And so to Word On The Street at Chapel Market again, and the indescribable delights of a first UK edition of Candy (1958, UK Ed. 1968) by Terry Southern & Mason Hoffenberg, a book best described by Mr Southern himself:
God only knows what’s been said about the Genesis of Candy, but the true account is as follows: There’s a certain kind of uniquely American girl who comes from the Midwest to Greenwich Village—cute as a button, pert derriere, full wet lips, nips in eternal distension, etc., etc.—and so full of compassion that she’ll cry at card tricks if you tell her they’re sad. Anyway, I wrote a short story about such a girl—how she befriended a humpback weirdie to the extent of wanting him “to hurt me the way they hurt you!” Everybody who read the story, loved the girl—all the guys wanted to fuck her, and the girls wanted to be her—and they all said: “Yea Candy! Let her have more adventures!” So I put her in a few more sexually vulnerable situations—with her professor, with the gardener, with her uncle, with her spiritual guru, and so on. And this friend of mine, Mason Hoffenberg, read it and said, “Why don’t you have her get involved with a Jewish shrink?” And I said, “why don’t you write that part?” So the great Doc Irving Krankeit (and his doting mum) were born.
Living in Paris at the time—the mid-‘50s—the book soon became the talk of the French Quarter, and it came to the attention of Maurice Girodias at the Olympia Press, publisher of Lolita, Naked Lunch, and the works of Beckett, Ionesco and Henry Miller, among others. Southern again picks up the tale:
Well sir, Mr. Maury Girodias had what you might call a “house o’ porn operation extraordinaire.” A man of infinite charm, savoir-vivre, and varying guises, he was able to entice impressionable young American expatriates, such as a certain yours truly, to churn out this mulch by convincing us we were writing Quality Lit! Not only did the Hemingway types succumb to his wily persuasions but (would you believe it?) young American girl-authors as well! Cute as buttons they were too! Darling blue saucer-eyes and fabulous knockers with nips in distension! Marvellous pert derrieres and full wet tremulous lips, the kind that quiver and respond… but I digress.
Candy is certainly a sympathetic heroine, although her increasing degradations—more Justine than Candide for horny American college students—leave her little more than a pawn in the lusty paws of various sweating, palpitating, utterly out-of-control males, whose pronouncements—”Going at it like a pair of HOT WART HOGS!!! HORSING ON THE FLOOR! HUMPING UNDER THE BED! GROUSING ON THE GOODIE!”—differ little from Southern’s own interview style.
In fact, Candy is essentially a comedy of sex manners just as Dr. Strangelove (1964), Southern’s most famous creation, is a comedy of political manners—although his trademark hysteria is still very much visible in the latter: “NO FIGHTING IN THE WAR ROOM!” Despite it’s salacious history, which included much banning and un-banning and an all-star flop film, the book contains very little that could be categorised as erotica, let alone porn. It is regularly hilarious, although not nearly as funny as Southern’s greatest creation (IMHO): Guy Grand, Trillionaire Trickster and hero of The Magic Christian (1959, UK Ed. 1965).
“I started reading The Magic Christian and I thought I was going to go insane… it was an incredible influence on me.”
– Hunter S. Thompson
The Magic Christian does what Candy did to Puritans, and Dr. Strangelove did to the military-political complex, to just about everybody. Grand gives away $100,000 dollars to the people of Chicago, but they have to wade into a vat of boiling cow-dung to get it. He incites riots, “the Jewish, Atheist, Negro, Labour, Homosexual, and Intellectual groups were on one side — the Protestant and American Legion on the other, the Catholic group holding the power” (no one comes off well). He persuades The Champ, legendary boxer and national hero, to throw a match in the most fruity, effeminate manner possible (“I can’t stand it!”), and in the book’s most sublime sequence, sends his man Gonzales to the dog show at Madison Square Garden:
He joined the throng of owners and beasts who mingled in the centre of the Garden, where it was soon apparent that his boast had not been idle—at the end of the big man’s leash was an extraordinary dog; he was jet-black and almost the size of a full-grown Dane, with the most striking coat and carriage yet seen at the Garden show that season. The head was dressed somewhat in the manner of a circus-cut poodle, though much exaggerated, so that half the face of the animal was truly obscured.
The true breed soon becomes clear, however:
As Mrs Winthrop-Garde pulled her angry little spitz forward, while it snapped and snorted and ran at the nose of Gonzales’ dog, an extraordinary thing happened—for this was what Grand and Gonzales had somehow contrived, and for reasons never fathomed by the press, was to introduce in disguise to the Garden show that season not a dog at all, but some kind of terrible black panther or dyed jaguar—hungry he was too, and cross as a pickle—so that before the day was out, he had not only brought chaos into the formal proceedings, but had actually destroyed about half the ‘Best in Breed’.
As well as being one of his time’s foremost satirists, Southern was a contributing editor to The Paris Review and one of the founders of the New Journalism, whose articles on the 1968 Democratic National Convention (which lead to his appearance as a key witness in the trial of the Chicago 7) and “the whole Bay of Pigs thing” were highly influential. He also helped inaugurated American independent cinema, co-scripting Easy Rider (1969, with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper), and had a hand in The Cincinnati Kid, and, unsurprisingly, Barbarella (The Magic Christian was filmed, poorly, in 1969, with Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr). He never got too far from the manic, however, and Now Dig This, an anthology of his writings collected by his son Nile, includes a proposed scene for Kubrick’s Rhapsody, which he made over a decade later as Eyes Wide Shut. Southern challenged Kubrick to “go the comedy route” and recounts the Tom Cruise character’s “more amusing than amorous” encounter with a female patient at his gynecology practice, ‘Miss Hooded Clit’.
The war on “Quality Lit”, or indeed, any quality at all, continued, but not without due care and criticism. Southern, along with Gregory Corso, was one of the people who persuaded Maurice Girodias to take on Naked Lunch, and his critique of William Burroughs stands as testament to his own ideas about what writing should achieve, both for self-expression and for general enlightenment:
No one writing in English, with the exception of Henry Miller, has done as much towards freeing the writer (and tomorrow the reader) of the superstitions surrounding the use of certain words and certain attitudes. It is probably true to say that what Burroughs has done is to up-date Joyce, in American idiom; and, if so, Nova Express is to Naked Lunch as Finnegans Wake is to Ulysses. It is poetry of the most consummate control:
“Muttering in the dogs of unfamiliar score—cross the wounded galaxies we intersect—Poison of dead sun in your brain slowly fading—Migrants of age in gasoline crack of history—Explosive bio advance out of space to neon . . . the important thing is always courage to let go—in the dark.”
For those who fail to see “form” in this, and are disturbed because of it, one may conclude only that they see in life itself a “form” which has eluded philosophy from the beginning of time.