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The Cynical Detective
I STILL HAD A LOT TO LEARN, and I did, I felt that I’d come to the right
place. In Dudley’s own house I ought to be able to find out what
I wanted to know, and Eliza had given me permission to poke and pry.
I sat for a while in the chair that I had
sat in so many times before, and when I remembered Dudley’s saying that
I had a lot to learn, I said, “That may be, but the lot that I have to
learn is not the lot that you can teach me.” It wasn’t clever, and
it didn’t seem quite grammatical, but at least I’d found my tongue.
I tried taking Dudley’s place and addressing
the other chair as he would have if I had been sitting in it. I let
my eyelids droop and allowed my mouth to twist itself into something that
was not quite a sneer and could be mistaken for an indulgent smile. He
supposes that he has become clever, I thought, and what he would
probably describe as cynical, and apparently I am to be the object of this
newfound cleverness and soi-disant cynicism. Well, we shall see who
wins that contest, but at least he shall know what a cynic is.
“The Cynics,” I told the empty chair, as Dudley
had once told me, “are widely misunderstood. Originally, they were
a sect of Greek philosophers, flourishing in the fourth century B. C.,
who advocated the doctrines that virtue is the only good, that the essence
of virtue is self-control, and that surrender to any external influence
is beneath human dignity. In our time, as you have doubtless noticed,
greed is considered the only good, people have no self-control nor wish
to exercise any self-control, and the mass of them happily surrender to
any external influence provided that it saves them the effort of thinking
“I wish you’d let me think for myself,”
muttered the impertinent boy in the opposite chair.
“Plus ça change,” I went on as Dudley
had, ignoring the impertinence. “Even in their day the Cynics were
disparaged. Their foremost member, Diogenes, was slandered by Seneca,
who claimed that he lived in a tub. The mob nicknamed him ‘Dog,’
which gives us a rather vivid idea of what people thought of him.
Revere him, Peter, and wear the label ‘cynic’ proudly, for it is derived
from that nasty nickname, kyon in Greek, and today it designates
those of us who point the finger at human vanity and pride, who recognize
that selfishness is the motivation for every human action, who scoff at
claims of disinterest or altruism or love, who ask, always, ‘cui bono?’
In other words, what the world calls a cynic, a dog, I—and, I hope, you,
my boy—would call a reasonable human being.”
When Dudley had finished, he began the business
of emptying and cleaning his pipe, and he said to me, “I trust you will
remember that.” I resolved to forget it as soon as possible, but
despite the passage of time I hadn’t managed to forget it, and sitting
in Dudley’s chair had brought it back to me so completely that if I had
had someone sitting opposite me I could have delivered the lecture on the
Cynics just as Dudley had delivered it to me, word for word. I resolved
to try delivering it some evening, if I could find an acolyte, a young
novice to sit in the chair opposite me, someone to educate and belittle.
I might even try smoking one of Dudley’s pipes. In the befuddled
logic of adolescence, becoming more like Dudley seemed somehow to be a
way of getting the better of him.
I didn’t stay long in the living room.
There wasn’t much there that seemed likely to provide the answers I was
seeking, nor did I find what I was after anywhere else in the house that
night. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I visited the
house daily, as Eliza had asked me to do, and sometimes I visited twice
a day, to find what I could find, to learn what I could learn. I
investigated every inch of it. I came to know everything that was
in every dresser and cabinet and bedside table. I knew the title
of every book on every bookshelf, and I flipped through many of them.
I knew everything that was in the desk in Dudley’s study. I tried
on Dudley’s life as if it were a suit of clothes. I sat in his chair
in the living room, drinking his Scotch, reading his diary. I read
his mail, the letters he had saved and the copies of letters that he had
sent. I sat at his desk, and I took notes on a pad that I found there,
writing with Dudley’s pen. I used his toilet and bathed in his tub,
where I read the little volume on Diogenes from which he had taken the
text of his lecture on the Cynics. I slept in his bed, on the side
that the contents of the bedside table told me was his, beside the side
that Eliza would have occupied.
Did I come to understand what it had been like to
be Dudley Beaker? Somewhat, I think. Did I find any evidence
that he was my father? Yes. What I found wouldn’t have convinced
anyone; it didn’t even convince me, but it did suggest that further investigation
was called for. This is what I found: some photographs of my mother
in an album in the bottom drawer of Dudley’s desk. There was nothing
sexually suggestive about these photographs, but there was in his having
kept an album exclusively devoted to photographs of my mother something
strongly suggestive of his having played the essential role in my paternity,
it seemed to me. Dudley had been an amateur of photography, and he
was always volunteering to take photographs at family gatherings.
Apparently, he had kept copies for himself of the pictures in which my
mother appeared. I would say that the photographs showed my mother
from about thirteen to twenty-four, her age when she gave birth to me.
In the last photographs of her that he had pasted into the album, she was
pregnant. At that point, he had stopped adding pictures to the album.
It contained no pictures of me.
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Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise
Copyright © 2001 by Eric
Inflating a Dog is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents,
dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products
of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Picador USA will publish Inflating a Dog in the summer of 2002.
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