A Cock-Eyed Comedy by Juan Goytisolo Leadtext: For a number of years I lost sight of good Father Trennes. I discovered he'd gone to Cuba to salute Fidel Castro's Revolution. By all accounts he sang the praises of its portents and marvels. Perhaps he liked mulattos? Wagging tongues reckoned he did: 'Like the real saint he is, he goes after the all-healing whey of the Lucumi. On l'appelle deja l'Abbesse de Castro!' Back in Europe, he set up in Paris. I'd already sent him the address on the rue Poissonniere and supposed he was in contact with Juan though neither made mention of it. The almost painful, whole-hearted energy I seek in bed no longer galvanised me as before. Was I getting old? Yes, I probably was. Fortunately, greater mental strength and also greater calm and confidence accompany that process. Marguerite Yourcenar, whose work I plunged into after shelving la Beauvoir, expresses it very well in a quotation, taken like the Verlaine, from Robert Liddell's excellent biography of Cavafy which the Father lent me: L'angoisse, en matiere sensuelle, est presque tonjours un phenomene de jeunesse; ou elle detruit un etre, ou elle diminue progressivement dufait de l'experience, d'une plus juste connaissance du monde, et plus simplement de l'habitude. But to return to Father Trennes. He occasionally phoned me at the office: 'Oh, I can see you so happy breathing in the air of the Ramblas! Ici, il pleut dans la ville, et il pleut dans mon coeur, comme dit Brassens. Send me a little ray of sunshine: a poem, a letter, a photo of you with a pretty boy!' After his rash of Castroism subsided, he prudently steered away from politics and revolutionary ideals. Nor did he tramp the calle de Vitrubio, or, very exceptionally, the Via Bruno Buozzi. According to Juan, he lived a life dedicated to his apostolic endeavours in places of very dubious sanctity. One day he turned up at my flat in Turo Park: untouched by the passage of time, long-haired and dressed with an elegant insouciance, very sixty-eightish. (A few weeks before he'd called me excitedly from Cairo: he'd just opened his heart to a traffic cop in the busiest square in the city! What had been his response? 'Oh he was perfect! He went on with his whistle but agreed to meet me in front of the Egyptian Museum.' He sighed: so tall and strong, his feet like a grape-picker's out of Velazquez.) 'You look as fresh as a daisy! Are you on a course of hormones in the fatherland of Ceaucescu?' 'I don't need to go to Romania like some television announcer. I try to live a healthy life while waiting for my next reincarnation.' He'd finally found his sense of humour. He told me about his new friends in Paris: Severo Sarduy, Roland Barthes, Francois Wahl. What about Genet? 'He worshipped him from afar but was intimidated by his rude ways.' As for his relationship with the rue Poissonniere he suffered from Juan's topsy-turvy moods, 'ever more engrossed in himself and his labyrinthine writing'. He was apparently preparing - or perpetrating - a novel that the author himself dubbed a door-stopper, tome or artefact - whose production required extensive reading and years of labour. A history of sexuality in the light of Catholic doctrine via a journey through the Spanish language from the Middle Ages to the present. He wanted to transcribe his cruising experiences in church language, including that of the author of the contemporary Kempis, in order to parody it from within and strip bare its hypocrisy: what, perhaps contaminated by his Tel Quel readings, he called 'textual libido'. We both laughed. 'Is it an autobiography or a novel? Does it have plot, chapters, real people?' Plot is the least of his worries, Father Trennes argued at second remove. Our mutual friend is trying to train his ear to catch the voices from the past in order to appropriate them and become lord and master of his writing, forgetting those striving to do just that in relation to literature and the literary life. One could thus measure an artist's vitality by his ability to assimilate the different literary tendencies of the tradition in which he inscribes himself at the behest of a vast, ambitious and original project (didn't Eliot write something similar?). Whoever tried to bypass this substratum or digested library, jamais en rapport avec les combinaisons mercantiles (to quote Mallarme), was condemned to live and disappear with his era . . . Father Trennes doubted the viability of such a project and so did I. Forced to choose between Forster and Bakhtin, I always stick with Forster's reasonable precepts and parameters. But I awaited an opportunity to argue the toss with Juan. 'Et vous, mon pere' (I always address him as vous in order to mortify him), 'how's life treating you round Barbes and the Gare du Nord?' 'I'm no longer Father Trennes!' I'd served him gin on the rocks which he savoured with relish. 'I've changed my nom de guerre, like the whores of yesteryear! Now I'm Friar Bugeo. Doesn't the name ring any bells?' It did in fact, but I couldn't hit on which. 'He wrote A Cock-eyed Comedy, a work of saintly shainelessness, a short, sharp exchange included in the Book of Burlesque Songs. Aren't you familiar with it?' The anachronisms of ex-Father Trennes and greenhorn Friar Bugeo delighted me. Had he, as I'd urged Juan, hitched up to the English literary tradition from Sterne to Swift? I remember we bantered about his longevity. A century and a half? From the Early Middle Ages! We lingered on Jehovah's fantastic computations and the earthly affections of the patriarchs in Genesis. But could one doubt the word of God? He quoted lines of Milton at me; I riposted with a reflection from Gracian. It ended in stale-mate. He poured himself another gin with lots of ice. 'Let's go straight to the point,' he said quite seriously. 'Do you not believe in transmigration?' Years later, when I was recovering from the ritual, exhausting journey to the Antipodes (the filipinos bored me, no longer aroused me), I received by registered post the manuscript into which, cruel reader, you will now sink your teeth: tear it up if you feel that way. I don't mind and it doesn't reflect on me. I passed it on to the publisher just as it came. If there's anything to criticise, it's peeping-tommery. I wrote a poem on this practice in my youth. I was a poet once and, when the word left me, I left that blessed state.