The Red Tower was begun by de Chirico on February 15, 1913. I happen to know, don’t ask me why, that it was meant to be a short story, not a painting. In the story, six people, tourists, wander into Kizil Kule, the red tower in Alanya, and discover a secret pathway at the centre of the building. The pathway is guarded by a huge warrior with a dragon head who answers a question that they never asked. When they discuss the warrior’s answer, they become aware that he has given them the solution to life’s greatest riddle. They leave the tower and, each in his own way, become the happiest people that ever lived.
After de Chirico had written the story, he realized that its form was not suitable to the impact and importance of the message. It took him three months to turn the short story into a novel. During this time, he locked himself into a tower, a writing warrior. Like Robert Graves after writing The White Goddess, he felt that this work had been dictated to him rather than written by him. He put the text aside and threw himself into a series of extremely short-lived relationships. He was 25 years old and at the height of his sexual powers.
De Chirico always took the manuscript of The Red Tower with him everywhere. On July 9, 1913, on the eve of his 26th birthday, he spent the night with a woman named Lou, who claimed to have been with Friedrich Nietzsche himself on the day he died. They talked for hours getting to know each other, making love, reading to each other from books not yet written, until finally, one minute before midnight, he pulled out his novel to show it to the woman as a proof of his trust and love and his undying devotion to the great philosopher.
When he opened the binder that held the pages of the text, they both saw that they were empty. De Chirico first thought someone must have stolen the book and replaced the pages with empty ones but he had marked every page in his own handwriting and these clearly were the physical sheets on which he had written the novel that would, he hoped and knew, help mankind make a huge step forward in their understanding of themselves and their condition. His disappointment in that moment was as deep as the insight that he had poured into the book and as wide as a factory of dreams.
As soon as he was alone, still reeking of lust and loss, feeling the delights of poetry in his Levantine loins, he began to paint the spirit of revolution itself, forever confined to a red tower. None of this may be true, but if it isn’t I’m not lying and it’s a lush story alright.
Not everybody likes fiction dressed up as non-fiction. Some people who read an earlier version of this piece beforehand, said they felt annoyed when they realized that I had made the entire episode up. I therefore left a clue as to the frail truthfulness of the tale in the first paragraph. Magical realism and the surreal run deep in my family. Check out these three autobiographical pieces in issue 12 of Mad Hatters’ Review, a fantastic multi-media magazine full of crazy perspectives and mental angles. Thanks for indulging me here. I won’t do it too often. I’m not Borges. Though I might be. But that’s another story that may or may not have happened.