I am currently working my way through the oeuvre of Toni Morrison, an American author who I am thinking of writing my English thesis about. In her first novel, The Bluest Eye, she writes most of the story from the eyes of an eleven year old black girl called Percola Breedlove. In one chapter, Percola visits three whores, Miss Marie, Poland, and China, who live on the floor above her. Poland only talks when she’s drunk and only sings when she’s sober, “her voice sweet and hard, like new strawberries.”

The chapter ends with one of her songs, which split me open like a walnut shell.

I know a boy who is sky-soft brown

I know a boy who is sky-soft brown

The dirt leaps for joy when his feet touch the ground.

His strut is a peacock

His eye is burning brass

His smile is sorghum syrup drippin’ slow-sweet to the last

I know a boy who is sky-soft brown


I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air –
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath –
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear…
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Alan Seeger. 1888–1916


Reading Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf earlier this year was like taking an ice-bath – it shook me awake to ideas that I had never articulated before but which must have been lying dormant within me.

The book is almost a treatise on the multiplicity of the self, a concept that I have found fascinating ever since first-year-philosophy, where I first met it as a concept. There is a stunning passage where Hesse exhorts us to understand that we have no ‘essence’ – if you peel back the skin-layers there is no solid core underneath that is the ‘real’. (Imagine if this was so, though. It would be like when you catch a splinter in the palm of your hand and your skin, rather than rejecting it, grows over it instead. We humans would be a group of flesh-embedded splinters, protecting our realness with epidermis.) Hesse tries to capture the sense that we are a compilation of multiple selves, few of which have dominance over each other, by describing a group of animals sitting, roaming, inside our rib-cages – a tiger, a peacock, a snake, a mouse, an eagle. We are all each and every one of these at once.

Obviously, he articulates this in a far more breath-taking and eloquent way but I cannot place the exact passage so a paraphrase will have to suffice, for now.

I did find this page, however, whilst re-skimming.

This Steppenwolf of ours has always been aware of at least the Faustian nature of the two-fold nature within him. He had discovered that the one-fold of the body is not inhabited by a one-fold of the soul, and that at best he is only at the beginning of a long pilgrimage towards this ideal harmony, He would either like to overcome the wolf and become wholly man or to renounce man-kind and at last live life wholly a wolf’s life. It may be presumed that he has never carefully watched a wolf. Had he ever done so he would have seen, perhaps, that even animals are not undivided in spirit. With them, too, the well-knit beauty of the body hides a being of manifold states and strivings. The world too, has his abysses. The wolf, too, suffers. No, back to nature is a flase track that leads nowhere but to suffering and despair. Harry can never turn back again and become wholly wolf, and could he do so he would find that even the wolf is not of primeval simplicity, but already a creature of manifold complexity. Even the wolf has two, and more than two, souls in his wolf’s breast, and he who desires to be a wolf falls into the same forgetfulness as the man who sings: “If I could be a child once more!” He who sentimentally sings of blessed childhood is thinking of the return to nature and innocence and the origin of things, and has forgotten that these blessed children are beset with conflict and complexities and capable of all suffering.

There is, in fact, no way back either to the wolf or to the child. From the very start there is no innocence and no singleness. Every created thing, even the simplest, is already guilty, already multiple. It has been thrown into the muddy stream of being and may never more swim back again to its source.”

the benign indifference

No one, no one in the world had any right to weep for her. And I, too, felt ready to start life over again. It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed so brotherly, made me realise that I’d been happy, and that I was happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained was to hope that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.

The Outsider, Camus