February 11, 2015

Robert Stone 1937-2015

Guest post by Kelly

(photo: New York Times)

There are books you hold gingerly, somehow aware that they exclude a charisma, demanding respect if not immediate understanding. That’s the feeling on first encountering Robert Stone's Dog soldiers, a book that has as much to offer now as when it was first published. 

(New York Times)

Robert Stone died last week. He was seventy-seven and in his time had written eight novels, two short story collections and a memoir. Not a huge count. Contemporaries such as Larry McMurtry, who attended the same university writing programme as Stone, have published well into the double digits. Hard living had something to do with that, but the fact is Stone's books are monoliths. Volumes carved out of hard truths, unflinching in their attempt to appreciate the harsh reality of his time and place. They must have demanded a great deal from him. 


You can see some of the character which drove the creation of those books in online interviews. There is one from toward the end of his life. Stone is at a promotion event for his last novel, Death of the black-haired girl. He looks exhausted, flattened by the years and the chronic pulmonary disease from which he eventually died. His thoughts are unfocused and seem to wonder. The book he holds trembles along with his shaking hand. The host mentions Graham Greene and Stone suddenly springs into relief. He’s filled with piss and vinegar, furious scorn;

I hate Greene. I hate Greene’s soul. I hate his guts. I hate everything he represents. I hate his hatreds. I hate his contempt’s. I hate his falseness. I really have a deep despising of Greene….So my feeling about Greene is really one of considerable despising, as I’m sure his would be about me. I mean Graham Greene was a really good writer, there’s no way around that. I wish I could do something about that….I don’t feel unconnected to Greene but my connection to Greene is really one of hostility and rejection, because I think he made claims to knowledge and to insight that he was not properly entitled to…
The rant is not without humour, Stone has a twinkle in his eye as he delivers it, but at the core is contempt for lack of truth. It’s pure and it’s the opinion of a man that does not write ‘entertainments’. 

(Salem Press Inc)

The knowledge at the centre of Stone's rancour is probably esoteric as much as political. Greene's problematic Catholicism does not match up with Stone's search for a truth, (or, probably, with Ston'es early life experience in a Catholic orphanage after his mother was hospitalised with schizophrenia.) His novels are full with questers, mystics but theirs is not a guilt ridden struggle with conscience, or a way of getting your leg over, but rather a search for transcendental reality. It’s a quality which became more developed as Stone's career progresses and is most apparent in novels such as Outbridge reach, Damascus gate and Bay of souls. In his Paris Review interview Stone described himself as a theologian but it would probably be closer to the mark to say his inclinations were gnostic, not interested in theory but, rather, direct spiritual experience.

In a memoir on The Jewish Daily Forward website Abe Mezrich talks of Stone's fascination with the Kabballah. Mezrich attributes Stone's attraction to the teaching that God is a force withdrawn from the universe, likening it to Stone's own experience of being abandoned by his father soon after birth. The rooting of the numinous in concrete, painful experience is one which Stone returns to again and again in his writing. The process is perilous, dangerous and quixotic, the cost is huge, but for Stone this is where the spark is found. 

(The Morning News)

Stone was also concerned with place. His novels are set in Central America, Mexico, Jerusalem, Haiti, Vietnam and the open Atlantic Ocean. Even in the American novels settings are marked, New Orleans and California in the late 60s. Places with character. Places with their own mythologies. There is a romance in their portrayal, appreciation of strange dangers and exotic attractions, of the tiny details and customs that make up their charisma. Stone himself admitted that his luck of productivity could be at least partly attributed to his wanderlust, something that it is hard to begrudge given the tantalising lucidity in which he presents these locales.  

(Interview Magazine)

Though there was pleasure to be had in his sense of place, that satisfaction was always eclipsed by serious purpose. Stone was concerned with those areas for their political significance, for the ready example they offered of 20th century American adventurism and its consequences. It seems a pity that we are to be robbed of his vision just as his novels reached the cusp of our modern world. The Death of the black-haired girl portrays the post 9/11 world but does not touch on the many wars in the Middle-East or the moral fallout of these conflicts on the world and American society. It seems that had he lived and produced one more novel Stone might have shown that we have not learned much over the course of his lifetime. That we have come full circle and back to the Dog soliders years.



The TotalAntitotalist Robert Stone -  InterviewMagazine interview

Available form Auckland Libraries

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 09:29


  1. Nice piece kelly. I'll be reading some robert Stone...


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