Saturday, 15 October 2011

...of the dispossessed

Not a soul stirring. Behind ever-bolted doors, only bare passageways, stone stairs, windowless courtyards. Streets upon streets set at right angles to each other, metal roller-blinds, high wooden fences, a world of squares that were not squares, of non-streets, of phantom avenues. They would walk, not speaking, disoriented; and sometimes it seemed that everything was but an illusion, that Sfax did not exist, did not breathe. They sought signs of complicity all around. Nothing answered their call. They felt isolated in a way that was almost painful. They had been dispossessed, the world was no longer for swimming in, no longer in their arms, and never would be. It was as if, long ago and once and for all, an order had been made, a strict rule had been established to cut them out: they would be free to wander where they willed without let or hindrance, without anyone speaking to them. They would be for ever incognito, for ever strangers in the land. The Italians, the Maltese and the Greeks in the port would watch them go by and stay silent. Olive-oil entrepreneurs in their all-white garb and gold-rimmed glasses, passing slowly by on Rue du Bey with a beadle in their train, would walk straight past without seeing them.

[Things: A Story of the Sixties, Perec, G.]

...of rancour

They could of course talk of other things, about a recent book, a theatre director, about the war in Algeria or about people, but it sometimes felt as if their only real conversations were about money, comfort and happiness. That was when their voices would rise, the tension grow. They would talk and, as they talked, they would feel just how impossible, unreachable and paltry these things were. They would grow irritated; they were over-anxious; they would feel implicitly challenged, each by the other. They would dream up holiday plans, travel plans, plans for the flat, and then tear them down, rabidly: it would seem as if what was most real in their lives would then appear in its true light as something without substance, something absent. So they would fall silent, and their silence was full of rancour; they resented life and sometimes were weak enough to resent each other; they remembered their messed-up degrees, their unappealing holidays, their drab life, their cluttered flat, their impossible dreams. They would look at each other, they would find the other partner ugly, badly dressed, graceless, crumpled. Beside them, in the street, cars slid slowly on. In the city squares, the neon lights flashed in turn. At the cafe terraces, people looked like complacent fish. They hated the world. They went home on foot, tired out. They went to bed without saying a word.

[Things: A Story of the Sixties, Perec, G.]

...of defence

Rumfoord went on insisting for several hours that Billy had echolalia - told nurses and a doctor that Billy had echolalia now. Some experiments were performed on Billy. Doctors and nurses tried to get Billy to echo something, but Billy wouldn't make a sound for them.
'He isn't doing it now,' said Rumfoord peevishly. 'The minute you go away, he'll start doing it again.'
Nobody took Rumfoords diagnosis seriously. The staff thought Rumfoord was a hateful old man, conceited and cruel. He often said to them, in one way or another, that people who were weak deserved to die. Whereas the staff, of course, was devoted to the idea that weak people should be helped as much as possible, that nobody should die.

There in the hospital, Billy was having an adventure very common among people without power in time of war: He was trying to prove to a wilfully deaf and blind enemy that he was interesting to see and hear. He kept silent until the lights went out at night, and then, when there had been a long period of silence containing nothing to echo, he said to Rumfoord, 'I was in Dresden when it was bombed. I was a prisoner of war.'

[Slaughterhouse 5, Vonnegut, K.]

...of defeat

A guard would go to the head of the stairs every so often to see what it was like outside, then he would come down and whisper to the other guards. There was a fire-storm out there. Dresden was one big flame. The one flame ate everything organic, everything that would burn.
It wasn't safe to come out of the shelter until noon the next day. When the Americans and their guards did come out, the sky was black with smoke. The sun was an angry little pinhead. Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everybody else in the neighbourhood was dead.
So it goes.

The guards drew together instinctively, rolled their eyes. They experimented with one expression and then another, said nothing, though their mouths were often open. They looked like a silent film of a barbershop quartet.
'So long forever,' they might have been singing, 'old fellows and pals; So long forever, old sweethearts and pals - God bless 'em -'

[Slaughterhouse 5, Vonnegut, K.]

...of a daze

Billy Pilgrim was on fire, having stood too close to the glowing stove. The hem of his little coat was burning. It was a quiet, patient sort of fire - like the burning of punk.
Billy wondered if there was a telephone somewhere. He wanted to call his mother, to tell her he was alive and well.

There was silence now, as the Englishmen looked in astonishment at the frowsy creatures they had so lustily waltzed inside. One of the Englishmen saw that Billy was on fire. 'You're on fire, lad!' he said, and he got Billy away from the stove and beat out the sparks with his hands.
When Billy made no comment on this, the Englishman asked him, 'Can you talk? Can you hear?'
Billy nodded.
The Englishman touched him exploratorily here and there, filled with pity. 'My God - what have they done to you, lad? This isn't a man. It's a broken kite.'

[Slaughterhouse 5, Vonnegut, K.]

...of lovers

..."That winter they had fallen in love. They ate by turns from the same fork, and she drank wine from his mouth. He caressed her until her soul groaned within her body, and she worshipped him and begged him to urinate inside her. She would laughingly tell the other girls that nothing scratches better than the three-day beard of a man who has been making love. But she thought to herself: 'The moments of my life are dying like flies gulped down by fish. How can I make them nourishment for his hunger?' She begged him to bite off her ear and eat it, and she never closed drawers or cupboard doors behind her, so as not to break her luck. She was a quiet girl, because she had grown up in the silence of her father's endless reading of one and the same prayer, which always drew the same kind of silence around it. And now it was the same as they set off on their excursion, and this pleased her...

[Dictionary of the Khazars, Pavic, M.]

...of a prude

'You know, virgins are a bore,' said Gwen's boy friend to Sharon, though in a respectful tone. Toby was a bright, industrious young man, studying to be a doctor. He was twenty-three, and attended the same university as Gwen, fifty miles away. Toby had brought along two cuttings from women's magazines, which he thought would impress Gwen's mother (whom he rightly supposed was the origin of Gwen's scruples). He also had a newspaper cutting on the same subject written by a man sociologist. The authors of these statements held responsible positions in business and the professions, they weren't just beatniks, Toby pointed out. 'You see, there's no reason for a girl to be unpleasantly shocked when she's married. She ought to learn something, and so should the young man. Otherwise if both are virgins, it can be an awkward and even embarrassing experience for both.'
Sharon was shocked into a long silence of more than a minute. Her first impulse was to ask Toby to leave the house. She laid the cuttings to one side, on a wine table, as if the very paper they were printed on were filthy. It was plain to Sharon that all Toby wanted was that, whereas until now he had spoken of marriage to Gwen. He'd even spoken to Matthew, and though the engagement had not been announced in the newspapers, Sharon and her husband considered it official. The marriage was to take place next June, after Gwen's graduation. Sharon managed a small smile. 'I daresay after you've - taken advantage of my daughter, you won't be interested in marrying her, will you?'

[The Prude, Highsmith, P.]

...of a mother-in-law

This mother-in-law, Edna, has heard all the jokes about mothers-in-law, and she has no intention of being the butt of such jests, or falling into any of the traps with which her path is so amply sprinkled. First of all, she lives with her daughter and son-in-law, so she's got to be doubly or triply careful. She would never dream of criticising anything. The young people could come home dead drunk, and Edna would never comment. They could smoke pot (in fact they do sometimes), they could fight and throw crockery at each other, and Edna wouldn't open her mouth. She's heard enough about mothers-in-law intruding, and she keeps a buttoned lip. In fact, the oddest thing about Edna is her silence. She does say, 'Yes, thank you' to a second cup of coffee, and 'Good night, sleep well,' but that's about it.

[The Silent Mother-in-law, Highsmith, P.]

Saturday, 1 October 2011

...of memories

I do not know whether I have anything to say, I know that I am saying nothing; I do not know if what I might have to say is unsaid because it is unsayable (the unsayable is not buried inside writing, it is what prompted it in the first place); I know that what I say is blank, is neutral, is a sign, once and for all, of a once-and-for-all annihilation.
That is what I am saying, that is what I am writing, and that's all there is in the words I trace and in the lines the words make and in the blanks that the gaps between the lines create: it would be quite pointless to hunt down my slips (for instance, I wrote "I committed" instead of "I made", a propos of my mistakes in copying down my mother's name), or to muse for hours on the length of my father's capote, or to comb my sentences for, and obviously locate straightaway, soppy little echoes of the Oedipus complex or castration, for all I shall ever find in my very reiteration is the final refraction of a voice that is absent from writing, the scandal of their silence and of mine. I am not writing to say that I have nothing to say. I write: I write because we lived together, because I was amongst them, a shadow amongst their shadows, a body close to their bodies. I write because they left in me their indelible mark, whose trace is writing. Their memory is dead in writing; writing is the memory of their death and the assertion of my life.

[W or The Memory of Childhood, Perec, G.]

...of suicide

...She remembered his head, floating in the shower, saying, you could fall in love with me. But could she have saved him? She looked over at the girl who'd given her the news of his death. Had they been in love? Did she know why Driblette had put in those two extra lines that night? Had he even known why? No one could begin to trace it. A hundred hangups, permuted, combined - sex, money, illness, despair with the history of his time and place, who knew. Changing the script had no clearer motive than his suicide. There was the same whimsy to both. Perhaps - she felt briefly penetrated, as if the bright winged thing had actually made it to the sanctuary of her heart - perhaps, springing from the same slick labyrinth, adding those two lines had even, in a way never to be explained, served him as a rehearsal for his night's walk away into that vast sink of the primal blood the Pacific. She waited for the winged brightness to announce its safe arrival. But there was silence. Driblette, she called. The signal echoing down twisted miles of brain circuitry. Driblette!
But as with Maxwell's Demon, so now. Either she could not communicate, or he did not exist.

[The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon, T.]

...of a hotel

As with Mucho when she'd left Kinneret, Metzger did not seem desperate at her going. She debated, driving north, whether to stop off at home on the way to Berkeley or coming back. As it turned out she missed the exit for Kinneret and that solved it. She purred along up the east side of the bay, presently climbed into the Berkeley hills and arrived close to midnight at a sprawling, many-levelled, German-baroque hotel, carpeted in deep green, going in for curved corridors and ornamental chandeliers. A sign in the lobby said WELCOME CALIFORNIA AMERICAN DEAF-MUTE ASSEMBLY. Every light in the place burned, alarmingly bright; a truly ponderable silence occupied the building. A clerk popped up from behind the desk where he'd been sleeping and began making sign-language at her. Oedipa considered giving him the finger to see what would happen. But she'd driven straight through, and all at once the fatigue caught up with her. The clerk took her to a room with a reproduction of a Remedios Varo in it, through corridors gently curving as the streets of San Narciso, utterly silent. She fell asleep almost at once, but kept waking from a nightmare about something in the mirror, across from her bed. Nothing specific, only a possibility, nothing she could see. When she finally did settle into sleep, she dreamed that Mucho, her husband, was making love to her on a soft white beach that was not part of any California she knew. When she awoke in the morning, she was sitting bolt upright, staring into the mirror at her own exhausted face.

[The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon, T.]

...of a symbol

Oedipa peered. There it was again, her WASTE symbol showing up black, a little right of the centre.
'What is this?' she asked, wondering how much time had gone by.
'I'm not sure,' Cohen said. 'That's why I've referred it, and the others, to the Committee. Some friends have been around to see them too, but they're all being cautious. But see what you think of this.' From the same plastic folder he now tweezed what looked like an old German stamp, with the figures 1/4 in the centre, the word Freimarke at the top, and along the right-hand margin the legend Thurn und Taxis.
'They were,' she remembered from the Wharfinger play, 'some kind of private couriers, right?'
'From about 1300, until Bismarck bought them out in 1867, Miz Maas, they were the European mail service. This is one of their very few adhesive stamps. But look in the corners.' Decorating each corner of the stamp, Oedipa saw a horn with a single loop in it. Almost like the WASTE symbol. 'A post horn,' Cohen said; 'the Thurn and Taxis symbol. It was their coat of arms.'
And Tacit lies the gold once-knotted horn, Oedipa remembered. Sure. 'Then the watermark you found,' she said, 'is nearly the same thing, except for the extra little doojigger sort of coming out of the bell.'
'It sounds ridiculous,' Cohen said, 'but my guess is it's a mute.'
She nodded. The black costumes, the silence, the secrecy. Whoever they were their aim was to mute the Thurn and Taxis post horn.

[The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon, T.]

...of a Sunday

Barbed wire again gave way to the familiar parade of more beige, prefab, cinderblock office machine distributors, sealant makers, bottled gas works, fastener factories, warehouses, and whatever. Sunday had sent them all into silence and paralysis, all but an occasional real estate office or truck stop. Oedipa resolved to pull in at the next motel she saw, however ugly, stillness and four walls having at some point become preferable to this illusion of speed, freedom, wind in your hair, unreeling landscape - it wasn't. What the road really was, she fancied, was this hypodermic needle, inserted somewhere ahead into the vein of a freeway, a vein nourishing the mainliner LA, keeping it happy, coherent, protected from pain, or whatever passes, with a city, for pain. But were Oedipa some single melted crystal of urban horse, LA, really, would be no less turned on for her absence.
Still, when she got a look at the next motel, she hesitated a second. A representation in painted sheet metal of a nymph holding a white blossom towered thirty feet into the air; the sign, lit up despite the sun, said 'Echo Courts'. The face of the nymph was much like Oedipa's which didn't startle her so much as a concealed blower system that kept the nymph's gauze chiton in constant agitation, revealing enormous vermillion-tipped breasts and long pink thighs at each flap. She was smiling a lipsticked and public smile not quite a hooker's but nowhere near that of any nymph pining away with love either. Oedipa pulled into the lot, got out and stood for a moment in the hot sun and the dead still air, watching the artificial windstorm overhead toss gauze in five-foot excursions. Remembering her idea about a slow whirlwind, words she couldn't hear.

[The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon, T.]

...of locals

The Scope proved to be a haunt for electronics assembly people from Yoyodyne. The green neon sign outside ingeniously depicted the face of an oscilloscope tube, over which flowed an ever-changing dance of Lissajou figures. Today seemed to be payday, and everyone inside to be drunk already. Glared at all the way, Oedipa and Metzger found a table at the back. A wizened bartender wearing shades materialised and Metzger ordered bourbon. Oedipa, checking the bar, grew nervous. There was this je ne sais quoi about the Scope crowd: they all wore glasses and stared at you, silent. Except for a couple-three nearer the door, who were engaged in a nose-picking contest, seeing how far they could flick it across the room.

[The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon, T.]