In which The Dice Man author Luke Rhinehart talks about Naked Before the World, his hilariously funny, sexy satire of The Mediterranean Institute and hippy life in Deià.
The American writer Luke Rhinehart AKA George Cockcroft is best known for his 1971 cult novel The Dice Man. Luke lived in Deià in 1969-70, when he was an associate at The Mediterranean Institute of Dowling College which had been set up by Bob DeMaria. He came back to live in the village in 1972-73.
When I first interviewed Luke Rhinehart, back in the spring of 2015, I asked him whether Deià had influenced The Dice Man in any way. He replied, ‘When I arrived in Deia I’d written only 220 manuscript pages over four years. In that spring I wrote more than 500 pages in about five months to finish the book. So, essentially, most of the book was written in Deia. Make of that what you will.’
Deià also inspired Luke to write the wonderful Naked Before the World: A Lovely Pornographic Love Story. On Luke’s website, the book is described in this way:
Set in the late ’60s in a small mountain village on the island of Mallorca, Naked is a comic romp celebrating the follies of both hippies and the establishment. The novel has the same outrageous comedy as Luke’s classic novel The Dice Man, but tells the romantic (if somewhat sexy) love story between the rebellious artist Franz and the innocent Katya, arriving to study at the recently established Lowdong Institute, and thrown into the world of sex and drugs that is everything her mother and church warned her against. She and Franz struggle to find themselves and each other, and at the end Katya stands naked before the world. And most of the village.
Although the book started life long before, as a collaboration with novelist and poet Jay Linthicum who also lived in the village, it only appeared in 2008. As with all of Luke Rhinehart’s novels, giving you the barebones of the story doesn’t really do justice to the mad comedy of Naked. Apart from how entertaining the book is, it may well also be the only description we have, albeit highly fictionalized, of what it was like to live in Deià in those wild times.
If you read my recent post on the English writer Colin Wilson, Writer in Residence at the Mediterranean Institute, and his friendship with Robert Graves you’ll know that I’m intrigued by those times. When I interviewed LukeRhinehart about his new book Invasion recently, I took the opportunity to revisit the story of Naked.
Why did you call Deià Maya, Luke?
Maya is the world of illusion, where all humans always live. It was also the name of Maya Flackoll, one of our best friends in Deia in 1969-70 and 1972-73.
I’m always envious of people who lived through Deià’s wildest years – so far. Your character Franz describes Maya as ‘the freak center of the world’ which makes it sound very exciting. How true was this?
Franz was exaggerating. There was dope, mostly pot, and sex in Deia at that time but nothing really out of the ordinary. Ibiza was probably the hot place to be back in those days.
You also have Mrs. Toom say that ‘if you just avoid the hippies, my dear, you will be overwhelmed by art and creativity’. Was there a bourgeois establishment in the village at that time?
The people I got to know who lived in the village were Marc and Francesca Heine and Ross and Mary Abrams, Bud and Claribel Flackoll and their wonderful daughters and son. Most all were very creative people, but also of course bourgeois in some sense. The Institute brought with it bourgeois tendencies since Bob De Maria, as director of the Institute, had to try maintain bourgeois values rather than hippy values in his student body and faculty. It was a tough job for Bob.
Do you think, as Katya does, that Deià at that time had the power to strip away ‘all the phony layers of…middle class life’?
It probably did for young and innocent women like Katya. I don’t think the hippy part of Deia was actually that powerful in 1969 to influence any but those already tending in that direction
Should the reader who has some knowledge of Deià’s history not waste time wondering to what extent preposterous characters like Professor Bernard Toom, Peter Mullaney, Piccolo Londo and Timothy Ling are based on real people?
All of my characters are fictional exaggerations made to create comic characters. Dr. Toom is described to look just like me, but I include a couple of Bob De Maria’s characteristics. The Wilkie Rollins character has fun by exaggerating some of Colin Wilson’s ideas, so is clearly related to him. Piccolo Londo is inspired by the great figure of Robert Graves, but clearly bares little resemblance to Robert. You must understand that I love making fun of our human follies, my own follies especially, but also those I see in people I like and admire. I like and admired Bob De Maria and Colin Wilson, but as a comic writer couldn’t resist using some of their traits in my novel.
Wilkie Rollins clearly resembles Colin Wilson and he comes across as a pretty silly character. What were your actual feelings towards Colin?
As I’ve written above and I think told you earlier, I liked and admired Colin. His book The Outsider, which I read before coming to Deia, was a great inspiration to me. I needed to create a writer in residence for my novel and the Wilkie Rollins character is the one my mind came up with. I make fun of my own follies all the time so don’t hesitate, as I say, to make fun of those of others whom I otherwise like and admire.
Do you have any memories of Anthony Burgess and Diane Wakowski you could share?
Was Gabo Marcusi based on a real person?
The description of taking the boat out is a big event in the book and I believe something like this actually happened. Is that right?
No, that ‘Great Sailing Adventure’ is totally fictional. The closest actual equivalent is when I led a group of students on a climb up onto the Deià mountain. Having a firm philosophy that one should always try to discover new paths rather than keep treading the old ones, I led the students across the mountain to find a different trail down back to the village. Unfortunately we hadn’t found that trail by darkness so had to spend sleep that night on the mountain. The next morning we found the trail down within fifteen minutes of our awakening. I have no memory of our trooping into the village after being ‘lost’ overnight but that trooping in bears some resemblance probably to the event in the novel where the survivors of the great sailing adventure return after being considered lost at sea.
Looking back at the Mediterranean Institute experiment, what are your feelings?
I think it was wonderful for most of the students and not too much of a burden for the Mallorquins. Being in Deià was great for me, especially after I was freed from my Institute duties.
What happened to the movie of the book that was in production?
All of us involved were amateurs, especially in trying to raise money to fund the film. The producers couldn’t fund the film and gave up.
That’s a great shame. I would have loved to have seen it. Thanks, Luke.
I do urge you to get your hands on a copy of Luke Rhinehart’s Naked. For those of us who know the village and are fascinated by its past, it’s not just a great read. It’s also a slice of history – admittedly somewhat unreliable but that’s as it should be for Deià.
Tune in again next week for the final part of my little trilogy of posts about Luke Rhinehart.