Tonguing Meaning 1: Paul Bowles

This isn't really a music blog as much as an audioblog, and now and again I'll be posting spoken word material for you to slip into reverie to whenever you're on drab public transport or safe in (a lonely) bed. First off, one of my all-time favourite authors, the eminent Paul Bowles—the writer who, like no other, rips out the smiles from garden walks. So, if you're into travelling, introspection or violence, check this out:

When striped snakes shall creep upon us
And the nervous screams of birds
Make silent all the fountains and the orchards and when these
Have caught upon the wing each wing
That flutters from the sky
Then shall I and then shall I
Rip out the smiles from garden walks
Transform the minnows into hawks
Tarantulas and bees
Then shall I and then shall I
Unmake each whining thing
Paul Bowles (1910-1999) was an American author, composer, poet, travel writer, translator and musicologist. In addition to albums of his compositions, several records of readings have been released—and consequently discontinued. Typically, these also include field recordings from his adopted country, Morocco.

Paul Bowles: You Are Not I—Rare Bowles [.zip]

1. Baptism of Solitude (excerpt)
Although a travel writer who'd been to many corners of the world, Paul Bowles was renowned for his expatriate existence in Morocco (and visited there by «every traveller not wearing shorts,» supposedly). His literature is associated with the northern African desert. Snippets such as this portrayal of the Sahara—from travel book Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue—Scenes from the Non-Christian World—explain why.

2. You Are Not I (excerpt)
The two first sentences of a much longer short story.

3. The Sheltering Sky (excerpt)
Bowles' first novel, The Sheltering Sky (published 1949) remains his most famous novel. This excerpt describes the fever suffered by traveller to the Sahara, Port Moresby, as he is nursed by wife Kit.

4. Up Above the World (excerpt)
Up Above the World (published 1966) was the fourth and last novel Bowles wrote. A kind of murder mystery, it's not so much the plot as the creatively empathic, introspective prose that evokes perspectives, inebriation, insanity, breakdowns, fevers and dreams, with a vivid accuracy that's as unnerving as it is exhilarating. As with so many of Bowles' stories, consciousness and reality itself are, in a way, characters.

5. A Distant Episode (excerpt)
«A Distant Episode» is a short story about a professor of linguistics who goes into the Saharan desert to study Moghrebi dialects, only to run into a band of rogue Reguibat.

In Eroticism, Georges Bataille points out that
At one end, existence is basically orderly and decent. Work, concern for the children, kindness and honesty rule men's dealings with their fellows. At the other, violence rages pitilessly…

These extremes are called civilisation and barbarism… But the use of these words is misleading, for they imply that there are barbarians on the one hand and civilised men on the other. The distinction is that civilised men speak and barbarians are silent… Many consequences result from that bias of language. Not only does «civilised» usually mean «us», and barbarous «them», but also civilisation and language grew as though violence was something outside, foreign not only to civilisation but also to man, man being the same thing as language. Yet observation shows that the same peoples are alternately barbarous and civilised in their attitudes… If language is to be extricated from this impasse, we must declare that violence belongs to humanity as a whole and is speechless, and that thus humanity as a whole lies by ommission and language itself is founded upon this lie.

… Common language will not express violence… If violence does occur, and occur it will, it is explained by a mistake somewhere, just as men of backward civilisations think that death can only happen if someone makes it by magic…

But silence cannot do away with things that language cannot state. Violence is as stubbornly there just as much as death, and if language cheats to conceal universal annihilation, the placid work of time, language alone suffers, language is the poorer, not time and not violence.
6. Each Whining Thing
An early poem, from 1929.

7. The Delicate Prey (excerpt)
Regrettably, Bowles only reads an excerpt from this, one of his most haunting short stories.

A young man, Driss, and two of his uncles travel through desert to sell leather goods, when they encounter a lone Moungari. The stranger murders the two uncles and wounds Driss—which is where this excerpt starts off.

The story concludes with the murderer being caught trying to sell the leather. The victims' tribesmen eventually find him, bind him to a camel and take him far into the desert. There they remove his turban, shave his head and bury his body, with only his head protruding from the ground. The avengers then leave him to the elements:
When they had gone the Moungari fell silent, to wait through the cold hours for the sun that would bring first warmth, then heat, thirst, fire, visions. The next night he did not know where he was, did not feel the cold. The wind blew dust along the ground into his mouth as he sang.
8. Reh Dial Beni Bouhiya
Performed by Cheikh Hamed bel Hadj Hamadi ben Allal & ensemble, this is one of Bowles' field recordings.

9. Allal (excerpt)
«Allal» is the story about an outcast—the son of a disgraced woman—scorned and mistreated by his fellow villagers all his life. Then he meets this man.

10. The Garden
A short story written in 1964.

11. Love Song
A poem.

12. Points in Time XI
A snippet from Points in Time—Tales from Morocco, a kind of travelogue.

13. Nights

14. Six Preludes for Piano
Supposedly one of the compositions Bowles was most satisified with, performed here by Jean-Luc Fafchamps.

  • 1-7 and 11 are from Baptism of Solitude (1995), with sound design by Bill Laswell.
  • 8-10 and 12 are from Tellus #23—The Voices of Paul Bowles (1989).
  • 13 and 14 are from Black Star at the Point of Darkness (1990).
  • All currently out of print.

I cannot recomment Paul Bowles enough. Should you decide to go out and read something by him, do yourself a favour and make it the novels Let It Come Down and The Sheltering Sky, as well as any collection of short stories that contains «Call at Corazón».


  1. Hello: Thought you may like to mention this on your site. Available now are two volumes of xochi23 an arts/music journal that in both issues features articles relating to the Master Musicians. In Volume One the cover features an untitled Brion Gysin painting of a Master Musician as well as a previously unpublished piece called "The Mountains of London" where Gysin transports the Master Musicians to London. The second issue (vol2) features an interview with noted North African music expert Dr Philip Schuyler. The theme of the interview is the Moroccan field recordings of Paul Bowles and he talks a lot about the Joujouka etc.
    Both editions are available in the States and Europe through Aftermath Books (orders@aftermathbooks.com
    Many Thanks for your time and hope the festival and everything is going well,
    Marisa Giorgi
    xochi publications
    Brisbane, Australia

  2. Hello there, any chance to reupload this rare Bowles compilation?
    thank you

  3. Hey Mr. dmtls! Thanks for alerting me to the dead link. I just re-upped the comp. Enjoy.