A Memoir of
The Dark Night
(Tarcher/Putnam)Harvey has been traveling around and around in mystical circles for quite some time now. He has written over twenty books on Eastern religions, including The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, The Direct Path, and The Return of Mother.
He became a passionate devotee of the Indian mystic Mother Meera, having met her in Pondicherry when "she was a silent and serene eighteen-year-old and I was twenty-seven." He became part of her inner circle, proselytizing world-wide on her behalf, finally helping her and her followers to found an ashram in Thalheim, Germany.
Harvey recently fell in love with a young man named Eryk --- he has always been open about his gayness --- and found himself in an imbroglio with Meera. Adilakshmi, her factotum and translator, reported to him, "The mother had just said to me, 'Tell Andrew that he has a choice. He can either become celibate or he can get married.'"
Mother prefers that you get married. When you are married, Mother wants you to write a book about how her force transformed you into a normal person, into a heterosexual. Mother says that single-sex love --- man-man or woman-
woman --- is not good, not healthy, not wise, not in the spiritual way at all, not healthy.
The whole of Sun at Midnight is taken up with Harvey's attempt to resist this command. At first, he thought that, perhaps, it was merely a test of his loyalty to her, and once he proved his devotion, she would drop her demands about his sexuality. Finding otherwise, he came to have a major falling out with Meera.
Harsh words followed. She used her followers to discredit him, he claimed. She used witchery to curse him, he said --- to create problems for him and his lover.
For instance, Eryk's cancer which had been in remission, suddenly flared up again, and he attributed it to her. Meanwhile, Harvey and Eryk were both plagued with scary dreams, commands that seemed to come from within to kill themselves.
Once Harvey went public with his doubts about Mother Meera, he found himself plagued with hate calls and letters, discovered he had lost many friends who were also part of her circle. He says that he was plunged into an holy "Dark Night;" he and Eryk found themselves in terminal despair.
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The English language offers a writer a thousand subtle ways to tell a story. Harvey resolutely avails himself of but two of them: shouting and sobbing. In his fury and despair, gentle artistry, irony, understatement, poetics all go out the window. The chance to build a potent case is subverted by rants. What he has to say is either bathed in a white-hot rage or sunk in a deep blue funk.
This is a man troubled by losing his guru, but he is also a man troubled by inchoate writing. He wails and moans to such a point that this reader was tempted to dump the whole mess in the office shredder so I could spend a few hours reading something intelligent to purge the mind of these paroxysms: the National Enquirer, the Congressional Record, Hustler, the Christian Science Monitor ... anything to get away from these rants.
Harvey is on a perpetual emotional teeter-
totter. He is either plunged into the most profound heart- searing, tooth- gnashing, soul- wracking despair, screaming at the fates (or screaming at, or with, Eryk), and --- all too noisily --- vomiting.
When not in ultimate woe and upchuck, he's in ecstasy: the wonderful, passionate, heart-throbbing love for Eryk, or the soul-
soaring love for his new-found divinity, The Virgin as revealed to the Poor European Peasant.
This latter entails Harvey and Eryk in long luxurious pilgrimages, heavy with tears and repentance, in such holy nooks as the Rue du Bac chapel of Paris, Mont St.-Michelle, Beauraing and Banneux --- places where the blessed Virgin has revealed herself to innocent, wide-eyed children whom no one, of course, believed.
Harvey's peripatetic journeyings, along with the quick transfer of his religious passion from Mother Meera to the Mother Virgin leaves one quite bedazzled, if not bewildered. Often one can't be too sure that his fervor for one over the other is a mere Meera mirror image --- if you catch my drift.
Piled atop these tear-
stained international pilgrimages are ecstasies of passion, not necessarily of the Divine sort, which do go on in noisome detail --- including an entire afternoon romp with Eryk in slippery back-and- forth in the bathtub at the hotel at Remouchamps, where "Our sperm ran together in the warm soapy water."
Now no one could be more tolerant of foamy love in the spermy waters of an exotic and ancient French inn than I, but when Eryk suddenly turns into a vision of the Divine Beloved, one is tempted to hurry right out of the tub and on to another book.
§ § §
Finally, there is the matter of name-
dropping. I ain't talking about the Figures of Fame who turn up in the Acknowledgments --- Donna Summers, Tina Turner, Streisand, Callas, and Dietrich (the last, whom we are told, had "a rough burnt voice.") Rather, I am speaking of Harvey's endless, non-stop, shameful, gluttish need for self-conflation. On one page after another we get handed yet another name of yet another book that he has sent off to his presumably loving and inexhaustible reading public:
- "I had just finished writing my book on Rumi, The Way of Passion;"
- "I remembered a morning in Montreal during the year I wrote about in Hidden Journey;"
- "Astrid, who had lovingly accompanied me during the years of transformation I described in Hidden Journey;"
- "I told her that the day before my collaborator on Dialogues With a Modern Mystic;"
- "This was the year I wrote about in Hidden Journey;"
- "In Son of Man, inspired by what I had learned of the Christ during my ordeal;"
- "In The Direct Path I fused together everything I had learned in my Dark Night."
Sun at Midnight gets so loggy with these commercials that we would suggest that --- if Mr. Mailer will be kind enough to yield it up --- the title be changed to Advertisements for Myself.
We have here someone who is convinced of the sanctity of his agony. The sub-title alone equates Harvey's holy to the martyred sufferings of holy figures out of Christian history: St. Peter, St. John the Divine, the multitudes of visionaries, and, dare we say, the Great Martyr Himself, practically yanked down from the cross to attest to the depth of Harvey's woe.
Readers interested in Mother Meera and the various gossipy dealings of her tiny world might be swept up by this one, but anyone who has a serious interest in Eastern religions would do well to bail out far earlier than I did. We all have problems, but there are some in the world who are convinced that their problems are more wonderful than those of the rest of us. Such people are not only tedious, they are dangerous. Stay out of their bathtubs --- else they'll drown you in tears if not in sperm.--- Lolita Lark