A First-Class Letter From the Lost and Found

SINCLAIR BEILES (ca. 1998)

When I read Heathcote Williams’s description of a bizzare project that for a time obsessed the South African poet Sinclair Beiles, who wanted to plant “the barren Sahara desert” with “industrial quantities of discarded tea-leaves,” I remembered a letter Carl Weissner once wrote.

March 30th, 1971

Dear Sinclair: The Sahara is irrigated. Now what? While armies of hippies along the San Andreas fault are down on their knees waiting for a sign. It’s fascinating what stupidities human beings will subject themselves to. I see your ambassador put in a pitch to the junta in Athens for your freedom and repatriation. It wasn’t necessary to continue with bread and water, etc., since you’ve managed to earn points in a way that will make you immortal in the eyes of the hitchhikers of the world. Penniless in Greece? Just punch the next Marine officer in the face in Piraeus harbor, you’ll get arrested and locked up—bingo! You’ve got a roof over your head. I’ll remember that, in case I ever find myself in a harbor town without a peso, standing on a corner with no place to drop anchor.

CARL WEISSNER, [Marseille, May 11, 2010]

At WDR Cologne they’re producing a three-hour program about the Black Panthers. I’m involved as translator and speaker and get to recite pages of Huey Newton: “We intend, within the confahns of the oppressor state, to stay armed to the teeth for decades! Centuries!…” Howgh.

Another thing: You can do me a favor by not directing all possible people to me. I recently got a letter from Paloma Picasso in her wonderful handwriting, and what does she want? That I write something for her soon-to-be-appearing European(!) literary magazine.

Now think about that. She’s barely 21. Why do you give her ideas like that? Next minute she goes to Christian Lacroix and says: “Monsieur, I’d like to design some jewelry for you. If that’s okay.” The name opens doors and gates, with the result that every week she’s got three or four new things going on, out of which nothing ever materializes. Tell her she should become the mistress of Salvador Dali. Ah, he’s already got one? Then never mind.

Ah — and again you let yourself be committed to an English nuthouse (Why does Annie comply with this shit? Oh no, I see now that this time your dentist committed you — how come? I bet he gets a kickback.) Just so you can write a play in rhymed verse in peace and quiet . . .

Sinclair, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: iambic pentameter is not your friend. And rhymed verse definitely not. Hands off that stuff and write more well-paid filth for Maurice Girodias. Then we’ll eat out of your hand with dog-like ecstasy. A sense of accomplishment you won’t want to miss out on.

I found the letter earlier this year, not long after Carl had died. It was stored in his computer. In 1971 he didn’t have a computer. He must have transcribed the letter sometime after 2007, when he began using one, and when Beiles was already dead. (Beiles died on Nov. 3, 2000.)

What’s puzzling is that the letter is written in German. As Beiles’s friend and publisher Gerard Bellaart points out to me, Beiles read German but not well enough to have understood the letter, and Carl would have known that.

I’m betting that Carl, who wrote and spoke fluent English, translated his letter from an English original possibly to help fill out a book for Milena Verlag, his publisher in Vienna. And I’m betting that the original won’t be found among Beiles’s papers because, given Beiles’s fragile psyche, Carl would not have mailed it.

Gerard Bellaart

As Bellaart puts it, “My hypothesis is he never intended that letter to be sent to Sinclair. He knew perfectly well what a mental backlash it would provoke. As you observed, Carl was too much of a mensch to not consider the mental implications.”

The references in the letter testify to its authenticity. In fact, Beiles had been jailed in Athens for trashing a Naval officer’s Mercedes, and Paloma Picasso was asking writers willy-nilly for texts to publish in Point Virgule, a magazine that never got off the ground. Also, as Bellaart notes, “Carl’s appreciation of Sinclair’s Chaucerian inclinations is about as damning as was mine at the time.”

But consider this. It’s possible he never wrote the letter, in either English or German, in the first place. At least not on March 30, 1971. It just might be a first-class beauty of a post-dated fake, like the marvelous letter of July 8, 1968, that Carl wrote to William S. Burroughs from the Waikiki Ebbtide Motel, which Melena published last year in Die Abenteuer von Trashman. That, he told me after it appeared in print, is “pure fiction. What the hell, I LIKE fiction…”

Big thanks to Mark Terrill who was kind enough to translate “Brief an Sinclair Beiles,” to Eddie Woods who facilitated it, and to Gerard Bellaart for, well, everything. To all you folks who read German, have a look at this:

Carl Weissner: Brief an Sinclair Beiles
(südafrikanischer Cutup-Autor; 1959 bei Olympia Press in Paris zuständig für die Erstausgabe von NAKED LUNCH)
30. März 1971

Dear Sinclair: Die Sahara ist bewässert. Was jetzt? Während Armeen von Hippies am San-Andreas-Graben knien und auf ein Zeichen warten. Es ist faszinierend, zu welchen Blödheiten der Mensch sich herabläßt.

Ich sehe, dein Botschafter hat sich bei der Junta in Athen für deine Freilassung und Repatriierung verwendet. Es war ja auch nicht nötig, noch weiter bei Wasser und Brot usw. , denn du hast in einer Fasson gepunktet, die dich bei den Trampern der Welt unsterblich macht. Pennyless in Greece? Haust du einfach im Hafen von Piräus dem nächsten Marineoffizier eine rein, wirst verhaftet und eingelocht – bingo! schon hast du ein Dach überm Kopf. Das merke ich mir für den Fall, dass ich mal in einer Hafenstadt ohne Peso 1 an der Ecke stehe und keinen Ankerplatz finde.

First page of CW letter to WSB from Waikiki Ebbtide Motel

Im WDR Köln machen sie jetzt eine Drei-Stunden-Sendung über die Black Panthers. Ich bin als Übersetzer und Zitatsprecher dabei und darf seitenweise Huey Newton rezitieren: “We intend, within the confahns of the oppressor state, to stay armed to the teeth for decades! Centuries! …”Howgh. Noch etwas: Du kannst mir eine Freude machen, indem du es unterläßt, alle möglichen Leute auf mich anzusetzen.

Da bekomme ich neulich von Paloma Picasso ein Briefchen in ihrer wunderschönen Handschrift, und was will sie? Daß ich was schreibe für ihre demnächst erscheinende europäische(!) Literaturzeitschrift.

Jetzt überleg mal. Sie ist knapp 21. Warum setzt du ihr solche Flausen ins Ohr? Im nächsten Moment geht sie zu Christian Lacroix und sagt: “Monsieur, ich möchte Schmuck für Sie entwerfen. Wenn’s recht ist.” Der Name öffnet Tür und Tor, mit dem Ergebnis, daß sie jede Woche drei oder vier neue Sachen anschiebt, und nie wird was daraus. Sag ihr, sie soll Mätresse von Salvador Dali werden. Ach, der hat schon eine? Na, dann eben nicht.

Ah – und schon wieder läßt du dich in ein englisches Irrenhaus einweisen (Wieso macht Annie diesen Scheiß mit? Ach nein, ich seh grade, daß dich diesmal dein Zahnarzt eingewiesen hat – how come? Ich wette, er kassiert einen Kickback.) bloß damit du in Ruhe ein Theaterstück in gereimten Versen schreiben kannst . . .

Sinclair, ich habe es schon mal gesagt und wiederhole es: Der fünfhebige Jambus ist nicht dein Freund. Und der gereimte schon gar nicht. Laß die Finger davon und schreib wieder gutbezahlten Schweinkram für Maurice Girodias. Den werden wir dir in hündischer Verzückung aus der Hand fressen. Ein Erfolgserlebnis, auf das du nicht verzichten solltest.

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