Over the precipice December 22, 2008Posted by Jenny in literature, nature.
Tags: "A Distant Episode", North Africa, Paul Bowles, Sahara
The Professor in Paul Bowles’ A Distant Episode follows a dubious man out past the edge of a Saharan town, walking through the dark over sharp stones, past a crazy dog with three legs, past a mysterious stench. The man, who is supposed to be guiding him to a place where he can buy a certain handcrafted item, leaves him at the top of a precipice. “The Professor was in a state of nerves. He lit another cigarette, and found his lips moving automatically. They were saying: ‘Is this a situation or a predicament? This is ridiculous.’ He stretched out on the hard, cold ground and looked up at the moon…. He got to his feet and looked over the edge of the precipice. In the moonlight the bottom seemed miles away. And there was nothing to give it scale; not a tree, not a house, not a person….” He descends the precipice by a path, he encounters some people at the bottom. Poor Professor. He really should have known better.
The precipice is so blatant a symbol that probably only Bowles could get away with using it. In his hands the obvious becomes sufficiently sharp-edged and brutal that it turns into a rarity.