Friday, 5 August 2016

...of withdrawal

Closed due to death. The day after Boborikine died the sign was hung on the gate, what am I saying, on the heavy gate - because the epithet was melted, forged, welded, coated with minium and painted green, and so were the bars, the thick bars that seal the sole entrance to the cave. Visitors are said to have banged their heads against them; perhaps they thought the death notice referred to the creators of the paintings inside, whom they had believed dead for quite some time, years and years; so you see it is best not to tread on the grave digger’s turf and leave them to bury the mortals themselves when the time comes. And the visitors will have gone back home meditating on this lesson; perhaps along the way they mentioned the analogous, not unusual case of the writer who, famous in his youth, chooses nevertheless to withdraw from the literary scene; we lose track of him but his previous work us still impressive and in print, others are inspired by him, he is quoted, annotated, no one knows how he died, or where, or precisely when. Legends abound, perhaps it was suicide, or an airplane crash in the mountains, the Mexican border, until the day the octogenarian who has calmly lived out his life catches cold on his doorstep and finally dies for the last time, in his bed.

[Prehistoric Times, Chevillard, E.]

...of the figurehead of war

Then I saw a woman coming toward me, a woman so beautiful that it was as though life had never previously existed on this planet. She was walking alone along the cement-lined street, in the midst of the violence and chaos. She did not see me. She glided effortlessly over the ground, as though upon wheels, parting the air and the light as she went. The sun lit spangled reflections across her body, setting her hair and clothes on fire. She advanced in silence, encased in iron and nylon, striking the ground with her hard heels. Her long legs passed perpetually through space, and her transparent eyes looked straight through my own, like headlamps. One day, by chance, I saw this woman walking away into the distance. I saw that there was a magic force alive within her, as within all women, a force that I would never understand. This was her way of proclaiming nonchalantly that violence was beautiful, and that therefore a universal explosion was imminent. I was unable to follow her. I was unable to speak to her, or to the others. I was unable to kill her. Instead, a sudden shiver ran through me, a sort of fever. I sensed that this woman was the war’s figure-head, gliding safely through the scenes of battle while slaughter raged around her. Her water-repellant skin was moulded to her flesh like a breastplate, and her garments clung to her like a second skin. She was coasting aimlessly along, sparkling brightly, a beautiful new car with windows raised. Let him who knows her speak to her, let him rip her belly open and read her smoking entrails. She is called Bea B., or else Beauty Lane. She is also called Bothrops atrox. Let him who knows something about her, or about any other woman, speak now. Perhaps the war’s mechanism is still inside her body, perhaps it could be torn out. Speak! Speak! But no-one speaks. Each day, each year, I pass the glittering body of Bothrops atrox bound, no doubt, for the far end of the labyrinth to beget her foetuses of dynamite and guncotton. She must be stopped! Her skin must be stripped off, and air and water allowed to filter through her body. But the air is absent and the water is imprisoned within pipes and taps.
Ku! Listen! You dwell in Alahiyi, o dreaded woman! There, in Alahiyi, you dwell, o white woman! No-one is ever lonely in your company. You are very beautiful. No-one is ever lonely in your company. You have shown me the way. I shall never again be sad. You have set me on the white path. You have set me down, there, in the middle of the earth. I shall stand upright on the earth. No-one is ever lonely in my company. I am very beautiful. You have placed me in the white house. I shall be inside it when it starts to move. No-one will ever be lonely in my company. In truth, I shall not be sad. Unhesitatingly, you have decided things for me.
Listen, woman of steel, listen to me. Give your perfect engine a few moments’ rest, stay still for once. One word from you, a single word, and maybe the war would end. Give your orders. Then you will rise above the swirling eddies of flesh and bone, clad in your veil of light, and you will be queen.
But her painted mouth never utters a word, and her eyes glint behind the lenses of her Polaroid glasses. Around her, the world is tensing its stomach muscles, voiding an endless stream of new things, unknown objects, from all its secret orifices. Heaps are mounting skywards, mountains of gold and beauty. Second by second, they proliferate upon the earth in all the gaudy splendor of their aluminium casings, their wrapping paper, their coloured buttons, their plastic-coated surfaces, their networks of wires. Machines, boxes, cylinders, reels, all made for her. The tons of new goods inside the stores and on display in their windows and showcases. There is not enough flesh for them, there are not enough noses, mouths or eyes for them. There are not enough thoughts for all the words that swarm constantly in the air like clouds of buzzing insects. There are not enough roads for all the wheels.

[War, Le Clézio, J. M. G.]

...of calm

Bea B. remained seated for a long time in front of the empty counter, watching, and running her fingers along the edge of the plastic table. Monsieur X smoked several cigarettes, stubbing each one out in the publicity-ashtray. There was no need to talk; soon no doubt, one would never talk again. On would no longer murmur all those phrases into another person’s ear, inhaling a faint whiff of the odour of skin and hair. One would never again say, in a strange husky voice:
‘I… I love you, I’
‘I’m afraid’
‘You are so beautiful, oh so beautiful’
‘Make love to me’
‘I - I never - never - want to be alone again’
There would be no more need to flee. Because everything would be so soothing, here, everything would be so pleasant that there would no longer be anything else to hope for.

[War, Le Clézio, J. M. G.]

...of airports

Bea B. walks the whole length of the great hall. A row of gleaming counters lines one wall from end to end. Above the counters are red circles, golden stripes, blue panels, white panels. Flags. And then, writing:

PAN AM          LUFTHANSA           IBERIA             ALITALIA
        LOT         KLM     BEA            JAL    GARUDA

crazy words, scraps of mute words that flash on and off. The counters are empty. The vast brightly-lit hall is full of empty counters. Bea B. sits down in one of the red imitation-leather armchairs facing one of the counters, and studies the posters and bits of paper fastened to the wall. Monsieur X remains silent, too, as he smokes a cigarette. Bea B. studies the advertisement-ashtray that has PAN AM written on it in big white letters, together with a caricature of the world and its meridians. She notices that the ashtray contains three crushed stubs and some ash. Then she picks up her red plastic travel bag that has TWA written on it in big white letters, and takes from it a little blue vinyl-covered notebook that has ‘EZEJOT’ DIARY written on it in gilt letters, and writes very slowly:

The dreadful silence that accompanies me everywhere.

[War, Le Clézio, J. M. G.]

...of jail-birds

‘Sing, Pin,’ they say. And Pin begins singing, seriously, tensely, in that hoarse childish voice of his. He sings a song called ‘The Four Seasons’:

                           When I think of the future
                           And the liberty I’ve lost
                           I’d like to kiss her and then die
                          While she sleeps… and never knows.

The men sit in silence, with their eyes lowered, as if listening to a hymn. All of them have been in prison; no one is a real man to them unless he has. And the old jail-birds’ song is full of melancholy which seeps into the bones in prison, at night, when the warders pass hitting the grills with a crowbar, and gradually the quarrels and curses die down, and all that can still be heard is a voice singing this song which Pin is singing now, and which no one shouts for him to stop.

                        At night I love to hear
                       The sentry’s call,
                       I love to watch the passing moon
                       Light up my cell.

[The Path to the Spider’s Nests, Calvino, I.]

...of tacit consent

Dritto’s men are now chattering with cold behind the boulders; their heads and shoulders are wrapped in blankets, like Arab burnouses. The detachment has had one casualty - the commissar, Giacinto the tinker. He had been hit by a burst of German fire and his body lay in a meadow below, rid now of his colourful dreams of vagabondage and of all his lice too, which no insect powder had ever done. There was also one man slightly wounded in a hand, Count, one of the Calabrian brothers-in-law.
They have now been joined by Dritto, whose yellow face and blanket round his shoulders make him look really ill. Silent, his nostrils quivering, he watches the men one by one. Every now and again he seems on the point of giving some order, then says nothing. The men have said nothing to him yet. If he gave an order, or any of them talked to him, the rest would certainly turn on him, and violent words would fly. But this not the moment for a show-down; both he and the men realise that by tacit consent, so he avoids giving orders or reprimands and the men avoid any occasion for them. The detachment has been marching with discipline, and there has been no dispersion or quarrel about shifts; one could never have told it was leaderless. But Dritto is still in fact their leader, he only has to glance at a man to make him straighten up; yes, he is a great leader, he has a magnificent leader’s temperament, Dritto.

[The Path to the Spider’s Nests, Calvino, I.]

...of condemnation

‘You understand, then,’ says Dritto, ‘the detachment will take up position between the pilon on Mount Pellegrino and the scond gorge. Cousin will take over command. You’ll get new orders from the batallion when you arrive up there.’
Now all the men’s eyes are on him, sleepy brooding eyes, crossed by locks of hair.
‘What about you?’ they ask
Dritto’s lowered eyelashes are covered with a slight discharge.
‘I’m ill,’ he says, ‘I can’t come.’
There, now they can say what they like. The men say nothing. ‘I’m a finished man,’ thinks Dritto. Now everything can take its course. It’s terrible, though, that the men say nothing, make no protest; that means they’ve already condemned him, are pleased at his shirking this last test. Perhaps they expected it. And yet they cannot understand what it is that makes him do this; neither does he, Dritto, himself. But now everything can take its course, there is nothing for him to do but let himself drift.

[The Path to the Spider’s Nests, Calvino, I.]

...of colonialists

These evenings are all the same. My brothers gorge themselves without saying a word to him. They don’t look at him either. They can’t. They’re incapable of it. If they could, if they could make the effort to see him, they’d be capable of studying, of observing the elementary rules of society. During these meals my mother’s the only one who speaks, she doesn’t say much, especially the first few times, just a few comments about the dishes as they arrive, the exorbitant price, then silence. He, the first couple of times, plunges in and tries to tell the story of his adventures in Paris, but in vain. It’s as if he hadn’t spoken, as if nobody had heard. His attempt founders in silence. My brothers go on gorging. They gorge as I’ve never seen anyone else gorge, anywhere.
He pays. He counts out the money. Puts it in the saucer. Everyone watches. The first time, I remember, he lays out seventy-seven piastres. My mother nearly shrieks with laughter. We get up to leave. No one says thank you. No one ever say thank you for an excellent dinner, or hallo, or goodbye, or how are you, no one ever says anything to anyone.
My brothers never will say a word to him, it’s as if he were invisible to them, as if for them he weren’t solid enough to be perceived, seen or heard. This is because he adores me, but it’s taken for granted I don’t love him, that I’m with him for money, that I can’t love him, it’s impossible, that he could take any sort of treatment from me and still go on loving me. This is because he’s a Chinese, because he’s not a white man. The way my elder brother treats my lover, not speaking to him, ignoring him, stems from such absolute conviction it acts as a model. We all treat my lover as he does. I myself never speak to him in their presence. When my family’s there I’m never supposed to address a single word to him. Except, yes, except to give him a message. For example, after dinner, when my brother’s tell me that they want to go to the Fountain to dance and drink, I’m the one who has to tell him. At first he pretends he hasn’t heard. And I, according to my elder brother’s strategy, I’m not supposed to repeat what I’ve just said, not supposed to ask again, because that would be wrong, I’d be admitting he has a grievance. Quietly, as if between ourselves, he says he’d like to be alone with me for a while. He says it to end the agony. Then I’m supposed to catch what he says properly, one more treachery, as if by what he said he meant to object, to complain of my elder brother’s behavior. So I’m still not supposed to answer him. But he goes on, says, is bold enough to say: Your mother’s tired, look at her. And out mother does get drowsy after those fabulous Chinese dinners in Cholon. But I still don’t answer. It’s then I hear my brother’s voice. He says something short, sharp, final. My mother used to say, He’s the one who speaks best of all the three. After he’s spoken, my brother waits. Everything comes to a halt. I recognise my lover’s fear, it’s the same as my younger brother’s. He gives in. We go to the Fountain. My mother too. At the Fountain she goes to sleep.

[The Lover, Duras, M.]

...of familial love and hate

In the books I’ve written about my childhood I can’t remember, suddenly what I left out, what I said. I think I wrote about our love for our mother, but I don’t know if I wrote about how we hated her too, or about our love for one another, and our terrible hatred too, in that common family history of ruin and death which was ours whatever happened, in love or in hate, and which I still can’t understand however hard I try, which is still beyond my reach, hidden in the very depths of my flesh, blind as a new-born child. It’s the area on whose brink silence begins. What happens there is silence, the slow travail of my whole life. I’m still there, watching those possessed children, as far away from the mystery now as I was then. I’ve never written, though I thought I wrote, never loved, though I thought I loved, never done anything but wait outside the closed door.

[The Lover, Duras, M.]

...of abhorrence

Never a hallo, a good evening, a Happy New Year. Never a thank you. Never any talk. Never any need to talk. Everything always silent, distant. It’s a family of stone, petrified so deeply it’s impenetrable. Everyday we try to kill one another, to kill. Not only do we not talk to one another, we don’t look at one another. When you’re being looked at you can’t look. To look is to feel curious, to be interested, to lower yourself. No one you look at is worth it. Looking is always demeaning. The word conversation is banished. I think that’s what best conveys the shame and the pride. Every sort of community, whether of the family or otherwise, is hateful to us, degrading. We’re united in a fundamental shame at having to live. It’s here we are at the heart of our common fate, the fact that all three of us are our mother’s children, the children of a candid creature murdered by society. We’re on the side of the society which has reduced her to despair. Because of what’s been done to our mother, so amiable, so trusting, we hate life, we hate ourselves.

[The Lover, Duras, M.]

...of Christmas Eve

One year on, the repair had held, and this was the first time that the boiler had shown signs of weakness. The Architect Jean-Pierre Martin Leaving the Management of his Business had been finished for some time and put into storage by Jed’s gallerist in anticipation of a personal exhibition that was taking a while to organise. Jean-Pierre Martin himself - to the surprise of his son, who he had long since given up talking to about it - had decided to leave the house in Raincy and move into a nursing home in Boulogne. Their annual meal would this time take place in a brasserie on the avenue Bosquet called Chez Papa. Jed had chosen it in Pariscope on the strength of an advert promising traditional quality, á la ancienne, and this promise was, on the whole, kept. Some Father Christmases and trees decorated with tinsel sprinkled the half-empty room, essentially occupied by small groups of old people, some very old, who chewed carefully, consciously and ferociously on dishes of traditional cuisine. There was wil boar, suckling pig and turkey; for dessert, of course, a patisserie yule log á la ancienne was proposed by the house, whose polite and discreet waiters operated in silence, as if in a burns unit. Jed was a bit stupid, he realised, to offer his father such a meal. This dry, serious man, with a long and austere face, never seemed to have been taken by the pleasures of the table, and the rare times Jed had dined out with him, when he had needed to see him near his place of work, his father had chosen a sushi restaurant - always the same one. It was pathetic and vain to want to establish a gastronomical conviviality that had no raison d’être, and which had not even conceivably ever had one - his wife, while she was alive, had always hated cooking. But it was Christmas, and what else could you do? His father didn’t seem interested in much anymore; he read less and less, and was utterly indifferent to questions of dress. He was, according to the director of the nursing home, ‘reasonably intergrated’, which probably meant that he hardly said a word to anyone. For the time being, he chewed laboriously on his suckling pig, with about the same expression as if it were a piece of rubber; nothing indicated that he wanted to break the lengthening silence, and Jed, being nervous (he should never have taken Gewürztraminer with the oysters - he realised that from the moment he had ordered, white wine always made his mind fuzzy), looked frenetically for some subject that might lend itself to conversation. If he had been married, or at least had a girlfriend, well, some kind of woman, things would have happened very differently. Women are generally more at ease at these family affairs, it’s sort of their basic speciality; even in the absence of real children, they are there, potentially, on the edge of the conversation, and it is a known fact that old people are interested in their grandchildren, whom they link to natural cycles or something. Well, there’s a sort of emotion that manages to be born in their old heads: the son is the death of the father; certainly, but for the grandfather the grandson is a sort of rebirth or revenge, and that can be largely sufficient, at least for the duration of a Christmas dinner. Jed sometimes thought he should hire an escort for these Christmas Eves, create a sort of mini-fiction; it would be enough to brief the girl a couple of hours beforehand; his father wasn’t very curious about the details of the lives of others, no more than men in general.

[The Map and The Territory, Houellebecq, M.]

...of an art student

For almost six months he seldom went out, except for a daily walk that took him to the Casino hypermarket on the boulevard Vincent-Auriol. His contact with the other students from the Beaux-Arts, already rare while he was there, became rarer until it disappeared completely, and it was with surprise he received, at the beginning of March, an email inviting him to take part in a collective exhibition, Let’s Remain Courteous, which was organised in May by the Ricard foundation. He accepted immediately, without understanding that it was precisely his almost ostentatious detachment that had created around him an aura of mystery, and that many of his former classmates wanted to know what he was up to.

On the morning of the vernissage, he realised that he hadn’t said a word for almost a month, except the ’No’ he repeated every day to the cashier (rarely the same one, it has to be said) who asked him if had the Club Casino loyalty card; nevertheless he made his way, at the agreed hour, to the rue Boissy d’Anglas. There were perhaps a hundred people (well, he had never known how to calculate that sort of thing; in any case, the guests numbered in tens), and he was worried at first when he noticed that he didn’t recognise any of them. For a moment he feared that he’d got the wrong day or exhibition, but his photo prints were there, hung on a wall at the back and lit correctly. After serving himself a glass of whisky, he went around the hall several times, following an ellipsoidal trajectory, more or less pretending to be absorbed in his own thoughts while his brain managed to formulate no thoughts whatsoever except the surprise his former classmates had completely disappeared from his memory, was effaced, and radically so, which made him wonder if he belonged to the human race. He would have recognised Geneviève, at least. Yes, it was certain that he would have recognised his former lover. That was a certainty he could cling to.

[The Map and The Territory, Houellebecq, M.]