when it did come she elicited from him an exclamation of surprise and delight, which considerably enriched the simple utterance of her name.  He could scarcely believe his eyes.

     "Hi, Keith," said Greta with, despite evident relief at seeing him, a worried look on her face.  "I'm sorry to bother you this evening, but do you mind if I come in and talk to you?"

     "No, not at all," he assured her, standing to one side so that she could enter the passageway.  A whiff of sweet perfume lodged in his nostrils as she drew up alongside him, causing him to smile with secret pleasure.  It was the same perfume, he recalled, that she had worn at Fleshman's gathering the other night.  But he couldn't very well permit himself to dwell on that subject when he didn't know the exact reason for her visit.  Perhaps, after all, something was seriously amiss?  She didn't look particularly happy anyway.  He closed the door and motioned her to follow him back along the passageway into his living room at the far end.  It was a cosy little room but, at the moment, rather chilly.  So, after an apology about that, he set about switching on the fan heater there.  "Please excuse my appearance," he added, as she took a chair in front of him.

     "I hadn't noticed anything wrong with it," she responded, giving him a cursory inspection.

     "Oh well, it's just that I was in the process of meditating when you arrived, and didn't have time to change my clothes.  I don't usually receive visitors garbed like this, you see."

     Greta blushed faintly and lowered her eyes in shame.  "Please forgive me for disturbing you," she begged him.

     "No trouble," Logan smilingly assured her.  "I'd rather be disturbed by someone like you than by most other people."  Especially, he might have added, when you smell so sweet and look so pretty, dressed in that sexy pink miniskirt which hugs your curvaceous waist and ample black-stockinged thighs.  But he was content merely to note the deepening of her blush as she responded to his assurances.  "So how did you get my address?" he asked.

     "Through Martin," she candidly replied.  "He gave it to me yesterday."

     "Really?  And is that why you want to talk to me - about Thurber?"

     "Yes, absolutely!  You see ..." She didn't quite know where to begin, especially since Logan was a comparative stranger to her.

     "Can I get you a coffee or something?" he offered.

     "Yes, thanks."  She looked somewhat relieved at the prospect of a hot drink, which Logan duly disappeared into the kitchen to make.  Soon, however, he was back in front of her again, bearing a steaming mug of coffee for himself as well.

     "Now then, take your time with what you have to tell me," he advised her, noting that in the meantime Greta had taken off her short leather jacket and lain it by the side of the chair.

     "Well, to put it as briefly as possible, Martin has lost his job as a regular contributor to 'Art and Artist', having also had his latest review rejected by Mr Hurst," she ventured.

     Logan raised his eyebrows in genuine surprise.  "You mean, the review of Paul Fleshman's exhibition?" he remarked.

     "Yes, precisely!  The editor phoned him yesterday morning to say that his article was unsuitable and would be returned in due course."

     "But why?"

     "Apparently because it reflects too many attitudes incompatible with the publication's requirements," Greta revealed.  "In short, because it bears the stamp of your influence."

     "My influence?" Logan echoed, feeling distinctly puzzled.  How could that possibly be?  But no sooner had he raised the question with himself than an answer to it came surging into his mind in the form of a recollection that Thurber had made copious use of a notebook during the course of their viewing.  He must have filled it with borrowed ideas and opinions which he subsequently transcribed to the review-proper!  Thus a number of one's own impressions would be expressed there!  "Oh dear," the novelist murmured.  "I hadn't expected him to plagiarize me."

     "No, well that's what he evidently did, and under the misguided assumption, moreover, that he would be producing a better and more objective review in consequence," Greta averred.  "You see, he'd been worried since the night of Mr Hurst's party that the editor would drop him from the magazine in consequence of ... well, forgive me for saying so but ... the displeasure your conversation engendered in our host during the course of the evening."

     "My conversation?"

     "You must be aware, surely, that Mr Hurst was none too sympathetic towards your religious views."

     "Yes, but I don't see how that could have any bearing on Thurber's review."

     "Unfortunately it does, though for reasons that you probably wouldn't understand."  She swallowed a mouthful of coffee and then stared angrily at the carpet in front of her.  "But don't think I'm blaming you for what has happened between Martin and the magazine," she went on.  "It's against Edward Hurst that I bear a grudge ... for breaking his promise!"

     "I'm afraid I don't quite follow you," Logan not-unreasonably confessed.

     Greta was on the verge of tears, and the hand holding the coffee was trembling slightly.  She didn't really want to tell Logan what had happened between herself and Hurst on Tuesday afternoon but, confronted by his perplexity, it seemed that there was little alternative.  So she proceeded, in a rather strained tone-of-voice, to relate how she had bumped into Mr Hurst quite by chance in the West End and agreed to his accompanying her home.  How, when they were together in her sitting room, he had revealed his intention of dispensing with Thurber's professional services to the magazine.  And how, when it became apparent that he meant what he said, she had permitted him to have sex with her on the understanding that he wouldn't take any action against Martin after all but, on the contrary, would continue to publish his reviews as before, including, most especially, his latest one.

     "And he promised to keep his word?" responded Logan, who was visibly shocked by her revelation, as well as slightly embarrassed in the proximity of so beautiful a woman.

     "Yes, absolutely!" Greta confirmed.  "I was solemnly assured as much."

     "The dirty double-crossing bastard!" Logan exclaimed.

     At this point Greta could contain her thwarted emotions no longer but burst into an avalanche of tears, a victim of outraged innocence.  She put the coffee to one side and hid her face in her hands.

     Logan felt genuinely moved to compassion for her and hastened to offer what consolation he could, going up to her and putting an arm round her shoulders.  "There, there, don't cry!" he soothed her.  "You mustn't upset yourself like this."

     "I'm dreadfully sorry," Greta stammered through tear-drenched lips.  "Please forgive me.  I'm really behaving quite stupidly."

     "Here, take this to dry your eyes with!" he advised her, extracting a clean paper tissue from his front pocket.  He so hated to see people upset, and, as she made an effort to dry her eyes, he clasped her more tightly against himself and began, almost unconsciously, to stroke her hair, at first very tentatively and then, as she calmed down a little, with greater firmness.  "There, there!" he soothed her anew, as he drew her head against his chest and, again almost unconsciously, planted a gentle kiss on it, continuing all the while to stroke her hair.  Inevitably, the scent of her perfume once more entered his nostrils and, in spite of himself, engendered a subtle pleasure, made him conscious not so much of a suffering person in his arms as of a highly attractive woman - a woman whose slender nape was now exposed to his tender gaze, and whose shoulder blades and arms excited a degree of lust it would have been difficult if not impossible to ignore.  In a split second his mind changed track, becoming conscious of a sexuality and desire which prolonged celibacy could only intensify, and although he feebly struggled against the temptation to exploit her weakness, the lure of her flesh was too strong to resist and he found himself growing aroused by it and becoming strangely indifferent to any finer feelings.  Already the hand that had initially clasped her to himself was gently but steadily working its way up and down her back, and also roaming farther afield over the no-less attractive terrain lower down.  It was even working its way under her vest to the bare skin beneath, and as it did so his lips desired not the crown of her head so much as the response of her lips - indeed, forced such a response upon her as, in mute resignation, she turned her face up towards him and closed her eyes, closed them upon past pain while simultaneously opening her lips to present pleasure.  Yes, now indeed would come her true consolation, now he could really give it to her!

     She lay on the carpet, her miniskirt up round her hips, her head turned away from him, while he sat beside her and gazed down over the expanse of her shapely body.  Was there a blemish on it?  He didn't think so, at least not from what he could see of it at that moment.  He liked the way she was built, liked it all over.  Felt that she was just his kind of woman, even down to the shape of her sex, which was one of those open or, as he liked to think of them, diamond-shaped vaginas which he preferred to the closed, or tight, variety.  There could be no denying her physical attractiveness, for it had certainly got the better of him or, to put the matter in a slightly more romantic light, induced him to appreciate it to the hilt.  And now that he had appreciated it as much as his nature seemed to require, he felt relatively satisfied and purged, so to speak, of sensual desire.  But not altogether happy since, deep down, he was rather ashamed of himself for having exploited her distress to his own sexual advantage, even though she had been the more sexually active of the two as, standing front to back, he had inserted himself into her and got her to ease herself up-and-down on him both in response to the fact of how she was dressed and to his transcendental lifestyle which, just prior to Greta's appearance, had taken a radically contemplative turn.

     "Are you angry with me?" he nervously asked, his voice pregnant with anticipated remorse.

     She turned her face towards him and looked searchingly into his dark-blue eyes.  "Of course not!" she replied.  "Why should I be?"

     "Well, I was just thinking of Thurber.  I mean, he wouldn't be very pleased to learn that you ..."

     "Oh, don't be such a prig!  You needn't worry about Martin.  It's what you feel that interests me.  For instance, whether you really like me."

     "Naturally.  I like you very much."

     "Sincerely?"

     "Of course."

     She smiled her relief and extended a friendly hand to his back, which she then proceeded to stroke.  "And I like you very much, too!" she averred.  "In fact, I might even be in love with you."

     "What, already?"

     "Why not?"

     He swallowed hard and turned away from her gaze.  It came as a sort of embarrassing shock to him, this admission on her part.  She was bluffing, surely?  "But didn't you come here solely on Thurber's behalf?" he stated.

     "Yes, I believe so," she admitted, though, in truth, she didn't want to be reminded of the fact.  "I came to blubber on your shoulder and seek advice."

     "Which is something, alas, that I haven't given you!" he confessed, blushing slightly.  "But, really, what a double-crossing bastard Hurst is, to promise you not to drop Thurber and then, after he'd got what he wanted, to go back on his word!  Really, it makes my blood boil, to think how deceitful such people can be!  I can quite understand how you felt.  Though I suppose he might have kept his word, had Martin's review not borne so much of my influence."

     "He might," Greta reluctantly conceded.  "But, even so, I shouldn't have been obliged to prostitute myself just to get his co-operation."

     "Indeed not!" Logan concurred in a tone of righteous indignation, which partly resulted from sympathy towards Greta and partly from disgust that Mr Hurst had actually got his hands on her and more than his hands inside her - no doubt, in a barbarously callous manner.  "But we shouldn't allow him to get off scot-free from what he's done," he added.

     "So what can we do?" Greta murmured, evidently perplexed.

     "You haven't told Thurber about it?"

     "I could hardly do that!"

     "No, I suppose it would be rather hard on him," Logan admitted, adrift on an abyss of understatement.  He pondered in silence a moment, wondering how best they could get around the problem, and then suggested the possibility of informing Mr Hurst's wife of his behaviour.  After all, she would probably be interested to learn what her husband had been up to on Tuesday.

     "Perhaps," Greta rejoined, following a short but anguished pause.  "Though I rather suspect that he would deny it or claim I was exaggerating."

     "But surely she would be suspicious of him?"

     "Possibly.  Yet, there again, we can't be certain that he hasn't been unfaithful to her before, nor that she would necessarily be surprised or offended by the fact.  Besides, I shouldn't wish to be the person to confess to having had sex with her husband.  If she did get angry, she'd more than likely take it out on me, not him!  And if I don't confess to it, who else can?  Not you, for one.  And not Martin Thurber either, for the simple reason that I can't bring myself to tell him.  So either way we're stumped."

     "What a pity!" Logan declared lamely, casting her a sympathetic glance.  "Not that it's the end of the world.  I mean he only had sex with you, after all."

     Greta reluctantly nodded in the teeth of her compunction.  For her self-esteem was still smarting from the way Hurst had actually had sex with her, and it now struck her, in the light of what had happened this evening, that, sexually considered, Hurst and Logan were as far apart as they were politically and even socially.  "Yes, I suppose he can't exactly be accused of a crime there," she said, a shade reluctantly, "even though the age is more partial, in its rampant secularity, to transmuting sins into crimes.  But it's poor Martin that I'm essentially worried about.  For now that he's without a magazine to contribute anything to ..."

     "What about the one you contribute articles to?" Logan suggested.

     "You mean 'The Arts'?"

     "Yes, doesn't it publish art reviews too?"  

     "It does.  But it's run by Colin Patmore, and he's a friend of Mr Hurst's.  More than a friend actually - in fact, his brother-in-law."

     "Oh really?"  Logan was visibly surprised, never having considered the possibility.  "Yet if he publishes you, what's to prevent him from publishing Thurber as well?  Surely you can put in a good word on his behalf, or even threaten to withdraw your own contributions if he refuses.  Indeed, you could even go as far as to threaten to tell his sister what Mr Hurst did to you, if he doesn't comply with your request.  After all, he should know more about her than we do, and if he thinks she'll be offended by it ... well then, he's sure to accept Thurber's review."

     "You really think so?"

     "Yes."

     The young woman raised herself from the carpet and sat beside Logan, directly in front of his fan heater.  Instinctively, he put his arm round her waist and drew her closer for a reassuring kiss.

     "Well?" he pressed her.

     "Oh, I don't know, it all sounds too simple," she rejoined on a sceptical note.  "He might just as easily phone Mr Hurst in order to find out whether I was bluffing him."

     "Would that make any difference?"

     "It might do."

     "Not if he was fonder of his sister, surely?" Logan insisted.  "He might be genuinely angry with Hurst, upset that his brother-in-law had betrayed her and thus dishonoured her behind her back.  You can't be sure."

     "Yes, but, really, in this day and age people are being unfaithful to one another all the fucking time!" Greta angrily asseverated.

     "Are they?"  There then followed an uncomfortable silence, during which Logan had an opportunity to reflect on his own behaviour that evening - non-adulterous though it was - and to some extent swallow his words.  He felt momentarily ashamed of himself again and anxious to change the subject.  "Well, whatever the outcome, you can but try, and see what happens," he advised her.  "If Patmore publishes your stories and you generally get on with him, there's always a chance that he'll accept.  After all, he may not be as friendly towards Hurst as you think."

     Greta had to admit that that was a possibility, albeit not a particularly reassuring one.  Still, there could be no harm in giving Patmore a try, since he had never shown any hostility towards her in the past.  Nor, for that matter, towards Thurber, whom he had spoken to at Hurst's party.  Then, too, he had spoken to Keith Logan, hadn't he?

     "Yes or, rather, listened to what I had to say about literature and modern art," the avant-garde novelist confirmed.

     "And what kind of impression did you form of him?" Greta wanted to know.

     "He seemed more tolerant and intelligent, on the whole, than Mr Hurst, as well as more sympathetic towards what I write," Logan answered, after a moment's reflection.  "Even said he'd like to see an example of my work sometime."

     Greta looked agreeably surprised.  "And so would I," she declared.  "I still can't believe it's for real."

     Logan blushed faintly and offered her a conciliatory smile, saying: "If you're really interested in seeing it, there's a copy of my latest novel over there."  He pointed in the direction of a small glass table a few yards to their right, on which a couple of music magazines and an average-sized paperback with a purple cover could be seen.

     "May I?"

     "Sure."

     She got to her feet, smoothed her tight miniskirt back into place, and walked briskly across to the table, picked up the paperback without looking at its title, and just as briskly returned to her place beside him.  She was smiling continually, for she still couldn't take the idea of a completely senseless literature seriously.  "Is that the title?" she asked, referring his attention to the large gold lettering on the cover.

     "Yes," he admitted, nodding.  "Would you like me to read some of the first chapter for you, or are you going to brave it out yourself?"

     "I think I'll have a go at it," she decided, and, turning to page one of 'Endings', began, in as steady and serious a tone-of-voice as she could muster, to read: "'Saturday the thanking green has over, papers big a run, incident boy never gong.  Thoughtful, poseur greetings the think abstraction, nothing sake badgers, boats, verbs, yes goodbye were quickly, left forces night on large.  He, the your of red, so show too most, gaseous they Wednesday.  Nothing went passing.  Why on thanks, could mine ran, high, blue caught off head, nightly grow bed then single through an.  No, I yesterday gash bog out whose fainting, though said why a nervous sad, but car over nod.  Grace mode privately up church.  Took and bright, regrettably leg cosy where do, hit a blue, sanction bag to sat.  Never paint got hopefully mouse.  He's, might order off light, bat fifty, toes tall nowhere more and.  To anus bad pinkly dust, was because, in doctor neither nearest calling inasmuch ring.  Doubtless, themselves has why I movement caught it so larger.  Is grew that blossoming fresh, the Margaret hope fretfully bellows of stout, so but.  Everywhere out priest, forty countenance sparking too crowd, aghast left my lofty, gasp, presumably pen colouring could ...'  Why, it doesn't even begin to make sense!" she exclaimed, shaking her head in patent disbelief, as she abandoned the text before she had even reached the end of the first paragraph.  "And you write like this throughout the book?"

     "That's right," Logan replied rather matter-of-factly.  "Though not always with quite the same technique or intention in mind.  Sometimes I dispense with punctuation altogether, sometimes I include foreign words and phrases, sometimes I concentrate more on verbs than on nouns or vice versa.  Sometimes I avoid conjunctions or prepositions, sometimes I mix tenses, sometimes I run strings of adjectives and adverbs together, and so on, through a wide range of alternative techniques.  It's really quite a mind-boggling experience at times."

     "As I can well imagine!" cried Greta, scarcely bothering to disguise her bewilderment.  "I haven't read anything even remotely resembling it before."

     "Neither have most people," Logan declared.  "But, then, most people don't listen to atonal music or spend time viewing non-representational paintings.  So why should they bother to read non-grammatical literature?  They probably haven't evolved to that level."

     Greta raised archly incredulous eyebrows.  "Don't you really mean devolved?" she objected.

     "'Evolved' is what I said and 'evolved' is what I meant," he smilingly assured her.  "At present they're still tied to more traditional, and hence narrative, forms of literary communication, which is doubtless as it should be.  But a time must surely come when man will be above language and given, instead, to pure knowledge, pure contemplation of the Infinite, in accordance with his desire for ultimate salvation in a spirituality transcending the word, not to mention the world."

     "As you told me at Mr Hurst's place," Greta reminded him, showing signs of impatience with what struck her, in spite of her liking for him, as a crackpot notion.

     "Yes, so I did," he confirmed.  "And so man won't want to distract himself from his ultimate destiny by getting caught-up or bogged-down in verbal concepts.  He'll know that speech and words in general are ultimately irrelevant to his spiritual salvation - indeed, could be a grave obstacle to it if indulged in as formerly.  So he'll gradually free himself from their influence over him, one of the ways of doing so being to read words deprived of their customary status as meaningful components of syntactic sentences and reduced, instead, to their bare bones, as it were, in a largely if not totally abstract arrangement.  He will become conscious of words as words rather than as meanings, or concepts denoting subject/object relationships, and gradually be weaned of his dependence on them as vehicles for representational communication.  One might say that this mode of writing will act as a kind of transition between traditional communicative language and the pure contemplation which stands above it.  Simply a means of breaking down our traditional dependence on concepts.  However, the widespread reading of such works won't come about for some time yet - of that you can rest assured!"

     A broad smile of ironic relief erupted across Greta's face in spite of her endeavour to take what he was saying seriously.  "As I think you said at Mr Hurst's party," she reminded him.  "Such abstract works could only appeal, at present, to a tiny minority of, what, advanced intellectuals?"

     "Advanced by comparison with the broad reading public, though not particularly advanced by any ultimate standards," Logan averred.  "For a day must surely come when the great majority of intelligent people will be able to relate to and appreciate what, these days, is the province of a comparative few.  Believe me, it will come, even if it takes decades yet, and such works as I and my avant-garde colleagues currently produce are consigned to oblivion in the meantime.  For, in the future, the most advanced contemporary Western art will be re-evaluated and made available to the public, as a new phase of liberated art is initiated and furthered, until such time as we abandon art altogether and exclusively dedicate ourselves to the attainment of a post-human millennium - the attainment of spiritual perfection, and thus to the divine end of our humanity.  For man can never be perfect.  Only that which is destined to arise from him will be completely spiritual.  Call it superman or godlike being or ultimate divinity.  A total absorption in and contemplation of the superconscious is the condition of perfection - the complete opposite of life forms dominated by the subconscious, like animals and plants tend to be.  But, in the meantime, a great deal of work to be done in the world, so much to improve the living-standards of the vast majority of people, both physically and spiritually.  The future consummation of human evolution isn't a matter simply for the Few but the Many, else evolution is a sham and a futility.  We must converge en masse towards the post-human millennium - that epoch of superconscious bliss in pure transcendentalism.  And, believe me, there's no credible alternative!"

     Greta Ryan smiled her dubious appreciation of Logan's comments and gently shook her head in wonderment.  Whatever one thought of his writings or of his transcendental lifestyle, there was a certain consistency about him which it was impossible not to admire!  And tonight, despite the immense gulf of dissimilar conditioning which existed between them, she had effectively become one of his admirers.  He had saved her from her shame and enabled her to look at herself from a different viewpoint; one that neither Thurber nor Hurst would have encouraged her to do.  And that was something for which to be sincerely grateful at a time such as this!

 

 

CHAPTER NINE

 

Martin Thurber drew himself up closer to Greta on the settee and placed a tender kiss on her brow, then one on her nearest cheek, then another, and, finally, a longer and more daring one on her lips.

     "Careful, you'll ruin my appearance!" she lightly chided him, making to turn her face away from his kissings and gently repulse his advancing fingers.

     "And what kind of an appearance is that?" he teased, smiling ironically.

     "You know perfectly well!" she exclaimed, a look of mild reproof in her large cat-like eyes.

     He smiled complacently and cast a critical squint over the appearance in question - her delicately powdered face, with but a hint of faint eye shadow and pale lipstick.  Her tied-up mass of fine brown hair.  Her dark-green earrings and, of course, her white blouse and closely pleated grey skirt, with appropriately dark-blue stockings and black shoes to complete the external impression of ladylike primness.  Underneath her skirt - ah, that he couldn't be sure of, since the effort he made to find out had been firmly repulsed, albeit in good humour and with a view to protecting, at all costs, the prosaic facade.  Doubtless she wanted to whet his curiosity and keep him in suspense for the rest of the evening or, at any rate, until such time as their guests had departed and he was accordingly free to explore her baser self, to bring out the beast in her, in deference to his customary animal wants.  Well, if that was the case, he would just have to be patient and await the hour when everything would be revealed.  In all probability, her stuffy grey skirt cloaked a red cotton G-string or a pair of sexy pink nylon panties or even, as on occasion, a pair of silk French knickers.  He knew more or less what to expect by now, despite her unquestionable resourcefulness.  It was an old game anyway - in fact, so old that it hardly held any charm for him anymore.  Maybe one of these days he would grow completely blasé and get her to reverse roles or just tell her to damn-well please herself and wear what she fucking-well liked - assuming she would still be capable of independent judgement!  Yet, in all likelihood, things would continue to drag on as they had done during the better part of these past 8-9 months.  She would remain the public lady as well as the private whore.

     "Well, I guess I'm just bubbling over with gratitude and admiration this evening," he at length confessed, still smiling, "and can't do enough to let you know.  To think Colin Patmore should have been only too pleased to grant you your request and publish my review in his magazine - really, I can hardly believe my luck!  Were it not for the fact that the latest edition of 'The Arts' is right there on the table with my review in it, I'm sure I'd still think you were bluffing.  Despite what you told me last week, I just couldn't bring myself to actually believe it until the new edition came out and I received concrete confirmation of the fact.  On the contrary, I was under the impression that Patmore would be the last person to publish me in Hurst's stead.  After all, they aren't exactly strangers to each other, are they?"

     "True, but I don't think we have any reason to believe that they're the best of friends either," Greta remarked.  "Colin Patmore has a mind of his own and isn't his brother-in-law's arsewiper.  When I mentioned your review to him, he simply said he'd be interested to read it.  But I got the impression that he would almost certainly oblige, even before he formally agreed to it.  I think he's secretly jealous of Hurst's success and accordingly anxious to assert himself in opposition to him as much as possible.  Probably he had already learnt that Hurst was intending to dispense with your services and was consequently determined to capitalize on you in his stead.  After all, you're a good critic and, being a younger and more ambitious man, Patmore must have realized that fact more profoundly than Hurst."  (Indeed, she might have gone on to tell Thurber exactly what Mr Hurst did think of him.  But, of course, the subject of the editor's visit to her flat, a couple of weeks ago, was not one upon which she had any desire to expatiate.  And so she tactfully refrained from giving her active boyfriend any grounds for suspicion or discontent on that score!)

     "Yes, I suppose so," Thurber agreed, nodding deferentially.  "Though he has never said anything about it to me in the past.  On the relatively few occasions when we happened to meet, we've always contrived to speak about other things than either my art criticism or his publishing - which, between ourselves, is probably just as well!  But, still, there may be something in what you say.  Personally, I've never had cause to doubt his intelligence and, so far as art in general is concerned, he's certainly well-informed.  Knows as much about its history as anyone I know, and more, I should think, than ever Hurst does.... Not that he's without scholarship.  But, unlike Patmore's, his variety seems to hold him back and make him less tolerant, if not downright intolerant, of the modern.  It has led to his becoming a full-fledged reactionary, made him ultraconservative, and that can only lead to his professional undoing.  For you can't carry-on swimming against the tide and hope to survive for long.  Sooner or later Hurst will either have to change his editorial policy, and thereupon adopt a more liberal attitude towards contemporary art, or face the consequences of his radical conservatism and go under, like an overweight and unwieldy dinosaur.  There would seem to be no other possibility."

     "I quite agree," said Greta.  "And we can guess what is most likely to happen, can't we?"

     "Yes, which will serve him bloody-well right!" Thurber asseverated.  "And I would be the last person to feel any sympathy for him.  Indeed, I've a good mind to send him a copy of Mr Patmore's magazine, so that he can see my review in print."

     Greta smiled wryly.  "He might already have seen it and decided never to talk to his brother-in-law again," she commented.

     "Yes, that's a more than vague possibility," Thurber conceded, chuckling roguishly.  "Though I don't think he would bear Patmore a grudge for long - not if his wife had any say in the matter anyway.  Besides, whenever they hold parties, she always sees to it that her brother is invited.  So it wouldn't do Hurst any good to cause a scene with him, would it?  Not if he wanted to enjoy the party, that is!  But, really, I can still scarcely believe that Mr Patmore has come to my rescue.  Were it not for your influence, I'm confident that he wouldn't even have considered the matter, despite what you say of him.  I don't know how you managed it."

     Greta blushed slightly, in spite of making a determined attempt at remaining cool, and did her best to hide her face from Thurber.  Her influence on Colin Patmore wasn't a subject she particularly cared to enlarge upon - not with him, at any rate!  "Oh, I can assure you it was no trouble," she murmured, endeavouring to camouflage her embarrassment with a conciliatory smile.  "At heart, he's one of the most generous and kind men."

     "I begin to believe you may well be right," said Thurber innocently, and, overcome once more by a wave of gratitude, he planted a firm kiss on Greta's nearest cheek, which had the effect of causing her to blush anew, this time more deeply.

     However, at that moment there was a sudden sharp buzz from the doorbell and, mindful of the fact that they were expecting visitors, he abandoned Greta and went to answer it, leaving her to readjust her sartorial appearance and cool herself down again.  Their visitors, none other than Paul Fleshman and Yvette Sanderson, were enthusiastically admitted and led into the lounge, where they received a cordial welcome from Thurber's girlfriend, now much more in control of herself.  In fact, their presence on the scene came as a welcome relief to her, and she wasted no time in letting them know it.  Even Thurber must have been surprised by her readiness to fetch them drinks and find out how they were keeping, despite his own obvious delight in their presence - a delight, in large measure, attributable to the publication of his review of Fleshman's exhibition which, so it transpired, the artist had already read, having purchased a copy of 'The Arts' earlier that day.  Indeed, as soon as he was comfortably seated, Fleshman made it his first priority to inform the art critic of just how much he had been impressed by his review - more impressed, in fact, than by anything else Thurber had ever written of him.  "To begin with, I found it difficult to believe that you were its actual author," he confessed.  "For it seemed to reveal an understanding of my work and intentions that even you, with all your considerable knowledge of modern art, have rarely professed to in the past, notwithstanding your sympathetic interest."

     This time it was Thurber's turn to blush, since he was only too conscious of the extent to which the review had fallen under an alien influence and of how indebted he was, in consequence, to Logan's unwitting assistance for the final product.  Then, too, Fleshman's praise sounded suspiciously like irony to him, as though the artist was in no doubt that he had really been assisted by someone but preferred, out of tactful politeness, not to say so.  "Well, in point of fact, I did borrow one or two of Keith Logan's opinions," he at length admitted, turning scarlet.  "For the most part, however, the review is my own."  He couldn't force himself to admit the whole truth, nor to completely lie about the matter, at least not with Greta there, so he opted for this lukewarm compromise, which seemed easier to bear.

     "Ah yes, I'd quite forgotten that Mr Logan visited the Fairborne Gallery with you," the artist confessed, allowing a cloud of disappointment to momentarily pass across his wrinkled face.  "However, that takes nothing away from your achievement, which does more justice to me than most other critics have done in recent years, I can assure you."

     "I'm sincerely relieved to hear it," said Thurber, though, in reality, he now regretted that he had lacked the courage or audacity to completely lie about the matter, since it seemed that Fleshman hadn't been ironic after all, but, in all innocence, genuinely believed him to be the sole author of the review.  Now, in spite of his generous praise, it was all too evident that the artist was really quite disappointed for having been proved wrong.

     "By the way, where is Keith Logan tonight?" asked Yvette, desiring to change the subject.  She was sitting next to Greta on the settee and had automatically addressed herself to Thurber, who sat directly opposite her in one of the room's two armchairs.  "I thought you would have invited him over, too," she added.

     "Well, in point of fact, we had thought of doing so," Thurber replied, looking uneasy, "but finally decided against it on the grounds that he would probably get into one of his overly didactic moods and dominate the conversation with his views on art, religion, politics, etc., to the detriment of everyone else.  To put it frankly, we preferred the prospect of a nice, quiet, friendly, uneducative evening in the company of old friends, to a controversially intellectual one in Logan's radical company."  Which, to some extent, was perfectly true, though the real motive, revolving around the desire not to have the chief architect of the review present at the same time as Fleshman, was hardly one to be imparted to his guests, and Thurber wisely refrained from doing so, even though the telling of yet another untruth caused him some further emotional discomfiture!

     However, Yvette seemed satisfied by his reply and nodded in apparent sympathy.  She hadn't found Logan's lecture at her boyfriend's flat, the previous week, the most congenial of experiences herself, and wasn't particularly inconvenienced by his current absence.  Fleshman, however, now expressed different sentiments.

     "I can't say that I really minded his conversation," he declared, turning towards Thurber.  "On the contrary, I found it refreshingly positive, especially what he said about the progress of art - a subject which has been considered in some depth, albeit in slightly different terms, by Miss Suzi Gablik, whose book Progress in Art I'm currently re-reading.  Had it not been for that, I doubt whether I'd now be feeling quite as proud of myself - that's to say, proud to be a light artist whose approximation to and/or intimation of ultimate truth is apparently much closer than anything attempted by artists in the past, including the very best of them.  Really, it was most reassuring to learn as much, particularly as I'd previously been the victim of self-doubt and a nagging disillusionment with the whole trend of contemporary art, particularly the light-art aspect of it.  Now, however, I've sound reasons for believing that everything is working-out for the best, and that my own art, or at any rate the more radical examples of it, can be further improved upon in the course of time - in other words, transcended by yet more radical projects.  A purer and brighter light, concentrated in patterns of greater complexity, should produce an even closer intimation of ultimate truth, and thus firmly establish me not just on the pinnacle of contemporary art but, ipso facto, on the pinnacle of all art to-date.  What could be more spiritually gratifying than that?"

     Thurber nodded appreciatively.  "Yes, there's certainly something encouraging about such a prospect," he admitted, "and I'm confident that you'll continue to develop for the better, in accordance with your growing predilection for light works.  Whether or not you'll become the world's greatest artist, I don't know.  But, providing you don't relapse into representational art, you should at least remain among the leaders."  He paused a moment, as though for breath, before continuing: "As regards representational art, on the other hand, I've latterly come to the informed opinion that, in terms of sheer technical brilliance and imaginative scope, Salvador Dali is the world's greatest artist to-date - greater even than Bruegel, Dürer, Raphael, Tintoretto, Velazquez, Poussin, Rubens, Rembrandt, Delacroix, Turner, and Cezanne."

     Fleshman raised his bushy brows in a gesture of sceptical astonishment.  "You may have a point there," he warily conceded, following a rather anguished pause, "and I'm sure there are many people who would share your opinion.  Strangely, I've never seriously considered Dali's status in relation to the aesthetic tradition.  Naturally, I've been aware that, in representational terms, he's usually regarded by the more Catholic artists and critics as the greatest Spanish artist of the twentieth century, greater even than Picasso, who was comparatively heathenistic.  But whether or not he can therefore be considered the ultimate master of representational art ... is quite another thing.  Doubtless, the criteria you put forward have some merit and deserve to be taken seriously ..."

     "Especially as regards imaginative scope, which, at times, is completely out-of-this-world," Yvette interposed, leaning forwards.  "One wonders how he managed to think up so many interesting ideas."

     "Yes, I know what you mean," Thurber responded.  "One is made acutely aware, by Dali's best works, of the nature of genius, which may be defined in terms of the superhuman.  The man's imaginative and technical capacities are so far above the average level ... as to appear positively godlike..... Not that Keith Logan would like to hear me use that term in relation to creative greatness.  Nonetheless, an analogue with the more-than-human prevails.  Or to speak more literally, and in terms which Logan would doubtless prefer to hear, were he with us tonight, one should say that genius presupposes a great man, and that it's therefore the fact of Dali's greatness which is brought home to one through the contemplation of several of his works."

     Fleshman nodded his large head in unequivocal agreement.  "Most intelligent people would certainly agree with you there," he affirmed, "even though a number of the more democratically minded might be unsympathetic, these days, towards the concept of human greatness, and accordingly desirous that such a phenomenon should quickly disappear from the world, associated, as it all-too-easily can be, with autocratic power."

     "I, for one!" cried Greta somewhat impulsively.

     "Yes, well, it may be that Dali represents the end of an old tradition of egocentric creativity rather than the beginnings of something new," Fleshman rejoined, "whereas, in my consistent allegiance to a variety of non-representational tendencies, I am aligned with the new, and consequently indisposed to Dalian criteria of greatness.  My criteria, on the contrary, are decidedly post-egocentric, and therefore germane to the superconscious.  Unlike Dali and the Surrealists generally, I don't delve into the subconscious for my material, but aspire towards the inner light.  Which is why, I suppose, that my work is intrinsically superior to his, since it accords with a higher phase of human evolution, a phase in which man approximates to the godlike instead of remaining bound to the human and, in particular, to the greatly human.  No longer the works of a great man, but of man growing steadily closer to the godlike in superconscious one-sidedness.  That's what chiefly distinguishes the new from the old, the post-egocentric from the egocentric.  Though in Dali's case - as, indeed, in the cases of many other representational artists - the psychological stance is less egocentric than incipiently post-egocentric, so that he tended to look back and down on the subconscious from a slight psychological elevation over it, and thus produced surrealism.

     "Alternatively, an artist in such a position could, if he chose, decide to concentrate not on the internal, or psychical, manifestation of subconscious life, but on its external, or physical, manifestation," Fleshman went on, warming still further to his argument, "and thus produce modern landscape painting, which could be defined as the extrovert equivalent of surrealism.  For example, Paul Nash has artfully combined natural with surreal elements in a number of works, and may therefore be described as a dualistic introvert/extrovert artist of the subconscious domain.  On the other hand, Ben Nicholson has drawn both landscapes and painted abstract reliefs throughout his career, and would seem to be an artist of both the subconscious and the superconscious domains, which, in an age of transition from the old to the new, needn't particularly surprise us.  Having begun in a naturalistic framework, Piet Mondrian completely dedicated his mature creative life to abstraction, and may therefore be regarded as primarily an artist of the superconscious domain - an artist superior in essence to both Nash and Nicholson, not to mention Dali."

     "What a fascinating contention!" Thurber exclaimed, beaming an admiring and excited look directly at the artist.  "Because Mondrian was more consistently forward-looking than Nicholson and, unlike both Nash and Dali in their separate ways, not at all interested in the subconscious domain.  Yes, it begins to make sense!  And presumably anyone who, like yourself, had evolved from painterly abstraction to light art would be Mondrian's superior, since on a higher and more genuine level of superconscious affiliation?"

     "That's quite possible," Fleshman conceded, smiling proudly.  "And certainly congruous with the import of Logan's thesis on progress in art.  But one begins to realize just how fine an artist Mondrian was when one considers the transitional complexities, as it were, of his epoch, and of how difficult it must accordingly have been to see one's way clear of the past and direct oneself towards the future.  That he systematically and on principle dedicated himself exclusively to abstraction, at such a time, is certainly an admirable feat!  God knows, it's difficult enough for us of a later generation to do so!"

     "Yes, I can well imagine," said Thurber sympathetically.  "Though, if the internal or introvert manifestations of superconscious affiliation prove too much for a given temperament, there are always the external or extrovert alternatives, which take the forms of Modern Realism, Photo-Realism, Socialist Realism, or whatever - in other words, paintings of the cityscape, tools, machines, modern industrial appliances or products, and modern city-dwellers, such as one finds in Joseph Philpott, your colleague-in-competition at the Fairborne exhibition.  For this species of representational art is, according to Keith Logan, the highest form of representation of which the human race has ever conceived, and one destined to eclipse all the other forms, especially those associated with nature or natural phenomena.  It isn't representational art per se which is outmoded, but only a particular kind of representation - in other words, that which adheres to the subconscious, whether internally or externally.  The cityscape, however, is the non-sensuous environment of modern man, and should accordingly be depicted as such.  It gives rise to a form of secular art which complements the religious art of abstraction, especially the most advanced and superconsciously-biased modes of abstraction.  Thus both the external and internal worlds are catered for, now as previously.  But, as Logan would doubtless maintain, the internal one is intrinsically the highest and most sublime, the one that points towards ultimate reality and to our eventual salvation in superconscious bliss.  The external one is simply the means we require to carry us along and ensure that we survive.  It's a means to a higher end, not an end in itself, and the difference between it and the internal one is precisely the difference between appearance and essence, which is to say, matter and spirit."

     "Which is fundamentally nothing less than the difference between woman and man," Fleshman contended, casting both Greta and Yvette ironically appreciative glances.  "As Oscar Wilde so eloquently put it: 'Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals', though I fear he was simply being facetious in regard to the latter who, regarded more philosophically, should really be equated with the triumph of mind over matter, in complete contrast to women!"

     "Oh come now, Paul, we're not all devoid of spiritual leanings!" Yvette protested, standing-up for her sex, both literally and metaphorically speaking, since she had in fact risen to her feet as though to cuff him.

     "I'm not for one instant suggesting that you are," the artist retorted, drawing back, "but am simply generalizing both men and women into what has traditionally been and, to a certain extent, still continues to be the case.  God knows, most women have no shortage of drive, if you interpret spirit in that sense, though usually it's their external beauty - and hence appearance - which is the governing factor.  A woman who was more centred in essence than in appearance wouldn't really be a woman at all, but a sort of man in disguise.  Yet most women, it goes without saying, are fundamentally womanly, and thus function in the realm of appearances as a means to an end - the means in their case being the propagation of the species, and the end apparently being the male-led attainment of that species to the transcendental Beyond or, as some would evidently prefer to call it, the post-human millennium."

     "Yes, and where modern art is concerned," said Thurber, nodding deferentially, "I should think that a majority of women would be more at home in the realm of Modern Realism, or for that matter any other contemporary mode of realism, than in abstraction, and thus be more inclined to appreciate a representational canvas of, say, a modern cityscape than a geometrically abstract canvas after the manner of Piet Mondrian.  They might pretend otherwise, but I'm positively convinced that, deep down, the representational one, dealing in phenomenal appearances, in corporeal actualities, would be more in their line."  He turned a mildly quizzical eye on the two occupants of the settee.  "Well, isn't that so?"

     The women smiled guardedly, almost begrudgingly, and confessed that it probably was - at least so far as the generality of relatively unliberated women were concerned, since women were, for the most part, intrinsically different from and even contrary to men, despite all the feminist hype and rhetoric of recent decades.  Greta even had the honesty to admit, albeit humorously, that she was generally more at home with the superficial than with the profound aspect of things.

     "Which is perfectly as it should be," Fleshman averred, a broad smile on his lips.  "For women are fundamentally more at home in the world than men, who, for all their show of power, are essentially other-worldly rebels against it and conscious or unconscious millennial pioneers, strivers after increased essence and, if we're to believe Mr Logan, destined for spiritual transformation at the culmination of human evolution in the distant future."

     "And snogging good luck to them!" jeered Greta, chuckling softly.  For at that moment she recalled both the small room in which Keith Logan practised meditation and her initial rather puzzled and, at the same time, secretly amused response to its dazzling whiteness and even more dazzling fluorescent tubes which, positioned in three equidistant parallel rows on the ceiling, like some kind of transcendent trinity, kept the room relatively free of shadow while heightening the brightness of walls, ceiling, and carpet, the latter of which, needless to say, was also white.  Apart from a wooden stool, painted white, the room was completely empty, like an Ivres Klein void, and it was in this simulated context of ultimate spirituality ... that the abstract novelist, dressed in all-white attire, paradoxically strove to obtain an inner glimpse of pure superconscious mind and thereby firmly establish himself on the last stretch of the long and often perilous road to what he called the post-human millennium.

     However, despite or perhaps because of the white room and its complement of neon lighting, he was apparently still awaiting a glimpse of the psychic 'promised land' which lay ahead in the far distance of man's spiritual evolution.  Awaiting it but conscious, too, that it would be much greater than anything his progressive imagination could conceive of - a universal convergence, as it were, of superconscious mind about a central axis of transcendent bliss, in which all distinctions of mine and thine had ceased to exist, and only the pure light of heavenly contemplation remained, as an eternal refutation of empirical objectivity.  But when he had introduced her to his sanctuary, following their intimacies, he hadn't even bothered to put all his clothes on again, and consequently there was something ironical in his desire to show it to her, since his previous actions as a lover, albeit a rather passive one, were in marked contrast with his spiritual ambitions and seemed, under the circumstances, to detract from their credibility.

     Yet, despite her interest in his room, Greta couldn't help smiling to herself and reflecting on what he had said at Fleshman's place, in regard to The Devils of Loudun, about the mistake Father Surin had made in trying to be too spiritual for his time, not to mention his own good, and paying the price through a mental derangement and nervous breakdown.  Perhaps Keith Logan had come dangerously close to being another Father Surin and had accordingly sought and found in her body a sensuous counterweight which had released him, temporarily, from the danger of running transcendentally too far ahead of himself, so to speak?  Yet perhaps, because of his spiritual pretensions, he had not wished her to get that impression but, on the contrary, had elected to show off his meditation room in order to impress upon her the fact of his metaphysical essence and thus justify his rather passive approach to sex, reminding her of who or what he really was or imagined himself to be?  Then perhaps, too, that was the real reason why he had not suggested any further meetings, but remained rather noncommittal on the subject of renewing their liaison - not, as he would have preferred her to believe, on account of Thurber?  Yes, but, then again, she had no way of knowing for sure.

     Nevertheless Greta was convinced that, if he thought he could dispense with women on a regular basis, he was certainly making a big mistake - of that she had little doubt!  Let him have his mystical pretensions by all means, but not to the extent that he endangered his existence as a man and was reduced to anything but a god.  Let him practise what he preached, ever mindful of the fact that ultimate salvation couldn't be gate-crashed but had to be worked towards, over the generations, a little at a time, with due respect to one's senses and the external world while such respect was still due.  Let him face-up to his responsibilities towards himself as a man while he was still a man and not yet a god; which, to judge by the alacrity with which he had set about having sex with her that evening, he was perfectly capable of doing.  In fact, as capable, in his own rather gentle fashion, as just about anyone she had ever known, including the rather more vigorously heterosexual Martin Thurber, who, at that very moment, was as far removed from thoughts about her body as he had ever been, despite his childish impatience to explore it, prior to Fleshman's arrival.

     "Yes, I've recently come to a similar conclusion myself," he was saying, principally, it appeared, to the artist, "and am now inclined to equate such work as you do - and, indeed, abstract art in general - with a theocratic turn-of-mind, whereas representational art, both ancient and modern, may be said to reflect a fundamentally democratic if not autocratic outlook, even when, as is increasingly becoming the case, it depicts tall skyscrapers and heavy machinery.  Thus I would be inclined to describe you as a theocratic artist but Joseph Philpott as a democratic or, at any rate, a predominantly democratic one, as the majority of his canvases at the Fairborne Gallery would adequately attest."

     "Which is just another way of saying religious and secular," Fleshman remarked, smiling engagingly.

     "Or male and female," Yvette suggested ironically.

     "And therefore essential and apparent," Thurber concurred, with a briskly deferential nod to the female in question, who happened to be highly apparent in her sensuous femininity.  "Always bearing in mind, however, that the trend of evolution is from the subconscious to the superconscious, and that any art, whether autocratic or theocratic or even a democratic cross between the two, which reflects this trend is justified, no matter who the artist.  I would never dream of rating Philpott's work above yours, Paul.  All the same, I'd be the last person to consider his species of artificial representation anachronistic.  Provided he doesn't degenerate into painting public parks, his cityscapes will remain relevant for some time to-come - in fact, as long as the liberal civilization which gave rise to them in the full-flowering of its lunar phase."  With this somewhat esoteric comment Thurber hesitated in his verbal tracks, as though to pause for breath and reflection, before continuing: "But the last and ultimate say in art - ah! I should be very surprised if that fell to Philpott or, indeed, to any of his representational successors.  On the contrary, that can only fall to the most idealistic of artists, the one whose light shines inwardly the purest!  And who can say, for certain, when the day of the final say will come?  Not I, Paul.  And, if you're completely honest with yourself, not you either, despite your radical status."

     "No, and not Keith Logan either, despite his radical status as a thinker whose opinions have, for better or worse, recently conditioned our own," Fleshman declared.

     "And so much so," Greta observed, "that his absence here tonight is hardly missed!  For we have experienced anything but the 'nice, quiet, friendly, uneducative' evening that Martin had in mind.  On the contrary, we've simply endeavoured to outdo Logan at his own game."

     "And succeeded quite admirably, so far as you two men are concerned," Yvette opined, with a broad smile.

     "Yes, I suppose you could say that!" Thurber conceded, smiling faintly.  Though he didn't, for one blessed moment, really believe it!

 

 

EPILOGUE

 

Keith Logan had just come out of a busy book shop on the Charing Cross Road and had then decided to turn up towards Tottenham Court Road when, much to his surprise, he spotted Greta Ryan across the other side of the street, standing on the edge of the crowded pavement and staring along it as though in expectation of someone or something to arrive.  Automatically, he waved his hand to attract her attention; for he hadn't seen her since the night she called on him about Thurber, several days ago, and suddenly desired to talk to her again and find out what, if anything, had happened in the meantime.

     Eventually his wave succeeded in its objective, but, to his utter surprise, she blushed violently and quickly turned her face away.  He could scarcely believe his eyes!  Then, just as he was on the verge of calling out her name, a taxi drew up alongside the curb by which she was standing and a man whom he hadn't noticed before suddenly stepped out of the crowd to open its rear door and give the cabby instructions.  His face looked grave and slightly embarrassed, as he fairly pushed Greta into the taxi and quickly got in after her.

     Where had Logan seen that relatively handsome face before?  For there could be no question that he had in fact seen it somewhere.  Then all of a sudden the penny dropped, as the recollection of his having being introduced to Colin Patmore at Hurst's party came back to him, and he realized that it belonged to none other than the editor of 'The Arts', to whose magazine Greta had recently submitted Thurber's art review.  And as the taxi slowly drew away from the curb, it dawned on him that Greta was the price Patmore was demanding for his professional patronage.  Thus Martin Thurber had once more become the direct cause and unwitting dupe of a carnal sacrifice!

 

                             

LONDON 1980 (Revised 1981-2010)

 

 

LOGAN'S INFLUENCE

 

 

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