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This review is taken from PN Review 126, Volume 25 Number 4, March - April 1999.

KEEPING FAITH THROUGH THE ECLIPSE OF GOD DAVID GASCOYNE, Selected Prose 19341996, edited by Roger Scott (Enitharmon) £30

This book makes jerky reading, because it is arranged in editorial categories, rather than chronologically. Roger Scott's arrangement is sensible (Essays, Memoirs and Obituaries, Reviews, Writings Relating to Surrealism, etc.), but these obscure the reader's understanding of the autobiographical thread, which alone makes sense of David Gascoyne's lifelong search for meaning. This is not to criticize Scott's thorough-going, helpful labours, but to indicate the difficult terrain ahead. The mind has mountains, but it also has chasms. With Gascoyne, both are formidable.

The extremes are encountered in his essay on Léon Chestov, which approaches the heights of existential philosophy, but does not surmount them, principally because of a keen but incomplete grasp of Heidegger's Being and Time; and in his article 'Self Discharged', which charts his confinement in an asylum for the insane. The latter takes us to the depths of self-delusion, brought on by this autodidact's indulgence in amphetamines: 'The root cause of my mental breakdown was a severe and prolonged amphetamine addiction.'

Gascoyne's renowned expertise on Surrealism is secondary to these themes. This is because his search for an authentic God and an authentic Christianity are better understood in terms of his ontological approach to philosophy and his scorching personal honesty, than in his peregrinations among the Surrealists. In any case, 'I became dissatisfied with Surrealism.'

The poetry he wrote in his twenties, Poems 1937-1942, puts him in the front rank of twentieth-century religious poets. But, as he himself says, 'I am ...


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