Key West Literary Seminar: On Those Same Steps: Iyer on Greene

Jan 12, 2013

This post is featured thanks to our friends at the Key West Literary Seminar. Read more of their material here.

Graham Greene plagues Pico Iyer. He’s felt it for most of his life. Where he goes, Greene has been. What happens to him, happened to The End of the Affair author decades earlier. Greene is as much a part of Iyer’s life as his own work and family. The celebrated travel writer has posited that he doesn’t exist at all, that he is simply one of Greene’s creations.

Both men have suffered through the loss of houses to fire and have shared a hometown. They have stepped out of Santiago de Cuba’s Casa Grande Hotel, 35 years apart, and been shown around town by men named Faust. Both spent time in Paraguay, South Africa and Vietnam, often passing days in the same neighborhoods or cafes. Iyer catalogued the long list of parallels yesterday during his “Possessed by a Scribbling Ghost” talk at the 31st Annual Key West Literary Seminar.

These sorts of connections fascinated Greene. He lived his years noting similarities in his life to that of John Wilmot, The Earl of Rochester and a respected poet. One of his first books was a biography of Wilmot that, a half-decade later, if one replaced Greene’s name with the Earl’s, could have been written about Iyer’s own life. This was hardly a coincidence in Greene’s estimation; he believed that the subconscious could know not only what had happened – but what would come as well.

Though Iyer doesn’t always admire Greene – he fears the skeptic he sees in both of them – he treasures their connection and usually carries a torn and “talismanic” copy of The Quiet American in his pocket.

Why do we let certain strangers capture our imagination, to become our shadow parents, lovers or friends? “The power of affinity lies in its mystery,” said Iyer. Remove the mystery and who knows what might happen to the affinity in the unromantic light of day, logic, and statistics? It’s a chance Iyer is unwilling to take.

When asked what he would do if told Greene was waiting in the lobby, eager to see him, Iyer pointed to the backstage doors and said he’d run away.