Novella

Gurus And Other Animals

Synopsis

Ken is suffering from amnesia. Sara, a friend, encourages him to write a story, his own story. As Ken begins to forge a new life for himself, he comes up against the ideas of Gurus, Fluffies, Blind Moles and is for a time attracted to the Cynics. In the end, however, he becomes a satirist, lampooning society. In the course of the story, Ken meets Sara regularly and they fall in love. At the conclusion of the story, Sara disappears and Ken wonders if the whole Odyssey has only been a dream.
At its core, this is a novel of ideas, counterposing the ideas of rationalism and science against mysticism.

Outline

Chapter 1: The End

  • Sara tells Ken it’s only a story.

Chapter 2: The Beginning

  • Sara is helping Ken to piece his life back together.

Chapter 3: The Guru

  • Sara brings Ken to hear the Guru.

Chapter 4: Freedom

  • Sara tells Ken a story and encourages him to write.

Chapter 5: Interview With The Guru

  • Ken interviews the Guru.

Chapter 6: Falling In Love

  • Ken tells Sara he’s fallen in love with her

Chapter 7: The Graveyard Of Ambition

  • Ken goes to the new-age club.

Chapter 8: The Writers Hall

  • Ken meets a few poets at the writer’s festival.

Chapter 9: Interview With A Minor Poet

  • Ken interviews Matty, a poet he met at the writer’s festival.

Chapter 10: Can We Ever Be A Couple

  • Ken tells Sara he has met Laura.

Chapter 11: The Cynics Club

  • Ken goes to a winebar with a group of other writers.

Chapter 12: What Is The Stars, Joxer

  • Ken becomes disenchanted with Laura’s irrationalism.

Chapter 13: Back To Stay

  • Ken rings Sara again.

Chapter 14: There Is No God

  • Ken and Sara go to a meeting about the existence of God.

Chapter 15: Art Never Runs Ahead Of History

  • Sara and Ken discuss the relevance of art.

Chapter 16: Celtic Mysticism

  • Ken challenges Mc Donagh at a meeting about Patrick Kavanagh.

Chapter 17: Epilogue

  • Has it all been a dream, Ken wonders.

Extract

The Guru

Sara and Ken are on their way to hear the Guru.

  • Tonight its The Wasteland.
  • Great, says Ken, – T.S!
  • I thought that would interest you!

Sara’s neighbour Matty, a minor poet, has assured her, she’ll love this man, John Molloy. – No joking, she said, – he’s able to talk about absolutely anything under the sun. Absolutely brilliant! I could listen to him for ever!

Matty and a number of other middle-class women are holding a series of talks in their homes as a way of generating a bit of income for this Guru, Sara fills Ken in, – It appears that his organisation of his personal affairs doesn’t match the ‘brilliance’ of his erudition, to say the least, and he’s a bit hard up for cash! A bit of a hermit, too, by all accounts! – So where does this guy hang out? – It seems they collect him from his dug-out in the sticks and bring him into town where he’s wined and dined before the talks and then bedded for the night afterwards, whether alone or not, I’ve never been able to find out! They laugh. – Then in the morning he’s driven back to his little home. He has them eating out of the palms of his hands. – What do the husbands think of all this? – I’d say the husbands aren’t too keen on your man, but they say nothing. The women are definitely mesmerised. – I’m curious now, Ken says. – I’m interested myself, says Sara, as they near the house.

Matty ushers them into her front room, large and spacious with a heavy polished-mahogany atmosphere. She points them to the rows of chairs that are laid out for the meeting, unusual in a domestic setting. The place is half-full of middle-aged, middle-class women all decked out for the night. There are only one or two other men there, presumably husbands. Apart from Matty’s daughter, Ken is the youngest there. More people trickle in, pay their fiver, and take their seats, with an air of hush as in a church.

At last the man himself appears. Tall with a mop of curly unruly hair, he’s casually dressed, and totally at ease as he welcomes everyone in a rich mellifluous voice. There’s not another sound in the room. Using T. S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland to kick off, Molloy expounds on his own particular philosophy of life, for the best part of an hour.
Like TS he’s horrified by what he sees as the misery of city life and human existence and the damage that science and technology are doing to the environment. In seductive tones of poetic prose he lambastes progress for its effect on the quality of life. He eulogises the American Indian, the Maori, the Aboriginal ways of life, in touch as they are with nature. We need to get back to our roots, he says, we need to reject the consumerism of present day life and get in touch with our real selves, our true selves, our spiritual selves.

Fuckin’ hell! Do you see what he is getting at, whispers Ken. – The Good old Days! He’s a Flat-Earthist! – Shhh! comes a hiss from behind.
Molloy’s scholarship has the rapt audience lapping up his every word, as he recites fluently and without notes, quotes and verse from mystics, poets, philosophers, and the classics.
When he invites questions and comments from the floor, there’s a polite silence at first. Then, one of the women asks deferentially if he would please reiterate one of the points. After a while Sara raises her hand. – What I’d like to know is how do you tell a woman with twelve kids in the slums of Calcutta to observe the lilies of the field? Twenty seven pairs of eyes turn in her direction. – Surely she’d be better off with the best, most efficient modern-day technology to make life easier for her and her family? For example a washing machine! How on earth could things be better for her in the old days? Molloy thanks her for her contribution. – Our heads, he says, – are hobnailed with Cartesian ideas, with modern ideas and they are hurting the stars. We have to join the Plains Indians and ghost-dance modern mentality out of our minds, out of our psyches, out of our lives. We have to realise the inadequacies and the shortcomings of the Rennaissance vision of what it is to be human. We need to go back to the medieval mindset, to the mindset where we’re all open to the transcendental…
When at last he winds up, everyone is invited to stay for tea and biscuits, at which point one of the women remarks sarcastically to Sara, – So what’s your claim to fame, then? Sara and Ken look at each other. – Let’s go somewhere else, Ken suggests, – God’s not to be challenged! They slip off and head for The Nighthawk.

  •  Fuck! That Molloy is something else. Talk about reactionary!
  •  Isn’t it interesting too, that he should choose TS Eliot for his talk!
  • Why do you say that?
  •  Well, one of the reasons Eliot became a convert had very much to do with his sexual problems, his difficulties with being gay and so on.
  •  What, is Molloy gay, then? Ken asks in surprise. – No, I’m not saying he’s gay or anything like that, but he has problems with sex, he makes no secret of it. If I was a Freudian I’d say his turn to religion is sublimation.
  •  So, what’s his agenda then?

Well, think about it. The Church is on its knees. Ever since that hypocrite Carey scuttled off out of the country in disgrace, new scandals are coming to light every day. Along comes a poetry-reciting lay philosopher, spouting remes and rhymes about the glory of past times and peppering his talks with references to the sanctity of priest, religion etc. and Bob’s your uncle. Molloy is the new lay spiritual leader to lead the faithful back to the fold. Him and your man, that trendy priest Mc Donagh. They capture the hearts and minds of a layer of the middle class who are disillusioned but still need something to bring a bit of sense into their dull lives. Mc Donagh, with his poetry collections and tomes on Christian mythology; the Guru there, with his soft cuddly voice, quoting Yeats, Eliot and Pascal seducing them back to the church. The subliminal message hits the spot.

  •  A Flat Earthist, right?

Well actually, he’s more subtle than that. His message is one of reactionary Christian mysticism alright, the same as Eliot’s, but he’s trying to update Catholicism, to undo the image of the church as anti-science. That’s why he throws in the references to Darwin etc. Paschal is a favourite of his, for you see, Pascal was a scientist as well as a mystic. What he wants to do is use science in the service of faith, not to appear un-modern. People like him latch onto quantum theory and the uncertainty principle to prove that we all need faith in the end of the day, when what we actually really need is more time to rationally explore the universe.

They arrive at The Nighthawk and order tea.

What a creep he is.
Who, Molloy?

No, I mean Eliot. The way people go on about him. What was he but a crawling snivelling aristocracy arse-licker! Not to mention the disgusting way he treated his wife, colluding to get all her money signed over to himself and then signing her into a mental institution, when all that was wrong with her was a very severe form of pre-menstrual tension. And even worse, he never visited her once in the long 30 years she was in hospital. How you can admire that man beats me. Sara is in her stride. – And by the way, remember, you’re in the same camp as Molloy when it comes to admiration of T S Eliot. Ken half-mockingly winces at the attack.

But you yourself have admitted you like his poetry, he retorts.
Oh, I can see he’s musical, alright. But I’ve never liked him. I can’t stand all that ambiguity, that opacity. I’m very suspicious of poets who want to be opaque.
Am I opaque?
No, strangely, you’re not one bit opaque, which makes it all the more puzzling that you love your man. I always believe poets who are opaque are appealing to confusion, or as you know who says “a new confusion of ones understanding”. Ken smiles in recognition. – You know why Molloy has such time for TS? Its because Eliot’s reactionary message of Christian mysticism appeals to him. And they both hate contemporary life, they hate science and technology.
But TS doesn’t want to go back to a past time, doesn’t wish for a romantic past the way for example Yeats does.
I’m not saying his yearning for the past is similar to Yeats. They express it differently.
Why do I like TS Eliot, then?

I don’t know.
Do you think I could ever turn to religion?

– No, not really. Well, you’ve clearly no problem with sex, anyway! They laugh at the idea, as they leave The Nighthawk and head for Sara’s flat.

Why do I like him then?
I think what appeals to you is the despair. I believe you’ve abandoned any hope of ever changing things. You’ve just lost hope.
You might be right.
I mean, do you think this system can last indefinitely?
The way I see it is this, the neo-liberal policies of the eighties and nineties have had a devastating effect. People are crushed. Beaten. I don’t see any fight-back evident, and therefore I can’t see how the system is ever going to be changed.
What you are leaving out of the equation is economics and leadership.

Well, how do you see things. Why are you so optimistic?
Oh! You want a run-down on the world economy, results and prospects!
They’ve just arrived at the flat. – Later, you mad fool! she says and kisses him.

They go in. – I really care about you, Ken tells her, as he kisses her. They make love in front of the long mirror. Afterwards they lie back lazily stroking each other, talking. – I’m getting a belly, Ken moans. – Mm, probably. But never mind, you still look like Kate Moss. They laugh.
I had a very stressful week last. Ken says at last. She knows he wants to tell her about Yvonne, so she braces herself.
Did you do it?
She called to the flat and stayed. Pause. – She’s not going to leave her good-looking knucklehead boyfriend for me, he tells her dolefully. – Now, she’s back in London. I didn’t feel good after it, you know. Ken looks at Sara. – You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, you know that!
The problem with you is you don’t know what you want, you keep airbrushing your past as you go along. I know what I want out of life, that’s the difference.

You’ve become, he says.
Existential shit! She laughs
As for me? Ken says, – the problem with me is, I still don’t know who I am!

First published in Books Ireland 1999