Ivan Klein

(Three Novels)

From The Secret of the Golden Flower:
                In the purple hall of the City of Jade dwells the God of the utmost emptiness and life.

                Philip Marlowe and the L.A. noir. – Private eye – Shamus – Creation of the premier purveyor of hard-boiled detective fiction. – Chandler’s Marlowe perceives the city’s 1930’s surfaces with the keenest of eyes. – As if they reflect everything that is. – Then there is beneath the surface - what’s hard and dark and beyond thought or chance of the encroachment of light.
                He comes on as a wise guy and somewhat secret agent of decency on his freakish turf. – A boy scout sort of, as well as a practitioner of the time-honored art of running continually foul of the law.

Golden Flower:
                When the one note of individuation enters into birth, human nature and life are divided in two. From this time on, if the utmost quietness is not achieved, human nature and life never see each other again.

                Take the liquored up noirish icon Marlowe and the human heart’s aspiration to completely chill….that is, to arrive at itself at some point before or after death.
                “Hey man,” one wishes to shout at him and Chandler across the decades, “Forget your self-conscious melodrama, your damned old broken hearts of gold, and fashion yourselves into urn-like heaps.” — A reflective impersonal ticker surely the best patch for what ails you, what you most truly must be seeking.

C.G. Jung and Marlowe –

                In his Record of Two Friendships, Miguel Serrano concludes that the metaphysical novelist, Herman Hesse, achieved greater inner peace than Jung whom he thought of as more of a still aspiring magician. – “Up until the last moment Jung seemed to be searching.”
                “Shamus” is what they call Marlowe. – A solver of puzzles (crimes), — A magician of sorts as well, searching in his wise guy way for a fix to the pain of living as well as for particular malefactors. – Shamus; that is, a private dick to the mysteries of the cosmos. – The deep mysteries that no ordinary shamus would even think of taking on.
                Shammes (sexton in a synagogue) is the probable origin of the term according to the American Heritage Dictionary. – Consistent with the broad consensus that there is certain Yiddish cast to the underside of things. That shamus Marlowe, for example, like a lot of men in the process of destroying themselves, didn’t scare easily. – There is the circulation of light, the refinement of breath, the beating of the heart and the darkness at the bottom of his bottle of bonded bourbon.

Golden Flower:
                The awakening of the spirit is accomplished because the heart has first died. When a man can let his heart die, then the primal spirit wakes to life.

                The unreconstructed, only partially knowledgeable hearts of Philip Marlowe and the man who wrote him, floating through a land of opium dreams, cosmetic beauty, perfect weather. Hard liquor rather than the love of countless hot eager babes to comfort, console him.
                Marlowe, even down on his uppers, can’t be bought, can’t be kept, can’t even find a bit of respite except with a game of chess that he plays nightly against himself in black and white.

Golden Flower:
                Master Lao-Tzu cautions of the hazards and obstacles one faces before reaching the point at which one can sit “like a withered tree before a cliff.” Also gives instructions on the correct way of “keeping equal distance between being and non-being.”

                I remember this last from the days of my misspent youth. – The dull ecstatic choices between those two states that came to the same. – How did we wind up in this decaying metaphysical box? -- Could it really be just the passing of the years and the self’s defensive amnesia?
                Is this Chandler’s great theme — mutability in the Hollywood sense? — Fear of death’s true play and pleasure?
                And if I somehow returned to consistently honest breaths on the ground of being, could I possibly leave everything else behind? Just a fleeting thought before a voice deep inside insists that sucker that I am, I still know the deal.

                Marlowe slaps his giggly, coked-up bitches around. Just to sober them up, straighten them out, you understand, although they seem to like it well enough. The predicate is that he’s mostly half drunk himself. Still, a noirish knight in only somewhat tarnished armor.
                                              Shamus / Shammes
                Maintaining some kind of order, moral or otherwise, in those L.A. depths. A sense of rectitude one could call it, if one wished to give it a bit of a turn.
                                              Marlowe –
                                                     An Ishmael of his private
                                                                            Ironic, uncertain, whistling
                                                                                           Dixie along with the rest of,
                                                                                                          Loosely speaking, humanity.
                The real and true Shammes at the old Staten Island synagogue at Elizabeth and Delafield. – That kind and pious little man in his white mortality vestments on Yom Kippur. His great respect for my father who reciprocated his respect and friendship and had no use for the bullying rabbi and his mistreatment of his keeper of order.
                The shamus Marlowe comes out of a hotel scuffle in The Big Sleep with all the guns in the room stuffed in his pockets. – Can’t quite figure out if the heavy and the two dames are so lame or Marlowe that cool. For sure he has an appraising eye for the ladies and the ladies have instant eyes for him. It doesn’t come to much. – A vacancy that any student of alcoholic men would understand immediately. Reminding me of old Jew-hating Skip, the manager of a midtown tennis shop where I worked for a few months at the beginning of the seventies. – The ex-minor league first baseman so fucking proud the Nazis hadn’t made goddamn soap out of his ass. His stories about escapades with the nurses on some isolated island when he was in the service trailing off to an inevitable “then I got shit-faced” with few variations. – And how can we take Marlowe more seriously except for his literary sensibility?

Golden Flower:
                “Furthermore, we must not fall victim to the ensnaring world. The ensnaring world is where the five kinds of demons disport themselves.”

                               Shamus groping through that L.A. labyrinth.
                Are the demons really five in number?
          Or are they an unholy swarm, crawling all over the walls and ceiling as I remember them? — As Chandler/Marlowe surely experienced them when their hands were played out.
                The night both Sternwood sisters in The Big Sleep throw themselves at him in turn, one naked, the other on her way there. After he escapes, he drinks two cups of black coffee, lets us in on the fact that “Women make me sick.” — But we sense that phenomenon, the irresistible, private eye. – “Kiss me killer,” the older sister Vivian had breathed before he hastily got back to the detecting business. – We wonder about the original wound, before alcohol and whatever other impediments set in.
                An awful fear of the dead bang truth / a shattering vision of total loss
                His little moralizing speeches the toughest to take. – Shamus, the woman-hating, woman-fearing Galahad. – There is the big mortal sleep and the booze induced slumber party. – And yet, operatively speaking, there are still moves left on the table….

The Golden Flower admonishes the reader to meditate correctly and thus to enter the space of energy rather than the cave of fantasy. Translator Richard Wilhelm explains some complex meditation instructions thusly – “The living manner of the circulation of the light has just this meaning: to live mingling with the world and yet in harmony with the light.” Most important:
                “And the still deeper secret of the secret – the land that is nowhere, that is the true home.” — That land as far from Hollywood as could be imagined.

                Old lily-white money, long winding driveways leading to big fortress-like homes with heavy wood furniture, discreet butlers and maids, in a paper mache town. Inhabited in The Big Sleep by nearly dead Gen. Sternwood with his decent concern for a disappeared son-in-law; Mr. Grayle, the aging compliant cuckold in Farewell My Lovely; the formidable port swigging Mrs. Murdock in The High Window. – His rich decaying clients and the fast women ancillary to them. He retreats down those winding driveways with retainers against his depression era $25 per diem, commences to puzzle things out, getting battered by experts in the process. Wanders through the bright L.A. sunshine as if in semi-darkness. The things he holds on to — his morals, professional ethics, bottles of Scotch, have no substance in anything approaching reality. – An almost total eclipse of the true self. Still a certain perverse genius hangs over the proceedings.
                In Farewell, Marlowe’s self-loathing is narrated with a bit of sardonic misdirection:
                “A lovely old woman. I liked being with her. I liked getting her drunk for my own sordid purpose. I was a swell guy. I enjoyed being me. You find almost anything under your hand in my business, but I was beginning to be a little sick to my stomach.”
                Mrs. Jessie Florian, the frowsy widow in question, gives him a piece of her mind: “Copper smart … not a real copper at that. Just a cheap shamus.” — Neatly summing up our hero’s existential situation. – The boozed up streetwise bitch giving it to him good and proper.

                Marlowe could make time with rich men’s wives lightning quick. – Mrs. Grayle (later unmasked as the long lost deadly Vilma in Farewell). The usual spectacular blonde, able and more than willing to drink like a fish, tongue like a snake. In the reveal she pumps five slugs into the belly of her ever-loving, neck-snapping Moose Malloy.
                The High Window has him nobly rescuing the mousy Miss Merle Davis, with that discreet little automatic in her desk drawer, from her abusive employer, Mrs. Murdock. He manages, somehow, to bundle her off to her neglected, doting mid-western parents on dowager Murdock’s dime. – Is the well-meaning private eye really unaware that it’s odds-on his putative little Madonna will forever have the highway blues? — She and those other representatives of womankind he is likely to come across in his murky personal and professional practice? Does the secret and inevitable thought of the above seep into his heart and leave him mean, disillusioned and habitually anesthetizing himself with whatever is handy?


                As noted, this particular shamus could take a punch, could get off the floor after being “sapped” (sucker-punched), knocked cold with brass knuckles or blind-sided with a fist full of rolled up coins. — Shot full of dope/speed, tied up, tied down, he had a knack for miraculous escapes. Incapable of truckling to money power, he didn’t seem to know or care what was good for him. Callous and bigoted with his times as to dirty Jews, Wops, Shines and never very far from yielding to the various tendencies toward oblivion that marked his profession. We’ll call him a real sho-nuff American of a type that’s been excised by hypocritical euphemism, true-life caricatures, current fashion.
                Shamefully, in Farewell he flees a nice girl’s offer of a much-needed bed for the night. Fear, it seems, driving him out the door. Anne Riordan is her dreamy name and an L.A. police lieutenant tips Marlowe that the auburn-haired sweetheart really digs him.
                Says he doesn’t like nice girls.
                What does he like?
                “I like smooth shiny girls, hard boiled and loaded for sin.”
                Attempting to probe the recesses of Chandler’s authorly imagination, one wonders whether it is love or sex that is the greater transgressive fear.
                As Farewell unspools, we find Marlowe waking up in a cheap waterfront hotel room staring at the reflection of a red blinking neon light stretching across the ceiling. A man alone, he steels himself for what awaits him on the menacing gambling ship anchored outside Bay City harbor’s three-mile limit.
                Deadly forces to contend with, and all he’s got, proverbially, is his coat, hat and gun. He feels for the shoulder holstered .38 hanging down to his ribcage, makes sure it’s just where he can get at it in a hurry. – I’ve been there – a matter of how quickly I could wrap my hand around the butt of that Smith and Wesson Special, finger on the trigger and swing it into position for use to deadly effect if it happened to come to that. On his own, facing erasure around every corner, behind every door. Yes, how quickly could he get to that heater with unmitigated clarity?
                A given that the cops are on the take or otherwise haltered, that corruption, cowardice, vice the order of the day. Marlowe makes ready to take on the shadowy boss, ready to face death for that piddling per diem and God knows what else.
                “The wet air was as cold as the ashes of love.”
                               A deeply wounded past
                                    to go with his cynical
                                       present is the broad hint. —
                                              Never anything more.

                He tells us that he worked as a cop in the D.A.’s office and was fired for insubordination. Now out here in this jittery uncertain space strictly a free agent. – How tough would it have been for him to knuckle under to the opportunists, fools and the ever shifting pyramid of toadies? — To have shaken hands, smiled, let it slide, signed off on the sickening fraud he knew it all to be? — To not go along with the full understanding that the deck is invincibly stacked against you. – It does take a little something. – That absurd bit of honor that clings to our boozed up, bigoted, heavily damaged shamus. – That I truly hope somehow clung to my wavering self during my decades in the system.
                Finally in Farewell as in all these tales, Marlowe independently unravels the intricate mysteries of theft, betrayal and murder most brilliantly and simply.
                Leaving only love and death to stand untouched, unfathomable. And the open question as to whether the thread of decency that runs through Chandler’s fictions has any living purchase in the here and now.

Ivan Klein's most recently published book is Toward Melville, a book of poems, from New Feral Press in July 2018. Previously published Alternatives to Silence from Starfire Press and the chapbook Some Paintings by Koho & A Flower Of My Own from Sisyphus Press. Included in Otoliths summer 2018 with a piece on Vaslav Nijinsky. Contributes frequently to the online magazine Arteidolia including the 2020 July issue.
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