Friday, 31 December 2010

...of no epitaph

June wrote to ask me for an epitaph for some memorial, his, I was not interested in memorials, really, but I remembered the poem Brecht wrote, saying the only way he wished to be commemorated after death was by the line: He made suggestions, and we accepted them. This I thought appropriate for Tony, from my point of view, but there would have been copyright problems, ha, I suppose, and probably that was not how June saw him. So eventually the best I could do, in the time, ah, were the three words: He gave freely. In the end she used nothing, gave him no memorial, in words.

[The Unfortunates, Johnson, B. S.]

...of wasting

Tony. His cheeks sallowed and collapsed round the insinuated bones, the gums shrivelled, was it, or shrunken, his teeth now standing free of each other in the unnatural half yawn of his mouth, yes, the mouth that had been so full-fleshed, the whole face, too, now collapsed, derelict, the thick-framed glasses the only constant, the mouth held open as in a controlled scream, but no sound, the head moving only slightly, the white dried and sticky saliva, the last secretions of those harassed glands, cauterized into deficiency, his mouth closing only when he took water from a glass by his bed, that double bed, in his parents' house, bungalow, water or lemon he had to take frequently, because of what the treatment had done to his saliva glands, how it had finished them. Him

[The Unfortunates, Johnson, B. S.]

...of brutality

The legal reporter came out of his cubicle shouting that two bodies of unidentified girls were in the city morgue. Frightened, I asked him: What age? Young, he said. They may be refugees from the interior chased here by the regime's thugs. I sighed with relief. The situation encroaches on us in silence, like a bloodstain, I said. The legal reporter, at some distance now, shouted:
"Not blood, Maestro, shit."

[Memories of My Melancholy Whores, Marquez, G. G.]

...of the office

My going to the paper in a coverall and unshaven awoke certain doubts regarding my mental state. The remodelled offices, with individual glass cubicles and skylights, looked like a maternity hospital. The artificial climate, silent and comfortable, invited speaking in whispers and walking on tiptoe. In the lobby, like dead viceroys, were oil portraits of the three editors-for-life and photographs of illustrious visitors. The enormous main room was presided over by the gigantic photograph of the current editorial staff taken on the afternoon of my birthday. I could not avoid a mental comparison to the one taken when I was thirty, and once again confirmed with horror that one ages more and with more intensity in pictures than in reality. The secretary who had kissed me on the afternoon of my birthday asked if I was sick. I was happy to respond with the truth so she would not believe it: Sick with love. She said: Too bad it's not for me! I returned the compliment: Don't be so sure.

[Memories of My Melancholy Whores, Marquez, G. G.]

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

...of perception

Passing again beneath the ginkgo, I said to Mr. Okeda that in the contemplation of the shower of leaves the fundamental thing was not so much the perception of each of the leaves as of the distance between one leaf and another, the empty air that separated them. What I seemed to have understood was this: an absence of sensations over a broad part of the perceptive field is the condition necessary for our sensitivity to concentrate locally and temporally, just as in music a basic silence is necessary so that the notes will stand out against it.

[If On A Winter's Night A Traveller, Calvino, I.]

...of a lesson

The ginkgo leaves fell like fine rain from the boughs and dotted the lawn with yellow. I was walking with Mr. Okeda on the path of small stones. I said I would like to distinguish the sensation of each single ginkgo leaf from the sensation of all the others, but I was wondering if it would be possible. Mr. Okeda said it was possible. The premises from which I set out, and which Mr. Okeda considered well founded, were the following. If from the ginkgo tree a single little yellow leaf falls and rests on the lawn, the sensation felt in looking at it is that of a single yellow leaf. If two leaves descend from the tree, the eye follows the twirling of the two leaves as they move closer, then separate in the air, like two butterflies chasing each other, then glide finally to the grass, one here, one there. And so with three, with four, even with five; as the number of leaves spinning in the air increases further, the sensations corresponding to each of them are summed up, creating a general sensation like that of a silent rain, and - if the slightest breath of wind slows their descent - that of wings suspended in the air, and then that of a scattering of little luminous spots, when you lower your gaze to the lawn. Now, without losing anything of these pleasant general sensations, I would like to maintain distinct, not confusing it from the others, the individual image of each leaf from the moment it enters the visual field, and follow in its aerial dance until it comes to rest on the blades of grass. Mr. Okeda's approval encouraged me to persevere in this purpose. Perhaps - I added, contemplating the form of the ginkgo leaf, a little yellow fan with scalloped edges - I could succeed in keeping distinct in the sensation of every leaf the sensation of every lobe of the leaf. On this point Mr. Okeda would not commit himself; at other times in the past his silence had served me as a warning not to let myself go in hasty conjectures, skipping a series of stages not yet checked. Bearing this lesson in mind, I began to concentrate my attention on capturing the tiniest sensations at the moment of their delineation, when their clarity was not yet mingled with a sheaf of diffused impressions.

[If On A Winter's Night A Traveller, Calvino, I.]

...of an unwelcome exchange

The portrait of a girl with short-cropped black hair and a long face had emerged for a moment from Ponko's little trunk; then he immediately hid it under an oilskin jacket. In the bedroom beneath the dovecote, which had till now been mine and from today on would be Ponko's, he was unpacking his things and arranging them in the drawers I had just emptied. I watched him in silence, sitting on my already closed little trunk, mechanically hammering at a stud that stuck out, a bit crooked; we had said nothing to each other after a grunted hello; I followed him in all his movements, trying to be thoroughly aware of what was going on: an outsider was taking my place, was becoming me, my cage with the starlings would become his, the stethoscope, the real Uhlan helmet hanging from a nail, all my things that I couldn't take with me remained to him; or rather, it was my relationship with things, places, people that was becoming his, just as I was bout to become him, to take his place among the things and people of his life.

[If On A Winter's Night A Traveller, Calvino, I.]

...of being tongue-tied

Until the Ile Saint-Louis, not a word is spoken. She'd like to take advantage of this silence but she can't. Everything is mixed up in her. She thinks she has to talk. To justify their unusual presence in this place, at this hour of the day, the fact that they are together for the first time. To prove to him that he wasn't wrong to invite her. To keep him there, give him reasons to stay. Because she is worried that he could change his mind at any second and walk off having realised his mistake. She has never been very talkative, but right now her brain is refusing to cooperate. It feels as if she is playing Scrabble with herself. Bits of words, the beginnings of phrases forms in her head, but she can't manage to string them together. Her only consolation is to think that perhaps a similar pandemonium is whirling inside him. She doesn't dare look at him to check. And then, as they turn a street corner, he places a hand on her back. A brief caress, as if to reassure her, as if her had sensed her panic. The contact calms her fears. She knows only one thing now: she is walking by his side.

[Voice Over, Curiol, C.]

...of holy orders

Rue de l'Universite. An old woman with gnarled shaking hands is talking to herself, then addresses her as she walks by. The woman in the blue cape! The poor thing isn't all there, she's lost her marbles, and continues to repeat, the woman in the blue cape, her liquid gaze directed at the end of the street. So as to not hurt the old lady's feelings, she turns round: there really is a woman in a blue cape making her way quickly across the street. The mocking tone comes through the yellowed teeth: that one there was a nun and went to bed with a man; now she's got nothing. The old woman shakes her head, all but adding, serves her right. At the age of twelve, after a guided tour of a convent somewhere in the middle of the countryside, she considered taking holy orders. No one said a word about the vow of chastity, not even the guide. What appealed to her was the silence of the stonework, the calm of the inner courtyards. Shutting yourself away for ever was like hurling yourself into space. She longed for the challenge of absolute silence. She wanted to know what thoughts she would have after a few months, after a few years without uttering a single word.

[Voice Over, Curiol, C.]

...of a change in mood

She is still in bed, studying the outline on the wall of the sun's rays filtered through the window, when the phone rings. His voice. She can't believe that he's calling her so soon, less than twenty-four hours since they last saw each other. From the clipped, cut-off sound of his words, she can tell that he is annoyed. Because of the jumper, no doubt. Ange can't have appreciated the fact that a piece of plastic was left attached to the material, and he is now going to order her to find a way to get that damn security disc off. He already must have spent the entire morning wearing himself out, directed by Ange's nervous commands. No, I'm not asleep. It's about last night. She senses that he is troubled, which makes her uneasy in turn. She could come clean with him about her shoplifting from Promod, but she fears the effect her spur-of-the-moment crime would have on him. It's about what you told the others. He says that all his friends really believed that she was a prostitute. It can't have done them any harm to meet one. Did you think you were being clever? He finds it pretty odd to lie like that, for no reason. Such is the paradox of a lie: so long as everyone equates it with truth, they're prepared to accept it, but the moment a lie is discovered to be a lie, it's seen as a personal insult. Why should there always be complex reasons for lying? Truth, that endless Chinese box, is not terribly attractive. A lie at least has the merit of being complete and is often far more coherent than its opposite. Apparently she has succeeded in putting off the man applying for the post of boyfriend. They believed me, after all; I must really look the part. From the sound of his breathing in the receiver, she senses that he has relaxed slightly. And this subtle change in mood indicates that he got the message. Her heart reminds her of its presence: something simultaneously shrinks and expands inside her chest. Neither one of them speaks. She waits for him to come out with the usual words, the ones that restrict her to a clearly defined category, the female friend. But this time silence no longer seems enough for him to push on with his usual, pre-formatted phrases. They remain silent, as if to absorb the transformation that is taking place. And through this interruption in the automatic rhythm of their verbal exchanges, she has the sense that, for the first time, they understand each other. For the first time - she can feel it - the thought of a relationship with her has crossed his mind. Eventually he says, Ange is calling me, I have to go.

[Voice Over, Curiol, C.]

...of dropping a clanger

She said it so well, with a mixture of professional pride and personal regret, that the others believed her - she sensed it at once. There is a brief freeze-frame. The man with the stoop feels a bit of a jerk now that he has his answer. He manages a polite rejoinder, all the same: And have you been in the business long? Maybe he's not so lacking in imagination, after all. Quick as a flash, her voice steady. Ten years, I started young. Even the virulent husband is taken aback; a few more details, and he could almost feel sorry for her. She knows that none of the four men will dare ask her how much she charges. Besides, they have ceased to look upon her with kindness: she is no longer innocent. Only the two women continue to regard her with curiosity. And then, all at once, a heart-felt cry from the wearer of Iranian veils: life can't be easy for you. I isn't sarcasm or disdain, but sincerity, and it plunges all present into what, from the outside, appears to be intense introspection. At which point he returns with a strawberry tart, Ange, and nine dessert plates. Ange enquires about the subject of their conversation. She then realises that she has overstepped the mark. I was talking about my work, she says eventually, as the others maintain an obstinate silence. Yes, its unusual, says Ange, people always forget that's a job, too. Frowns from the guests, surprised by such tolerance on the part of their hostess. Silence reigns as Ange dextrously divides the tart into near-equal portions. The sugary taste in the mouth helps the dinner to continue as if nothing had happened. No one else deigns to show any interest in her now; the man with the stoop hasn't even dared lay another finger on her plate. One thing is for sure, there won't be any more questions for the remainder of the evening. She wonders how many of them will remember the interlude which briefly disturbed the course of their evening. There was a prostitute at Thingamabob's the other night; she seemed like a nice girl. She imagines herself as an anointed saboteur of the social order. A single word from her and she switched identity in their eyes: reality had cracked in a place they never would have suspected.

[Voice Over, Curiol, C.]

...of the morning after a one-night stand

She is woken by the hushed modulations of a voice. Sitting up on the edge of the bed, she spots her clothes carefully folded on a chair. Her tongue is furred, her head aches; slowly she gets into her clothes. Spruce and already dressed, Renee is on the phone. A silent good morning, a gesture in the direction of the table, as the lips mouth help yourself. On the table are the tea, the orange juice, and the croissants. The perfect breakfast. All that's missing is the husband, she muses. Sitting down, she pours the tea into a cup and blows on the steaming liquid. The black hairs of Renee's wig dangle and shift against his back during the course of his telephone conversation. The long silences, punctuated by the word yes, prove that the person at the other end of the line is either very talkative or very upset. I'll come, Renee keeps saying: yes, I'll come, I promise. You promised me, she whispers to her unheeding cup, reproducing her indignation of the night before. Renee turns round, looking falsely annoyed at being stuck on the phone while his guest his up and about. She picks off a piece of croissant, chewing it diligently to reduce it to a saliva-soaked paste, which she doesn't swallow but goes on chewing. Eventually, Renee hangs up; what remains of the croissant goes straight to her stomach. Is it good? I'm going to have to leave pretty soon. His words come out detached, devoid of purpose, leaving her with the unpleasant impression that it is her mother who is talking to her. She imagines him with an apron round his waist. Renee is already putting on a jacket and writing his number down on a scrap of paper. He asks if she can get a move on. They're outside his building; she doesn't recognise the surroundings. I'll call you, he says, kissing her cheek. He points out the way to the nearest metro station and strides off in the opposite direction. As she passes a dustbin, she throws away the slip of paper.

[Voice Over, Curiol, C.]

...of fate

The day when they finally came to announce that it had been completed, he was completely dumbfounded for a moment, and the messengers did not know what to think. They had expected a gracious word, if not an expression of enthusiasm, or at the very least some conventional formula of congratulation. But Cheops did not move his lips. His eyes seemed to go quite blank, then his silence infected the messengers too, and they all stood there together as if they had been plunged into desolation, into the void.

[The Pyramid, Kadare, I.]

...of decline

The sharpest minds tried to clarify the causes of this all-pervading decline. The exhaustion and the misleading glow in which everything was now suffused was obviously not easy to explain. Everything was unwinding and drawing back as if before a ghost. But the hardest task was to track down the lever or cog responsible for the sluggishness of a machine that was supposed to know no rest, that is to say the intelligence service. And it was even harder to pierce the reasons for this dense and alien silence that had enveloped both camps, persecutors and persecuted alike.

[The Pyramid, Kadare, I.]

...of bewilderment

The spirals of sand stirred up by the wind shimmered outside. With bewilderment on their faces they gazed at these vortices reaching towards the heavens. They stayed silent, and only their eyes appeared to say: by what stairway wilt thou rise on high, o our sovereign? When the day comes, how wilt thou climb to the firmament, there to change in your turn into a star, like all other Pharaohs? how wilt thou illuminate us?

[The Pyramid, Kadare, I.]

Monday, 13 December 2010

...of haughtiness

His sister - she was ten years old at the time - had been afraid lest the dead grandmother return. Even in life she had been a majestic ghost moving through the house, tall and big, with a broad coif on her head, snow-white and stiffly starched, her imposing figure enveloped in solemn, stiff black silk, a kind of stone silk, and in her plump and soft white hands she always held a purple rosary. Without visible reason, and apparently with the sole purpose of showing that her silent majesty was still alive, she descended the stair to the kitchen every day, received the obeisances of the cook and servants with a silent inclination of the head, billowed across the yard towards the stables, vouchsafed the groom a cold glance from her big brown eyes, which stood out from their sockets and were perpetually moist, and returned the way she had come. At meals she was enthroned at the head of the table. Father, mother, and the children approached her and kissed her soft, muscleless, and doughy hand before the soup was brought to the table. In the presence of the grandmother no word was ever spoken. There was no sound but the imbibing of the soup and the soft clink of spoons against the dishes. After the soup, when the meat course arrived, the old woman left the table. She went to lie down. Nobody knew whether she really slept, or even rested. During the evening she appeared again, to depart as before after a quarter of an hour. Although she never spoke, or interfered in anything concerning the house or the estate, and was so seldom to be seen, yet her presence was felt by everyone - except by her son, perhaps - as a burden no less unbearable for being never mentioned. The servants hated her and called her "the shadow-queen". Her eyes, perpetually moist, glittered with malevolence, and her wordless hauteur aroused those about her to a hatred equally silent and vindictive. They would gladly have put an end to the shadow-queen, if the opportunity had offered. The children, too, Nicolas and his sister, hated the grandmother in her wicked majesty moving within the folds of heavy stuffs which muffled every sound. And when she died one day, suddenly without warning, and as silently as she had lived, the entire household breathed again - but only for a while.

[Tarabas: A Guest On Earth, Roth, J.]

...of signs

Shemariah, too terrified to utter a word, and moreover not very familiar with the language of the country, answered by signs. When he had transferred the scroll from his right arm on to his left one, he looked more like a supernatural being than ever. Pressing his heavy burden to his breast with his weak left arm, he pointed with his skinny right hand, overgrown likewise with red stubble, to the ground, making the gesture of digging and shovelling, then began to stamp and scrape with his foot as though to smooth the fresh mound of a grave. Most of this, naturally, Tarabas could not understand. The obstinate silence of the Jew aroused his rage; it was already rising dangerously.

[Tarabas: A Guest On Earth, Roth, J.]

...of jealousy

All day long Shemariah's anxious thoughts hovered round the scrolls. But jealousy kept him silent. He kept his care a secret for fear lest there might be another one besides himself prepared to save the sacred things. But this magnificent deed should be reserved for him alone. In the great ledger in which the account of every Jew was kept in heaven, the Eternal One would enter a flourishing "Excellent" against his name, and fate might even bring back his son as a reward. Therefore Shemariah kept his worry to himself. He did not know yet by what means it might be possible to reach the street without being seen by the soldiers of the dangerous Tarabas, or by the still more dangerous peasants. But the thought that the scrolls of the law, ruined by fire, should wait in vain for honourable burial, filled Shemariah with unspeakable anguish. If only he could talk about it! Pour out his heart! But the prospect of unique merit and a blest reward forbade him to utter a word.

[Tarabas: A Guest On Earth, Roth, J.]

...of authority

Kristianpoller vanished and reappeared a moment later with three large bottles on a stout wooden tray - wine, beer, spirits. He put the three bottles together with three separate glasses on the table before Tarabas and withdrew once more, bowing deeply. Tarabas first tested the bottles, raising each one in turn and examining it in the air as if to the proof of hand and eye. Finally he decided in favour of the brandy. True to the habit of all drinkers of hard liqour, he emptied one glass in a single draught, and poured out another. There was still a complete silence in the room. The officers sat stiffly with their plates and glasses in front of them and looked furtively across them at the colonel. Kristianpoller stood immobile and head down before his counter, waiting and alert to hasten over at a gesture, yes, at a flicker of an eyelash from Colonel Tarabas. He stood there intent upon the wishes of the war-god of Koropta, ready to spring to meet them as they formed slowly, or - who knew? - perhaps with suddenness within that mind. The gurgling of the brandy as the colonel poured out another glassful could be heard distinctly all over the large room. It was followed by the terrible one's praise: "Good stuff, this, Jew!" - a phrase which Tarabas now began to reiterate with shorter and shorter pauses between, and each time with a louder voice. At last when the colonel had disposed of his sixth glass, the youngest of the officers present, Lieutenant Kulin, thought that the time had come to break the the silence which respect and fear had until then imposed on all of them. He rose, a glass of brandy in his hand, and went over to the colonel's table. The lieutenant's hand was steady; not a drop overflowed from the brimming glass he held. He stopped at the table and drew himself up smartly.

[Tarabas: A Guest On Earth, Roth, J.]

...of secrecy

Delighted and amused by his own cleverness and at the others' stupidity, Nicolas Tarabas left the train the following morning after a sound and undisturbed night's sleep. Hardly two versts separated him now from his father's house. At any rate the station-master, the ticket-collector, and the porters recognised and greeted him. He answered their numerous and friendly questions with official portentousness to the effect that he had been recalled from America by orders from the highest places and for an errand of the most vital urgency. This sentence he kept repeating again and again with the same warm smile and the same bright candour in his child-like blue eyes. When this and that one asked him if he had announced his coming at home, Tarabas put his finger to his lips. The gesture exhorted silence and awoke respect. And as, without luggage, exactly as he was when he left New York, he left the station and set off down the narrow path which led to the Tarabas demesne, the station employers, one after the other, laid their fingers on their lips exactly as he had done and all of them were firmly convinced that Nicolas Tarabas, known to them since his babyhood, was now the bearer of a momentous state secret.

[Tarabas: A Guest On Earth, Roth, J.]

...of hiding

All at once an unknown grip had Tarabas by the scruff of his neck; it closed on him, strangled him, lifted him up. The pain and the force of it were too much. His own grip slackened. He looked round no more. He neither looked nor saw another thing. Suddenly fear had caught him. With strong shoves he parted the crowd, tumult still in his ears, immense vague terror in his breast. With great leaps he bound across the street, pursuers and shouts and the shrill whistle of a policeman in his wake. He ran. He felt himself running. He ran as though he had six pairs of legs, magnificent power in thighs and feet, freedom before his eyes, death at his back. He ran into a side street, and threw a glance behind. No sign of his hunters. He fled into a dark doorway, cowered behind the staircase, saw and heard the pursuing horde speed past the house. People were coming downstairs. He held his breath. An eternity, it seemed to him, he crouched there in silence.

[Tarabas: A Guest On Earth, Roth, J.]

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

...of opium

The doctor came, with his beard three hand's-breadths long, and prescribed opium to me. What a marvellous remedy for the pains of my existence! Whenever I smoked opium my ideas acquired grandeur, subtlety, magic and sublimity and I moved into another sphere beyond the boundaries of the ordinary world. My thoughts were freed from the weight of material reality and soared towards an empyrean of tranquility and silence. I felt as though I was borne on the wings of a golden bat and ranged through a radiant, empty world with no obstacle to block my progress. So profound and delicious was the sensation I experienced that the delight it gave me was stronger than death itself.

[The Blind Owl, Hedayat, S.]

...of despair

There was complete silence everywhere. I felt that all mankind had rejected me and I took refuge with inanimate things. I was conscious of a relationship between me and the pulsation of nature, between me and the profound night which had descended upon my spirit. This silence is a language which we do not understand. My head began to swim, in a kind of intoxication. A sensation of nausea came over me and my legs felt weak. I experienced a sense of infinite weariness. I went into a cemetery beside the road and sat down upon a gravestone. I held my head between my hands and tried to think steadily of the situation I was in.

[The Blind Owl, Hedayat, S.]

...of a somnambulist

Was she ill? Had she lost her way? She had come like a sleepwalker, independently of any will of her own. No one can possibly imagine the sensations I experienced at that moment. I felt a kind of delicious, ineffable pain. No, it was not an illusion. This being who without surprise and without a word had come into my room was that woman, that girl. I had always imagined that our first meeting would be like this. My state of mind was that of a man in an infinitely deep sleep. One must be plunged in profound sleep in order to behold such a dream as this. The silence had for me the force of eternal life; for on the plane of eternity without beginning and without end there is no such thing as speech.

[The Blind Owl, Hedayat, S.]

...of rapture

Afterwards, hurrying, he helped her to dress and wrap herself up in the plaid. In the twilight her black eyes and black hair, tied up in a braid, were fabulously visible. He did not dare touch her any more, he only kissed her hands and stayed silent out of unendurable happiness. All the time it seemed that there was someone there in the darkness of the wood on the shore, which glimmered in places with glow-worms, someone standing and listening. At times something would give out a cautious rustling there.

[Rusya, Bunin, I.]

...of fisherman's boats

Sometimes someone would speak in a boat. But most of the boats were silent except for the dip of the oars. They spread apart after they were out of the mouth of the harbour and each one headed for the part of the ocean where he hoped to find fish. The old man knew he was going far out and he left the smell of the land behind and rowed out into the clean early morning smell of the ocean. He saw the phosphorescence of the Gulf weed in the water as he rowed over the part of the ocean that the fisherman called the great well because there was a sudden deep of seven hundred fathoms where all sorts of fish congregated because of the swirl the current made against the steep walls of the floor of the ocean. Here there were concentrations of shrimp and bait fish and sometimes schools of squid in the deepest holes and these rose close to the surface at night where all the wandering fish fed on them.

[The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway, E.]

Friday, 3 December 2010

...of a mother in law

Neither Brian nor Laura remembered much of the hours after that. If they hoped that had broken Edna’s silence permanently, they soon found they were wrong. Edna was just as silent as ever the next morning, Sunday, though she did smile a little as if nothing happened.
Brian went to work on Monday as usual, and when he came home, Laura told him that Edna had been unusually busy all day. She had also been silent.

[The Silent Mother in Law, Highsmith, P.]

- submitted by Pearce, M. A.