ANCIENT, GLITTERING & GAY
A P.S. Reflection on Quentin Crisp
by Guy Kettelhack
Quentin was so profoundly laissez-faire; I think most people would be horrified if they ever allowed themselves an equivalent dip into acceptance of self, and of everything and everyone else. (Few of us are as ready to abandon ego so completely.) He truly did not want to change or alter anyone.
This did not keep him from being a wonderful observer or criticable in a scything glance to determine for himself what made a person, thing or event "work" or "not work." (Just read any of his sharply observed movie reviews.) In fact it's tempting to extrapolate from his vividly expressed loves and hates a sort of world view, one that we might imagine he implicitly wanted us to espouse. Not that he expected anyone to change on his account. All he ever did was say what he'd come to say; he had no personal investment in changing anything or anybody one iota from what or who each already and essentially was.
It's an interesting conundrum in him: the most interesting of all, to me. You cannot sentimentalize or rationalize him in any way: he completely resists it. If we could imagine him having a religion, it would be one based on a complete belief in and acceptance of absolute idiosyncrasy.
Another way of putting it: the absolute uniqueness of each of us. And yethere's the real conundrumsomehow this was not for him a depressing business, not a sentence dooming us to isolation. Not sure why. I only know that with his absolute acceptance of everything as 'separate' came a capacity to enjoy the parade in front of his eyes with more delight and more immersion in what he saw than anyone else I've known. To find joy hereand a profound (paradoxical) sense of connection to the worldwell, that's the trick he pulled off, and the ticket he implicitly offers us to take a similar awestruck ride through life.
If he wanted us to be happy, it was surely by discovering joy in all the bleak business of finding ourselves incarnate. And we could. "The essence of happiness is its absoluteness." (I quote this ad nauseam, but it's always appropriate.) "It is automatically the state of being of those who live in the continuous present all over their bodies. No effort is required to define or even attain happiness, but enormous concentration is needed to abandon everything else." (Damned good definition of Buddhism to me.)
Do you know the Yeats' poem "Lapis Lazuli"? It's always reminded me of Quentin (at least since I met him; I knew the poem before I knew him) especially its final lines:
Two Chinamen, behind them a third,
Are carved in lapis lazuli,
Over them flies a long-legged bird,
A symbol of longevity;
The third, doubtless a serving-man,
Carries a musical instrument.
Every discoloration of the stone,
Every accidental crack or dent,
Seems a water-course or an avalanche,
Or lofty slope where it still snows
Though doubtless plum or cherry-branch
Sweetens the little half-way house
Those Chinamen climb towards, and I
Delight to imagine them seated there;
There, on the mountain and the sky,
On all the tragic scene they stare.
One asks for mournful melodies;
Accomplished fingers begin to play.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.
Read Guy Kettelhack's article on Quentin Crisp at NightCharm.
Copyright © 2006 by Guy Kettelhack for the Quentin Crisp Archives.
All rights reserved. Photo still from the movie Orlando.