Monday, June 30, 2014


In Journey Without Maps (1936) Greene describes how he crossed Liberia on foot, from the Sierra Leone border to the Atlantic coast, and at the same time travelled back into himself.  

He finds that exploration, like psychoanalysis, means submitting yourself to the unconscious.  The adventure stirs memories of childhood, of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Rider Haggard, and brings him close to the centre of unexplained cruelty and ancestral fear.  

After several weeks he reaches Monrovia, the capital city.  Stunted and unfinished, offering a main street overgrown with grass, an abandoned palace, a waterfront lined with wooden huts, and telegraph poles which are only monuments to a defunct telephone system, its instant seediness strikes him as ‘nearer the beginning.’

It appeals because it represents a stage farther back in human development and provides a glimpse of what has been lost.  Unlike the familiar mechanized desert, it escapes the curse of the new and the smart.  Brutality appeals for a similar reason. 

It suggests a need for simplifying emotion and beginning to live again at ‘a level below the cerebral.’ In gangster novels, Greene infers, you find a nostalgia for uncensored emotional release.  


And when he sees an old half-witted native prisoner tied to a post and clubbed, or a child scream with terror at a masked devil dancer, he feels closer to the ‘racial source,’ to instinct and even to happiness.

From:  Gavin Lambert, The Dangerous Edge (1976)

Crazyhead: Have Love, Will Travel (Link)


  1. Curtis, I am reading the book, but skipped right to the Sherlock Holmes essay. I have been thinking of Graham Greene lately though. So many books, so little time, as the (annoying, but correct) book bags and t- shirts say.

    1. What I like most about The Dangerous Edge is that Lambert writes analytically, but passionately, as a writer responding directly and knowledgeably to other writers' work, but without footnotes and the other scholarly apparatus. Therefore, it's really fun to read, especially if you've already been through Lambert's fiction, which I recommend very highly. The Slide Area is really unparalleled in terms of LA literature, but Inside Daisy Clover, The Goodbye People and Running Time are all also excellent and quite different. Lambert had a fascinating life and I expect he wouldn't have been all that easy to know. But I admire him a lot. As for Graham Greene, I'm glad I started reading him during the last, fairly depressed and extremely depressing, Obama years. (Please excuse me if you've experienced them differently.) For me, it's been a time when the scales fell from my eyes about many aspects of the human condition and the masks people wear and the games people play. But it's summertime, so that's great. Currently, I'm reading The Moonstone, the subject (in part) of Lambert's first chapter, which concerns Wilkie Collins. Caroline's immersed in Eric Ambler, but she won't read The Dangerous Edge (although she did read The Moonstone). Pushing people who don't wish to be pushed is funny business. Sweltering down here. Busy week's ahead of us. It's so nice to hear from you. Curtis

    2. One more thing. Crazyhead was a group Caroline worked with at EMI. They were a "Greebo" group from the English Midlands and were terrific, as well as being very nice people. The song itself is a classic, which was originally written and performed by the great Richard Berry, the author and original performer of Louie, Louie. Curtis

    3. One final thing about The Dangerous Edge (then over and out) I find fascinating is Lambert's recognition of John Buchan's quality, singularity and importance, but his inability to "get" Buchan, which I think has to do with Buchan's very traditional (according to the tradition he was raised in plus the usual things all people add in) Christianity. It's a regular theme occurring in the novels and Buchan's finale, Sick Heart River, is a profoundly Christian work, his successful, moving and unpretentious effort to produce his own The Pilgrim's Progress. People (including Lambert, who obviously loves Buchan's work) tend to try to diminish his achievements because they're both magnificent, but kind of unfathomable, a real example of what an energetic polymath mind was capable of before the onslaught of distracting, energy-draining television. I say this in order (in case you read the Lambert chapter) to dissuade you from NOT reading Greenmantle or Mr Standfast. Curtis