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.

 

 

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