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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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!