Friday, 27 June 2014

...of sibling anathema

By nightfall, the situation had deteriorated; Elisabeth wanted a bath and so did Paul. They sulked, raged, turned on one another, flung doors open, slammed them again at random, and ended finally at opposite ends of the same boiling bath, with Paul in fits of laughter. The sight of his seaweed limbs afloat in steam exasperated Elisabeth. An exchange of kicks ensued. Next day, at table, they were still kicking one another. Above the tablecloth their host saw smiling faces; a silent war went on below.
This subliminal struggle was not the only means by which, unconsciously, they managed to attract attention. The charm was working. Their table was rapidly becoming the focal point of a delighted curiosity. The get-together spirit was, to Elisabeth, anathema. She scorned 'the others', or else fell madly in love with some total stranger. Hitherto the objects of her passion had been selected from the ranks of those matinee idols and Hollywood film stars whose garish outsize masks adorned her walls. The hotel afforded her no scope. The family parties were one and all hideous, gluttonous, and squalid. Their audience consisted of skinny necks from afar to watch the marvellous table, the battle of limbs below, the peaceful countenance above.

[Les Enfants Terribles, Cocteau, J]

...of a stroke

Suddenly their mother died - a shock that stunned them. Thinking her immortal, they had treated her with scant consideration; but nevertheless they loved her. To make matters worse, they felt they were to blame; for she had died all unbeknown to them, while they were quarrelling in her room, the very evening when Paul got up for the first time.
The nurse was in the kitchen. The row degenerated into an exchange of blows; with cheeks aflame, Elisabeth had fled to seek sanctuary beside her mother's chair. She found herself confronted by an unknown woman staring at her with wide open tragic eyes and mouth.
She had been surprised by death, perpetuated in such a pose as death alone conceives of: hands clenched, arms rigid along the chair-arms. The doctor had foreseen that the end would come without warning; but the children, alone, transfixed by this sudden counterfeit, this puppet in place of a live person, this stranger with the mask of a sculptured sage, gazed on it livid, stone-still before its petrified stare, it's cry of stone.

[Les Enfants Terribles, Cocteau, J]

...of America

BEAVER, WASH., - the border of the Canadian province of British Columbia. - the Makah Indian Reservation.

In 1855, the Indian chief Seattle, who gave his name to the largest city in Washington, formerly called New York, declared to the European negotiators: "Every bit of this land is sacred... Every hill, valley or plain, every woods has been sanctified by some glorious or horrible event in the past. Even the rocks that seem mute and dead when they bake in the sun, tremble with extraordinary events linked to the life of my people... When the children of your children will suppose themselves alone in the fields, the shops, on the roads or in the silent forests, they will not be alone at all... At night, when all sound has died away in the streets of your villages, and when you think they are empty, they will swarm with the host of those who once lived there,  faithful to that sublime site. The white man will never be alone."

The sea,

[Mobile, Butor, M.]

...of a unicorn skull

"Is this a skull of one of the Town unicorns?" I ask her.
"Yes. The old dream is sealed inside."
"I am to read an old dream from this?"
"That is the work of the Dreamreader, " says the Librarian.
"And what do I do with the dreams I read?"
"Nothing. You only have to read them."
"How can that be?" I say. "I know that I am to read an old dream from this. But then not to do anything with it, I do not understand. What can be the point of that? Work should have a purpose."
She shakes her head. "I cannot explain. Perhaps the dream-reading will tell you. I can only show you how it is done."
I set the skull down on the table and lean back to look at it. The skull is enveloped in a profound silence that seems nothingness itself. The silence does not reside on the surface, but is held like smoke within. It is unfathomable, eternal, a disembodied vision cast upon a point in the void.
There is a sadness about it, an inherent pathos. I have no words for it.

[Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World, Murakami, H.]

...of human evolution

"But say, you managed t'talk with her all right," the old man said. "How'd you do it? Telepathy?"
"Lipreading. I studied it in my spare time."
"Lipreading, of course," the old man said, nodding with approval. "A right effective technique. I know a bit myself. What say we try carrying on a silent conversation, the two of us?"
"Mind if we don't?" I hastened to reply.
"Granted, lipreading's an extremely primitive technique. It has shortcomings aplenty, too. Gets too dark and you can't understand a thing. Plus you have t'keep your eyes glued to somebody's mouth. Still, as a halfway measure, it works fine. Must say you had uncanny foresight t'learn lipreading."
"Halfway measure?"
"Right-o," said the old man with another nod. "Now listen up, son. I'm telling' this to you and you alone: The world ahead of us is join' t'be sound-free."
"Sound-free?" I blurted out.
"Yessir. Completely sound-free. That's because sound is of no use to human evolution. In fact, it gets in the way. So we're going t'wipe sound out, morning to night."
"Hmph. You're saying there'll be no birds singing or brooks bubbling. No music?"
"'Course not."
"It's going to be a pretty bleak world, if you ask me."
"Don't blame me. That's evolution. Evolution's always hard. Hard and bleak. No such thing as happy evolution," said the old man. He stood up and walked around his desk to retrieve a pair of nail clippers from a drawer. He came back to the sofa and set at trimming all ten fingernails. "The research is underway, but I can't give you the details. Still, the general drift of it is... well, that's what's com in'. You mustn't breathe a word of this to anyone. The day this reaches Semiotec ears, all pandemonium's join t'break loose."
"Rest easy. We Calcutecs guard our secrets well."

[Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World, Murakami, H.]

...of an elevator

The elevator continued its impossibly slow ascent. Or at least I imagined it was ascent. There was no telling for sure: it was so slow that all sense of direction simply vanished. It could have been going down for all I knew, or maybe it wasn't moving at all. But let's just assume it was going up. Merely a guess. Maybe I'd gone up twelve stories, then down three. Maybe I'd circled the globe. How would I know?
Every last thing about this elevator was worlds apart from the cheap die-cut job in my apartment building, scarcely one notch up the evolutionary scale from a well bucket. You'd never believe the two pieces of machinery had the same name and the same purpose. The two were pushing the outer limits conceivable as elevators.
First of all, consider the space. This elevator was so spacious it could have served as an office. Put in a desk, add a cabinet and a locker; throw in a kitchenette, and you'd still have room to spare. You might even squeeze in three camels and a mid-range palm tree while you were at it. Second, there was the cleanliness. Antiseptic as a brand-new coffin. The walls and ceilings absolutely spotless polished stainless steel, the floor immaculately carpeted in a handsome moss-green. Third, it was dead silent. There wasn't a sound - literally not one sound - from the moment I stepped inside and the doors slid shut. Deep rivers run quiet.

[Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World, Murakami, H.]

...of the loneliness of a couple

That silence... yes, it was what is called silence... it was never called that here, it had no name... but now it's returning... a form vaguely emerging... that's the name it appears under: Silence... Lost and almost forgotten, it is returning home from far-off countries, showing a passport issued there, in foreign parts, specifying that name: Silence.

"Silence"... What other name could be given to that absence of words exchanged between two people alone together, what could anyone observing them say other than "they are remaining silent." And it must be recognised that all the very many, very different kinds of silence... they'd be no end to it if we tried to mention them all... that particular sort is one of those with a rather bad reputation...
When the two people who aren't speaking look as if they have known each other intimately for a long time and the silence between them is prolonged, to anyone outside who stops, who lingers, it often communicates a sense of remoteness, of weariness, of boredom, of "the loneliness of a couple," which we know can be even more painful than the other sort...

[Here, Sarraute, N.]

...of a flummox

All of a sudden, in that space around the chain of propositions, in which there was a continual coming and going of what, deprived of words, cannot, must not show itself, a wind blew... everything rises, flies up... there, in that place where it always used to be found, there is a void... a patch of nothingness opens up and something escapes through it... like the harbinger of the definitive disappearance, of annihilation... no though, perhaps not, not yet, words come rushing up to call for help, impossible to stop them, it's only possible for a split second to try to prepare their entrance, to make them look a bit more presentable, a bit more decent... "Forgive me, it's ridiculous to talk about it all of a sudden, but it's just come back to me, I don't know why..." But the words that were to have followed are intimidated, and haven't the strength to attack, they retreat, they hide... for a moment the chain of propositions had started moving again... it slowed, it was about to stop... but it mustn't... other words coming rushing up to repair what might have been damaged, to get it going again... "No, I don't know what got into me, do forgive me... To come back to what we were saying, yes, I agree with you, but even so we need to take into account..." But there's nothing to be done... once again everything in the background starts seething, a stronger gust lifts up piles of paper, drawers burst open, it'll ease off, the void will be filled again... There it is, that long, brown, thick envelope... it must be there... no, it isn't there, it disappears, it slides into the wastepaper basket, a hand picks up the basket, empties its contents into the dustbin... it's been taken away, it's lost for ever... impossible to hold back this cry... "I've lost, I've just realised, I don't know how I shall ever..." And now, through the gap that this call for help has opened, assistance arrives... "If you write and explain, you might perhaps get... they may have kept a duplicate there..." "Ah, you think so? You've known a case... Oh, thank you. Oh, do forgive me... my grasshopper mind again..."

[Here, Sarraute, N.]

...of anticipation

"Have you read it?" The words are just about to come spurting out, vibrant with excitement, with enthusiasm... forced out by what is there, which is compelled to emerge, to show itself to the person who has come here, who is probably delighting in the anticipation of what he is going to find, of what he is going to be offered... who else could so well appreciate it?... "Have you read it?..."
Just another moment, let them shelter a bit longer in the tranquility, the security of silence... But why hold them back? Haven't they already undergone the most meticulous, the most rigorous checks possible, and there is nothing to stop these words entering the other person's territory, nothing in him which, when they reach him, would be aroused, sit up, try to measure itself, to confront... and then fall back pathetically, shattered... Nothing over there which, at the appearance of these words, would start crawling humbly, ashamedly, toward obscurity, toward in existence... no, nothing can happen to produce any such painful, degrading sight... "Have you read it?" may enter in all security... The person who is going to receive these words has never written a book.

[Here, Sarraute, N.]

...of pleasantries

Without the slightest apprehension, in all innocence, in all confidence, they present it... they find words to make clearly perceptible, to make evident its "perfect proportions," its "great simplicity," "the admirably chosen place it occupies, where it harmonises perfectly with the city, with all the colours of the sky..."
But all those ornaments, all those gems they cover it with, which don't suit it, which were not meant for things of its sort, increase the intensity of the feeling of repulsion, of revolt, of impotent fury it provokes, produced by... what, exactly? No words have ever yet attempted to capture it, to demonstrate it...
Their words are now bringing up to the surface here words of the same sort, of the same force, ones which could hurl themselves on their words, snatch them away from the tower, take their place... here they come, building up, crowding in... "inaccurate proportions"... "a servile, impoverished imitation of what elsewhere is a masterpiece of originality, of force"... "the worst possible choice of site... where it disfigures, dishonours the whole city, whatever angle you look at it from, whatever the time, whatever the light"... the words they come, they insist, they want to pounce, to launch an assault... but on no account must they come out, nothing must allow any suspicion of their existence... above all, the silence holding them back must not last too long, it could become one of those "heavy," "reproachful" silences... the dangerous words retreat, hide... those that must take their place arrive... "Yes, yes, you're right, it's quite true."

"Yes, you're right, yes, it's true"... the signature affixed to the bottom of the peace treaty after the surrender...
But there has been no surrender. Had they not been welcomed into a friendly country? Was it not necessary that perfect understanding should be preserved at all costs? Were they not meant to feel at home here?
And now that they've gone... even their image has faded... what they have left behind them is still theirs... They are at home here. They are at home everywhere... Everywhere, their words have complete mastery... they alight with perfect liberty... there?... yes, even there... and they remain fixed there forever, they stick fast... "Admirable"... "Amazing"... "A gem"... "A real marvel"... Their constant drone produces a kind of drowsiness... a kind of numbness... a kind of slight suffocation... a kind of very slight nausea... oh, so slight... it's nothing... it'll pass... it's already passing... things will be all right... yes, everything is fine.

[Here, Sarraute, N.]

...of rapport

Alexandra felt that he would like to know there had been a man of his kin whom he could admire. She knew that Emil was ashamed of Lou and Oscar, because they were bigoted and self-satisfied. He never said much about them, but she could feel his disgust. His brothers had shown their disapproval of him ever since he first went away to school. The only thing that would have satisfied them would have been his failure at the University. As it was, they resented every change in his speech, in his dress, in his point of view; though the latter they had to conjecture, for Emil avoided talking to them about any but family matters. All his interests they treated as affectations.
Alexandra took up her sewing again. "I can remember father when he was quite a young man. He belonged to some kind of a musical society, a male chorus, in Stockholm. I can remember going with mother to hear them sing. There must have been a hundred of them, and they all wore long black coats and white neck-ties. I was used to seeing father in a blue coat, a sort of jacket, and when I recognised him on the platform, I was very proud. Do you remember that Swedish song he taught you, about the ship boy?"
"Yes. I used to sing it to the Mexicans. They liked anything different." Emil paused. "Father had a hard fight here, didn't he?" he added thoughtfully.
"Yes, and he died in a dark time. Still, he had hope. He believed in the land."
"And in you, I guess," Emil said to himself. There was another period of silence; that warm, friendly silence, full of perfect understanding, in which Emil and Alexandra had spent many of their happiest half-hours.

[O Pioneers!, Cather, W.]

...of fancy

Emil was glad to escape and get to his own room. He was a little ashamed for his sister, though he had tried not to show it. He felt that there was something indecorous in her proposal, and she did seem to him somewhat ridiculous. There was trouble enough in the world, he reflected, as he threw himself upon his bed, without people who were forty years old imagining they wanted to get married. In the darkness and silence Emil was not likely to think long about Alexandra. Every image slipped away but one. He had seen Marie in the crowd that afternoon. She sold candy at the fair. Why had she ever run away with Frank Shabata, and how could she go on laughing and working and taking an interest in things? Why did she like so many people, and why had she seemed pleased when all the French and Bohemian boys, and the priest himself, crowded round her candy stand? Why did she care about any one but him? Why could he never, never find the thing he looked for in her playful, affectionate eyes?
Then he fell to imagining that he looked once more and found it there, and what it would be like if she loved him, - she who, as Alexandra said, could give her whole heart. In that dream he could lie for hours, as if in a trance. His spirit went out of his body and crossed the fields to Marie Shabata.
At the University dances the girls had often looked wonderingly at the tall young Swede with the fine head, leaning against the wall and frowning, his arms folded, his eyes fixed on the ceiling or the floor. All the girls were a little afraid of him. He was distinguished-looking, and not the jollying kind. They felt that he was too intense and preoccupied. There was something queer about him. Emil's fraternity rather prided itself upon it's dances, and sometimes he did his duty and danced every dance. But whether he was on the floor or brooding in a corner, he was always thinking about Marie Shabata. For two years the storm had been gathering in him.

[O Pioneers!, Cather, W.]

...of sulking

The boys looked angry. Alexandra put a soothing hand on her mother's shoulder.
"There's no question of that, mother. You don't have to go if you you don't want to. A third of the place belongs to you by American law, and we can't sell without your consent. We only want you to advise us. How did it use to be when you and father first came? Was it really as bad as this, or not?"
"Oh, worse! Much worse," moaned Mrs. Bergson. "Drouth, chince-bugs, hail, everything! My garden all cut to pieces like sauerkraut. No grapes on the creek, no nothing. The people all lived just like coyotes."
Oscar got up and tramped out of the kitchen. Lou followed him. They felt that Alexandra had taken an unfair advantage in turning mother loose on them. The next morning they were silent and reserved. They did not offer to take the women to church, but went down to the barn immediately after breakfast and stayed there all day. When Carl Lindstrum came over in the afternoon, Alexandra winked to him and pointed toward the barn. He understood her and went down to play cards with the boys. They believed that a very wicked thing to do on a Sunday, and it relieved their feelings.

[O Pioneers!, Cather, W.]

...of civil disobedience

Close-up of my grandfather's right hand: nails knuckles fingers all somehow bigger than you'd expect. Clumps of red hair on the outside edges. Thumb and forefinger pressed together, separated only by a thickness of paper. In short: my grandfather was holding a pamphlet. It had been inserted into his hand (we cut to a long-shot - nobody from Bombay should be without a basic film vocabulary) as he entered the hotel foyer. Scurrying of urchin through revolving door, leaflets falling in his wake, as the chaprassi gives chase. Mad revolutions in the doorway, roundandround; until chaprassi-hand demands a close-up, too, because it is pressing thumb to forefinger, the two separated only by the thickness of urchin-ear. Ejection of juvenile disseminator of gutter-tracts; but still my grandfather retained the message. Now, looking out of his, window, he sees it echoed on a wall opposite, and there on the minaret of a mosque; and in the large black type of newsprint under a hawker's arm. Leaflet newspaper mosque and wall are crying: Hartal! Which is to say, literally speaking, a day of mourning, of stillness, of silence. But this in India in the heyday of the Mahatma, when even language obeys the instructions of Gandhiji, and the word has acquired, under his influence, new resonances. Hartal - April 7, agree mosque newspaper wall and pamphlet, because Gandhi has decreed that the whole of India shall, on that day, come to a halt. To mourn, in peace, the continuing presence of the British.

[Midnight's Children, Rushdie, S.]

...of cutting in

Memory of my blue bedroom wall: on which, next to the P. M. 's letter, the Boy Raleigh hung for many years, gazing rapturously at an old fisherman in what looked like a red dhoti, who sat on - what? - driftwood? - and pointed out to sea as he told his fishy tales... and the Boy Aadam, my grandfather-to-be, fell in love with the boatman Tai precisely because of the endless verbiage which made others think him cracked. It was magical talk, words pouring from him like fool's money, past his two gold teeth, laced with hiccups and brandy, soaring up to the most remote Himalayas of the past, then swooping shrewdly on some present detail, Aadam's nose for instance, to vivisect its meaning like a mouse. This friendship had plunged Aadam into hot water with great regularity. (Boiling water. Literally. While his mother said, 'We'll kill that boatman's bugs if it kills you.') But still the old soliloquist would dawdle in his boat at the garden's lakeside toes and Aziz would sit at his feet until voices summoned him indoors to be lectured on Tai's filthiness and warned about the pillaging armies of germs his mother envisaged leaping from that hospitably ancient body on to her son's starched white loose-pajamas. But always Aadam returned to the water's edge to scan the mists for the ragged reprobate's hunched-up frame steering its magical boat through the enchanted waters of the morning.
'But how old are you really, Taiji?' (Doctor Aziz, adult, red bearded, slanting towards the future, remembers the day he asked the unaskable question.) For an instant, silence, noisier than a waterfall. The monologue, interrupted. Slap of oar in water. He was riding in the shikara with Tai, squatting amongst goats, on a pile of straw, in full knowledge of the stick and bathtub waiting for him at home. He had come for stories - and with one question had silenced the storyteller.

[Midnight's Children, Rushdie, S.]

Thursday, 12 June 2014

...of an elephant in the room

Not to mention sex, my sex life, which was shot from the day he came through the door of our apartment. I just couldn't do it. Or I mean I could, but I didn't want to. The first time we tried, on the third night, I think, Claudia asked me what was wrong with me. Nothing's wrong, I said, why do you ask? Because you're as silent as the dead, she said. And that was how I felt, not like the dead but like a reluctant guest in the world of the dead. I had to stay quiet. Not moan, not cry out, not pant, come with extreme circumspection. And even Claudia's moans, which used to arouse me so much, became unbearable. They made me frantic (although I was always careful not to let her know), they grated in my ears, and I tried to muffle them by coring her mouth with my hand or my lips. In a word, making love became torture, something that by the third or fourth time I would do anything to avoid or postpone. I was always the last to go to bed. I would stay up with Ulises (who never seemed to get tired anyway) and we would talk about anything. I would ask him to read me what he'd written that day, not caring whether it was poems in which his love for Claudia was painfully obvious. I liked them anyway. Of course, I preferred the other ones, the ones in which he talked about the new things he saw each day when he was left alone and went out to wander Tel Aviv, Giv'at Rokach, Har Shalom, the alleyways of the old port city of Jaffa, the university campus, or Yarkson Park, or the ones in which he remembered Mexico, Mexico City, so far away, or the ones that were formal experiments, or seemed to me like formal experiments. Any of them, except the one's about Claudia. Not for my sake, not because they might hurt me, or her, but because I was trying to avoid the proximity of his pain, his mulish stubbornness, his profound stupidity. One night I told him. I said: Ulises, why are you doing this to yourself? He pretended not to hear me, giving me a sidelong look (which made me remember, as at least a hundred other thoughts flashed through my mind, the look of a dog I'd had when I was a boy in Colonia Polanco, the dog my parents put to sleep when suddenly it started to bite), and then he kept on talking as if I hadn't said a word.

[The Savage Detectives, Bolano, R.]

...of Pound

I put my money back in my wallet and one of them paid the bill and then we went out. It was a beautiful night, without the daytime crush of cars and crowds, and for a while we walked toward my hotel, almost as if we were drifting along, we might just as easily have been getting farther away, and as we proceeded (but towards where?), some of the kids said goodbye, shaking my hand and heading off (the way they said goodbye to their friends was different, or so it seemed to me), and little by little the group began to dwindle, and meanwhile we kept talking, and we talked and we talked, or now that I think about it, maybe we didn't talk that much, I would say instead that we thought and we thought, but I can't believe it, at that time of night no one thinks much, the body is begging for rest. And a moment came when there were just five of us aimlessly wandering the streets of Mexico City, possibly in the deepest silence, a Poundian silence, although the maestro is the furthest thing from silence, isn't he? His words are the words of a tribe that never stops delving into things, investigating, telling every story. And yet they're words circumscribed by silence, eroded minute by minute by silence, aren't they? And then I decided that it was time to go to bed, and I hailed a taxi and said goodbye.

[The Savage Detectives, Bolano, R.]

...of a poet

I told them that I abhorred tape recorders for the same reason that my friend Borges abhorred mirrors. Were you friends with Borges? Arturo Belano asked in a tone of astonishment that I found slightly offensive. We were quite good friends, I answered, close friends, you might say, in the far-off days of our youth. The American wanted to know why Borges abhorred tape recorders. Because he's blind, I suppose, I told her in English. What does blindness have to do with tape recorders? she said. It reminds him of the perils of hearing, I replied. Listening to one's own voice, one's own footsteps, the footsteps of the enemy. The American looked me in the eyes and nodded. I don't think she knew much about Borges. I don't think she knew my work at all, although I was translated by John Dos Passos. I don't think she knew much about John Dos Passos either.
But I've lost my train of thought. Where was I? I told Arturo Belano that I would prefer that he not use the tape recorder and that it would be better if he left me a list of questions. He agreed. He pulled out a sheet of paper and wrote the questions while I showed his companions some of the rooms in the house. Then, when he had finished the list, I had drinks brought in and we talked for a while. They had already interviewed Arqueles Vela and German List Arzubide. Do you think anyone is interested in stridentism these days? I asked Arturo Belano. Of course, maestro, he answered, or words to that effect. My opinion is that stridentism is history now and as such it can only be interesting to literary historians, I said. It interests me and I'm not a historian, he said. Well, then.
Before bed that night I read the list. Just the kind of questions an ignorant, zealous young man might ask. That same night I drafted my answers. The next day I made a clean copy. Three days later, as we had arranged, he came to pick up the list. The maid let him in, but following my express instructions, she told him I wasn't there. Then she handed him the package I had prepared for him: the list of questions with my answers and two books of mine that I was afraid to inscribe to him (I think young people today scorn such sentimentalism). The books were Andamios interiores and Urbe. I was on the other side of the door, listening. The maid said: Mr. Maples left this for you. Silence. Arturo Belano must have taken the package and looked at it. He must have leafed through the books. Two books published so long ago, their pages (excellent paper) uncut. Silence. He must have looked over the questions. Then I heard him thank the maid and leave. If he comes back to see me, I thought, I'll be justified, if he shows up here one day, without calling first, to talk to me, to listen to me tell my old stories, to submit his poems for my consideration, I'll be justified. All poets, even the most avant-garde, need a father. But these poets were meant to be orphans. He never came back.

[The Savage Detectives, Bolano, R.]

...of narcotics

Literature isn't innocent. I've known that since I was fifteen. And I remember thinking that then, but I can't remember whether I said it or not, and if I did, what the context was. And then the walk (but here I have to clarify that it wasn't five of us anymore but three, the Mexican, the Chilean, and me, the other two Mexicans having vanished at the gates of purgatory) turned into a kind of stroll on the fringes of hell.
The three of us were quiet, as if we'd been struck dumb, but our bodies moved to a beat, as if something were propelling us through that strange land and making us dance, a silent, syncopated kind of walking, if I can call it that, and then I had a vision, not the first that day, as it happened, or the last: the park we were walking through opened up into a kind of lake and the lake opened up into a kind of waterfall and the waterfall became a river that flowed through a kind of cemetery, and all of it, lake, waterfall, river, cemetery, was deep green and silent. And then I thought of two things: either I'm going crazy, which is unlikely since I've always had my head on straight, or these guys have doped me. And then I said stop, stop for a minute, I feel sick, I have to rest, and they said something but I couldn't hear them, I could only see them coming closer, and I realised, I became conscious, that I was looking all around trying to find someone, some witness, but there was no one, we were in the middle of a forest, and I remember I said what forest is this, and they said it's Chapultepec and they led me to a bench and we sat there for a while, and one of them asked me what hurt (the word hurt, so right, so fitting) and I should have told them that what hurt was my whole body, my whole being, but instead I told them that the problem was probably that I wasn't used to the altitude yet, that it was the altitude that was getting to me and making me see things.

[The Savage Detectives, Bolano, R.]

...of an enigma

With that, Pancho and the taxi driver started to argue about religion and politics, and meanwhile I stared out the window, watching the scenery (the storefronts of Juarez and Roma Norte) rolling monotonously past, and I also started to think about Maria and what separated me from her, which wasn't class but experience, and about Rosario and our tenement room and the wonderful nights I'd spent there with her, though I was prepared to give them up for a few seconds with Maria, a word from Maria, a smile from Maria. And I also started to think about my aunt and uncle and I even thought I saw them, walking arm in arm down one of the streets that we were passing, never turning to look at the taxi as it zigzagged perilously away down other streets, the two of them immersed in their solitude just as Pancho, the taxi driver, and I were immersed in ours. And then I realised that something had gone wrong in the last few days, something had gone wrong in my relationship with the new Mexican poets or with the new women in my life, but no matter how much I thought about it I couldn't figure out what the problem was, the abyss that opened up behind me if I looked over my shoulder. All the same, it didn't frighten me. It was an abyss without monsters, holding only darkness, silence, and emptiness, three extremes that caused me pain, a lesser pain, true, a flutter in the stomach, but a pain that sometimes felt like fear. And then, with my face glued to the window, we turned into Calle Colima, and Pancho and the taxi driver stopped talking, or maybe only Pancho stopped, as if he'd given up trying to win his argument, and my silence and Pancho's silence clutched at my heart.

[The Savage Detectives, Bolano, R.]

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

...of a motion picture

We watched as the light dimmed in the cabin. Basile installed a makeshift screen and asked us to pull our window curtains closed. Without my beautiful bus altering its course or delaying its progress along its fastidious route, we watched, more than once, a film that played without sound, since we didn't have headphones to plug into the armrests of our seats.
The camera (just like the projector) is set in the bus, and rolls down the road through the opening credits. But soon it decides to liberate itself from the rectilinear road, from the smooth surface packed down by steamrollers, cambered by engineers, and repaved by public road-maintenance crews. My beautiful bus, light as can be, drifts off the pavement. Using my jacket as a makeshift drop-cloth, I block the light, which might overexpose the film, from coming through the window. We have taken a dirt trail, a shortcut, which will itself need to be abandoned, in turn, for a path. The bus no longer has windowpanes. The wind whips one side of your face through the openings. We move forward over a cushion of grass. The movie is in colour. I see nothing but green while we're in the temperate climates. Soon I see yellow. If I were a painter, I would pour out a lot of yellow on this twisting and turning course. The wilderness is empty, uninhabited. My beautiful bus has slowed down. It glides silently along in the unmoving forest. Not a soul stirs; no forest ranger's cabin is in sight, and not a single farm.

[My Beautiful Bus, Jouet, J.]

...of keeping one's word

Did you ask him what he was looking for on the square?
Why? You should have...
"I don't know... I didn't want to ruin our trip by confessing to lowly espionage."
I understood that. But still, to start off with silence!
"The following day was our last. He had insisted that we go to the movie theatre, which pleasantly surprised me, since he isn't much of an entertainment-seeker. I impudently cut the ticket line to spare him the wait. He seemed bothered. On the way out, I lose him in the crowd. He loses me, deliberately, in the crowd. I don't know what happened afterward. I don't know anything, other than he must have gone back to the area around Saint-Paul, and that perhaps he had a meeting with a shadow. I wanted to catch him by surprise there at midnight, but my watch had been set back an hour - by him, naturally - and so accurately that I arrived when the clock struck one in the morning, after having wandered and waited in two cafes, one after the other. I don't know what happened. All I know is Basile didn't come back to the hotel until the wee hours of the morning. He was as pale as a ghost. Then a smile came over him, a pretentious smile, but his was always that way. He told me that he loved me, and loved only me, and that never in his life would he hide a thing from me, except the reason that would prevent him from ever speaking a word again. I guess you could say that he... kept his word."
The end of Odile's story is clearly final. I respect it, even as I notice a look of worry in her eyes, one that has been with her since he stopped speaking. I wedge my raised knees against the seat in front of me, a good meditative position for a perplexed traveler. I abandon the inhabitants of the bus for a moment to float back into my bad memories once again. I think about my own Idol, the queen, my wife, who hasn't said a word to me for day. Everything brings me back to her. I believed that I took this abandonment as a relief. But it weighs on me already.

[My Beautiful Bus, Jouet, J.]

...of a bus driver

As soon as you get on the bus, you're greeted with three rules clearly posted on a written sign: no smoking, no talking to the driver, and no exiting the bus while in motion. Hello, good listener and good reader!
The second rule is rendered unnecessary by the bus driver's own attitude. He certainly must hear what his customers say to him: a hello, a good-bye, an expressed curiosity, and the destination, for which he must calculate the correct amount due. Basile hands over the the right tickets, hands back the change, gives a "thanks" with a nod of his head, and moves on to the next customer, but he never answers questions.
"Where are we headed?"
It's written on the sign on the front of the bus.
"Where are we coming from?
Is it possible to know where one is coming from, at a point between the chicken and the egg?
"Where are we?"
You should know just as well as I do, you who have consciously boarded the bus at this precise location.
Basile remains silent. Everyone knows this. But although he's silent, he isn't completely mute. He speaks with his habits. Basile doesn't sing, doesn't yell at the road or his vehicle, other drivers, or the cops. He doesn't disseminate the usual banalities. He doesn't hold long conversations about the unpredictability of our era. Basile is far away.

[My Beautiful Bus, Jouet, J.]

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

...of being caught with your pants down

"No," she said. And I knew she meant no. She didn't fight but just lay rigid. From there on in I knew it would be a question of cold-blooded rape. At that age I wasn't up to it, especially since I wasn't exactly sure what to do next. "Why?" I asked. "What's the matter. There's nothing wrong with it."
"I know. I know. I don't know."
We got up. She was crying, sobbing in bitter spasms that shook her body. I rocked her in my arms and ran my hand up and down her long back. After a while she calmed down, wiped her tears and put her arms around me. I put my head down between her breasts, I licked her nipples. She stared into space, absorbed, expressionless. She moved onto my lap. We were calm, sad, fraternal in defeat, cradled together in a melancholy equilibrium of lust and misery. I sighed and looked up. In the doorway I saw, barefoot in a strange, old-fashioned white nightshirt, hairy legs, skinny neck, his fringe of hair tangled his glasses askew, her father, silent, motionless, staring at us with a look impossible to decipher. Without saying a word, without changing his expression, he looked at me, turned, and disappeared up stairs.
Putting her sweater on, straightening her skirt, quickly, no time to talk about anything, in a panic, she hurried me to the door. Before I knew what was happening I was outside in the sad Brooklyn night fumbling with my tie. I could have vomited on the doorstep. I should have. And they call this a free country.

[Up, Sukenick, R.]

...of the condemned

He took another drink of brandy, and getting up with pain because of his cramp he moved to the door and looked through the bars at the hot moony square. He could see the police asleep in their hammocks, and one man who couldn't sleep lazily rocking up and down, up and down. There was an odd silence everywhere, even in the other cells; it was as if the whole world had tactfully turned away to avoid seeing him die. He felt his way back along the wall to the farthest corner and sat down with the flask between his knees. He thought: If I hadn't been so useless, useless. ... The eight hard hopeless years seemed to him to be only a caricature of service: a few communions, a few confessions, and an endless bad example. He thought: If I only had one soul to offer, so that I could say, Look what I've done. ... People had died for him, they had deserved a saint, and a tinge of bitterness spread across his mind for their sake that God hadn't thought fit to send them one. Padre Jose and me, he thought, Padre Jose and me, and he took a drink again from the brandy flask. He thought of the cold faces of the saints rejecting him.

[The Power and the Glory, Greene, G.]

...of resistance

The lieutenant said, 'Is no one willing to help?'
They stood silent beside the decayed bandstand. He said, 'You heard what happened at Concepcion. I took a hostage there... and when I found that this priest had been in the neighbourhood I put the man against the nearest tree. I found out because there's always someone who changes his mind - perhaps because somebody in Concepcion loved the man's wife and wanted him out of the way. It's not my business to look into reasons. I only know we found wine later in Concepcion... Perhaps there's somebody in this village who wants your piece of land - or your cow. It's much safer to speak now. Because I'm going to take a hostage here too.' He paused. Then he said, 'There's no need even to speak, if he's among you. Just look at him. No one will know then that it was you who gave him away. He won't know himself if you're afraid of his curses. Now... This is your last chance.
The priest looked at the ground - he wasn't going to make it difficult for the man who gave him away.
'Right,' the lieutenant said, 'then I shall choose my man. You've brought it on yourselves.'

[The Power and the Glory, Greene, G.]

...of contrition

The lieutenant yanked his horse's head round towards them. He said, 'We know he's in this district. Perhaps you don't know what happened to a man in Concepcion. One of the women began to weep. He said, 'Come up - one after the other - and let me have your names. No, not the women, the men.'
They filed sullenly up and he questioned them, 'What's your name? What do you do? Married? Which is your wife? Have you heard of this priest?' Only one man now stood between the priest and horse's head. He recited an act of contrition silently with only half a mind - '... my sins, because they have crucified my loving Saviour... but above all because they have offended...' He was alone in front of the lieutenant - 'I hereby resolve never more to offend Thee...' It was a formal act, because a man had to be prepared: it was like making your will and might be as valueless.

[The Power and the Glory, Greene, G.]

...of the Garden of God

Padre Jose went in, under the big classical gateway marked in black letters 'Silencio' to what people used to call the Garden of God. It was like a building estate where nobody had paid attention to the architecture of the next house. The big stone tombs of above-ground burial were any height and any shape; sometimes an angel stood on the roof with lichenous wings: sometimes through a glass window you could see some rusting metal flowers upon a shelf - it was like looking into the kitchen of a house whose owners have moved on, forgetting to clean the vases out. There was a sense of intimacy - you could go anywhere and see anything. Life here had withdrawn altogether.
He walked very slowly because of his bulk among the tombs; he could be alone here, there were no children about, and he could waken a faint sense of homesickness which was better than no feeling at all. He had buried some of these people. His small inflamed eyes turned here and there. Coming round the huge grey bulk of the Lopez tomb - a merchant family which fifty years ago had owned the only hotel in the capital - he found he was not alone. A grave was being dug at the edge of the cemetery next to the wall: two men were rapidly at work: a woman stood by and an old man. A child's coffin lay at their feet - it took no time at all in the spongy soil to get down far enough. A little water collected. That was why those who could afford it lay above ground.

[The Power and the Glory, Greene, G.]

Monday, 2 June 2014

...of the book to end all books

The preliminary work was painful, Crab admits it; he really sweated over it. More than anything else, it was terribly time-consuming. Neither dangerous nor particularly difficult, mind you, more like child's play or home-work. Crab never had to leave his table, his patience alone was tested. He worked quickly, following an infallible method, both simple and effective, nonetheless requiring close attention and great discipline. Crab kept up the pace, but it was an enormous task, involving, in this first stage, the combination of every word listed in the dictionary, in every possible permutation. He stolidly settled down to the thankless job. It will come as no surprise to learn that he devoted many years to this project, to the detriment of all others.
Crab took the words individually, as distributed by alphabetical; each word was combined with the next, in every possible manner and in all possible declensions, then combined with the word after; next combined with the latter and the one before; combined with a third; with that one and the two preceding ones; with that one and the first alone; with that one and the second alone; with a fourth, and so on. Crab copied all this onto large sheets of paper, and each page, duly filled up and numbered, was added to the stack piled on the carpet. He was soon forced to take out the ceiling and then to make a sizeable opening in the roof.
But one night it was all done. The manuscript was as tall as a mountain. Crab had to hoist himself up to the summit in order to finally begin the second stage of the project, a rather more delicate operation, not so much because of the danger of falling as because of the very nature of the work to be created, a masterwork, the book to end all books, after which the world would enter an epoch of meditative silence - for what more is there to say? what is there to add? - and man would spend the rest of his days reading and rereading these pages, nodding his head.

[The Crab Nebula, Chevillard, E.]

...of classification

Nevertheless, Crab has a good ear. He is not the type to confuse the heavy, imposing silence emanating from a dead elephant with the unique vibration of the air that indicates the presence of a silent bird in the surrounding greenery. And Crab could even tell you the name of the bird.
His long practice of solitary meditation has taught him, if nothing else, to distinguish the many forms of silence, which meet with only an unchanging and obtuse insensitivity in the untrained ear. There is, then - among others - a string silence, a wind silence, a percussion silence, no more alike than the instruments thus classified, but on occasion their sonorities meld into a symphonic silence in which slow, stately movements, or martial ones, alternate with sprightly little phrases and silky arabesques, playing on a variety of motifs and rhythms in order to fully express the complexity of the situation whatever that situation may be.
(Nor does Crab forget the variety of silence derived from flour or soot.)
Judging by the particular grain of a given silence, or the unique crystalline nature of another, he can immediately and infallibly predict by what or by whom it will finally be broken. Gauging their weight, their density, their depth or thickness, allowing for the area and the nature of the terrain they cover, Crab calculates with astonishing precision the duration of these silences, down to the second. Thus forewarned, he can flee and take shelter somewhere else well before the noise erupts, gliding from place to place, already off again as soon as he has arrived, unable to maintain the silence and utterly powerless to impose it; indeed - just as the darkness produced by the eyelids is impotent against a lighthouse and a double row of streetlights - between wax and cotton, you might as well plug your ears with two hornets.

[The Crab Nebula, Chevillard, E.]

...of testimony

I had already said that I hadn't seen her again since the suicide of her father... a little more than a year.

And yet she had preserved a great deal of affection for me. She hoped I was going to carry on with my brilliant work. It's what she said, at the time of the hearings. So, why hadn't I seen her again?

I had no desire to answer. If I had answered, I would have been able to say only: because she didn't want to, because she had needed me for that exact moment, not afterwards. And that she had other dreams. Sometimes things don't work out. I must have made a little bit of a sad face admitting that. I wanted to look sad, in case she might see me live on TV and grow sad too. But trials aren't systematically filmed. When they are, they aren't broadcast live. So I couldn't speak to her this way... but let be understood that I still felt a great longing to be with her, if that had been her wish. Unfortunately, in her eyes, my image had been contaminated by the horrors of Mountain R, horrors that I had at least caught a glimpse of. I hadn't even known how to write that novel, as I wouldn't write the one on Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis. Definitely, she would see me as desperate! I was beginning to doubt that I could publish other books... The fact that I had told her so little of the drama in which her father had played such a sinister role had obviously destroyed my chances. Stupidly enough, I had scored against my own team. This damned propensity for silence... I can't do anything about it. Upon her return to Boston, and her begrudging kiss at the airport, I felt all of a sudden that I was becoming her father's double, a nasty feeling that made my stomach drop, like when a ship yaws in a heavy sea. I felt as if I didn't exist. As for him, even if he hadn't yet committed suicide, it was nonetheless clear that he had been shrunken, as if by headhunters, and that in the general inventory of humanity there was suddenly lack in an item, gone without trace, something that was neither precisely me nor Muratore, but half of each... She had begun to ask me, in turn, questions that were difficult and insistent - but not aggressive - concerning the white-washing of my record that I hoped would result from my trip to the Pole... She let me see how little she cared for such a prospect.

It was necessary to ask me why I was suddenly so pale.

I passed my hand over my face and rubbed my eyes.

[Mountain R, Jouet, J.]

...of a sales pitch

One weekend during this period my father took me to the hardware store. A man we called the Needle Man was in the parking lot. The Needle Man was deaf and dumb; he went around the city selling packets of sewing needles for a living. He was a short, toothless person of about sixty who always wore a baseball cap; there was something wrong with one of his knees, which bent sideways when he put his weight on it. He approached us and went into his silent sales pitch: he flashed the packet of needles, shrugged, looked away, flashed the packet of needles again, licked his thumb and tested the wind direction, smiled, gummed, shrugged, looked away, looked at us. My father gave him a dollar for the needles. The Needle Man nodded and left us. He never showed gratitude. I connected him with Rumplestiltskin and with Gollum in The Hobbit. We already had five or six packets of needles that we had bought from him, so my father handed this one to me. "Maybe you can think of something to do with them, " he said.

[The Fermata, Baker, N.]

...of a gift

Just as I resumed time after turning the Butterfly up almost to full, she noticed me looking at her, and our eyes caught and laser-locked; I tried to tell her with my look that I understood how good it felt, though she was doing a tremendous job of suppressing it, and that I was the only one in the train who could see what she was going through, and that I was very moved to be able to witness it and would make no sign to anyone else of what she was letting me see. I nodded, closing my eyes, and looked at her again: giving the nod to her approaching clasm. She looked away, up at the adx for temporary agencies over the windows, and then she looked back at me, and I watched her put her lower teeth over her upper teeth, her eyes getting bigger and browner and fuller - and (I am almost sure) she came. Then she took a deep breath and gathered her hair in an O made of her forefinger and released it and reached down again tentatively to her legs, so that I had to fermate quickly and remove the Butterfly from her and wipe it off (using several WetOnes) and put it back in the case so that it looked unused. I put it in a blank manila envelope. Time rolling, I smiled at her again, in a wowed, foolish sort of way, and she smiled uncertainly back, not quite sure how to explain to herself what had just happened. At the Chestnut Hill stop she stood and passed where I was sitting. I said, "Excuse me?" and handed her the vibrating Butterfly in its envelope and then touched my fingers to my lips. I didn't get off at that stop because I didn't want to unnerve her or seem threatening; I reached home an hour later feeling that, in making gifts of two of my sex toys, I had turned the day around.

[The Fermata, Baker, N.]

...of a social studies class

The air is quite close in the Fold and takes a little getting used to, although as long as you wave your arms around every so often there is no real risk of asphyxiation. I was very conscious of my breathing as I walked up the row of desks and chairs, naked, and reached my lovely teacher. "Miss Dobzhansky?" I said, standing right behind her, though I knew that she couldn't hear me. My plan, as I had conceived it in a flash when she had smiled at me a moment before, was to take off all her clothes and then sit back down at my desk and click time back on - that is, turn the time transformer off. When she felt the cooler air on her skin and discovered that she was entirely nude, she would turn toward us, confused and startled, but not really flustered, since I had never seen her flustered - her serenity and ability to adjust to any eventuality in the classroom was an important part of what made her lovely to me - and she would meet this challenge with her usual aplomb. She would turn toward us with her hands shielding her breasts and look inquiringly at our faces, as if to say, "How, class, has this happened?" Her eyes would seek out mine, because she knew she could trust me to help her through difficult moments, and I would look back at her with an ardent, loving, serious expression. I would stand and shush anyone who dared to snicker at the fact that both I and Miss Dobzhansky were completely naked, and I would walk up to her and nod at her as if to say, "Everything will be all right Miss Dobzhansky," and collect her sweater and her dress which I would have left neatly folded on her desk. She would say, "Thank you, Arno," in a voice that communicated how grateful she was that I was in her life and was able to help her through this moment. She and her would retire to the cloakroom for a few minutes, where I would hand her her clothes one by one as she got dressed. She would do the same for me. When we re-emerged, I would take my seat and she would continue her social studies lesson. The class,  docile with shock, would have remained silent through our whole absence.

[The Fermata, Baker, N.]

...of time stood still

I had not expected anyone to notice the cord leading into my desk, since I was in the back corner, and nobody in fact did. I let half an hour go by, watching Miss Dobzhansky discuss a kind of slitted sunglasses that the Eskimos whittled from bone to avoid snow blindness. She began to write the old spelling of Eskimo, with a q, on the board in white chalk. My hands were deep in my desk; my fingertips touched the wrinkle-finish black paint and the smooth toggle switch. As she embarked on the letter m, her back to the class, I flipped the switch. She didn't finish the m. She and the class were without sound and motion.
I said "Hey." I said "Hey" again. Nobody turned toward me. Far from being eerie or disturbing, the silence was, I found, quite comfy. This acoustical coziness, which is a consistent feature of The Fold, is the result, I think, of the relative sluggishness of the air molecules that surround me. Sound diffuses outward only a few feet, as far as I can tell. I'm often reminded of a line in the first stanza of Keats's "Eve of St. Agnes": "And silent was the flock in woolly fold." My Fold is woolly.

[The Fermata, Baker, N.]