Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Down There on a Visit

by Christopher Isherwood

As I was unable to find this book in any of the English bookstores I visited this August, and was left with references to obscure tiny publishing houses on the other side of the Atlantic pond, I had the incentive to finally try out the "used & new"-option at Amazon. And was I glad by the success of my attempt. Some garage bookseller in the UK had a good paperback of the first Four Square edition, published two years after the book first came out in 1962.

Down There on a Visit was published some decades after The Berlin Stories but it takes place around the same period of time, starting a little bit earlier and continuing quite a few years after the timeline of the Berlin novels. The writing of Isherwood had become somewhat different during those years, perhaps more mature a language one would be inclined to call it. It consists of four short stories in chronology, but with a few years in between each of them. Though all four stories told autobiographically has their own protagonist, many of the people return and become enlaced in the other stories and thus the tales are entwined. Rather than actually calling it autobiographical, Christopher makes a point out of whether the self of today is in a one-to-one relation with the self of the past. In fact he seems to view the Isherwood of the stories almost as a stranger, not only in opinions, accent, mannerisms, prejudices and habits, but also by the looks: We have in common the label of our name, and a continuity of consciousness; there has been no break in the sequence of daily statements that I am I. But what I am has refashioned itself throughout the days and years, until now almost all that remains constant is the mere awareness of being conscious. As Christopher had left his worker idolisation for a spiritual worship of some sort, the quote ends: And that awareness belongs to everybody; it isn't a particular person. I am a glad person that it is obtainable to all of us.