Thursday, 25 July 2013

...of remoteness

It was a kind of ceremonial rotation - getting up for a glass, lighting or putting out a lamp or a cigarette, embracing interminably or with a violence that separated them at the same instant, as if the distance from desire was growing bitter. And always beneath it all a crouching silence where enemy time throbbed, and that obstinacy of Helene as she hid her face in her forearm as if trying to sleep while her shoulders trembled with cold, and Juan, looking for the sheet with an uncertain hand, covering her for a moment, making her naked again, rolling her over face up or caressing a new path of oblivion or a new start on her dark back.
There could be no respite, for as soon as the pauses became prolonged beyond momentary satiety, we would look at each other again and were the same ones as before, lying outside recognition and reconciliation, even though we rolled around again amidst moans and caresses, using the weight of our bodies to smother the beating of the other time that was waiting indifferently in the flame of another match, in the taste of another drink. What good was it telling ourselves that it wasn't surfaces and illusions? What good talking as if we'd never pass on to the other side and complete the sketch if we kept on looking for each other in dead men and dolls? What use was it to tell Helene when I myself felt so far away, still looking for her in the city as I had for such a long time in the zone, in the hope that something of her remote smile was only for me. And still I had to tell her, because from time to time we spoke in the darkness, mouth to mouth, with phrases that came from caresses or interrupted them to bring us back to that other postponed meeting, to that streetcar where I hadn't even got on because of her, where I'd found her through some mere luxury of the city, the order of the city, losing her almost immediately as on so many other occasions in the zone or now, tight against her, feeling her getting away now and then like a repeated wave that couldn't be grasped. And how could I answer that anxiety that was looking for me and hemming me in as his lips came to mine in an interminable recognition, I, who had never met Juan in the city, who knew nothing about the chase interrupted by one mistake more, by the stupidity of getting off on a different corner...

[62: A Model Kit, Cortazar, J.]

...of one's heart in one's mouth

It was impossible to explain why she had been abandoning more and more her reading of the novel in order to concentrate on the close examination of the doll Juan had given her, thinking about his whims, in which at times he also liked to examine her all over like a doll, and wondering which of Monsieur Ochs's fantasies was awaiting its moment in the stuffing of that small round stomach, unless there was nothing, unless Juan had been amusing himself by telling her lies that night on the Calais train. Then the weight of silence in Ladislao Boleslavski's room, a sticky and humiliating fear, had slowly climbed up to Tell, making her get dressed suddenly, open the double door after spying carefully through the peephole, climb the historic stairs, and run through the shadows to the first door that was ajar, behind which nothing could stop her from clutching Juan almost convulsively and discovering with a sudden and inopportune rejoicing that Juan was trembling, too, and that his first reaction on feeling Tell's hands close to his face had been the start of a left-handed half nelson that only the guardian angel of  all Scandinavians was able to convert into an embrace of recognition and a turning together which coincided with the movement Frau Marta was making that started to wiggle the bed, still lighting up the face of the English girl, who, with her eyes open and staring, seemed unaware of the slow movement of the dark lantern. Tell had been at the point of shouting, and Juan's hand had come forward in anticipation to plaster something on her mouth that was like five frozen pieces of adhesive tape, and Tell had understood and Juan had withdrawn his fingers to sink them into Tell's shoulder with the imaginable message that I'm here don't be afraid, which didn't mean a great deal for Tell from the way Juan was trembling and from the fascination of that face inscribed in a yellow disk and which seemed to be smiling slightly as if waiting. But they'd come too late, they knew it now, with no need to say it, and it almost would have been ridiculous to shout, turn on the lights, and rouse up the hotel for something already done and the ad infinitum repetition of which made it worse. It was better to stay glued to the door in order to watch. After all, they had moved to the King of Hungary Hotel for that - not exactly for that, but since their good intentions had failed, there wasn't much left for them to do and, besides, the English girl seemed so placid and happy, watching the advance step by step of Frau Marta, who was outlined behind the dark lantern like a dry and angular old tree, one hand in the air near the one that held the light, the grey halo of hair illuminated by a remnant of the light that must have been leaking through some crack in the tin, unless all dark lanterns lost a little light through the back part, and Erszebet Bathori's light had also vaguely lighted up the black hair of the countess as she approached the bed where a servant girl tied hand and foot was struggling with a gag in her mouth, so different from the English girl, although perhaps after the first visit they all waited for the countess like that. All of them were probably sitting up in bed, no longer with bonds or gags, joined by another deeper bond to the visitor who put the dark lantern on the night table so that it would keep on lighting up the profile of the girl who hadn't moved, the throat which Frau Marta's hand slowly uncovered by pulling down the lace collar of the pink pajamas.

[62: A Model Kit, Cortazar, J.]

...of pause

"So it's for real, then," Helene said, folding the newspaper. She ordered a cognac and drank it almost in one gulp. Celia had lowered her head over the Viandox again, and Curro, who was bringing Helene a second cognac, made a questioning gesture which touched her absurdly. They remained like that for a long while, not looking at each other or speaking; Celia sucked on the wet croissant from time to time, her cheek resting on a fist and her elbow on a corner of the table. Almost without being aware of her movement, Helene ran her hand lightly over the fallen hair and only then, when she drew her hand away, did the caress become superimposed on the memory of the useless and stupid gesture (it hadn't been a caress, it hadn't been a caress in any way, but why the same gesture now, then?) and she saw her hand stroking the hair of the naked boy for an instant, the rapidity with which she had withdrawn it as if the others, that absurd ballet in white which was bustling around a stretcher which was already the morgue and all the rest, might censure a movement that had not obeyed functional reasons like theirs, one which had nothing to do with cardiac massage, digitalis, or artificial respiration.
The second cognac was slower and warmer. Helene let it burn her lips; it ignited the back of her tongue. Celia was dunking another croissant in the Viandox and she sighed before she swallowed it almost whole along with the last remains of a sob. She didn't seem to have noticed Helene's caress and without saying anything she accepted the cigarette and let it be lighted. In the underpopulated cafe, where Curros had his back to the door like a protective bulldog, they let themselves go along in silence, protected by the smoke that drove away centipedes and good-bys...

[62: A Model Kit, Cortazar, J.]

...of a past between friends

"Be quiet, m'girl," Polanco said to Celia. "Let him go on putting corks in bottles. Thirst comes before quenching and it's worth a lot more. Basically, of course, you were quite right, because when this one here gets all enthusiastic over his coagulations or whatever they are, he really puts the cork in for us."
Helene remained silent, slowly smoking a mild cigarette, attent and alien as she was whenever I was speaking. I hadn't mentioned her a single time (what had I told them, after all, what strange mixture of mirrors and Sylvaner to make them happy on Christmas Eve?), and yet it was as if she knew she was alluded to, she took refuge behind her cigarette, in some casual observation to Tell or Marrast. I went on courteously with my tale. If we had been alone I think she would have told me: "I'm not responsible for the image that walks beside you." Not smiling but almost in a friendly way. "If I happened to dream about you, you wouldn't be responsible," Helene might have told me. "But that wasn't a dream," I would have answered, "and I don't know for sure either whether you had something to do with it or whether I put you in out of habit, out of stupid custom." It wasn't hard to imagine the dialogue, but if I had been alone with Helene, she wouldn't have said that, she probably wouldn't have said anything to me, attent and alien; I had included her once more without any right, imaginarily, as a consolation for so much distance and so much silence. Helene and I no longer had anything to say to each other, we who had said so little to each other. In some way that escaped us both and which perhaps was so clear in what had happened that night in the Polidor, we no longer came together in the zone or in the city, even if we met at a table at the Cluny and talked to our friends, sometimes briefly to each other. Only I still stubbornly insisted on hoping; Helene remained here, attent and alien. If in the last redoubt of my honesty she and the countess and Frau Marta were joined together in one same abominable image, hadn't Helene said at some time to me - or would tell me later, as if I hadn't known it all along - that the only image she could keep of me was that of a man dead in a hospital? We exchanged visions, metaphors, or dreams; sooner or later we would continue on alone, looking at each other so many nights over cups of coffee.

[62: A Model Kit, Cortazar, J.]

Sunday, 21 July 2013

...of Love

Who has never been surprised by one of the strangest of the effects produced by the exchange of these words: 'I love you'? by their power of immediately endowing everyone who pronounces them with unique, incomparable qualities, which no one else can deprive them of, which no one is even capable of judging... the inhabitants of the entire earth could unite in contesting the existence of these qualities in one or the other and they would be immediately repulsed... 'What do you want?'... kept at a respectful distance and reduced to silence by the magic power of these sole words waved in front of them: 'They love one another.'

[The Use of Speech, Sarraute, N.]

...of the depressed

No, not our sort of words, they are too light, too limp, they would never be able to cross what is now opening, yawning, between us... an immense chasm... but compact, heavy words over which no wave of gaiety or sensuality has ever rippled, which no pulse has ever made to beat, no breath to falter... words which are smooth and hard all over like Basque pelotas, which I am propelling at him with all my strength, at him, a well-trained player who is standing in the right place, and who catches them without flinching precisely where they are designed to fall, in the solidly-woven hollow of his chistera.
Not our words, but solemn, glacial nonce-words, dead words in a dead language.

For years, for months, for days, for ever, it was there, behind me, my inseparable reverse side... and now at a stroke, just with these two words, with a terrible wrench, I turn myself upside down... As you see, my obverse has become my reverse. I am what I had to be. Order has finally been restored. Ich sterbe.

With these well-honed words, with this blade of excellent make - I have never used it, nothing has ever blunted it - I anticipate the moment, and I, myself, cut: Ich sterbe.

Prepared to co-operate, so docile and full of goodwill, before you can do it, I put myself in your place, outside myself, and in the same way as you will do it, in the very same terms that you will use, I certify the event.

I gather together all my strength, I raise myself up, I pull towards me, I lower on to myself, the flagstone, the heavy tombstone... and, to make sure that it is in exactly the right place, I lie down underneath it...

But perhaps, as he was raising the flagstone, as he was holding it above him with outstretched arms and was about to lower it on himself... just before he fell back under it... was there maybe something like a faint palpitation, a barely perceptible quivering, a minute trace of living hope... Ich sterbe... And what if the man observing him, and who was the only one who could know, were to intervene, to grasp him firmly, to hold him back... No, though, there's no one, no voice... It's already the void, it's silence.

All we have here, as you see, are a few slight eddies, a few brief ripples captured amongst the infinite number that these words produce. If some of you find this game diverting, they may - with patience and time - amuse themselves by discovering others. At all events they may be sure that they are not mistaken, for everything they may perceive is really there, in every one of us: circles that continue to increase when, propelled from such a distance and with such force, these words fall on us and shake us to the depths of our being: Ich sterbe.

[The Use of Speech, Sarraute, N.]

...of consumers

But little by little they had gained experience and assurance. With the almost imperceptible, delicate movements of a bird, the infallible instinct that causes it to sort out exactly what is needed to build its nest, they had succeeded, little by little, in picking up, here and there, from everything that came to hand, bits and scraps which they had put together to build themselves a soft little nest, within which they stayed, well protected, watched over on every side, well sheltered.
It was extraordinary to see with what rapidity, skill and voracious tenacity they caught on the wing, managed to extract from everything, books, plays, films, a quite unimportant conversation, a random phrase, a proverb, a song, pictures, chromos - Childhood, Maternity, Pastoral Scenes, The Joys of Home, or even subway posters and advertisements, the principles laid down by manufacturers of soap powders and face creams ("How to hold a husband..."), the advice of Aunt Annie or Father Soury - it was extraordinary to see how unfailingly, among all the things that came to hand, they seized upon exactly what was needed to spin their cocoon, their impenetrable covering, to fashion this armour in which later on, under the kindly eye of the concierges, they went forth - amid general encouragement, unconquerable, calm and assured: grandmothers, daughters, maltreated women, mothers - standing at doors, pressing with all their weight against doors, like heavy battering rams.
Now and then, when I have been seated next to them at the theatre, without looking at them, while they listened motionless and as though turned to stone beside me, I have sensed the trail left across the entire audience in the wake of the images emanating from the stage or from the screen, images that settle on them like steel filings on a magnetic surface; I longed to rise, to intervene and check these images in their flight, to turn them aside; but they flowed with an irresistible force, straight from the screen onto the women; they clung to them; and I felt the women close beside me, in the darkness of the hall, motionless, silent and voracious, spinning these images into an object destined for their own use.

[Portrait of a Man Unknown, Sarraute, N.]

...of a siesta

In the early afternoon, as I said before, there are dangerous moments. Not for everybody, of course. Most people - and I'm not speaking only of very busy people who are always peculiarly well protected against such dangers as these - most people pass lightly through these moments the way well-trained mountain climbers leap over crevices without looking underfoot.
This is the hour given over to the "siesta," to rest; the moment, after the excitement of the midday meal, when those who stay behind alone in silent rooms, suddenly experience a sensation of cold; their heart in their mouth, they are seized with a dizziness, an impression that the earth has suddenly fallen out from under their feet and that they are slipping, without being able to restrain themselves, into the void.
This is probably a comparable illusion, in reverse, to the one we have when, in a moving train, the telegraph poles seem to be moving too. This impression of falling and dizziness that people have comes perhaps from the fact that they feel, in this silence, before this void, the cold, anonymous touch of time, the ceaseless dropping away of the seconds whose passing they suddenly become aware of, the way, when blood leaves the face, freckles that had passed unnoticed under a rosy complexion becomes visible and stand under pallor.

[Portrait of a Man Unknown, Sarraute, N.]

...of a persecution delusion

"They are simply plotting to frighten me, perhaps, and when they see that I don't mind, that I make no protest, but keep perfectly quiet and put up with it meekly, they'll give it up, they'll give it up themselves, give it up of their own accord."
Such, then, were the thoughts in the mind of Mr. Golyadkin as, stretching in in his bed, trying to rest his exhausted limbs, he waited for Petrushka to come into his room as usual... He waited for a full quarter of an hour. He heard the lazy scamp fiddling about with the samovar behind the screen, and yet he could not bring himself to call him. We may say more: Mr. Golyadkin was a little afraid of confronting Petrushka.
'Why, goodness knows," he thought, "goodness knows how that rascal looks at it all. He keeps on saying nothing, but he has his own ideas."
At last the door creaked and Petrushka came in with a tray in his hands. Mr. Golyadkin stole a timid glance at him, impatiently waiting to see what would happen, waiting to see whether he would not say something about a certain circumstance. But Petrushka said nothing; he was, on the contrary, more silent, more glum and ill-humoured than usual; he looked askance from under his brows at everything; altogether it was evident that he was very much put out about something; he did not even glance once at his master, which, by the way, rather piqued the latter. Setting all he had brought on the table, he turned and went out of the room without a word.
"He knows, he knows, he knows all about it, the scoundrel!" Mr. Golyadkin grumbled to himself as he took his tea. Yet our hero did not address a single question to his servant, though Petrushka came into his room several times afterwards on various errands. Mr. Golyadkin was in great trepidation of spirit. He dreaded going to the office. He had a strong presentiment that there he would find something that would not be "just so."

[The Double, Dostoevsky, F.]

...of distance

- Why the Earl Grey?
- What?
- Why're you drinking Earl Grey? It's such a cliche.
- Oh... I dunno... this guy I know... he makes it... and he says the flavour's incomparable.
- Is that the artist?
- No a friend of his, the son of the woman who's the benefactor for the Youth Homeless Project.
- Does he have a name?
- Wooton... Henry.
The silence between them wasn't awkward - it was boorish and stupid. Like a drunk, drooling student it bumped about the trendy minimalism of the penthouse, knocking into the blocky blue divans, the huge coffee table, the varnished wood pediments that supported Cathode Narcissus's nine monitors. Dorian was so easily influenced - they both knew this. He took on other people's styles, modes and even habits the way kitchen towelling sopped up spilt milk. And was there any point in crying over this? When he'd begun fucking Helen he'd taken to drinking Lapsang Souchong - now he was getting infused elsewhere. Of course she'd known he was a poof, but only in the way we all know we're going to die.

[Dorian, Self, W.]

...of retreat

It was shortly after the death by murder of her grandmother at the Calton Nursing Home in Edinburgh that Margaret had gone into a silence; she was also thinner and paler. The public fuss had died down, Margaret's aunts had made off with their loot, and her father had made himself comfortable with his mother's fortune. But nothing would induce Margaret to benefit from the money. She made this well known. Her family and their friends were impressed by her attitude. Her sad pallor and silence were deeply felt, too, by Margaret's fellow-workers in the ceramics studio in Glasgow. It came about, now, that everyone was sorry for Margaret. Even her sisters, in their different ways, expressed pity for her suffering and the wrong that everyone had done her in their secret thoughts. Only Dan Murchie, passionate and bemused by his daughter, could not prevent himself from half-wondering what she was up to, without fully realising that he was wondering at all.

[Symposium, Spark, M.]

...of a prelude to change

"Shall I stay with you till Mr. Pontellier comes?" asked Robert, seating himself on the outer edge of one of the steps and taking hold of the hammock rope which was fastened to the post.
"If you wish. Don't swing the hammock. Will you get my white shawl which I left on the window-sill over at the house?"
"Are you chilly?"
"No; but I shall be presently."
"Presently?" he laughed. "Do you know what time it is? How long are you going to stay out here?"
"I don't know. Will you get the shawl?"
"Of course I will," he said, rising. He went over to the house, walking along the grass. She watched his figure pass in and out of the strips of moonlight. It was past midnight. It was very quiet.
When he returned with the shawl she took it and kept it in her hand. She did not put it around her.
"Did you say I should stay till Mr. Pontellier came back?"
"I said you might if you wished to."
He seated himself again and rolled a cigarette, which he smoked in silence. Neither did Mrs. Pontellier speak. No multitude of words could have been more significant than those moments of silence, or more pregnant with the first-felt throbbings of desire.

[The Awakening, Chopin, K.]