By ALAN BRIEN
RoLE-REVERSAL is a well- established technique in
psychotheraby. Once you have peered through the other fellow's eyes, tried on his soul for size, and attempted to manipulate his larynx, you can never feel quite the same about him again. I carry out the drill occasionally in the bath as a form of psychical exercise, but I find it too unnerving for regular and frequent indulgence. The process has obvious drawbacks as a means of brewing up good will towards all men. First of all, how can you be sure that you are really getting inside him and not just your straw dummy of him? (Properly organised, with a trained psychologist around to staunch the blood, you should have the other man there as well imitating you. But even then, I feel, you would learn more about yourself from his impersonation than you would about him from yours.) Supposing this kind of transmigration of personalities does give you the keys to the strong-boxes of his psyche, is it necessarily true that to understand all is to forgive all? Once you convince yourself that the big ape feels like a little monkey inside, that the rich autocrat secretly suffers from a terror of being turned away from the Ritz, or that the icy atheist is sweating fear at the thought of the Last Judgment, would such information encourage you to befriend him or to destroy him? I have always taken great comfort from the belief that my enemies have unfortunately no idea of what I am really like.
The complaints about lack of communication, so common in modern novels and plays, find no echo in my mind. If I were laying siege to a Huffy secretary at an office party, my line would be--lhe trouble with my wife is she understands me.' I have no yearning for a world full of telepaths who could tune in ,to the disorder of my mental living-room before I had time to straighten it up for visitors. I have enough trouble with the telephone which comes through the walls of your house like a battering-ram instead of waiting for days on the hall table to be opened at leisure like a good-mannered letter. For most of us, our external persona is the only work of art we can create and we spend our lives perfecting and polishing it. There would be little point in working up to a grand public exhibition, with tickets at the door and a glass of sherry all round, if anyone could sneak in for a private view uninvited at any hour. •
But there is no doubt that an occasional well- documented scouting exhibition around the fringe areas of friends and enemies is essential to keep your own defences in good repair. It is surprising how difficult it is to see anybody, or any organisation, from the outside. The British political system, for example, has built-in the opportunity for frequent reversals of role every five or ten years. But it is rare to find a pro- government newspaper displaying sympathy for the men in power when that paper becomes anti- government. The wild men of left or right, who were once willing to scuttle the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar, suddenly have qualms about rocking the boat. It is like half-time at a soccer match—both teams play the same dirty foot- . ball but now they are kicking at the opposite goal. Tory ready-reckoners count up the cost to the nation of a f14,000-a-year Prime Minister cleaning his own shoes, but hesitate to work out the expenses of a £4,500 Leader of the Oppo- sition who arranges flowers in the country's time. Socialist gourmets who jeered at the ancestral port applaud a leader who can tell at a sniff when the HP sauce is corked. If both parties took an objective, impartial view• of what was possible in government, they would hardly ever be in a fighting state to mount an election battle.
The imagination boggles at the idea even of a swap round in confidential secretaries—those combinations of Svengali and Figaro who now so frequently stand between the Great Man an his public. What would happen if a Montague Browne worked for Lord Russell and a Ralpb Schoemann for Sir Winston Churchill? Would letters from Hyde Park Gate appear in Tlid Times applauding the stand of gallant littl Cuba and its heroic Savrola, Dr. Castro, agains a world in arms? Would Tribune be forced t spike 1,000-word telegrams from the Wets mountains alleging that Khrushchev was a blood stained monster on a throne of skulls?
I have always argued that the vital statistics of attractive women should include an extra category to 48 : 16 : 36, or whatever, I would like to see added IQ 150. Intelligence is an aphrodisiac.. Wit is an essential of charm. I will wolf-whistle more admiringly at a way of talk- ing than a way of walking. And I cannot con• ceive of an intelligent man who would not in his heart agree.
I must admit, however, that a terror strikes deep when I am told I will meet the most intelli- gent woman in Europe which would never appear at the promise of the most beautiful woman in the world. The only time I met Mary McCarthy —by no means a dog in looks though occasion- ally bitchy in print—I behaved like a school- boy being asked to zip Brigitte Bardot into her dress. It had to be in a top-floor flat in Soho so that I started up the stairs two at a time like a teenager and arrived in .her presence like an old man with thrombosis. There were several minutes during which I seemed to breathe out three lungfuls of air for every gasp I could take in. Then I launched into an intellectual fantasy I had been planning all day about the gain to world drama that would accrue if only Brecht and Beckett could be conibined in a new play, wright called Brechett. Unfortunately, every time I meant Brecht I said 'Brechett,' and every time I meant Beckett I said 'Brechett,' so it is doubtful if she ever gathered the full flavour of the joke.
Burton in his Anatomy of Melancholy suggests the best way of inoculating yourself against female beauty is to imagine what the inside of the particular girl's nose must look like and to picture to yourself the condition of her intestines. I have never tried this, but I believe the most effective way to insulate yourself against female intelligence is to imagine what you would think of her conversation if it were made by a man.
I think, for example, I could now face Brigid Brophy without tremors after listening to her on television and pretending it was Harvey Orkin with a frog in his throat. And her review of Sade in the New Statesman has encouraged me to the confidence that I might even get round to contradicting her face to face. There she says, 'most people's earliest or only ex- perience of making up a narrative is for their sexual fantasies.' I would have you know, Miss Brophy, I make up narratives about six hours hours a day—only about a quarter of which have any sexual significance. (Unless, of course, every- thing has sexual significence, in which case it is hardly worth attempting to distinguish one from the other in the first place.) I escape from burn- ing theatres, sinking ships and plummeting aeroplanes. I explain the economy to the gnomes of Zurich. I fight wild animals. I become King of the Congo. I unmask Kennedy's assassin. learn how to dive, drive a car, tell Burgundy from claret blindfold, write Latin hexameters, tie a Windsor knot. I travel through time. I' have narratives I haven't narrated yet. And I haven't really started on sex.