Sunday, 21 August 2011

...of mistrust

He was scrawny, dark as dark, with thick curly hair, and a snub nose that pulled up his lip with it. Where they had found him nobody knew; what they did know was that the first job he'd been given in the factory, the day they took him on, was that of toilet maintenance man; but the truth was he was supposed to be there all day listening to people talk and passing things on to the management. Quite what there was to hear in the toilets that was so important no one ever really understood; it seems that there being nowhere else in the factory where one could exchange a few words without being fired on the spot, two workers from the Internal Committee, or some other diabolical union invention, had taken to swapping ideas from one cubicle to another, pretending they were there to answer nature's calling. Not that the worker's toilets in a factory are a quiet place, having as they do no doors or just a low gate affair leaving head and shoulders visible so that no one can stop for a smoke, and with the security men poking their heads in every few minutes to see that no one stays too long and check whether you're defecating or just taking it easy, but all the same, compared with the rest of the factory, the toilets are calm, even comfortable places. The fact is that these two men were eventually accused of engaging in political activity during working hours and fired; so someone must have told on them and it didn't take long to identify that someone as Giovannino the Stink as he was henceforth to be called. He was shut away in there, it was spring, and all day he heard watery noises, flushing, plopping, splashing; and he dreamed of open streams and fresh air. No one talked any more in the toilets. So they moved him. Unskilled, manipulated by the unwarranted fears of a management forever in a state of alarm, he was assigned first to one team then another, given vague and obviously pointless tasks but with secret instructions to spy on the others; and wherever he went his workmates turned their back on him in silence, not deigning so much as a glance at the superfluous tasks he muddled over as best he could.

[The Workshop Hen, Calvino, I.]

...of a stele

She leads him to a large, flat slab propped up against the wall. On it, a coloured vignette shows a man seated, in profile, at a table piled high with food. At his feet a dog lounges; musicians, acrobats and dancers entertain him; beneath him servants and craftsmen labour - bakers, perhaps, retrieving loaves from ovens, or perhaps carpenters sawing at waist-high beams, masons chipping and hammering at stone or butchers hacking away at meat; around them, further from the picture's central hearth, men work the fields and fish the marshes. All these figures - entertainers, tradesman, farmers, pet - are drawn, like the main character, in profile. They interact with one another, and seem to be exchanging words - but in a silent, gestural language only.

[C, McCarthy, T.]

...of aerotitus

"It's a parachute," he says to Gibbs. "We hit a parachute on the way down."
His voice is strangely muffled: he can hear himself - but only silently, inside his head. Gibbs doesn't seem to hear him either: he doesn't answer - or if he does then his voice isn't loud enough for Serge to pick it up. Serge turns round. Gibbs is dead: stuff from his chest is spattered about the cockpit. Serge unclips his own harness, levers himself from his seat and drops to the silk-coated ground. Pushing his hands against a roof and walls of silk, he makes his way along the soft, white tube towards the opening by the strings and, emerging through this, prods the man tied to them. He's dead too, head split open from its impact against the earth. He must have jumped from the burning kite balloon, only for his parachute to be run into by their machine and carried along horizontally - or rather, on a diagonal descent - dragging him with it.
Serge looks around him. The landscape is nondescript, brown and broken, like all the front's terrain. Twenty or so yards away, a section of it jumps into the air as a shell lands on it. The explosion is silent: it's as though he were watching one of Widsun's films. Even the rushing air and the earth clods it brings smacking against his face carry no sound in their wake. He traps one of these clods against his skin, holds it out and inspects it. Viewed from this close, the earth takes on a similar resolution to the one it has in those photographs he shoots for Pietersen, pockmarked and lined with patterns. He lets it drop, from sympathy: it's been churned up enough. Watching it fall past his groin, he realises he's still got an erection. He looks about him, embarrassed, before remembering that there's no one else around. He could be anywhere. The fact that they hit a German kite balloon's occupant, or ex-occupant, on the way down suggests they were heading east, in which case... Should he torch the machine? As he wonders this, the pressure grows inside his ears - and with it comes, at last, a sound. It's a quiet one, resonating at a low frequency and emerging from inside the parachute: an electric buzzing spilling out of the inflated pod. He heads back through its opening towards the broken wings and bent propeller blades that, like a set of irregular tent-poles, hold the structure up. The buzzing's coming from the cockpit - from the back half of it, his half...

[C, McCarthy, T.]

...of prior to a push

In anticipation of the push, there's almost constant bombardment of the German side. It's barrage bombardment: the shells advance in lines, like the teeth of a giant comb moving up warp fibres, ten or so yards each time. For Serge, sleeping in his houseboat once again, the booms of the guns' discharge to the west, spread out along a line of well over a mile yet sounding almost simultaneously, and the consequent, equally elongated blasts of their detonation to the east, a little further away with each round, becomes the sounds of waves rolling past him, moving towards a shoreline that's retreating; no sooner does the longest-travelling one peter out on distant shingle than a new, close-range set swells up and starts bursting energetically. After five days and nights of this, though, he wakes up to silence. Not only have the shells stopped: so, too, have most of the small-gauge gunfire, Archie pops and flares. Nothing at all seems to be happening. All of the squadron's flights are in the hangars. Scouring the unusually bright winter sky, he fails to pick out a single aeroplane against its blue. It looks desolate and sad, as though aware that it's being spurned by beautiful machinery and at a loss to understand why.

[C, McCarthy, T.]

...of an intermission

After the meal, they crank up the gramophone and play music-hall songs. Serge slips out and makes his way in the dark through long grass, then across the shorter grass beside the woods, back to his houseboat. He sits on its deck and watches another barge slide through the oily water, laden once more with objects whose shapes beneath the covering suggests broken or twisted metal, or perhaps animals, the bumps and folds of their limbs and torsos. In the waves left by its passage when it's gone, Serge sees a water rat swimming towards the far bank. The black surface of the water around the rat's head is laced with garish streaks of colour: orange-yellow, greenish white, reflections of the gunfire flickering across the sky. The sound of each volley arrives late, often after its own flash has faded from both sky and river; new waves of flashes catch up with the residual noise, overtake and lap it.
"Intermission," Serge says, to no one, or perhaps the rat.
For a moment, the flickering stops and the whole countryside falls silent. A calcium flare descends noiselessly not far away, silhouetting the poplars and rimming their leaves with frozen light, as though with hoar-frost. Behind it other, smaller lights glow on and off, like fireflies. Then their pops arrive, then louder stutters, then high, booming eruptions: sounds and lights meshing together as the air comes back to life, like a magnificent engine warming up.

[C, McCarthy, T.]

...of placing a shroud

"Splendid!" says Carrefax. "All set to go. We'll start with-"
He's interrupted by a general rustling as all heads turn away from him towards the Crypt Park's gates. His wife is making a late entry between these, with a train of women. She's holding something in front of her, cradling it in upturned hands. The train is moving in formation, like a set of rugby forwards: advancing in rows, arms locked together. Their faces are neutral and impassive, like statues's faces. With long dresses covering their feet, they seem to glide above the lawn, as though mounted on their own rails made of air, invisible in the long grass. The other mourners watch their slow approach in silence; Carrefax, the vicar, Miss Hubbard and the Day School pupils watch them too. They glide towards the main group slowly but ineluctably, as though bearing down on them. Then, just as it seems they're all going to collide with the posts beside the trench, they stop, as one body, a few yards from the coffin - all of them apart from Mrs. Carrefax, who proceeds onwards to the coffin and, placing on its lid the shroud that she's carrying in her arms, unfolds it until it covers the whole thing. It shows, in red and green silk on a white silk background, an insect feeding on a flower.

[C, McCarthy, T.]

...of post-parturition

The baby's feeding; its mother sits up in the bed, calm and contented, while the bedside maid combs her hair, unravelling it like the Chinese women pulling at their strange dark balls in the tapestry above them. Maureen stands at the foot of the bed; in front of her, enfolded in her arms, the girl watches her brother silently. They all watch silently: the room is silent but for the clicking lips of the sucking baby and the copper buzzing rising from the garden.

[C, McCarthy, T.]

...of a painkiller

Mrs. Carrefax's eyes light up. Her soft, grainy, strange voice utters the word "Chlorodyne?"
"No, chloroform," Learmont tells her, pronouncing the name clearly and emphatically. He takes a gauze mask from his case and, fixing this to the end of his inhaler's tube, straps it round Mrs. Carrefax's face. He opens a valve on the canister's neck; a long, slow hissing seeps out as the gas makes it way along the canvas corridor towards her mouth and nose. The muscles in Mrs. Carrefax's cheeks slacken; her pupils dilate. After half a minute Learmont closes the valve and unstraps the mask. A second contraction soon follows; again the woman's body seizes up, but her face registers less pain. He reaffixes the mask, administers more chloroform and watches the silent features further slacken and dilate beneath their gag. When he removes it again, she begins to murmur:
"...un fleuve...un serpent d'eau noir..."

[C, McCarthy, T.]

...of churches

As was to be expected, the whaling museum in Lages was firmly closed. What wasn't closed in Pico? In Lages only the monumental church was open and a small bar modelled on an Irish pub. While the taxi-driver stayed in his car waiting for us to have a look at the two places that were open, we entered the church where there was absolutely nobody and what was on view can be seen at so many of the world's churches. We continued to look at it for some time, we didn't have much else to do; carpets, chalices, pews, missals, candles, hassocks, dried flowers, an unobtrusive organ: rancid silence.

[Montano, Vila-Matas, E.]

Saturday, 13 August 2011

...of desire

...It was a little bookstore on the Rue du Cherche-Midi, it was a soft sense of spinning slowly, it was the afternoon and the hour, it was the flowering season of the year, it was the Verbum (in the beginning), it was a man who thought he was a man. What an infinite piece of stupidity, my God. And she came out of the bookstore (I just now realise that it was like a metaphor, her coming out of a bookstore, no less) and we exchanged a couple of words and we went to have a glass of pelure d'oignon at a cafe in Sevres-Babylone (speaking of metaphors, I a delicate piece of porcelain just arrived, HANDLE WITH CARE, and she Babylonia, root of time, something previous, primeval being, terror and delight of beginnings, the romanticism of Atala but with a real tiger waiting behind the tree). And so Sevres went with Babylonia to have a glass of perlure d'oignon, we looked at each other and I think we began to desire each other (but that was later on, on the Rue Reamur) and a memorable dialogue resulted, clothed from head to toe in misunderstandings, maladjustments that dissolved into vague moments of silence, until our hands began to chat, it was sweet stroking hands while we looked at each other and smiled, we lit Gauloises, each in other's mouth, we rubbed each other with our eyes, we were so much in agreement on everything that it was shameful. Paris was dancing there outside waiting for us, we'd barely disembarked, we were barely alive, everything was there without a name and without a history (especially Babylonia, and poor Sevres made an enormous effort, fascinated by that Babylonia way of looking at the Gothic without putting labels on it, of walking along the banks of the river without seeing the Norman ducks take flight). When we said goodbye we were like two children who have suddenly become friends at a birthday party and keep looking at one another while their parents lead them off, and it's a sweet pain and a hope, and you know the name of one is Tony and the other one Lulu, and that's all that's needed for the heart to become a little piece of fruit, and...

[Hopscotch, Cortazar, J.]

...of selfconsciousness

Papers scattered on the table. A hand (Wong's). A voice reads slowly, making mistakes, the l's like hooks, the e's indefinable. Notes, cards with words on them, a line of poetry in some language, the writer's kitchen. Another hand (Ronald's). A resonant voice that knows how to read. Greetings in a low voice to Ossip and to Oliveira who arrive contritely (Babs has gone to let them in, has received them with a knife in each hand). Cognac, golden light, the legend of the profanation of the Eucharist, a small De Stael. The topcoats can be left in the back bedroom lost between a dressmaker's dummy rigged out as a hussar and a pile of boxes with pieces of wire and cardboard in them. There are not enough chairs, but Oliveira brings over two stools. One of those silences is produced which is comparable, according to Genet, to those observed by refined people when they suddenly perceive in a living room the smell of a silent fart. Soon thereafter Etienne opens up the briefcase and takes out the papers.

[Hopscotch, Cortazar, J.]

...of consequence

Etienne was leaning against Oliveira. Ronald was sitting with his legs crossed and humming Big Lip Blues, thinking about Jelly Roll, who was his favourite dead man. Oliveira lit a Gauloise, and as in a painting by La Tour, for a second the flame coloured the faces of his friends, it brought Gregorovius out of the shadows and tied the murmur of his voice to a pair of moving lips, brutally set La Maga in the easy chair, with her face that always became avid at moments of ignorance and explanations, softly bathed placid Babs, and Ronald the musician, lost in his moaning improvisations. Then there was a thump on the ceiling just as the match went out.
"Il faut tenter de vivre," Oliveira quoted from his memory. "Pourquoi?"
The line had come out of his memory just like the faces in the light of the match, instantaneously and probably gratuitously. Etienne's shoulder was warming him, was transmitting a deceptive presence to him, a nearness that death, that match that went out, was going to erase just as now the faces, the shapes, just as the silence closed in again around the knock from upstairs.

[Hopscotch, Cortazar, J.]

...of an avante-garde composition

...Berthe Trepat looked at the audience once more, all the sins of the moon suddenly seemed concentrated in her face that appeared to be covered with flour, and her cherry-red mouth opened up to assume the shape of an Egyptian barge. Profile once again, her little parrot-beak nose pointed for a moment at the keyboard while her hands perched on the keys from C to B like two dried-up chamois bags. The thirty-two chords of the first discontinuous movement began to sound. There were five seconds between the first and the second, fifteen between the second and third. On arriving at the fifteenth chord, Rose Bob had decided on a pause of twenty-five seconds. Oliveira, who at first had appreciated the good Weberian use of silence that Rose Bob was utilising in her pauses, noticed that overuse was rapidly dissipating the effect. Between chords 7 and 8 there was coughing, between 12 and 13 somebody struck a match noisily, between 14 and 15 he clearly heard the expression "Ah, merde alors!" contributed by a young blonde girl. Around the twentieth chord one of the more ancient ladies, a real virginal pickle, gripped her umbrella and opened her mouth to say something that was mercifully swallowed up by the twenty-first chord. Amused, Oliveira looked at Berthe Trepat, suspecting that the pianist was studying them all with what is called the corner of her eye. Out of that corner of the hook-nosed profile of Berthe Trepat a celestial grey glance seemed to come, and it occurred to Oliveira that probably the poor woman was counting the house. At chord 23 a man with a neat, round bald spot got up indignantly and after snorting and huffing left the hall, digging in his heels during the eight-second silence ordained by Rose Bob. After chord 24 the pauses began to get smaller, and between 28 and 32 there was a rhythm like that of a dirge which could not help but have some effect...

[Hopscotch, Cortazar, J.]

...of scholars

A few drops of rain began to fall as they immediately dissolved the circle of witnesses. Putting up the collar of his lumberjacket, Oliveira turned his nose into the cold wind and began to walk in no direction in particular. He was sure that the old man had not been seriously injured, but he kept on seeing his face, which could almost be described as placid, perplexed maybe, as they carried him in the stretcher and spoke friendly, comforting words to him, "Allez, pepere, c'est rien, ca!" from the stretcher-bearer, a red-head who must have said the same thing to everybody. "A complete lack of communication," Oliveira thought. "It's not so much that we're alone, that's a well-known fact that any fool can plainly see. Being alone is basically being alone on a certain level in which other lonelinesses could communicate with us if that were the case. But bring on any conflict, an accident in the street or a declaration of war, provoke the brutal crossing of different levels, and a man who is perhaps an outstanding Sanskrit scholar or a quantum physicist becomes a pepere in the eyes of the stretcher-bearer who arrives on the scene. Edgar Allan Poe on a stretcher. Verlaine in the hands of a sawbones. Nerval and Artaud facing psychiatrists. What could that Italian Galen have known about Keats as he bled him and helped him die of hunger? If men like him are silent, as is most likely, the others will triumph blindly, without evil intent, of course, without knowing that the consumptive over there, that injured man lying naked on that bed, are doubly alone, surrounded by beings who move about as if behind glass, from a different place in time..."

[Hopscotch, Cortazar, J.]

...of kissing

You look at me, from close up you look at me, closer and closer and then we play cyclops, we look closer and closer at one another and our eyes get larger, they come closer, they merge into one and the two cyclopses look at each other, blending as they breathe, our mouths touch and struggle in gentle warmth, biting each other with their lips, barely holding their tongues on their teeth, playing in corners where a heavy air comes and goes with an old perfume and a silence. Then my hands go to sink into your hair, to cherish slowly the depth of your hair while we kiss as if our moths were filled with flowers or with fish, with lively movements and dark fragrance. And if we bite each other the pain is sweet, and if we smother each other in a brief and terrible sucking in together of our breaths, that momentary death is beautiful. And there is but one saliva and one flavour of ripe fruit, and I feel you tremble against me like a moon on the water.

[Hopscotch, Cortazar, J.]

...of an author

Still around. In what sense? Among the gerundive. What is that supposed to mean? Did you think I meant to fill in the blank? Why should I? On the other hand, why not? What makes you think I wouldn't fill in the blank instead? Some conversation this is. Do you want to go on, or shall we end it right now? Suspense. I don't care for this either. It'll be over soon enough in any case. But it gets worse and worse. Whatever happens, the ending will be deadly. At least let's have just one real conversation. Dialogue or monologue? What has it been from the first? Don't ask me. What is there to say at this late date? Let me think; I'm trying to think. Same old story. Or. Or? Silence.
This isn't so bad. Silence. There are worse things. Name three. This, that, the other. Some choices. Who said there was a choice.

[Title, Barth, J.]

...of saving face

When you're lost, the smartest thing to do is stay put till you're found, hollering if necessary. But to holler guarantees humiliation as well as rescue; keeping silent permits some saving of face - you can act surprised at the fuss when your rescuers find you and swear you weren't lost, if they do. What's more you might find your own way yet, however belatedly.

[Lost in the Funhouse, Barth, J.]

...of a swimmer

"How we mocked him! Our moment came, we hurtled forth, pretending to glory in the adventure, thrashing, singing, cursing, strangling, rationalising, rescuing, killing, inventing rules and stories and relationships, giving up, struggling on, but dying all, and still in darkness, until only a battered remnant was left to croak 'Onward, upward,' like a bitter echo. Then they too fell silent-victims, I can only presume, of the last frightful wave - and the moment came when I also, utterly desolate and spent, thrashed my last and gave myself over to the current, to sink or float as might be, but swim no more. Whereupon, marvellous to tell, in an instant the sea grew still! Then warmly, gently, the tide turned, began to bear me, as it does now, onward and upward will-I nill-I, like a flood of joy - and I recalled with dismay my dead friend's teaching.

[Night-Sea Journey, Barth, J.]

...of prisoners

It was like this: the yard where we had our exercise was used before us by those exalted individuals, the serious criminals. Unlike us small fry, they weren’t released in a swarm of thirty or forty to shamble round and round under the supervision of three or four guards; no, they went out singly, or at most three or four at a time under strict guard and (this was enforced, just about) in silence.

[Three Years of Life, Fallada, H.]

- submitted by Pearce, M. A.

...of the Cedars

After she ran away, he took up my sword, and my bow and arrows. With a single stroke he cut one of my bonds. I remember his mumbling, “My fate is next”. Then he disappeared from the grove. All was silent after that. No, I heard someone crying. Untying the rest of my bonds, I listened carefully, and I noticed that it was my own crying. (Long silence.)

I raised my exhausted body from the root of the cedar. In front of me there was shining the small sword which my wife had dropped. I took it up and stabbed it into my breast. A bloody lump rose to my mouth, but I didn’t feel any pain. When my breast grew cold, everything was as silent as the dead in their graves. What profound silence! Not a single bird-note was heard in the sky over this grave in the hollow of the mountains. Only a lonely light lingered on the cedars and mountain. By and by the light gradually grew fainter, till the cedars and bamboo were lost to view. Lying there, I was enveloped in deep silence.

[In a Grove, Akutagawa, R.]

- submitted by Pearce, M. A.