A Long Letter From F.

Book II:

A Long Letter From F.

My Dear Friend,

Five years with the length of five years. I do not know exactly where this letter finds you. I suppose you have thought often of me. You were always my favorite male orphan. Oh, much more than that, much more, but I do not choose, for this last written communication, to expend myself in easy affection.

If my lawyers have performed according to my instructions, you are now in possession of my worldly estate, my soap collection, my factory, my Masonic aprons, my tree house. I imagine you have already appropriated my style. I wonder where my style has led you. As I stand on this last springy diving board I wonder where my style has lead me.

I am writing this last letter in the Occupational Therapy Room. I have let women lead me anywhere, and I’m not sorry. Convents, kitchens, perfumed telephone booths, poetry courses—I followed women anywhere. I followed women into Parliament because I know how they love power. I followed women into the beds of men so that I could learn what they found there. The air is streaked with the smoke of their perfume. The world is clawed with their amorous laughter. I followed women into the world, because I loved the world. Breasts, buttocks, everywhere I followed the soft balloons. When women hissed at me from the brothel windows, when they softly hissed at me over the shoulders of their dancing husbands, I followed them and I sat down with them, and sometimes when I listened to their hissing I knew it was nothing but the sound of the withering and collapse of their soft balloons.

This is the sound, the hissing, which hovers over every woman. There is one exception. I knew one woman who surrounded herself with a very different noise, maybe it was music, maybe it was silence. I am speaking, of course, about our Edith. It is five years now that I have been buried. Surely you know by now that Edith could not belong to you alone.

I followed the young nurses to Occupational Therapy. They have covered the soft balloons with starched linen, a pleasant tantalizing cover which my old lust breaks as easily as an eggshell, I have followed their dusty white legs.

Men also give off a sound. Do you know what our sound is, dear frayed friend? It is the sound you hear in male seashells. Guess what it is. I will give you three guesses. You must fill in the lines. The nurses like to see me use my ruler.

1. ________________________________
2. ________________________________
3. ________________________________

pg. 154-155. Beautiful Losers.

Ok. So I’m about mid-way through Beautiful Losers and have, as per Cohen’s request, dipped in and out of the manuscript at my leisure, approaching it more as a random, discombobulated toilet read than anything else. Or as ‘a sunburn’ he writes in his Letter to The Chinese Reader.

I’ve enjoyed analysing his style, at this stage, as it strikes me as cryptic, naïve and heavily laden with religious subtext. Not to much in this excerpt, I’ve included this piece because it makes me laugh and because he seems depressed or sick or both and this interests me.

Now of course Cohen has always written about religion but there appears to be more of an impulse to write about religion in this book, more so than anything else I’ve read of his. As though making mention of a saint or religious figure comes as instinctively as one might mention a neighbor or a friend. I can relate to this as I both attended a Seventh-Day school and church growing up, whereby characters in the bible are presented to you as familiarly as anyone else you might that you could end up meeting along the way.

Cohen also launches in to long, elaborate rants of historical figures and happenings; The Quebec Revolution; Thucydides; Galileo; Kepler; Descartes; Alessandra Scarlatti and the Saints. So many Saints. While he doesn’t really tell you much more about any of these things, outside a mention, you start to feel, as a reader, that he merely wants you to know what he knows, rather than really learning anything about anything.

I find this somewhat endearing as in re-reading a lot of the poetry I wrote as a teenager– I’ve recently reacquired several plastic crates of my old scribblings (mum and dad are most keen for their three children to clear their ancient shit out of their storage unit so that they downsize, you see) and in re-reading I have been reminded of how frequently I would make mention of what I’d learned of history without telling too much, because, to be honest, my knowledge was limited though my eagerness to learn, great.

Beautiful Losers doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me. I feel like Cohen is perhaps enjoying his environs and the sounds of his fingers typing more than he is, in any real way motivated to communicate anything tangible to the reader.

The second half of the book, which I have now began reading is an extended letter to this character he refers to as ‘F.’ He mentions many characters by a single initial and he appears to be enjoying the process of pushing boundaries on word meanings and definitions.

It’s a random, at times hard slog but I delight in the fact that he was the age I am currently when he wrote it. And that he finished it.

Date taken: 1960
Photographer: James Burke
Size: 853 x 1280 pixels (11.8 x 17.8 inches)
5 Responses to “A Long Letter From F.”
  1. Brian says:

    It’s many years since I read ‘Beautiful Losers’ (and I may be confusing it with ‘The Favourite Game’), but the one thing that sticks in my mind is the character of the awkward, friendless boy who grinds his teeth in his sleep. Not sure why.

    I’m enjoying the blog.

    • Funny. Perhaps you are confusing the two. I’ve not read The Favourite Game as yet but have also failed to happen upon any characters in Beautiful Losers whom grind their teeth. He did mention something about shit and shitting while I was reading, rather appropriately, on the toilet today though and this made me laugh and bowels are similar to teeth in many ways, if you think about it.

      Perhaps I will write about that later… I think it may be time to get the ol CD player out, however and focus on a little more music.

      Thanks for your feedback, by the way.


      • I have just learned that Cohen penned a novel on Hydra titled Beauty at Close Quarters, which no one would publish. Upon instruction he cut the book in two– which became Beautiul Losers and… The Favorite Game.

        Perhaps the teeth grinding character you speak of exists in both?

  2. J says:

    Cohen did a reading from the book on Valentine’s day 1966 in New York. He chose the unlikely chapter about the young Edith’s rape for that reading. It’s a chapter most critics ignore – I feel that chapter is somehow the key to the book…

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