Wednesday, 29 May 2013

...of Time

'Looking at the stars suddenly dwarfed my own troubles and all the gravities of terrestrial life. I thought of their unfathomable distance, and the slow inevitable drift of their movements out of the unknown past into the unknown future. I thought of the great precessional cycle that the pole of the earth describes. Only forty times had that silent revolution occurred during all the years that I had traversed. And during these few revolutions of activity, all the traditions, the complex organisations, the nations, languages, literatures, aspirations, even the mere memory of Man as I knew him, had been swept out of existence. Instead were these frail creatures who had forgotten their high ancestry, and the white Things of which I went in terror. Then I thought of the Great Fear that was between the two species, and for the first time, with a sudden shiver, came the clear knowledge of what the meat I had seen might be. Yet it was too horrible! I looked at little Weena sleeping beside me, her face white and starlike under the stars, and forthwith dismissed the thought.

[The Time Machine, Wells, H. G.]

...of agitation

Stilk moved across to a smaller side table, glancing sideways at his audience with a mocking lift of the brow. A barely suppressed voila!, and he removed a dust-cover from the object on the table. It was a bottle.
'And here we are, gentlemen,' he said. 'Your bottle as redesigned by what this agency is pleased to call its think-tank. And adjusted a teeny-weeny bit more by yours truly.'
The businessmen did not know whether they were supposed to be amused or impressed, and one of them compromised by scraping his chair on the polished, wood-block floor. It made a suitably ambivalent sound.
'There is as yet no label, since there is as yet no name,' Stilk said, placing the bottle very precisely off-centre on the mirrored table-top. Tall and tapering, except for a slight bulge near the middle, the bottle was filled with an amber liquid. There was a glitter of small, shining octagonals around the neck, and these set up a series of endless reflections with the mirror below. 'And the name, as you well know, is almost as important as what is being named.'
Stilk brushed the bottle with the tips of his fingers. His own modest proposal, he said was Lagoon or, possibly, Laguna. This seemed to merit applause, and he waited for it.
'This bottle will, after all, hold your product, gentlemen,' he said, when none came. 'I think it would positively glow for a few distinct murmurs of approbation.'
The businessmen continued to stare, in awkward silence, at the bottle, which was gleaming in the puddle of its own reflection. They were troubled by Stilk: his language, his manner, his guessed-at sexual predilections. Somewhere near, the men knew, beautiful young women were changing into bikinis and high-heeled shoes, ready to perform. Why all this talk?

[Blackeyes, Potter, D.]

...of read books

The southern beaches of Uruguay did not give me the impression of a dirty windscreen on a rainy day. Perhaps it was the immensity of the sky, the wilderness of sand and wind, added to Carlos Brauer's story, which in my mind linked the coast of Rocha with windscreens and the panic I feel whenever someone praises all the books I possess. Every year I give away at least fifty of them to my students, yet I still cannot avoid putting in another double row of shelves; the books are advancing silently, innocently through my house. There is no way I can stop them.
I have often asked myself why I keep books that could only ever be of any use in a distant future, titles remote  from my usual concerns, those I have read once and will not open again for many years, if ever! But how could I throw away The Call of the Wild, for example, without destroying one of the building bricks of my childhood, or Zorba the Greek, which brought my adolescence to a tear-stained end, The Twenty-Fifth Hour and all those other volumes consigned to the topmost shelves, where they lie untouched and silent in that sacred trust of which we are so proud.

[The Paper House, Dominguez, C. M.]

...of an entrance

One of the men, who is not managing to get rid of his mask, too well pasted onto his real face, hurrying to finish, for the moral's squad looking for under-age homosexuals is always a danger in these neighbourhoods, loses patience, strips off at random the various lumps or protrusions on which he can get a grip, and begins tearing at his ears, his throat, his temples, his eyelids, without even realising that he is actually lacerating in his haste big sections of his own flesh. And in a little while, when he appears in "Old Joe's" to report to Frank on his mission and to recoup his strength with a double shot of bourbon, the band will suddenly stop playing, the trumpet-player suddenly mute, without thinking in his astonishment of putting down his meaningless instrument, will merely take it away from his mouth, holding it motionless in the air about three inches from his lips which still keep the tense position of a soloist in the middle of a fortissimo, while all the heads in the room turn with a single movement toward the street door, in order to see in their turn what the musicians have seen first from the bandstand: the bloody face which has just appeared in the rectangular frame by the open door against the black background of the night.

[Project for a Revolution in New York, Robbe-Grillet, A.]

...of dreams

To realise a dream it is necessary to forget it, to distract one's attention from it. That's why to realise something is not to realise it. Life is full of paradoxes as roses are of thorns.
   What I would like to create is the apotheosis of a new incoherence that could become the negative constitution of the new anarchy of souls. I have always thought it would be useful to humanity for me to compile a digest of my dreams. That's why I have constantly striven to do so. However, the idea that something I did could prove useful hurt me, silenced me.
   I own country estates on the outskirts of life. I spend my absences from the city of my Actions amongst the trees and flowers of my daydreams. Not even the faintest echo of the life led by my gestures reaches my green and pleasant retreats. I sleep my memory as if it were an endless procession marching past. From the chalices of my meditation I drink only the […] of the palest wine; I drink it with my eyes only, then close them, and life passes me by like a distant candle.
   To me sunny days savour of all I do not have. The blue sky and the white clouds, the trees, the flute that does not play there - eclogues interrupted by the trembling of branches… All this and the silent harp whose strings I lightly brush.

[The Book of Disquiet, Pessoa, F.]

...of Nature

Ah, tall twilight mountains, narrow moonlit streets, if only I enjoyed your lack of awareness of the […] your spiritual vision of the material world, free of preoccupations, devoid of sensibility, with no room for feelings or thoughts or disquiet! Trees, never anything more than trees, with your green leaves so pleasant to the eyes, you are so indifferent to my cares and griefs, so consoling to my anguish because you lack eyes to see it and a soul to look through those eyes to understand and mock! Stones on the road, broken tree stumps, the mere anonymous soil of the earth, your insensitivity to my soul is like a sisterly caress, a balm to me… […] beneath the sun or beneath the moon of the Earth, my mother, so much more tenderly maternal than my own human mother, because you cannot criticise me, because you do not have a soul with which unwittingly to analyse me, nor can you throw me rapid glances that provoke thoughts about me you would not confess to yourself. Vast sea, my clamourous childhood companion, you bring me peace and cradle me because you have no human voice and will not one day whisper into other human ears of my weaknesses and imperfections. Great sky, blue sky, so close to the mystery of the angels […] you do not look at me with envious eyes, and when you pin the sun on your breast you do not do so to attract me nor […] nor don a mask of stars in order to make fun of me… Immense peace of nature, so maternal in your utter ignorance of me; distant quiet […] so fraternal in your utter inability ever to know me… I would like to pray to your oneness and your calm, as an expression of the joy that comes with being able to love without suspicion or doubt; I would like to give ears to your not-hearing, eyes to your sublime […] and to be seen and heard by you through those imagined eyes and ears, glad to be present at your Nothingness, attentive to what is distant, as if to a definitive death, clinging to no hopes of any other life beyond a God, beyond the possibility of growing voluptuously old and beyond the spiritual nature of all matter.

[The Book of Disquiet, Pessoa, F.]

Friday, 10 May 2013

...of spectres

An accident... So The Bug rests alongside Tosh in the bleak cemetery in the shadow of the Witch's Hand.
An accident... drivers walking about with sullen eyes, and whisperings that are not pleasant listening... and I, in the hours after the midnight convoy, sitting thinking things that are best not thought... my fingers tight against Commandant's thick, red throat, gloating in the ebbing strength of that squat, healthy body until I am sick and faint with murderous longing.
The impulse has gone... but in its place has come something worse. I am haunted now as The Bug was haunted. Whenever I close my aching red eyes a procession of men passes before me: maimed men; men with neither arms nor legs; gassed men, coughing, coughing, coughing; men with dreadful burning eyes; men with heads and faces half shot away; raw, bleeding men with the skin burned from their upturned faces; tortured, all watching me as I lie in my flea-bag trying to sleep... an endless procession of horror that will not let me rest. I am afraid. I am afraid of madness. Are there others in this convoy fear-obsessed as I am, as The Bug was... others who will not admit it, as I will not, as The Bug did not... others who exist in a daily hell of fear? For I fear these maimed men of my imaginings as I never fear the maimed men I drive from the hospital trains to the camps. The men in the ambulances scream, but this ghostly procession is ghostly quiet. I fear them, these silent men, for I am afraid they will stay with me all my life, shutting out beauty till the day I die. And not only do I fear them, I hate them. I hate these maimed men who will not let me sleep.

[Not So Quiet..., Smith, H. Z.]

...of a class

Roll-call is over. Having been in bed before 5 a.m., there is no going back till 9. We crowd around the fire. It is my day to do cook's room. There are many fatigues I detest, but cleaning cook's room gets my back up more than anything. Why should I clean it? Why cannot she clean her own as we all do? She has about quarter the work we have. She is a fat, common, lazy, impertinent slut who leaves little dusty rings of hair littered about for us to collect. She fills the chamber to overflowing with dirty slops, bits of torn letters, and any other rubbish she can find. Her room reeks of stale sweat, for she sleeps with the window hermetically sealed. It astounds me why the powers-that-be at the London headquarters stipulate that refined women of decent education are essential for this ambulance work. Why should they want this class to do the work of strong navvies on the cars, in addition to the work of scullery maids under conditions no professional scullery-maid would tolerate for a day? Possibly this because this is the only class that suffers in silence, that scorns to carry tales. We are such cowards. We dare not face being called "cowards" and "slackers," which we certainly shall be if we complain. What did we think we came out to France for?...A holiday? Don't we realise there's a war on?... So we say nothing. Poor fools, we deserve all we get.

[Not So Quiet..., Smith, H. Z.]

...of Purity

Christ in His Agony, pray for me.
It shows his body falling from the Cross on His hand of nails, the perfect slump built in by the artist, the devout sculptor worked on this with all his heart, the Compassion and tenacity of Christ - a sweet perhaps Indian Spanish Catholic of the 15th century, among ruins of adobe and mud and stinksmokes of Indian mid millennium North America, devised this statuo del Cristo and pinned it up in the new church which now, 1950's, four hundred years later or five, has lost portions of the ceiling where some Spanish Michaelangelo has run up cherubs and angelkins for the edification of upward gazers on Sunday mornings when the kind padre expostulates on the details of the law religious.
I pray on my knees so long, looking up sideways at my Christ, I suddenly wake up in a trance in the church with my knees aching and a sudden realisation that I've been listening to a profound buzz in my ears that permeates throughout the church and throughout my ears and head and throughout the universe, the intrinsic silence of Purity (which is Divine). I sit in the pew quietly, rubbing my knees, the silence is roaring. -

[Lonesome Traveler, Kerouac, J.]

...of the end of an affair

He reached over and squeezed her plump thigh through the thickness of her winter coat. 'Different styles,' he said, obliquely bragging. They were united, it seemed to him, in admiration of Maggie - two suppliants bowed beneath a natural force. Though rapprochement on such a basis was bound to decay, for a time it made for a conspiratorial closeness.
In the meantime, Maggie was crossed off party lists. She pursued her daily duties in majestic isolation, visited by only a few gossip-hungry women and oddball men sensing an opportunity. Frank was divided between acquiescence in her exclusion - her power over him, the grandeur she had for him, left no room for pity - and an impossible wish to reunite, to say the words to her that would lift them above it all and put them back in bed together. More experienced than he, she knew there were no such words. A few months after the Christmas-carol sing, the town fathers sponsored an Easter-egg hunt on the sloping common, this side of the cemetery. In the milling about, while parents chased after frantic, scooting children on the muddy brown grass, he managed to sidle up to Maggie, in her familiar spring tweeds. She gave him an unamused stare and said to him, as if the words had been stored up, 'Your wife has ruined my social life. And my children's. Sam is furious.'
Such a petty and specific grievance seemed astonishingly unworthy of them and their love. Startled, Frank said, 'Ann doesn't scheme. She just lets things happen.' As if, after all this silence between them, they had met to debate his wife's character. Maggie turned away. Sick with the rejection, he admired the breadth of her shoulders and the wealth of her hair, done up in a burnished, glistening French twist.

[Natural Colour, Updike, J.]

Saturday, 4 May 2013

...of an interview technique

At the interview formally granted to all new employees by one of the bank's General Managers at Head Office, Christie's minimal qualifications were laid bare, his appearance scrutinised, and his nervousness remarked on. Then he was asked why he wished to join the bank. Christie was lost, could not think of his answer. One was shortly supplied for him: most young men joined the bank for the security, for the very liberal pension which amounted to two-thirds of whatever salary the employee was receiving at retiring age. And this retiring age itself was as an act of generosity sixty, and not sixty-five!
Not only was Christie simple, he was young, too, a few weeks past his seventeenth birthday at the time of the interview.
Christie was silent even at the information that he had only forty-three and not forty-eight years to wait before he was free. The whole impetus of the interview was towards providing a standard set of correct answers: or of losing points for wrong answers. Did Christie have to play? The General Manager made him very much aware of his power. What Christie thought, however (and how privileged we are to be able to know it) was that he would consider himself to be a failure if he had to depend on a bank pension at sixty; and that it would show a remarkable lack of spirit even to be thinking, at the age of seventeen, of pensions and retirement. The truth, that he was interested in placing himself next to some money, seemed not to be required in this context. The offices of a General Manager of one of the few national banks is not the place to exeleutherostomise.
From this you might think that Christie was mad for money as some are mad for sex: but that is not so. Christie, like almost all of us, had to think of earning a living first; the economics dictate to an extent sometimes not fully realised the real (as distinct from the imaginary) possibilities open to one to move in other directions. But be assured that sex was one of the things for which Christie wanted money; sex was always, particularly at this age, one of the things he thought about most, had very often in mind.
Christie was accepted into the service of the bank despite his inadequacy at providing the correct answers; his failure to give any answers at all did not count against him as much as a succession of wrong answers. And, for reasons Christie was just about to experience for himself, the bank had difficulty in holding on to recruits of his age and therefore deliberately took on far more than it knew would stay the long course to early retirement and two-thirds of an honest penny.

[Christie Malry's Own Double Entry, Johnson, B. S.]

...of overhearing

'Well, Charlie and I believe that sex is a sort of communication like speech. Let any woman start a sex conversation with me, and it's natural for me to go to bed with her to finish it, all in due season. Unfortunately no woman makes any particular start with me, so I go to bed by myself; and am none the worse for it... I hope so, anyway, for how should I know? Anyhow I've no starry calculations to be interfered with, no immortal works to write. I'm merely a fellow skulking in the army...'
Silence fell. The four men smoked. And Connie sat there and put another stitch in her sewing... Yes, she sat there! She had to sit mum. She had to be quiet as a mouse, not to interfere with the immensely important speculations of these highly-mental gentlemen. But she had to be there. They didn't get on so well without her; their ideas didn't flow so freely. Clifford was much more hedgy and nervous, he got cold feet much quicker in Connie's absence, and the talk didn't run. Tommy Dukes came off best; he was a little inspired by her presence. Hammond she didn't really like; he seemed so selfish in a mental way. And Charles May, though she liked something about him, seemed a little distasteful and messy, in spite of his stars.
How many evenings had Connie sat and listened to the manifestations of these four men! these, and one or two others. That they never seemed to get anywhere didn't trouble her deeply. She liked to hear what they had to say, especially when Tommy was there. It was fun. Instead of men kissing you, and touching you with their bodies, they revealed their minds to you. It was great fun! But what cold minds!
And also it was a little irritating. She had more respect for Michaelis, on whose name they all poured such withering contempt, as a little mongrel arriviste, and uneducated bounder of the worst sort. Mongrel and bounder or not, he jumped to his own conclusions. He didn't merely walk around them with millions of words, in the parade of the life of the mind.
Connie quite liked the life of the mind, and got a great thrill out of it. But she did think it overdid itself a little. She loved being there, amidst the tobacco smoke of those famous evenings of the cronies, as she called them privately to herself. She was infinitely amused, and proud too, that even their talking they could not do, without her silent presence. She had an immense respect for thought... and these men, at least, tried to think honestly. But somehow there was a cat, and it wouldn't jump. They all alike talked at something, though what it was, for the life of her she couldn't say. It was something that Mick didn't clear, either.

[Lady Chatterley's Lover, Lawrence, D. H.]

...of trees

The air was soft and dead, as if all the world were slowly dying. Grey and clammy and silent, even from the shuffling of the collieries, for the pits were working short time, and today stopped altogether. The end of all things!
In the woods all was utterly inert and motionless, only great drops fell from the bare boughs, with a hollow little crash. For the rest, among the old tress was depth within depth of grey, hopeless inertia, silence, nothingness.
Connie walked dimly on. From the old wood came an ancient melancholy, somehow soothing to her, better than the harsh insentience of the outer world. She liked the inwardness of the remnant forest, the unspeaking reticence of the old trees. They seemed a very power of silence, and yet a vital presence. They, too, were waiting: obstinately, stoically waiting, and giving off a potency of silence. Perhaps they were only waiting for the end; to be cut down, cleared away, the end of the forest, for them the end of all things. But perhaps their strong aristocratic silence, the silence of strong trees, meant something else.

[Lady Chatterley's Lover, Lawrence, D. H.]

...of bliss

She clung to him, with a hiss of wonder that was almost awe, terror. He held her close, but he said nothing. He would never say anything. She crept nearer to him, nearer, only to be near to the sensual wonder of him. And out of his utter, incomprehensible stillness, she felt again the slow momentous, surging rise of the phallus again, the other power. And her heart melted out with a kind of awe.
And this time his being within her was all soft and iridescent, purely soft and iridescent, such as no consciousness could seize. Her whole self quivered unconscious and alive, like plasm. She could not know what it was. She could not remember what it had been. Only that it had been more lovely than anything ever could be. Only that. And afterwards she was utterly still, utterly unknowing, she was not aware for how long. And he was still with her, in an unfathomable silence along with her. And of this, they would never speak.
When awareness of the outside began to come back, she clung to his breast, murmuring 'My love! My love!' And he held her silently. And she curled on his breast, perfect.
But his silence was fathomless. His hands held her like flowers, so still and strange. 'Where are you?' she whispered to him. 'Where are you? Speak to me! Say something to me!'

[Lady Chatterley's Lover, Lawrence, D. H.]