Monday, 26 May 2014

...of confidences

Jones pushed the fragment of paper towards Captain Nasir. The muscular black man popped another date into his mouth as if he were a baby.
The wizened skipper took the paper and laid it reverently beside him. He pulled out a bundle from against the ribs of the vessel by the tool-box and unwound it slowly. He took out a pair of spectacles which he fitted in an exact manner on to his nose. Then he stood so that the light from the hatch fell on the tiny paper, the movement of his lips telling the pace of his reading. He read it twice, and in the course of the second reading his head began to nod with slow vigour. When he had finished he passed the paper back to Jones with both hands like the most destructible of palimpsests, shut his spectacles, ceremoniously wound them up in the old head-cloth and replaced them in their corner against the ship's ribs. Then put out his hard, narrow hand and took Jones's right hand, swollen with prickly heat, and lightly held it for several seconds. When his hand was released, Jones raised his fingers to his lips. Even now, news of the paper in his possession reaching the wrong ears on the quayside might cheat his poor heart of the privilege of ending him.

[The Man Who Knew Everything, Stacey, T.]

...of a coup

The BBC's broadcast followed by a brief comment from the Diplomatic Correspondent to the effect that if an abrupt change of political direction had indeed taken place in the island, the economic, political, and strategic consequences for the Free World could be profound.
Jones sorting through the massive typescript in the majlis, heard none of this.

When his servant failed to make his customary appearance at 9 a.m., he was not surprised. Aziz was sickly and often too sorry for himself to fulfil his tasks. In any case, Jones had no wish to be disturbed. He boiled himself a cup of coffee and worked all through the morning getting into the correct page order the many interpolations he had made to his original draft. It was still something of a mess - the gaps unexplained, the parallel versions likewise. But it had a rough coherence now, and when he had decided he had done enough he was profoundly relieved, for his health was not good today. It seemed that every movement he made was ill-judged as if he had wrenched his whole body unawares.
It was already midday before he flip-flopped through to his outer door to bring in the local English-language daily. It was not there. Normally it would be lying on his desktop. He looked up and down the empty alley. He supposed it had been pilfered by a passer-by. At about 1p.m. he picked up the telephone in the bedroom to ask the head porter at the Darwish if he had a playback wire from London. His line was dead.

[The Man Who Knew Everything, Stacey, T.]

...of onus

About an hour later he got up and pottered through to the majlis. It was a stifling night. He switched on the air conditioning and it shuddered into life with a terrible effort. Still in his sarong, he sat down at the table laden with the disordered typescripts of his book. He took a plain sheet of foolscap and fitted it into his old portable. In the top right-hand corner he typed the Post Box number of the Darwish and the date. Of his sons, he chose Paul to write to because Gavin was intolerant of him and always had been. He could tell that was still so from the tone of Gavin's occasional letters, and particularly from the letters of Gavin's wife (another scientist: Gavin had met her at university) when he wrote enquiring about the grandchildren: neither she nor Gavin ever asked anything about his life - never a query, never a speculation. Their rare letters fulfilled a dry duty.

[The Man Who Knew Everything, Stacey, T.]

Monday, 19 May 2014

...of impassivity

When he thought of her, it rather amazed him, that he had let that girl with her violin go. Now, of course, he saw that her self-effacing proposal was quite irrelevant. All she had needed was the certainty of his love, and his reassurance that there was no hurry when a lifetime lay ahead of them. Love and patience - if only he had had them both at once - would surely have seen them both through. And then what unborn children might have had their chances, what young girl with an Alice band might have become his loved familiar? This is how the entire course of a life can be changed - by doing nothing. On Chesil Beach he could have called out to Florence, he could have gone after her. He did not know, or would not have cared to know, that as she ran away from him, certain in her distress that she was about to lose him, she had never loved him more, or more hopelessly, and that the sound of his voice would have been a deliverance, and she would have turned back. Instead, he stood in cold and righteous silence in the summer's dusk, watching her hurry along the shore, the sound of her difficult progress lost to the breaking of small waves, until she was a blurred, receding point against the immense straight road of shingle gleaming in the pallid light.

[On Chesil Beach, McEwan, I.]

...of shame

She watched him coming along the strand, his form at first no more than an indigo stain against the darkening shingle, sometimes appearing motionless, flickering and dissolving at its outlines, and at others suddenly closer, as though moved like a chess piece a few squares toward her. The last glow of daylight lay along the shore, and behind her, away to the east, there were points of light on Portland, and the cloud base reflected dully a yellowish glow of street lamps from a distant town. She watched him, willing him to go slower, for she was guiltily afraid of him, and was desperate for more time to herself. Whatever conversation they were about to have, she dreaded it. As she understood it, there was no words to name what had happened, there existed no shared language ion which two sane adults could describe such events to each other. And to argue about it was even further beyond her imagining. There could be no discussion. She did not want to think about it, and she hoped he felt the same. But what else were they to talk about? Why else were they out here? The matter lay between them, as solid as a geographical feature, a mountain, a headland. Unnameable, unavoidable. And she was ashamed. The aftershock of her own behaviour reverberated through her, and even seemed to sound in her ears. That was why she had run so far along the beach, through the heavy shingle in her going-away shoes, to flee the room and all that had happened in it, and to escape herself. She had behaved abominably. Abominably, She let the clumsy, sociable word repeat itself in her thoughts several times. It was ultimately a forgiving term - she played tennis abominably, her sister played the piano abominably - and Florence knew that it masked rather than described her behaviour.
At the same time she was aware of his disgrace - when he rose above her, that clenched and bewildered look, the reptilian jerkiness along his spine. But she was trying not to think about it. Did she dare admit that she was a tiny bit relieved that it was not only her, that he too had something wrong with him? How terrible, but how comforting it would be if he suffered from some sort of congenital illness, a family curse, the sort of sickness to which only shame and silence attach, the way it did to enuresis, or to cancer, a word she superstitiously never spoke aloud for fear it would infect her mouth - silliness, for sure, which she would never confess to. Then they could feel sorry for each other, bound in love by their separate afflictions. And she did feel sorry for him, but she also felt a little cheated. If he had an unusual condition, why had he not told her, in confidence? But she understood perfectly why he could not. She too had not spoken up. How could he have begun to broach the matter of his own particular deformity, what could have been his opening words? They did not exist. Such a language had yet to be invented.

[On Chesil Beach, McEwan, I.]

...of inexperience

To seal their reunion, he lowered his head and they kissed, his tongue barely grazing hers at the tip, and again she was grateful. Conscious of the silence from the downstairs bar - no radio, no conversation - they whispered their 'I Love you's. It soothed her to be invoking, however quietly, the unfading formula that bound them, and that surely proved their interests were identical. She wondered if perhaps she might even make it through, and be strong enough to pretend convincingly, and on later, successive occasions whittle her anxieties away through sheer familiarity, until she could honestly find and give pleasure. He need never know, at least not until she told it, from within the warmth of her new confidence, as a funny story - back then, when she was an ignorant girl, miserable in her foolish fears. Even now, she did not mind him touching her breasts, when once she would have recoiled. There was hope for her, and at the thought she moved closer against his chest. He had his shirt on, she assumed, because his contraceptives were in the top pocket, easily reached. His hand was travelling the length of her body, and was pulling back the hem of her skirt up to her waist. He had always been reticent about the girls he had made love to, but she did not doubt the wealth of his experience. She felt the summery air through the open window tickling her exposed pubic hair. She was already far gone into new territory, too far to come back.
It had never occurred to Florence that the preliminaries of love would take place in dumb show, in such intense and watchful silence. But beyond the obvious three words, what could she herself say that did not sound contrived or foolish? And since he was silent, she thought this must be the convention. She would have preferred it if they had murmured the silly endearments they used when they lay around in her bedroom in North Oxford, fully clothed, wasting the afternoons away. She needed to feel close to him to hold down the demon of panic she knew was ready to overwhelm her. She had to know he was with her, on her side, and was not going to use her, that he was her friend and was kindly and tender. Otherwise it could all go wrong, in a very lonely way. She was dependent on him for this assurance, beyond love, and finally could not help herself issuing the inane command, 'Tell me something.'

[On Chesil Beach, McEwan, I.]

...of disapprobation

At that time, on a weekday winter's evening, Soho was only just coming to life. The pubs were full, but the clubs were not yet open, and the pavements were uncrowded. It was easy to notice the couple coming towards them along Old Compton Street. They were rockers - he was a big fellow in his mid-twenties, with long sideburns, studded leather jacket, tight jeans and boots, and his plump girlfriend, holding on to his arm, was identically dressed. As they passed, and without breaking stride, the man swung his arm out to deliver a hard, flat-handed smack to the back of Mather's head which caused him to stagger, and sent his Buddy Holly glasses skidding across the road. It was an act of casual contempt for Mather's height and studious appearance, or for the fact that he looked, and was, Jewish. Perhaps it was intended to impress or amuse the girl. Edward did not stop to think about it. As he strode after the couple, he heard Harold call out something like a 'no' or a 'don't', but that was the kind of entreaty he was deaf to. He was back in that dream. He would have found it difficult to describe his state: his anger had lifted itself and spiralled into a kind of ecstasy. With his right hand he gripped the man's shoulder and spun him round, and with his left, took him by the throat and pushed him back against a wall. The man's head clunked satisfyingly against a cast iron drainpipe. Still clenching his throat, Edward hit him in the face, just once, but very hard, with a closed fist. Then he went back to help Mather find his glasses, one lens of which was cracked. They walked on, leaving the fellow sitting on the pavement, both hands covering his face, while his girlfriend fussed over him.
It took Edward some while into the evening to become aware of Harold Mather's lack of gratitude, and then of his silence, or silence towards him, and even longer, a day or two, to realise that his friend not only disapproved, but worse - he was embarrassed. In the pub neither man told their friends the story, and afterwards Mather's never spoke about the incident to Edward. Rebuke would have been a relief. Without making any great show of it, Mather withdrew from him. Though they saw each other in company, and he was never obviously distant towards Edward, the friendship was never the same. Edward was in agonies when he considered that Mather was actually repelled by his behaviour, but he did not have the courage to raise the subject. Besides, Mather made sure they were never alone together. At first Edward believed that his error was to have damaged Mather's pride by witnessing his humiliation, which Edward then compounded by acting as his champion, demonstrating that he was tough while Mather was a vulnerable weakling. Later on, Edward realised that what he had done was simply not cool, and his shame was the greater. Street fighting did not go with poetry and irony, bebop or history. He was guilty of a lapse of taste. He was not the person he had thought. What he believed was an interesting quirk, a rough virtue, turned out to be a vulgarity. He was a country boy, a provincial idiot who thought a bare-knuckle swipe could impress a friend. It was a mortifying reappraisal. He was making one of the advances typical of early adulthood: the discovery that there were new values by which he preferred to be judged. Since then, Edward had stayed out of fights.

[On Chesil Beach, McEwan, I.]

...of protection

It never occurred to Edward to ask himself if she was happy. She certainly had her moments of anxiety, panicky attacks when her breathing came in snatches and her thin arms would rise and fall at her side, and all her attention was suddenly on her children, on a specific need she knew she must immediately address. Edward's fingernails were too long, she must mend a tear in a frock, the twins needed a bath. She would descend among them, fussing ineffectually, scolding, or hugging them to her, kissing their faces or doing all at once, making up for lost time. It almost felt like love, and their yielded to her happily enough. But they knew from experience that the realities of the household were forbidding - the nail scissors and matching thread would not be found, and to heat water for a bath needed hours of preparation. Soon their mother would drift away, back to her own world.
These fits may have been caused by some fragment of her former self trying to assert control, half recognising the nature of her own condition, dimly recalling a previous existence, and suddenly, terrifyingly, glimpsing the scale of her loss. But for most of the time Majorie kept herself content with the notion, an elaborate fairy tale in fact, that she was a devoted wife and mother, that the house ran smoothly thanks to all her work, and that she deserved a little time to herself when her duties were done. And in order to keep the bad moments to a minimum, and not alarm that scrap of her former consciousness, Lionel and the children colluded in the make-believe. At the beginning of meals, she might lift her face from contemplating her husband's efforts and say sweetly as she brushed the straggly hair from her face, 'I do hope you enjoy this. It's something new I wanted to try.'
It was always something old, for Lionel's repertoire was narrow, but no one contradicted her, and ritually, at the end of every meal, the children and their father would thank her. It was a form of make-believe that was comforting for them all. When Majorie announced that she was making a shopping list for Watlington market, or that she had more sheets to iron than she could begin to count, a parallel world of bright normality appeared within reach of the whole family. But the fantasy could be sustained only if it was not discussed. They grew up inside it, neutrally inhabiting its absurdities because they were never defined.
Somehow they protected her from the friends they brought home, just as they protected their friends from her. The accepted view locally - or this was all they ever heard - was that Mrs Mayhew was artistic, eccentric and charming, probably a genius. It did not embarrass the children to hear their mother tell them things they knew could not be true. She did not have a busy day ahead, she had not really spent the entire afternoon making blackberry jam. These were not falsehoods, they were expressions of what their mother truly was, and they were bound to protect her - in silence.

[On Chesil Beach, McEwan, I.]

...of inhibition

As always, Florence was adept at concealing her feelings from her family. It required no effort - she simply left the room, whenever it was possible to do so undemonstratively, and later was glad she had said nothing bitter or wounding to her parents or sister; otherwise she would be awake all night with her guilt. She constantly reminded herself how much she loved her family, trapping herself more effectively into silence. She knew very well that people fell out, even stormily, and then made up. But she did not know how to start - she simply did not have the trick of it, the row that cleared the air, and could never quite believe that hard words could be unsaid or forgotten. Best to keep things simple. She could only blame herself then, when she felt like a character in a newspaper cartoon, with steam coming from her ears.

[On Chesil Beach, McEwan, I.]

...of chasteness

Edward's single most important contribution to the wedding arrangements was to refrain, for over a week. Not since he was twelve had he been so entirely chaste with himself. He wanted to be in top form for his bride. It was not easy, especially at night in bed, or in the mornings as he woke, or in the long afternoons, or in the hours before lunch, or after supper, during the hours before bed. Now here they were at last, married and alone. Why did he not rise from his roast, cover her in kisses and lead her towards the four-poster next door? It was not so simple. He had a fairly long history engaging with Florence's shyness. He had come to respect it, even revere it, mistaking it for a form of coyness, a conventional veil for a richly sexual nature. In all, part of the intricate depth of her personality, and proof of her quality. He persuaded himself that he preferred her this way. He did not spell it out for himself, but her reticence suited his own ignorance and lack of confidence; a more sensual and demanding woman, a wild woman, might have terrified him.
Their courtship had been a pavane, a stately unfolding, bound by protocols never agreed or voiced, but generally observed. Nothing was ever discussed - nor did they feel the lack of intimate talk. These were matters beyond words, beyond definition. The language and practice of therapy, the currency of feelings diligently shared, mutually analysed, were not in general circulation. While one heard of wealthier people going in for psychoanalysis, it was not yet customary to regard oneself in everyday terms as an enigma, as an exercise in narrative history, or as a problem waiting to be solved.

[On Chesil Beach, McEwan, I.]

...of frigidity

Florence's anxieties were more serious, and there were moments during the journey from Oxford when she thought she was about to draw on all her courage to speak her mind. But what troubled her was unutterable, and she could barely frame it for herself. When he merely suffered conventional first-night nerves, she experienced a visceral dread, a helpless disgust as palpable as seasickness. For much of the time, through all the months of merry wedding preparation, she managed to ignore this stain on her happiness, but whenever her thoughts turned towards a close embrace - she preferred no other term - her stomach tightened dryly, she was nauseous at the back of her throat. In a modern, forward-looking handbook that was supposed to be helpful to young brides, with its cheery tones and exclamation marks and numbered illustrations, she came across certain phrases or words that almost made her gag: mucous membrane, and the sinister and glistening glans. Other phrases offended her intelligence, particularly those concerning entrances: Not long before he enters her...or, now at last he enters her, and, happily, soon after he has entered her... Was she obliged on the night to transform herself for Edward into a kind of portal or drawing room through which he might process? Almost as frequent was a word that suggested to her nothing but pain, flesh parted before a knife: penetration.

[On Chesil Beach, McEwan, I.]

Friday, 9 May 2014

...of panophobia

'Belikov tried to bury his thoughts inside a rigid case. Only official regulations and newspaper articles, in which something or other was prohibited, had any meaning for him. For him, only rules forbidding students to be out in the streets after nine in the evening or an article outlawing sexual intercourse were unambiguous and authoritative: the thing was prohibited - and that was that! But whenever anything was allowed and authorised, there was something dubious, vague and equivocal lurking in it. When a dramatic society or reading-room, or a tea-shop in town, was granted a licence, he would shake his head and softly say, "That's all very well, of course, but there could be trouble!"
'The least infringement, deviation, violation of the rules reduced him to despair, although you may well ask what business was it of his anyway? If a fellow-teacher was late for prayers, or if news of some schoolboy mischief reached his ears, or if he spotted a schoolmistress out late at night with an officer, he would get very heated and say over and over again, "There could be trouble." At staff meeting he really got us down with his extreme caution, his suspiciousness and his positively encapsulated notions about current wretched standards of behaviour in boys' and girls' schools, about the terrible racket students made in class and once again he would say, "Oh dear, what if the authorities got to hear? Oh, there could be trouble! Now, what if we expelled that Petrov in the second form and Yegorov in the fourth?" Well then, what with all his moaning and whining, what with those dark glasses and that pale little face (you know, it was just like a ferret's), he terrorised us so much that we had to give in. Petrov and Yegorov were given bad conduct marks, put in detention and finally both were expelled. He had the strange habit of visiting us in our digs. He would call in on some teacher and sit down without saying a word, as though he were trying to spy something out. After an hour or two he would get up and go. He called it "maintaining good relations with my colleagues". These silent sessions were clearly very painful for him and he made them only because he felt it was his duty to his fellow-teachers. All of us were scared of him, even the Head. It was quite incredible really, since we teachers were an intelligent, highly respectable lot, brought up on Turgenev and Shchedrin. And yet that miserable specimen, with that eternal umbrella and galoshes, kept the whole school under his thumb for fifteen whole years! And not only the school, but the whole town! Our ladies gave up their Saturday amateur theatricals in case he found out about them. And the clergy were too frightened to eat meat or play cards when he was around. Thanks to people like Belikov, the people in this town have lived in fear of everything for the last ten or fifteen years. They are frightened of talking out loud, sending letters, making friends, reading books, helping the poor or teaching anyone to read and write...'

[Man In A Case, Chekhov, A.]

...of the end of a life

The little girls who were sitting or lying on the stove looked down without blinking. There seemed to be so many of them, they were like cherubs in the clouds. They liked the stories, sighed, shuddered and turned pale with delight or fear. Breathlessly they listened to Grannie's stories, which were the most interesting, and they were frightened to move a muscle. All of them lay down to sleep without saying a word. The old people, excited and disturbed by the stories, thought about the beauty of youth, now that it was past: no matter what it had really been like, they could only remember it as bright, joyful and moving. And now they thought of the terrible chill of death - and for them death was not far away. Better not to think about it! The lamp went out. The darkness, the two windows sharply outlined in the moonlight, the silence and the creaking cradle somehow reminded them that their lives were finished, nothing could bring them back. Sometimes one becomes drowsy and doses off, and suddenly someone touches you on the shoulder, breathes on your cheek and you can sleep no longer, your whole body goes numb, and you can think of nothing but death. You turn over and death is forgotten; but then the same old depressing, tedious thoughts keep wandering around in your head - thoughts of poverty, cattle fodder, about the higher price of flour and a little later you remember once again that life has gone, that you can never relive it.

[Peasants, Chekhov, A.]

...of a ghost town

It was indeed true. During that autumn of 1765, a handful of English, under command of Captain Sterling of the Highlanders, crossed the Alleghanies and were coming to take peaceful possession of their hitherto inaccessible lands in the Illinois.
To none did this seem a more hated intrusion than to the people of Saint Phillipe. After the excited meeting at Sans-Chagrin's tavern, all went to work with feverish haste to abandon the village which had been the only home that many of them had ever known. Men, women, and children seemed suddenly possessed with demonic strength to demolish. Doors, windows, and flooring; everything that could serve in building up the new was rifled from the old. For days there was gathering together and hauling away in rough carts constructed for the sole purpose. Cattle were called from the pasture lands and driven in herds to the northward.
When the last of these rebellious spirits was gone, Saint Phillipe stood like the skeleton of its former self; and Picote Laronce with his  daughter found themselves alone amid the desolate hearthstones.
"It will be a dreary life, my child, for you," said the old man, gathering Marianne in a close embrace.
"It will not be dreary," she assured him, disengaging herself to look into his eyes. "I shall have much work to do. We shall forget - try to forget - that the English are at our door. And some time when we are rich in peltries, we will go to visit our friends in that great town that they talk so much about. Do not ever think that I am sad, father, because we are alone."
But the silence was very desolate. So was the sight of those abandoned homes, where smiling faces no longer looked from windows, and where the music of children's laughter was heard no more.

[The Maid of Saint Phillipe, Chopin, K.]

...of the past

In the uplands a line of cylindrical blocks to cripple the silent King Tigers that now will never roll the land chains away like so many white muffins across the dun pasture, among the low patches of snow and the pale lime outcrops. Out on a little pond the black man is down from London, ice-skating, improbable as a Zouave, riding his blades tall, dignified, as if born to them and ice not desert. Small townschildren scatter before him, close enough to have their cheeks stung by curved wakes of powdered ice whenever he turns. Until he smile they dare not speak, only follow, tag, flirt, wanting the smile, fearing it, wanting it... He has a magic face, a face they know. From the shore, Myron Grunton and Edwin Treacle, both chain-smoking, brooding over Operation Black Wing and the credibility of the Schwarzkommando, watch their magic Negro, their prototype, neither caring to risk the ice, loping Fen or any style, in front of these children.
The winter's in suspense - all the sky a bleak and luminous gel. Down on the beach, Pointsman fishes a roll of toilet paper, each sheet stencilled PROPERTY OF H.M. GOVERNMENT, from a pocket to blow his nose. Roger now and then pushes his hair back under his cap. Neither speaks. So, the two of them: trudging, hands in and out of pockets, their figures dwindling, fawn and grey and a lick of scarlet, very sharp-edged, their footprints behind them a long freezing progress of exhausted stars, the over-cast reflecting from the glazed beach nearly white... We have lost them. No one listened to those early conversations - not even an idle snapshot survives. They walked till that winter had them and it seemed the cruel Channel itself would freeze over, and no one, none of us, could ever completely find them again. Their footprints filled with ice, and a little later were taken out to sea.

[Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon, T.]

...of diversion

They're both of them peevish tonight, whippy as sheets of glass improperly annealed, ready to go smash at any indefinite touch in a whining matrix of stresses -
'Poor Roger, poor lamb, he's having an awful war.'
'All right,' his head shaking, a fuming b or p that refuses to explode, 'ahh, you're so clever aren't you,' raving Roger, hands off the wheel to help the words out, windscreen wipers clicking right along, 'you've been able to shoot back now and then at the odd flying buzz bomb, you and the boy friend dear old Nutria -'
'Quite right, and all that magnificent esprit you lot are so justly famous for, but you haven't brought down many rockets lately have you, haha!' gurning his most spiteful pursed smile up against wrinkled nose and eyes, ' any more than I, any more than Pointsman, well who's that make purer than whom these days, eh my love?' bouncing up and down in the leather seat.
By now her hand's reaching out, about to touch his shoulder. She rests her cheek on her own arm, hair spilling, drowsy, watching him. Can't get a decent argument going with her. How he's tried. She uses her silences like stroking hands to divert him and hush their corners of rooms, bedcovers, tabletops - accidental spaces... Even at the cinema watching that awful Going My Way, the day they met, he saw every white straying of her ungauntleted hands, could feel in his skin each saccade of her olive, her amber, her coffee-coloured eyes. He's wasted gallons of paint thinner striking his faithful Zippo, its charred wick, virility giving way to thrift, rationed down to a little stub, the blue flame sparking about the edges in the dark, the many kinds of dark, just to see what's happening with her face. Each new flame, a new face.

[Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon, T.]

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

...of disregard

An elderly man of slight build entered, smiling diffidently at me as I sat there at the supervision of my papers. His body was bent sideways in an awkward fashion and his shoulders appeared to move lithely beneath his coat as if his woollen small-clothes had been disarranged in the divesting of his street-coat. His skull shone clearly in the gaslight under the aura of his sparse hair. His double-breasted jacket bore a vertical ripple in the front, a result of the inexpensive quality of the canvas lining. He nodded to me in friendly salutation.
Fingering his coat-tails, my uncle took a stand near the fire and surveyed us, bisecting between us the benison of his smile. Not terminating it when he addressed me, it imparted a soft husky quality to his voice.
Well, fellow-my-lad, he said, what are we at this evening? My nephew, Mr. Corcoran.
I arose. Mr. Corcoran advanced and extended his small hand, exerting considerable strength in a fine man-grip.
I hope we are not disturbing you at your work, he said.
Not at all, I answered.
My uncle laughed.
Faith, he said, you would want to be a clever man to do that, Mr. Corcoran. That would be a miracle certainly. Tell me this, do you ever open a book at all?
This I received in silence, standing quietly by the table.

Nature of silence: Indifferent, contemptuous.

[At Swim Two Birds, O'Brien, F.]

...of jest

Wake up!
And Sweeny continued, said corn-yellow Finn, at the recital of these staves.

          If I were to search alone
          the hills of the brown world,
          better would I like my sole hut
          in Glen Bolcain.

          Good its water greenish-green
          good its clean strong wind,
          good its cress-green cresses,
          best its branching brooklime.

Quick march again, said Lamont. It'll be a good man that'll put a stop to that man's tongue. More of your fancy kiss-my-hand, by God.
Let him talk, said Furriskey, it'll do him good. It has to come out somewhere.
I'm a man, said Shanahan in a sententious fashion, that could always listen to what my fellowman has to say. I'm telling you now, it's a wise man that listens and says nothing.
Certainly said Lamont. A wise old owl once lived in a wood, the more he heard the less he said, the less he said the more he heard, lets emulate that wise old bird.
There's a lot in that, said Furriskey. A little less of the talk and we were right.
Finn continued with a patient weariness, speaking slowly to the fire and to the six suppliant shoes that were in devotion around it, the voice of the old man from the dim bed.

[At Swim Two Birds, O'Brien, F.]

Monday, 5 May 2014

...of the machines

"As yet the machines receive their impressions through the agency of man's senses; one travelling machine calls to another in a shrill accent of alarm and the other instantly retires; but it is through the ears of the driver that the voice of the one has acted upon the other. Had there been no driver, the callee would have been deaf to the caller. There was a time when it must have seemed highly improbable that machines should learn to make their wants known by sound, even through the ears of man; may we not conceive, then, that a day will come when those ears will be no longer needed, and the hearing will be done by the delicacy of the machine's own construction - when its language shall have been developed from the cry of of animals to a speech as intricate as our own?
"It is possible that by that time children will learn the differential calculus - as they learn now to speak - from their mothers and nurses, or that they may talk in the hypothetical language, and work rule of three sums, as soon as they are born; but this is not probable; we cannot calculate on any corresponding advance in man's intellectual or physical powers which shall be a set-off against the far greater development which seems in store for the machines. Some people may not say that man's moral influence will suffice to rule them; but I cannot think it will ever be safe to repose much trust in the moral sense of any machine.
"Again, might not the glory of the machines consist in their being without the same boasted gift of language? 'Silence,' it has been said by one writer, 'is a virtue which renders us agreeable to our fellow-creatures.'"

[Erewhon, Butler, S.]

...of Unreason

I should warn the reader, however, that I was rarely sure what the men whom I met while staying with Mr. Thims really meant; for there was no getting anything out of them if they scented even a suspicion that they might be what they call "giving themselves away." As there is hardly any subject on which this suspicion cannot arise, I found it difficult to get definite opinions from any of them, except on such subjects as the weather, eating and drinking, holiday excursions, or games of skill.
If they cannot wriggle out of expressing an opinion of some sort, they will commonly retail those of someone who has already written upon the subject, and conclude by saying that though they quite admit that there is an element of truth in what the writer has said, there are many points on which they are unable to agree with them. Which these points were, I invariably found myself unable to determine; indeed, it seemed to be counted the perfection of scholarship and good breeding among them not to have - much less express - an opinion on any subject on which it might prove later that they had been mistaken. The art of sitting gracefully on a fence has never, I should think, been brought to greater perfection than at the Erwhonian Colleges of Unreason.

[Erewhon, Butler, S.]

...of a custom

The birth of a child is looked upon as a painful subject on which it is kinder not to touch; the illness of the mother is carefully concealed until the necessity for signing the birth-formula (of which hereafter) renders further secrecy impossible, and for some months before the event the family live in retirement, seeing very little company. When the offence is over and done with, it is condoned by the common want of logic; for this merciful provision of nature, this buffer against collisions, this friction which upsets our calculations but without which existence would be intolerable, this crowning glory of human invention whereby we can be blind and see at one and the same moment, this blessed inconsistency, exists here as elsewhere; and though the strictest writers on morality have maintained that it is wicked for a woman to have children at all, inasmuch as it is wrong to be out of health that good may come, yet the necessity of the case has caused a general feeling in favour of passing over such events in silence, and of assuming their non-existence except in such flagrant cases as force themselves on the public notice. Against these the condemnation of society is inexorable, and if it is believed that the illness has been dangerous and protracted, it is almost impossible for a woman to recover her position in society.

[Erewhon, Butler, S.]

...of a colloquialism

The reader will have no difficulty in believing that the laws regarding ill-health were frequently evaded by the help of recognised fictions, which every one understood, but which it would be considered gross ill-breeding to even seem to understand. Thus, a day or two after my arrival at the Nosnibors, one of the many ladies who called on me made excuses for her husband's only sending his card, on the ground that when going through the public market-place that morning he had stolen a pair of socks. I had already been warned that I should never show surprise, so I merely expressed my sympathy, and said that though I had only been in the capital so short a time, I had already had a very narrow escape from stealing a clothes-brush, and that though I had resisted temptation so far, I was sadly afraid that if I saw any object of special interest that was neither too hot nor too heavy, I should have to put myself in the straightener's hands.
Mrs. Nosnibor, who had been keeping an ear on all that I had been saying, praised me when the lady had gone. Nothing, she said, could have been more polite according to Erewhonian etiquette. She then explained that to have stolen a pair of socks, or "to have the socks" (in more colloquial language), was a recognised way of saying that the person in question was slightly indisposed.

[Erewhon, Butler, S.]

...of wilderness

Each moment I felt increasing upon me that dreadful doubt as to my own identity - as to the continuity of my past and present existence - which is the first sign of that distraction which comes on those who have lost themselves in the bush. I had fought against this feeling hitherto, and had conquered it; but the intense silence and gloom of this rocky wilderness were too much for me, and I felt that my power of collecting myself was beginning to be impaired.
I rested for a little while, and then advanced over very rough ground, until I reached the lower end of the glacier. Then I saw another glacier, descending from the eastern side into a small lake. I passed along the western side of the lake, where the ground was easier, and when I had got about half-way I expected that I should see the plains which I had already seen from the opposite mountains; but it was not to be so, for the clouds rolled up to the very summit of the pass, though they did not overlap it on to the side from which I had come. I therefore, soon found myself enshrouded by a cold thin vapour, which prevented my seeing more than a very few yards in front of me. Then I came upon a large patch of old snow, in which I could distinctly trace the half-melted tracks of goats - and in one place, as it seemed to me, there had been a dog following them. Had I lighted upon a land of shepherds? The ground, where not covered with snow, was so poor and stony, and there was so little herbage, that I could see no sign of a path or regular sheep-track. But I could not help feeling rather uneasy as I wondered what sort of a reception I might meet with if I were to come suddenly upon inhabitants. I was thinking of this, and proceeding cautiously through the mist, when I began to fancy that I saw some objects darker than the cloud looming in front of me. A few steps brought me nearer, and a shudder of unutterable horror ran through me when I saw a circle of gigantic forms, many times higher than myself, upstanding grim and grey through the veil of cloud before me.
I suppose I must have fainted, for I found myself some time afterwards sitting upon the ground, sick and deadly cold. There were the figures, quite still and silent, seen vaguely through the thick gloom, but in human shape indisputably.

[Erewhon, Butler, S.]

Sunday, 4 May 2014

...of refuge then and there I had this argument with my mother, we were hurling all sorts of accusations at each other's heads while at the same time saying over and over again, now I to her, then again she to me saying calm down, will you, why don't you calm down, we'd keep saying this almost perverse do calm down, do calm down, tossed back and forth between us, probably resulting only in our getting deeper and deeper into our argument until, in the end, we'd argued ourselves as always into a state of exhaustion, these arguments always ended with both of us in total exhaustion, it was an effort and took the utmost willpower merely to keep upright after one of those battles, then, when mother invited me, at the upmost point of exhaustion from this argument, to have a bite with her in the kitchen, there was no one in it that day, cook was having her Tuesday off, to have a cup of tea, just a snack she had prepared for us with her own hands, a welcome-home snack as it were, so I followed mother into the kitchen and silently drank a cup of tea with her, naturally I ate nothing, I was simply in no condition to eat. Then, as we sat in the kitchen after our argument, so Roithamer, it was always basically the same thing, I arrive, we have our argument, we go in to drink tea, sitting in silence, totally exhausted, simply no longer capable of hating each other, we simply let go, sitting face to face, we let it go as it comes, as it is, nothing can be changed, suddenly she demands a description of my trip, how was my journey, was the weather in London good or bad, what had I been doing, my friends, my colleagues, she touched all these bases, but even the way she pronounced Cambridge, the way she said London, instantly aroused my anger against her again, the way she said Dover, the way she said Brussels, Cologne, all the time with her eyes on me, she'd question me with these cue-words that were always the same cue-words, every time I came home from England, she wanted to know everything, every detail, but I remained close-mouthed, I was silence itself, as always. She couldn't get a word out of me, I tried a bite of bread, choking on it, with her eyes on me, taking possession of me, as she thought. As always, my siblings were in their rooms, and I thought waiting in their rooms for our inevitable argument to be over, for us to have calmed down, as they thought, then they'd come down, to put in an appearance for their brother, who had withdrawn from all of them by going off to England. Without a word, "without a word' underlined, I'd got up and left my mother alone in the kitchen, and I went away from Altensam, down to the Aurach, into Hoeller's house. Away from the argument with my mother, into the silence of the Hoeller's.

[Correction, Bernhard, T.]

...of reluctance

Not a word from Hoeller about the fact that he personally had found him, nor did I bring it up, since my arrival that afternoon I had several times avoided pronouncing the word clearing, in fact, even though I needed the word clearing several times if I was to make myself understood in a matter I had mentioned. But everyone knows of course that it's a shock to come upon a hanged man, and in this case it was, naturally, a terrible shock. While I felt I had a right to find out more about our friend's last days from Hoeller, Hoeller expected to find out more about Roithamer from me, and since both of us kept waiting the whole time for the other to say something, naturally something about our friend Roithamer, we said nothing at all the whole time. I only kept wondering what Hoeller could be thinking about, while Hoeller probably was wondering what I could be thinking about, but in each case it had to be something to do with Roithamer, what else.

[Correction, Bernhard, T.]

...of chary

The Hoeller children were well brought up by their parents, they were as unspoiled and open to everything as one might wish, incidentally I had noticed immediately that the girl took more after her father, the son more after his mother, what it was I didn't know, they just reached up to their parents' shoulders in height, they were full of curiosity and watching me all the time, they seemed wholly intent upon the new man so suddenly among them, they ate and drank exactly like their parents and were, while they ate, just as silent as their parents. They too would never have said a word to me unless I encouraged them, just like their mother, and for the longest time I found it impossible, for whatever reason, to say anything to the children, or to Hoeller's wife, I probably wanted the experience of this meal taken in absolute silence to have its effect on me, I should have said something to Hoeller's wife or to the children right at the start, I thought, but I said nothing and they did not dare to say anything, because Hoeller had not encouraged them to speak, Hoeller had come in from his workshop, had washed his hands and had sat down at the table, as I saw him doing when I walked in, the children were already seated at the table when I came in and was invited by Hoeller, not by his wife, to take the window seat from which I had the best view of the whole room and everything going on in it, this seat was probably Roithamer's seat too, I thought, knowing Roithamer as I do, this very seat where I have just sat down must have been his seat, how often he had told me about the meals in Hoeller's family room, suddenly not reported but told, it was the sort of thing that made a story, not a report, he told me how these meals were conducted, always the same way, always in silence, just as it was now in my experience, again I compared Roithamer's story with my own observations made just now, and again Roithamer's stories (about mealtimes in Hoeller's family room) and my observations coincided, and I thought that Roithamer always sat like this with his back to the wall in every room, it was characteristic of him, the moment he entered a room he looked for a seat where his back would be to the wall and never sat anywhere but where he could have his back to the wall and keep his eye on the whole room, I also had the same habit, I had not picked it up from Roithamer, this tendency always to sit back-to-the-wall especially in restaurants or coffee shops had been characteristic of me always and long before I noticed it in Roithamer, so I was now thinking that this window seat facing the door, opposite Hoeller's wife, would have been the appropriate choice for Roithamer and I wanted to ask whether Roithamer had also sat where I had sat down, but I didn't ask, the time for such a question had not yet come, everything in the room was already, at this time, against such a question and so I did not pose that question, nor any of the other questions that had suddenly arisen in my mind, I ate and drank and watched and was watched and I mean I was watched if not openly watched, the children for example were watching me every minute even when they did not look at me directly, just as Hoeller's wife was watching me every minute even though she did not look at me, she looked down at the table and watched me and Hoeller did exactly the same. Conversation at meal-times is unknown in these homes, I thought, though just now it was probably my doing that no one said anything, all I had to do was to say something and they would speak up too, but the fact that they were all eating and drinking in silence and that this silence could be prolonged by my own silence made me go on eating and drinking as silently as they, they were all waiting for a word from me, I thought, but I said not a word.

[Correction, Bernhard, T.]

...of ruin

Hoeller himself had not touched a thing in this garret since Rothamer's last visit here, immediately after his sister's funeral in Altensam, as I've since learned from Hoeller, Roithamer had attended the funeral most reluctantly, as I've also learned, not of course on account of his sister but because of his brothers, Roithamer wore black, Hoeller said, which he'd never worn before, no matter who was being buried, Roithamer wore black only this one time in his life, it was only for his sister's funeral that he dressed in black, he looked extremely well dressed in those black clothes, Hoeller says, and so there he was in his elegant black clothes in Hoeller's parlour and sat there in silence, in total silence, as Hoeller says, without eating or drinking anything, Hoeller had the impression that Roithamer, with his sister now dead and buried, had come to an end himself, except that he was still alive, but though he was still alive he actually felt that he was already dead, because his sister, for whom he had built the Cone, had meant everything to him, next to his work, his natural science, which he taught at Cambridge, as I have said, he simultaneously taught and studied at Cambridge, but now, Hoeller said, you know how an educated man can suddenly look as though he had been mortally wounded, and Hoeller described Roithamer as looking not only completely exhausted after his sister's funeral, but looking as if he were already dead, Roithamer had entered Hoeller's house a dead man, not merely and exhausted to totally exhausted man, and there he sat in Hoeller's family room for two hours, and would not let Hoeller's wife give him anything to eat or drink, though he had never refused her before, except that after three hours he took a glass of water which he drank down in one long gulp, and nothing else, then he kept on sitting there in the downstairs family room deep into the night, in silence, Hoeller himself didn't dare to say anything, not in this situation, said Hoeller, who could describe the situation very well, though he couldn't explain it, in fact every time Hoeller talked about Roithamer he could describe everything very well though he couldn't explain it, but Hoeller didn't need words to make himself understood and to explain whatever and wherever something needed explaining, Hoeller's method of elucidation always worked best when he operated in silence, and so Roithamer sat in the parlour all night long and did not wish to retire to the garret, Hoeller said, he probably didn't want to return ever again to the world of the garret, which stood for everything.

[Correction, Bernhard, T.]

...of eschewal

...Hoeller's garret still contains all the plans, all the books and articles, most of them never used but all of them collected by Roithamer in his last years with a view to building the Cone, all those books and articles in every possible language, including languages unknown to him but translated for him by his brother Johann who spoke many languages and in fact had a gift for languages like no other man I ever knew, the translations were also here in Hoeller's garret, and I could see at once that there had to be hundreds of them, stacks of translations from Spanish and Portuguese, as I noticed when I entered the garret, hundreds if not thousands of laborious decipherments of probably important considerations for the completion of the Cone by experts unknown to me but probably familiar to him, he hated the word architect, or architecture, he never said architect, or architecture, and when I or someone else said architect, or architecture, he instantly countered by saying that he could not stand hearing the word architect, or architecture, that these two words were nothing but malformations, verbal monstrosities which no thinking man would stoop to, and I never used the words architect, or architecture, in his presence, nor have I used them since, even Hoeller got accustomed to avoiding the words architect or architecture, like Roithamer we resorted to words such as master builder or building or the art of building; that the word B U I L D is one of the most beautiful in the language, we knew ever since Roithamer had spoken about it...

[Correction, Bernhard, T.]