Sunday, 30 June 2013

...of a writer's prerogative

Saturday evening. May 27, 2000. A French restaurant on Smith Street in Brooklyn. Three men are sitting at a round table in the rear left corner of the room: Harry Brightman (formerly known as Dunkel), Tom Wood, and Nathan Glass. They have just finished giving their orders to the waiter (three different appetisers, three different main courses, two bottles of wine - one red, one white) and have resumed drinking the aperitifs that were brought to the table not long before they entered the restaurant. Tom's glass is filled with bourbon (Wild Turkey), Harry is sipping a vodka martini, and as Nathan downs another mouthful of his neat, single-malt Scotch (twelve-year old Macallan), he wonders if he isn't in the mood for a second drink before the meal is served. So much for the setting. Once the conversation begins, further stage directions will be kept to a minimum. It is the author's opinion that only the words spoken by the afore-mentioned character's are of any importance to the narrative. For that reason, there will be no descriptions of the clothes they are wearing, no comments on the food they eat, no pauses when one of them stands up to visit the men's room, no interruptions from the waiter, and not one word about the glass of red wine that Nathan spills on his pants.

[The Brooklyn Follies, Auster, P.]

...of an ex-con

That would account for Harry's reluctance to tell the truth. It's no small job having to start your life again at fifty-seven, and when a man's only assets are the brain in his head and the tongue in his mouth, he has to think carefully before he decides to open that mouth and speak. Harry wasn't ashamed of what he had done (he had been caught, that was all, and since when was bad luck considered a crime?), but he certainly had no intention of talking about it. He had worked too hard and too long to fashion the little world he lived in now, and he wasn't about to let anyone know how much he had suffered. Therefore, Tom was kept in the dark about Harry's career in Chicago, which included an ex-wife, a thirty-year-old daughter, and an art-gallery on Michigan Avenue that Harry had run for nineteen years. If Tom had known about the swindle and Harry's arrest, would he still have accepted the job Harry offered him? Possibly. But then again, perhaps not. Harry couldn't be certain, and for that reason he bit his tongue and never said a word.

[The Brooklyn Follies, Auster, P.]

...of downfall

He lived in a studio apartment on the corner of Eighth Avenue and Third Street, a long-term sublet that had been passed on to him by the friend of a friend who had left New York and taken a job in another city - Pittsburgh or Plattsburgh, Tom could never remember which. It was a dingy one-closet cell with a metal shower in the bathroom, a pair of windows that looked out on a brick wall, and a pint-sized kitchenette that featured a bar refrigerator and a two-burner gas stove. One bookcase, one chair, one table, and one mattress on the floor. It was the smallest apartment he had ever lived in, but with the rent fixed at four hundred and twenty-seven dollars a month, Tom felt lucky to have it. For the first year after he moved in, he didn't spend much time there in any case. He tended to be out and about, looking up old friends from high school and college who had landed in New York, meeting new people through the old people, spending his money in bars, dating women when the opportunities arose, and generally trying to put together a life for himself - or something that resembled a life. More often than not, these attempts at sociability ended in painful silence. His old friends, who remembered him as a brilliant student and wickedly funny conversationalist, were appalled by what had happened to him. Tom had slipped from the ranks of the anointed, and his downfall seemed to shake their confidence in themselves, to open the door onto a new pessimism about their own prospects in life. It didn't help matters that Tom had gained weight, that his former plumpness now verged on an embarrassing rotundity, but even more disturbing was the fact that he didn't seem to have any plans, that he never spoke about how he was going to undo the damage he'd done to himself and get back on his feet. Whenever he mentioned his new job, he described it in odd, almost religious terms, speculating on such questions as spiritual strength and the importance of finding one's path through patience and humility, and this confused them and made them fidget in their chairs. Tom's intelligence had not been dulled by the job, but no one wanted to hear what he had to say anymore, least of all the women he talked to, who expected young men to be full of brave ideas and clever schemes about how they were going to conquer the world. Tom put them off with his doubts and soul-searchings, his obscure disquisitions on the nature of reality, his hesitant manner. It was bad enough that he drove a taxi for a living, but a philosophical taxi driver who dressed in army-navy clothes and carried a paunch around his middle was a bit too much to ask. He was a pleasant guy, of course, and no one actively disliked him, but he wasn't a legitimate candidate - not for marriage, not even a crazy fling.

[The Brooklyn Follies, Auster, P.]

...of a place to die

I was looking for a quiet place to die. Someone recommended Brooklyn, and so the next morning I travelled down there from Westchester to scope out the terrain. I hadn't been back in fifty-six years, and I remembered nothing. My parents had moved out of the city when I was three, but I instinctively found myself returning to the neighbourhood where we had lived, crawling home like some wounded dog to the place of my birth. A local real estate agent ushered me around to six or seven brownstone flats, and by the end of the afternoon I had rented a two-bedroom garden apartment on First Street, just half a block away from Prospect Park. I had no idea who my neighbours were, and I didn't care. They all worked nine-to-five jobs, none of them had any children, and therefore the building would be relatively silent. More than anything else, that was what I craved. A silent end to my sad and ridiculous life.

[The Brooklyn Follies, Auster, P.]

Sunday, 9 June 2013

...of signs

Having no further recourse but to leave, Kim is about to go back down the stairs. She takes one step to the side and notices again, at the bottom of the steep stairs, the little men moving about, increasingly numerous and threatening to rush up the stairs. She quickly draws back out of their hypothetical field of vision, to begin climbing the next flight of stairs which is exactly the same as the first but rising in the opposite direction. On the landing of the third floor there are only two doors, the first of which is barred by three slender wooden laths nailed one on top of the other across the frame, to form a cross with six branches: two horizontal and four oblique (along the diagonals of the rectangle). The second door is wide open: this is the source of the vague light which made climbing the steps easier. In a rather long room, where the light enters through a screened bay window opening onto a balcony covered with drying laundry, about a hundred people - mostly men - are sitting on benches arranged in parallel rows; they are all listening closely to an orator delivering a speech, standing on a little dais at one end of the room. But his speech is a mute one, consisting entirely of complicated, rapid gestures in which both hands play their part, and which is doubtless intended for deaf-mutes.
But now steps can be heard coming up from the lower part of the staircase, quick yet heavy steps, belonging to several individuals running at different rates of speed. They approach so quickly that the decision cannot await any further reflection. Since the stairs go no higher than this third floor, Kim quite casually enters the lecture hall where, with the assurance and naturalness of someone who had come here on purpose to attend this event, she sits down on the empty end of one of the benches. Yet some heads turn toward her and are perhaps surprised by her presence; her neighbours make signs to each other with their fingers, analogous to those of the speaker: it is not mostly men who are around her, but only men. She wonders what can be the subject of the meeting for which they are gathered; there are so many problems which do not concern women, or which at least cannot be discussed in front of them (which would make her situation more awkward). In any case, the question of discovering whether this is a speech in English or Chines should not come up. (Is this certain?) Two new arrivals appear in the doorway (do they seem out of breath from climbing the stairs too rapidly?) who glance around the room, looking for empty places, that are rare and difficult to determine because of the absence of individual seats. Once they have noticed two located side by side, they hastily occupy them. Is it their steps which are heard echoing up the wooden staircase? And was it deaf-mute gestures which the little men on the sidewalk were making to each other, in the rectangle of light?

[La Maison de Rende-vous, Robbe-Grillet, A.]

...of dubiety

...The two persons say nothing, each seeming to think it the other's obligation to speak first: the Chinese because he is the one being disturbed, the girl because she hopes to have nothing to ask, from the moment that she is expected and that the man with whom she has an appointment obviously knows why she has come. Unfortunately she sees the latter shows no intention of speaking, nor of letting her in without an explanation, nor even of encouraging her by a word or a gesture to indicate the purpose of her visit, which would however have facilitated her speaking. She therefore finally decides to say something on her own initiative. Very rapidly, she stammers a quite incoherent phrase, asking if this is where the agent lives, if the gentleman to whom she is speaking is the one she is supposed to meet here, if the merchandise is ready for her to take away, as planned... But no sound can have come from her mouth, for the little man in the empty suit continues staring at her exactly as before, still waiting for her to make up her mind to speak. It was, as a matter of fact, impossible for her to have broached so many questions in so few words (moreover she does not even know what words were involved). Everything has begun all over again.

[La Maison de Rendez-vous, Robbe-Grillet, A.]

...of an intrusion

At first he thought of the crack of the whip, a common enough sound to hear in the early morning when the dustmen went on their round.
But this noise hadn't come from outside. Nor was it the crack of a whip. There was more weight in it than that, more percussion, so much so that he had really felt a slight shock in his chest before his ears actually heard it.
As he looked up, listening, the expression on his face was one of slight annoyance at the intrusion. It might have taken for anxiety, but it wasn't that.
What was so impressive was the silence which followed. A silence more compact, more positive than any ordinary one, but which yet seemed full of strained vibrations. He didn't get up from his chair at once. He filled his glass, emptied it, put his cigarette back in his mouth, then heaved himself up and went over to the door, where he listened for a second before opening it.
When he switched on the light in the passage, three dusty lamps lit up receding stretches of emptiness. There was no one there, nothing except that weighty, tense silence.

[The Strangers in the House, Simenon, G.]

- submitted by Pearce, M A.

...of suppression

The more closely and contentedly Hans clung to his friendship the more alien the school seemed. The novel happiness coursed through his blood and brain like new wine and Livy no less Homer lost his importance and thrill. The masters were horror-stricken to see the once exemplary Giebenrath transformed into a problem child and failing under the bad influence of the highly suspect Heilner. There is in fact nothing that horrifies the schoolmaster so much as those strange creatures, precocious boys in the already dangerous period of adolescence. Further, a certain element of genius had already seemed unwholesome to them in Heilner, for there exists a traditional hiatus between genius and the teaching-profession and any hint of that element in schoolboys is regarded by them with horror from the very first. As far as they are concerned geniuses are those misguided pupils who never show them any proper respect, begin to smoke at the age of fourteen, fall in love at fifteen, go to pubs at sixteen, read forbidden books, write scandalous essays, stare at their teachers with withering scorn and are noted down in the school day-book as trouble-makers and candidates for detention. A schoolmaster would rather have a whole class of duffers than one genius, and strictly speaking he his right, for his task is not to educate unusual boys but to produce good Latinists, mathematicians, and good honest fools. Which of the two suffers most, the master at the hands of the boy or conversely, which is the greater tyrant or tormentor and which of the two it is who destroys and profanes, partially at any rate, the life and spirit of the other, it is impossible to judge without thinking back to one's own youth with anger and shame. But that is not our present concern, and we have the comfort of knowing that in true geniuses the wounds almost always heal, and they become people who create their masterpieces in spite of school and who later, when they are dead and the pleasant aura of remoteness hangs over them, are held up by schoolmasters to succeeding generations as exemplary and noble beings. And so the spectacle of the perpetual battle between regulation and spirit is repeated in each school in turn, and we continue to watch the State and school eagerly occupied in nipping in the bud the handful of profounder and nobler spirits who grow up year by year. And it is still especially the boys who are always in trouble, the ones who run away or are expelled who seem destined to enrich the life of their country when they are older. Nevertheless many - and who can tell their number - waste away in mute rebellion and finally go under.

[The Prodigy, Hesse, H.]

...of honouring the dead

Meantime the procession had reached the main road and before long they were back in the college where all the teachers, headed by the principal, were there to receive the dead Hindlinger who in his lifetime would have run a mile to avoid such an honour. Schoolmasters look at a dead school-boy very differently from the way they regard a living one; they are convinced, for the moment, of the worth and uniqueness of every individual life in their charge and every youthtime against which they sin with such indifference the rest of the time.
But that evening and the whole of the next day the presence of the frail corpse worked like a magic spell, damped down and subdued all activity and conversation so that for a brief interlude all wrangling, anger, noise and laughter were hidden away like water sprites who disappear momentarily from the surface of the water and leave it calm and apparently uninhabited. Whenever two people spoke together of the drowned boy they called him by his full name, for the nickname Hindu did not seem dignified enough now the boy was dead. And the quiet Hindu who had been wont to merge unnoticed into the crowd now filled the whole establishment with his name and his dead presence.

[The Prodigy, Hesse, H.]

...of self-destruction?

Herr Giebenrath had cursed loudly when his son failed to return for supper. When it got to be nine o'clock and Hans was still not there, he put out a stout cane which had long lain idle. The lad thought he had outgrown the paternal rod, did he? Well, he would have a nice surprise when he got home! At ten o'clock he locked the door. If his son wanted to indulge in night revels, he would soon see where he got off.
Nevertheless Herr Giebenrath did not sleep; he waited with an anger that mounted every hour to hear a hand touch the door knob and timidly pull the bell. He pictured the scene - the gadabout could learn his lesson! Probably he would be drunk but he would soon sober him down, the blackguard, the sly-boots, the miserable wretch! If he had to break every bone in his body.
Finally sleep got the better of him and his rage.
At that same moment the object of all these threats was already slowly drifting, cold and silent down the dark waters of the river. He had shed all the revulsion, shame and sorrow; the blue, chilly, autumn night looked down on his dark, slender body; the black water played over his hands and hair and bloodless lips. No one had seen him except possibly some sly otter just before dawn, eyeing him cautiously as it slid silently past. Nobody knew how he came to be in the water. Perhaps he had strayed from the path and slipped down at some steep spot on the slope; perhaps he had been drinking and had lost his balance. Perhaps the water had exercised a fatal fascination for him as he bent over it, and night and the pale moon looked so full of peace and deep rest that weariness and fear had driven him with gentle relentlessness into the shadow of death.
They found him when it was day and took his body home. His father, horror-stricken, had to lay his rod aside and relinquish his accumulated anger. It was true he shed no tears and displayed little emotion, but the following night he stayed awake again and now and then looked through the door-opening towards his silent child who lay on the clean bed as still as ever and who, with his refined brow and pale intelligent face, looked like a creature who had an innate right to enjoy a different fate from the common run. On his brow and hands the skin rubbed and slightly livid in hue, the handsome features were in repose, the white lids were closed over his eyes and the slightly parted lips had a contented, almost gay expression. It was as if the boy had suddenly blossomed forth and had been snatched up on his cheerful course; even his father in his weariness and solitary grief was a victim of that happy illusion.

[The Prodigy, Hesse, H.]